Thursday, July 5, 2012


The second floor rooms of the Petaluma Adobe State His-toric Park were filled with sleeping bags and backpacks of local fourth graders who were spending the night in a unique living history program where they take on the roles and tasks of every day life at an 1840's ranchero.

Petaluma Adobe was the main residence and agricul-tural empire of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, one of the most powerful men in the Mexican Province of California from 1834 to 1846. The huge adobe building was the largest private rancho in California at the time.

Since the 1970's, Petaluma Adobe has offered this Environmental Living Program, (ELP) allowing students, teachers and parent supervisors to stay overnight at the Adobe.

It is a short walk from the parking lot and beautiful, shaded (in summer) picnic area to the adobe.

A bust of General Vallejo sits grandly at the beginning of the path. After stepping across a foot-bridge over the creek, I followed the contour of a mature cactus hedge edging the walkway to the General's home.

Vallejo owned all of the land as far as the eye can see from his adobe. From here he ran his cattle, hide and tallow business, raised sheep, bred horses, and grew numerous crops.

The wide open fields are still used for pasture land, and today I could see a few sheep safely grazing.

It is these activities and more that the students experience during their overnight ELP program. Cooperation with each other is emphasized, as working together was impera-tive to survival in California's early years. The activities include preparing meals, adobe-brick making, candle making, basket weaving, wood working, leather work-ing, weaving and spinning, and entertainment.

Meals that were typical of the period are prepared on an outdoor stove. Cooking outside was a common feature of the California adobe lifestyle. Two boys made endless trips to the woodpile, hauling back logs for the cook-stove, insuring that the pots of beans and rice never went cold. On the lawn, crude baskets woven by each of the children lay drying in the sun.

Candles were dipped, and simple wooden candle holders made by the students were lined on a long bench.

Period attire was encouraged, especially for the females. Young ladies performed their tasks wearing long dresses or skirts.

Of particular excitement amongst the students was that they all would take turns at work duties in the middle of the night. Groups of students (with an adult supervisor of course) would abandon their sleeping bags, taking two to three hour shifts throughout the night to ensure that all elements of ranch life ran smoothly.

The rooms of the adobe not occupied by children contain authentic furniture and exhi-bits depicting early rancho life. A dining room set-up and a large loom were featured in the south wing.

The Sonoma-Petaluma State Historic Parks Association is the non-profit partner that has worked to further the interpre-tive and educational functions of the area's local historic parks since 1982. Through benefit concerts and other fund raising events, the "Save Petaluma Adobe" drive has raised the needed $110,000 to operate under the State Park system for another year.

A small museum on the ground floor gave the history of the California area, Califor-nia under Mexican rule and General Vallejo's family, mili-tary and agricultural careers.

I strolled around the remaining outdoor area. A large hide was on display as part of the tanning exhibit. I greeted Sophie, the white Mediterranean Donkey, who was being administered some medications as she was not feeling well of late.

Bravo to all who had a hand in keeping the Petaluma Adobe open. Students and the public at large now have another year to visit this grand estate.

I hope to see you at the State Parks.


This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.

Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012


  1. wow, what a great idea. too bad they are getting rid of a bunch of great parks. I hope they don't start doing this in NC!

    1. Hi Luke,

      69 of the 70 parks being closed have received at least a one year reprieve.

  2. Thank you for sharing! Sophie is a Mediterranean Donkey and very loved!

    1. Thanks for the info on Sophie. I've made the correction on the blog! She was so sweet. My cattle dog was intrigued by her as well. Hope she's feeling better.


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