Find Your Favorite Way To Listen Below!
May 12, 2022

The Sutter Buttes (World's Smallest Mountain Range!) with Steve Roddy

The Sutter Buttes (World's Smallest Mountain Range!) with Steve Roddy

Did you know that Northern California is home to the smallest mountain range in the world? It lies smack in the middle of the Sacramento Valley, and it is a hotbed for unexpected creatures and unexpected stories alike. Join me with California Naturalist, Sutter Buttes guide, and educator Steve Roddy, as we explore the heart of the Buttes and discuss what makes the place so special. 

How were the Buttes formed? What kinds of plants and animals live there? What was the significance of this place to California Native People? Who lives in the Buttes? Can I visit them? If it's a mountain range on land in the middle of a valley, why is it sometimes called the inland island? 


Mosses and Lichens

Bay Nature on Acorn Woodpeckers 

Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes 

LA Times on Feral Pigs 

Maidu History 

Ringtail Infrared Video 

FInd me on Instagram @goldenstatenaturalist

TikTok @goldenstatenaturalist

My website is

My Patreon is 

The theme song is called "i dunno" by grapes. You can find the song and Creative Commons License here

--- This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast.


Sutter Buttes (World's Smallest Mountain Range) with Steve Roddy

NOTE: This episode contains upsetting information about the treatment of CA Native People after European contact. This includes topics such as forced resettlement and genocide. 
Another note: This transcript was made by a computer, and I didn't proofread it for accuracy! I hope it's not too wonky!


Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Hello and welcome to Golden State naturalist, a podcast for anyone who's ever wondered, are there any islands right in the middle of the state of California. I'm Michelle Fullner. And today we're going to be talking about the Sutter Buttes, a tiny string of mountains smack in the middle of the Sacramento Valley. These peaks are geologically different from all of the surrounding mountain ranges, and are considered by many to be the smallest mountain range in the world. So how did these mountains come to exist? What kinds of plants and animals live there now? Are they accessible to the public? How were they important to the first people who lived here? And if we're talking about a mountain range? What's all this about islands? I'll get to all of this soon with my guests. Steve Roddy, fellow California naturalist who became a guide for a nonprofit dedicated to teaching people about the Sutter Buttes called middle mountain interpretive hikes after retiring from teaching seven years ago. Since then, he's made over 500 trips to the buttes and spent countless more hours reading up on the area. In the first part of the episode, you'll hear Steve and I walking around looking at the nature in the buttes including some mosses and lichens, and an incredible tree used by some very cool birds. And next you'll hear the whole interview about all that great stuff I already mentioned about the buttes spoiler, it involves more than 40 volcanoes. I'll get to that outing with Steve in just a moment. But first, I wanted to send a big thank you to everyone who's rated and reviewed the show. I cannot tell you how much that helps it stay relevant and discoverable by like minded, outdoorsy, curious types. Just looking for a new podcast. Today I'm going to read you a new review that is delightfully enthusiastic. This is from whisker foot says love this podcast already. Wow, I just heard your oak episode so interesting and accessible for science knuckleheads like me. I wish all Californians would listen to this podcast to learn about the real natural California. Thanks so much. So thank you whisker foot, you brought a giant smile to my face with that, and I'm so glad you're liking the podcast. If you've listened to a couple of episodes so far and haven't had a chance to leave review yet. I would super appreciate if you did you can just take like two minutes to do that. And it would make a really huge difference. Or you could text your favorite episode to that friend who's always pointing out interesting plants or your sister in law who goes hiking every weekend or to literally anyone wearing a north face jacket. Okay, without further ado, let's learn about the smallest mountain range in the world the Sutter Buttes from Master educator, California naturalist and seasoned guide at the buttes Steve Roddy on this episode of Golden State naturalist.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
We've got a situation where this Endocyte absolutely is completely covered with life and decide is a type of volcanic rock. It's gray and it's speckled with white and it is abundant at the buttes, Steven I stopped beside some that was super weathered and pockmarked and as Steve points out, absolutely covered with moss and lichen. What I just did was got a lot of moss that his has grown on the surface. And moss is the world's first land plant. And it is an expert at being desiccated. So while we're speaking you can already see the moss is turning green. So the second that it gets some water, it starts to photosynthesize, and they have found that mosses like this can be like buried under a glacier for 30 or 40,000 years. And as the glacier is receding the moss as soon as the sun hits it, it starts to turn green and do photosynthesis. 3000 Absolutely. Absolutely. So we've got a number of couple of life forms on here. There's a number of different kinds of moss and it looks black ish, until until we give it some water. But it's also there's also a large number of lichen on this rock as well like and very slow growing and it's a combination of algae and fungi working together. One of them gives the structure and support and the other makes the food Okay, so if you're hearing this and you're like hold on moss and lichen are not the same thing. No they are not. They're not even in the same kingdom because moss is actually a plant. It's a very ancient and primitive plant but it is a plant and lichen like Steve just said is a combination of two things. It is a fungi and it is algae. So the US Forest Service describes how mosses are plants and then it says lichens on the other hand are completely different they do not have any roots, stems or leaves and their chloroplasts are contained only on the algae on the top surface of the lichen which means like in or actually
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
In the kingdom fungi now there is a huge variety of types of lichen. Some of these are grayish in color, some are green, some are bright yellow, some are bright red, some of them are tiny and just barely along the surface of a rock. Some of them are long and flowy. And just to confuse you a little bit more, the thing in California that people often call Spanish moss is neither Spanish moss, nor is it moss at all. And Spanish moss, which appears more commonly in the southeastern United States is actually neither a moss nor a lichen. So that's confusing, but the thing that's draping from a bunch of oak branches here in California is actually called lace lichen. It's not a moss at all. And if you look at it more closely, you'll see that it resembles the lichen that you'll often see on rocks, it's not soft and Mossy, it doesn't have leaves, it's a little bit of a rougher texture. And I think the reason this gets a little confusing sometimes is because moss and lichen grow in the same places, for example, on tree trunks or branches or twigs or rocks. But if you look closely at them, you will notice that the moss is that softer, more plant like structure, and the lichen doesn't have any of that it's usually a little rougher and doesn't have stems or leaves at all. Also, can we just get three cheers for lichens, because according to that same page by the US Forest Service, any heavy metals or carbon or sulfur or other pollutants in the atmosphere are absorbed into the lichen Thallus. So that's cool. They're pollution busters. Okay, so here's a little bit more about lichens, and especially at the buttes from Steve. It's very, very slow growing, and I think there's at least 80 kinds of lichen that they have identified out here on the various rocks and trees. Wow, you've got some egg yolk like and right. It is the exact color of egg yolk. And we've got some shield lichens and this kind of flaky green stuff is a different kind. But you can really see where it's been about two minutes. Oh, yeah. And it's obvious. That's incredible. It's like forest green. Now it was it was it is before and when they do studies of moss and want to identify it, moss actually has believes and stems. And so if you use a hammer winds or a loop, jeweler's loupe, and you look, each of those little lumps is like a miniature forest. I've got some close focusing binoculars here. And they really It looks almost like a cow. Yeah, a bunch of pine trees or even like a bunch of palm trees, but just exactly. And there's many different kinds of moss, where, when we look at it, you know, it's kind of like, hey, it's green, it's moss. But I brought bryophyte expert out here from UC Berkeley bryophyte, a small flowerless green plant of the division, Brio fighter, which comprises the mosses and liverworts, that's Oxford languages. And he came out and he would look at a rock like this and be able to say, oh, there's six or eight different kinds of waves. And what they do is take a small slice of it,
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
and then magnify it and they can tell by the shape of the leaves. What kind of moss it is. Did the moss do this to the rock? All of the the weathering or is that from like water? I think it's from water. Oh, there's your loop. So you can see where? Oh, yeah, that in the stems. They almost look like
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
