The Putah-Cache Bioregion Project:
GuideWho | What | Where | Publications
Robert Thayer and David Robertson (last revised 3/5/97)
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, Hidden Valley, Cobb Mountain, Loch Lomond, Lower Lake, Clear Lake, or Capay Valley, the chances are you live in the watershed or basin area of either Putah Creek or Cache Creek. Watersheds are the circulatory systems of our environment, 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, yet we share the same basins. Yet, just as blood vessels nourish the human body, a watershed system nourishes the land and all its life systems. We owe a lot to our watersheds, and we ought to get to know them.
In today's globalizing world of electronic communication and mass consumer culture, it is easy to lose sight of our surroundings. All over North America, people have begun to assemble in volunteer groups on behalf of their local watersheds, mountain ranges, prairies, or forests. Knowing and identifying with one's watershed offers a new glimpse of how to be a community citizen of the natural world, not just of some abstract political unit or consumer category. 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. 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. California has over a dozen unique bioregions, and both grassroots organizations and governmental agencies now recognize the advantages of a "bioregional" approach to planning, conservation, and lifestyle. 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. 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 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 young 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, which for them, 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 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 (since the authors are Davis Professors), we have begun 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!
Standing on the abandoned bridge across the "north fork" of Putah Creek by Parking Lot #10 on the UCD campus, you are in the midst of what was once a substantial native settlement. To your northwest, by Voorhies Hall and across the street at the corner of First and A, and to the south in the midst of Solano Park Apartments, lie the bones of Southeastern Patwin people, or "Puta-toi". Graves and archaeological remains uncovered during modern building construction reveal a people who, at this very site, probably fished for salmon and sturgeon, gathered acorns, lived in semi-subterranean houses. Prior to the late 1890's, the main flow of Putah Creek passed under your feet en route to the great seasonal wetlands just to the east that occurred annually and offered the opportunity for the harvest of fish and waterfowl. Close your eyes and imagine the rush of creek waters, the smell of wood smoke, the feel of their earthen homes and the sounds of families preparing food, laughing and conversing in daily life.
No markers of any kind acknowledge these people, but their bones grace this site beyond our sight. We know little of their language—a few words here and there. To acknowledge these people, we may assemble a few of what we believe to be their words as a grateful introduction to our tour, which, in some ways, is a tour of their lands which we now occupy. Try saying these three words a few times: "Saltu K'ewe Puta-toi"—Spirit Home of the Putah People. Saltu K'ewe Puta-toi. Saltu K'ewe Puta-toi. It is a small way to honor the spirit of the place and set the stage for our tour.
As you enter your vehicle to proceed with this tour, set the trip meter to zero. Mileage from now on will be indicated cumulatively from this spot, although allow some for odometer error; everyone's car is a little different.
The mapped route to the next stop takes you through the UC Davis campus, home of a world-class university with considerable strengths in the sciences, humanities, engineering, law, and medicine. You will drive between the arboretum to your left and the School of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital to your right.
As you cross Route 113, the sunken freeway, notice to your left the gentle swale in the land. This is all that remains of the original channel of Putah Creek, now occupied by cattle and sheep pens. Just a little further, after we cross back over the original channel, you'll notice the remnant riparian vegetation behind chain link fence, now an experimental ecosystem for research.
Our second stop brings us back to the edge of the creek at the Putah Creek Campus reserve. Behind us is the Aquatic Weed Center, and it was just about at this spot that farmers in the late 1890's rerouted the flow of Putah Creek away from the "north fork," which we have been following, and into its present channel location southward. Many folks still think the UCD Arboretum is Putah Creek, but the current channel now takes the water far south of Davis, lessening the chances for flooding of the city and campus.
UC Davis manages a large acreage of land along the north side of Putah Creek here and upstream for several miles. The Putah Creek Campus Reserve is a location for research, education, and recreation. Here one finds remnants of the great former riparian forests of Valley Oak, Cottonwood, Foothill Ash, and Willow which prevailed in this region prior to reclamation of most of the land for farming in the 19th century. For hundreds of thousands of years, Putah Creek, Cache Creek, and other drainages like it periodically spilled their banks, leaving sediment brought down from the foothills in deep, rich deposits of alluvium which characterize the Sacramento Valley bioregion's world class agricultural soils.
In spite of its homely and somewhat vestigial nature, there is a rich biodiversity in this stretch of the creek—rich enough to prompt the formation of a local volunteer group, the Putah Creek Council, to seek ways of restoring and protecting the creek. One main thrust of the council is to seek adequate flow levels downstream from Berryessa Reservoir and the Solano diversion dam to protect the ecosystems and public trust resources of the creek.
During the late 1980's drought years, mountain lions were sighted here, and evidence of their predatory kills included deer taken from the UCD Experimental Ecosystem just west of here; even fox and horse carcasses were found. This stretch of creek is also home to a significant population of Swainson's hawks, who nest in the riparian trees and forage in surrounding field crop areas. When sufficient water flows in the creek here, a small kayak or canoe offers the paddler a rare opportunity to share in the creek's multitude of plant and animal species, as one encounters beaver, muskrat, herons, wood ducks, various amphibians, and at least fifteen species of fish.
As we leave the Campus Reserve, you'll see several very large Valley Oak trees with their broad, spreading crowns and distinct branching patterns silhouetted against the foothills. Valley Oaks were once prolific before fields were cleared for agriculture. More than any tree, the Valley Oak characterizes the lower plains region of Putah and Cache Creeks, and was an important food source for native peoples living here.
Heading upstream and westward, we pass the Primate Research Center, one of four similar centers nationwide conducting research on the biology and behavior of humankind's closest living relatives.
At about mile 12 you will see the Glide Ranch off to your left. Notice the rather undulating landforms and drainage swales. This, not the laser-planed agricultural fields, is closer to the original topography of the Valley prior to the arrival of white people.
The recently acquired Russell Ranch is on the north side of Putah Creek just west of the Glide Ranch. Here, long-term experiments in low-input (i.e., no synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers), sustainable farming methods will be conducted for periods as long as one hundred years. The LTSA (Long Term Sustainable Agriculture) facility will serve as a baseline for comparison of soil structure and fertility as well as costs and benefits of low input, sustainable farming.
