An unusual historic look at Putah Creek Road

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 By Ed Dawkins An excerpt from “Putah Creek Road” in an upcoming book by Doctor Ed Dawkins. “Putah Creek Spring” Supple March willows post the surging freshlets Spring soaked birds ride the cool air The creek called Putah knows lots of accompanying roads. Its origin is in the mountains above Lake Berryessa and it terminates in the Putah Creek Sinks, part of the Yolo Bypass. Starting from the East and heading West, remnants of the north fork still go through El Macero Country Club. There is water still in place on the University of California, Davis campus. South and West of Davis, the southern fork travels along Levee Road. Further West, the creek crosses under Stevenson Bridge Road, this near the Reuben Schilling organic garden cornucopia. Ahead is typical Yolo-Solano farmland with fields of green, yellow and brown. These merge into distant orchards and then into the looming Blue Ridge Mountains. The creek then crosses highway 505, and a quarter of a mile later goes under the Winter’s Railroad Bridge. Just before crossing on the south bank is the Winter’s Wilderness Park, where my daughter Lyndsay and I were pioneers in planting young oak, toyon and elderberry trees. Leaving Winters, we enter the road’s western half. On the left, the Jimenez-Martin palm tree lined entrance. On the right, blue oaks rise above blackberry brambles and other riparian growth. Soon we come to the UC Davis experimental orchards on the left. This land was donated to the “University Farm” by John Wolfskill’s daughter in 1937, over 100 acres, to be used as an experimental farm. Wolfskill brought fruit seeds and cuttings there in 1842, the first to do so. His daughter’s gift to Davis’ Agricultural University probably had a profound influence on California’s fruit and nut industry. There’s a wonderful wildlife resource outside and inside the fence along this property, a long row of olive trees that litter the roadside with their black fruit, beginning with the winter rains. Here, thousands of migrating robins dine each spring in the early morning. From January through March, motorists must drive carefully to avoid these half drunk fatties, in their low flight across the road. I know something about this uncrowded road. I’ve traveled it for twenty-five years, in all seasons, and at all times of the day and night. I share its agony in the hot mid-day summer sun, and its melancholy in the winter rain and fog. I’m writing this at the time of its journey, splurging through spring, a time of shared joy and readiness for the renewal of life everywhere. I join it as it basks in the warm early-morning spring sun. I feel its delicious repose at the end of the day, with the sun’s slanting rays reversed, beckoning forth the cool respite of evening. This section has its own personality, its own reality, and its own beauty. Red tailed hawks and seagulls glide high in the sky. Scrub jays and yellow rumped warblers wing across the road. The creek is still muddy from recent rains. It is less visible than a couple of weeks ago, as the deciduous riparian trees are beginning to leaf out. It’s riparian heaven all along the right side of the road. Putah Creek lingers so close. Gray squirrels leap through the trees. Swainson hawks will soon return northward and overfly them. Vociferous red shouldered hawks are ever present, always found near water. At night, opossums and raccoons roam the roadside. As my wife and I drive along, we come to our favorite pullout. Here, beside a magnificent Blue Oak with chaotically spreading huge limbs, a scene like no other is unveiled. We stand above a low-lying orchard, back dropped to the right by taller riparian trees, and to the left by a hefty range of green hills above Lake Solano. The rugged beauty of these hills makes us imagine them as thrown onto their precise place by some giant hand. The central part of this vista includes nearby young orchards blending into larger, more mature orchards, and then into distant multi-hued foothills, finally into the hulking Blue Ridge Mountains, their wriggly dark canyons and green spires reaching up to wispy clouds in a bright blue sky. Further ahead is where we would turn off to my home, Olive School Lane. There will be bluebirds in the orchards there. Just before this turn-off, we pass Alexander’s mouth-watering cherry orchards on the left, and drive over a gorge that drains the surrounding foothills into Putah creek, encompassing a part of what was once the Rancho Rio Los Putos Land Grant. We always wondered about whether Los Putos or Putah Creek referred to puta, the lady of the night! The Putah Creek Canal is unique. It is a separate body of water, drained from the creek, traveling south out of Lake Solano. Around the lake there are many varied wilderness views involving the ongoing riparian habitat. There’s a large almost parking lot clearing below the hills on the left. Just last year, we saw three baby horned owls beginning to fledge off that hill. It was our own little circus. Ospreys are often seen, along with occasional large flocks of white pelicans. Sometimes from my home nearby, we are surprised when we look up and see these pelicans circling around and around. This time of year, courting golden eagles make an appearance and like the pelicans, will be over-flying our home. All along the Putah Creek side of the road there is bountiful riparian vegetation. On the foothill side of the road the chaparral is just as bountiful. Shortly ahead, Putah Creek Road ends at Pleasants Valley Road, named after the original Pleasants family. Before Lake Berryessa was formed by damming Putah Creek, this road had continued West along the creek.   At the end of this special road, there is an ostrich and llama farm to the left, and one of California’s nicest recreation and camping parks along Lake Solano a couple of miles ahead on the right. I call this whole area, including the land surrounding our home, the Putah Savanna.]]>

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