Saturday, April 30, 2011

Thank God for Rancho Santa Margarita - She Saved Us from Los Angeles

There's something about summer coming that lights my fire to check out the missions and ranchos of San Diego. When I got a last minute invitation to the Wounded Warrior Battalion's changing of command this week at Camp Pendleton, I grabbed my camera out the door because I knew I could get in the West Gate and do a bit of exploring by myself on the way out. Between the Battalion and the West Gate are the historic buildings of Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores.

The Rancho has a complicated history from the time the San Luis Rey Mission friars used the land for sheep and cattle early in the 1800's. After the Spanish mission days, the land became a huge rancho owned by Pio Pico, the first governor of California, and changed hands several times over the next 100 years. Read here for a nice history of the Rancho lands.

The land of what is now Camp Pendleton - 123,00 + acres between Oceanside and San Clemente, and eastward -was bought from the last rancho owner by the US Navy for an aircraft field and access to the ocean in 1942 and is now occupied by the Marines. This little strip of land has saved us from the sprawl of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. If there's going to be sprawl, we want to do it ourselves. The Marines, bless their hearts, have made a commitment to preserve the rancho buildings in the middle of the base.

The ranch house is closed except the second Wednesday of month and no way I'll make it up there on a Wednesday. I thought I could at least take a look around, but when I arrived the gate was closed. I parked the car anyway, and started to look around. The first thing I came across was a stone marker,

Beneath a nearby sycamore tree
Two of Andres Pico's officers
Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipas
Planned their successful strategy
Against the American forces
They battled at San Pasqual on
December 6, 1846

Remember I told the reader about General Kearny's retreat from San Pasqual to San Diego, passing through the Los Penasquitos rancho?

Here is an excellent account of the Mexican and American conflict in San Diego. We tend to not be aware of how much history there is in our little town.

As Patty knows I would, I looked around for that sycamore tree - gotta stand just where this happened and get the vibes. Uttered a little expletive known to be used by just every pilot whose plane is going down. Not that I don't know a sycamore tree when I see one, but they were all over the place.

I gave up on trying to find which one of the sycamores might be 200 years old, and walked around the little chapel, originally a winery built by the friars in 1810. Yep, a winery up here in the middle of the padres' cow fields.

I was embolden by my foray around the chapel, and thought what could it hurt just to foray up the hill a little more to the bunkhouse and ranch house. If they bring out the Marines, I could always remind them "I cook for you guys every month!"

The bunk house, also from 1810, has those signature Spanish columns and outside hallway.

The ranch house sits up on a little hill, with a view out to the ocean. It was built in the 1840's by the Picos and added to by later owners.

I was this far and still not a soul in sight, I had the place to myself, so I wandered further, enjoying the wonderful breeze from the ocean. The ranch house had the same outdoor hallway. I understand the 31 rooms have no interior halls, just exterior halls and a central courtyard.

I walked down the porch/hall and a long set of steps with an overhead ranch bell,

out onto the grounds where I found a cannon and another bell. Hm-m-m. Wondered whether these were maybe from the Battle of San Pasqual, although there were some skirmishes at Rancho Las Flores nearby.

I came across some beautiful doors and arches and architectural details.

It was time to high tail it out of there. I'll have to wait until retirement to have a Wednesday free to see the courtyard and interior of the ranch house. Being in this historic spot totally alone was a different kind of experience. Imagine if you had Machu Picchu, or the pyramids, or the fields of Culloden totally to yourself. Where would you want to be, totally alone with history?


Anonymous said...


Katharine said...

Sank you.

Katharine said...

Are you going to answer the question?

chuckography said...

When I was growing up in Charleston, SC, my two brothers and I often had ALL of Fort Moultrie to ourselves.

It is on nearby Sullivan's Island and is now run by the National Park Service.

Back in the day, we had full run of the place. Dangerous of course but exciting!

Katharine said...

What a great memory!

Pat said...

Ooh, that's a toughie. We've been some great places that would have been nice to visit without the crowds - the Winter Palace, Kremlin, Holyrood, Paris (all of it), the cathedral in many places!