San Joaquin Valley- Sonny Rouch is a history buff on a mission. For years, local drillers have found trees deep underground and yet, to this day, nobody seems to know where the trees came from. The 88-year-old Tulare County resident has made finding an answer into his quest.
“I recently learned of ancient redwood trees buried in the Central Valley floor that drillers have hit when drilling for water,” said Sonny. “I've heard of trees buried from 240 ft. near Visalia, to 600 ft. in other areas. I acquired samples from a few drillers and I'm sending pieces of these logs to be carbon dated at this time.”
Many others have reported similar findings through the years.
“In Lathrop, 10 miles south of Stockton, redwood logs are buried about 30 feet deep and laid sideways,” reported veteran driller Mike Clark. “In 1980, we drilled over 100 monitoring wells for Oxy Chemical for a pollution remediation project. During that project, we hit a redwood tree and drilled through it. It was about 5 feet thick, 30 to 35 feet deep. We collected samples and a geologist took them.
“David Keith Todd, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley thought it was the remains of one of the many giant redwoods that in a calamity were knocked over and washed down the valley,” he added. “My father who drilled in the same area said my grandfather and he had the same experience in the '20s and '30s.”
A Modesto company hit what they determined to be a standing tree 200 feet deep near Hilmar. “All drillers have made comparable hits,” Sonny said.
“It's obvious to me that all the redwoods didn't come down the river,” he explained. “It's a long way to that part of the valley. What you find on the west side of the valley is consistent with them growing there.”
Today, Sequoias grow in a narrow elevation band in our Sierra and nowhere else in the world. They grow from about 5,000 feet to 6,500 feet in clustered areas in Yosemite south to about Deer Creek in southern Tulare County.
Sequoia expert Nate Stephenson says Sequoia trees or their ancestors have been around for millions of years but does not know of any fossilized ancient trees being dug up. He conjectures that most findings on the valley floor must come from trees that flowed down the mountain in extremely wet storms. But he also says there is some evidence that Sequoias used to grow at lower elevations than they do today—around 4000 feet near Boyden Cave in Kings Canyon, for example, from the findings of redwood pieces found in rodent nests that clearly had been gathered nearby.
The Rouch (pronounced “ra-ow”) family has owned an area with a large stand of Sequoias up in the mountains northwest of Camp Nelson for many years. Their land, an old logging camp now a second home subdivision called Sequoia Crest, is on the face of the mountain with a breathtaking view of the valley. The Rouch family donated the block of redwood that was used to carve the famous Paul Bunyan statue at the Paul Bunyan Motel in Porterville.
“Sonny is actively making calls to various well drillers up and down the San Joaquin Valley,” explained Brent Gill, Sonny's friend for 50 years. “He has learned that many have brought up bits of redwood trees from Bakersfield to Modesto, from as deep as 600 feet. There seems to have been a reasonable number of them found around Mendota, for some reason.
“The age of these bits of redwood pulled up by drillers, has been estimated by a professional geologist, as being between 100,000 to 200,000 years old,” he added. “Even more fascinating is that some of the trees appear to still be standing, though buried in the earth.”
In addition, Sonny has contacted science professors from Bakersfield to Sacramento. “I called them all, cold calls, and that's not easy,” Sonny said.
“I'm a curious person and I'm retired,” he added. “It really gives me something to do. Everyone's been enthusiastic about it—everybody! I'm surprised they haven't done something about this before.”
Sonny has enlisted the assistance of various specialists in his quest. Bill Roberts, a civil engineer in Porterville, is working on mapping the locations of each redwood finding. A geology professor at UC Davis is looking to first confirm that Sonny's wood samples are really Sequoias before sending them out for radio carbon dating.
Robert M. Negrini, Professor of Geophysics at California State University Bakersfield, has offered to plot all of the data from Sonny's redwood findings into a Geographix project. A recent report created by the department showed unusually cold events from a well near Buena Vista Lake. The report also included the finding of volcanic glass shards at ~900 ft in a well that have a chemistry similar to that of a 750,000-800,000-year-old Bishop Tuff eruption.
So did the colder weather enable redwoods to grow in the valley? Was it the cold that killed them off? Or was it something else?