Austin Explorer's Logbook


Total Log Entries: 387 (Rank: 4th)  [List Them]  [Map Them]
Total Distance: 1,558.36 Miles (Rank: 4th)
Average Distance: 4.03 Miles

Average Rating: 3stars (3.07)
Average Difficulty: 2stars (2.29)
Average Solitude: 2point5stars (2.53)

Earliest Log Entry: 4/7/2001
Latest Log Entry: 4/11/2021

Average ratings are based on the published values and not the values entered in your own log entries.


Lime Cart Rail

Near the turnaround point, remnants of the support infrastructure for Taylor's Lime Kilns can be found. [Reed Park]

Log Entries

Searching for wildflowers
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park - 4/11/2021  [View Log Page]
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.88 Miles Duration: 4 hours, 35 minutes

Coppertone and I revisited the park at what we hoped would be the near peak of wildflowers in the park.  We recall a blanketed slope at Bald Mountain that we wanted to see again.

When we started our hike at the Observatory hiked the Meadow Trail we were a little concerned.  There just didn't appear to be that many flowers around.  Recent fires had certainly taken its toll, but one would expect wildflowers to be some of the first to come back in force.  One interesting thing we also noticed in the area was the apparent physical removal of the enormous brambles of blackberry bushes that used to line the trail.  Looks like we'll have to pick another park later in the year to pick and eat.

The steep climb up the Gray Pine Trail was pretty much as we remembered it from past visits.  Steep.  And on top of that some false summits thrown in to make you think the hard work was just about over.  Still, as you top off on the rolling ridge that leads to Bald Mountain you are rewarded with views of Mount Tam, Mount Diablo and peaks into two of the best valleys for wine in the world.

Thankfully, when within sight of Bald Mountain we could see the south facing slope was indeed covered in wildflowers.  From a distance white flowers, probably Milkmaids, were the only color to be seen.  Even up close they dominated.  But as we got closer to the summit we could see plenty of blue from Lupines as well as some orange Poppies and a few other pallette selections thrown in as well.  We may not have arrived at the peak, but we got to see what we came for.

Our route back to the car took us down the relatively busy Bald Mountain Trail.  A turn onto Lower Bald Mountain Trail lead to the Observary and our car parked not too far away.

We were a little disturbed by a couple of groups on the trail hiking with no masks.  These weren't folks who were a little slow in applying masks on hand when passing by others, but rather people with no masks at all.  We had to dart off trail, always a bit no-no, twice to provide the requisite 6 feet of separation from them.  It's a disturbing sign with the pandemic still in force.  We may need to select parks and routes with wider trails, such as those suitable for jeeps to ensure we can maintain distance while still staying on the trails.

Back for more of the Prairie Ridge Trail
Newell Open Space Preserve - 4/4/2021  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 6.02 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 48 minutes

Having cut the Prairie Ridge Trail a bit short during our visit to the park last week, Coppertone and I returned to see more of what the top of Newell and Lynch Canyon Open Space Park had to offer.

This time we did a clockwise route on the Loop Trail until it intersected with the Saddle Trail.  A large number of cows seemed to find the area to their liking and we got plenty of stares as we passed them by.  One of them in the distance, perhaps a bull, eventually let out some very loud noises, which seemed to call the others to move a bit more in his direction.

It wasn't too long before a three way intersection got us to our desired Prairie Ridge Trail.  After taking the right turn it was some of the steeper climbing we would face in the day.  A false peak gave some hope we had reached the top of the ridge, which eventually did appear some time later.  At that point we were rewarded with views into both American Canyon and the Napa River Valley to the west and the Sacramento River Valley to the east.  Both Mount Diablo in the East Bay and Mount Tam in Marin County were visible at the same time.

We continued south along Prairie Ridge, enjoying the views as we went.  Visibility wasn't bad but there was a bit of haze today.  We'd love to be on this ridge when visibility is excellent.  At the southern end of Prairie Ridge we descended back into the heart of Newell via the Southeast Trail.

One the way back to the trailhead we elected to take a look at the Outlook Trail cutoff to get yet another view of American Canyon, the Napa River marshes and Mount Tam in the distant background.

Back on the Valley Trail and less than a mile away from the trailhead a hiker ahead of us stopped abruptly and was acting in a strange way.  When we got closer he indicated there was a snake in the trail.  He had tried to scare it off by throwing some grass at it.  Upon closer inspection the snake in question was an obviously harmless and relatively small whipsnake of some kind, perhaps a striped racer.  We pass by the snake given the cautious animal as much room as we could give it and the other hiker followed our lead.  It never budged and only stuck its tongue out to gauge the situation.

Our outing today was almost exacly 6 miles in length and I think it represents perhaps the best route to see all of the park's highlights, even if a good chunk of the Prairie Ridge Trail segment crosses over into nearby Lynch Canyon.  We're not entirely done with the park though.  A few unmapped trail segments remain.

