Bird's eye view of the Sutter Buttes, rising over the town of Yuba City, California
|Elevation||2122+ feet (647+ m)|
|Listing||California county high pt 56th|
|Topo map||USGS Sutter Buttes|
|Type of rock||volcanic neck|
The Sutter Buttes, formerly known as the Marysville Buttes, are a small circular complex of eroded volcanic lava domes which rise as buttes above the flat plains of the Sacramento Valley in Sutter County, northern California.
The summit of South Butte, at 2122+ feet (647+ m), is the highest point in Sutter Buttes and the highest point in Sutter County. The Buttes are located just outside Yuba City, California in the Sacramento Valley, the northern part of the Central Valley. Located at the base of the mountain is the small town of Sutter. They are named for John Sutter, who received a large land grant from the Mexican government. The Sutter Buttes are sometimes referred to as the world's smallest mountain range.
The small range forms a rough circle approximately 10 miles (16 km) from north to south and east to west.
The Sutter Buttes were formed about 1.6 million years ago in the early Pleistocene Epoch by volcanic activity. The mountains are the remnants of a volcano that has been dormant for over a million years. The eruptions continued until about 1.4 million years ago. Some geological references suggested that it represents the southernmost of the Cascade Volcanoes, but there are significant differences in age and form compared to the other volcanoes in that range. Others suggest that its age places it with the volcanic elements of the California Coast Ranges and its composition is closer to that range, but does have significant differences. The volcano is believed to have erupted along a now inactive fault line. The questions about their origin and connection to other regional volcanic activity are the subject of ongoing research.
Soils and vegetation
The rugged central part of the Buttes has a stony brown sandy loam soil of variable depth and good to somewhat excessive drainage. The smoother perimeter has more variable soil with clay or silt loam areas among the sandy loams. These soils support grassland or oak woodland.
Native American lore
The Sutter Buttes figure prominently in the creation stories and other traditions of the indigenous Maidu and Wintun peoples. The Maidu (or Nisenan) lived to the east of the Buttes and the Wintun (Patwin) to the mountain's west. No tribe claimed ownership of the Buttes and there are only seasonal encampments in the mountain. Native Americans did visit the mountain regularly to gather acorns and other foods or to hunt game. The Buttes were also a center of regional Native American religion. According to anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, the Patwin village where the city of Colusa now stands was the “hotbed” where the Kuksu Cult was established. This religion spread through much of northern California. Ceremonies were performed in earthen dance lodges where spirit impersonators would re-enact ancient mythological events. The Maidu, who lived in their shadow for thousands of years, called them Esto Yamani, which means "the Middle Mountain", the Wintun called the Sutter Buttes Onolai.[original research?]
Recent history and access
In the Mexican land grant made to Captain John Sutter, the Sutter Buttes were called "los tres picos" or The Three Peaks. Fremont in 1843 called them "The Three Buttes." During the Gold Rush they acquired the name Marysville Buttes.
Public access to the Sutter Buttes is limited. Almost all of the land is privately held by cattle, sheep ranchers and farmers, but an important exception is a 200-acre parcel encompassing most of North Butte, donated by deed from the McClatchy Corporation to the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust (a 501c3). The terms of the Deed of Conveyance include the stipulation that the donated land be used for supervised public educational access, not for private use. The deed further stipulates that if these terms of conveyance are violated the land can revert to McClatchy ownership. A few naturalists and local organizations, including Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes and the Sutter County Historical Society, lead hikes through some areas. Since 1929, the State of California had considered purchasing the land for protection and a State Park.
In 1963, a missile silo complex containing three separate Titan I ICBM missiles was constructed near the base of the Buttes. The site was only active from 1963 to 1965, and it was decommissioned and mostly dismantled in 1965. The site has been host to many vandals and trespassers since the early 1980s to the present.
In 2003, the California Department of Parks and Recreation purchased 1,784.5 acres (7.2 km²) in Peace Valley on the north side of the Sutter Buttes with the intent to develop it as a State Park. The land did not have a public access. The California Department of Parks and Recreation lists the park's name as unofficial and its current status as closed to the public as of 2012.
This land will continue to sit unused for the foreseeable future. The only way into the property is an old dirt farm easement 20 feet wide running about two miles from North Butte Road. The route crosses private lands and is not suitable for the public to enter. In 2005 the Department tried to buy an adjacent original 1,123 acre Buttes ranch founded in the 1860s by John Henry Myers (1829–1908) who is buried in the close by Live Oak Cemetery. This property would have added park land and more importantly yielded the needed pathway for an access road for the public. That effort went on for some time pitting the Myers descendents against one another. In 2006 those who wanted to keep the land in the family ultimately bought the other half of the land from the family members who wanted to sell, thereby excluding State Parks from further ownership.
A monument at the base of the mountains indicating that John C. Frémont camped near here
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- Soil Survey of Sutter County, California. United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, 1988
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- C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Yellow Mariposa Lily: Calochortus luteus, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
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- "Sutter Buttes". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.