Continuing westward and upstream takes us through typical farm and orchard country enroute to our next stop at the city of Winters. As we approach the city on Route 128, note the picturesque sign of Winters just beyond the gas station, which captures the sense of place quite well: the orchards, historic water tank, foothills, and dam in the background.
Here we park near the corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street in Winters. Originally home to the "Liwai-toi", or "people of the stream", Liwai (Winters) was one of the more substantial settlements of Patwin people. One of the earliest white settlers was Jacob Wolfskill, who negotiated a grant of land from Commandante Mariano Vallejo in 1842. His land grant, entitled "Rio de los Putos", extended a great distance eastward and westward along both sides of the stream. Wolfskill began to experiment with varieties of vines and fruit trees, giving rise to Winters' reputation as a center for tree crops now known worldwide. The highway we just traveled followed the boundaries of Wolfskill's Mexican land grant.
Wagon roads, then railroads connected Winters to Benecia and the San Francisco Bay, and as the area's fruit and crop production grew, rail lines offered a means to connect local crops to eastern U.S. and southern California markets. Winters prospered and Main Street developed in a pattern still recognizable today. The old Winters Hotel, seen across the street diagonally from our stop, suffered some damage in the Winters Earthquake of 1892, and cracks in the facade can still be seen today. Across the street to the north is the favorite breakfast and lunch spot of many locals, the Putah Creek Cafe. A wide variety of customers, including ranchers, cyclists, business people, farm hands, retirees, politicians, and professors, can all agree that the Putah Creek Cafe's friendly service, great food, and local flavor create a unique sense of place representing the best our humble watershed can offer. When you have time, go inside and have a great slice of pie, buy a heron-emblazoned Cafe T-shirt, and look at the original art and local photographs of Putah Creek and the huge color portrait of just about the entire population of Winters gathered in Main Street celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the earthquake.
The old railroad bridge visible to the south is now unsafe for travel, but instead marks the site of volunteer creek clean-ups and, eventually, a new public park. Winters is on the cusp between valley and low foothill ecosystems, and is the gateway to the recreation area of Lake Berryessa. It's the best kept secret in the county.
The drive across Putah Creek and along the road upstream follows the boundaries of Wolfskill's original land grant, past the University's deciduous fruit field station. Westward views soon bring the foothills into clearer focus.
Sometimes in the present state of California and around the arid Western U.S., it is hard to determine just what is the true extent of any impounded stream. Here, at this stop by the Solano Diversion Dam, the Solano County Water Agency and Solano Irrigation District divert the majority of Putah Creek's summer flow into the Putah South Canal, which provides irrigation for Solano County's agriculture and urban development. Notice the flood control weirs and gates, and the smooth, concrete channel which diverts the water southward, typical of hundreds of other similar engineering structures in the foothills of California. One might say, then, that the "watershed" of Putah Creek extends well into Solano County. Although disputes and litigation have been ongoing for some time over sufficient water releases from this diversion dam into the main stem of the creek to protect natural and public trust values downstream, both sides hope for an amicable resolution to the controversy. At this very spot there is considerable potential to demonstrate for the rest of the state just how to operate water impoundments and diversions for the most sustainable, long term benefit for all parties involved, human and otherwise (including those animals and plants who can not speak on their own behalf).
Just beyond the dam is Solano "Lake," the small reservoir backed up by the diversion dam. Birders and others who appreciate wildlife concede that although artificially created, this is among the region's best spots for observing waterfowl. Take a moment to scan the area with field glasses, and you might see cormorants, herons, osprey, numerous ducks, egrets, grebes, and even eagles on rare occasions. A local park rents human-powered paddle boats, and the local fly fisherman help steward the populations of rainbow and brown trout plying the lake's waters. You might also notice the obvious aquatic weeds (Hydrilla) which have begun to choke the waters in the absence of the creek's normal flushing flows.
At the intersection of Putah Creek and Pleasants Valley Road, note the Ostrich ranch. Ostrich and Emu ranches are becoming more prevalent in our watershed as peoples discover the benefits of the nearly-fat free meat. One of the authors attests to the quality and tastiness of such in salads and burgers, but it will no doubt be a while before "Fowl Ranches" displace our foothill beef cattle industry.
Winding upstream still, our path on Route 128 follows the creek past several fishing and recreational creek access points favored by trout fisherman from near and far. Cold water, released from the bottom of the dam forming Lake Berryessa upstream, makes this stretch of creek, among low-elevation coastal streams, uniquely favorable to trout species. You will probably see a few cars pulled over while their drivers fly-fish for the elusive trout beyond the stream banks. You will also probably notice the changing riparian environment, as the White Alder (Alnus rhombifolia) begins to express itself.
We are proceeding into Putah Canyon toward the site once known as Devil's Gate, where the Monticello Dam now spans the canyon walls. This canyon, with its steep rocky shoulders, results from geological upheaval of both volcanic and metamorphic origin. Devil's Gate was a dam builder's dream: a narrow notch in the upturned strata of Blue Ridge, layered of Venado formation marine sandstone from the Cretaceous period, originally laid down in the Pacific Ocean far from shore.
A stop below the dam gives one an opportunity to first experience the foothill ecosystem close up. If you live in the Valley, you'll appreciate the change in topography and flora as we cross the road and follow Cold Canyon Trail into a typical ephemeral side stream canyon. We have now reached an area of sufficient annual rainfall (over twenty inches) to begin to support significant populations of trees and patches of true woodland, mixed woodland, chaparral, oak grassland, and corridors of riparian Alder, Cottonwood, Bay Laurel, and Live Oak. Following this trail a mile or two upstream takes you past a long-deserted homestead to a shady stand of Bay trees surrounding a mossy, natural rock garden. This is a favorite spot for hikers from the Valley towns—close enough for an easy day trip and short enough to take the whole family. Look for the low, gray foliage and late summer blooms of the low growing California fuschia (Epilobium canum), the spicy-rum aroma of the elliptical Bay tree leaves, and the bright red winter berries of the native Toyon, also called Christmas Berry for obvious reasons. Golden eagles occasionally cruise this area on their hunting trips, and peregrine falcons have been known to nest high up on the sides of the canyon. Newts (the animal variety) can be found in pools in the stream and sometimes cross the trail, while coyote scats on the trail mark their territorial boundaries.
