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Founding Day at La
Purisima Mission, 2004


For sixteen years now our family has attended the Founding Day celebration each December 8th at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc, CA.  We first discovered the mission when we lived in Lompoc in the late '80s, a real gem and the only mission in the historic California mission chain that is now a state park with essentially all its original land intact.  All 1900 acres of it. 

Visiting the mission is like strolling into the past, and the rooms and buildings are set up to look as they might have when the mission was originally populated.  It's fascinating to wander around, peek in windows and doors, or roam the trails and think about the people who lived out their lives here in the early 1800s.

This year's trip was very successful. The weather, gray and moody as we left home, gradually turned brighter with sunlight visible over the ocean as we drove. Past Santa Barbara you get into open space, with the sea on your left and rugged green hillsides on your right, interspersed with canyons filled with gold-leaved sycamores and bright yellow poplars. If I hadn't been driving, I would have loved to have snapped pictures of the view, because it was truly beautiful.
Each trip to the mission goes differently, and this time the boys decided they wanted to bypass the buildings and set out on the trail beyond. The valley circled by the trail can be seen above. The mission buildings are located in the foreground and to the left (not visible here, of course.) At right you can see the white of the tiny spring house, and at center the yellow poplars that surround the hillside tanning vats, one of our destinations.
At left: the spring house, a tiny station where water from the aqueduct system collects before continuing its journey across the fields and to the buildings. The mission's original water system, starting at a spring-fed pond and including a narrow aqueduct and a series of cisterns, is still intact.
Across the valley from the spring house we saw four deer, and quite good sized at that. By the time we'd done our walking and were returning, the deer above had been joined by five more.
Some distance past the spring house we left the main trail to follow the narrow path leading up the hillside to the tanning vats. The grove surrounding the vats is carpeted with ferns, but evidently not ferns that thrive in the kind of cold we've had this winter, since vast spreads of them had turned crisp and brown.
Cowhides, the principal currency of early colonial California, were soaked in these tubs with some combination of oak leaves and other natural ingredients to soften them. Every one of the missions raised cattle and processed hides like this, which is the main reason that once the Mexican government divested the Church's missions of their land in the 1820s, leaving them only their buildings, the mission system soon disappeared for lack of income.

Following the hillside path past the tanning vats, where in warm weather little spiders with yellow or red furry tufts on their backs scurry across the trail, we came to the small hillside cistern (shown at left), then continued downward until we rejoined the main trail and reached the big cistern, below, which reminds me somewhat of Roman ruins you might find in Spain, though these are much more primitive in their construction.
The largest cistern. I'm not good with distances, but I'd say this cistern is about 18 feet across and stands about five feet high.

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