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Take a “VIP tour” of the Cache Creek region for spectacular blooms and wildlife

by Ryan Henson, Policy Director

 

Spring often brings vast swaths of diverse flowers to the Cache Creek region, which also offers some of the most easily accessed federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Ukiah Field Office. Whether you would like to enjoy the blooms via backpacking, hiking, camping, or simply by driving through, Cache Creek is the place to do it come April!

 

Difficulty: Most of the described driving loop is on roads that are suitable for standard passenger vehicles. However, about 4 miles of Walker Ridge Road is quite rough. While standard passenger vehicles use it often, you may be most comfortable in a high-clearance vehicle with rugged tires.

 

Land acknowledgment: Patwin-speaking people such as the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation identify the specific tour described in this article as being within their territory, but the entire Cache Creek watershed is shared with neighboring Tribes such as the Miwok, Pomo, Wappo, and others around Clear Lake and with the Yuki on the upper part of the North Fork Cache Creek. For more information, please see https://yochadehe.gov/

 

Description: To support our conservation campaigns, CalWild must often provide tours of federal public lands to people with little time to spare, such as elected and appointed officials at the local, state, and national levels. Representatives of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, CalWild, and staff of some of our partner organizations have worked hard to develop such a “VIP tour” in support of our ongoing effort to expand the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument (BSMNM). Now you too can take the “Molok Luyuk VIP tour”!

 

“Molok Luyuk” is the Patwin language name for the mountain known on official government maps as “Walker Ridge” that we are working to protect. While this article will call Walker Ridge “Molok Luyuk,” please note that to avoid confusion we will continue to use the name “Walker Ridge Road” when specifically talking about that route. 

 

Cowboy Camp

Following in the footsteps of important visitors such as Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, you should begin your own VIP Molok Luyuk tour at Cowboy Camp Campground on State Highway 16 about 1 mile west of its junction with State Highway 20. Highways 20 and 16 meet about 19 miles west of Williams on Interstate 5 in the east and about 21 miles east of the City of Clear Lake.

 

Managed by the Ukiah Field Office, Cowboy Camp offers pit toilets , a wildlife viewing platform perched above Bear Creek (which feeds into Cache Creek), an overnight parking area, and a camping area with fire pits and ample parking for horse trailers. Drinking water and electricity are not available.

 

Even if only using Cowboy Camp as a pit stop, please take a few minutes to stand on the wildlife viewing platform to see, when conditions are right, the oak woodlands and grasslands before you seeming to burst with mosaic patches of a rainbow of colors. Cowboy Camp is also a great place to see a large herd of tule elk. If you are lucky, you may see the full tule elk pageant, including calves alternating between nursing and cavorting, a ring of protective mothers alternating between eating, keeping watch, and caring for the calves, and a massive lone male with a huge rack of antlers, always nearby but slightly apart from the rest, keeping track of skulking bachelor males who may try to make a power play.

 

Sometimes, the social drama is marked by bugling or headbutting males who awkwardly tangle their antlers to sort out the rules of the local dating scene. Please safely and conveniently enjoy this drama from Cowboy Camp, or, if you encounter tule elk or any kind of wildlife for that matter while hiking or doing other outdoor activities, please maintain a respectful distance and—above all else—restrain your dogs, regardless of size or temperament.

 

Intersection of Highway 20 and Walker Ridge Road

 

To get to stop #2 from Cowboy Camp, turn left on Highway 16 and drive west for 1 mile to Highway 20. At the stop sign, turn left and follow Highway 20 west for X miles to Walker Ridge Road where you will turn right (north).

 

Just a few hundred feet north of the intersection of Walker Ridge Road and Highway 20 is a broad, cleared area on the left where people often camp overnight. While it has no facilities, it has been used on our VIP tours as a place to provide an introduction to Molok Luyuk and the many reasons that it is worth protecting. The oak forests at this location are of significant cultural interest to local Tribes and have immeasurable value as a food source for wildlife. This stop highlights BLM’s ongoing and determined, but terribly under-resourced efforts to prevent illegal cross-country vehicle use at Molok Luyuk. This struggle can be seen through the installation and constant rebuilding of fences which are routinely cut. The BLM has also installed structures of cloth and plant materials to restore areas damaged by illegal cross-country vehicle use. These restoration efforts look like giant stitches.

 

Driving on Walker Ridge Road

 

Molok Luyuk is noted for its great diversity of plant species. As you drive north on Walker Ridge Road from Highway 20, you will see many spots ablaze with color. The VIP tour consists of pulling off the side of Walker Ridge Road to admire and enjoy—always without trampling—the great diversity of plants, including many rare or uncommon species such as the lovely adobe lily. We also stop to explain how Molok Luyuk’s fascinating geology—vividly illustrated by distant views of faults, volcanoes, and ancient areas of sea floor—creates that botanical diversity. To help further illustrate the area’s importance, we show VIPs uncommon plant species like the McNab cypress that thrive on Molok Luyuk’s unusual soil chemistry.

 

Cold Springs Mountain

 

The highlight of the Molok Luyuk VIP tour comes on those clear days when, from atop Cold Springs Peak at 3,587 feet (the highest point on Molok Luyuk), one can see clockwise looking north Snow Mountain and then South Yolla Bolly Mountain in the Mendocino National Forest, the Trinity Alps, Shasta Bally, and Trinity Divide in the Klamath Mountains, Mount Shasta, the Medicine Lake Highlands (at over 150 miles away, the furthest distant visible feature), Burney Mountain, and Lassen Peak in the Cascades, Bear Valley that borders Molok Luyuk on the west, the northern Central Valley including Redding and Chico, the Sierra Buttes, the Donner Pass region, the Chrystal Range, and finally the Mokelumne Wilderness region in the Sierra Nevada, the Central Valley fading into the distant San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area as marked by imposing Mount Diablo, the spine of the Coast Range marked by the notch where Cache Creek enters the Central Valley, Mount Saint Helena, Boggs Mountain, Mount Konocti, The Geysers, and finally, Goat Mountain in the MNF which is just south of Snow Mountain and also in the BSMNM.

 

If pressed for time, this is the last stop on the tour. However, entirely different types of spectacular wildflower displays can be seen by continuing north on Walker Ridge Road to its intersection with Bartlett Springs Road, and then driving back to Cowboy Camp through Bear Valley via the Bear Valley Road.