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Northern California a History and Guide - from Napa to Eureka

by Jack Newcombe

  • ISBN: 9780394729886
  • ISBN10: 0394729889

Northern California a History and Guide - from Napa to Eureka

by Jack Newcombe

  • List Price: $15.00
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Publish date: 07/01/1986
  • ISBN: 9780394729886
  • ISBN10: 0394729889
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Description: INTRODUCTION The geographic appeal of California''s North Coast and its related ridges and valleys can come directly and easily enough from a map of the region: the river-broadened valleys point as vividly as fingers in north-south directions; the ranges pose a challenging barrier to the ocean front; and the coast itself marks a sharp, if irregular, definition between land and sea. There are not the outer banks, penetrating bays or estuaries one encounters along the East Coast. Northern California''s western border takes an abrupt stand against the vast Pacific. But the unique appeals located here must be personally discovered. It is country of swift change--in climate, in terrain, in the use that occupants make of the land. I have sat on Manchester Beach in mid-January against driftwood, being comfortably warmed by the low sun and watching the winter surf slam spectacularly against the shore. From the top of a flowered Mendocino ridge in late spring, I have looked east toward the Sierra where winter still was traced in broad white strokes. In September, after a night of harmonizing coolness among Sonoma vineyards, I have had to take refuge under a eucalyptus to escape midday heat that only the deserts beyond Barstow deserve. I have waited for the dense fog extending the night around Humboldt Bay to lift and dramatically reveal a commercial marina shining with hope for the new day, however meager the fishing hauls have become. The surface of Northern California is quilted with contrasts: the wild and preserved groves of the great redwoods, as primeval as forests can appear to us; the headland''s grassy cover flattened by the steady ocean wind; the rich seasonal presence of rhododendron and poppy, of lilies and foothill lupi the trim brown grids of grape vines in early winter; scrub oak and manzanita thriving on the steep flank of a rid the surprising ridges themselves, which rise so quickly above planted fields and the intermittent towns with their new, semiattached developments. As a Vermonter, I have viewed Northern California with a mixture of familiarity and the astonishment that comes when confronted with the new. The two states have similar longitudinal shapes and physical characteristics of forested peaks and picturesque valleys. Vermont''s western border, Lake Champlain, is hardly a drop in California''s Pacific, but it provides the benefits--and hazards--of deep water, hard waves and winds. Perhaps my analogy stops here because there is no match in America for California''s diversity or the choices it offers in recreation, road travel, light, weather or raw scenery. I have often wondered how much the sight of the stunning country provoked the early Mexican explorers--who, as the first colonists, became Los Californios--or the American pioneers who made the long passage from the East and Midwest to claim the territory. And there were the Indians, the only occupants for hundreds of years, who surely spent their seasons working the land, fishing the rivers and coastal waters, and probably found little time to celebrate the beauty that surrounded them. They did, of course, offer thanks for what the land provided by blessing the early fruits of spring and by ceremonies that prepared for the vital acorn harvests in the fall. As elsewhere, Northern California''s Indian past seems to have been all but erased. True, it survives in historical society archives, in some museums, in influences on contemporary art (such as the ubiquitous craft of basketweaving), in the numbers of rancherias that remain populated by descendents of survivors of Indian wars and white man''s diseases. Yet the Indian names remain: Arcata, Napa, the Mayacamas Mountains, Ukiah, Gualala, Petaluma. They blend pleasantly with the sounds of the place names that the Spanish-Mexicans left behind. The most northern of the 21 missions formed in California by the padres of the New Spain, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, was employing and converting Indians by 1823. Although the missions did constitute a first network of white outposts along the coastal frontier, it took the appearance of Mexican military leaders and an ambitious land-grant system to place Northern California under Mexican control, however briefly. Mariano Vallejo and Cayetano Juárez are the famous pioneer names--military men who controlled wide fiefdoms, granted to them by their government, and who parceled out land to cooperative American settlers. After California in 1825 became a territory of Mexico (which had just gained independence from Spain), they assumed the roles of leaders and protectors, roles the mission friars were not equipped to handle. Their presence discouraged the Russian fur traders from extending their bases farther south. By the time of the American takeover, these grantees were the large developers of crops and livestock. Both Vallejo and Juárez were influential in the transformation of California following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848, which led to California''s admission to the Union. The Mexicans and the eastern adventurers and traders who had earlier answered the call to California were soon joined by the thousands who charged into the high valleys and mountains seeking gold and silver in the late 1840s. Many in this invasion eventually decided that mining prospects were very thin but that a living could be made in growing fruits and grains and in harvesting the thick forests. The new population came via the long overland wagon routes and by the even-longer passage around Cape Horn. Sierra mining camps may have been built overnight, but it took longer to erect the lumber and fishing towns that dotted the Northern California coast and that stand today in their modern, modified shapes. There were no quick, mother lode fortunes to be made in the production of oak tanbark or railroad ties or lumber lengths, but there was employment in an industry with a future. (Unfortunately for the land itself, the demand for, and yield in, timber were so high that vast old-growth forests were quickly and heedlessly logged over.) The valleys, with their ocean-influenced climate, attracted immigrant farmers who learned that there were both self-sufficiency and profits to be had in the growing of vegetables, fruits, and nuts--and in extending the production of hops for the new breweries and of grapes for the new winemakers. California had approximately 200 wineries within the first four decades of statehood. Northern California''s Mexican- and American-made past is so close, compared with that of New England, that visitors feel as if they can reach out and touch it. The Victorian buildings in towns, the landmark wine cellars, the original health spas, the first community churches or schoolhouses have received but recent restoration or preservation status. Yesterday''s log-hauling railroad that winds over the coastal ridge is today''s popular sightseeing route; the showcase home of the nineteenth-century lumber baron is the brightly painted focus of tourists'' cameras. Yet the strongest sense of the region''s past comes from what was there when the early settlers arrived: the sweeping, uninhabited land of big trees, the eroded streambeds and low valleys and, always, the ocean. My journeys through Northern California have encouraged me to retrace routes and revisit towns, places and parklands that have become favorites. But with each trip comes a reminder that the totally unfamiliar lies just around a sharp turn in the road or across the near ridge. California north of San Francisco is awesomely large and varied; the landscape of monotony lies elsewhere. For the purposes of this book, I have confined the territory to Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and parts of Lake and Humboldt counties. Drawing boundary lines, I am forced to omit the Point Reyes National Seashore and Tomales Bay in Marin County, which are rewarding starting places for any exploration of the northern coastline. My travels in Lake County have concentrated on the western or more populated Clear Lake area and do not include the large, empty national forests beyond. I chose Eureka, surrounded by redwoods and the sea, as an appropriate northernmost chapter. That decision leaves the reader to explore, with my encouragement, the Humboldt County roads that hug the coast and lagoons en route to Oregon and those that lead inland to the Klamath-Trinity river region. I travel, as I hope everyone does, with a few unshakable preferences and prejudices. I like old, wide-porch hotels; motels without swimming pools; bars that invite fishermen''s complaints; restaurants that face the sea; the look and feel of walking trails in early morning; smalltown parks where you can sit and read the local weekly; beaches heavy with driftwood. I avoid bed-and-breakfast inns because U.S. hosts have never mastered the art of shabby gentility their English forerunners invented, town festivals that last longer than one day, weekend brunches, steak and seafood houses with truckstop-sized parking lots. I can confirm a few more adverse opinions indigenous to Northern California: group wine-tastings, winery tours by the numbers, walnuts by the bagful, one-way streets in one-way towns. And oh, yes, logging trucks.
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