Cold Canyon is a treat for hikers of all ages and abilities. Combine this hike with lunch at Putah Creek Cafe for a truly bioregional experience!
Just a half mile up the road, we stop at the Monticello Dam overlook, an increasingly popular place as people begin to learn more about their watershed. Built by the United States Government and Solano County (Napa and Yolo Counties opted out of the agreement) in the mid 1950's, Monticello Dam is operated by Solano County and the resultant reservoir is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. As reservoirs go, Berryessa has a large capacity compared to its annual run-off inflow. At normal annual rainfall, the reservoir would take 4.5 years to fill up if outflow, infiltration and surface evaporation were ignored and "zeroed out." However, the winters of 1994-95, 95-96, and 96-97 were wet enough to fill the reservoir completely and spill water down the large "Glory Hole" spillway drain visible just beyond the dam. Named for the Morning Glory flower whose shape it resembles, this curious engineering feature draws numerous visitors, and its eerie image is captured in many a photograph.
As you leave the dam heading west on Route 128, you will see only a small fraction of Berryessa's vast water surface until our next stop some seventeen miles later. Berryessa provides year-round power boat recreation and launching, houseboat facilities, and well-known trolling grounds for lake trout, bass, and other game fish. In addition, on hot days, its shoreline offers cool respite from the heat for local residents. The reservoir supports a population of bald eagles and osprey, and its quieter arms can be enjoyed by canoeists and kayakers as well.
By the Markley Cove Marina lies the bottom of notorious "Cardiac Hill," known to local bicyclists as the first major test of endurance for riders out of the valley. Climbing steadily for 1.7 miles, the hill presents an early aerobic challenge for riders on the famous Davis Double Century bicycle ride, which, incidentally, coincides with the route of our watershed tour almost completely. No one has actually had cardiac arrest on Cardiac Hill, but the name has stuck, and once you've cycled up this landmark, you'll never know it by any other name.
At the top of Cardiac Hill is a rusted gate to a road leading further up the saddle to the right. This is the entrance to Quail Ridge Conservancy, an excellent example of inner coast range foothill ecosystems and another success story of local initiative and involvement by enthusiast Frank Maurer and others. Now also managed by the University, Quail ridge is open only by prior arrangement with the University. Contact Dan Tolson, the University's land steward, for more details.
At Moscowite Corners, we arrive at one of the only commercial corners between Clear Lake and the Valley. Steele Canyon Road leads back down to Lake Berryessa to our right after the intersection, and Route 121 curves leftward to Napa. We turn right at the corner, staying on Route 128.
At approximately mile 43, (depending on your odometer accuracy), our route crosses Capell Creek, and on the far right creek bank are several Douglas Fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii). As far as the authors can tell, these are the closest Douglas Firs to the valley—the first of many to be seen on our circumnavigation of the watershed. Their presence is significant in that it marks the southeastern-most extent of the "Northwest" —the trailing-off remnants of the great forests dominated by Douglas Fir which extend from British Columbia well into northern California. Here, as poet Gary Snyder says of the unique vegetational mix of Manzanita and Douglas Fir, is where "Canada meets Mexico."
Here also occurs a fundamental change in the flora of our watershed region, as sufficient annual moisture (approaching 30 or more inches per year, augmented by summer fog) now allows the beginnings of mixed conifer and oak forests to occupy wetter sites. We'll dip back into chaparral (dominated by Chamise, Adenostema fasciculatum), Blue Oak woodland (Quercus douglasi), often occurring in pure stands amid foothill grassland, and Foothill Pine (Pinus sabiniana, the pine with light-gray/green foliage and divergent trunks, seen at lower elevations amid oaks or chaparral) from time to time. But from this point on we will see the familiar Douglas Fir more frequently, and indicator of our approach to the upper watershed.
Near approximately tour mile 45, we turn on the Berryessa-Knoxville Road toward Spanish Flat on the shores of Lake Berryessa. A few miles down the road brings us to the first convoluted bays of the reservoir near Capell Cove, and we see the hidden resort communities nestled along these arms. Five miles later, we see a sign labeled "Monticello Cemetery" (of which more later).
After a long spell in the car (or even longer in the saddle, if you've been riding a bike and reading this!), we come to the Berryessa Headquarters of the Bureau of Reclamation. Hopefully, their small visitor center and the restrooms are all open. Here, views of the reservoir are serene, even more so upon learning of the submerged history nearby. Not far offshore and underwater from this site is the old town of Monticello, a former farm and ranch community occupying the Berryessa Valley. Prior to its inundation by the filling reservoir in 1956, the culture and character of Monticello were captured in a group of hauntingly beautiful photographs by Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones under commission by the U.S. government. Only a small town of less than 300 people, Monticello surfaces again for us in these photographs, available in a book from the Vacaville Museum. Most moving is a shot of the town cemetery after the coffins have been removed to higher ground, leaving gaping holes in neat rows.
During recent litigation over water flows in lower Putah Creek, old timers from the Berryessa Valley testified to the beauty and vitality of the Creek prior to inundation. Former residents attest to the presence of a steelhead trout population which over-wintered in Putah Creek's pools. During the drought years as the level of the reservoir fell substantially, portions of the bridge near the Monticello town site began to emerge. Some of those who could remember the Monticello of thirty years earlier found the thought of the water level dropping further and uncovering their former home too macabre to consider. Fortunately, for the time being, their fears are moot; the reservoir has been completely full for three years running.
The area near Spanish Flat is said to have been where the brothers, Jose de Jesus Berreyesa, and Sexto Berreyesa lived in the late 1830's. The Berreyesa brothers were two of eleven children of Nasario Berreyesa, the original Spanish settler of the valley which now lies beneath the reservoir. Jose de Jesus and Sexto were the original grantees of Rancho Las Putas. "Lake" Berryessa is named after them, as is the community of Spanish Flat.
