Sunday, April 21st Winehike: Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock

7 strenuous miles, 1900′ elevation gain, Spring wildflowers + Sonoma Valley wine tasting

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Meet: 9:00 a.m.
Hike: 9:15 a.m.
Duration: approximately 4–5 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park & Hood Mountain Regional Park
2605 Adobe Canyon Road
Kenwood, CA
(707) 833-5712

It’s been said by the locals that the trail to Gunsight Rock, high on the side of Hood Mountain, is one of Sonoma Valley’s premier hiking routes. Tough though the trail may be, if you’ve ever thought about hiking to the top of Mt. St. Helena in Napa County, the hike to Gunsight Rock outweighs the hike to Mt. St. Helena in almost any context, except one: the view from the summit of 2,730-foot Hood Mountain is a big disappointment. Manzanita and pine trees cover its wide, rounded top and, unless you feel like shinnying up a tall, sap-sticky pine after the impressive climb to the mountain’s summit, you just can’t see a danged thing from up there. (Though I tried, once.)

Fortunately Hood Mountain has Gunsight Rock located three hundred feet below its summit and a quarter mile away by trail. From this lofty vantage point, you can see just about everything in Sonoma Valley, plus the big mountains of Napa and Marin. Not only that, but Gunsight Rock’s bouldered outcrop is perched so dramatically on the slope of Hood Mountain that its steep drop-off makes the wide view even more impressive.

Peering down through the fog and the gunsight onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

Peering down through the fog and the Gunsight
onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

The real bonus, however, is simply in observing the trailside splendor on your way to Gunsight Rock; the floral diversity of the Goodspeed and Nattkemper trails is alone worth the hike. Redwoods, laurels, manzanitas, oaks, grasslands, wildflowers, serpentine rock, wildlife and vistas make this hike an absolute must-do adventure.

Of course, after surveying Sonoma Valley wine country from above, it’ll only be right to explore it from inside a wine glass! So, we’ll return downhill for a potluck picnic lunch and for tasty local wines (winery to be announced).

From U.S. 101 in Santa Rosa, take the Fairgrounds/Highway 12 exit. Highway 12 becomes Farmers Lane as it heads through downtown Santa Rosa. Continue on Highway 12 south for 11 miles to Adobe Canyon Road and turn left. (Or, from Highway 12 in Sonoma, drive 11 miles north to Adobe Canyon Road, then turn right.) Drive 2.2 miles to the small parking area on the left at a bridge over Sonoma Creek (it’s 1.3 miles before the entrance kiosk for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park).

If you’re in the South Bay or on the peninsula, my current plan is to leave my house in Sunnyvale at 6:15 a.m. If there’s sufficient interest in this hike, I may later advise that we concentrate the most bodies into the fewest cars by meeting in Kenwood before heading to the trailhead due to its potentially limited availability (this parking area is a postage stamp!). If you’re attending, please leave a comment below if you wish to carpool from either location along this route. For those of you arriving from the East Bay or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

Parking at Sugarloaf Ridge is typically $5 per vehicle at the entrance kiosk, but we won’t be going that far up the road. The small parking area by the bridge at Sonoma Creek is known to be fee-free. Drive time from San Jose may take 2-1/2 hours; from SF, perhaps 45-60 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:00; our hike will begin promptly at 9:15. (Our early meet time is primarily to obtain parking at this tiny trailhead. Believe me, it’ll be very much worth rising early!) Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

The Golden Fairy Lantern, Calochortus amabilis, is also called Diogenes' Lantern.

The Golden Fairy Lantern (Calochortus amabilis)
is also known as Diogenes’ Lantern.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we will hike over rough, technical terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Meet 9:00 a.m., hike 9:15 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

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Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.

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*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.



Flickr Photo: Romp thru the Redwoods

A footbridge across one of the many small creeks at Henry Cowell Redwoods.

Happy winehikers, cavorting along a woodsy path on a late-September morning. These folks joined me last year; would you like to join me this year? If so, you’ll find all the details on my Romp through the Redwoods page.


An Arachnoid Prediction for Friday the 13th

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph

The harmless Hairy Mygalomorph.

