The Putah-Cache Bioregion Project:
Putah - Cache Circumdrive
Cache Creek, Capay Valley to Yolo BasinWho | What | Where | Publications
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.
Who | What | Where | Publications