Days of the Vaqueros in Old Town San Diego!

Two vaqueros chat during an event in Old Town San Diego that reenacts aspects of Californio history.
Two vaqueros chat during an event in Old Town San Diego that reenacts fascinating Californio history.

I enjoyed the Trades That Shaped the West event in Old Town San Diego last Saturday so much, I decided to return today to experience another Stagecoach Days event: Days of the Vaqueros!

Days of the Vaqueros invited curious visitors to experience what life was like when San Diego was a part of Mexico. The emphasis was on the vaqueros–the first true cowboys. During the era of the Californios, wealthy ranch owners employed vaqueros to manage their stock.

For a couple of decades–from the early 1820s to the mid-1840s–cattle hides were the primary export of Alta California. Merchant ships from the East Coast (and other places about the Pacific Ocean) would trade the plentiful hides for finished goods that were in high demand in early, geographically isolated, sparsely populated towns like San Diego.

Someone reads Days of the Vaqueros sign on the Robinson Rose House in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Someone checks out Days of the Vaqueros activities. The banner hangs on the Robinson Rose House in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Taking place during Old Town's summer Stagecoach Days, today's event celebrated life in San Diego when the small town and surrounding area was part of Mexico.
Taking place during Old Town’s summer weekend Stagecoach Days, today’s event celebrated life in San Diego when the small town and Alta California were part of Mexico.
Ladies in period dresses at the Days of the Vaqueros event in Old Town San Diego.
Ladies pass by in period dresses. One of many cool sights at the Days of the Vaqueros event in Old Town San Diego.
Tables contained information about life during the era of huge Mexican land grant cattle ranches worked by vaqueros. Vaqueros, the first cowboys, were mostly indigenous people employed to manage cattle by the wealthy land owners.
Tables contained information about life during the era of huge Mexican land grant ranches worked by vaqueros. Vaqueros, the first true cowboys, were mostly indigenous people employed to manage cattle by the wealthy land owners.
A vaquero shows a visitor to Old Town how to properly handle a rope.
A vaquero shows a visitor to Old Town how to properly handle a rope.
The visitor successfully lassoes his cow--the rear end, that is--first try!
The visitor successfully lassoes his cow–the rear end, that is–first try!
A gentleman who used to work for Buck Knives makes unique knife handles with elk antlers. He has developed his own technique, which takes great skill and precision.
A gentleman who used to work for Buck Knives makes unique knife handles out of elk antlers. He has developed his own technique, which takes great skill and precision.
A hat maker shows how beaver felt material was steamed then pushed over a hat-form block.
A hat maker shows how beaver felt material was steamed then pushed over a hat-form block.
What's cooking on the campfire? Some tasty pozole, I was told!
What’s cooking on the campfire? Some tasty pozole, I was told!
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup or stew, made from hominy, meat and various vegetable seasonings.
Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup or stew, made from hominy, meat and various vegetable seasonings.
Preparing eggs for the cascarón. Near the end of a fiesta Californios flirted by cracking eggs filled with scented water or confetti over the startled head of someone they liked.
Decorating eggshell cascarones. Near the end of a fiesta, Californios flirted by cracking eggs filled with scented water or confetti over the startled head of someone they liked.
A group called Los Californios played authentic early California music--tunes that were preserved over a century ago on wax cylinder sound recordings made by Charles Lummis.
A group called Los Californios played authentic early California music–tunes that were preserved over a century ago on wax cylinder sound recordings made by Charles Lummis.
A couple dances to the happy, gentle music.
A couple dances to the happy, gentle music.
Publications by a project called San Diego Friends of Old Time Music. Author Vykki Mende Gray is helping to preserve the musical history of California.
Publications by a nonprofit project called San Diego Friends of Old Time Music. Author Vykki Mende Gray is helping to preserve the musical history of California.
A display of braided ropes and cut rawhide, once commonly used by vaqueros as they worked on the large cattle ranches around San Diego.
A display of braided ropes and rawhide, once commonly used by vaqueros as they worked on the large cattle ranches around San Diego.
On this table I see more ropes, a canteen, iron brands and boot spurs.
On this table I see more ropes, a canteen, iron brands and boot spurs.
A gentleman who teaches students visiting Old Town about history holds up an illustration of bear-baiting, which early Californians found entertaining.
A gentleman who teaches school students visiting Old Town about history holds up an illustration of bear-baiting, which early Californians found entertaining.
These guys were making adobe bricks. I learned earth and water are mixed, and straw or manure are often added for strength and cohesion.
These guys were making adobe bricks. I learned earth and water are mixed, and straw or manure are often added for strength and cohesion.
These authentic adobe bricks take weeks or months to properly dry. When hard, they'll possibly be used in new construction or restored exhibits at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Authentic adobe bricks take weeks or months to properly dry. When hard, these bricks will possibly be used in new construction or to restore existing exhibits inside Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.
Traditional dancing in the courtyard of Casa de Estudillo of Los Camotes (which translates the sweet potatoes), a tune from Mexican and Spanish California.
Traditional dancing in the courtyard of Casa de Estudillo of Los Camotes (which translates the sweet potatoes), a tune from old Mexican and Spanish California.

