Big Valley, Big View – By Kathleen Scavone

It’s always a treat to rediscover a place you haven’t visited for awhile in our wide and expansive county. I frequent Clear Lake State Park fairly regularly, where I’m always surprised by something new. The drive through Big Valley on the way to the State Park is charming with its working farms, vineyards and orchards. Upon arriving at the park I decided to get a better view of the Big Valley over which I had just traveled, so this time I took the park’s Indian Nature Trail to the Meadow Overlook trail.

Exceedingly beautiful today, with its patchwork quilt of varying hues of green, the valley views as seen from the top of the Meadow Overlook trail once proclaimed a lush native oak habitat. Before settlers cleared the valley for orchards with their many acres of prolific pears and grapevines the valley was  home for thousands of years for the  peoples of ancient times called the Xa-Ben-Na-Po Pomo Indians. Here, and all across what is now Lake County evidence points to the rich lifeways of the people of the past.  Pomo Indians thrived in what is now Lake County because of the abundance of foods such as acorns- a staple, seeds, game, fowl and, of course a plentitude of fish from Clear Lake and the surrounding streams. The shores along the lake teemed with tule reeds, an important plant that provided a  wealth of resources for home-building, boat construction and more.  Today landowners and environmentalists are taking a clue from the past by restoring the tule and wetlands habitats around the lake. People are re-learning lessons from the past since it’s understood that the tule reeds play a vital part in the health of the lake by providing habitat for fish and avian species, and as a filtration system for the lake. The Xa-Ben-Na-Po people of today belong to the Big Valley Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. They work hard at maintaining their tribe’s history, and do so with myriad ceremonial and  educational events. One event is their Tule Boat Festival, held each year on the lake.

The book entitled ‘History of Lake County- 1881’ describes The Big Valley’s location as, “Beginning at the foot of Uncle Sam this valley extends in a circular course to the south-west, embracing Kelseyville and Highland Springs; thence northerly to Lakeport.” Uncle Sam is the name the settlers gave to Mount Konocti.  According to geologist Dean Enderlin Big Valley’s geology can be described in the following way: “Much of the valley is underlain by sedimentary rocks that formed in ancient Clear Lake during the period that Mount Konocti was an active volcano (around 200,000 years ago). These early lake beds were buried and lithified over the millennia, but as the Clear Lake Basin continues to change its shape, some of these deposits have been uplifted, and are now elevated well above lake level. In the Lakeport and Kelseyville area, these ancient lake beds are called the Kelseyville Formation. Further south, by Lower Lake, similar deposits are known as the Lower Lake Formation.”

The “History of  Lake County- 1881” describes Big Valley’s geologic features as  volcanic in nature with basalt and obsidian, next to limestone. The obsidian features extend from our volcano, Mount Konocti , south-west to Cobb Mountain. Much of the obsidian is sharp and shiny black, hence its moniker,  bottle rock. Some other obsidian features tend to be spotted, pocked and appear like anthracite. The limestone outcroppings in the vicinity were not considered to be of a quantity to mine. Obsidian  for tool-making was also in abundance due to the volcanic nature of the lands, especially around Mount Konocti and Borax Lake, which was a boon for the indigenous people as material for tool-making. 

Today, the Big Valley contributes to the value of  Lake County’s flourishing agricultural crops with its abundant pears, grapes and walnuts. The Big Valley’s rich soil stemming from runoff over millennia from the surrounding foothills tells us of a layered history of the Big Valley that is simultaneously significant, rich and poignant.

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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