Valley of the Moon Trail stroll
Sonoma Valley Regional Park
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Distance: 2.70 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Coppertone and I took a leisurely stroll through the park along the paved Valley of the Moon Trail. Her ankle was a bit sore and we did not want to risk any uneven or rocky paths. We also did not want to waste a day of beautiful weather by not being outside.
An art walk of book illustrations was placed near the trailhead. We had seen a similar one when we last hiked at Coverdale River Park. The topic of this installation was woodpeckers. Whoever chose this location to place the art walk chose well. We indeed heard and saw a lot of woodpeckers along the trail. We can't be sure whether the woodpeckers like it here so much because of the terrain itself or whether the health of the trees given the ongoing drought and 2017 fire that ravaged part of the park also plays a role. Whatever it is, this park is a must visit if you want to observe woodpeckers in action.
Woodpeckers weren't the only birds to be found along the trail. One couple who we passed by twice brought their own. A medium-sized parrot rested on the lady's hand much of the time. When passing by other people she cradled it with her other hand as though to make it feel more secure and ensure it wouldn't try to fly away. There appeared to be a harness tied to its leg to keep it from getting very far. It was the first time I'd seen that type of visitor on the trail.
The grasses and trees all seem to be screaming for rain, which hopefully will arrive in just a couple of days. We are all anxious for fire season to end.
Ritchey Canyon and Vineyard Trail
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
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Distance: 4.68 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 58 minutes
Coppertone and I made a repeat visit to the park to map some more trails, this time the Ritchey Canyon and Vineyard Trails. We were provided with great weather for our trip.
We spent a rather long period of time at the waypont we named "Eddy". Here between two small waterfalls was a small circular pond with floating leaves on the surface. The speedy flow of the upstream waterfall entered the pond at an angle, creating a lazy clockwise gyre. The slow, peaceful spectacle of the leaves swirling around was relaxing and we staid there transfixed both on the hike upstream and on our way back.
The Hitchcock Site was the second home of a doctor from San Francisco. The boarded up house, aptly named "Lonely", is no longer in use but the park seems to use the wooden building nearby for storage. A nice little rough stone water fountain adjacent to the house sits as dry as can be.
We turned around at the bridge near the junction of three trails (Ritchey Canyon, South Fork and Spring trails). The bridge fording the creek was unlike any we'd seen on trails before. A large metal arch resembling a cut out section of very wide diameter pipe with rocks and dirt piled on top.
On the way back to our trailhead we opted to map out the Vineyard Trail which moves away from the creek. Just a short distance from the creek the character of trail changes dramatically. The Sun blocking heavy tree cover disappears, replaced by Manzanita bushes and more scrubby oaks. The Sun beats down on us seemingly for the first time. The trail name comes from its short detour through private property, in this case one of the Schramsbery Winery vineyards. At certain places along the trail Coppertone and I could smell the must (crushed grape juice) from this or some other nearby winery.
Always be alert
China Camp State Park
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Distance: 4.24 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Coppertone and I returned to China Camp to map out more of the trails. We parked at Bullhead Flat, across the street from the ranger station. Our plan was to head west along Shoreline Trail and turning around at Miwok Meadows which was the easternmost extent of our previous trip.
Like our first trip to the park, hikers were far outnumbered by cyclists. The ratio today may have been 5 to 1. Every cyclist was friendly, so no problems of that nature were encountered. One or two did not adhere to slow down doctrine when passing by hikers. Thankfully they didn't catch a rock the wrong way and crash into us. If you really hate sharing the trail with cyclists, even when good natured, this park may be one to avoid.
We were hoping for a bit more of a bay breeze but our jackets got no use today. The temperatures were moderate enough but very little wind provided any cooling opportunities. Shoreline Trail is high enough off the shore that tree cover is fairly consistent. Views of the shore are more sporadic through breaks in the trees here and there.
Near our turnaround point at Miwok Meadows we crossed North San Pedro Road to do the loop around and over Chicken Coop Hill. On the far side of the loop a dead tree has crashed down on the trail, completely covering it. We picked our way around the obstruction at the tree's trunk without too much trouble.
What stopped our progress more, in terms of time, was a rafter (a.k.a. flock) of turkeys crossing the trail. The seven individuals were cautious of our presense but did not seem overly concerned provided we remain quiet and still. Obviously, these birds had not gotten the memo about this being Chicken Coop Hill. No mention of turkeys in the name!
