Lake Berryessa, California

Today is my birthday, so after eating some cakes and pancit at Deelow’s place, my mom, Deelow and Ta Gie with Ta Vans drove up to Lake Berryessa. We never thought that highway 128 would be so winding that most of my passengers got dizzy that by the time we reached the outskirts of the lake they were already ready to give up.

We stopped by one of the rivers and took some videos and head on and we were amazed to see the islands around the lake. We decided to visit it when we saw that it can be reached through the park. So we paid $15 by the Spanish Flat entrance and drove down to the picnic area. As we pay here is the start of the lake’s history.

Berryessa Valley

“Berryessa was once a valley so rich and idyllic that the Nomadic Pomo Indians could live a life of ease off the game and natural vegetation there. In later days, farmers fought gun battles to protect their holdings and claim jumpers were a constant threat. Life could be violent even in those pleasant surroundings. One Thomas Lofton killed a settler in a land dispute in 1860 and made his escape after facing down the sheriff and his posse.

Berryessa Valley

A rancher named John See shot and killed a claim jumper that same year, only to be gunned down in the dusty main street of Monticello the year of 1872, the climax of an old feud with another rancher.

The original luckless landowners were Jose Jesus and Sisto Berryessa, who obtained a 36,000-area grant from the Mexican government in 1843. The brothers built a 90 foot long adobe hacienda and settled down to the good life of raising cattle and breeding fine horses which they would race at the drop of a sombrero. Gradually they sold their acreage to the arriving Americanos to pay off their gambling and other debts [ed note: including debts incurred from taking squatters to court to defend their property rights]. The last piece of land owned by Sisto Berryessa and his wife was sold at the Sheriff’s auction in 1860 to settle a $1,653. judgment. Sisto lived out his life in a rude cabin near hat is now known as Spanish Flat, near the cemetery on Loop road.

Berryessa Lake

We parked by the edge and walked around. Ta Vans and I hiked to the Spanish Flat island. We took pictures and videos as we walked and when we reached the end we saw some deers, and gazed at them and took some pics. We saw giant plants not native to the land, and we decided to walk on the other side back to where the others were. We gazed at the lake and I can’t help but think about the town which was now under its waters.


Monticello was a town erected within Rancho Las Putas, a Mexican land grant of 35,516 acres (143.73 km2) given in 1843 by Governor Manuel Micheltorena to José de los Reyes Berreyesa and Sexto “Sisto” Berelleza. After California was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Berreyesas filed the claim with the American Public Land Commission in their wives’ names in 1852, and the grant was patented to them in 1863.

By 1853, José de Jesus and Sisto Berelleza had sold minor parcels of Rancho Las Putas, referred to as Berryessa Ranch by the American settlers, to pay gambling debts. They owed Edward Schultz $1,645 but couldn’t pay him in cash; Schultz petitioned the county to auction a major 26,000-acre (110 km2) section of the Berreyesa holdings. In the auction, Schultz paid only $2,000 for the huge parcel, and quickly resold it for $100,000 to a consortium of developers.

The Map

In 1866, the developers holding the majority of land in the valley divided Rancho Las Putas into smaller parcels to sell to farmers, and platted a town called Monticello. Within a year, the valley was filled with farmers who enjoyed mild winters and bountiful harvests, especially of wheat. By 1870, Monticello contained a cemetery, a general store, blacksmith shops, hotels and various other businesses. In 1875, a former toll road through the valley was opened to become a public road, maintained by the county. A four- and six-horse stagecoach ran from the 300 men working at the remote quicksilver mining town of Knoxville south through rocky hills to Monticello, where the horses were changed, then west to Napa.

The Berreyesas moved from their original hacienda holdings to smaller dwellings. The large adobe estate house belonging to Sisto Berreyesa was left to ruin, but a second, smaller one, was held by a settler named Abraham Clark. In the late 19th century, the valley floor was covered with family farms whose land titles could be traced to the Homestead Act of 1862. Much of the valley floor was covered with dry-farmed wheat and barley fields, with some orchards and grapevines mixed in. Ranching was mostly in the foothills. In 1900 and 1901, news of a high-quality oil strike in Berryessa Valley brought speculators and experts in drilling, but no results.

As early as 1906, proposals were put forward to dam Putah Creek to form a reservoir. In 1907, the Mulholland-Goethals-Davis plan proposed a dam at Devil’s Gate, the southeastern limit of the valley. Other plans were formulated, but no proposal was acted upon until 1947 when Solano County and the United States Bureau of Reclamation together formed the Solano Project, a combination of water plans including Monticello Dam, the Putah Diversion Dam, the Putah South Canal, the Terminal Dam and Reservoir, the Green Valley Conduit and various related water distribution systems. Residents of Monticello protested, but California Governor Earl Warren and Solano County promoted the dam as necessary for the economic and agricultural growth of the surrounding area. Residents started leaving the valley to find homes elsewhere.

Berryessa Lake

Construction of the dam began in 1953. Vegetation in the valley was chopped down, fences torn down and buildings demolished down to their foundations. The town cemetery was moved to Spanish Flat, a bluff overlooking the valley. Monticello Dam was completed in 1957, and Lake Berryessa was formed. On February 26, 1957, crews poured the last bucket of concrete for Monticello Dam. Following tradition, they tossed in a few coins as well.”

