As the sisters ate dinner, they noticed "several ranch-men here from the neighboring stations, but no women, There are few women in, this country."
After the meal, the sisters adjourned to the stable to rest. The men followed. The driver — the women's "only protector" — held up a hand: What did they want?
"Be sociable, is all."
"The simplicity and earnestness with which they spoke:' writes Monica, "put indignation out of the question, as it was evident they meant no insult."
Some proposed marriage. Even got on their knees. They gave the sisters two choices: accept their proposals, or "be massacred by Indians" before reaching Tucson.
Having had "amusement enough,' the sisters continued on. Between today's Boulevard and Jacumba, they prepared for their second night in "a very damp place." After tea and' prayers, Emmerentia, Ambrosia, Maxime, and Monica bedded down on a wide, flat rock. The other three took the wagon.
The high-desert night got colder and colder, Anticipating cauldron-like temperatures, the sisters only brought one wool blanket. Martha and Monica had just summer shawls. Even so, "we all kept good spirits,"writes Monica, "being convinced we were doing the Divine Will."
Around three a.m., the "night of the long thermometer" got so cold, frost began to form. The sisters in the wagon didn't have the blanket, went to find kindling. They got a fire started. In the flickering light, Martha spotted "a fine, large stick among the dry leaves." As she pulled it, the leaves fell away Martha let out an "unearthly yell." She had a man by the leg.
The man screamed too, "but only for mischief." It was the driver, slapping his thigh with laughter. To keep warm, he'd burrowed himself in a blanket of foliage.
Even with a fire, the sisters were so "stiff with cold," they decided keep moving. They sang. "Ave Maris Stella" — a hymn to Mary, Star of the Sea — and continued east.
They spent Monday, May 9, negotiating granite-studded hills; often on foot. They stopped at Mountain Springs, 1000 feet below the Jacumba Valley, and halfway down the escarpment to the desert. They expected to stop at Peter Larkin's'
summit station. But the place became "ever-memorable" because, unknown to them, Larkin had recently abandoned the property and moved to Jacumba. Expecting food, shelter, and water, they found an empty house made of rock, a stone corral, and stone-wall windbreak.
That afternoon they "lay down on the road side, being unable to proceed farther. Besides the terrible fatigue we suffered still more from thirst." The wagon's two water barrels; which the driver expected to, refill at Larkin's, were almost dry.
"We were going South," says Monica, describing the scene from Desert View Tower, a mile south of Larkin's station: "Before us lay the American Desert, 40 miles long — 800 feet below the level of the-sea. On the right lies a great salt lake, supposed to have been a part of the ocean. On the left rise ugly mountains of volcanic rock and red sand. I wished Sister Euphrasia to take a sketch of it then, but she said it would not be necessary, as she would never forget its appearance."
If a model were needed for the road to hell, the original trail from Mountain springs to the desert floor would serve. Devil's Canyon Grade, a narrow gauntlet snaking through red-rock outcroppings, plummeted 1000 feet, often with 30-degree slopes. Sparse vegetation along the way included California barrel cactus, brickellbush, and crucifixion thorns.
Frequent earthquakes caused rock- and boulder-slides. The trail was so steep, so strewn with rubble, travelers often had to dismantle their wagons, carry them down, and reassemble them at the bottom.
It was too dangerous for the sisters to ride. Though their aching limbs felt "dislocated," they descended Devil's Canyon on foot. Sun-bleached' bones of horses and cattle cluttered the sides of the trail. "At one place we counted fourteen oxen which had apparently died at the same time. When Mother beheld so many dead animals, she wept, fearing we might share their fate."
The last two miles, steepest of the grade, felt like a vertical pitch. To keep from stumbling, the exhausted sisters joined hands, "two-by-two;' and ran.
They reached the desert floor. Hands on knees and gasping for air, everyone uttered amazed relief. Sister Maxime looked back up the grade, and the mountains behind, and said "the abomination of desolation."
"Almost dead from thirst" and pelted by a sudden sandstorm, the sisters went partway on foot to the next station, Hall's Wells. Gusts threatened to overturn the wagon.
A ranch on the west side of Coyote Wash, just southeast of today's Ocotillo, Hall's Wells had been a Butterfield Overland stage station. It joined the Old San Diego Trail to the north and east mail routes, and remained a crucial stop for wagon trains.
Somehow the sisters made it — and drank what must have been the coldest, wettest, purest ladles of water they would ever know. At last, they could relax. .
As the wind blasted adobe buildings, the women realized they'd left one hell for another. Hall's Wells became "an ugly place."
More than 20 men, just come west across the desert, or soon to make the trek east, quenched parched throats with whisky. The arrival of seven women — never mind their black serge habits and gold crosses suspended from their necks on long chains — made the men rowdy.
Blister-faced, sweat-stained, they spit, cursed, and fought with each other: "some offering to shake hands with us, tohers trying to keep them off."
"I just want to talk," one shouted at the covered wagon, where the driver stood guard and the women huddled and prayed. At nine p.m. Emmerentia, Ambrosia, and Maxime tried to rest. the ranch cook led the other four to a shanty. After picking some "gray backs" from, it, he gave them a blanket. "Ladies seldom pass this way," he told the sisters. "When they do, the men wish to enjoy their society." Beligerent hombres, goaded by liquor and loneliness, wandered in and out of he shanty all night, exposing the sisters to fearful dangers."