Sunday morning, I’ll be meeting a few of my fellow hikers for coffee prior to embarking on the long and winding East Dunne grade out of Morgan Hill. From our coffee rendezvous, it will take one full hour to motor down Highway 101, up 10 twisty miles of East Dunne blacktop, and over the high ridge to the Henry Coe State Park Visitor Center.

It’s a fine drive, if you like narrow, tortuous mountain roads. When we finally get to where we’re going, we’ll have quite an expanse of state park acreage to revel in. This park is, after all, a hiker’s dream: it’s home to more than 250 miles of trails and ranch roads, deep wooded canyons, large lakes, and rolling meadowlands in its over 87,000 acres. Not to mention the little apples of the big berry Manzanita trees. (Yes, they actually are trees here in this park.) Nor the bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, mountain lions, turkey vultures, and javelinas.

Yep, we two-legged varmints will be in good company. We’re going to hike for nearly six hours Sunday, but we’ll only see a fraction of the park. If we were to spend a week, we’d still only see a fraction of it. It’s that big. And it’s anything but flat.

No matter – we’ll still soak in quite a bit of the park’s ample freedom. Our hike will take us to the site of an old mineral springs resort and to the park’s most popular swimming hole a mile farther along. Not sure we’ll swim, being that it’s now October and the nights (and probably the creek) are chilly, but the brave among us might dip a toe in for a brief exciting moment. Along the way downcanyon to the Hole, however, we’ll enjoy 13 creek crossings and survey what’s left of Madrone Soda Springs Resort, a creekside health spa that thrived during the horse and buggy era.

There’s not much left of the resort these days. The buildings and the dance pavilion were dismantled during World War II; the wood was trucked to the Central Valley where it was used to build houses during a time when wood was hard to come by. All we’ll see are a few concrete steps, fragments of the foundation, a stone cooler built into a hillside (no wine stashed in there, though – I’ve looked), and some of the larger remnants that have washed downstream.

After we arrive at the confluence of Coyote Creek, we’ll wander over to the natural pool at China Hole, which is deep enough to dive into during the early summer months – not that I would do that with my boots on. The Hole has a small, sandy beach and lots of big flat boulders for picnicking, sunning, and snoozing. In early Fall, this creekside oasis should be a great place to enjoy lunch. That is, if the ticks aren’t swarming like they did this past January.

After lunch, we’ll get serious. Needless to say, any time you venture downcanyon to a streambed, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up; the hike back up over Middle Ridge is an honorable one. It won’t hurt, however, to pause every few breaths just to enjoy the views, to the south and east, of untold distant blue ridges.

I’ll make what should be an easy prediction: now that it’s mid-October, we’ll see at least one marauding tarantula. (After all, Coe Park just held its annual TarantulaFest last weekend.) If we do see one, I hope to share a photo or two with you of the furry little bugger crawling up some lucky gal’s arm.

[Editor’s note: my prediction bore true! See my follow-up trip report.]


Really cool websites I’ve stumbled upon

As if I actually have time for surfing websites, much less stumbling upon them…

And, because “timing is everything,” a graphical interactive time zone checker.


Perambulating the Perfect Perimeter

One of the big reasons that the San Francisco Peninsula and the East Bay Hills are such fine destinations for hiking is due to the efforts of the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. Since 1989, their volunteer efforts have fueled grant programs to spur the development of much of the planned 300-mile trail system that is someday destined to circumnavigate the San Francisco Bay and connect all counties that are contiguous to it. These grant programs are intended to encourage government agencies and qualifying nonprofit organizations to plan, acquire, and construct new segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART).

It’s nice to know that their good work is continuing. The Council, in coordination with the Coastal Conservancy’s San Francisco Bay Area Program, has just this week announced the availability of up to $450,000 in funds that will accelerate the development of The Trail. The funding will come from Proposition 40, which is the California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002. It appears that in 2007, the BART Council will be developing trail systems in the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano – areas that this winehiker feels desperately have needed additional trails, if only to respond to the demands of local Nature lovers (like me) if not to also complement the recreational activities of the wine-touring public.

In fact, a future Ridge Trail corridor is expected to be built from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District-owned Jacobs Ranch on the northern flank of Sonoma Mountain (located close by to many Sonoma Valley and Bennett Valley wineries) to the top of the former Skiles Ranch property (now part of Annadel State Park); one proposed trail in that new network will offer 6 miles of moderate to steep hiking and, if I’m correct, connect to Jack London State Historic Park.

