Memorial Day Scorcher
Sonoma Overlook Trail
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Distance: 2.57 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Well, scorcher may be too harsh a term, but the weather definitely turned a lot hotter recently so Coppertone and I decided to hit the trail a bit earlier and closer to home than we otherwise would have this weekend. By the time we wrapped up things were starting to get toasty outside.
We chose to revisit here also because we just heard that the trail will be closing down June 17 for repairs. Wear and tear over the years have done it's part, but apparently so has some of fire break efforts that were utilized to save Sonoma from the 2017 wildfires. It could take up to 12 weeks before the trail is reopened.
The combination of Memorial Day and the trail closing may have brought out more people on the trail than we are used to seeing.
The way up was uneventful. We were rewarded for the effort by mostly clear air that allowed for good views over much of Sonoma Valley. The view south toward San Pablo Bay was obstructed by a little haze, but we were not denied our vista view like our recent outing at Hood Mountain.
On the way down we took the Toyon Trailhead spur that empties out into Mountain Cemetery and continued the rest of the way down along the cemetery roads. Wed never done the Toyon spur and I wanted to map it out.
Mapping some missing segments
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
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Distance: 6.11 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 44 minutes
Coppertone and I were looking for something flater and easier after our Hood Mountain Transect last week and flat is definitely what we got here. There were also a few trail segments we hadn't yet hiked that I wanted to map.
We set off from the Lakeville Road trailhead, which seems by far the best bet this part of the wildlife refuge. There's a reference to parking down near Port Sonoma, but the parking area here is well used and easy to get to.
Our first leg was going down what we'll call the HQ Trail leading towards the cluster of buildings near Highway 37 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses to help manage the property. The path along here is very well maintained gravel. Though one field of grassland had been recently cut others are left to grow high grass that red winged blackbirds in particular seem to love. They were almost a contstant companion on this trail. Turning around at the cluster of HQ buildings we were led for some distance by a killdeer who mocked injury as she coaxed us farther away from her nest nearby.
At the junction of trails near the train tracks we then headed west along Sonoma Baylands Trail. We had saved this segment for last because we had high hopes that it would be the better of the two. The trail surface is a seldom used jeep trail that is a bit overgrown in places. Unfortunately, the rougher path did not translate into much better opportunities for wildlife viewing. Low tide may have dried out some of the marshy areas to the south during our visit, limiting the number of ducks and other waterfowl one might normally see.
One thing we did see in terms of wildlife was bird egg shells and a couple of bird parts along the levee path. We noticed that these kill sites seemed to correspond with the very large nest perched at the top of one of the high tension power line poles that cross the area. We could see some movement in the nest, but we did not have binoculars and did not spot anything coming or going during our hike. Perhaps mother and father pick apart whatever game they've captured within view of the nest before heading home?
The turnaround point near Port Sonoma corresponds with a jeep trail that loops around and crosses the train tracks. It's not obvious exactly where the parking is a little further down the road.
A grand total a 6.11 miles and almost no elevation gain. A welcome relief from the mountain climbing from last week!
Hood Mountain Transect
Hood Mountain Regional Park
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Distance: 9.25 Miles
Duration: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Coppertone and I made use of the "Sugar Shuttle" to do a one way hike through Hood Mountain Regional Park to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
The temperature was quite a bit cooler than yesterday, so we thought we hit the jackpot. Surely, the fog would burn off as the Sun rose higher. It would, but would it burn off quickly enough?
We started off at the Los Alamos Road trailhead where the Sugar Shuttle dropped us off and quickly worked our way down Hood Mountain Trail. Our pace was interrupted now and then by banana slugs. We had seen them before on other hikes, but the frequency in which we encountered them today was uncommon. What was really interesting is when we came upon one eating a sprig of moss. I had never seen a banana slug eat before. When we encountered addition slugs later we offered up some moss we found nearby.
The water was flowing briskly in Santa Rosa Creekso the creek crossing was not as easy as it had been during our previous trips. The trail splits into two right before the creek with the trail leading into Sugarloaf Ridge to the left and continuing on to Hood Mountain to the right. We ended up going down the Sugarload fork, cross the creek and then hug the creek shore on the other side for the short distance until we could get back onto Hood Mountain Trail.
From that point the trail steadily climbs towards the summit. Hood Mountain Trail is a jeep trail that presents a wide path for hikers, cyclists and horses. At the junction with Summit Trail we considered taking the hiking-only path to the summit but found the trail there a bit more overgrown that we would have liked. So we continued on the main trail that roughly parallels to the top.