Although difficult to see from the road, just west and uphill from the Berryessa-Knoxville Road you are on now and the turn off toward Pope Valley is the area know as "Cedar Roughs". This is an area of chaparral and relatively rare MacNab and Sargent Cypresses, large shrubs or small 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 toxic to many plant associations. Serpentine characterizes much of the landscape of upper Putah Creek and the unique associations of Gray Pine, Cypress, Manzanita and other chaparral plants are the only associations which can tolerate the high pH and magnesium levels. Serpentine is a soft, workable rock, and can be shaped into various design forms, although it often crumbles and decomposes easily.
Near approximately mile 69, we turn left onto Pope Canyon Road and wind our way up from Lake Berryessa to Pope Valley along Pope Creek. Named for an early pioneering family, Pope Valley's former native culture is shrouded with mystery. One of the earliest accounts is given by journalist Thomas Powers, who studied the Patwin people in 1871. Powers 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. Even by Powers' time, nothing remained of their people, having been wracked by diseases and abductions to Sonoma Mission in 1838, or of their unique language. Three survived until 1842, then soon perished, leaving only questions remaining of their mode of existence.
When the sign for "Pope Valley Cross Road" appears on the right, turn right and you will soon T-intersect with Pope Valley Road. Turn right again and head northwest. The next two tour stops will present you with a startling contrast in cultures: a collection of hubcaps registered as an historic landmark, and a world-class winery founded in the 1880's by a wealthy and sophisticated British actress who flirted with royalty.
Just around a bend in Pope Valley Road near Aetna Springs on our tour, you will be suddenly caught by myriad chrome disks glinting in sunlight or reflecting the clouds. These are hubcaps—every conceivable type of hubcap known to humankind—arranged in esoteric display, along with other cast-offs from modern automobilia: tires, hood ornaments, and so forth. But most surprisingly, this is an official Registered California Historic Landmark #839, " The Litto Hubcap Ranch." Hubcaps adorn fence posts, form walls, swing in the breeze, and spell the name "Litto" on a barn roof. Emanuele "Litto" Damonte (1896-1985) was known as 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 registration as one of California's premiere modern folk art culture displays.
Litto Hubcap Ranch forces us to confront where we are—by many people's standards, this chrome collection might indicate we are "nowhere", or at least in what Geographer Pierce Lewis calls a "taste-free" zone. But such an intense density of shiny, round 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. No sense sitting in a car with chrome hubcaps making fun of a hubcap ranch. Just meditate on these little round, chrome disks as they reflect the culture and the landscape around us all.
Around mile 81 on our tour, you will drive through a gentle creek canyon revealing a number of Cypress trees. Unfamiliar viewers might recognize these trees by their similarity to Juniper or Cedar trees of other regions. The smaller cypresses are MacNab, the larger are Sargent species. For some reason, these species do not do well in ornamental landscapes, as they are not even mentioned in the Sunset Western Garden Book, bible of west coast landscape horticulture. Too bad. They are fine, drought resistant, and hardy trees which might look good in a garden.
As you leave the previously described Cypress 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, and will be the apogee of our tour.
Turn right at the driveway to Guenoc Winery (not the Guenoc Ranch road) at approximately mile 84, just after reaching the small lake on the left side of the road. 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 a Celtic word, the name of a Catholic Saint, Guenoc, buried in Scotland in 838 a.d. The lake was home to migratory waterfowl and the valley encompassing the lake, now called Guenoc Valley, was once home to three different 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 (who occupied territory including the Yosemite Valley). 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 referred to by the Miwok as "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 for the four-day dance ceremonies, and dancers followed strict rules governing sequencing, choreography, costumes, etc. Such rituals were thought to be imperative to keeping the world together, and were performed with great regularity even well after the arrival and influence of white settlers.
The mid-1800's saw great changes, with many Lake Miwok 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 with the recorded name of Guenoc. In 1874, one David Hudson built a simple farmhouse on 1,500 acres he had purchased in the Guenoc Valley. Called "The Homestead" by Hudson, it was purchased in 1888 by 35-year old British stage actress Lillie Langtry. Lillie Langtry was in her time arguably the most well-known woman in Great Britain, and traveled in the highest circles of British society. Together with Fred Gebhard, the man she wanted to marry upon obtaining a divorce from her husband, Edward Langtry, still in Great Britain, she purchased several thousand acres of valley land and planted some of it with wine grapes, bringing in her own personal French winemaker from Bordeaux. Gebhard finally gave up the relationship with Lillie in 1897 after her applications for US citizenship and British divorce had both been denied. However, Lillie Langtry had fallen in love with the Guenoc Valley and owned "Langtry Farms" for 18 years, yielding her name and image to the modern winery now occupying her former lands.
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.
At about mile 90, the tour intersects Route 29, and travelers should turn left, cross St. Helena Creek, and proceed into Middletown. The town occupies land once at the nexus of Wappo (or Mayacmus) territory and the lands of the Miwok (or Tuleyome). If time permits, visit Beulah's Kitchen by the intersection of Rte. 175. Beulah's serves outstanding pancakes, but don't order more than two. . . they're enormous!
Turn right on Route 175 toward Cobb Mountain and proceed northward. En route to Cobb Mountain, the route crosses Putah Creek at mile 89.8. Within a mile or so you should start seeing evidence of change in the native tree cover. Ponderosa and Knobcone Pines (Pinus ponderosa, and P. attenuata, respectively) begin to appear with the Foothill Pines, indicating both increasing altitude and soil moisture. Soon the road will begin the actual climb up the Cobb Mountain - Boggs Mountain saddle, following Putah Creek to its headwaters.
Just beyond the Socrates Mine Road entering from the left, we pull over on the right shoulder at approximately tour mile 96, just past the small mileage marker reading "L.C. 23.32 175". Here, at last we will celebrate arrival at the headwaters of Putah Creek, which actually seeps from springs on the Cobb Mountain flanks not far beyond.
Note that the waters are cool and clear, the channel well-shaded with Alder and Willow, and the stream channel is both healthy and picturesque with drops, pools and boulders that would make any rainbow trout happy. The headwaters of Putah Creek near Cobb Mountain lie at the intersection of many former native lands: Lake Miwok, Pomo, and Mayacmas peoples, and Hill Patwin probably visited, too. They undoubtedly had their own ways of celebrating the origin of waters in this forest. Here we will exit our cars, smell the fresh air, and celebrate the birth of these waters with rituals of our own. Don't be shy, now—people have been commemorating water sources for thousands of years! Try saying this (an Aboriginal Australian saying repeated during their "walkabouts"): Walyaji Wankarunyayirni . "Wall-yah-gee won-ka-run-yah-year-knee". It means "Land is life!" A simple way to honor the land's life-blood, water, as it emerges from springs to tumble downstream.