fuzzy tulips or something and some of them look like mouse tails. I highly recommend getting like a little loupe magnifier or a magnifying glass of some kind and looking at some moss because it is amazing. It's like looking at a little tiny other world. And what is this peek behind you here? That is North Butte North view. That one's beautiful. And that's where it's climbed to the top of that they do there are weekend and interpretive hikes to the top it's it's a scramble, there's no there's no trail to get up there. So you kind of just scramble around on the rocks. Up at the top there are niches cut into the rock from native shamans. Oh my gosh, and they have a big rock kind of a table that they used to burn bonfires on the equinox and the solstice is for the burned them at Shasta Lassen Mount Diablo and here was that a coordinated it was wow. I realized that I five didn't exist during this time period that Steve's talking about but I got driving directions from Mount Shasta to Mount Diablo in it is 273 miles. Recall that there were no horses in California during this time. So all movement of people was on foot or by boat and it just seems pretty dang cool that there was a coordinated synced effort at this kind of distance. Also, I just want to add here that there
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
There's lots of information in this episode about California Native people because of their history and relationship with the buttes. I'm very aware in this context of the fact that I'm not a native person. And as I included all this information in the episode, I was keeping two things in mind. One is a desire to honor and include the history and traditions of the first people and indeed the first naturalists in the state while to realizing that there's always room for misinterpretation when an outsider is controlling the narrative, especially where historically marginalized people are concerned. With both of these things in mind, I decided to include almost everything I learned about Native people in the beats, including history, uses of the land, and also the general spiritual significance of the place, but I omitted specific stories about the buttes because I recognize that they may be considered sacred and meant only to be told by certain people or in certain contexts. Okay, but for right now, let's talk about a tree that very likely dates back to a time when these coordinated fires that Steve mentioned, were still being lit. The tree has died now, but it's still standing and it's being used by some of my favorite birds. Do you know what kind of tree this this was? This was Valeo. And that was the size that makes sense because it's enormous. And it's been used as a Gregory tree for decades. Obviously, there's literally hundreds if not 1000s of acorn holes, and you can see their little nesting hole up like if that was a dragon
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
or the eye of the dragons and then backward the ear would be that's where the little tennis ball sized hole is. And they go down in there as clans. So this acorn woodpeckers a really unusual, it isn't a nesting pair, they'll go, you know, 12 birds will go in there at night, and they work together to guard the granary tree and fill it with acorns. Okay, so I had read a little bit about acorn woodpeckers before this interview and hearing this just made me want to look them up again. I found an article in bain Nature magazine called if acorn woodpeckers are busy, it might mean rain is on the way. That's by Kate Marian child who wrote the book Secrets of the oak woodlands, which actually recommended in the previous episode on oak trees. In this article, she quotes a zoologist named Walt Konak, who said that acorn woodpeckers may have the most complex social structure of any vertebrate in the world, humans included. That's because they do all the important stuff, food, marriage, sex, and childbearing communally. The article dives into greater detail about this and I just have to read sections of it to you because it is insane. So each clan includes up to three breeding females and up to seven breeding males, and then some of their offspring will stick around for a while and help raise the new younger younger brothers and sisters. The birds that are the helpers are not going to breed with their own family. So what they do is they go off to other trees and other clans to try to find an opening to become one of the breeding individuals in a new clan. If there's an opening, they'll swoop in and try to take it but if somebody else comes along and tries to take the opening at the same time, they have to fight for it. And if neither one can win the fight, then the entire clan can come and back them up. So usually this is done by the females looking for a female opening or the males looking for a male opening. And apparently the battles can go on for up to a week until it's settled. The other wild thing with these birds is that since there's multiple females all laying eggs in the same nest at the same time, the first one that starts to lay Well, the other ones don't really love that and they start kicking her eggs out of the nest until all of them are ready to lay eggs. Then once all the females are ready to lay eggs, they will all stay and they will all cooperate and sit on the nest and take care of the baby birds and everyone helps in bringing food. So again, you can find all that information and more about oak woodlands and about acorn woodpeckers. If you look up Kate Marion child, she's got that book Secrets of the oak woodlands and the Bay Nature article. And once again, it's got to be dead wood right for them to drill those really big holes. Otherwise, that's just too difficult to dig into. But yeah, it's just it's you know, they'll go for bark on a soft tree like cottonwoods sometimes you'll see them go for that. I've even seen him go for telephone poles.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
So yeah, this is a beautiful example of a acorn woodpecker granary tree. I've never seen one this bag. So this was a mighty tree. It was it's a mighty home. You know, I think it shows that dead trees and stags really have a place in nature as nests and things like that. They have a tongue that is eight inches long, that goes through the bottom of their beak and around under the skin and feathers over the top of their head that attaches under their eye. Because they've spent 25 million years of adaptation being good at drilling holes. Oh my goodness. So what does the tongue do for them?
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
are big drills the hole right? The tune is a shock absorber for the skull is soft. They have a really cushiony fluid behind their beak. And their beak is super sharp, perfect for drilling holes. So great adaptation. How do they get the acorns back out of there? What they do is they move them, they grab them with their beak and pull up. In fact, as the acorns dry, they reposition them into different holes. Gosh, so they just grab them. And if you come in the fall, will you see this just chock full of acorns are in Yeah, probably in October, November, it would be there still are quite a few acorns up on the top.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
You'll see all the different holes, they've made them look like tennis ball size. So the whole inside of that is hollow. And that's where they can go in and out. That's their nest. Yeah. Wow. How do they were to where do they sit? It's like semi vertical. Or they just go down there and a big ol puddle of woodpecker. We talked a little in the last episode with zero Wiley about how humans can also eat acorns if they're processed correctly. But what else can humans eat in oak woodlands like the ones found at the buttes, we have elderberry to our left and then right in front of us we've got wild carrot and the wild.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
