ContentsPutah and Cache: Upper Cache Creek

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Wilson Valley to Cache Creek

Robert Thayer

The BLM Redbud Trail to Wilson Valley offers the ecotourist access to the "wild heart" of Putah-Cache Country: Wilson Valley, with its tule elk herd, gorgeous valley oak savanna, wintering bald eagles, and 18 river miles of Class II-III whitewater. Wilson Valley occupies the center of an official Wilderness Study Area of over 40,000 acres, managed by the Bureau of Land Management in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Game. Regulations require that it be managed as a roadless wild area until Congress decides to designate it official wilderness or abandon wilderness study status. Open to hikers, hunters, expert boaters, fisherman, birders, wildflower enthusiasts, the area offers something for every type of outdoor enthusiast. The best time for visiting is from November through March; the area is closed for tule elk calving from April to June, and the summers are extremely hot in this low elevation oak woodland-chaparral environment.

Like the Clear Lake area, the upper watershed of Cache Creek has seen humans for at least ten thousand years. As white settlers moved into Clear Lake to the west and into the Capay Valley to the southeast, the upper reaches of Cache Creek were some of the last places in either watershed where native peoples could take refuge and live as they always had. Despite years of attempts, no railroad was ever built through the unstable shale and siltstone of Cache Creek's canyons. With the exception of scattered homesteads and mercury mines, the land has remained sparsely settled. Throughout the Wilson Valley area are several important archaeological sites of the Hill Patwin—"Chen-po-sel", or "downstream people" as they were called by other Patwin groups farther up the North Fork. One village site, Kuy-kuy, consists of the ruins of a ceremonial house and several small dwelling houses located in the midst of pristine oak grassland on a bluff overlooking Cache Creek. Archaeologists estimate that it is 200-300 years old.

Within a short walk of the trailhead is a smaller ruin, where hikers can observe the depressions left from several subterranean Chen-po-sel dwellings. One can easily imagine native peoples gathering acorns, chipping stone tools, or weaving baskets by the small stream running close to the site.

Heading eastward on Route 20, we will be ascending up what is known as Resurrection Hill, the toughest climb on the 200-mile long Davis Double Century bicycle tour, which takes place every May. The Double Century, or "D.C." is a well known traditional ride, with up to two thousand participants. It follows a route much like the one we now follow. For a real firsthand feeling for the watershed, try doing this tour in one day on your bicycle!

The trailhead for the BLM's new Judge Davis trail into Wilson Valley is at a small stock holding and loading pen on the right (south) side of Route 20, adjacent to a graveled parking and turn-around area. It provides an alternative to the more heavily used Redbud Trail. The Judge Davis trail travels over a small ridge of hills, offering spectacular views of wild Cache Creek and Wilson Valley. On your hike of this area you may see a deer, bear, bald or golden eagle, falcon, or roadrunner—the latter being a bird usually associated with desert areas but occasionally seen in chaparral.

The mine along the left (north) side of the road is the "Turkey Run" mine. Several other abandoned quicksilver sites dot the area, with names like "Manzanita Mine ", "Empire Mine", "Wide Awake Mine", etc. Unfortunately, these mine sites are probably responsible for the high levels of mercury occurring in Cache Creek during high storm run-off events. Sulphur Creek, which drains into Bear Creek, which then drains into Cache, has been found to have some of the highest mercury concentrations in the state, and is now studied by government agencies wishing to reduce mercury contamination in the lower Sacramento River basin.

Route 20/Highway 16: Tule Elk Reserve

The 12,000 or so acres of land extending southwest of the intersection of Highway 16 and Route 20 to the wild stretch of Cache Creek is known as the Payne Ranch, and has been recently acquired by the Bureau of Land Management. Three local herds of tule elk, a threatened species closely managed by the California Department of Fish and Game, now inhabit this general region. Tule elk, Cervus elaphus nannodes, is the small, light-colored subspecies of the American elk or wapiti. It once formed a staple in the diet of many lower elevation natives for thousands of years. In some archaeological sites in the Sacramento Valley and Solano County areas, whole tule elk skeletons have been found entombed with human remains, suggesting a reverential relationship between elk and human among these natives of our bioregion.