Now if only they’ll connect all the wineries along the ridges! Why, this winehiker would be a happy man. Heck, I’d even be willing to gather some talent, grab a shovel, and help to build THOSE trails.


Diva redux

No doubt you’ve been waiting with breathless anticipation to read about this man’s first Man-Pedi experience. After over a week of my own anticipation — or should we say trepidation? — it almost didn’t happen! But that particular element had nothing to do with the bubbly.

Breakfast mid-morning was, indeed, immensely satisfying, and a fine way to start a weekend of excessive pampering. Need I list the chicken-apple sausage, the scrambled eggs, the Belgian-style waffles with real maple syrple, the fruit compote (oh, those fat blueberries!), and the strawberry/pineapple smoothies?

Yes, I suppose I should list them.

And yes, too, so satisfying was my first experience pouring a bottle of “J” – my initial sips alacritously fulfilling my expectations. Many of my readers will, I’m sure, agree that there’s nothing like a great fizzy “Wow!” to complement one’s breakfast.

Previously, my friend and fellow hiker, Tami, had made arrangements with a salon in Los Gatos for us each to have a pedicure (again, my first!) this late Saturday morning. By some unfortunate misunderstanding, however, the proprietress had not realized that it would be a problem for her. Could it be that she saw dollar signs but didn’t hear the questions Tami had asked her on the phone? Questions such as, “Do you give pedicures to men?” “Do you take men?”

“Guys, maybe?”

Oh, Tami’s questions were answered, alright. What Tami heard in response was, “We make you very happy!”

And then we actually arrived for our scheduled pedicures. We were met with a too-big smile and a moment of confusion, as the proprietress sized me up and down and realized my maleness. “Oh, we no take man. No room!” After further confusion, shared glances of disappointment, and an “are you sure?” or two, suffice it to say that we exited the salon and walked straight over to the wine shop.

I’m still pondering that “no room” comment, though.

In the meantime, however, with some deft cell-phone networking by Tami, we both managed to score early afternoon pedicure appointments in the next town over.

And so, after procuring a fine bottle of Pinot Noir (Tami’s first!) we went.

For the extra amount that we paid — about forty bucks instead of twenty-two — we soon found that we were getting our money’s worth; our pedicurist, Diana, being knowledgeable, personable, and quite adept at pampering a man’s toes just as well as a woman’s. Her experience, like an overlooked undergarment, definitely peeked through. In other words, we found that we liked her straight off. Especially in light of the fact that nobody had to strap me down to The Throne like an astronaut about to launch. I can’t say that I have the most ticklish feet in the world, but I swear that if you even so much as look at my feet, I might start laughing (nervously). Or you’ll start laughing (tauntingly).

Perhaps it was the (Diana swears it wasn’t from a box) wine that calmed me. Rather “blecchh” on most counts, but it did its job. And I was putty in Diana’s capable hands.

Anyway, after a calm hour of sidecutters, sandpaper, sawblades, assorted goopy clear stuff, and a calf massage, I walked out of that salon feeling like a new man. Tami, too — with proper gender accreditation, of course.

From the knees down, anyway. Sure as grapes bein’ wine in pill form. And we still have ten toes apiece!

And, having picked out the color for Tami’s bright-yet-right pink new tootsies, I felt it almost heretical for us to cover up our radiant shiny feet with big clunky boots for yesterday’s ultimate Mt. Tamalpais 13-miler. Talk about pampering! Mm-hmm.

Ah, but that’s a walk down another foot path.


Diva for a day

Tomorrow I plan to do something I’ve never done before. Being that it’s my third decade of hiking the trails of the world, I believe it’s finally time to pamper my poor abused feet. And so, I’m going to a spa in Los Gatos, and I’m going to get a pedicure. Not sure exactly what to expect, or even what color toenails I’ll end up with, but I’m pretty sure they’ll have to strap me down tightly – my feet are definitely quite ticklesome.

Think I’ll approach this momentous occasion with some “J” bubbly. Stay tuned for more on this topic….


Wave off the rescue ’copter

When it comes to search and rescue flybys, I don't expect to ever offer a frantic wave hello.

When it comes to search and rescue flybys, I don’t expect to ever offer a frantic wave hello.

