ContentsPutah and Cache: Clear Lake or Lypoyomi

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Lower Lake to Mt. Konocti

Pete Richerson and Scott Richerson

From Anderson Marsh, take Highway 53 south to the intersection of Highway 29. Turn right on Highway 29. As you drive up Highway 29 out of Lower Lake, you may notice the smell of the lake, a mellow mixture of sunny rocks, oak trees and algae. Climb the hill and turn right on Point Lakeview Road (following the sign to Jago Bay). As you turn, a large vineyard is visible on the right. Grape growing is the latest agricultural fashion around the lake.

The surrounding hills provide a good sample of Clear Lake's plant life: a pinto mosaic of the light, bushy green fuzz of short oaks, large dark patches of pure chamise, and thick scrub oak and manzanita chaparral. Conifers, bays, toyons, redbuds, and ceanothus are scattered about. The cover ranges from thick to impenetrable in most places, but is broken by patches of tan grass, green in the winter and spring. On a spring day this vegetation is as soft and lovely as any on Earth. Cooler north facing slopes and lower elevations tend to encourage the oak species-interior live, scrub and blue, while wetter areas are often populated by madrone and canyon live oaks. South facing slopes sport open grassy glades or chaparral. Hidden below the canopy is an understory of grasses, herbs and the rash-gold-vermillion poison oak. The valley floors, where they are not rowed into orchards and fields, are carpeted with wildflowers, and studded with the few remaining majestic valley oaks. Along Point Lakeview Road, you may see redbuds, blue and black oaks, clematis, gray pines, bays, buckeyes, snowdrop bushes, and western hop trees. The lake moderates the climate, bringing downhill the highland species that resent summer heat and allowing cold-sensitive species to climb a little.

In about one mile from the turn, you will see on the left the bright red rock of a volcanic cinder cone that is being mined for construction aggregate and decorative rock. Some of the roads around the lake are paved with this red rock. Shortly after that, Thurston Lake appears on the left. This lake always has the same turbid brown-gray color.No one seems to know why. The Clear Lake area is a lake district in which a number of basins have been formed by volcanic damming. The ridge the road travels on is a large lava flow that has dammed Thurston Creek, creating the lake. It is likely that the lake remains small because the lava flow is porous, allowing the water to drain. Clear Lake, visible shortly after Thurston Lake, is the largest of these dammings, created when lava flows around Lower Lake plugged the Upper Cache Creek Canyon and flooded the flat valley upstream. In another half mile, the rounded hump of Mt. Konocti can be seen standing well above the surrounding hills, rising to an altitude of 4,200 feet. The view from the peak is especially fine, but not currently accessible to the public. The now dormant volcano was active from around 600,000 to 300,000 years ago, and it accounts for 13 cubic miles of lava.

According to local legend, early settlers dynamited shut an open vent at the summit after two boys fell in and drowned. Many locals believe there exists a catacomb of caves and tunnels inside the mountain which opens somewhere under the lake. Indian stories tell of people throwing sticks into the crater and later finding them floating in the lake. The mountain breathes, giving these ideas a basis. As the barometric pressure changes, large amounts of air move into and out of the mountain, causing perceptible drafts around certain vents. In a recent effort to substantiate the stories, local explorers attempted to dig out the dynamited vent; but none have yet found anything more than small caves.

Konocti was of special importance to local Indians. As well as figuring heavily in their religion and mythology (Konocti means Mountain Lady in a local Pomo dialect), the volcano created immense deposits of high quality obsidian with which the Indians made various tools and projectile points for daily use and trading. European settlers called Konocti "Uncle Sam Mountain," but the more sonorous Indian name has endured.

Towards the end of Point Lakeview Road, you will cross the Konocti Bay Fault that runs along the southwestern shore of the Lower Arm. Bends in the fault system produce local stretching in a direction that runs against the grain of regional compression, creating "pull-apart" basins. Instead of sliding more or less smoothly past one another, blocks jam and twist sideways, forcing adjacent blocks apart. Blocks of rock topple into the pull-aparts, creating down-faulted basins such as the one occupied by the Upper Arm of the lake. Also magma can well up from below to fill gaps, resulting in shallow magma chambers and surface volcanics.

Point Lakeview Road dead-ends into Soda Bay Road, where you will turn right. In some road-cuts around this intersection, red volcanic soil has begun to form sedimentary layers in miniature basins on the lava flow surface. In a couple of miles, you will see a walnut orchard. Though the orchards have always struggled as moneymakers, walnuts remain one of the oldest and most popular crops around the lake. On the right side of the road at this same point is Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, built by the San Francisco Plumber's Union Pension Fund. This is a modern version of the once booming spa business on Lake County. The resort features lake tours, boat rentals, and various water sports, including skiing and jetskiing. Motorized water sports account for a sizable chunk of the local economy. The water is reliably warm enough for comfortable swimming and skiing from Labor Day until Memorial Day. A little over a mile past the resort, Buckingham Point Road splits off to the right and you can follow it on a scenic loop around the point. At the root of the peninsula, Little Borax Lake is one of two places in Lake County where borax was mined in the middle of the 19th century.

Back on Soda Bay Road, you will enter a dark, damp Douglas Fir forest on the north face of Mt. Konocti. This grove stretches about half a mile along Soda Bay Road. It is a spectacular example of a moisture-loving community being drawn down to near lake level. Among the firs are many madrones and bunch grasses. Small though it is, this dark grove creates a cool, quiet, deep, forest not found elsewhere on the lake.

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