I mean, is this like looks kind of like carrot leaves the store? Absolutely. The difference being let's pull one up. Go ahead and go to the base and grab it. Yeah. Okay, here we go get trying to get a good grip on it, wiggle it out. And you can see that the part the route that we that we would eat on a yellow carrot is much smaller, and it's white. Yeah. But there was there was plenty of them. Wow. So you will figure throughout the season, a little bigger, they're going to stop but they're not going to be like our our orange carrot so we get because that's not even close to the size of like you know the carrot, collect a lot of them. And then you can see it's got that carrot carotene leaf. Before you go looking for wildcards yourself, just be aware that they look very, very similar to poison Hemlock, which will kill you then very quickly. So there are only subtle differences between wild carrot which is also the same as Queen Anne's lace and poison hemlock. So do not pick wild carrots unless you absolutely know what you're doing. And our miner's lettuce has come one of the very first green things that came up in the spring and you know, the native people the names of their months were like time of green and salmon month and so right and so is there some miner's lettuce. Are you seeing some here? Well, I'm connected to you. And I'm looking because I know there's going to be some right here. I'm looking. Oh, here's some. I see it. Yeah, there we go. That's a really little Yeah. Shall we go to a shady spot? Yeah, that's true. We can find Well, here's it. No, no, no, no. Yeah, there we go.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
And, you know, this is now being served in a lot of fancy restaurants and it's very much a delectable kind of a lettuce like little bit like butter lettuce. Uh huh. Just really mild, very mild. So miner's lettuce is a much safer bet if you're not too sure about yourself than wild carrots. Because miner's lettuce is really easy to identify the leaves look like little lily pads, if lily pads grew on land, and then have a little white flower, like a little white tassel of a flower coming smack in the center of those round leaves. They have other leaves, in addition to the round ones that to me look kind of like little spades. They're sort of heart shaped. And what were you saying right before we started, you were telling me about the wild hogs. I was showing you. There's a lot of ground over here that's disrupted where the hogs come in and route around, looking for buried acorns and grubs and things like that. And so it's particularly a problem if, out here they raise winter wheat, and winter oats, sometimes for hay. And they'll just destroy the field or if there's an orchard, they end up deprecating, where like the almonds have to sit on the ground for about a week and dry. So they're a real problem. And how did the wild How did the wild pigs get they were they were introduced by a property owner who wanted to create a hunting resource without really thinking about how quickly they reproduce and that there was really no predator for them out here. So now there's 1000s Oh my god.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
According to the LA Times wild pigs are also responsible for killing a lot of native species such as California, tiger salamanders and red legged frogs. They also carry diseases that can be spread to humans and are responsible for an E. coli outbreak in spinach in Salinas back in 2006. So not a native species, really not doing great things for our environment here. Okay, in just a minute. You're going to
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Hear the full interview with Steve all about the buttes, including the geology and some fascinating history. But first, if you're liking what you're hearing, I want to invite you to check out my Patreon, which is a membership that gives you all kinds of behind the scenes extras about the podcast, bonus audio and video and additional perks all while supporting me to keep making this podcast this month alone, I'll be driving over 1000 miles to get interviews from all around the state and to be able to bring all kinds of great nature knowledge to you, it would help so much in supporting that if you join the Patreon community for as little as $4 a month and you'd know that you're supporting my ability to get some really unique and fascinating interviews plus helping fun things like the necessary tech to create a podcast. Also, I would absolutely love to work fewer hours per week at my job and be able to put episodes out weekly instead of bi weekly and Patreon is absolutely the most direct way to make that happen. So if you're liking the podcast so far, I hope you'll find me on Patreon at Fullner. That's Michelle with two L's and Fullner is fu LLNER. Thanks for considering that we'll be back for the full Sutter Buttes episode after a short break.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
And now on to the full interview. Okay, so I'm out here with Steve Roddy. We just drove up through seven gates to get out into the Sutter Buttes and it's a beautiful day. It is we've got a nice little breeze and the wildflowers are starting to bloom and trees are leafing out well worth the drive. It is yeah. And all this it's this great spring green with this golden sunshine coming through. I don't think we could have asked for a more beautiful day. No, it's great. It is perfect. So first thing I wanted to ask you, Steve is just kind of a two parter one, how did you get interested in nature and two, how did you end up at the buttes? Well, nature was part of my childhood. My dad was a writer and worked in the radio business and he loved to get out on the weekends and see all different things nature and historical things. And so I was raised in kind of a rural environment most of my life, and it just felt natural to me. I'm not a city dweller at all, and so I'm comfortable outside now the buttes kind of came through just being very quizzical after driving fast abuse for probably 50 years and looking out and seeing them and always wondering, you know, what's out there and how would you get out there I saw an announcement from the middle mountain interpretive hike group about seven years ago, and I paid to come out on some hikes on a wildflower hike and a geology hike and it perfectly timed with me retiring from teaching and one of the backup guides that was on the weekend interpretive hike was a teacher and worked in the ed program. And she recruited me perfect. Since then I've probably been on at least 500 Plus hikes out here on this property. So we have a very large educational program that pre COVID-19 We would bring 13 to 1500 kids a year out here. So it's very organized, set up for third and fourth graders. And that's I was curious about the buttes as soon as I came here. I knew I needed to spend a great deal more time out here. It's a really special place. And part of I think probably what makes it special is how it was formed. So like, what's the story? How did what is going on with these mountains in the middle of the Sacramento Valley? Yeah, that's really the unusual thing is it's geologically it's relatively young. So the Sierra Nevada has had been here a long time the coast ranges, the Feather River in Sacramento we're running. To put this into perspective. The Sierra Nevada is about 40 million years old, and the Sutter Buttes are about 1.5 million years old, and there was a weak spot in the crust, and slow through about five miles of all this sediment and rocks that had been washed out of the Sierra Nevada, into the great Sacramento Valley. Through this weak spot, some rhyolite started pushing, and so magma underground and it created some humps and lumps. And that was about 2 million to a million and a half years ago. So in geographic terms, fairly recent, and then there was a succession of eruptions through both rhyolite vents and andesite vents that pushed up and created these tall areas that we see now that are called capsulated cores. And so it wasn't one large fog.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