To the backbone of Newell
Newell Open Space Preserve - 3/28/2021  [View Log Page]
Rating: 4stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 6.63 Miles Duration: 3 hours, 48 minutes

Coppertone and I returned for our second visit to Newell.  On our first hike here we did the Loop Trail around the majority of the park.  This time around we had an eye on the ridge that serves as the boundary between Newell and Lynch Canyon Open Space Park.

Our path diverged from our previous route at the junction of the Loop Trail with what the Newell map calls "South E".  From that point it was a consistent steep climb to the top of the ridge.  The crest of the ridge roughly equates to the boundary between Lynch and Newell.  So hiking along the Prairie Ridge Trail means you're hiking Lynch and other times in Newell.  It's enough of a toss up that I'd put the trail technically in both parks.

Both parks would definately want to claim it as their own.  The views from Prairie Ridge are spectacular.  To the west a clear shot into Napa Valley with American Canyon and the Napa marshes in view.  To the east a clear shot into the Sacramento Valley with Cordelia and Fairfield in view.  I would not be surprised of glimpses of the Sierra are possible with clearer conditions.  From some spots along the trail one can easily pick out Mount Diablo in Easy Bay and Mount Tam in Marin County.

Like much of Newell, there is little tree cover along the ridge.  Trees have a tough time here.  Those that have managed to survive have done so with visible signs of their struggle.  They are stretched and contorted by frequent and stong winds out of the east.  One can see a similar pattern in some trees on the Pacific Coast.

We only ended up doing about half of the Prairie Ridge Trail before descending back down to the Loop Trail and doubled our way back to the trailhead.  Our positive opinion of the park during our first visit was only strengthened during the second.  We need to make a return visit for more mapping in the near future.

Mapping north of Napa
Napa Valley Vine Trail - 3/21/2021  [View Log Page]
Rating: 2stars Difficulty: 1star Solitude: 2stars
Distance: 5.81 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Coppertone and I started off where we left off last weekend on our Napa Valley Vine Trail mapping expedition.  We parked along the road and continued north.  Once again, the trail is straight as an arrow and during this hike always sandwiched between the railroad tracks and Solano Ave.  During this segment we actually left the City of Napa and so we enjoyed some more wide open views over vineyards into the mountains on either side of the trail.

The trail was more crowded today than a week ago, but thankfully the path is wide enough to give people plenty of space to pass, usually.  We don't fully understand how 80-90% of cyclists seem to think expiration couldn't possibly spread COVID-19 on to anyone else.  Special that way, I guess.

The northern half of this hike was the more enjoyable.  One is never unaware of the constant cacophony of cars from the highway, no matter where you are.  But the crowds were a bit thinner.  And at times there was suddenly a line of mature trees lining the trail.  It's not nearly enough to block the noise and visual pollution of the roadway but it made me a bit happier anyway.  I did note that there are a large number of younger trees planted further south along the trail.  Perhaps one day more of the path will be a bit more pleasant.

We turned around at a non-descript railroad crossing that's not attached to any street, but just north of Darms Lane.  We doubled back to our trailhead and called it day.

Mapping north segment of the Napa Valley Vine Trail
Napa Valley Vine Trail - 3/15/2021  [View Log Page]
Rating: 2stars Difficulty: 1star Solitude: 2stars
Distance: 5.43 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Since it has just rained earlier in the weekend we wanted to avoid any trails that might end up in a muddy quagmire.  We had hiked another portion of this trail before and figured it was time to repay it a visit to what it was like elsewhere.  We parked on the street right off of Vallejo, very close to the spot where the trail picks up.

The trail north of the center of Napa is mostly straight as an arrow.  Just starting off from Vallejo the trail follows the rail right of way through the back of numerous businesses, some still in extistence and some not.  A few of the places seemed ideal for loading and offloading directly from railcars that used to pass through.

Yes, this is an industrial area and thus is far from scenic in a tradtional hiking sense.  Still, the first half mile plus from Vallejo is interesting due to a number of murals and art installations along the way.  They add a bit of color, literally and figuratively, to the hike and gives the visitors something to comment on along the way.

When the trail crosses Lincoln the area turns residential.  In this case that's unfortunate since it means an end to the art that had accompanied us this far.  One thing that does not change is the straight paved path.

When the trail nears Redwood it snakes away from the rail line for a moment and dumps the walker onto Solano Ave.  Once you cross Redwood on Solano the trail will once again abut the rails.  We're not sure why the trail couldn't follow the line more closely leading up to Redwood, but nearby fencing with "private property" signs seems to indicate a land dispute.

The trail then parallels both Solano Ave and the traintracks and continues to do so for some miles ahead.  With the clouds getting darker and rain visible in the distance we decided to turnaround at Trower Avenue and double back to our trailhead.