Many Moons In The Sonoma Valley

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It would be difficult for you to walk the length of this valley in one night. It stretches nearly 17 miles from a place where the Sonoma Creek begins in a narrow canyon of the Mayacamas Mountains and follows that creek to the San Pablo Bay—a shallow tidal estuary that forms an extension of the San Francisco Bay.

If you were to set out on a walk of the length of this valley tonight, you would understand why the first people who lived here called this place Sonoma—which means “many moons” or “valley of the moon.” This is a narrow valley—only a few miles across at most points—and the Mayacamas Mountains tower on one side and the Sonoma Mountains jut up on the other. When the moon is full—like tonight—it disappears and reappears behind the mountain tops as you go. It’s as though there are many moons here.

Millions and millions of years ago, this place lay beneath the ocean. But the earth moves here—now just like then, and this place rose up. You will still see the remnants of ancient volcanoes and volcanic eruptions as you travel this valley.

Today, after the mellowing work of nature over millions of years, the ancient sea bed and volcanic landscape have been transformed into cragged peaks that almost immediately soften into places of riparian woodland, oak woodland, oak savanna, grassland, and marshland. There are areas up the sides of this valley where oak trees are underplayed with bunch grass of prehistoric origins. There are places in the Valley of the Moon that have never been disturbed by anything other than the rising of the sun and the setting of the moons.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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