Up East Ridge Trail to the best view in the park
Tolay Lake Regional Park
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Distance: 5.37 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 36 minutes
Coppertone and I knocked out our third trail in our 2019 Sonoma County Trails Challenge at Tolay Lake Regional Park. Two more to go!
We took the suggested route across the Causeway Trail and uphill on the East Ridge Trail. We were rewarded with spectacular views of a wide swath of San Pablo Bay and even into San Francisco Bay. The earlier clouds and fog were just beginning to clear so visibility was not ideal, but it was still impressive enough for me to consider this the best viewpoint in the park.
We started our day on the flat causeway walking along a dotted line of trees and being buzzed at high speed by acrobatic chimney swifts. Later in the day on the return leg of the hike they had settled down a bit as the temperatures rose.
To our left were some fenced in fields and a low drainage ditch paralleled the dividing fenceline heading away from us. We heard a rustle of grass and brush (more like a crash) and out of the grass emerges a cow. Closer examination showed there to be several additional cows in the low spot. The loud crash of vegetation and the unexpected emergence of large mammal called to mind a hike we had taken in Montana years ago. But unlike the Moose we saw in Glacier National Park the cow here presented no possible danger.
About 1 mile into the hike the flat terrain turns slighty upward. There are several gates that must be opened and closed along the path to keep the roaming cattle in their proper pastures. Unlike the cows we saw in the ditch the ones from this point on up are in the same fields as hikers. They generally clear a path and get well out of your way.
There's little tree cover on the trail, but as East Ridge Trail continues to climb it makes a turn and parallels and seasonal streambed. Here a line oaks, buckeyes and some others provide a brief respite from the Sun. The respite is short as the trail again breaks out into rolling open grassland for the final push.
We found a hiker already at the Three Bridges Vista Point. She had a blanket laid out and has obviously planned to soak in the vista for an extended period of time. We had a nice chat about the park and the things one can normally see to the south on clearer days.
As I said, the view is great but there are some unwelcome reminders we are not terribly far from cities. A high tension powerline can be see along the west ridge on the opposite side of the park. Sonoma Raceway provided near continuous racecar noise. In addition a nearby gun club has a shooting range which projects the sound of gunshots much farther than I would have expected.
Due to plans later in the day we didn't spend too much time admiring the view, so we doubled back down the trail to where we started.
An easy walk to check off another Trails Challenge entry
Spring Lake Regional Park
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Distance: 2.61 Miles
Duration: 53 minutes
Coppertone and I had been to this park before, but we're in the midst of the 2019 Sonoma County Trails Challenge (2 down, 3 to go) and wanted to knock off another easy trail prior to meeting some friends later in the day. We chose the easier Spring Lake Loop given our time constraints.
The weather was almost a little chilly due to the thick cloud cover, but a brisk walk kept things pleasant. The water park area said it was open but the temperature at that point in the day was still a bit too cold to encourage many patrons.
Don't expect to get any solitude, particularly along the heavily used Spring Lake Loop. Some of the non-paved paths farther from the lake provide a small taste of solitude.
First hike as part of the Sonoma County Trails Challenge
West County Regional Trail
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Distance: 5.01 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Coppertone and I logged our first hike as part of the 2019 Sonoma County Trails Challenge. Since she was still coming off of an illness and not quite up to 100% recovery we decided to chose an easy one to start off with.
We'd already done the southern half of this trail earlier this year, so it was a relief that the challenge recommended the northern half so we would not have to redo a trail we had visited not that long ago.
We started off in the parking lot on Front Street (Highway 116) and headed south. Technically, this is not part of the regional trail, but it meets up with it in about a quarter mile and there is much more parking here. At the official start of the trail off of Pajaro Lane there is only street parking and not much of it.
Being a rail trail, the West County Trail is mostly flat and easy going. From the start the path is mostly paved. About 2 miles down the road the path changed into something like gravel. It was still easy to traverse. Right near Green Valley Road before we turned around the path turns into a raised wooden walkway over a boggy area near the Gratan water treatment plant.
Bicyclists outnumbered walkers on this day due in part to a fund raising century ride (100 miles). The cyclists were sporadic and well spread out throughout our walk, so the trail must have been closer to the end of their route.
The days are getting hotter and the ample tree cover in here and there was a welcome relief from the Sun. Where the trees did not dominate the terrain it seemed blackberries did. Large mounds of blackberry bushes dotted the landscape, in some cases just starting to reach out into the path of the trail. Later this year there should be ample berries for picking up a mid-hike snack.
Vineyards dot the landscape throughout the hike. We spotted a couple of California Quail scurrying in through the high grass just on the edge of a one of them. A cute farmhouse right off the trail was selling fresh eggs on the honor system. Small producer Ektimo Wines has a small sign pointing to their tasting room a very short distance off the trail near the trail crossing of Ross Lane.
First time back since the re-opening
Sonoma Overlook Trail
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Distance: 3.01 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Coppertone and I decided to revisit this trail after it had been re-opened a couple of weeks ago. Some extensive work had been done to fix up the trail to help repair some wear and tear from the 50,000 hikers who use it yearly.
We showed up a bit after 10:00 AM and the parking area was full, save for perhaps one space. It would remain full when we left an hour and a half later. Seems like the word has gotten out about the trail.
The most noticeable change to the trail are the stone stairs added here and there in those spots that had suffered the most of erosion due to steepness and so many feet pounding on the surface. The most stairs in one spot is right there at the trailhead.
The trail surface remains rocky and careful footing is required at times, but overall is easy for most walkers to handle. Ample signage and a large map at the trailhead makes orienting oneself on the trail quite easy.
Not too far into the hike we spotted two California Quail come out of the brush and walk along the trail ahead of us. We slow walked and kept our distance until hikers coming from the other direction gave the pair no choice but the dive back into the high grass. During our time on the trail we'd spot a lot of lizards and skinks crossing the trail or sunning themselves on exposed rocks.
One trail segment we don't remember seeing before was the Boots Spur leading to a stone bench dedicated to the early health food advocate and all around eccentric known as Gypsy Boots. I had never heard of him before and had to look him up online when we got back home.
On the way up and down we were never far from another hiker or group of hikers going in one direction or the other. In all of our visits here this might be the most crowded we've ever seen the trail.
A short stroll and a lot of history
Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
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Distance: 0.59 Mile
Duration: 42 minutes
Coppertone and I were on a multi-stop tour of the Kona Coast and this was one of our stops. Although some of the structures here are reconstructions it's still perhaps the best preserved Hawaiian sanctuary city on the islands. We followed our tour guide in a loop around the main sanctuary area, stopping at various points to read markers or examine the structures. There was also a wood carver on hand actively creating new items commonly used by native Hawaiians.
After having spent much of the day higher up the mountain where the air was cooler we were comparatively getting baked on coast. The area a few segments of walkway that might be ADA compliant, but much of what we did was on sandy trails. Coconut Palm trees dot the landscape and the parks people were in the process of removing coconuts from them to ensure the heavy fruit/nut doesn't fall on peoples' heads. After picking up a sample I could understand why.