You know, like similar to Hawaiian volcano, it was about 40 to 50 different small volcanoes. And so pretty much when you see a ridge or a peak, it is the remains of a now dormant event, its own little volcano, it each of them probably was 40 different little separate volcanoes. And then together, they created this area that after it eroded, very wet times, you know, a million and a half years ago, until probably 10,000 years ago. And so over time, water wind, eroded it down to what we see now and lots of anesthetic rock sticking out of the ground. And the early geologists described it in terms they were from Europe. And so they described the peaks as being capsulated cores. And then the areas that were soft, like we're sitting in now this nice, gentle Valley. These were called the Moats. And then these arms that come down and spread all the way out to the edge in the Valley were called ramparts. So those were the geologic terms. The first geologists that saw it used. Wow, it's very evocative. So it's castle walls. Yeah, very extinct. You know, when we bring people out in the hearing, oh, we're in a volcano. It's like, you're not gonna have any eruption. Okay, so it's never expected to be active. It is completely extinct. So no more eruptions. Is it? It's the way and to the best of our knowledge. Yeah. We never know for sure. I don't eat those words to her.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and so that kind of explains why it's it's not part of the coast range. It's not the Klamath it's not at all skate. It's not the fear. It is not really. And it's not really related to Mount Diablo, or any of the Coast Range mountains or cascades or Sierras. It's really an anomaly. Yeah, you know, and part of its geographic location influenced what plants and animals made it into this ecosystem and what couldn't. So heavy seeds and things. Because this many times was a complete island in the wintertime, you know, 100 until 100 years ago, okay, this blew my mind when Steve first told me about it. He is not talking about an island metaphorically, he is talking about a body of water with a landmass in the middle of it, because the Central Valley used to flood before we had the system of dams and levees that we have today. And I actually already recorded an interview with somebody who knows a lot about this natural history. So there's going to be a whole episode on this Inland Sea that used to be here in the Central Valley. I'm super excited about that. It's still a few episodes out, but it's on the horizon. So be ready for that. It was there's many accounts of huge numbers of game animals being driven into the buttes when it flooded out in the valley. And in those times, we had elk, and antelope and grizzly bears, and so wolves Majan. So, it there were much different fonts out here how we have now what the water has been on the valley floor. Well, the valley floor, it wasn't epic depth. But if it was 10 feet deep, it might have gone all the way from the foothills to the coast ranges. You know, it was filled with toolies back then. And they said that the native people always knew when a flood was or high water was coming. When the Europeans came here and in, you know, after the gold rush in particular, the native people always knew when to go to high spot. And they did not live here. They lived on high ridges above the rivers. So where the town of Live Oak is now was, you know, all along those riverbanks were all villages of people. The town of Live Oak is north of Yuba City and east of the Sutter Buttes. So not real deep in the valley, maybe 10 or 1520 feet, depending on where you were. But you could like ride a boat all the way across a truly boat. Oh, my goodness, which, I mean, that was a facilitated trade in certain seasons. And that's absolutely so one of the great resources that the people who live closest to here didn't have was obsidian. And so obsidian has a fingerprint and current archaeologist and excavations can tell where a chip of obsidian came from. And they've been able to chart all the trade routes of the California natives using obsidian as as the basis so what the folks here had was they had a great abundance of acorns. Obviously, they had deer meat, they were great at harvesting the salmon runs, they would build weird across the river and put white courts on the bottom, build a little sort of a shed like structure so that their shadow wouldn't be on the water but it would force the
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Salmon to swim through this channel that was lined with quartz rock so that people could see it quite easily. And the men would spear them, or in some cases and net them. But you know, we, our native people had tremendous amount of resources, which allowed a wide variety of language groups and a very large population in Northern California. Oh, my goodness. And so, along those lines, that actually segues perfectly to my next question, because I was going to ask about the importance of this place to Native people. Well, the importance was really twofold. First would have been as a place to go gather harvest, process food hunt, but I think more importantly, so the the local tribes around the buttes that includes the Winton, and Maidu people that would have called this area, middle mountain, because it's in the middle of the Sacramento Valley, believed this was a very spiritual place that involved the creation of their world from their deity World Maker, who they believe came down through North Butte, and created the world as we know it now. And at the same time, spirits of people once they pass away, they transition into the afterworld through Northview. So it was really revered place and a holy place. And it's kind of feels like a church, even for a modern individual. It doesn't, I was kind of commenting on the way up here, we drove in past all these gates and everything. And it has almost this primordial feel to it. And I think that might be just because of all of the rocks and the gnarly oak trees, and it has a sort of a whole feeling to it, where it's very peaceful, and just very distinct. And so it feels special, because you don't see something like it every day. Yeah, exactly. You know, there isn't a spot of trash anywhere. It's, you know, it's like, you're kind of peeling away the layers of an onion as you go through those seven gates and get to the inside. And, you know, there definitely, you can see the impact of man on the landscape, particularly on the grasses and the plants that grow. You know, we've got a lot of annual grasses and annual plants now that were brought with the Europeans with their animals in the feed. And those have really pushed out the perennials. There are some things that are gone that used to be here. There used to be a great variety of, of wildlife that is no longer here. So we have no no no more bears, no more wolves, very few Eagles compared to what we had. And so that food chain has really been disrupted, and the insertion of wild hogs and things like that have have really changed the ecosystem, as we know it now. So who knows, you know, in 100 years, we've changed a lot. And it's like, anytime you take something out or put something in the whole balance of everything changes. Sure. Yeah. And with, with all those changes, or despite all those changes, are there any species that have kind of managed to hang on here that haven't been able to do so? You know, in the valley? Or? Well, you know, we have a really unusual population of ring tails. And ring tails are a very kind of misunderstood little animal. Originally, they were identified as minors, cats. Okay, I have to stop and give a little bit more description here. Because no one I have asked, has heard of a ringtail before and I hadn't heard of one until I took my California naturalist class in the fall. So imagine a cat, but it had a baby with a lemur. And that will give you roughly the correct idea of what a ringtail looks like. So it's got cat like ears and face, and then it's got a slender body, and then a super long puffy tail with black and white rings around it. But they're actually neither cats nor lemurs, they are part of the raccoon family. Anyways, you need to stop what you're doing immediately and Google ringtail because they're so cute, and just stand in awe of the fact that these are native to and still live in California. Okay, more about the ring tails that the buttes and the gold miners would would capture small, young juvenile ring tails and domesticate them and they were very good at keeping away the rodents in mining camps. But what we've come to find is there are 1000s of ring tails in the buttes and I think it's because we have this Arrested Development of of the land and there's lots of California, mistletoe out here and that is turned out to be their number one diet. So there's a professor at Sac City College named Dave Wyatt and he's done a lot of