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History at the Los Peñasquitos adobe ranch house.

Jogging and biking past the historic adobe ranch house in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.
Jogging and biking past the historic adobe ranch house in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve.

The second oldest residence in San Diego County can be found inside Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. The adobe ranch house was built in 1823 by Captain Francisco María Ruiz, who was Commandante of San Diego’s presidio. He built two small adobe buildings on Rancho Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos, his large 8,486-acre Mexican land grant north of the Presidio and Mission San Diego de Alcalá. It was first land grant made by the Mexican government in this area, just two years after Mexico became independent from Spain.

The historic adobe ranch house has been modified, enlarged and restored by various owners over the years, and today is a popular destination for visitors to Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. People often bike or hike through the picturesque ranch, and motorists can park in a nearby lot. Picnic tables are plentiful; there are goats and chickens to captivate children; and guided tours are available on weekends.

I toured the ranch recently and took photos of its various features. There are a variety of interpretive exhibits within the adobe house. Please read these informative displays (click to enlarge the images) to learn more about this fascinating place’s long and colorful history.

(What is the oldest structure in San Diego County? You’ll be completely surprised! I blogged about that here.)

The Los Peñasquitos Ranch House is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Guided tours are at 11:00 am on Saturday and 1:00 pm on Sunday.
The Los Peñasquitos Ranch House is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. Guided tours are at 11:00 am on Saturday and 1:00 pm on Sunday.
The ranch house is nestled among some shady trees. Two small adobe buildings were originally built in 1823. The house was enlarged by Captain George Alonzo Johnson in 1862.
The ranch house is nestled among some shady trees. Two small adobe buildings were originally built in 1823. The house was enlarged by Captain George Alonzo Johnson in 1862.
Plaque describes the establishment of the Johnson-Taylor Adobe Ranchhouse in 1862. The residence and later additions were used as a hotel, bunkhouse, and quarters for a working cattle ranch into the 1960s.
Plaque describes the establishment of the Johnson-Taylor Adobe Ranchhouse in 1862. The residence and later additions were used as a hotel, bunkhouse, and quarters for a working cattle ranch into the 1960s.
A sculpture inside the courtyard, located on the east side (rear) of the ranch house. The planters were probably used to grow herbs and flowers.
A sculpture inside the courtyard, located on the east side (rear) of the ranch house. The planters were probably used by the residents to grow herbs and flowers.
Part of the ranch house's long porch beside the courtyard.
Part of the ranch house’s long porch beside the courtyard.
Inside a room that contains museum-like exhibits, looking north out a window at various small structures on the ranch, including a chicken coop and goat pen.
Inside a living room that today contains museum-like exhibits, looking north out a window at various small structures on the ranch, including a chicken coop and goat pen.
The Californio Period, 1821 to 1850, included vaqueros (cowboys) living at Peñasquitos. The American Rancher Period, 1850-1970, began after California became a state.
The Californio Period, 1821 to 1850, included vaqueros (cowboys) living at Peñasquitos. The American Rancher Period, 1850-1970, began after California became a state.
1823-1834 timeline of the Mexican land grant of Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos, that was made to Captain Francisco María Ruiz.
1823-1834 timeline of the Mexican land grant of Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos, that was made to Captain Francisco María Ruiz.
In 1859 Captain George Alonzo Johnson married Maria Estéfana Alvarado, daughter of Francisco María Alvarado, who bought the ranch from Ruiz in 1837.
In 1859 Captain George Alonzo Johnson married Maria Estéfana Alvarado, daughter of Francisco María Alvarado, who bought the ranch from Ruiz in 1837.
A hand blown and painted glass pitcher and drinking glass that belonged to Maria de Jesus Alvarado de Sepulveda, daughter of Francisco María Alvarado.
A hand blown and painted glass pitcher and drinking glass that belonged to Maria de Jesus Alvarado de Sepulveda, daughter of Francisco María Alvarado.
The large earthenware olive jar was found under the ranch house floor during an excavation in 1983. Used for food storage, it was probably made in Spain or Portugal in the early to mid 1700s.
