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The Mendocino National Forest and the “California Trail of Tears”

The 913,000-acre Mendocino National Forest (MNF) is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and it includes land in Lake, Colusa, Glenn, Mendocino, Tehama, and Trinity Counties. The MNF is noted for, among other things, being the only one of California’s twenty National Forests that is not bisected by a paved road. It is also noted for having remarkable oak diversity and some of California’s largest mountain lion and black bear populations.


Despite these natural wonders, like all of California’s public lands, the MNF has also been the setting for the genocide of Indigenous people. A way to get a glimpse into this tragic history is by following the “Nome Cult Trail” through today’s MNF. 


The Nome Cult Walk was the 1863 forced relocation of 461 members of the Concow, Nomlacki, Pit River, and Maidu peoples from Chico in Butte County on the eastern edge of the Central Valley across what is today the MNF to Round Valley in Mendocino County. Only 277 survived the 100-mile journey. Those who survived joined the Yuki, Wailacki, Little Lake Pomo, and Nissinan peoples already forcibly moved to Round Valley. Today’s federally-recognized Round Valley Indian Tribes descend from these peoples. For more on the Round Valley Indian Reservation and its history, please see
https://www.rvit.org/about/about-us

 

Members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes retraced the 1863 Konkow Trail of Tears on its 150th anniversary in 2013. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service/The California Sun

Over 20 years ago, descendants of those who were forced to make the Nome Cult Walk, began an annual commemoration of the loathsome event. While hot, steep, and sometimes difficult, today’s walk is an act of remembrance, Indigenous empowerment, and awareness raising with participants ranging from children to the elderly. It has become a path toward healing rather than a trail to exile, suffering, despair, and death. 


The Nome Cult Trail enters the MNF on the east on Tehama County Road 55. This steep road climbs west from the floor of the Central Valley to near the crest of the Coast Range where it meets Forest Road M4 and Forest Highway 7. The latter connects to Round Valley and State Highway 162. There are not many resources available to the public on the parts of the MNF crossed by the Nome Cult Trail. We thought we would offer a snapshot of a few of these special lands.


Thomes Creek:
Thomes Creek is a tributary of the Sacramento River that flows out of the MNF. Thomes Creek is in the homeland of the Nomlaki people. The stream was found eligible for “wild and scenic river” status by the Forest Service (the highest protection available for a stream under federal law) because of its free-flowing condition and breathtakingly scenic Thomes Creek Gorge, a slot-like canyon where the stream pours into the Central Valley. The Nome Cult Trail connects with the 5.4-mile long Thomes Gorge Trail that descends from County Road 55 to the banks of Thomes Creek. For a description of this trail, which offers some of the most spectacular spring wildflower displays in the region, see https://www.calwild.org/thomes-creek-trail/. In the future, when CalWild works to further protect Thomes Creek, we will be sure to engage with the Nomlaki Tribe and others to ensure that the stream’s immense cultural values—including its proximity to the Nome Cult Trail—are recognized and protected. 


Log Springs:
At 5,000 feet on County Road 55, Log Springs offers water, shade, and flat ground in a rugged and dry landscape. As such, it has no doubt been a preferred human campsite for eons. During the Nome Cult Walk, it was used as a water stop on the forced march. The Army abandoned a wagon there and left some marchers to die. In the 1920s, the Forest Service built a ranger station there. Today, the area only has a few abandoned Forest Service buildings The Forest Service is considering removing the old administrative buildings at Log Springs and CalWild hopes that the agency will work with the Nomlaki Tribe and Round Valley Indian Tribes and others as appropriate in efforts to restore this ancient camp site and important stop on the Nome Cult Walk. Note that you are currently allowed to camp at Log Springs for free. Please be familiar with the guidelines for “dispersed camping” (camping on your own outside of a designated campground). For dispersed camping on the MNF, please see https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/mendocino/recreation/camping-cabins/?recid=25120&actid=34 We encourage you to pick up any trash you may see and take a moment to reflect on the Nome Cult Trail before departing pleasant Log Springs.


Mendocino Pass:
This spectacular gap in the Coast Range is where the Sacramento River watershed meets the Middle Fork Eel River watershed. The views from 5,000-foot Mendocino Pass include Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak and Sierra Buttes to the northeast and east, the spine of the Coast Range to the south and north, and the Black Butte River and Middle Fork Eel River canyons in the foreground with Round Valley beyond to the west. On the horizon to the northwest, Kings Peak in the King Range National Conservation Area can also be seen. 


From this commanding vantage point one can really get a sense of the massive physical challenge of being forced to walk across the Coast Range. On a happier note, Mendocino Pass is a simply fantastic location for stargazing and searching for rare plants. The MNF is home to many rare plant species and some of the rarest, such as a lovely flower called Anthony Peak lupine, occur only in the sub-alpine habitat of Mendocino Pass and nearby crest regions.


Black Butte and Middle Fork Eel Rivers:
From Mendocino Pass the modern Nome Cult Walk follows Forest Highway 7 (which, despite its name, is a dirt road) west downhill to Eel River Station on State Highway 162. The Black Butte watershed is within the homeland of the Yuki people. The largest communities of the Yuki Nation were in what is today called Round Valley. 


Eel River Station is a historic Forest Service ranger station at the confluence of the Middle Fork Eel River and Black Butte River. According to Round Valley Tribal officials it was also a major Yuki village site. Today it is a fire station and campground. The camp is called Eel River Campground and, while it can be brutally hot in summer, it is a terrific place to stay when there is water in the two mighty streams that come together at the southern end of the campground. For information on the Eel River Campground, visit
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mendocino/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=25256&actid=29


On adjacent private land, the Black Butte Country Store offers the only groceries, food, and lodging within the boundaries of the entire MNF. The nice folks at the Black Butte Ranch provide support for people commemorating the Nome Cult Walk. They also supported CalWild’s successful effort to get the Black Butte River designated as a National Wild and Scenic River in 2006, as well as Representative Jared Huffman’s and Senator Alex Padilla’s current legislation to protect much of the Black Butte River watershed as the Black Butte River Wilderness. For more information on the Black Butte Ranch, visit
https://www.blackbutteriverranch.com/


The Middle Fork Eel and its tributary the Black Butte River host between one-third and one-half (depending upon the year) of California’s remaining summer-run steelhead trout population. The Forest Service also notes that the Black Butte River canyon holds many critically important indigenous cultural sites and resources. 


There are many other places to explore along the modern Nome Cult Trail, including several pleasant camps that offer almost guaranteed solitude. CalWild hopes that in the years to come the Forest Service will continue to work with the Round Valley Indian Reservation and others on supporting the annual commemorative walk and in increasing public awareness of the Nome Cult Trail.



Explore other great hikes here.