I’d driven by Putnam Peak dozens of times, following the narrow road through the gentle hills of Pleasants Valley on the eastern flank of the Vaca Mountains in Solano County. The distinctive rocky summit thrusts out from the grassy hills, a remnant of a basaltic lava flow from 24 million years ago. How to get up there was a puzzle, It’s not parkland or a national forest and there’s no easement. Like so much of the open space around the Bay Area, the peak and surrounding land has been preserved by private individuals, in this case descendants of the first ranchers in the valley who settled here in the 1850’s.

With a little sleuthing and an introduction from a friend I was able to contact the ranchers who very generously allowed me access for the Bay Peaks book project. It’s not often that I get a personal tour from someone who grew up on the land, but early morning last week found me hiking the steep slopes with Crystal, who grew up on the ranch and remembered high-school days climbing the hills and roaming on horseback. A keen naturalist (and volunteer docent for a state park) she pointed out native plants and trees, hummingbird sage and buckeye, shooting star and wild grape, as we headed upwards. From the summit the view stretched to Diablo to the south, the Sierra crest east, and in the far north the snowy slopes of Mt. Lassen. Beneath us lay miles of green ranch lands with scattered grazing cattle, a scene perhaps not much different than 100 years ago, thanks to generations of local preservation and care.