A Wall Unseen

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This article was originally published in Ancient American Magazine,

Vol. 6, Issue #39 under the title, Expedition to California's Unseen Wall. 

Reproduced here by permission of the publisher, Wayne N. May.

A piece in Ancient American ("The Great Wall of California" by Valverde and Marquez, Volume 5, Issue #34) prompted me to present this submission after two years of hesitation.  The article by Valverde and Marquez was a concise but comprehensive explanation of the problem of anomalous stone walls found all over Northern California.  One of the sources cited was Russell Swanson of Berkeley, who provided most of my own introduction to these strange artifacts. 

During December 1997, described a stone wall located at Point Reyes, California for Ancient American readers,  Shortly thereafter, I became acquainted with Suzanne Lansom-Bley, a local historian and graduate student, likewise fascinated by the area's archeological mysteries.  She showed my article to her young son Patrick, who as anxious to share his own find with me.  His discovery turned out to be the strangest and most unique rock wall I have ever seen. 

Like many healthy and curious teenagers, Patrick sometimes went out on a limb and broke a few rules.  Two of these rules were, "Never hike in the woods alone," and "No trespassing!"  He was violating both of these admonitions when he discovered "the wall."  A few days after our first meeting, Patrick agreed to guide Suzanne and myself to the site he discovered.  As I was soon to learn, the place was almost totally inaccessible.  It is located in Lake County, notable for Mount Konocti, a dormant volcano, and Clear Lake, believed to be the most ancient lake in the western United States. 

Although only 150 miles north of San Francisco, the county has always been remote and isolated, surrounded as it is by mountains, with only three good roads in or out of the area.  The Pomo and Wintun Indians have inhabited this region for about 10,000 years, possibly longer.  In fact, the entire country is a largely unexploited archeological treasure house.  Patrick's wall is located near the headquarters of an old creek that flows into Clear Lake.  The Pomo had a permanent village near its mouth, with fishing camps further up.  Since the site is located on private property, the publication of any more detailed directions would not be appropriate. 

The day of our expedition to "Patrick's Wall" did not begin without difficulty.  Suzanne's efforts in contacting the property owner was unsuccessful, so we prepared to violate her second rule for Patrick by trespassing.  Our decision was not as outrageous as it might seem, since the land in question is almost complete wilderness.  There are no fences, and the owner of this "ranch" has almost certainly never visited the site we wanted to investigate.  Strangely, Patrick's Wall lies only three or four miles from a major highway; yet it is almost totally inaccessible and virtually unknown.  Few people are even aware of its existence; the property owner probably knows nothing about it. 

In any case, getting there proved to be an ordeal.  We were able to drive part way into the hills, but soon had to leave our vehicle by the road and hike in.  This meant climbing in and out of several deep ravines, through dense underbrush, across loose gravel and under low tree branches.  Several times I found myself literally crawling through poison oak, to which I am highly sensitive.  Through it all, I kept reminding myself, "Anything for science!"  After an hour or so of climbing, crawling and scrambling, we reached the headwaters of the creek.   

Here we discovered a pleasant, peaceful little pond, a distinct break from the rough terrain surrounding us.  After resting and soaking our feet, we had more climbing and poison oak, but our objective was only a bit further ahead. On reaching the top of the ravine, we gazed down on an impressive sight, an unexplored cave.

Pond

The Pond

This entire county is an active geothermal area, with hundreds of hot and cold springs.  Volcanic Mt Konocti is riddled with unexplored caverns.  Now, below us, lay evidence of more volcanic activity in the distant past.  The entire hill side was covered with volcanic rocks and boulders of every size up to about a ton.  Their uniform black color identified them as hardened lava.

We did not attempt to enter the cave:  It would be difficult even for well-equipped spelunkers to get past the entrance safely.  We did get close enough, however, to feel a cool breeze blowing out of the cave mouth.  It suggested the presence of a sizable cavern below.  We made our way past the cave and up the opposite hillside.  Here, at last, we came upon Patrick's stone wall.  Rocks and boulders which had gone into the wall's construction all originated from the ravine below.  They were identical to rocks surrounding the cave mouth.  

Someone had gone to a great deal of effort, long ago, to haul them up a hundred feet or so of steep hillside.  The amount of sheer manpower involved staggers the imagination.  It would have been impossible to accomplish such labor with horses or mules, due to the steepness of the incline.  Work like this must have required great dedication on someone's part.  And for what purpose?  Looking around,  we found ourselves in a relatively flat clearing, falling off to ravines on all sides.  What could have been the reason for this construction?

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From here, there were no signs of civilization visible, save the wall itself.  We might have been thousands of miles into the wilderness.  Some of the vicinity's less accommodating inhabitants include rattlesnakes and even an occasional mountain lion.  One of the standard explanations for California's enigmatic walls is that they were build during the 19th Century to keep cattle from wandering off.  But the vicinity in which the Lake County site lies is no cattle land.  The surrounding territory is extremely rugged.  Anyone trying to herd cows here would be constantly dragging animals out of ravines.  

Later, Suzanne was to find a reference in the local historical library that mentioned swine being raised in the area.  But who would bother about building a megalithic pigpen?  The closer I examined the wall, the more amazing it seemed.  Although primitive, it had every aspect of extreme age.   In many places, large boulders were stacked on top of smaller rocks, the opposite of what one would expect.  But this method appears to have been an identifying characteristic of the State's anomalous ramparts.  

In some places, Patrick's Wall has crumbled to only a foot or two in height; in others it remains five to six feet high.  In some spots, it has been reduced to a mere pile of rocks.  Despite our best efforts, we were unable to determine the structure's total length; vegetation of the hill on which it stands is almost impenetrable.  We could see about a quarter mile of wall before it disappeared into dense oak forest and underbrush.  

In two or three places, we found signs of an old trail leading away and down the hillside.  But daylight was beginning to wane, and we left the site before we could examine it as thoroughly as we wished.  Dating the construction of Patrick's Wall is possible.  Tree rings would be one place to start.  During our cursory, informal expedition to merely locate and photograph the site, we had neither the equipment nor the time. 

Altogether, I have seen literally dozens of similar old rock walls in Northern California.  But the Lake County specimen is by far the strangest, for three reasons:  Its location is extremely inaccessible; extraordinary difficulties must have gone into its construction; and a complete absence of any reason for its existence.  At the outset of this article, I mentioned my reluctance to write about Patrick's Wall.  I keep meaning to get back to the site for more detailed observations and photography.  For the past two years we have not done so, partly because neither Suzanne nor I want to trespass again.  Then there is the extreme physical difficulty in just reaching this site.  

It may be just as well we have not returned.  Perhaps this monument to mystery deserves its solitude.  It has been hiding in the hills for untold ages.  With so few visitors, it has a better chance to endure.  Maybe it deserves to remain a wall unseen. 

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For more about rock walls, see Rocklines.