J.S. Chase

J.S. Chase

" ... we plunged down the steep eastern face of the Sierra. "


Yosemite Trails

Here we find Chase beginning the descent down through Bloody Canyon,
which will lead him to the valley below, not far from Mono Lake.
A challenge for man, and beast. This pass has a storied history going
back hundreds of years. For more please see the attachment below.


"We halted to cinch up saddles and packs as securely as might be before beginning the four-thousand-foot descent of Bloody Cañon. Then with a final backward look to the west we plunged down the steep eastern face of the Sierra. A few hundred yards below we encountered a considerable snow-field. The snow, softened by the midsummer sun, was treacherous and annoying, and it was with difficulty that we prevailed upon the animals to commit their precious bones to the uncertain footing. Several times they all, Pet excepted, made a concerted bolt back up the trail, and for a time the welkin rang with sounds of battle, castigatory drummings upon equine ribs, and all the confusion of a general melee. At last they went floundering and staggering across, sinking to the hocks in the rotten snow-ice. A quarter-mile brought us to another but smaller snow-field. This we skirted; and escaped catastrophe thereby, for it turned out to be hollow beneath. The water running from the upper snow had cut its way under this bank, leaving it a mere shell from wall to wall of the cañon. In its present softened condition it would certainly not have supported the weight of the loaded animals.

Just below lay a charming little lake, blue as heaven, and swept ever and anon with handfuls of wind that sent delightful gleams and shudders over it. It bears the inscrutable designation of Sardine Lake. I hailed Bodie with an inquiry as to the reason for the name, and received his illuminating reply in one word, “Canned.” I learned later that years ago an ill-fated mule bearing a cargo of the delicacy consigned to a merchant in some mining-camp of the Walker River region had fallen off the trail, and after a series of spectacular revolutions had vanished in the icy waters. "

Sardine Lake, August 2019, much as
Chase may have first seen it,
( and the mule! )

photo: j. develyn

In the upper course of the cañon the walls rise precipitously. It is in fact a gorge rather than a cañon, and it is easy to guess how it came by its name in the days when great bands of cattle were driven across the Sierra by this route, lacerating themselves as they scrambled among the jagged rock-débris through which the so-called trail is laid. When one recalls the behavior of a herd of excited cattle driven along an ordinary highway, and then imagines the scene of action transferred to this fearfully steep defile, filled with shattered rock and narrowing at the top to a mere cleft, with yelling vaqueros urging the bewildered and terrified beasts into a panic, it becomes a marvel that any of the animals should arrive at the head of the pass alive and unmaimed. The bones that still lie strewn up and down the trail testify to the fate of many a victim of Bloody Cañon.

In Bloody Canyon, looking NW
towards Mono Pass,
August 2019.

photo by: j develyn



( *** for the fascinating history of Blood Canyon: )



Coast Trails


Once again the meticulous chronicler, in two paragraphs, captures
his goings on, not missing a beat and capturing the atmosphere
in splendid form. His ironic comment, ' hearty blessings ' re-
grading the old gentleman, after getting lost; his capturing the
mood of his tired mount Anton in all its mischievousness;
and his roguish description of the harvester crew circulating
through the saloon is amusing, and spot on. Please, take it
all in!




The inland heat was rather trying, and I determined to make for Moss Landing, on the coast, a few miles away. Following the directions of an old man whose confident manner imposed on me, I left Castroville on the right, and turned into a road that seemed to lead directly there. After following it for a couple of miles, Anton pretty tired and eying every barn and gateway with anxiety, the road came to an end, and a wide slough, quite impassable, barred the way.

 With hearty blessings on that old gentleman we returned to Castroville, and took the main road, arriving at the village of Moss Landing long after dark. It took my utmost arguments to persuade the hotel-keeper to get me supper of bread, beef, and tepid coffee. The place had just been thrown into excitement by the arrival of a harvester crew of eighteen or twenty men, who kept up a sort of stage procession as they circulated through the saloon. Fraternal squads passed in hurriedly, to emerge in two or three minutes with impressive wiping of lips. A few moments sufficed to change the composition of the groups, and they lurched in again with a fresh access of thirst. "




" I passed here a peaceful grey day ... "


Coast Trails


Here we find Chase near Cape Mendicino, and south of Eureka.
He visits Petrolia and Ferndale, where I had a delightful
stay recently. 

