Imagine a place…
Where wildflowers carpet the earth in blazing color,
And great, beating flocks of birds darken the sky.
Where herds of elk graze majestic at sunset,
Where grizzly bears angle for salmon side-by-side with the largest concentration of Indians in North America.
And the largest fresh-water lake west of the Mississippi stretches out before you.
These sights and sounds are largely gone now.
But echoes remain…
In Echoes of a Lost Valley, you’ll travel deep into California’s past, to it’s geological birth. You’ll see the plants, the animals and the Native Californians who thrived for hundreds of years before the first European explorers laid eyes on the Central Valley.
You’ll not only see what it looked like but hear what it might’ve sounded like, as eminent bio-acoustician Bernie Krause goes into the field and into the studio to re-create an early California “soundscape.”
Other segments include:
The Valley’s geological beginnings with UC Davis geologist Eldridge Moores, profiled in John McPhee’s Assembling California.
Artist Laura Cunningham’s personal vision of early California, through her paintings of the land, the people and the wild things from 300 years ago, back to the late ice ages.
Tulare Lake: Once the largest freshwater body west of the Mississippi, the lake is gone now but the native Yokuts still honor it in song and ritual.
Petroglyphs. Chuck Kritzon introduces us the mystery of the Valley’s oldest “journals.”
The brutal demise of the California grizzly, with author Susan Snyder, who has chronicled the unique place this extinct symbol retains in the human imagination.
CA Fish & Game biologist Joe Hobbs takes us into the field to bolster the remaining herds of tule elk and pronghorn antelope.
Native grasses and wildflowers: author and botanist Karen Wiese shows you where to find them.
Plus the music and narration of award-winning Native American recording artist Mary Youngblood.
Glimpse Into the Past
If you’re wondering where you can go to catch some glimpses of the pre-development Valley, these are some of the shooting locations used in Echoes of a Lost Valley:
Alaska & Montana (grizzly bears). Huh? Sad but true: it’s the only way we could show grizzly bears in settings that resemble early California. All footage is from the personal archive of award-winning wildlife filmmaker John Shier.
Bear Valley (wildflowers, cowboy and Karen Wiese interview). There are several “Bear Valleys” in California (and nearly 20 locations and geographic features named “Bear”-something). This one is among the premiere locations for flower-gawking in California. Bear Valley Road is a fairly obscure gravel road that runs north from Highway 20, just west of the junction with Highway 16. It’s a slow haul up the valley but it’s worth it. (Note, however, that there are no public services up there).
Benicia State Recreation Area (grizzly bear segment, Susan Snyder interview). Off I-780 in Benicia, along the Carquinez Strait of the Sacramento River. We used this as a backdrop for Susan’s interview and to evoke images from the past. The effect of the grizzly bear swimming across the strait was a “half-dissolve” (a sort of double exposure), using a swimming bear shot from Alaska. Videographer: Martin Christian.
Cosumnes River Preserve (general scenics and pre-settlement atmosphere). East of I-5, north of Thornton. The Cosumnes is the last of its kind; the only “unregulated” river on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. That is to say no dams. Thus it offers a rare flashback to the Valley’s wild river country. We also “cheated” and used a shot of the Cosumnes Preserve in a reference to Tulare Lake. Can you find it? Videographer: Ken Day.
Gray Lodge Wildlife Area (soundscapes, Bernie Krause interview). West of Hwy 99, between Gridley and Live Oak. Gray Lodge is maintained by the state Dept. of Fish & Game, smack in the middle of the Pacific Flyway. Videographer: Martin.
Grizzly Island Wildlife Area (tule elk, waterfowl). This is where we captured the remarkable sunset (or was it sunrise?) shots of tule elk. It’s one of the state’s top spots for viewing the elk but hurry—it’s closed during the late summer months (and sometimes in winter, due to flooding). Videographer: John Shier.
Lake Berryessa (geology). You can see those vertical layers of (former) valley sediments in the coast ranges right along Hwy 128, at the east end of Lake Berryessa. They’re exposed by the road cut, so they’re hard to miss. Videographer: Martin.
Maidu Interpretive Center, 1960 Johnson Ranch Drive, Roseville (petroglyphs, Chuck Kritzon interview). The center offers regular twlight walking tours of the petroglyphs. There is also an impressive array of Maidu grinding holes on the property. There are more petroglyphs at Indian Grinding Rock State Park. Videographer: Ken.
Sutter Buttes (geology). Grazing has changed some of the character of the Buttes but the interior sections remain very authentic. The Buttes are almost entirely private land but group tours can be arranged.
Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park(re-enactments). This jewel right in the middle of Sacramento is where we shot recreations of the blacksmith and musket firing.
Table Mountain (wildflowers). East of I-99, near Oroville. This is another top spot for wildflower enthusiasts. Unfortunately we arrived with our cameras at a time when the bloom was especially disappointing. Hence we shot most of our wildflowers at Bear Valley, though it wasn’t a banner year there, either. In good years, these places really are carpets of amazing color.
Tulare Lake Basin (Clarence Atwell, Raymond Jeff interviews). This was a tough assignment, as of course, the lake is no longer there, except in the wettest of winters, when it will sometimes partially re-appear on flooded farmland. Our Yokut friends were kind enough to take us to some hidden remnants near the town of Alpaugh. Alas, these are on private property. Videographer: Ken.
Yolo Bypass (elk & antelope, Joe Hobbs interview). No, you’re right. The Yolo Bypass did not exist before European Settlement—but it does evoke the kind of marshland that prevailed in the old Valley. Think of it as a sort of relocated Tulare Lake. Videographer: Rich Enos.
Other recommendations from our experts include Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve (flowers) and the Carrizo Plain (elk & antelope).
The "Last" California Grizzly
Astute viewers will note that the program leaves somewhat ambiguous the date of extinction of the California grizzly. That’s because nobody knows for sure when the last bear expired. In fact, there isn’t even total agreement on whether the California grizzly was a sub-species to—or a separate species from—the North American grizzly.
Most fix 1922 as the date that the last grizzly was shot (in Tulare County). But the last Yosemite grizzly fell as early as 1887. Susan Snyder notes in her book Bear in Mind:
“The last grizzly both positively identified as Ursus
arctos californicus and also categorically dead was the
Santa Ana grizzly, known by the misnomer Little Black
Bear, killed in 1908.”
When Snyder says that the bears were wiped out in scarcely more than “the lifetime of a single bear,” she’s starting her timeline at the Gold Rush and ending it with this documented incident in 1908. Nostalgic fans have identified five ranges in California where the grizzly might be successfully reintroduced. Good luck with that.
I’d like to thank several people outside of KVIE, who were extremely generous with their time & talent, in order to make this program a reality. In no particular order:
John Shier provided all of our grizzly bear footage-which he shot in Alaska and Montana, in case you were wondering. Yes, it’s pretty hard to catch a grizzly in California these days. Speaking of bears, Susan Snyder was almost unbearably generous with images from her book, Bear in Mind. Laura Cunningham’s art appeared throughout the program, not just in her segment. Thank goodness she’s so prolific. Without her, I don’t know how we would’ve depicted pre-settlement California. Larry Arbanas of Earthwhile Nature Productions had to dig out his 2001 footage of the elk capture operations at San Luis preserve. Ken Day made several visits to the Maidu Interpretive Center in Roseville, in order to capture exactly the right light for our petroglyphs. Amazingly, they kept letting us back in.
Michael Telle composed and performed original music for the program’s opening and geology segments. Mary Youngblood not only provided us with some of her Grammy-winning music but narrated portions of the program, as well. After his interview, Dr. Eldridge Moores made a special trip to KVIE to make sure we weren’t taking too many liberties with the geology. Thanks, Doc. We needed that. You can read much more about Prof. Moores and his place in plate tectonics history, by reading John McPhee’s Assembling California.
Our blacksmith was Mike Carson and that was Steve Beck firing his musket at you. Both are history re-enactors at Sutter’s Fort.
Many people provided essential elements for no compensation whatever and everybody connected with this project went the extra mile and beyond—not to mention quite a ways back in time. For that, I thank and appreciate them all.
—Craig Miller, Producer
The Bancroft Library
Earthwhile Nature Productions
(Indians of California)
The Tachi-Yokut Nation
California State Parks
California Dept. of Fish & Game
California Native Plant Society
Cosumnes River Preserve
Fresno State University
Gray Lodge Wildlife Area
Maidu Interpretive Center
City of Roseville
Society for Primitive Technology
Wild Sanctuary – Bernie Krause
USDA Wetlands Preserve Program, Tulare Lake
Gray Lodge nature sounds © Wild Sanctuary. All rights reserved.
Mary Youngblood’s music courtesy of The Rights Workshop and Silver Wave Records.
Echoes of a Lost Valley
|Production funding provided in part by InterWest Insurance Services, Inc.
The ViewFinder series is sponsored by SAFE Credit Union.