Olompali State Historic Park is a state park of California, United States, preserving the ruins of an ancient village and ceremonial ground of the Pomo people. The site is located in northern California’s remote Yolo County between the towns of Winters and Calistoga on State Route 29 near the intersection with State Route 12. The name “Olompali” derives from the combined names of two terms; “olom” meaning ‘place’ and “palai”, which means ‘sacred place’. It was originally called ‘Pomo-pai’, or ‘the Place of the Pomo.’
There are more than 10 miles (16km) of trails open to hiking, mountain biking, horses, and all-terrain vehicles. Visitors can also tour historic mines, explore prehistoric caves, visit restored traditional buildings, and learn how to make soapstone candles. During special events, reenactors perform historical recreations, and living history demonstrations provide insight into rural life as it was in 1850.
The park features campgrounds with:
- tent and trailer sites
- picnic areas
- equestrian staging area
- swimming beach
- group campsites
- primitive hike-to trail campsites
In 1854, during Gold Rush Days, miners invaded the area to search for gold. Miners often clashed with local Native Americans who were trying to protect their hunting grounds and food sources. This led to the end of the Pomo civilization around 1800. What remains today are the foundations of their former villages, known as hamlets, scattered throughout the region. These include sites that have been excavated and documented by archaeologists, as well as those still under excavation. Some of these sites contain evidence of conflict with European settlers, including marks left by gunfire. At least one grave has also been found at the site.
Today, only a handful of residents live nearby. Most of the original inhabitants moved away during the 20th century, leaving behind a landscape dominated by agricultural uses, including fields of wheat, oats, potatoes, and cotton. Preservation efforts began early when, in 1949, Ruth B. Kitchens, then director of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, proposed establishing a state park at Olompali. Although she initially envisioned using federal funds to establish the park, it soon became clear that funding would not be available until there was political will to support such a project.
A bill authorizing $1 million annually over a five year period to develop a state park at Olompali passed the legislature in 1951, but was vetoed by Governor Pat Brown. Three years later, however, voters approved Proposition 4 1/2, approving the park with bonds issued by the state. Work on the park began in earnest in July 1958. Excavations were conducted by archaeologist Edward Palmer from the University of California, Berkeley, assisted by students Mark Metz (class of 1960) and Don Conner (class of 1963).
Their findings indicated that the Pomo had settled in the area sometime before 1750. They had built sturdy houses, farmed, gathered wild plants, fished, made pottery, and may even have mined silver ore. By 1680 they had organized themselves into what appears to have been a complex society based on agriculture, animal husbandry, trade, and warfare. But, by 1700, almost all Pomo settlements had been abandoned. Why they vacated this particular location is unclear, although possible explanations include increased competition from Europeans arriving in North America, disease, warfare with neighboring tribes, environmental changes, and perhaps just plain old bad farming practices.
Whatever the reason, by 1770 most everyone had moved elsewhere, though some families stayed in the vicinity and continued to farm the land. Eventually, the property was sold to developers, who constructed homes along the banks of a new reservoir created on the Big River. Called Lake Britton, after a popular radio character of the day, it was completed in 1954. The new lake provided irrigation water for the farmers living there. However, the reservoir did not last long, being damaged by fire in 1959, 1957, and finally in September 1980, forcing its closure in October 1981.
With the dam out of service, much of the farmland lay fallow, contributing to the overall browning of the countryside. In 1984, concerned about the future of the area, citizens banded together to purchase the land and preserve it as open space public recreation area. After overcoming legal, financial, and bureaucratic obstacles, the park officially opened to the public on June 5, 1992. It now covers 2,426 acres (988ha), making it the largest state park in California.
Other activities include:
- disc golf