The Putah-Cache Bioregion Project:
Putah - Cache Circumdrive:
Putah to Cache, Litto's Hubcap Ranch to Tule Elk ReserveWho | What | Where | Publications
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.
Who | What | Where | Publications