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.
Couldn't complete loop around Lake Benoist
Riverfront Regional Park
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Distance: 2.40 Miles
Duration: 58 minutes
The first of two hikes today so that Coppertone and I could complete our 2019 Sonoma County Parks Trails Challenge. We were surprised to see park employees at the entrance. No concern for us since we have a yearly pass.
We start off from the trailhead and walk in the cool shade of the Redwood trees that cover the aptly named Redwood Hill. This straight shot parallels the shore of Lake Wilson and leads directly to Lake Benoist, the largest in the park.
Wen end up taking a right at the split in the trail and work our way counterclockwise. The shade of the Redwoods gives way to ample Sun exposure for a while though less impressive trees provide some relief from the Sun's rays. At times one can spot both the lake and the Russian River along the path. Numerous small spurs and occassionally parallel paths break off of the main trail.
Almost half way through the loop we encounter a barricade stating that the area is closed for restoration. We double back and take a split off the trail that looks quite official and come to another barrier that stops us in our tracks. The water level is such that there's no clear way to get across. It almost looks like part of the official trail has washed away though when water levels are lower another parallel trail below might be able to make it across. We see in the distance some folks who did not heed the plea to avoid trampling through the restoration area making their way around the cut to continue a loop. That's not us.
We turn around and make it an out and back trail. To try and make up for not competing the loop we cut take the Redwood Hill Trail back towards the parking area. This trail section is like the direct opposite of the main trail. It's steep, more muddy than dusty, shady to the point of being somewhat dark and a lot more fun. On top of that we didn't see another soul on this particular trail segment.
Sonoma County Trails Challenge Completed!
Cloverdale River Park
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Distance: 2.32 Miles
Duration: 52 minutes
Coppertone and I completed our 2019 Sonoma County Trails Challenge with this short hike. We had been here before and the parking in the official parking lot looked nicer than parking along the road at the southern end of the trail.
In the first quarter mile we enjoyed the temporary signage that discussed a children's book about rivers entitled I Know the River Loves Me. We had a bit of fun hopping like frogs, flapping our arms like butterflies and identifying things that did and did not belong in nature. Naturely, we saw no one else around when we did these things!
After the hike it was time to go home and fill our our trail log for the challenge.
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.