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More Valley Vistas

Down at the Deep End the Valley's vistas become more telescopic as the flatland gives way to rolling hills, tightening ridges framing the more evident tree-lined River until it disappears into the woods west of Perry Gulch, Navarro.

I remember my first encounter back in the spring of 1972, with a high ridgetop perspective anywhere in The Valley.  T.J. Nelson, the local realtor here then, had sold my wife and I our place, a part of the original Colson Ranch, the year before.  By May of '72, we had the vineyard area deer-fenced, the ground ripped, trellis installed, and had planted the first five acres of grapes.  One evening TJ phoned me, said he had a customer interested in purchasing a Holmes Ranch subdivision parcel and in planting grapes too.  Would I look at the property and opine on  its credibility as a vineyard site.  As ill-informed as I was about the matter at the time, I also liked the challenges of puzzling out challenging agricultural and business problems, even on someone else's property.

TJ and I met late one morning up at the top of the Holmes Ranch, where the south road reaches the top, swings north and heads toward Navarro for over a mile.  From where we began our recon of the parcel we could look south and east across Mill Creek toward Clow Mountain and Whipple Ridge, look down into the intervening canyon and see where upstream Mill Creek divides at Nash Ranch subdivision headquarters, one branch heading north, the other dividing again and disappearing into the ridges to its south.  But the real view was looking west and northwest down Holmes (Guntly, TJ admitted to me he made a mistake naming it Holmes after the pre-subdivision owner, a land speculator who had bought out the last of the Guntlys) Ranch.

But first my mission:  TJ wanted my one year's experience in the industry perspective on whether I considered it appropriate to describe the parcel as suitable for growing wine grapes.  I being the fourth person to pioneer in planting French varietal vines in the Valley, after Edmeades and Husch, tied the previous year with Elizabeth van Hoorn in Boonville for  the number four position.  The parcel was long and narrow sloping gently down from northwest to southeast, a little over a hundred yards wide, before it fell off onto ground too steep for cultivation.  TJ and I slowly walked downhill, I probing the ground with a piece of rebar for soil depth, plenty.  But it was hard to concentrate because of the views I had never experienced before.

There was virtually the whole Guntly Ranch, with its intricate pattern of fencing to define borders, cultivated ground, a couple of  small orchards down behind the house and barn, some split rail, some pickets, some woven wire.  Along the highway just offset from our angle so we could seem them both, there were the house and the stunning barn and water tower monuments in perfect condition all.  Even from up on top the  house seemed enormous with its four hipped roof and covered exterior deck wrapping three sides of the building.  And the barn/water tower, not quite the Eiffel in stature, but what an elegantly proportion structure.  I encourage one to drive up and have a look today, few like it in Mendocino County, even if you're not interested in tasting rooms.

Then across the highway barely visible from the sixteen hundred foot elevation, there began a set of gently rolling meadows defining the Pinoli and Clark Ranches, Pinoli to the left.  That first sheep pasture just north of Mill Creek, some twenty acres, is today vineyard, but then as now, there were scattered the twenty or so living monuments to the old growth redwood forest likely subdued, not extinguished by first settler annual land-clearing burning.  The rest of Pinoli was not visible from up on the ridge, but a line of redwoods and hardwoods starting at the base of Greenwood Ridge defined the River and the back of the ranch.

Glancing right I could see the pieces of Clark rolling gently from the Old McDonald to the Sea Highway and running west in a series of low ridges, some open pasture, some with well-manicured working apple orchards, again rolling on down to the River.  And to the north or Clark I could also see the south corner of Gschwend Ranch, Christine Woods down at the highway, the modest family homestead and barn on the first ridge west above the Woods.

Then further north I could see where the south branch of Floodgate Creek crossed the Highway and headed west toward the River, above it the south end of the Skrbek Ranch, now another Kendall Jackson vineyard and the dignified two story Victorian house at the center of this square hundred sixty acre farm where a few scraggly apple trees still survived at the north end of the property.