Monticello Cemetery

We saw a trail but as it goes up the trail disappears so we didn’t have any choice but climbed the hill, following our instinct and the deers. It was steep as we climbed higher and reached the top which was exhilarating due to the cool wind. We saw the other side, and unfortunately there was still no trail so we followed our instinct once again, which was basically the easiest way down. Finally, we reached the ground and went to where we parked, and drink a lot of water. The others weren’t there so we called them and found out they went to the same trail we went to. So we moved the car, and wait for them. As we wait here is the infamous history of the lake.

Zodiac 1969 murder

In 1969, the lake became the site of one of the infamous Zodiac murders. On the evening of September 27, Pacific Union College students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were picnicking at Lake Berryessa on a small island connected by a sand spit to Twin Oak Ridge. A man approached them wearing a black executioner’s-type hood with clip-on sunglasses over the eye-holes and a bib-like device on his chest that had a white 3-by-3-inch (76 mm × 76 mm) cross-circle symbol on it. He approached them with a gun, which Hartnell believed to be a .45.

The hooded man claimed to be an escaped convict from Deer Lodge, Montana, where he had killed a guard and stolen a car, explaining that he needed their car and money to go to Mexico. He had brought precut lengths of plastic clothesline and told Shepard to tie up Hartnell, before he tied her up.

The killer checked and tightened Hartnell’s bonds, after discovering Shepard had bound Hartnell’s hands loosely. Hartnell initially believed it to be a weird robbery, but the man drew a knife and stabbed them both repeatedly. The killer then hiked 500 yards (460 m) back up to Knoxville Road, drew a cross-circle symbol on Hartnell’s car door with a black felt-tip pen, and wrote beneath it: “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27–69–6:30/by knife”, the dates of the killer’s first two crimes and the date and time of the crime he had just committed.

The crime

At 7:40 p.m. (19:40), the killer called the Napa County Sheriff’s office from a pay telephone to report this latest crime. The phone was found, still off the hook, minutes later at the Napa Car Wash on Main Street in Napa, only a few blocks from the sheriff’s office, yet 27 miles (43 km) from the crime scene. Detectives were able to lift a still-wet palm print from the telephone but were never able to match it to any suspect.

After hearing their screams for help, a man and his son who were fishing in a nearby cove discovered the victims and summoned help by contacting park rangers. Cecelia Shepard was conscious when law enforcement officers from the Napa County Sheriff’s office arrived, but lapsed into a coma during transport to the hospital and never regained consciousness. She died two days later, but Hartnell survived to recount his tale to the press. Napa County Sheriff Detective Ken Narlow, who was assigned to the case from the outset, worked on solving the crime until his retirement from the department in 1987.”

After waiting for almost half an hour they went back and I googled where the spillway was, so we drove out of Spanish flat and drove to the Monticello Cemetery and took a peak, and took some photos. We drove around the loop and back to the plaza where we went to the Italian Restaurant nearby. We all went down but saw the sign that it only accepts cash so we moved on. As we drive to the dam here its brief history.

Monticello Dam

The primary construction contract was awarded to a consortium formed by Peter Kiewit Sons Co. and Parish Brothers, for construction of the main dam and relocation of California State Route 128, which ran through the Berryessa Valley. Excavation of the dam site and construction of a diversion tunnel continued through 1954, with the first concrete placed on August 9, 1955. Despite major flooding between January and May 1956, more than 90 percent of the concrete had been laid by December 1956, and the dam was topped out on November 7, 1957, at a total cost of about $37 million. This figure also includes the cost for associated downstream irrigation works and the highway relocation.

Monticello Dam under construction

The reservoir took five years to fill after construction, reaching capacity for the first time on April 18, 1963. The reservoir completely inundated Monticello (though the city’s ruins are visible at low water levels), and flooded 20,700 acres (8,400 ha) of the surrounding Berryessa Valley.

The reservoir has become a popular summer recreation area, attracting as many as 1.3 million visitors each year. The Bureau of Reclamation operates five recreational areas around the lake, providing boat ramps and day use facilities. Recreational use has been declining since 2012, due to budget problems that have forced the closure of local resorts. This has also caused economic collapse of the surrounding area, causing many residents to move away.”


We drove out of the Berryessa Knoxville Road and back to 128 heading east. We drove another half an hour to the other side of the lake where the Monticello Dam was located. It made Ta Gie and Ta Vans dizzy but I have no choice, we made a U-turn and stopped by the dam and took some videos and picture.

Morning Glory Spillway (Glory Hole)

“The world’s largest drain hall. The dam’s morning-glory-type spillway, known as the Glory Hole, is 72 feet (22 m) in diameter at lake level and narrows down to about 28 feet (8.5 m) at the exit. Water spills over its lip when the lake reaches 1,602,000 acre feet (1.976×109 m3) and a reservoir elevation of 440 feet (130 m) above sea level. The last time the reservoir naturally spilled through the glory hole was on the afternoon of February 26, 2019.

Spillway under construction

Swimming near the Glory Hole is prohibited. In 1997, Emily Schwalen of Davis died after being caught in the current while swimming near the Glory Hole and being swept down the pipe after holding on to the rim for about 20 minutes.”

Sadly, the Glory Hole isn’t that picturesque because the lake isn’t full. Me, Mom and Deelow went down, because the others were already nauseous. I took some pics and videos and we decided to cut the trip short and after that drove back down near Deelow’s place.

Here are the links for more information:

Say Cheez!