"To-day we had no sight of the sea. The coast here trends considerably westward to Point Gorda, whence it runs north a few miles to Cape Mendocino and thence somewhat more easterly to the Oregon line. The road kept a mean northwesterly course, and by evening I was again approaching the coast, and stopped for the night at the village of Petrolia, lying in the open lower valley of the Mattole.

Petrolia, as its name seemed to signify, once had great expectations in oil, but these have not been realized. This failure, and a double disaster, of fire in 1904, and of earthquake two years later (both, curiously, on the same day of the year), might well discourage the modest settlement. The first hotel had been destroyed by the fire, which nearly obliterated the little place, and the dwelling-house which is now used as an inn was literally broken in half by the earthquake. A landslide had occurred near the summit of a high hill to the east of the village, when the great trees by hundreds were snapped off like matches before the eyes of the terrified Petrolians, roused, or rather, thrown, early from their beds on that fateful morning.

Petrolia, app. 1910's, virtually as Chase would
have seen it.

Now came a descent as long as the rise, but beautified with fine timber. Here appeared yet another coniferous tree, the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), a handsome but somewhat mournful tree with long trailing branchlets that hang like the funeral fringes of undertakers. It is most interesting to the travelling tree-lover to meet thus one after another the particular species of his locality.

A rough and peculiarly broken tract, known as "the Wild-Cat Country," occurs here, and with it a doleful quantity of burned timber. Farms were few and secluded, and I guessed from the appearance of the few people I passed on the road that a large proportion of the farmers are Scandinavians. Coming at length down a long grade, I saw below me the wide valley of the Eel River, and the river itself (at this season at its lowest, but not a contemptible stream) with the town of Ferndale lying prettily on the southern edge of the valley. Looking round to the west I could make out a thin white line of surf, four miles away. Ferndale is a fair-sized town for this thinly populated country, with several stores, a bank, and the unwonted choice of two hotels. The next day being Sunday, I passed here a peaceful gray day, enjoying by contrast walking among the old-fashioned cottage gardens, full of cosmos, autumn roses, and a hawthorn or two with red haws twinkling among the bronze foliage. "

The Ivanhoe Hotel,

The American Hotel,

** The two hotels in Ferndale Chase refers too. **

Thank You to Lynn Lourenco at the Ferndale
Museum for the picture of Petrolia, and the
hotel photos in Ferndale. He's a
wonderful source of info about the area, and
the museum is a fine one.


Also check out Ferndale Music Company in the
amazingly restored, century old church, while
in town; and see Emily while you are there.
She can give you a an excellent history of
the building and its restoration.


" ... bits of original paradise ... "

23, DECEMBER, 2018


Yosemite Trails


As is his way, Chase guides us into the experience
and renders the scene as if we were there.


A few miles of easy traveling brought us to another meadow
with golden flowers. Here dwelt in past times, one Miguel, a
Mexican. Traces of his occupancy remain in a rail-fence that
wanders in an irresolute manner about the meadow, the old
cedar rails whitening like bones in the sun, or submerged
a fathom deep in herbage. 

Each of these meadows seems more and more delightful
than the last. Sequestered in deep forest and hushed by
its murmur, they are heavenly places of birds and flowers,
bits of original paradise. 

The little brooks that water them ring carillons of tinkling
melody as they wind through shady tunnels of carex and 
bending grasses.

At morning and evening and on moonlit nights the deer
come, no longer even at the trouble of leaping the fences,
to regale on mint and lettuce that has descended through
many generations from the old settler's vegetable-garden.

All day the robins and the meadow-larks repeat their
canticles from the last remaining fence-posts, and 
squirrels and chipmunks scamper along the sagging 
rails, appreciating the convenience of a literal railway. '


** Definitions for the curious:  **

fathom: a unit of length equal to six feet (approximately 1.8 m)

carillons: a set of bells in a tower, played using a keyboard or by an automatic mechanism similar to a piano roll.

carex: Large genus of plants found in damp woodlands and bogs and ditches or at water margins sedges.

regale: lavishly supply with food or drink.

canticle:  a hymn or chant, typically with a biblical text.


