Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Confusing Geography of Western Placer County

The red polygon shows where the sheep were, and the yellow polygon shows where they ended up.  The green line
represents the driving route between the two locations; the orange line represents our walk back!

The geography of western Placer County -  at least that portion between rural Lincoln and rural Auburn - is a confusing jumble of winding historic roads, creeks (known as "ravines" locally), small farms and rural ranchette properties.  Many of the back roads between Auburn and Lincoln reflect the agricultural and gold mining heritage of the region - roads were built on property lines rather than on the most direct line between points A and B (or at least that's my assumption).  I didn't truly have appreciation for this confusing geography, however, until my sheep got out on Monday evening.

We are currently grazing sheep on what was once called the Heredia Ranch (and what is now known as the Blue Oak Ranch subdivision) - it's adjacent to the Mears Lane entrance to Hidden Falls Regional Park west of Auburn.  The area is drained by several seasonal creeks and crisscrossed by Nevada Irrigation District canals (many of which precede the establishment of the District itself).  A side note: I find these canals fascinating - they were designed and constructed in the days before computer-aided drafting and motorized heavy equipment, and yet they continue to work perfectly!

I left work on Monday at 5 p.m. and headed home for a quick snack before my Placer County Agricultural Commission meeting at 7 p.m.  I'd only been home for about 30 minutes when my cell phone rang.  The pleasant woman on the other end said, "I think we have your sheep."  I asked where she was, and she told me she lived at the end of Pleasant Hill Road (off Mt. Pleasant Road on the way to Lincoln).  Since Mt. Pleasant Road comes into Mt. Vernon Road 4-5 miles west of where I turn to get to the sheep, I was certain they weren't ours.  Then she described my guard dogs!  I said, "Wow - they've traveled quite a distance - they're supposed to be up near Hidden Falls Park!"  "We back up to the park," she said, but I was incredulous.

After checking in to say I'd probably be late getting to the Ag Commission meeting, I grabbed a border collie and headed out to check the sheep.  Sure enough, most of the sheep were gone - 2 rams and 8 ewes had stayed behind, but there was no sign of the 130 or so additional sheep that should have been in the paddock.  I found where they'd run through the fence, and found another spot where something may have come into the paddock to chase them (perhaps a coyote or a stray dog).  Climbing back into my truck, I drove the 6+ miles to the address the woman had given me - and found the rest of my sheep.  By now, it was well after dark.  The woman's husband greeted me at the door - laughing that his wife had accused him of buying sheep!  Once he described the lay of the land - and the route of the irrigation canal, we figured that the sheep had probably walked down the canal - and that they were less than a half mile from my paddock.  They graciously allowed me to leave the sheep overnight so that I wouldn't have to navigate my way (along with guard dogs and sheep) cross-country through unfamiliar territory in the dark.

Upon returning home from my meeting (I was late, but made it in time to vote on the one action item on our agenda), I checked Google Earth.  Sure enough, my paddock was just around a bend in the canal from the property where the sheep had ended up - amazing!

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the paddock at 6:30 and walked the canal to the other property.  With Mo's help, all of the sheep - and the guard dogs - were back where they were supposed to be before 7 a.m.  Moving the sheep cross-country felt like a step back in time - I could imagine sheepherders and cowboys moving animals on the same route a hundred years ago.  And I realized how motorized travel has confused my conception of my native geography.  I found being on foot following my sheep to be a much more pleasant trip than being behind the steering wheel the night before!
On our way back...

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