Bear Creek to Capay Valley

Following Bear Creek downstream toward Cache Creek Canyon, you may notice a whitish residue on the creekside boulders and gravel bars. A distinct odor and color are associated with Cache Creek, largely due to the high concentration of dissolved salts which precipitate out on these rocks. These precipitates contain a high percentage of boron, which is necessary as a trace element in plants but is toxic to plants in higher concentrations. Other precipitates include calcium and magnesium. Downstream folks with well water fed by Cache Creek aquifers in Yolo County often see and taste the evidence of these salts in the films which form on coffee and tea made from tap water and in brown or burned tips of leaves of ornamental trees and shrubs irrigated with well water.

Cache Creek enters the canyon from the right, following its outflow from the Wilderness Study Area. At the intersection of Bear and Cache Creeks was the Hill Patwin village "Tebti", meaning "stream confluence". Downstream, near Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park campground, was the village of Lopa. The two villages probably formed a tribelet, or filial band, and were part of the greater linguistic-political-territorial unit of the Chen-po-sel.

Crossing Cache Creek to the right (west), County Road 40, a.k.a. Rayhouse Road, crosses a low water bridge and then ascends Fiske Creek Canyon through Bureau of Land Management public lands and becomes Reiff Road upon entering Lake County near the McLaughlin Mine. The road is gravel and dirt-surfaced, and is only open during the dry season. However, in the winter, the road becomes a rugged but rewarding hike or mountain bike ride. The more primitive Blue Ridge Trail begins across the low water bridge and slightly downstream on a terrace. The trail winds up and across two ravines, quickly rising to the top of Blue Ridge at nearly 3,000 foot. Views from the top can be spectacular; on clear days hikers can see Mount Shasta, Sutter Buttes, Mount Diablo, and the Sierra Nevada. The trail continues southward along the top of Blue Ridge for nearly four miles, reconnecting with Fiske Creek Road.

The stretch of Cache Creek near the confluence of Fiske Creek is also a popular water sports area, with opportunities for whitewater rafting, fishing, swimming, and picnicking—camping is available just upstream at the upper Canyon Park site.

The Cache Creek Canyon geology is characterized by Cretaceous period shales, siltstones, mudstones and conglomerates. Although originally maritime sediments, these deposits were thought to have occurred very far from shore, as the local rock contains few fossils and almost no limestone.

The stone structure on the left as the road leaves the canyon is known as the Boy Scout Cabin. It is now a part of Yolo County's Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park, and is a frequent stop for creek runners. Put in your canoe here for a mild ten-mile run down to Guinda, or take out here from a Class III raft or kayak trip starting by the confluence of Bear Creek. Beyond the Boy Scout Cabin, the land opens up into the beautiful, bountiful Capay Valley.

The small community of Rumsey lies shortly beyond the opening of the Capay Valley as one drives south. The land around Rumsey originally was home to a band of Patwin. It became the terminal point for the Vaca Valley and Clear Lake Railroad in 1888. Named for Captain DeWitt C. Rumsey, the "town" never had a dense collection of buildings, but served as the village center for the surrounding fruit ranches which sprang up in the Capay Valley. The railroad was never built all the way through to Clear Lake as planned.

In 1906, an earthquake thought by some to be an aftershock of the great San Francisco quake occurred upstream in Cache Creek Canyon. Residents of Rumsey knew something was up when they saw the stream flow of Cache Creek dry up. Fearing calamity, a band of men set out with mules to assess the situation upstream, but only a solitary journalist found his way several days later to the large landslide that had damned Cache Creek and created a lake eight miles long. Riding back down the canyon to Rumsey, he warned the locals of the situation and the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the dam. As it turned out, the dam eroded away slowly, and although barns and buildings near Rumsey were temporarily flooded, no loss of human life occurred.

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