And just over the fence from Skrbek was my place, first the open pasture, then the east/west running ridge , a weird piece of geology I'll discuss another time, where Wiley had started planting vineyard.  I could hardly make out the narrow plowed ground and grape stakes that represented the first year of installation.  But the remains of the 3 acre Colson orchard, apples, pears, French plums, one walnut tree, planted a hundred years prior, stood out quite visibly.

And beyond Wiley to the west and north there was nothing but forest, redwood, Douglas fir,  hardwoods both sloping down to the River at Floodgate and marching northwest along the base of Greenwood Ridge where after Perry Gulch the clearly defined watercourse disappeared into the gorge separating Mal Pass on Masonite land from the ridge on Greenwood running up to sixteen hundred feet at the Tony Fashauer Ranch, halfway to Elk.  The Deep End of the Valley, all in one vista.

Another vignette incidental to our recreational travels was the frequent visits Bill Witherell, his jeep, dog “Tip,” and I made to the Reilly Place up above Navarro village.  Bill and I often drove up to this place, particularly during the “late” hunting season in October, as both fat deer and we often arrived there at the same time to harvest the apples, the access being Wendling Soda Creek, the dump road.

Reilly, barn and orchard, was on the 1600 foot ridgeback facing southwesterly.  Behind the site the ridge fell off into timber, then down to the south branch of the Navarro North Fork. Curiously there was no evidence of the original Reilly house, just a modern mobile home, a summer residence for veteran Pan American Airways pilot, Bob Zentner.  But the barn a hundred yards away was, despite resting, unlike most others in The Valley, gently on the southwesterly sidehill facing Greenwood Ridge,  was in very healthy repair, no fences or corrals though.  The orchard, dry-farmed historically and still cultivated and harvested by Cecil Gowan, was a work of beauty.  The trees, laid out in perfect lines every twenty feet, few missing, were naturally dwarfed, about fifteen feet tall, due to the shallowness of the ridgetop soil.  I suppose there were maybe altogether fifteen or twenty different varieties available to us, from early ripening Grabenstein to Baldwins, Jonathan, Macs, etc.,  harvested later on in the season.  And there were  for trespassers and hunter gatherers, we and the deer plenty of grounders under the trees too.  We always drove up there with a couple of paper shopping bags, along with the rifle, dog and Tokay Pop bottle, on board our transportation.

That particular view from the Reilly orchard southwesterly was less dramatic than other Valley vistas, nevertheless interesting:  I was looking down a thousand feet and a mile or more on the back side of Wiley. I could see the road going up the Russian Hill subdivision to Cap Salmela's home, the back of his ranch pasture, and Perry Gulch creek going back into that timbered ranch, and the 40 acres of timber running east and west on the ridge dividing Salmela from me.  Through this young stand of redwood and Doug fir I could see from its back side where Wiley had cultivated the ridgetop for his start-up vineyard project.  And then another couple of miles further southwest was at the same altitude as we was the whole of Greenwood Ridge from Margaret Le Vann's place east to Fachauer and Ross ranches west almost to the Coast.  A different perspective from Guntly or Day altogether.

Then on that frequent local travel route there were, before the timber grew back up after the heavy logging in the fifties, the instant microvistas as one drove carefully along Greenwood Road heading west.  A quarter mile above Margaret Le Vann's place on the right there was at ten miles an hour a brief view, where one looked down on Day Ranch, then up the hill to see the whole of Johnny Williams Ranch, now Bennett, Whipple Ridge east of the Valley floor, and then back through Albert Elmer's timberland to Clow Ridge, each farm neat as a pin.

And then another half mile on before reaching the top of Greenwood Ridge at Signal Ridge road there was a larger opening on the right side worth stopping at.  First there was a half acre open flat just below the road with what looked like a man-made square pit dug into the ground.  Bill Witherell said this was the Gonnella family's homestead, and that the pit was the family pig pen, where Mariuchi threw his brother's body after a drunken dispute one winter night.  True?  The view though was a more complete one of Day Ranch, north of Lazy Creek Maddux Ranch, now Roederer and Husch, Clark Ranch east side with its lovely orchards above the highway, then clearly defined the Mill Creek canyon cutting straight between Clow Ridge and Guntly, before disappearing back where Wilbur lived and presided over his Nash Ranch subdivision.