We doubled back to the trailhead along the same trail. Coppertone noted that it seemed that every single cyclist we encountered was headed from west to east. Neither of us could really recall an exception to this rule. This meant our return leg meant less spinning our head around at the sound of an oncoming bike. We're not sure if this was pure coincidence or if there is an unwritten rule somewhere.
Because of chores and other responsibilities we had to attend to we did not complete Shoreline from the ranger station to the eastern boundary of the park. That will have to wait for some other time.
Vista Trail Loop
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
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Distance: 3.78 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Coppertone and I returned to map out the Vista Trail segment, which we had only partially hiked in the past. We did a counterclockwise loop using the Meadow-Gray Pine-Vista-Bald Mtn.-Lower Bald Mtn.-Meadow trail segments. In a nutshell, what this meant was stairs going up and sloped trails coming back down. If you prefer stairs on the descent you'll want to reverse the direction of what we did today.
Along Meadow Trail we stopped to look whether there were any Blackberries on the brambles along the trail. There were a few available for picking, but not as much as during our previous visit. While doing this we could hear a number of California Quail chirping to each other to alert the group about our presense. We could never manage to catch a glimpse of them in the thicket.
We spotted numerous harvester ant mounds along the trail though most had settled in their homes with the temperature rising.
The climb up Gray Pine Trail and the first half of Vista Trail is strenuous. The stairmaster workout took its toll on us and demonstrated that we have yet to get back into decent trail shape. At least the tree cover over these steep sections provided ample shade for us to stop and catch our breath.
After about halfway through Vista Trail the path flattens out somewhat as the path largely follows the contour of the hillside. The word Vista in Vista Trail also becomes apparent at this point. At the waypoint Vista View the scene is extraordinary. It's practically a 360 degree panorama over the southern half of the park. The Robert Ferguson Observatory, a vineyard on the opposite side of the canyon, numerous peaks, some still fire scarred, some still verdant. This would be a spectacular spot to stop for lunch and soak in the views.
We also stopped briefly at Indian Rock, a spot we had visited in a previous hike on our way up to Bald Mountain. It boasts a nice view as well, but the Vista View point takes the cake. It's pretty much all downhill back to the trailhead from this point on, which was a welcome respite for our tired legs.
In the end the trail length, elevation gain and expected time to finish were reported to a remarkable level of accuracy in the park's official map, which we recommend you purchasing. It provides a great level of detail for this park as well as adjacent Hood Mountain Regional Park that's not found on the free (and quite adequite) maps handed out when entering the park.
Hills and views
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
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Distance: 6.95 Miles
Duration: 4 hours, 1 minute
We decided to revisit Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to map out the Brushy Peaks Trail in the park's northeast corner. We parked at the Observatory and when we first drove up we wondered what might be going on as the lot was full of cars. A large group of familes were camping. We're not sure what group they might have been with and they had all completely cleared out by the time we finished our hike.
Starting off from the Observatory, the Meadow Trail was nice and easy with gently rolling hills. We've passed through here many times in the past. We stopped a few times along the way to check out the thick blackberry brambles. Though most berries were still red we were able to find a few ripe specimens which we sampled.
The climbing started in earnest at the junction with the Brushy Peaks Trail. Unlike the more open Meadow Trail, there is ample tree cover at the start of the trail here, which was a relief given that the morning's cloud cover was already beginning to burn off. The creek that the trail follows here was already dry.
We stopped at several spots along the trail leading up to Brushy Peaks. Wonderful canyon views were augmented by a vineyard across the chasm. We're in Sonoma, so what else would you expect? The view marked Picnic on the track file has a great picnic bench where one can stop for lunch. The vineyards are closer here though the solar panels in the distance look a little out of place.
Once topping out at Brushy Peaks one might think that the climbing is over and it's all downhill from there, but that's not the case. The trail turns to the west and heads towards Gray Pine Trail. While doing so the trail undulates up and down several prominences. So be prepared for continual elevation changes throughout the trail.
One thing we did enjoy on the upper reachs of Brushy Peaks Trail was the peeling bark of the many Manzanita trees here.
We turn south when coming to thein Gray Pine Trail. At this point it is almost completely downhill back to the trailhead. That presents some of its own problems as some pitches are quite steep and the small pebbles on the surface don't do much to provide extra traction. We had a couple of close calls on the way down but managed to avoid any falls.
With the elevation gain and mileage we might have taken this on a bit too soon as we have worked to get our hiking legs back. But the views were great and it felt really great to get out in the hills again. It's comforting to see continued recovery from the 2017 fires, though it remains a work in progress.