We did later join Summit Trail higher up when it intersected again and the trail there looked far more clear. The higher elevation helped thin some of the grass from Summit Trail, but so did the October 2017 fires. Parts of the trail looked like the scene of a post apocalyptic movie set. Blackened trees and brush stems reflected off an eery light. With that said, the evidence of recovery is abundant. Sprouts of new growth are popping out of the ground and even out of the trunks of trees many would have considered dead.
As we encountered in our previous visit to Hood Mountain the last segments to the top are very steep and tiring. When we reached the summit we took some time out to have lunch try and check out the views, which were non-existent. The fog had not burned off. The view from the top of Hood Mountain was never as great as from Gunsight Rock Overlook, so we had hopes that the time spent eating would deliver us some clearer weather.
We continue from the summit along Nattkemper Trail towards Gunsight Rock Overlook. The trail junction with the overlook spur was severly burned. The charred remains of the trail marker pointing to the spur was leaned up against and equally burned tree trunk. Miraculously, the overlook itself was not badly burned. We did not get a miracle today from the weather though. The fog, though thinning somewhat, was still too thick to provide a view over Sonoma Valley.
We continue down Nattkemper Trail, hiking along paths we had never been before and discover it's charms. There's an interesting mixture of steep grasslands and forested groves. The grasslands open up to the west, providing views over Sonoma Valley. Yes, the fog is lifting and with every open vista to the west we can see farther and farther. Just a bit too late for us!
We continue towards the boundary with Sugarloaf Ridge State Park where the trail turns into the Goodspeed Trail. There's extensive fire damage in sections here as well but an abundance and variety of wildflowers provide color to even the most burnt areas. We see a young lady passing by with a handful of picked wildflowers. Unfortunately this just means there are fewer flowers for other visitors to enjoy and fewer plants laying down seeds for next year's plants. Please enjoy the wildflowers where you see them!
At a bit over 9 miles and lots of climbing (over 2,000 feet) we were fairly tired heading back to our parked car. But the Goodspeed Trail provided some interesting experiences, including a tree trunk bridge over a creek crossing made somewhat easier by the installation of a climbing rope handrail to help steady oneself.
I think when we go back to get a view from Gunsight Rock Overlook without the fog I think we'll head out from Sugarloaf if we need to do an out and back. The distance to the overlook is a bit shorter and the elevation gain seems more consistant. But return we must. We can't let the fog get the best of us.
Gray Pine - Bald Mountain Trail Loop
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
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Distance: 6.82 Miles
Duration: 4 hours, 43 minutes
Coppertone and I returned the the scene of our last failed hike here. In February we went on a Bill and Dave's hike here but had to turn back due to Coppertone's blisters. With a new set of trail shoes she decided now was the time to recreate the scene of the crime. Thankfully her new shoes worked out great and we were able to complete what we think was the original hike's route.
The 1,500 feet of elevation gain and our reaction to it indicates that we are still not into true trail form. We took our time ascending up the mountain via Gray Pine Trail and rested frequently to observe the wildflowers that are in bloom and the regenerative processes at work as the park and the surrounding area recovers from the devastating 2017 wine country wildfires.
There are parts of the park that look like the aftermath of a war zone. But even in those charcoal back colored areas the monotony of the color is starting to break as more and more green pops up from the inky black. Trees and brush that were burned to a crisp are resprouting from whatever place possible, even if that is only from the base of their ruined trunk. Bald Mountain and Lower Bald Mountain seem to have larger swaths of decimated terrain that is just starting to come back. Gray Pine also has pockets of destroyed foliage, but they tend to be a bit more spotty and miraculously untouched stands of trees punctuate the area more frequently. As we have learned, fire is a capricious beast.
One of the upsides of recent fire activity is the expectation that this year's wildflower season should be above average. Right below Bald Mountain this is borne out by large fields of wildflowers that blanket the steep hillsides. Blue lupine are abundant as are a white flower I couldn't identify. A couple of guys set a bad example for all by trampling right over some of the flowers so they could get a selfie against the backdrop of flowers they didn't happen to ruin. There are plenty of angles for getting a shot of these flowers. Stay on the trails and do everyone else a favor by ensuring the flowers will be healthy for them as well.
As is typical, the top of Bald Mountain was windy. This felt fairly good after the tiring clime to the top. There's a new beanch and set of signs that have been put in place since the fire. From this high point one can clearly see into both Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley. With the aid of the handy signs we were also able to pick out distant peaks such as Mount Tamalpais in Marin County and Mount Diablo on Contra Costa County.
We took the easy way down via Bald Mountain Trail. A good portion of this trail is paved and presented the shortest route back to the car.