Then further on a half mile past the Ridge's eastern highpoint at Clow/Faschauer and Pronsolino Ranch vineyard was my favorite Greenwood Road vista, Rocky Bluff, at the west end of the Loren Bloyd Ranch.  Rocky Bluff indeed.  There's a large roadside turnout there, room for three or more vehicles, and a logging truck entrance to a road that takes you down to the River near Cape Horn and Perry Gulch, used regularly during the logging season.  But most important was the deer trail that took me up a hundred feet through grassland and over the years increasingly dense blackberries to The Bluff, a sand stone outcropping about fifty feet around below which was a perfect open ground visitor's viewing flat.  And what a whole new Valley vista, due north and northwest toward the ocean.

From Rocky Bluff I was looking straight down a thousand feet and three miles to see the whole Skrbek ranch above Floodgate Store and bar, and above it a little higher was that east/west ridge and all of Wiley's new five acre vineyard carefully laid out to the detail of even the west fence against the trees.  And the remains of the three acre Colson orchard planted by the first settler I described above.  In later years Wiley's barn appeared, then later still the house, copied from Guntly's four hip home, and water tower, thank you Tom McFadden, architect, and today almost twenty five acres of vineyard and a winter runoff irrigation pond.

And more dramatic to the north I saw Reilly's barn and orchard a thousand feet above Navarro and more westerly the Flynn Hills, the grassy, gullied ridges running down to the South Branch of the North Fork, then the crack in the ridge through which runs the North Fork main stem and the paved Masonite private logging road to its Ukiah mill.  And lastly the continuing ridgeline running north another mile with no water courses in the downslope and redwood timber framing its top, the Bald Hills at the back of the Rancho Navarro subdivision.

Looking back down to the Navarro mainstem west, The River from Rocky Bluff disappeared into the redwood forest with no visible trace after Mal Pass west of Perry Gulch.  The rest of the vista was the appearance of solid forest stretched over rolling hills, and way out west about eight miles away the haze marking the beginning of the cold Pacific Ocean.  The last Valley vista, as it were.

Finally, one last adventure I had up at three thousand feet that gave me with a holistic picture of our Valley from the North Fork all the way out to Dry Creek and the Glenn Johnson Ranch.  Anderson Valley is after all an almost unique piece of northern California geography, a valley twenty odd miles long defined by two clearly sculpted ridges, the east mainly open grasslands, the west timber and hardwoods to the Valley floor, and served by a labyrinth of watercourses, the Creeks, The River, and the North Fork that together total two hundred miles of this valuable natural resource, seasonal rainfall runoff.

One time in the mid-seventies I approached friend John Merriman, science teacher at the High School, more important the co-designer and sole instructor/operator of the high school student Flight Program.  This was a four year course that began on the ground with seminars in airplane mechanics, navigation, safety and troubleshooting aloft, etc., and within the first year had students up in the sky flying the single engine, two seater private plane the school owned.  At conclusion a successful student had in his/her hands a single engine private aircraft operator's license.

I had asked John a couple of times if he would take me up in the plane one afternoon so I could view the whole Valley from up in the sky.  John said noontime was the best solar angle maximizing visual clarity by minimizing ground shadows, so we made a date for a Saturday in May.  I had never flown before, or after, in a single engine aircraft, so even bouncing down the runway at 75 miles an hour was a new, enervating experience for me.  Once aloft, though, the ride smoothed out, as there was no wind at all that day.  We headed due north for the Deep End and my vineyard.  Secretly part of my mission was to study from 300 feet above ground level my twenty-five marijuana plants scattered discretely among the grape vines a hundred feet away from my home and barn.

