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Anderson Valley Vistas

Sometime in the nineteen seventies, after I had started running my own sheep band at the home ranch, Sam Prather and I began exploring a partnership to purchase and run a larger band somewhere suitable in the Valley.  Sam had heard that the Rickard Ranch on the east side of the Valley above Boonville, still owned by Rankin Rickard before it was sold and subdivided, was possibly available to lease.

So one spring day we drove up onto the property to investigate its manageability grazing a couple of hundred sheep.  If I remember right, the place covered about nine hundred acres stretching from close to the Peachland Road south to above the ranch known as the Moonie Fortress.  I don't recollect much about the ranch roads arrangement back then, but we did manage to navigate in Sam's four-wheel most of the middle and top of Rickard.  We were very impressed by the extent of open pasture and the lack of deep tree-lined gulches eons of rainy season erosion had created elsewhere around The Valley.  Lots of grass and looking quite easy to drive a band down to the barn area.  The barn itself was in excellent shape and was under a large cool grove of old live oaks, providing a kind of natural air-conditioning comfort during shearing on those hot late spring Boonville noontimes.

But the exciting part of our adventure that day was the view from the top ridges, a kind of three dimensional aerial look at Anderson Valley and the Navarro River watershed.  First I could see in almost large scale map-like detail the whole Boonville community from Burger Rock a mile to our left to Rawles Ranch north and further toward Philo.  From that altitude what a tidy little place The Valley was.  At the south end I could see Mervin Perkin's arts and crafts home and 3 hole golf course right on 128 across from the CDF fire station, then Robinson Creek winding its way across the Bradford Ranch cattle fields.  And at the intersection of 128 and 253, the Johnson Ranch headquarters and barns under the shade of those exotic East Coast locust trees Floyd's dad had planted.

And Boonville itself,  from a thousand feet higher what a neat little village so cleanly laid out and, it appeared from that altitude, maintained.  I could see the road to the Rossi Ranch elegant two story Victorian, the row of homes old and new on either side of 128 heading south, and the Assembly of God church and Veterans' Hall across the street.

Then my eye started picking up some of the public spaces and facilities serving the Boonville and Valley community, sometimes the rest of the world.  The Fair Grounds, for example.  Remember, 96 years after its founding The Boonville Apple Festival is the county fair, not the Ukiah one.  What a remarkable space, the rodeo grounds and stadium, the grassy areas for The Carny to set up each September, the four exhibition halls, and the cool shaded grove under the redwoods perfect for the livestock judging and Sammy Prather Memorial Barbeque each fairtime Saturday to honor its exhibitors, some of whom come from out of state, never mind Lake County, Taft and Orland.

And looking further north there was the whole Anderson Valley school system, laid out on two large campus sites, Con Creek and between the Airport and Town on Mountainview Road.  For me the most exciting piece of this campus was the extensive ballfields, even four tennis courts and the aircraft hangar for the four year high school flight training program.  Imagine, Boonville, pop. 400, with its own half mile long "International" airport.

Then turning back to the center of town it was possible to see through the trees along our main street the elegant Rossi Hardware building and water tower, the two story New Boonville Hotel, then simply a bar with eight stools and a pool table, and the Methodist Church further north past the socially important Redwood Drive-in and gas pumps.  Lastly at the intersection with Mountainview Road there was Bo Hiatt's logging company equipment yard, where even from up on the hills you could spot fascinating pieces of machinery, some of which, like a D-7 caterpillar or an abandoned logging truck spare parts department I understood, but also interesting items like loaders, a crane and other apparatus I had no idea what they were or did.

Then looking north, there were the working farms and ranches laid out in such wonderful detail from my angle two miles away and a thousand feet higher.  First of all for a Deep Ender used to the narrow Valley floor of gently rolling rises north of  Philo, the Boonville segment looked huge, so long, so wide and flat.  The area south of Anderson Creek, north of Con Creek and east of the Boonville Freeway strip, Schoenahl, Rickard and Witherell ranches, must have been over half a mile wide, plus between the 1966 new Freeway and the Old Highway another quarter of a mile to the base of the Valley's west side hills, where laid out in their orderly patterns were Schoenahl's apple trees, the brand new B.J. Carney vineyard, predecessor to Roederer, and the stately rows of June Ranch orchards north to the cemetary, then Farrer's further on all the way to Rawles Ranch.  Rawles' place we couldn't see from up top.  But further down past the Freeway there were the old Grange Hall, Mike Prather's home west of the Highway and finally perched on the west side of Denmark Creek, the Mason Dixon line, was the old Witherell Ranch apple dryer at the south corner of Johnny Peterson's ranch.

