...a single, bright sword cut across the murky pages of Monterey County history and literature...


Think you know Monterey county?photo of cloth and paperback editions

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Have you ever heard of Wunpost? How about the "Dead Beet Railroad?" And why is a visit to Pleyto difficult these days? If you've read Clark's other book, Santa Cruz County Place Names, you might know where Harris's leg was buried but where's the rest of him?

If you've read Steinbeck, you're familiar with Cannery Row, The Pastures of Heaven and Tortilla Flats. But where are they? How, when, and why were they given those names? Visitors to Monterey County, California, know that it is one of the loveliest spots on earth. But how many of them know why and when Pebble Beach got its name? Or Carmel? Or Big Sur?

Think you know (Monterey) Jack?

After you read the extensive and entertaining essay on the subject you will.

For centuries, people have been naming this land; Essalen and Rumsen Indians, Spanish explorers and missionaries, Yankee adventurers and writers have all left their mark.

The book doesn't simply list the names those people left but tells us the how, why, where, and who of over 2,700 places. He started with every place name that appeared in USGS maps of the area and added to the list as he went along. He spent years interviewing residents in out-of-the way places and researching sources from Monterey to Washington, D.C. The result is a stunning, informative and readable book. It is safe to say that it sets an unmatched standard for toponymic literature.

What, exactly, does the book contain?

Here's the author's description, from the Introduction: "Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary contains 2719 main entries; this represents 2542 distinct place names plus 134 entries that are duplicate names — for example there are five features named Copperhead Canyon — and 43 nicknames. If all the alternate or variant names are added, the total number of place names would be well over 4000. Lovers Point, for example, has been known by at least ten other names or variant spellings, and Salinas River by over fifteen. Monterey County Place Names covers a wide spectrum of features, both natural and man-made — towns, settlements, ranchos, rancherías, neighborhoods, post offices (past and present), parks, camps, trails, railroad "stops," bridges, creeks, falls, springs, lagoons, lakes, beaches, points, gulches, hills, ridges, mountains, groves, and many, many more categories. It includes names both old and new, current and obsolete. I have arbitrarily excluded schools and streets; these would require another volume. I have generally excluded subdivisions. . ." In addition to the 4000 cross references, there are also about 610 bibliographic entries and 525 map references and citations.

And yet, in spite of this thoroughness, Monterey County Place Names is hardly a dry litany of place names and their origins. Here's Sandy Lydon's writing in the Foreword, "Clark’s essay on Robinson Jeffers is one of the most moving pieces ever written about the poet...This is a remarkable book, a bibliography, and an almanac rolled into one. It is a single, bright sword cut across the murky pages of Monterey County history and literature..."