Sun 15 Nov 2009
Marin Municipal Water District in 1961 built Seeger Dam on Nicasio Creek, creating Nicasio Reservoir. The reservoir covered the old Nicasio Valley Road (center), which was replaced by the new alignment at far left.
This year’s falling water level has revealed many sections of the old road, such as its bridge over Nicasio Creek (above).
Here and there the road’s centerline can again be seen.
On its west side, the reservoir covered the remains of James Black’s ranch house built in the 1840s.
Black, for whom Black Mountain is named, once owned the site of Point Reyes Station.
More significantly, the creation of Nicasio Reservoir inundated the Tomasini and McIsaac ranches while its dam put an end to salmon runs in Nicasio Creek.
Although the salmon are gone, large-mouth bass, crappie, catfish and carp normally thrive in the reservoir and draw numerous fishermen to its shores. This year’s receding water level, however, has left many fish trapped in shallow pools where they make easy pickings for a variety of predators. The shells of freshwater clams can also be seen everywhere.
Last Wednesday two houseguests — new-media consultants Janine Warner and Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles — and I walked across part of the reservoir’s dry bottom.
Our route took us along the old Nicasio Valley Road.
We had barely gotten started when I was surprised to see numerous dead carp lying on the dried mud of the reservoir’s bottom. Many were almost two feet long.
Even more surprising was finding five dead deer spread out along our route.
Some carcasses had obviously been there a while, but some still had a bit of meat on their bones.
None was close to the present Nicasio Valley Road, making me wonder how they had died.
At one point, Janine asked me to pose for a photograph beside a railing of the old bridge. As I walked toward it, however, I suddenly sank in mud up to my ankles.
Nor could I easily free myself. When I tried to step backward, one shoe came off in the mud.
Perhaps that’s what happened to some of these deer, I mused. Maybe they were being chased by a predator, such as a coyote, when they unluckily tried to cross deep mud and became bogged down.
On Sunday I mentioned this hypothesis to Kathy Runnion, who lives near the reservoir, and she told me a large number of coyotes are currently in the area. That doesn’t prove anything, of course, but as Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evens commented, “It’s fun to speculate.”
The falling reservoir has not yet seemed to affect the flocks of Canada geese that feed there. The geese, however, require a certain amount of water, and if the reservoir were to go completely dry as it did in 1976-77, they’d have to take off.
The intersection of Nicasio Valley Road and the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road at the northeast corner of the reservoir is known as Four Corners. (A ranch road creates the fourth corner.)
Near Four Corners on a knoll overlooking the reservoir is a stand of cypress trees. They are all that remains of the schoolyard for the former Pacheco School. The one-room school was built in 1895 and closed in 1938.
Pacheo graduate Don McIsaac of Tocaloma five years ago recalled, “It had kids from first to eighth grades. The most students I can remember at a time was 14. The least I can remember was five: three Gallaghers and two McIsaacs.
“None of us can remember what happened to that school [building].”
As I walked along the old road Wednesday looking at Pacheco School’s cypress trees, I found myself thinking wistfully about all that’s been lost.
I realized that not many people these days know about the former school. The Tomasini and McIsaac families survived the loss of their ranches. Carp are considered “trash fish.” The clams are non-native. Deer regularly die in traffic around the reservoir anyway. And the water is needed by neighbors as close as the San Geronimo Valley.
Yet with so much loss thereabouts — both current and historic — it was probably inevitable that walking across the dry eastern reaches of Nicasio Reservoir last Wedneday afternoon felt like walking through a graveyard.