The large earthenware olive jar was found under the ranch house floor during an excavation in 1983. Used for food storage, it was probably made in Spain or Portugal in the early to mid 1700s.
Captain George Alonzo Johnson, a pioneer and businessman, came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush. He became a rancher and horse breeder.
Captain George Alonzo Johnson, a pioneer and businessman, came to California in 1849 during the Gold Rush. He became a rancher and horse breeder.
Historical newspaper articles describe the ranch house, outbuildings and grounds of George Alonzo Johnson's ranch.
Historical newspaper articles describe the ranch house, outbuildings and grounds of George Alonzo Johnson’s ranch.
Floor plan of Rancho Peñasquitos from 1975 HABS survey.
Floor plan of Rancho Peñasquitos from 1975 HABS survey.
A drawing of the Los Peñasquitos residence of Colonel Jacob Shell Taylor, who purchased the property in 1882. He raised Durham cattle and thoroughbred horses and would found Del Mar.
A drawing of the Los Peñasquitos residence of Colonel Jacob Shell Taylor, who purchased the property in 1882. He raised Durham cattle and thoroughbred horses and would found Del Mar.
Various branding irons on display in the adobe house that were discovered around the ranch. Included are early Spanish irons used by rustlers.
Various branding irons on display in the adobe house that were discovered around the ranch. Included are early Spanish irons used by rustlers.
Rancho Peñasquitos courtyard photo taken circa 1889, showing ranch employee H. T. Sandford and his family.
Rancho Peñasquitos courtyard photo taken circa 1889, showing ranch employee H. T. Sandford and his family.
Photo of the San Diego-Escondido Stage Line circa 1906. In the mid-1800s Peñasquitos was a way station on the wagon road between San Diego and Warner's Ranch.
Photo of the San Diego-Escondido Stage Line circa 1906. In the mid-1800s, Peñasquitos was a way station on the wagon road between San Diego and Warner’s Ranch.
Porch along the front (or west) side of the adobe ranch house, which faced the so-called Road to Yuma.
Porch along the front (or west) side of the adobe ranch house, which faced the so-called Road to Yuma.
I spotted someone riding a horse past the ranch house. Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is an ideal place for those who love to ride down peaceful trails.
I spotted someone riding a horse past the ranch house. Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is an ideal place for those who love to ride down peaceful trails.
Looking west at a meadow north of Peñasquitos Creek. I posted photos of those sycamores in the distance a few weeks ago.
Looking west at a meadow north of Peñasquitos Creek. I posted photos of those sycamores in the distance a few weeks ago.
An artificial pond south of the ranch house was filled with water from the nearby spring house for irrigation of a nearby grove.
An artificial pond south of the ranch house was filled with water from the adjacent spring house for irrigation of a nearby citrus grove.
The rock Spring House was constructed around an artesian spring. Water from the spring was used by the Native American Kumeyaay for as many as 12,000 years!
The rock Spring House was constructed around an artesian spring. Water from the spring was used by the Native American Kumeyaay for as many as 12,000 years!
The Mohnike Barn was constructed in 1912 of adobe and wood. Charles Mohnike, a rancher who purchased the property in 1910, was the builder.
The Mohnike Barn was constructed in 1912 of adobe and wood. Charles Mohnike, a rancher who purchased the property in 1910, was the builder.
The Mohnike Barn is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with the other ranch structures.
The Mohnike Barn is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with other ranch structures.
An octagonal concrete reservoir to the north, uphill from the ranch house. Photographic evidence shows water might have been pumped up here by windmill.
An octagonal concrete reservoir to the north, uphill from the ranch house. Photographic evidence shows water might have been pumped up here by windmill.
More ranch structures just west of the barn.
More ranch structures just west of the barn.
These friendly goats like to greet hikers and those on bicycles.
These friendly Nubian goats like to greet hikers and those on bicycles.
These chickens were wondering what I was up to.
These chickens were wondering what I was up to.
The southeast corner of the adobe ranch house.
The southeast corner of the adobe ranch house.
One last photo of the courtyard, a focal point of the ranch house, which has seen many lives, much history.
One last photo of the courtyard, a focal point of the ranch house, which has seen many lives, much history.

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