A stroll among the giants
Muir Woods National Monument
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Distance: 7.24 Miles
Duration: 3 hours, 53 minutes
Coppertone and I had a four day 4th of July weekend lined up and when we heard the NPS had cut back on capacity at Muir Woods in light of COVID-19. We though this was a great opportunity to get a reservation in on a week day when there would be fewer people. Friday before the 4th was sold out, so that was out and Monday was wide open with slots. This was the first visit for either of us, which seems odd given that we've lived in the Bay Area for years now. It's just one of several things we hadn't yet "gotten around to".
We showed up a little early for our 9:00 AM reservation and got to park quite close to the main entrance. The parks folks have smartly marked the most heavily travelled Redwood Creek and Bohemian Grove Trails as one way (counter clockwise) to minimize visitor congestion. So we headed north on the boardwalk of Redwood Creek Trail. The wooden path keeps people from trampling the soil around the Redwoods and also serves as convenient mounts for displays about the plants and animals that live here.
As you would expect, the Redwoods here are plentiful and many are enormous. A couple of deer enjoyed foraging just off the main trail in plain view of everyone.
We progressed all of the way to "Bridge 4" before crossing over Redwood Creek. After crossing the creek we took the rougher Hillside Trail south until it joined up with the more sedate Bohemian Grove Trail. When Bohemian Grove crossed the creek back onto Redwood Creek Trail we completed our first loop and turned to the left to start another.
Our goal on this iteration was not to repeat the first loop, but to take the Canopy View Trail and gain some elevation over the creek valley. It's immediately apparent that there will be some climbing to do as Canopy View presents a large set of stairs from the start.
Most people on the trails were wearing a mask and made an effort to distance themselves as much as the trails would allow. There were a few annoying exceptions to this, none more so than the family of about 9 people, all sans masks, overtaking us on Canopy View Trail. We found a wider section of trail with an upper an lower level. We hugged the hillside on the upper section to allow them to pass. Two boys leading the pack darted up onto the high section right towards us. I had to call out and request they maintain distance if they were unmasked, which they did without complaint. The rest of the family, close enough behind to have heard this exchange, said nothing. Is there any wonder why COVID-19 is speeding up in the US unlike most other western countries?
To return back to the main trails below we turned onto the Lost Trail and Fern Creek Trail and descending some more stairs in the process. Once back down to creek level we made our way back towards the trailhead via Bohemian Grove.
In all we logged a bit over 7 miles completing the two loops. The decreased number of visitors was dictated by medical prudency but it was also a nice opportunity to see Muir Woods in something other than a DisneyWorld state of congestion. We'll make sure to stick with mid-week visits on any subsequent trips.
Quick stroll above Sonoma
Montini Open Space Preserve
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Distance: 1.58 Miles
Duration: 44 minutes
Coppertone and I wanted something shorter and not too difficult today, so we chose to revisit Montini. Though we had mapped all segments at this point it was a quick and easy place to get to.
When starting off our hike at the Field of Dreams we spotted a few odd shapes in the high grass in the distance. Upon closer examination it turned out to be recently shorn sheep. They are part of a flock of "wooly weeders" (well, usually) that are used to help cut down on the fire fuel that the high dead grass represent.
The Spotted Fawn Trail heads uphill, first in the direction of the water tanks that make up part of the city's municipal water system. The paved road leading up to the tanks gives way to a nice single track trail once it turns away. From that point on you're talking more a real hike.
We chose to go down the Holstein Hill Trail towards the west. This is only about half as high as the top elevation in the preserve at Two Goat Point. But we had gone up that route the last time we where here, so we decided on something different.
Once we got to the end of Holstein we popped out south for a block on 4th street to meet up with the Sonoma Bike Path. Turning left and heading east we walked along the paved path dodging cyclists and other walkers and completed a circle back to the Field of Dreams.
Hillside Trail - Meadow Trail Loop
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
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Distance: 2.78 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Coppertone and I returned to Sugarloaf to map another trail segment we had not done before. This time it was the Hillside Trail. Once again the parking areas were almost full. Almost everyone had a mask handy for when passing or overtaking someone on the trail.