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Research out here and he brought his graduate students or a student assistants and they took like an acre of land and cleaned off every single rock and then did scat surveys over extended periods of time and they found out that about 80% of the ring tails diet consisted of mistletoe berries, which really wasn't known before. So a few weeks after this Sutter Buttes episode was recorded. I actually got to meet Dave Wyatt and go with him back to the buttes, I went with a bunch of his students from Sac City College, as well as some graduate students from Sac State and some other faculty from Sac City. I did not interview Dave because it was a class field trip and I didn't want to just interrupt everything that they were doing. But I did get Dave talking about a few favorite stories about ring tales that hopefully I'll be able to share with you soon. Also David's just incredibly warm and kind and just mind bogglingly knowledgeable about nature more about that soon. And you know, we have the classics that have adapted well, even to urban environments, the raccoons, the coyotes, the skunks, the possums, and so there's all of those are here and they're being very successful, but I think they're species that even survived enter in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, right? They're good at adapting to being around human beings. The ring tails, though those aren't like, where else can you find the ring tails are those well, you would never find a concentration like what we have now, but they're there throughout California is just they are one of the most secretive little animals there are boreal, and they're nocturnal, and so they they're great at hiding up in dead trees and things. I would suggest people YouTube search YouTube for ringtail, infrared IFR videos, and Dave Wyatt has those that he's put infrared cameras out in the trees here. I couldn't find the videos taken by Dave Wyatt on YouTube. But I did find a couple of infrared night videos of ring tails. And I'll post one of those in the show notes. And they're very, very active. They're really cute. There. People love him once in a while we have he comes and does a thing on life, wildlife and the buttes and he lived traps, so I have been able to see them. But that's been an animal that was life trapped, measured and tested for research reasons and then released very quickly. Gotcha. Like in the wild, though, I have never seen a ringtail in the wild. I've seen a dead ringtail out here. And I have seen roadkill ring tails up where I live in the foothills. But I don't I have never seen a ringtail just like running around while I've been here in the very secretive, they are 500 trips and no ringtail
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
entails. You know now I've seen I've seen wild hogs four or five, six times I've seen rattlesnakes probably a dozen times. So we there's a lot of wildlife here, this just adapted to modern times, occasional mountain lions, you know, because there's an area called the Center sink that is to the west of the buttes, and it's got a very large concentration of deer there, okay, and so occasionally a mountain lion because they'll sometimes release women with a radio collar into the center sink and they might be passing through, but it certainly isn't a common thing at all. And one of my listeners said, I told them that I was coming here and one of them said that he'd seen a porcupine here I have never seen a porcupine, but I'm sure they could be here. You know porcupines in general, I've had a pretty tough time. In California, it's much rarer to see a porcupine. But certainly it's feasible. We see eagles because gray Lodge is to the north of us. And so we've seen golden eagles and bald eagles, we've had nesting pairs of golden eagles on this property. And when that happens, we avoid going into those areas at all and kind of that part of the ranch is off limits. Right. Right.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
I was wondering, we talked about some of the ways that native people use this land. What happened when Europeans came? What was the history at that point? Well, it's a very bleak history. Because that when the Europeans arrived, they had no recognition of the knowledge or talents of the native people. And they kind of assumed that they weren't as clever or, you know, not worthy. And so they didn't listen to him at all. They categorize them under a term which is politically incorrect anymore. It's the term digger because what they saw and you'll see these in Pioneer diaries and journeys, they'll say, we saw the digger Indians, well, what they saw was someone from some tribe using a root stick to dig for roots, but that it's sort of a pejorative that, that they, they grouped all of the people together under that term. So now
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Not only did the native people suffer from the environmental degradation of, of their lifestyle by the gold miners, they were run off a lot of times and really treated cruelly. And a sad story about the buttes is there's an area here on the ranch where they had to bring a group of Native American people in the 1860s to keep them safe over the summer from vigilante violence. And so they relocated the Maidu people and the Knysna and people that were to the east of us to place in the in the Coast ranges called Round Valley. And so it's kind of a their own version of the Trail of Tears story, that people being taken off of their land, and brought in here just to keep them safe the army did and then forcing them to move to a location that wasn't where they were from or familiar with at all. Was it genuinely to keep them safe? Or was it like in a, you know, to grab their land there was there were there were vigilante groups like the Auburn blades, and the Placerville blades that literally had bounties on Native American people. So I mean, it's a brutal part of history. It's shameful. But
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
the at that point, I think they were trying to preserve the, the remains of the people who had not been killed or died of disease. Okay. I'm very grateful to Steve for bringing this up. Because I'm embarrassed to say that I actually had no idea this happened in California until this interview. Now, there is so much more to this story. And this little aside is not going to be able to capture it all. So I highly encourage you to go and find out more information about this, but I looked it up on And here's what it says careless gold miners polluted the streams that supply the mighty with food and drove away game animals. settlers arrived in their cattle ate local plants and their hogs forage for the acorns so important to the native diet unable to feed themselves, some mighty were forced to leave their villages to work in the cities or on ranches and farms, they soon found themselves competing for jobs with disappointed gold miners. Then, just two years after the discovery of gold in 1850. Discussions began over what to do about the quote, Indian problem in California, which just to editorialize really fast it's not surprising, but also really ironic that they called it the Indian problem and not the gold miner problem. Anyways, the US government's solution was to isolate California natives on reservations, government officials claimed it was for the Native Americans protection because it would prevent the extinction of native tribes by hostile white settlers treaties were drawn up and about 7.5 million acres were set aside for reservations. The treaty the mighty made with the federal government give them a large reservation on land where there was no gold the government expected the mighty to farm this land. And remember that in California, native people did not farm settlers were upset that so much land was being given away to the Native Americans about 8% of the state, they pressured the US Senate to reject the treaties. Shortly after that only 1.2 million acres were set aside for reservations. So they chopped what had been 7.5 million acres reservations down to just 1.2 million acres. And remember that the word giving them the land is really incorrect because it was native land to begin with. Really this is a case of outsiders coming in and chopping up the native land And then redistributing it to different tribes and condensing them all. In smaller areas. The mighty received a 227 square mile reservation away from their traditional homeland where they would be confined with other tribes. Now the mighty who did push back on this, they would escape the reservation, which I don't know if I'm saying this correctly, but is called the no malarkey. And they would return to their homeland. White settlers complained about the miters refusal to settle down and 1857 US soldiers again rounded up a large group of mighty mostly women and children and forced them to return to the normal lucky reservation. According to mighty who made the trip young women had to spend the nights in trees to protect themselves from the soldiers. Over the next four decades the mighty and other California natives faced constant violence at the hands of white settlers in 1858 461. Natives including some mighty were rounded up and forced to endure a five day walk to Round Valley reservation in present day. Mendocino County. That is so far, almost half of them were murdered or died on the way those who made it did not like the conditions there. Some escaped and fled to remote areas where they tried to avoid contact with settlers by the beginning of the 20th century, the mighty who found themselves landless, and homeless. Again, that information was all from and that was either me reading it straight from the site or me summarizing it if you have additional information about these events that you would like to share