So approaching my place we flew down 128 to Perry Gulch, turned left and at near stall speed and circled the vineyard ridgetop, I so interested in the security of the dope plants I didn't even look around at the broader terrain below as we did a 180 degree loop around the deer fence at about three hundred feet above the ridge.  Maybe I saw the tops of one or two plants.  Prudence suggested I don't ask John for another pass for fear of arousing his suspicion about my mission.  Turned out, he told me later, he knew what I was up to anyway.

So then we turned south and flew, gaining altitude right up to and over the west end of Rocky Bluff at about 2,000 feet.  On my right I could see the ridgetop open pastures at the east end of the once-was Berry Ranch, now the famous local commune, Rainbow Enterprises, with its dozen or so scattered “domestic dwellings,” pole houses, tipis, a two story rough finished plywood shack, etc., on the ridgetop that ambled down to the Greenwood Creek deep, wooded cut running in northwest down to Elk.  Circling left again at stall speed, we did two 360s around the famous Pronsolino/DuPratt Zinfandel vineyard planted by Rosie Frati around 1915, the oldest surviving vineyard in the Valley.  This seven acre square plot contained old-fashioned head-pruned plants cared for continuously, including during Prohibition, for sixty years, sat on a bench tilting gently, then precipitously again down into the Greenwood Creek canyon.

Next destination was up to Signal Ridge, separating Greenwood ridge from Piper Ranch along Mountainview Road west of Boonville.  This round dome with the fire watch tower on top was the highest point in the Valley north of Boonville at 2,600 feet, and I claim must have once been a volcano core, with the deep round canyon, a couple of miles across separating it from Piper to the south.  As we circled the tower once, I could look right and see the whole Elk Creek canyon from west of Piper down to the ocean south of Elk and Bobby Beacon Ranch.

From Signal we soldiered on at perhaps 100 miles an hour back toward Boonville, turning south on Rancheria Creek and following it over the deep canyon at Bear Wallow, home of a once-was spa resort and at the instant the homestead of the sainted Captain Rainbow, Boston brahmin hippie.  And then on to the continental divide between The Navarro and Dry Creek at Austin Hulbert Ranch, Highway 128, milepost 40.  Austin had once during shearing season, when I visited him then, had driven me up to the top of the ridge east of the highway,  broad, spectacular views in all directions, but at 2,600 feet quite predictable open rangeland and Doug fir and oaks in the gulches all the way to the base of Haehl Hill south.

So on we flew, still a smooth windless passage further south to the base of Haehl where Dry Creek  to the right leaves the highway and disappears into a draw a couple of hundred yards southwest.  John didn't say anything but turned right to follow the creek, so I knew he had an agenda.

Lo and behold perhaps a mile on the stream bottom became broad and flat, and most surprising emerald green.  Below us was the Galbraith Ranch I had heard about but never seen.  This ranch, the property of a wealthy banker, John Galbraith, was a timber and livestock property that stretched for thousands of acres from south of Cloverdale west across the County line, over Dry Creek, then on behind Austin Hulbert's all the way to Elkhorn Road south of Yorkville.  Take that, Bobby Beacon.

And the emerald ribbon along Dry Creek was irrigated pasture, both permanent alfalfa, and grain to feed the livestock, sheep and cattle, Galbraith ran on his place.  This pasture was a couple of hundred yards wide at the widest and ran for a mile or more downstream on both sides of Dry Creek.  I don't know whether there was still running water in the creek that late spring, and suspect there were shallow wells to serve the sprinkler systems that irrigated this emerald green jewel, a contrast to summer golden hills and ark green forests of the rest of The Valley.

Well, that was enough for the day, maybe two hours in the air, so straight back to Boonville International airport we flew, gliding smoothly to a landing at mid-afternoon, filled with recollections.  I never did ask what the flight duration capacity of the fuel tank was, entirely trusting John Merriman's judgment on the matter.  And over forty years later the vistas of The Valley I visited that day from 500 to 3,000 feet have lived with me ever after.

Next story:  The College Kid meets the sawmill, Brad, Sammy and Kenny working at Philo mill.  Stay tuned.

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