ContentsPutah and Cache: Entering

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Touring Putah-Cache Country

Robert Thayer

Do you know where you are? How much do you know about the region where you live? Every one of us lives within a watershed (or more correctly, a drainage basin) of some sort. If you live in or near Woodland, Davis, Winters, West Sacramento, Lake Berryessa, Middletown, Cobb Mountain, Lower Lake, Clear Lake, or Capay Valley, chances are you live in the watershed of either Putah Creek or Cache Creek. Just as blood vessels nourish the human body, a watershed system nourishes the land and all its life systems. Yet we often know little about them. Upstream folks may not know where their water goes, and downstream people may not know where their water comes from, though we share the same basins. We owe a lot to our watersheds, and we ought to get to know them.

In today's global economy, with electronic communication and mass consumer culture, it is easy to lose sight of our surroundings. Knowing and identifying with one's watershed offers a new glimpse of how to be a community citizen of the natural world. Much as we might like to, it is impossible to take care of the entire earth all at once. We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is likely to be in our home bioregion, or "life-place"—the unique assemblage of geology, landform, watershed, climate, and communities of plants, animals and humans. All over North America, people have begun to assemble in volunteer groups on behalf of their local watersheds, mountain ranges, coasts, prairies, or forests. Grass roots organizations and resource agencies alike are beginning to subscribe to a bioregional approach to locating ourselves on earth and managing our relationship with the environment. Awareness of one's bioregion need not be constrained to political, racial, economic, cultural, age, or gender lines. Bioregional awareness—the deeper knowledge of one's home life-place—benefits all of us without discriminating.

Putah Creek and Cache Creek can be considered "sibling" creeks. Their headwaters both originate in the Mayacmas Mountains of the inner coastal ranges of northern California and their flows terminate within ten miles of each other in the Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento. Putah and Cache Creeks form the most dominant watersheds in the western Sacramento Valley bioregion, the next closest major watershed being Stoney Creek, which flows into the Sacramento River about 75 miles to the north. Neither Putah Creek nor Cache Creek would be considered among the State's more spectacular watersheds, but they have hidden beauty and demonstrate many of the potentials and limits of life in California.

We can learn a lot from Putah and Cache Creek about where we are and how live best to live here. But first, we must know where we are. This guided tour of the Putah and Cache Creeks basins is intended to do just that—to help you know more about your place on earth.

Many ancient peoples practiced forms of ritual travel, periodically touring their home territory and its sacred places on foot or by horseback, teaching their children about the earth and preserving their culture. Aboriginal Australian peoples relied on highly ritualized "walkabouts", stopping at various spots to sing the songs of the place; to them, the walkabouts literally renewed their world. The Yamabushi of Japan, an ancient Buddhist sect, circumambulated their sacred mountains clockwise, stopping to chant at certain places.

In our tour of the Putah Creek and Cache Creek watersheds, we have acknowledged the dominance of the automobile in our culture and have organized a clockwise tour of twenty-five stations, varying from mere "whistle stops" to hour-long hikes away from the car. These stops aim at a mixture of informative experience, ranging from geography, geological origins, landform, archaeology, native people's history, flora, fauna, hydrology, popular culture, agriculture, recreation, tourism, and local economic activity. This booklet, with its accompanying audio tape cassette and maps, is intended to complement the "real time" activities at the various stops and to provide commentary about the environments and places one may pass through while on the tour.

For convenience, we will begin the tour at the University of California at Davis, proceeding up the Putah watershed and down the Cache watershed, in a clockwise direction. However, residents from any part of either watershed can access the prescribed route at the nearest point, proceeding around the circuit until arriving back from where they began.

It is our intention that this tour will become at least an annual (if not a more frequent) ritual, and that it will evolve and change with time, as all rituals do. We have organized it because of our interest and affection for this place, and because we feel these kinds of experiences fill an obvious void in our education about the world. We hope you find the tour informative, enjoyable, and memorable!

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