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Mi please hit me up by sending me an email through my website or by sending me a message on Instagram and disease probably was very impactful to disease was truly, you know, the smallpox blanket analogy was really very true, you know, and they just did not have the immunities. And so if you look at the Columbian Exchange of what came from the New World, and then what the new world gave back to the whole world, it's a pretty one sided thing, you know, where just there was no respect for the culture and knowledge. And so 10 20,000 years 1000s of generations of of knowledge and ways of doing things that were really brilliant or just cast aside, I realized that this is a lot of history for a nature podcast, but it really does tie in because we're on land in California that has historically been stewarded land, it's been land that's been managed by people. And when that was disrupted by the events just mentioned, and others like them, the land stopped being stewarded by the people who cared for it, which has led to a lot of environmental calamity, like these super hot burning wildfires that we're now having. Thankfully, there are people now reclaiming that knowledge and embracing it and so hopefully we can start to move more in that direction. Okay, a little bit more history before we get back strictly to nature. And kind of along those lines. I know, there have been a lot of different names for this place, too. So what because I've heard you know, the Marysville Butte, Sutter Buttes, the middle mountain, what's the story? Yeah, so I'd say the story of the names was was consistent for around 10,900 years, and it was called a version of middle mountain, Islam Jonnie. There were numerous tribes around the world within the sphere of the buttes that had their own term for it. The Spanish called it like trace Pecos, or, you know, the peaks and actually when you look at the buttes, there's way more than three. It was then called the Marysville buttes for a long time because at that time Marysville was a much more important city. It was a very thriving city as a point of demarcation for the Gold Rush and servicing the mind the hardrock mines in Grass Valley and in what is Oroville now in Rich's bar, and so they called it the Marysville buttes, which actually Marysville is on the other side of the Feather River from the beauty of the city is closer. And then in 1949, they chose the name Sutter Buttes, because it is in Sutter County. And so it was confusing that Yuba City was not in Yuba County and so it had something to do with the county. And in a way it's ironic because Sutter was also a European who came and used native labor and I you know, there's some people look at him, as you know, being a helpful guy and other people, obviously not this was he had a desenio, a Spanish land grant. So what Sutter did is, he became a Mexican Spanish citizen and a Mexican citizen giving up his swift citizenship, so he could be given a land grant and the land grants were huge. So his grant went from sac. What is current Sacramento to North is northwest corner would be the buttes and then going to the east, it was up around Penn Valley, and then all the way back towards Auburn. So he had this huge amount of land that was given to him. And then of course, the Gold Rush was his downfall. People didn't respect his land, they shot his cattle, they took his stuff. And so you know, he, in the end was left a very bitter and penniless person that was in Washington DC trying to convince Congress to compensate him for the damage that Americans had done to his property in the gold rush. Wow. That's been given to him in the first place. Yeah, he didn't buy it. He did not buy sympathy meter as low on.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Okay, another question from one of my listeners was about bats. Are there a lot of bats here? There are a lot of bats. I believe there's 10 or 12 varieties of bats. And in fact, down at the pond that we just drove by, there are some bat houses there installed that the same biologist Dave Wyatt does bat studies and offers interpretive hikes where you come here and they put mist nets over the pond, and they catch bats and
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
absolutely. So there's lots of opportunities for people who want to come out and explore the beauty if they would go to the middle mountain interpretive hike website. There's two seasons every year there's a fall in a spring COVID-19 Suspended our work for about a year and a half. And so now they've got you need to check the COVID protocols that they expect that I'm sure by fall, will I don't know how sure I could say yeah, everything will be great.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
At 22 It'll be a dim memory, but people are still able to come out. And so I would suggest they've got lots of hikes of different difficulty levels and different disciplines on wildlife and geology and wildflowers and birds. And I would encourage everybody to at least get one trip out here in their life. Great. And so one of those is bats. And are there like, a lot more bats here variety of species than you would find, say in Sacramento? Or? Or is, you know, I truly don't know. You know, I'm not sure I know. There's like 12
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
I see lots of bats like at the Yolo causeway where there's a manmade places and railroad bridges where, you know, they can roost in the day, the yellow Basin Foundation does bat walk and talks. So that sounds like a whole episode to me. Do you know where they root here? Well, they roost in there's lots of rocks, and we don't have really caves we have jumbles that's a jumble a jumble is where rocks collapse down and create a cavern. So you know, it isn't like we don't have limestone, like the Sierra Nevada does that can erode with water and create caverns. So there, there really are not any caves or shafts. Interestingly, they discovered natural gas out here. In the 40s, there was a wildfire that swept across the buttes. And then so they noticed there were these vents of gas that continued to burn like a gas flame shooting up out of the cracks in the rocks. And so in portions of the buttes that has turned in to a profitable thing for the landowners to tap have natural gas wells. Oh, my goodness. And do they? Does it disturb what's going on? They're very much to tap those they have to like do you know, it doesn't look like much and it's not in this area. It's in the south middle part, like a long past road that runs kind of in the bottom fourth of the buttes. There's a lot of gas wells on that road. Wow, interesting. Well, we talked a little bit about ways people can access this out here. And one of the other things I heard about is that state parks owns land. I'm so glad you asked that question, because we get a lot of questions about that. So there is a beautiful piece of property that borders this property on the north side called Peace Valley. And Peace Valley was purchased by the state parks I think about 20 years ago or maybe 25 years ago. But they neglected to have an easement to get into the land. So it's landlocked. Now the neighboring landowners were very unhappy with the concept of there being a state park there because they would not they wouldn't indemnify them for fires or trespassing or trash or the problems that can come along with a park. So it's been sitting in limbo for 20 years in court. So I know that the landowners are not wild about the idea and the people who border it and have the symptom. The access road that goes in have fought development of the park in court. So right now there's maybe five times a year they have a small tour state parks will do it through the snow goose festival sometimes and or the swan festival. But it's really hard to get into I have never been there in my 10 years that I've been hundreds of times coming up to this property. And really we're careful not to ever trespass. Yeah, you know, the property owners do have the right to go into retrieve a like an animal if their livestock goes into the state parks. But I know from middle mountain, we're we really are careful to make sure to respect the property owners. Right. So if we never go in the state park Yeah. Oh, my goodness, it's so how do you feel about that being there and just kind of