" ... for there would be no trace, no clue ... "

28,    Nov, 2018


Coast Trails


" Here the expedition narrowly escaped disaster. " No exaggeration
bespeaks Chase here, for the serious nature of the ' expedition '
was certainly in peril. Another outcome may have left us with
no ' Coast Trails ' or ' Desert Trails. ' But for our good fortune,
as well as Chase's and Chino's, Chase surmounts this very real
life-threatening encounter with nature. Let not modern sensibilities
discount this situation. This was circa 1914, at a California
coast where a day or more may have passed before seeing
another person, let alone ' aid. ' 

Chase recounts the incident, one believes, as he went through it, 
controlled, but on the fringe of ' losing it. ' He had no time to panic.
No time could be lost in his mental and physical efforts to save himself
and his companion. His considering shooting Chino where he lay
seemingly beyond help, is a Chase at ends. He even thought that
he himself would, ' cease to be. ' He talks of afterward making
" a rare supper to celebrate the adventure, " so relieved he was
of surviving. And as was his penchant he found solace in his
companion's well being, " and the manifold voices of the sea. "


The country hereabout is monotonous and unattractive. Low undulating hills run for mile on mile, treeless, and scanty even of brush, and the cañons are dry and shadeless. We marched some miles before finding water, and I resolved to camp at the first creek I should see. At last I came to one, which afforded good pasturage also; and, dismounting, I led Chino down toward the beach, where I noticed a little bench of green grass at the mouth of the cañon and on the very edge of the shore sand.

Here the expedition narrowly escaped disaster. The inwash of the tide, meeting the water of the creek, had formed an area, a sort of pit, of quicksand. This we had to cross in order to reach the beach, and in a moment, without warning, I was up to my middle, and Chino, following close behind. plunged in beside and almost upon me. On the instant I threw myself backward, and tried to work myself out, but the sand clogged me as if it were liquid, lead, and I could not reach back with my hands to where the solid ground would give me support. Chino, meanwhile, was struggling desperately but helplessly, the heavy saddle-bags and other articles of his load weighing him down so that he was already half covered.

By great good fortune the cañon wall was near by, not over eight feet away. It was of weathered rock, soft and shaly, and I thought that if I could anyhow work over to it I could get grip enough on it to support myself. It seemed an impossible thing to do, with that fatal sand clasping and weighing me down. but I attempted it.

I remember that, as I struggled, a horror of the commonplace sunlit evening flashed over me, and, with it, the thought that no one would ever know what had happened to me, for there would be no trace, no clue. That horrible sand would close over me, the sun would shine on the spot, the roar of waves would go on unbroken; I should simply cease to be. I think I wondered whether there would not be any way of telling my friends; but I am not sure whether that thought came then, or in thinking it over afterwards.

All this can only have taken a very short time. during which I was struggling to reach the rocky wall. At last my fingers scraped the rock, and gradually I was able to draw myself backwards to firm ground. Then I ran round by the solid beach sand, crossing the creek, and came back to Chino. He had stopped struggling, but lay over on his side, and had sunk so that one of the saddle-bags was quite out of sight. Blood, too, was spattered all about him.

Coming as close as was safe behind him, I gradually loosened as much of his load as I could reach. Then I caught his rope and tried to get him to exert himself. For some time he made no move, and I thought he must have broken his off-side foreleg on a half-buried snag of dead wood that projected above the sand. Again and again I tried to get him to move, but he still lay on his side, drawing great gasping breaths, and I about decided I should have to shoot him where he lay. But I made a last effort, shouting and hauling at him with all my strength, until I literally forced him to bestir himself: when, putting my last ounce into it, I pulled and shouted, refusing to allow him to relax his efforts for a moment, and gradually working his head round somewhat toward where I stood. With a final wild spasm he scrambled up on to the dry, hard sand, and stood snorting and trembling pitifully, bespattered with blood and utterly exhausted.

I was vastly relieved to find that the blood was coming from his mouth and nostrils. He had broken some small blood-vessel in his first struggles. I took off the saddle and led him carefully over to a grassy spot, where I washed out his mouth and then gave him a thorough rubbing-down; and within half an hour I had the satisfaction of seeing my staunch companion of so many days and nights feeding with equanimity and even enthusiasm.

The incident was sufficiently dangerous to give me a lesson in caution, as well as cause for hearty thankfulness. There was not the slightest hint of treachery in the appearance of the sand, but thereafter I went warily in all doubtful places. I ransacked my rescued saddle-bags and made a rare supper to celebrate the adventure. As the bags were strongly made, and waterproofed, the contents had not been much damaged. Then I ran up my sleeping-tent, in view of the fog which I could see advancing from the sea. I chose a place on a little shelf of dry sand, sheltered by the angle of the cañon wall, and apparently above high-water mark by a safe though narrow margin. Then in the dusk I gathered a pile of driftwood and made a royal fire, by which I sat until long after dark, listening with more than usual enjoyment to the tinkle of Chino's bell and the manifold voices of the sea. "