Checking the important Rickard property ridge top line fences also provided Sam and me with some views I'd never enjoyed before or again.  Up to the northeast another thousand feet or so higher was the south side of the fabled Peachland community, once settled enough to have a school and Post Office and numerous family farms.  In my time there were no longer any buildings or fencelines in sight.  And looking southeast up toward Bell Valley and the Ukiah Road we could see the west facing slopes of what I believe was the Boonville side of the huge Singley Ranch up there in Belk.  This territory was a combination of virtually treeless open pastures and those grassless strips of the chalky grey Yorkville formation clay, symptoms of earlier times volcanic activity and the bane of any livestock farmer.

Sam and I never did follow through on the sheep joint venture project, I can't remember whether it was Rickard or we who didn't deliver, and I have never been back to the top of the ranch again.  However, I want to report on one other location regularly visited by my wife Earlene and I to enjoy the Boonville valley vista, Burger Rock.

Burger Rock is a dramatic granite outcrop up the hill from where the old wagon road and current highways leave the Valley headed for Cloverdale.  The Burger place was an old sheep ranch whose shearing shed still stands to the west and above Rancheria Creek at the top of the current highway grade, and the outcrop is up the hill a couple of hundred feet.  From it some of the most dramatic photos of the Boonville end of the Valley still in local historians' files have been taken in early settlement times, showing before the oak trees grew along the roads and around the buildings most of the village and ranch details far down the Valley.

When I was employed full time in New York back in the nineties, my wife and I came back to the Valley over the summers to work from home in Navarro.  As an indication of how much we missed the community and its affairs we would typically start speculating from the time we left Cloverdale headed up over Haehl Hill on 128 about what had happened, what we had missed out on since our last visit at New Years.

Sometimes we would conclude that speculation by pulling off on the left turnout just past the Burger shearing shed and asking ourselves wistfully, "there it is...I wonder what they're up to today?," knowing soon enough we'd find out.  Where we stopped on the shoulder of 128 provided a perfect vista the long way down The Valley.  At our feet we could see in the immediate wooded grassland the remnants of the old wagon road framed by the graded berm on its either side (still visible today) and through the oaks grown up on either side of the road there was the whole Boonville end of the Valley stretched out in perfect order all the way to Rawles.  Perfect.  Today the view is gone as the oaks are now mature, over a hundred years old.

One June evening after our Burger Rock meditation as we coasted into town just before dusk, we found out within an instant what they were up to.  An AVVFD fire truck was parked in front of Anderson Valley Market, lights flashing, the crew milling around in their heavy gear, while one individual came out of the store carrying a case of beer.  Several people shouted at us something like "emergency at Clark's."

We of course headed down to Reilly Heights fast, then slow as we approached the Clark's barn area.  Two more trucks, one a CDF, lights flashing, were parked in front of the old, still used building, more fighters milling around in full gear.  Well, earlier that day someone had found a full box of rotting dynamite somewhere in the barn, CDF had declared it a high risk explosive device threatening both the barn and the safety of highway fifty feet above.  The professional bomb suppressing squad wasn't available until the next day, so AVVFD was on call for the night protecting the neighborhood and with "volunteer" refreshments making the public service event as sociable as it could for the fire crew.

Maybe our Valley wasn't as productive back then as Ukiah or dramatic as Geyserville's piece of the Russian River with its apples, pears, prunes alongside the old Italian vineyards.  But its broadly sinuous shape, apparently orderly and decorous village center and carefully laid out orchards, vineyards and pastures as seen from the top of Rickard and other ranches along the River always provoked a kind of local patriotic pride each time over the years I looked down on it.

Next time: Peachland, Clow Ridge, Guntly, Reilly Ranches, Greenwood Road, single engine aircraft vistas.

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