ContentsPutah and Cache: Upper Putah Creek

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Pope Valley to Guenoc Valley

Robert Thayer

Although difficult to see from the road, "Cedar Roughs" is just west and uphill from the junction of Berryessa Knoxville Road and Pope Canyon Road. This is an area of chaparral and relatively rare MacNab and Sargent Cypresses, small shrubby trees well suited to the highly alkaline conditions of serpentine soils. Serpentine, a bluish-green, sometimes shiny metamorphic rock frequently seen in inner coast range road cuts, is a magnesium silicate mineral that characterizes much of the landscape of upper Putah Creek. Gray pine, cypress, manzanita, and other chaparral plants are among the few that can tolerate its high pH and high nickel and magnesium levels, and this plant community is a marker of its presence. It is a soft, workable rock, although it often crumbles and decomposes easily.

Pope Canyon Road winds up from Lake Berryessa to Pope Valley along Pope Creek. Named for an early pioneering family, Pope Valley's former native culture is shrouded in mystery. Journalist Thomas Powers, who studied the Patwin people in 1871, reported that a tribe once lived in Pope Valley to whom the Patwin referred as "Tu-lo-kai-di-sel" and the Spaniards referred as the "Rejo", or Re-Ho, after a chief of that name. By Powers' time, nothing remained of their people or unique language. In 1838, the few Tulokaidisel that had survived disease were abducted to Sonoma Mission. Three Tulokaidisel survived until 1842, leaving behind only questions. When the sign for "Pope Valley Cross Road" appears on the right, turn right and you will soon T-intersect with Pope Valley Road, turning right again and heading northwest.

Litto's Hubcap Ranch

On Pope Valley Road near Aetna Springs, myriad chrome disks glint in sunlight. These are hubcaps, along with other cast-offs from modern automobilia: tires, hood ornaments, and so forth . Hubcaps adorn fence posts, form walls, swing in the breeze, and spell the name "Litto" on a barn roof.

This is Registered California Historic Landmark #839, " The Litto Hubcap Ranch." Emanuele "Litto" Damonte (1896-1985) was the Pope Valley Hubcap King, and his collection of over 2,000 hubcaps, bottles, pull-tops, and other objects of modern culture is considered worthy of one of California's premiere modern folk art culture displays. Such a density of shiny road paraphernalia could also be considered a collection of mandalas, reminding us that if we got here by car, we are always connected by the asphalt umbilical to the mainstream of American culture.

Around Mile 81 on our tour, a gentle creek canyon reveals a number of MacNab cypress (the smaller ones) and Sargent cypress (the larger). Leaving the canyon, you will come across your first view of Cobb Mountain twenty miles in the distance. This 4,722 foot-high peak is the headwaters of Putah Creek.

Guenoc Valley and Winery

Guenoc Winery, and the Langtry House, named after 19th century British stage actress Lillie Langtry, present a culmination of centuries of placed culture, starting with the ancestors of the original people, the Lake Miwok.

According to anthropologist C. H. Merriam, "Guenoc", or phonetically, "wen-nok", was the Indian name for the "picturesque valley encircling a small lake six miles due east of Middletown", where we are now. Other sources say that the area's name is the name of Celtic Saint Gunioc, buried in Scotland in 838 a.d. The lake was home to migratory waterfowl and Guenoc Valley, encompassing the lake, was home to three Lake Miwok village sites, one called Hawl-hawl-pu-goot, the name characterizing the type of fish trap used at the outflow of Guenoc Lake. The Lake Miwok people are related to the Coast Miwok (north of San Francisco Bay) and the Sierran Miwok (the Yosemite Valley and beyond). The Lake Miwok called themselves and their homeland "Tuleyome", which means "Deep Home Place". Tuleyome was also the name of their primary village site in the Excelsior Valley three miles south of what is now Lower Lake. The villages around Guenoc were also called "Oleyome."

The Tuleyome people lived in semi-subterranean houses, held ceremonial dances in larger structures, were expert basket makers, hunted waterfowl, fished, and gathered acorns, and participated in the Kuksu religion, a form of spirit impersonation involving the Big Head, or Bole-maru. Dancers adorned themselves with large headdresses to impersonate the Big Head spirit. Dreamers "dreamed" the designs for flags mounted on poles during the four-day dance ceremonies, and dancers followed strict rules governing sequencing, choreography, costumes, etc. The Miwok considered such rituals imperative to keep the world together, and performed them great regularly well after the influence of white settlers.

In the mid-1800's many Lake Miwok were enslaved, lured to missions and rancherias, killed by contagious disease, or simply murdered. By 1845, the Mexican government had granted George Roch a 21,000 acre land grant named Guenoc. In 1874, David Hudson purchased 1,500 acres in the Guenoc Valley and built a farmhouse, called "The Homestead." British stage actress Lillie Langtry bought it in 1888. Lillie Langtry was arguably the most well-known woman in Great Britain and traveled in the highest circles of British society. With Freddie Gebhard, the man she wanted to marry upon divorcing her husband, Edward Langtry, she purchased several thousand acres of valley land and planted some of it to wine grapes, bringing in a French winemaker from Bordeaux. Gebhard gave up the relationship in 1897 after she was denied both US citizenship and British divorce. However, Lillie Langtry had fallen in love with the Guenoc Valley and owned "Langtry Farms" for 18 years.

Now owned and managed by the Orville Magoon family, originally of Hawaii, Guenoc has become a truly world-class winery with numerous awards to its credit, its own wine appellation region, and an annual production of over 100,000 cases. The Langtry House has been restored and is now a Lake County Historical Monument.

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