Starting off from the Observatory trailhead we quickly encountered several birds darting to and fro near an oak tree. The nimble flyers must have been chasing bugs and we stood transfixed by their acrobatic moves for some time.
After mapping a couple of small connector segments that joined with the Creekside Nature Trail we headed down our main target for the day, the Hillside Trail. We noticed far fewer people on this trail segment than the more heavily trafficed Meadow Trail. As the trail gains a bit of elevation several vistas open up over Sonoma Creek valley. We're not talking Sonoma Valley here but the valley created by the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. Eventually this small creek will empty into the valley that takes its name,
At the waypoint "Picnic Area" there is a fantastic rest area with a couple of picnic tables and a bench with a clear view over much of the park. On maps this may be named Camp Butler, so it might be something that could be reserved. Post pandemic, when we're a little less hesitant to touch things, we should make an effort to stop by here for an extended visit.
We heard a couple of woodpeckers along the trail. One was loud enough to stop us in our tracks and we spotted a Pileated Woodpecker not far off the trail as he went to work. He didn't seem to notice of mind us being there but when a large bird, probably a turkey buzzard, flew high overhead such that his shadow passed over him the woodpecker froze and looked up. After being assured things were OK he went back to work.
While chatting as we ascended the trail I paid a little less attention to what was a head of me and did not notice a Garter snake laying on the path ahead. By the time I did notice he had already started to slither off to the right and into the grass for safety.
At the end of the Hillside Trail we turned left and headed back to the trailhead via the Meadow Trail. We spotted the first blackberries being formed, still very small and red. Several bees, which we can thank for the bounty to come, were still buzzing around the few blackberry blooms that remained.
Mapping Stern Trail and the Creekside Nature Trail
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
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Distance: 4.63 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Coppertone and I ventured back to Sugarloaf to try out our hiking legs for the first time in many months. We kept things easier by hiking some of the flatter trails near the park visitor's center. There were several there which we had not yet mapped.
The park was much more crowded than we expected given some of the restrictions on public gatherings. The main parking areas were full, or close to it. We found ample parking back at the Robert Furuson Obervatory parking area.
We started off hiking on the unnamed connector trail that lead to the Stern Trail. From there the jeep trail steadily ascended. Normally, jeep trails are not as enjoyable as some nice singletrack paths. However, the trail saw fewer people on it and nice views from multiple elevations into Sonoma Valley were available. The turnaround point for us was the junction of Stern with the Lower Bald Mountain and Bald Mountain Trails, both of which we had previously hiked and mapped at least once in the past.
After descending down Stern to the main park road we crossed the street and hopped onto the Creekside Nature Trail. I had an interpretive guide I picked up at a previous visit to employ for any markers found along the route. Unfortunately about half of the markers were missing.
The first half of the Creekside Nature Trail's surface has to be some of the nicest crushed gravel trail we've ever been on. The smooth and even surface is bracketed by a visually appealing border of angular rock. We can't be sure whether this segment of the trail is ADA compliant or not, but it may be. The second half of the trail as it doubles back to the west is rougher with larger variances in elevation.
We used small segments of the Hillside and Meadow Trails to make our way back to the car after about 4.5 miles of hiking. It felt really good to get outside and let our eyes focus on things far away.
COVID walk through town
Nathanson Creek Preserve
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Distance: 3.04 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Coppertone and I decided to stretch our legs while maintaining social distancing by heading to the post office and walking through town. Part of our route was through the Nathanson Creek Preserve path but we ventured far afield from it as well. We tried to find the shadier side of neighborhood streets and kept an eye out for stuffed bears people have left in their windows for kids, and us, to find when walking around town.
At one point we thought we had found a new Univ. of Texas alumnus working in his yard. It turned out that though he had spent time in Austin he was not a fellow Longhorn. He had managed a band in Austin so he was very familiar with the city's claim to fame as the Live Music Capital of the World.
We brushed by the plaza, which has more car traffic than a few weeks ago. Foot traffic is still very low. Most storefronts remain closed. Given the warm, sunny weather, the crush of tourists would have presented a far different picture than what we saw today.
The flat terrain and paved path doesn't really make this a hike but we'll take just about anything we can get these days!