At various spots along the route up Cobb Mountain, you may look westward (to the left) and see the large plumes of steam from the Geysers Geothermal Energy Plant. Here, geothermal steam from molten rock beneath the surface is captured to run turbines to produce electricity. We are touring on top of some of the most tortured, twisted, and thermally active rock in the continent. Cobb Mountain itself is a relatively young volcanic formation sitting on an upturned layer of older, Franciscan formation rocks. Hot springs, gas vents, mercury deposits, and geothermal steam are all concentrated in this area of the Mayacmas Mountains; main sources of employment in the Cobb area are either the Geysers Geothermal plant or the Cobb Mountain Spring Water Company.
Beyond the small community of Whispering Pines lies Cobb Village. Here we reach the saddle between Cobb Mountain to the left (west) and Bogg's Mountain State Forest to our right (east). Cobb Village just plain feels different than the land over which we have come, doesn't it? At over 3,000 feet of elevation, it is cooler, and has the smell of pine forest one might associate with the Sierra or Cascade ranges. Water from the tap here is so delicious you would never know you are in the Putah or Cache Creek watershed!
Cobb Mountain is named after John Cobb, an early settler and later Clear Lake County Assessor. A former home to wolves and current home to black bear and deer, Cobb Mountain's flanks are highly porous, giving rise to many year-round springs. Cobb's 4,722' elevation is higher than either of its two better known neighboring peaks, Mt. St. Helena or Mount Konocti. Cobb is the wettest spot in Lake County, and locals have told me that school is dismissed when it snows. Native people called it Ta-na-po-se, or "Snow Mountain Place".
Cobb Village marks our transition over into the drainage of Cache Creek, which we will descend to its outflow. On this or some other visit, have an omelet at the Eggsellent Skillet and stay overnight at the Cobb Village Motel, modestly priced but clean and well-maintained.
Turn right on Loch Lomond Road at approximately tour mile 103. The community of small cabins in the woods you will see for the next few miles heading east is a long-established Italian-American community dating back many decades. Note the mixture of Douglas Fir, Madrone, Yellow Pine, and Black Oak typical of Coast Range mixed forests.
Keep on Loch Lomond Road heading downstream—you are now following a tributary to Cache Creek, Seigler Canyon Creek. This land represents the former border between the Tuleyome (Lake Miwok) territory and the former lands of the Southeastern Pomo.
At the T-intersection with Route 29, turn right after the stop sign. At the intersection of Route 53 in Lower Lake, turn left at the traffic light.
Watch carefully for the left turn into Anderson Marsh State Park at approximately tour mile 113 (.6 miles from the intersection).
Anderson Marsh State Park, although new, undeveloped, and typically not staffed, makes a good spot to stretch your legs, hike the trails, watch birds, use the toilet facilities, and visit the Anderson Homestead. Archaeological evidence on the site indicates that it has been occupied by humans for ten thousand years! Prior to settlement by Euro-Americans, the land was home to the Pomo people.
An early Euro-American settler in the Clear Lake region, Walter Anderson, put up a cabin on this spot in the late 1800's and the Anderson family made this the center of a cattle ranch for a number of years.
Anderson Marsh State Historic Park contains 400 acres of lacustrine wetland formed as Clear Lake drains out to Cache Creek, adjoined by 470 acres of upland meadow and oak grassland. The Audubon Society manages the McVicar Preserve on the south side of the marsh, where over 150 species of birds have been recorded, including wintering bald eagles and grebes in addition to muskrat, mink, otter, deer, raccoons and other mammals. The marsh is a well-known nursery for warm water fish species, such as bass, catfish, crappie, and carp. In past periods of high flood water, vast numbers of Anderson Marsh carp were carried down several miles into the Wilson Valley Wilderness Study Area of Cache Creek (coming up on the tour), where they became stranded as high water receded, providing a feast for the black bears, raccoons, turkey vultures, and other scavenger species.
The hike out to the marsh and to Lewis Ridge is worth the trip, the trail making its way left at the fence line and then clockwise through oak woodland, the edge of the marsh, and back through the meadow. The Lewis Ridge Archaeological site dates back ten thousand years. At many points on the trail, the experience is one of being alone but at home in the primeval nature of the Clear Lake Region.
If staff are available, touring the Anderson House offers a glimpse of turn-of-the-century (19th-20th) American life. Trails, toilets and interpretive displays are accessible even if staff are not, however. Either way, Anderson Marsh is a major jewel and a high point of our Tour, and here is where we acknowledge our Cache Creek "headwaters" ceremony, as the water begins its journey down the foothill canyons into the Great Valley. Anderson Marsh State Historic Park is worth visiting in its own right; come again for the day, and bring a canoe, fish the many thousands of feet of shoreline, watch for eagles in winter, or pick blackberries in the summer.
Anderson Marsh is the site of the outflow of Cache Creek from Clear Lake. For the purposes of this tour, we consider it the symbolic source of Cache Creek, even though the true "watershed" includes the drainage basin of Clear Lake.
We will follow Route 53 north, turning right (east) when it intersects Highway 20, which takes us back down the Cache Creek watershed.
At approximately tour mile 126, you will see a triangular Bureau of Land Management Sign on the right just before the bridge across the North Fork of Cache Creek. Turn right at this sign into the gravel road, and follow the road to the BLM Wilson Valley trailhead. Again, a toilet and interpretive displays are always accessible here.
