California's Super Bloom Brings a Magical Experience to the Keegan Ranch

April 30, 2019 by Alyssa Rolen & Mary Bondar

This year’s Spring season proved to be an unforgettable one with California’s super bloom showcasing its vibrant colors across the state’s rangelands. Bear Valley in Colusa County—an area known for its spectacular array of beautiful wildflowers— was no exception to this springtime splendor.

On Saturday, April 20, over 100 guests stopped to smell the flowers during a tour of the Keegan Ranch in Bear Valley. Hosted by California Rangeland Trust and ranch owner Jim Keegan, the event was sponsored by Raley’s as part of its Where Your Food Grows and Grazes program. The program is designed to bring the farm to-fork movement to life for children and families from both urban and rural areas. It gives them a unique opportunity to connect to healthy food and the land and people who produce it.

“Raley’s is passionate about helping people learn where their food comes from and we are proud of the work California Rangeland Trust does to make this education possible,” said Becca Whitman, Raley’s Community Relations Senior Manager and Executive Director of Raley’s nonprofit Food for Families. “The Keegan family was a tremendous host and we are thankful for the contributions they make to stewarding the land that feeds us.”

The fun-filled day kicked off with a hayride through the Keegan Ranch to view the property and its illustrious wildflowers up close. Guests got a special treat when several horses in the pasture eagerly walked up to greet them. Children and adults alike were mesmerized by the sight of lush green grasses, showy blankets of beautiful blooms, grazing cows on the range, fresh flowing water running down the hillside, and abundant wildlife inhabiting the ranch. They even spotted a bald eagle perched on a tree overlooking the reservoir. Beyond marveling at the ranch’s beauty, guests also learned about the ranch’s rich history and the family that has stewarded it since 1880. Jim, who led the tour, captivated the audience with stories of old hotels and historic stage coach stops that once existed on the property before it became a cattle ranch.

After the tour, guests returned to the ranch headquarters to feast on a nutritious, ranch-style barbeque. As they enjoyed a meal of tri-tip and other dishes prepared to perfection, they heard a few words from Jim, Rangeland Trust CEO Nita Vail, and COO Michael Delbar.

Jim talked about how the ranch operates as an active cattle ranch surrounded by native oak woodlands, wildlife corridors, hundreds of species of native wildflowers, and critical watersheds. He also shared his experience working with the Rangeland Trust when he conserved his 2,500-acre ranch. “I’m thankful that we have organizations like the California Rangeland Trust that want to preserve valleys like Bear Valley to keep it in ranching country,” he said. “It’s going to stay that way for people to enjoy throughout time.”

After Jim’s presentation, Nita thanked him and the Keegan family for hosting and spoke about the California Rangeland Trust and its role in conserving private working lands for the future of our state. She used the Keegan Ranch as a prime example. “Jim’s ranch and so many other working ranches play a vital role in contributing to our state’s social, economic, and cultural well-being,” she said. “This ranch is home to more than just cattle; today, you saw an abundance of wildlife and native plant species including thousands of magnificent wildflowers. This is a true testament to the Keegan family’s land stewardship and well-managed grazing practices.”

Michael concluded the program by reflecting on his own experiences with the region’s landscape. “My family ranches in Mendocino and Lake Counties, and I drive by Bear Valley on a weekly basis commuting back and forth to Sacramento,” he said. “To date, the Rangeland Trust has forever conserved over 20,000 acres of open space in Bear Valley. It’s a powerful feeling to know that 100 years from now, this valley will look just as it does today because of that.” In addition to the Keegan Ranch, the Rangeland Trust also has conservation agreements on more Bear Valley ranches including Payne Ranch, Epperson Place Ranch, and Bear Valley Ranch.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the homestead. Guests sipped on delectable wines and enjoyed each other’s company, while children hunted for brightly colored Easter eggs in the pasture and played games of corn hole and ladder ball.

This event was extra special because people were able to form connections to the land, while realizing its critical role in providing all of us with clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, healthy food to eat, and spectacular viewsheds to cherish. “It’s one thing to see pictures of ranches or wildflowers on social media, but it’s a whole different experience to admire the beauty of the land in person, especially during this year’s extraordinary super bloom,” said Nita. “Even after the weather warms and the wildflowers fade, the impact from the day will be remembered by attendees for years to come.”

The spirit of the land united children and families from both urban and rural backgrounds and allowed them to learn about the vital role of grasslands to our own well-being. This event demonstrated the power of rangeland and its ability to offer real hope for the future.