National Geographic : 1993 Jul
murrelet; once rich salmon populations are suffering from dams, silting of streams, and damage to their spawning beds upriver. The fishermen are suffering in turn. And there is the ceaseless demand for water from the sub urban sprawls of Los Angeles and other south ern cities. In California 75 percent of the water originates north of Sacramento, while about 75 percent of the demand occurs south of it. In "The Sierra in Peril," his Pulitzer Prize winning series of newspaper articles, Tom Knudson passionately expressed the general alarm at the increasing environmental deter ioration in this eastern part of northern Cali fornia. He quoted a U. S. Forest Service spokesman's prophetic words: "The Sierra Nevada is really the region where California faces its destiny." Northern California spread out before me as I stood on the crest of the Coast Ranges north of San Francisco. I was planning to travel the back roads-most of the roads are back roads - and visit the people who are struggling with these issues. I knew from a visit 15 years before that I would find generations of cattle ranchers, lumbermen, fishermen, miners, alternative life-stylers, Indian groups, and countless new settlers from elderly retired cou ples to burned-out yuppies to ambitious young entrepreneurs. As Darryl Young, a legislative representative of the Sierra Club California, told me, "Grass roots is the way to go here. That's what northern California's all about." They live primarily in small settlements major towns are few-scattered across a var ied terrain. First come the great green patch work patterns of the Sacramento Valley, embraced by the mountain arms of the Sierra Nevada to the east and the western Coast Ranges of Trinity, Klamath, and Siskiyou. Then the land rises abruptly, ridge upon ridge, to the soaring broken volcanic cones of 14,162 foot-high Mount Shasta, haloed by a strange lenticular cloud. Many religious sects have set tled around its base, regarding it as one of the earth's vital "power centers." Most northern Californians see Shasta, at the least, as a pow erful symbol of the region's identity. Beyond Shasta's high white flanks, the northeastern lava plateau stretches into ranching country. To the northwest the jum bled mountain ranges with their sinuous val leys cocooned in ancient Douglas fir, Jeffrey pine, and redwood forests surge down to one of the most dramatically beautiful coastlines in America-275 miles of soaring cliffs, head lands, and chiseled coves from Crescent City to Bodega Bay. I began my journey on a clear-spun win ter morning, bright as hammered silver, in the broad, black-earth farmlands of the Sac ramento Valley. In the sleepy and slightly "Members and non members only," warns the plaque outside Ferndale's sturdy Greek Invest ment Company, a cafe where retired dairyfarmers none Greek-gather daily to razz each other over rummy, 50 cents a game. The building survived a 1992 earthquake that slid dozens of houses offfoun dations. Residents pitched in to rebuild the town, touted by locals as the "Victorian Village" for its architecture.