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Another Valley Vista

I have been admiring Brad Wiley's Valley Vistas articles. There are probably only a few readers of the AVA who will know most of the dizzying display of homesteads, ridges, creeks, ranches and characters mentioned in his articles. Anderson Valley is such a distinct place that us long time newcomers or those of us lucky enough to have been born here resonate with many of those names and places. And I'm willing to bet these folks have a favorite view of the valley.

My favorite overlook is up at the last place on, (no kidding), Vista Ranch Rd. It heads East off the dead end of AV Way once it crosses 128 on the long straightaway between Boonville and Philo, right about the Mason Dixon line. Heading past Bob Spears old place it gets pretty steep up past Wallen Summers bit of vineyard and ends at the Kroeber’s land. There is a spot on an open hogback scattered with gnarled Black oak and a simple bench. From there you get a 180-degree eyeful of the valley. To the South past Boonville and Burger rock beyond. North the hill past Philo blocks Gowans' orchards. Opposite on the ocean side of the valley there are the big trees of Hendy Woods with Signal Ridge beyond. Rancheria canyon and the big bend separate Lambert Ridge South of the lookout on Signal Ridge. Closer, there are lower forested ridges bordering the valley. Directly below on the valley floor is the Prather ranch, the Grange, Jim Clows, and Bud Johnsons with the highway threading it all together. It really is a stunning view.

Quite sensibly the Kroebers did not build their cabin on this outlook. No, just the bench. They built their house away so visiting the bench was a bit of a pilgrimage. Clif and Betty Kroeber were a generation older than I. Clif was the son of Theodora Kroeber who wrote Ishi Last of his People. His stepfather was Alfred Kroeber the head of the Anthropology Department at Cal in 1905 when Ishi, "the last wild Indian", wandered away from Deer Creek and eventually to Alfred and the Anthropology Dept. Clif grew up around academics, but academics having direct field experience with the remnants of native people from all over.

He was the perfect absent minded professor. We became good friends, my excuse to go visit being some carpentry job or another which would inevitably turn into a discussion about native people, particularly the local Pomo. He had known the anthropologist Barret who had made the only map I know of showing  the villages and hunting camps of the Central and Southern Pomo throughout Anderson Valley.

This brings me back to that bench with the view. One day as I sat with myself taking it in I started noticing that strip of asphalt, the highway, then the power lines, all the fences. The ridges with their second or third growth forests as far as I could see.

And I wondered what it looked like before white people showed up.

Don't get me wrong, the Valley is still a beautiful place. When I first came in the early 70's I got to know some of the old timers whose grandparents were the first white people to live here. Adrian Newton born in 1903 near Comptche remembered riding the horse drawn stage from Ukiah to Mendocino town. The stories these folks could tell! They were living links to our oh so recent arrival.

But what did the virgin forests look like? The Navarro running clear and deep, the salmon and steelhead running as well. Would there be an elk or two? Perhaps smoke from a set fire. Maybe there would be a hunting camp or a more permanent village, if it were big enough sporting a dance hall.

How many people lived here for how long? What was the carrying capacity of the land? Clif and I endeavored  to find out. We never made it, at best it was a part time effort with very little to go on. Clif passed away a couple years ago at 97.

From what I've been able to glean it seems Pomoan people have been around this valley for at least 5,000 years, us white folk moved in about 166 years ago. Yes but how many? Who's got a current estimate of our population nowadays? 3,000?  45 years ago it was maybe 1,500? I could be way off here.

Pomo population over 5,000 years for sure fluctuated. However Clif and I figured in the mid 1800s counting on 3 bigger villages with dance halls (Late' near Yorkville, Lemkolil near Boonville and Tabate' towards Philo). It is said that it takes a population of 300 to support a dance hall so... there could have been a population of 900+ Pomo. And to my knowledge those Pomo didn't make anything go extinct, clog up the rivers or cut down almost all the virgin timber.

Anderson Valley is my home and I can easily honor those folks who came in the mid 1800's to make this place their home. But if you find a bench or a log or a rock on some vista of the valley, get comfy, relax, let your mind go, imagine. It'll make you appreciate what we still have.


  1. Katte Schaaf December 10, 2020

    Thank you so much for a wonderful story.. Although I live in faraway Berkeley I was grateful to read the descriptions but what really caught my eye was the part about the story of Ishi because when my brother’s son was born here in Berkeley he named him Ishi- and baptized him there in the Creek where the Kroebers Ishi lived. So your story comes full circle.
    Our Ishi is a fine fiddler who has returned to Our father’s Family home in ‘ol Kaintuck in another beautiful land formerly inhabited by another handsome tribe.
    Anyway we loved the Ishi of then and the Ishi Of now. Yes, let’s enjoy what’s left! Thank you.

  2. George Hollister December 10, 2020

    Thanks, I have similar questions about the Pomo. But I have to respond to, “And to my knowledge those Pomo didn’t make anything go extinct, clog up the rivers or cut down almost all the virgin timber.” This is true, but the Pomo’s ancestors likely did. Human presence in what we call America beginning 13,000 + years ago profoundly changed the environment. This coincided with the extinction of most of the megafauna that were living here. What emerged was the human created and maintained environment that was here as recently as 200 years ago.

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