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California's Missions

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Left: Mission San Antonio

 

Right: Mission San Luis Obispo

The California Gold Rush is famous in United States History, but as most California educated people will tell you the school children here learn of the discovery of California by the Spanish, and the construction of the missions by the Indians under the direction of the fathers. We do not so often hear about the garrisons which accompanied them, but as a visitor to the La Purisima in Lompoc you may see the soldiers' quarters.

The first mission was established in 1769 in San Diego. They stretch along the coastal regions of California from San Diego to Sonoma above San Francisco. They are placed about a day's walking distance apart. San Luis Obispo County has two missions. One is in San Luis Obispo and the other in San Miguel. Both towns derive their names from the mission names. Mission San Antonio is located on the Ft. Hunter Liggett military base in southern Monterey County, and is well worth the visit also.

Santa Barbara County has three missions, one in Lompoc called La Purisima, another in Solvang called Santa Ines, and the last in Santa Barbara whose name is also Santa Barbara.

In San Luis Obispo the mission is in the center of town as part of the plaza. The plaza also has the San Luis Obispo Art Center and the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society Museum.

The missions of the Central Coast have adobe walls and tiled roofs. The story goes that the first roof of the mission in San Luis Obispo was straw, but the Indians set fire to it. The fathers then resorted to having tiles made which would not burn. The fountain and the archways along the inner walkway are another feature common to many of the missions.

The temperature inside these walls are cooler than the summer heat. Often the rooms of the living quarters are small. The ways in which they cooked, wove, and carried out their daily lives is quite different from our fast paced life of California these days.

La Purisima is the only mission which is run by the State Park system. As with other the missions, it has been destroyed and rebuilt. This particular mission was moved further from the river and continues to have new construction and reconstruction. The gardens contain original grapes and trees of the Spanish fathers. It also has a fenced area for livestock. La Purisima has the flavor more like that of the earlier times. Most of the missions are now parts of towns and cities; so this particular mission, though it is off the beaten track, is one well worth the visit.

Mission San Miguel is still very much in use, and is just off highway 101 north of Paso Robles. It has a good museum, garden, and facilities for picnicking. There are abundant camera shots in this quiet setting.

Each mission on the Central Coast has its own charm. Visiting them can be a rewarding adventure and bring more understanding to the tourist just how our history varies from most of the other states in the United States.

Numerous books about the California missions are available in libraries, bookstores, and at the mission shops in the Mission Country of California.

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San Luis Obispo, CA
September 10, 2011
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