The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

Palomar: From Teepee to Telescope. By Catherine M. Wood. Art Work by May H. Negley. Reprint. Ramona, Ca., Ballena Press, 1973. Illustrations. Map. Index. $2.95.

Reviewed by Tom Hudson, editor, The High Country; author, Three Paths Along a River, The West Is My Home, Rancho Monserate, and others.

In choosing Palomar Mountain as the subject of a book, Catherine M. Wood left a storehouse of information, sometimes couched in poetic prose and sometimes spiced with humor, as a legacy to those who would, in its pages, later trod the mountain’s oak-studded slopes and wander through meadows encircled by pines, firs, and cedars on its summit.

The mountain, under three names-the Indian Paauw, the Spanish Palomar, and, for a while, the American Smith-has served those who have lived in the lowlands as an idyllic summer resort. Its forests have been the nursery for timbers used in the construction of at least two missions. Its gardens have furnished food for stagecoach travelers and its meadows hay for the horses that pulled the stages.

The author takes the reader through the years, from the time when Indians invaded the mountain’s oak forests to gather acorns, and to build summer villages among its pines; to the time when its secluded meadows offered shelter to cattle rustlers holding their herds for a final dash into Mexico; to the days of the Butterfield stagecoaches that dashed along its base on the long journey from Missouri to San Francisco; to the days following the Civil War when settlers homesteaded its highlands; to the years when the mountain basked in comparative loneliness, seemingly forgotten by modern man. And finally to the era that saw the building on its summit of the great domed observatory that now houses the world’s largest telescope.

Palomar is a surprising mountain. More like a range than a single mountain, it has nurtured sheep and cattle ranches, lumber mills, family farms and orchards, and even a butterfly farm. It dominates northern San Diego County and eastern Riverside County, at times half hidden in billowing clouds and at times startlingly clear with a mantle of snow. The reader finds it all in the book’s pages.

The author tells of many of the mountain’s early settlers, among them Nate Harrison, that colorful old ex-slave for whom a road up the mountain was named. Others you will learn about are the Mendenhalls, Doane, Dyche, and of course Joseph Smith whose name the mountain bore for a quarter century.

Catherine M. Wood made her book more complete by including descriptions of animals that are indigenous to Palomar Mountain. Among the birds she tells about are the band-tailed pigeons that once lived in great flocks on the heights and were responsible for the mountain’s name, Palomar, the Spanish word for nesting place of the pigeons. There are stories of grizzly bears and mountain lions, of gray squirrels, blue jays and quail. Then, to top it off, the book contains a complete section dealing with plant life on the mountain, together with illustrations of each of the plants described and their common and botanical names.

Palomar: Teepee to Telescope is a fascinating and complete account of a mountain that has now become worldfamous. Its collection of authentic old photos alone is worth more than the asking price of the book.