The BLM Redbud Trail to Wilson Valley from this trailhead offers the ecotourist access to the "wild heart" of Putah-Cache Country: Wilson Valley, with its wintering bald eagle population, tule elk herd, gorgeous Valley Oak savanna, and 18 river miles of Class II-III Cache Creek whitewater. It is definitely worth a return trip. Wilson Valley occupies the center of an official Wilderness Study Area of 35,000 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Game. Although not yet chosen as official wilderness, regulations require that it be managed as a roadless wild area until such time as Congress decides to abandon wilderness study status. Open to hikers, hunters, expert boaters, fisherman, birders, wildflower enthusiasts, the area is a offers something for every type of outdoor recreator. 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 wild 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 remote canyons of Cache Creek were some of the last places in either watershed where native peoples could take refuge and live as they always had. The Cache Creek canyon defied attempts at railroad building for years, and no railroad ever was built through the unstable shale and siltstone canyons. With the exception of scattered homesteads and mercury mines, the land has remained remote, as it does today. 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. They were probably a satellite of a larger village site nearby, as only a few small dwelling sites exist in this spot, and none is large enough to have been a ceremonial lodge. One can easily imagine native peoples gathering acorns, chipping stone tools, or weaving baskets by the small stream running close to the site.
As we drive eastward on Route 20, we will be climbing 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!
At about tour mile 133, notice a small stock holding and loading pen on your right, adjacent to a graveled turn-around. This is the trailhead for the BLM's new Judge Davis trail into Wilson Valley, and 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.
On the left side of the road, look out for several abandoned mercury mines. This region of the inner coast range is comprised of Paleozoic and Mesozoic metamorphic rock. Franciscan sedimentary rocks have become intruded by igneous rock that has been metamorphosed by intense heat and pressure in the presence of ancient sea water. Such a combination of magma heat, pressure, ancient saline water, and rock often produces the waxy-green mineral called serpentine and the entrapped steam of geysers, both previously mentioned. Another substance associated with these factors is mercury, or "quicksilver." Mercury is an important ingredient in processing gold ore, and is sometimes found in association with it. The mines you see along the left made up the "Turkey Run" mine. Several other abandoned quicksilver mines are in 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 occuring 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 the subject of study by government agencies wishing to reduce mercurcy contamination in the lower Sacramento River basin.
Within ten or twelve miles south along this same Cache Creek Ridge lies the enormous McLaughlin gold mine, a modern mine processing massive amounts of ore to produce a small quantity of gold. The McLaughlin mine involves a very complex recycling process involving mercury, cyanide and other compounds to release the gold. The site of the mine overlaps several previously occurring mercury mines which had been leaking toxic tailings into the watershed, and so the effluent now coming off the modern McLaughlin mine is far better than before it was established, and the mine has set the new standard for excellence in containment of toxic run-off. All of the gold mined during the entire life of the McLaughlin Mine would fit into a large-sized van. But, lest we jump to conclusions about the unfortunate "consumption" of the landscape by modern gold mines, we must ask ourselves how many of us do not possess some items made of gold? In the case of gold mining, perhaps we are all "principal responsible parties."
At the intersection of Highway 16 with Route 20, turn right and pull over on the widened gravel shoulder for stop #14.
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 were once native to lower lands in the Central Valley, but as that land has been usurped for farming, populations have dwindled, forcing wildlife managers to establish refuges beyond the elks original range. One herd occupies the area of Wilson Valley, moving north across Route 20 to calf. The area you are now looking at is the privately-owned Payne Ranch, which is home to a second herd. Elk can often be seen from this spot and from points downstream across Bear Creek (or southeastwardly on Highway 16). A subspecies of Cervus elaphus, the tule elk is lighter in color, and 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, a fact that may point to a reverential relationship between elk and human among these natives of our bioregion.
Following Bear Creek downstream towards the Cache Creek Canyon, you may notice at low water levels a whitish residue on the creekside boulders and gravel bars. There is both a distinct odor and color associated with Cache Creek on downstream, largely owing to the high concentration of dissolved salts which precipitate out on these rocks. These salts or precipitates contain a high percentage of boron, a necessary trace element in plants which is highly toxic to plant tissue 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 on brown or burned tips of leaves of ornamental trees and shrubs irrigated with well water.
At approximately tour mile 148, you will see Cache Creek entering the canyon from your right, following its outflow from the remote Wilderness Study Area. At the intersection of Bear and Cache Creeks was the Hill Patwin Village of "Tebti," from the Patwin word meaning "stream confluence." Slightly farther downstream, near the current 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.
Our next stop is about at mile 150, where County Road 40, or Rayhouse Road, crosses the Low Water Bridge and then winds up 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 & dirt-surfaced, poorly crowned and drained, and is therefore only open during the dry season. However, in the winter season after closure to automobiles, the road becomes a rugged but rewarding hike or mountain bike ride. The new Blue Ridge Trail begins across the Low Water Bridge and leads slightly downstream on a terrace. The trail winds its way up and across two ravines, quickly rising to the top of Blue Ridge at nearly 3,000 foot elevation. Views from the top (which on clear days include Mount Shasta and the Sierra) can be spectacular. 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 that have been faulted, folded, and thrust upward by the intense pressure of millions of years of collision between the Continental and Pacific crustal plates. Originally deposited as seabed far offshore, these canyon rocks have been scraped from the surface of the subducting (diving) Pacific Plate, crumpled and pushed like a bulldozer by the overlapping, advancing edge of the North American, or Continental plate. 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 as would be expected of sediments deposited closer to ancient shorelines.
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 milder ten-mile run down to Guinda, or take out here from a Class III raft or kayak trip starting further up the canyon by the confluence of Bear Creek. Beyond the Boy Scout Cabin, the land opens up into the beautiful and bounteous 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 River Patwin, then became the terminal point for the Vaca Valley and Clear Lake Railroad in 1888. Named for Captain DeWitt C. Rumsey, the "town" never really 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, a fact that kept the upper Cache Canyon country remote.
In 1906, an earthquake thought by some to be an aftershock associated with the great San Francisco quake, occurred upstream in the Cache Creek Canyon area between what are now known as Wilson Valley and Buck Island. Residents of Rumsey knew something was up when, after the earthquake, they saw the stream flow of Cache Creek dry up; a large landslide had dammed the creek. 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 landslide, which 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 inundated, no loss of human life occurred.
