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Story: The Golden Road

Mustard by roadA persistent story I often heard as a child (and is still being spread) is that the padres, in order to mark El Camino Real, carried and spread mustard seeds along the road. These were supposed to grow and mark the road with their bright yellow flowers. Since mustard grows wild all over California it's unlikely this is true but one can see where the story came from when you see sights like this one along Jolon road on the way to Mission San Antonio de Padua. (You used to see large stands of mustard along U.S. 101 but weed abatement programs took those out years ago.)

Technically, this type of mustard is called Brassica rapa (birdsrape mustard, field mustard). It is a winter annual herb resistant to frost and mild freezes. It is an aggressive plant and adapts to many different conditions so it's easy to see how it could spread throughout the state. The seeds can be buried for up to 50 years and still survive to germinate. [California Invasive Plant Council] If you look at the distribution throughout the state you can see that it extends well beyond just El Camino Real. [Calflora] This distribution is confirmed in the Jepson Flora Project from U.C. Berkeley. Indeed, Brassica rapa can now be found in much of the United States. [ Invasivore.org] The genus is native in the wild in western Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate regions of Asia. In addition to the cultivated species, which are grown worldwide, many of the wild species grow as weeds, especially in North America, South America, and Australia. [Wikipedia]

In short: This is a persistent story with no real basis in fact. It's more likely that the field mustard made its way to California by other means than Blessed Serra.

Story: It's a Day's Walk Between Missions

Another persistent story is that the missions were founded a day's walk apart. Just a look at the map should dispel that story but it seems to continue. For one thing the missions were not founded one after the other up the coast. They were founded at various times and are various distances apart. For another, the padres almost never walked between the missions; they typically rode horses or mules. Indeed, by Spanish law (and the law of the military at the time) the padres were forbidden to leave their missions unless they had a military guard and those always rode on horses. It would have been very difficult to travel the necessary distances in California by foot alone. The distances between the missions (via Google Maps) is shown here to demonstrate.

Starting at San Diego de Alcalá to San Luis Rey de Francia is 39.3 miles, then to San Juan Capistrano is 32.8 miles, on to San Gabriel Arcángel is 57.5 miles, through Los Angeles to San Fernando Rey de España is 30.3 miles, over to San Buenaventura is 60.9 miles, up to Santa Bárbara is 31.8 miles, over the mountains to Santa Inés is another 30.1 miles, across to La Purísima Concepción is 18.7 miles, up to San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is 55.2 miles, over the Cuesta Grade to San Miguel Arcángel is 36.8 miles, then over to San Antonio de Padua is 40.3 miles, from there up to Nuestra Señora de la Soledad adds 39.5 miles, then up to San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is 51.0 miles, over to San Juan Bautista is 36.9 miles, over to the coast again to Santa Cruz for 34.5 miles, then up to Santa Clara de Asís for 31.1 miles. Here it gets tricky. The padres had no bridge to cross so they would have gone to San José and then backtracked to Santa Clara de Asís and up. We'll go directly and take the bridge so from Santa Clara de Asís to San José is 15.5 miles and San José across the bridge to San Francisco de Asís is 45.4 miles. (Santa Clara de Asís to San Francisco de Asís is 46.2 miles if you want to do the calculations that way.) Taking a boat from San Francisco de Asís (remember, no Golden Gate Bridge) then up to San Rafael Arcángel is 18.3 miles and, finally, up to San Francisco Solano adds 26.9 miles.

So, as you can see, there is no "standard" distance between missions and the longer distances would likely require multiple days; even the shorter distances would require extra time because of the terrain (e.g., Santa Barbara to Solvang isn't far today but State Highway 154 did not exist back then and the mountain passes in that area are very steep and hard to negotiate).


Navigation for Mission-Related Pages:

Related Index :: Mission Founding Order :: Nicknames :: Blessed Serra Bio :: Padre Lasuén Bio :: Calif Spanish Governors :: Calif Mexican Governors :: Calif Military Governors :: Mission Presidents-General :: Secularization :: Chumash Indians :: Spanish Settlement :: El Camino Real :: Dana Acobe :: Stories :: Property :: Measurements :: Find Mission Plans :: Mission Materials :: Jorgensen Paintings :: Calif Missions Museum :: Earthquakes

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