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
it's it's really hard, because I respect the property owners that I know here. For example, the property owner whose land we were on for this interview is super welcoming, and allowed me to come out with Steve and allows big groups from middle mountain interpretive hikes to come out and do all kinds of education and programs out there on their land. So some of the landowners out there are just incredibly open and generous with having people out understandably, as long as that's in a really organized way. And at the same time, I realized, gosh, it would be great to have state park where people could go and enjoy. So I guess I'm hoping that at some point, they can come to some kind of moderate situation where it could be used. You know, it's it's an unused resource. i The truth of the matter is there were some people some speculators who made a great deal on selling that property. They bought it and I believe kept it for only a couple of three years and it was a 2200 acre property and they kept 200 and turn that sold the 2000 a great profit to state parks. So you know, I'm the jury's out. Anyway,
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
would love for people to be able to go there. But I could also see the problems of fires and trespassing and stuff. Right? Right.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
I hope that they come to some kind of agreement that would be great. What is your favorite time of year to be here, without a doubt spring in a really wet year, on a day that day after it rains where the moss is just glowing, emerald green, and the wildflowers are carpeting. And there's huge sprays of wildflowers. And you know, every year is different. As I look around this year, we had this crazy amount of moisture in December, and then nothing really in January or February. And so it's like everything got started. And now it's kind of dry out here. But the spring is unbelievable. It's great. Another favorite thing to do is they do a full moon sunset hike out here and that that's a lot of fun. It's not a hard long hike. It's done in the afternoon and you know to be out here at night is really special. That sounds beautiful. So you get to see all of those crepuscular animals. If you're lucky, you do lucky. That is very cool. Do you have any favorite species of wildflowers? Well, I'm a poppy guy, of course being a California native but I have an unusual favorite and that's the wild carnation. And wild carnations are so tiny, these tiny little pink blossoms but there's a few hillsides here where you can just have a spray of solid pink going all the way on the hillside if the conditions are correct. You know, I love California poppies. Another really good favorite of mine and it's so fragile is the pipeline and the Dutchman's pipe. I love them. And they're so delicate. And you know, their coloration isn't really bright, but they're one of the few vines we have in California. Do you see any of the swallowtail butterflies out here? We do. Okay, so we have lots of bro dia or blue deck out here and we see lots of pipevine swallowtails. And of course, that's the the Dutchman's pipe is their host plant for laying their eggs. I like them all good. Yeah. Beautiful. And I think to like we're driving in and there were just these beautiful blue flowers that were lit from behind and the sun was shining. Right baby blue eyes. We had
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
a flush of blue. So beautiful. Okay, I think my my last question for you is, what about the buttes or being here? Or taking these hikes? Just what about this place still takes your breath away. It's almost indescribable. And for some people, I think they come out one time, and it's like, in their blood. And one of my very first trips, one of the guides, a wonderful gal said this was her church. And that's exactly how I feel. You know, I'm the kind of person who I'm the church of Mother Nature, kind of a pantheistic view of life. And every time I come here, there's something different or something new or something special, and it just makes me totally happy when I'm here all right, thank you. This has been incredible. You're welcome. Can't wait to go hike around and seal Yeah, let's go see a little more perfect. I really love that mentality because regardless of your belief system, if you can see the divine or if you can see the meaning in every blade of grass, every petal of a flower, every tree living or dead, every stone when you're out in nature, you'll have that much more respect for it and you'll want to protect it. One more thing is that Steve recommended a few books for anyone who might want to know more about the buttes. The first one is inland Island, the Sutter Buttes by Walt Anderson. And then there's two books about California Native people. First one is called California Indians and their environment, which is a California Natural History guides by Kent G. Lightfoot and Otis Parrish. And finally, the natural world of the California Indians by Robert F. Heiser and Albert B. L. Sasser. So definitely check those out. I was looking into them thinking about purchasing them, and they all have really good reviews, so I can't decide which one I'm going to buy or maybe all of them. Okay, I got some thank yous this week. The first one is to middle mountain interpretive hikes for believing in me before I even had a single episode out. And that includes Steve Roddy for going out on this interview with me. Thank you, then to the property owner at the beauts for opening up her land to me so thanks Margot. The listeners who submitted questions including Cliff Andy and Claire you all rock and you had fantastic questions. If you want to find me on social media. You can find me at Golden State naturalist on Instagram. I am trying to get my Tik Tok up and running. It is very foreign to me but I'm working on it. So that's also at Golden State naturalist on Tik Tok. I also have a website which is www dot Golden State And you can find me on Patreon at Fullner. If you want to support the show on Patreon little piece of news for you
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
Isn't the next couple of weeks is absolutely crazy for me. And there are a couple of exciting little surprises coming up. So stay tuned for those. Okay. And then I like to end with something interesting from my week. So this one is that last Friday was my birthday. And so on Saturday night, my husband and I went out and we went to a couple of places, we walked around a little bit, and then we went back to the parking garage, we were down close to the Capitol, and we parked in Capitol garage. So we walked back to the garage, and I was like, Okay, I know where we're at. We're on the fourth floor. So we get up to the fourth floor, and we're walking around and our car is just not there. And I was like, you know, this, like, this looks different. And so my husband was like, well, like, let's get our Find my car. And we looked at it, and we it was not in the same parking garage as us. And I think what happened is that there's a capital garage, and there's a capital towers garage, and we were just in the wrong one. So we had a lovely little late night stroll, going into the other garage. That's all thanks for being here. And thanks for sticking it out to the very end of this episode of Golden State naturalist. See you next time.
Profile icon of Unknown Speaker
The song you just heard is called idea no buy grapes. And you can find the link to that and to the Creative Commons license in the show notes. But by