Capay Valley is a unique landform of low, flat alluvial soils extending into the foothills like an appendage of the Great Central Valley. Named after "capi", a Hill Patwin word for creek, Capay Valley was explored by French trappers from Hudson's Bay company in the 1829-30, then granted to three Berreyesa brothers as a Spanish Land Grant in 1846. Native Patwin living along its banks were decimated by malaria and smallpox epidemics which swept the Central Valley in 1832-34, but surviving Patwin lived in relative peace with their white neighbors, working on fruit farms and ranches. A fascinating book about native life in the area is Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream, by Greg Saris.
Guinda, the small community at about tour mile 160, was founded in 1887 as a cooperative colony of urban families from the East San Francisco Bay. ("Guinda" is the name of a particular choke cherry which originally grew near the depot in the center of town). A group of African American settlers also established several small ranches northeast of Guinda, and their relatives live there still. During the heyday of fruit ranching, Guinda maintained a population of about 500 people and featured a town hall, railroad depot, two-story hotel, and saloon which served "Yolo Brewery Steam Beer."
At approximately tour mile 168, pull into the Brooks Mini-Mart for snacks, beverages, gas, or a restroom break for the next stop at the adjacent Wintun Casino.
As you pull off the road by the Wintun Casino, you can't help but notice the contrast between the busy parking lot full of busses and cars to the east side, and the spectacular stretch of walnut trees, prime agricultural fields and the Blue Ridge hills in the distance across the road to the west. In the 1980's, interpretations of federal law allowed Native American reservations to establish gaming, or gambling casinos. Fifty or so Wintun natives remained in the Capay Valley on the Rumsey Indian Rancheria (which is geographically split, with a small area near Rumsey and a larger tract near Brooks). Few of the Rumsey band can actually trace their lineage to the Capay Valley's former Patwin people—as late as 1976, the Bureau of Indian Affairs could only document eleven living Patwin in the entire country, since vast numbers had been killed in the mid 1800's disease epidemics or been removed to missions or other locations. However, the Wintuns (originally from farther up the Sacramento Valley) at Rumsey built a casino, which has become a lively spot on an otherwise sparsely populated Highway 16. The Rumsey Wintun Band has instituted a "good neighbor" policy, donating considerable sums of money toward local law enforcement, the local native American college, DQU, and to organizations like the former Sacramento Symphony and many other charities. Controversies over future expansion plans for the rancheria and casino have been worked out amicably, with participation from neighbors. Some non-native people (and some indigenous people as well) may object to gambling-oriented development, but regardless of one's opinions, the casino has allowed a degree of autonomy for these native people that had been denied them for the last one hundred years. Step inside for a glimpse of the action.
Cache Creek, which has been flowing out of sight beyond a ridge of low hills to the east, passes behind the Rancheria and parallels the road to the left side. At about tour mile 174, pull off just before the bridge over the Winters Canal.
Water rights to the flows in Cache Creek out of Clear Lake and Indian Valley were acquired by Yolo County over one hundred years ago—a fact noted in your tour of Anderson Marsh in Lake County, where the Anderson family battled Yolo County in court over water rights before the turn of the century. In 1957, the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District was established. The district acquired the Clear Lake Water Company in 1967 and in 1976, built the dam forming the Indian Valley Reservoir on the North Fork of Cache Creek. "Clear Lake water" is what the local Yolo farmers call this life blood of their livelihood, and much of it flows out of Cache Creek at the inflatable Capay Dam, to the southeast via the Winters Canal and to the northeast via the West Adams and Hungry Hollow Canals. By 1987, this water was irrigating 55,000 acres of Yolo farmland.
If you have visited Putah Creek's Solano Diversion dam on this tour already, you have confirmed with your own eyes the significant role of irrigation impoundments and canals to the agricultural economy of the Sacramento Valley Bioregion. Such engineered "plumbing" of our watersheds is a fact of life in the Valley, and we can only hope to learn to become the best stewards of our irrigation infrastructure without depleting the natural and public trust values downstream from major diversions. The Winters Canal (not near Winters, but originating closer to the town of Capay) is, in essence, parallel to the Solano Diversion Dam; both redistribute water falling in upper watersheds for irrigation and/or urban uses in the lower areas. Controversies arise when downstream needs are ignored by upstream diverters, and upstream water rights are not recognized by downstream users. Hopefully, the agencies responsible for water management and distribution in both Putah and Cache creeks will remain sensitive to the need to keep streams alive and healthy downstream, and will be open to new research, information, and management techniques as they are unveiled or developed. Route 16 turns sharply right at the stop sign in the small town of Esparto. In 1888, the Vaca Valley and Clear Lake Railroad, with financial backing from the Southern Pacific, began a 24 mile extension from the town of Madison to the Capay Valley. the Capay Valley Land Company (which was made up of executives from Southern Pacific!) purchased several large tracts of land along the railroad route. William Mills, the manager of the Capay Valley Land Company, determined that the west side of the town would be "dry", and sold 60 lots in June 1888. The original name of the town, Esperanza, was changed to Esparto. Later, additional lands were purchased and subdivided, an elementary school built, and by 1893, Esparto had the second high school in Yolo County.
Esparto's boom was to be short-lived, and other Capay towns shared the same fate after the railroad floundered in 1890 when Southern Pacific failed to acquire Clear Lake water rights. The difficulty of laying track through Cache Creek canyon was merely a nail the railroad's coffin. Passenger service to Esparto ended in 1941, the line closed in 1967, and the rails were torn up in 1975. The railroad right of way and the remains of the train station are visible across the street from the right angle turn in Route 16.
If you drive a car, own a home, or walk on a sidewalk, you are a consumer of aggregates—sand, gravel, concrete, etc. Aggregates are most often mined in old river channels and flood plains. The entire Central Valley plain is comprised of alluvium, but the coarser aggregates are most often found closer to existing streams or old stream channels. High velocities of water carry larger sediments down from upstream hill locations. As water slows either from flow rates dropping or flows overtopping banks, aggregates settle out in concentrated deposits. The sixteen mile stretch of Cache Creek between the towns of Capay and Yolo has been extensively mined for aggregates, much of it for use within 30 miles or so of its original place of deposition.
