Peregrine flight

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eagles and doves

I was talking to a friend last month who knows about my interest in birds and has the fortune of owning a rather good sized holding up on Palomar Mountain. He said that it was an extraordinary spring. He regularly has large numbers or raptors at his ranch, all manner of hawks and eagles. This year he said there were gigantic doles of doves and kits of pigeons, ginormous flocks and the raptors really went to town.

I was looking through my prized copy of a very hard to find book, A thousand years in the Temecula Valley by Tom Hudson, illustrations by Ralph Love when I glanced at the section on Palomar Mountain. Hadn't looked at it in a while. Those of you who have never been to Mt. Palomar are still probably aware that it is the site of a famous observatory which first became operational January 26, 1949.

It is really more of a ridge line than a peak. I hiked all the way from the bottom at Dripping Springs to the top when I was young and a bit more fit. Kicked my ass then.

Palomar means mountain view of the sea in Spanish. But perhaps this is not why this particular mountain range got its name after all? The book says that the native american name was Paaua, which means Mother Mountain in the Cupeño or local Mission Indian tongue.

When the Spanish came they would ascend to its heights to cut timbers for the roof of the San Luis Rey Mission and the surrogate Pala and Las Flores Assistencias. They also gave it its name, which also happens to mean dovecoat or place of the pigeons in spanish. Paloma is the spanish word for pigeon or dove.

So it makes sense that there were huge flocks of birds this spring. The same thing has probably been happening since time immemorial.

Palomar has had its share of characters, the most famous being the famous freed former slave Nate Harrison, for which the east grade is named. He settled on Palomar in 1848. Palomar also had a resident named Joseph Smith aka Jo Largo or Long Joe. When the Butterfield Stage ran through the area in 1859, Jo Largo established a hay farm on the east side of the mountain. Hay was sold to all four of the stage stops, from Warner Ranch to Temecula.

Eight years later, Largo befriended an itinerant in Temecula who ended up murdering him. A posse was formed and the killer was strung up on the spot. Nate Harrison was part of this posse. The mountain was renamed Smith Mountain in honor of Long Joe and remained that way for fifty years until it was changed to Palomar.

View of Palomar, Maurice Braun
I always feel better up  on the mountain, breathing clean air, drinking clean water, hiking around Doane, staring at ancient conifers. I look forward to seeing one of the giant dove flocks one day.

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