Del Puerto Canyon is not nowhere.

Del Puerto “The Door” demands respect from all who enter. It is an important place; secret, dangerous and unspoiled. An eruption of quartz, jasper, serpentine, mercury, magnesite and more, long ago pushed up from earth’s mantle. A place where fossils endure as a testament to an ancient life, silent reminders of an earlier world, existing amid cattle, poppies, lupins and native grasses. Home to the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox.

Del Puerto Canyon is mysterious and foreboding. Eons of creek erosion created unforgiving ravines and near vertical cliffs, barely allowing a road. The path is beguiling and treacherous, claiming lives of trusting sons and daughters. Its tall canyon walls mercifully shorten hot summer days with early shade. At the 18-mile mark, scrub pines appear, struggling to mimic their mighty cousins in the Sierras and Coastal Ranges.

Native American Yokuts lived in Del Puerto Canyon thousands of years before the name California was affixed to this land. They buried their ancestors in caves lining the Canyon and left grinding stones in the Del Puerto Creek bed. These are quiet and still relics marking early societies’ existence and symbiotic relationship with the land behind “The Door.” The legendary and misunderstood Joaquin Murrietta was rumored to have hidden from the Calvary in the Canyon. Perhaps he found refuge in Murderers’ Gulch.

This part of California was described as a “hell of a country” in “Up and Down California in 1860 - 1864: The Journal of William H. Brewer.” He and his surveying crew found refuge in Del Puerto Canyon as described: “There is a fine stream now—soon it will dry, however—with cottonwoods growing along it. We camped in a beautiful spot just within the gate.”

Del Puerto Canyon has long captured the imagination of enterprising humans tempted to tame or exploit. Whether it’s mining rare minerals for the World War One effort, transported to Patterson through a narrow-gauge railroad line or hauled carefully down Mines Road with horses and wagons to Livermore, or for housing road-gang prisoners in such a remoteness that escape was impractical, or for tantalizing weary commuters and Silicon Valley billionaires with dreams of affordable housing and cheap labor with a prospect of a new highway connecting to San Joaquin Valley, Del Puerto Canyon itself resists any easy enterprise.

Del Puerto Canyon is not nowhere.

David Keller

Former Mayor of Patterson

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