In the past several years, the local gravel industries have responded to increasing concern over environmental impacts of aggregate mining along Cache Creek. The industry and the Yolo County Board of Supervisors jointly sponsored the formation of the Cache Creek Conservancy, a citizen-based oversight committee charged with managing the restoration of the creek. A heated election in 1996 over the extent and nature of gravel mining to be allowed only served to confirm the wisdom of the Conservancy's establishment. Teichert, one of several aggregate companies operating along Cache Creek, has established a demonstration site for restoration of riparian vegetation, to the northwest of the bridge across Cache Creek at Road 94B. Formerly known as Teichert Meadows, it is now the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. To the northeast of the bridge, Elderberry shrubs are being replanted. Southwest of the bridge is a Project HAWK site, where at-risk youth gain critical skills and self-confidence restoring a 34-acre riparian site.
Cache Creek Nature Preserve and the other restoration sites are examples of what can be done to mitigate the effects of aggregate extraction and to help restore the riparian landscapes affected by mining. Although the sixteen-mile reach of Cache Creek from Capay to Yolo is highly disturbed, it has great potential for restoration, and considerable public attention and effort is now being focused upon it.
The Woodland stop takes us to Second and Main, in the heart of this working Sacramento Valley city. Woodland is the Yolo County seat of government, and a regional center for commerce linked to the rich agricultural lands that surround it. Woodland began life as a single store, named "Yolo City", built by settler Henry Wyckoff on high ground at the crossing of two roads, one extending to Fremont (a now vanished town near the confluence of the Feather and Sacramento rivers) and the other a road from Sacramento. The site of Woodland was then surrounded by extensive Valley Oak forests, and the abundant wood provided fuel and building materials for the town's first settlers. Frank S. Freeman, a native of Missouri who had come to California and made money mining gold, purchased Wychoff's store and laid out a town, building a post office, express agency, blacksmith shop, butcher shop, gristmill, and numerous other stores. After building these, he simply waited for the customers and residents to arrive. They did, and after each enterprise became successful, he sold it. Freeman married Gertrude Swain, who is credited for naming the town post office "Woodland" after its oak woodlands environment. Bridges were built, replacing ferries across Cache Creek and old plank roads over the tule marshes to the east. A newspaper from Knight's Landing was moved to Woodland in 1864, and became the Yolo County Democrat in 1867. In 1869, the California Pacific Railroad "stretched" its planned north-south route between Davisville (now Davis) and Marysville westward to service Woodland. After that, Woodland boomed, partly due to its relatively flood-protected location, while Fremont, the former county seat, was abandoned by residents discouraged after battling rising waters each winter.
The Woodland Opera House, seen on the north side of the Main Street by Second, was rebuilt after a fire devastated Woodland in 1892. Purchased by the Yolo County Historical Society in 1971, it was renovated and designated as a State Historic Park in 1980. Today, the building continues is traditional role as a theater and museum.
Cache Creek passes about three miles north of Woodland as we drive east toward our next stop. Not far from here, on the northeast side of Woodland along Cache Creek just east of the town of Yolo, is the location where French fur trappers stashed supplies by the creek bank. This "cache" of supplies at French Camp, as the place become known, is the origin of the creek's name.
At approximately tour mile 217, after driving east several miles on Main Street, clear through Woodland, stop where the road rises up onto the levee, with metal gates on either side of the road. Cache Creek settling basin is north of the road behind one of the steel gates. (Do not park your car so as to block the gate, please). A short walk north takes you up to the large impoundment, where waters from Cache Creek are impounded over a broad area to allow sediment to settle out so that the adjacent Yolo Bypass, which must carry away Sacramento River flood water, does not clog up. In heavy flood events, such as those of the winters of '95, '96, and '97, flows exceed capacity and spill over the weir just to the north a few hundred yards into the Yolo Bypass. This is the functional but homely terminus of Cache Creek. On rare occasions it is possible to gaze across the flooded bypass at thousands of migratory waterfowl and get a glimpse of what the Sacramento River flood plain once was—a vast periodic inland sea interspersed with marsh, permanent and seasonal wetlands. "Yolo", the county name, means marsh, and not far north of here were the Patwin groups known as the "Yolo-toi", People of the Marsh. Try repeating this phrase: "Saltu k'ewe Yolo-toi"—in this spot. Spirit home of the marsh people.
The whole Sacramento Valley region is basically an outwash plain where sediments transported from the surrounding hills have been deposited for hundreds of thousands of years. Many of the feeders which transported this sediment into the Valley are small intermittent creeks or "sloughs" (pronounced "sloo"), as they are often termed. Most of these sloughs drain small watersheds in the low western foothills. The riparian trees at this site follow the old channel of Willow Slough which, prior to being by-passed in the mid-20th century for flood control, once brought flood waters into the surrounding area. Willow Slough is still an important source of irrigation, a flood control channel, and a riparian habitat for birds, amphibians, and mammals. In the 1890s, Willow Slough had year-round, clear water of such quality as to lead Woodland's politicians to suggest the use of it for civic domestic consumption. Channelization, land planing, de-vegetation, and monocultural, high-chemical agriculture has impoverished the sloughs into relics of their former condition.
Willow Slough is home to Swainson's hawks, great horned and barn owls, egrets, herons, ducks, and many other species. The slough provides important visual diversity in this very flat landscape, and provides a corridor for many animals to move about the land in safety. Without the sloughs and small creeks, there would be no high-quality valley soils, and our bioregion would not be what it is today.
For those who start in Davis, our tour ends at approximately tour mile 223 (depending on how accurate your odometer has been, of course), at the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area in the Yolo Bypass, first known as the Yolo Basin Wetlands. Born as a vision in the minds of forward-thinking Davis residents, the Yolo Wildlife Area is the largest reconstructed wetlands west of the Everglades in Florida. The Yolo Basin Foundation annually sponsors a Duck Days event (some of you may be following this tour as a field trip of that event) which celebrates what the Valley once was—and what it could be again. As you look out over the restored seasonal and permanent wetlands and upland plantings, consider the fact that what humans take away, they have the power to bring back. Robin Kulakow, "patron saint" of the Yolo Basin wetlands, said it best: "I wanted my children to see and know the birds. We are building this wetland for all of our children."
If you began at Stop #1 of this guidebook, you have now toured our "sibling" creeks, Putah and Cache, from source to outflow. Welcome to your bioregion, your "life-place." Learn about it, enjoy it, take care of it, and practice the best way to live here.
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