...and these unforgiving mountains...
...combined to make San Diego the jewel of California.
|Even in 1934, the bay's shifting traps for the|
unwary mariner can be seen in aerial photos
|Though taken in the mid-1800s, this photo of the|
La Playa area shows the terrain that would have
been encountered by the first explorers and
San Diego is finally brought sharply into prominence by the dual stimuli of greed and protectionism. California was well "known" in Europe long before it was discovered. It's very name is taken from Queen Calafia, the mythical ruler of a mythical island off the North American coast where a vast matriarchal society lives in a land so rich, the streets are paved with gold, and, well aware of these "facts," King Charles III demanded that the government in New Spain (the Pacific Coast of the Americas) start producing some of it. The other impetus was provided by the Spanish Ambassador to Russia, who reported that the Russian fur traders who were established in Alaska were about to push their territorial claims south all the way to California. That this was not idle speculation is witnessed by the existence of California towns today with names like Sebastopol and Fort Ross.
Suddenly feeling the sting of urgency after 230 years of who-could-care-less, the crown dispatched a Franciscan priest whose name would soon become immortal among Californians, be they Spanish, Indian, Mexican, or Americano: Father Junipero Serra. Arriving at San Diego in 1769, he established the first of the 21 California Missions, a day's walk apart, from San Diego to San Francisco, which meant in practical terms that Russian expansion past San Francisco could only come at the risk of war with Spain, a risk Russia wasn't prepared to take. Despite the existence of the Mission, and the little presidio, or fort, nearby to protect it from the often hostile Indians, life in the tiny settlement wasn't easy. The residents, mostly clergy, soldiers, and the hardier members of their families, were dependent on crops grown in their gardens, trade with the Indians, and the sporadic visits of supply ships for their very survival. British navigator George Vancouver paid a visit in 1793, staying long enough to describe the settlement as "dreary and lonesome," and surrounded by "barren and uncultivated country." Contrary to the legends of gold lying on the ground for the taking, San Diego's commerce consisted of otter skins, cattle hides, and homemade candles that were traded in small quantities for bare sustenance. Most of the American Southwest was originally explored by greedy swashbucklers searching for these legendary treasures, tales perpetuated by exasperated Indians who quickly learned to tell these guys that the City of Gold was somewhere over the next hill.
|The city of San Diego in 1869, 100 years after|
the establishment of the first mission.
|San Diego in 1900, still sleepy, with no sign of the massive|
military presence to come, and still trapped by its geography.
|Goat Canyon trestle in Carrizo Gorge. Typical of|
the terrain the railroad men were up against in the
southern Laguna Mountains.
|Aerial view of a fraction of the SD&AE Railway route.|
|This is North Island in happier times. Those carriers|
have a bit more to do now...
Most people say the Navy built San Diego, but I beg to differ; you could just as easily say the Japanese built San Diego by putting pressure on the Navy to develop it. Whatever. I say, at the end of the day, the Laguna Mountains built San Diego just by being in the way. Had they not been there, San Diego would be the sprawling carpet of concrete that Los Angeles is today, and Los Angeles would probably be a motel and gas station on the road to San Francisco. Instead, I live in one of the great places of the world, and herewith offer my thanks to the U.S. Navy that built it, the Imperial Japanese Navy that made it necessary, and the force of nature that is the Laguna Mountains for rendering that bay useless, thereby preventing it from being ruined by commercialism for four hundred years before people found a use for it. If not for all those things, we wouldn't live in the most beautiful place on earth. I know that a lot of people who prefer the stillness of quiet hideaways, the imposing natural beauty of Big Sur or Nag's Head, or undiscovered corners like the Florida Keys (or familiar nooks of their own home towns; choose your own location here) are going to find this saga of urban beauty amusing, and maybe even mildly offensive. All I can offer in the defense of this opinion is one simple statement: Just look at this place!
And that's how we got here, from the Spaniards to the Americans. Consider this the first of a long series. In the months to come, I'll be looking at our attractions, our hidden treasures, our unique blend of Spanish, Mexican, American and Asian cultures, reflected not least in the local cuisine. I hope you're along for the ride; I plan to enjoy it tremendously, and I love to share...
And speaking of things San Diego, I guess no place of mortals is allowed to be perfect, right? This is why we have all these comedy "sports" teams that congregate here to waste our time and make us laugh. Case in point: The San Diego Chargers, or as they're known by the locals, the Chokers, once again demonstrated their football acumen in part two of the one-two punch designed to drive away fans in preparation for their move to L.A. After keeping the two most clueless idiots ever to wander by accident into a football stadium, Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager A. J. Smith, the Chokers' ownership once again showed off their seriousness about saving money over being a contender by declining to sign Vincent Jackson, by far their best wide receiver, and primary battery mate of quarterback Philip Rivers. See, fifty-one years of crap like this is why I've finally gone over to the dark side, and joined Raider Nation. The saddest thing about all this is that Philip Rivers, a fine young man who should be remembered in the same breath with Joe Montana and John Elway, will instead be remembered (if he is at all) as one of those tragic stories of greatness unfulfilled simply because he's trapped in the grip of these Losers. By the way, if you happen to be an L.A. sports fan who is reading this, don't panic; no one can force you to take these fools.
So that's it for this week. I know I said I was going to slow down on the publishing, but what the heck, the article's finished, so here it is. The polls will remain open until Sunday night at midnight. No one has voted yet, and if no one does, I will have to settle on a subject myself, so you've been warned. Until next time, have fun, take care of each other, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!