Lake County News Columns

Kathleen Scavone

The Living Landscape: Indian Nature Trail at Clear Lake State Park

KELSEYVILLE, Calif., Take a walk on the wild side at Clear Lake State Park's Indian Nature Trail.

Clear Lake State Park is situated on the southwestern shores of our very famous, very old lake, Clear Lake, near Kelseyville.

The Southeastern Pomo Indians, who lived in the Lower Lake and Cache Creek areas, were direct neighbors with the Eastern Pomo, who once resided in the Kelsey Creek to Upper Lake regions.

It is believed that another group, the Wappo Indians, joined the Pomo Indians in the Clear Lake area during the distressing times of the Mission Era in the 1800s.

The Spanish missionaries brought disease and strife to the Indians of California then, to say the least.

The northernmost mission on the California Mission Trail was Mission San Francisco Solano, or the Sonoma Mission in what is now the town of Sonoma.

It was the 21st mission, and was founded in July of 1823. Many Indians from what we now call Lake County were lured or kidnapped into servitude there.

The Indians who once resided along the shores of Clear Lake had a bounty from which to subsist, as evident by the Indian Nature Trail's numbered interpretive signs and informative hand-out at the trailhead.

As State Park volunteer guide Chuck Sturges and his equally informed hiking buddy, Steve DeVoto, pointed out, be sure to mind the poison oak at the beginning of the trail.

"Leaves of three, let them be," is DeVoto's motto.

Along the trail you will spot grasses. Although most of the grasses we viewed on the trail were introduced, or non-native, the Pomo Indians would have gathered seeds for grinding from wild oats, fescues and bromes.

The next item of interest along the trail is the lovely redbud plant, which was an important plant substance in basket-making.
Clear Lake State Park volunteer Chuck Sturges, right, with hiking pal Steve DeVoto at the park in Kelseyville, Calif. Photo by Kathleen Scavone.

The Pomo Indians were expert basket makers, utilizing them for everything from fish traps to winnowing baskets, ceremonial baskets and even specially woven baskets in which they cooked acorn mush.

The elderberry trees here once provided fresh berries for sustenance, and could be dried, as well. Instruments such as musical clappers and flutes were fashioned out of elderberry, too.

The oaks at Clear Lake State Park and along the trail were of vital importance to the California and Pomo Indians because of their abundant acorns which underwent an extensive process to render them edible.

The wood from oaks was used in a myriad of ways as well, for items such as tools and tule boat oars.

There are foothill or grey pines found in the park and along the trail which provided pine nuts as a food source, and also sap or pitch which the California Indians made use of as a sort of glue.

An important plant found in the park is the soap or soaproot plant, which grows from Oregon to Baja California.

This plant was valued for its root to temporarily stun fish in the lake during fishing, as well as a cleaning agent, or soap. The fibers of the plant's bulbs were also important to fashion into brushes of many kinds.

The California buckeye tree is also found here. The mahogany-colored fruit, or seed of the buckeye is about three inches in diameter, and was prepared much like acorns for consumption.

The lovely bigberry manzanita with its distinctive red-brown bark that unfurls like little scrolls is interspersed in the park and on the Indian Nature Trail. The berries were enjoyed as both beverage and food.

As with any day in nature, there are never two days alike here on the Indian Nature Trail at Clear Lake State Park. The ever-changing landscape feeds the soul and continually inspires.

For more information about Clear Lake State Park, visit the park Web site.

Originally published by Lake County News

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