Lynch Road, Middle Valley and Ken Poerner Trails Loop
Lynch Canyon Open Space
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Distance: 4.02 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 9 minutes
First hike of the year for us. I wanted to get a hike in since the weather was nice, even if it had rained a bit the previous night. Lynch Canyon was one of the nearest large parks we hadn't yet visited, so it was the winner.
There is ample parking at the trailhead and a restroom. We elected to do a counterclockwise loop through most of the park than consisted of the Lynch Road, Middle Valley and Ken Poerner Trails. This was expected to yield a bit less than four miles.
It's hard not to notice the cows congregating near the trailhead. We're not sure why so many seem to loiter here, but they serve as a reminder that the area continues to function as a cattle ranch. You're likely to see many more on the trails in the park. Some of them can be spotted high up on the steep hills in the park. We joked about the cows mistaking themselves for mountain goats but they probably were able to snag some of the choicest tufts of grass up there.
Not too many people on the trail today and many of those who were had horses underneath them. The horses didn't seem to mind the muddy conditions at all.
Through about the first mile or mile and a half Lynch Road and Middle Valley Trail surfaces were graveled jeep trail, so the recent rain had no effect on our hiking at all. I didn't think this would last, but it was nice surprise.
About half way through the Middle Valley Trail the path turned to an ungraveled dirt path. Given the recent rains the trail turned to mud at this point. Mostly the mud was firm, so your feet didn't get sucked into it but we definately got some mud caked soles. The soft dirt path faithfully records the hoof imprints of both cow and horse. This increases the difficulty of the hike a bit as one has to mind his or her step a bit to avoid twisting an ankle.
Hawks of various types love the area and we stopped to watch them hunting numerous times on our visit. They often swooped close to the ground along the steep slopes of the hills looking for prey. However, we failed to see one successfully snag a lunch. If you like to birdwatch, take your binoculars. You'll have plenty of opportunities to spy on them.
We spent a few minutes back at the trailhead with some branches to try and scrape off as much of the mud from our boots as possible. Our footwear sits on our front porch at this time with a few remaining souvenirs of our visit until we can point a hose at them. We'll probably save a repeat visit for the remaining trails a bit later in the year to give the mud a chance to dry out a bit, but not too late though. We'd like to see the hills as green as possible.
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.