On July 10, 2015, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in Northern California.
The 330,780-acre monument extends from nearly sea level on Bureau of Land Management lands around Lake Berryessa in the south, up to 7,000 feet through the northern Snow Mountain Wilderness and the eastern boundary of the Yuki Wilderness in the Mendocino National Forest.
Conveniently located just north of Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument offers a wealth of natural, historical and cultural resources, as well as exciting recreation opportunities for visitors.
This is a landscape filled with ancient, historic and modern stories. The dramatic geology, remarkable biological diversity and rich history sparked the President’s use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish the Monument. However, the area also offers great recreation and breathtaking scenic vistas.
Geology – The Earth Tells Stories Here
The geologic formations in the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument tell a dynamic story. Several mountains, including Snow and Goat Mountains, were once Jurassic seamounts – mountains rising from the ocean floor that never reached the water’s surface. As the North American and Pacific plates shifted, the seamounts were pushed down into the Earth’s crust before eventually being pushed back to the Earth’s surface, transforming over time into the mountains we see today.
The corridor between Snow Mountain and Indian Valley Reservoir includes the Bartlett Springs Fault Zone, which features soda and hot springs, mercury deposits, geologic outliers and deformed marine fossil-bearing sediments.
Finally, the large, broad-topped Snow Mountain sheds precious water toward the Sacramento River in the east and the Eel River Basin in the west.
A Biological Hotspot
The terrain and topography of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument create a strong diversity of habitat types that support a variety of plant and wildlife species. In the higher-elevation Snow Mountain area, the biological diversity is among the richest in California.
The Monument boasts chaparral ecosystems and rolling oak woodlands at lower elevations, transitioning to mixed conifers, and then, at higher elevations, thick stands of true fir, weather-shaped Jeffrey pine and incense cedar surround natural fields of exposed rock formations.
Two lush, old-growth forest areas, a state game refuge and two research natural areas provide high quality habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered species, including northern spotted owls, marten and fisher, as well as waterways for California Coastal chinook salmon and Northern California steelhead.
Visitors to the area may also see bald eagles, black bears, river otters, coyotes, deer, Tule elk, mountain lions, songbirds and many other wild animals roaming across this diverse, remote and rugged landscape.
As well, this unique bioregion is home to some of the rarest plants on Earth – particularly delicate serpentine plants clinging to otherwise barren and rocky mountainsides.
Springtime wildflower walks boast fields of California poppies, lupines and Indian paintbrush. From early Spring into Summer, colorful wildflowers paint lowland valleys and upland meadows.
A Rich Cultural History
Native Americans have inhabited these lands for at least the last 11,000 years. The Yuki, Nomlaki, Patwin, Pomo, Huchnom, Wappo, Lake Miwok and Wintum tribes all had a role in the pre-history and history of this region – one of the most linguistically diverse in California.
The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument is dense with cultural sites ranging from seasonal hunting and gathering camps and mineral gathering sites in the high country, to major village sites with subterranean, earth-covered, round buildings in the lowlands. The area is rich with chert quarries, task sites where tools were re-sharpened, food sites dominated by grinding stones used for preparing acorns and small seeds, pitted boulder petroglyphs where stories were shared, and early trade routes that allowed interaction between the tribes.
In the early 19th century, Spanish and Mexican expeditions, as well as fur trappers for the Hudson Bay Company, explored this region. European-American settlement began during the 1840s gold rush, with some residents staying to operate small sawmills within the area’s dense forests. The restored 1860s-era Nye homestead cabin, the historic Prather Mill, and remnants of railroad logging are tangible reminders of these historic uses.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, mineral-laden waters and hot springs attracted visitors to resorts and spas advertising their therapeutic benefits. Observant visitors can still spot the remains of the foundation of the Bartlett Springs Resort.
The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument includes three scenic Wilderness Areas for non-motorized adventure. There are also many recreation uses throughout the Monument, including hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The Mendocino National Forest features a world-class off-highway vehicle trail system, with part of the network included in the Monument. Large areas, including Fouts Springs on the Grindstone Ranger District, serve as gateways to exploring the designated motorized roads and trails.
The Bureau of Land Management features exciting whitewater for kayaking on Cache Creek in the southern portion of the Monument – the closest whitewater river available to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.
For those looking to get an aerial perspective on the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, there are hang gliding launch points both near and within the Monument boundary.
The overall scenery in the area is among the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument’s best features.
From the lowest elevations to the highest mountain peaks, the dramatic topography is breathtaking from nearly every vantage point.
There are views across the Inner Coast Range, with its steep canyons and varied peaks. From the eastern edges of the monument, the view looks out over a patchwork quilt of farm fields, ranches and orchards, rural communities, and across the Valley to the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains.
No matter which view is chosen, the changes in season and light showcase this picturesque landscape.
Love Your Monument – Help with the Plan and/or Plan Your Adventure!
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will soon start working on a management plan for the new Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Public involvement will be critical to developing a successful plan for this new Monument. If you would like to be included in the process, please contact the Mendocino National Forest.
In the meantime, there is so much to see and do in the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Whether for a day, a weekend or a week, plan an adventure and explore this new Monument and start creating your own stories in this special place.