Shadow of the forest

Mary Downen’s walnut orchard, with Clear Lake in the background

It’s not every day that I get a chance to climb an honest-to-goodness mountain, and Mt Konocti had been beckoning to me for quite a long time. Once I learned about the Canyon oak grove and the ruins of an abandoned cabin along the trail, I was hooked. I had no idea of the amazing story behind this lonely cabin — the story of Mary Downen and her orchard.

Mt Konocti, April 2017

Dark oak forest looms over the orchard while Kelseyville lies far below

Soon you will enter a deep forest filled with towering Canyon live oaks, some believed to be more than 500 years old. Nicknamed “maul oaks” as their hard, dense wood was formerly used for wood-splitting mauls, one can marvel at how they thrive in an area seemingly devoid of water…

In the middle of the oak forest, turn right down a shady dirt road. Ahead you will see remains of the first homesteader’s cabin, built in 1903 by pioneering woman Mary Downen … The cabin sits on the edge of a bucolic orchard planted by Mary’s son-in-law, Euvelle Howard — Konocti Regional Trails

Mary Downen, a widow, first visited Mt Konocti in 1902 and apparently fell so much in love with the old oak forest that she insisted on building a cabin (at 3500 feet elevation) and living here completely on her own. Signage on the site tells of how she communicated to her family in Kelseyville that all was well by flashing a mirror every day at 2 PM (weather permitting).

I was curious to learn the rest of the story; according to book Lake County (Sanderson and Garcia, Arcadia Press, 2005), “Her family joined her in later years, and when she died in 1942, she was buried near the cabin.”

Front doorstep

Walnut hulls in the Downen orchard

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