This Sunday I plan to take a small group of intrepid hikers into the hills south of the Livermore Valley in search of an ephemeral gem: Murietta Falls, billed as the tallest waterfall in the San Francisco Bay Area. With roughly 100 feet of fall, Murietta Falls is much taller than the popular Berry Creek Falls at Big Basin State Park. Often by the end of March, the Falls dries up for the season, so right now is the time to discover this diabolical diamond in the rough.

Diabolical? Yup. Because if you’re not into the mild masochism (psychosis?) that results in anaerobic arrhythmia, leg of noodle, and collapsed lung, stay far, far away – this hike is brutal. It is both tortuous and torturous. Of all the hikes I’ve done in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d have to say this one is the most convoluted up-and-down can’t-ever-catch-your-breath rip-snorters; less than 10 percent of the hike occurs on level ground. The rest of the time, it’s either quad-killer climbs or knee-killer descents. The climbing starts immediately – you’ll climb almost 1500 feet in the first hour. And it’s going to take you all day. To climb, climb, climb, descend, descend, descend….

But when you finally do get to Murietta Falls, wave off the rescue ’copter, for you will behold not only the tallest, but the most remote waterfall in the Bay Area.

The Ohlone Wilderness always seems to beckon to the ardent Bay Area hiker.

The Ohlone Wilderness always seems to beckon to the ardent Bay Area hiker.

If you like to see waterfalls but feel that 12.2 miles and 4300 feet of elevation gain are too much for you, there are dozens of other waterfalls scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area, just beckoning you to feel their cool mists in Spring. If you like a good hike that’ll get you to your waterfall discoveries, no doubt you could visit three or four different Bay Area trails each weekend in the Spring and still not discover them all.

However, if you’re like me and appreciate waterfalls but are also a glutton for punishment, perhaps you’ll perversely enjoy Ohlone Trail to Murietta Falls. And when you’re done hiking, assuming you’re not starving for half a side of beef on a sesame seed bun, you’ve got plenty of great choices in the Livermore Valley for excellent wine tasting. Three of my favorite area wineries are Bent Creek, Murrietta’s Well, and Steven Kent.

See the exciting follow-up trip report titled A fully monstered two-carrot hike, complete with falls photos!


Big Basin Bobcat

Bobcat tracks in clay.

Bobcat tracks in clay.

The trails of the Bay Area offer a real treat in Winter. As storm systems pass, there are often a few days of clear weather that provide the freshest air one can breathe as one walks the coastal hills.I led a group of hikers at Big Basin State Park for a 6-mile hike through stately redwoods to a ridgetop. Upon our descent, we beheld Nature’s finest shades of blue — the brilliant clear sky, the ridges of the coast, and the deepest blue of them all — the Pacific Ocean. From our vantage point, the view to its horizon appeared as an optical illusion, as if it were above our heads.

It was a view worth savoring. Nearer to us, however, one of our sharp-eyed crew spied the tracks of a bobcat, which had worked its way downtrail ahead of us. It might have been searching for rabbits or rodents, but quite possibly it was after deer, which they’ll hunt in winter months when other food is scarce. The tracks I had seen moments earlier, being small-hooved and traveling in the same direction, suggested a young Black-Tail — easy to spot in the trail mud after the recent rains, and easy prey for a hungry bobcat.

In my trail haunts over the years, I’ve sometimes encountered wild cats. It can feel as if you’re whistling past the graveyard when a predator makes eye contact with you. But it’s a safe bet that a bobcat will turn and run, leaving you with nothing but a fleeting dash of yellow-brown fur, a blip of a tail, and a story to tell. What I find interesting about bobcats is that they’re highly adaptable to changes in environmental conditions. Some biologists even believe that there are more bobcats in the United States today than there were in colonial times. Despite their rare and elusive nature, that could be reason alone why I’ve seen them at all.

Bobcats: rarely seen, even more rarely photographed.

Bobcats: rarely seen, even more rarely photographed.

I like to stop and admire the comings and goings of Nature. If I loiter long enough, there’s often a story hidden there, waiting to be unveiled. These simple natural phenomena are my connection to the real adventure that so many of us seem blind to. I’m rewarded then, when my fellow hikers take the cue and, before we know it, we’ve gained honest memories — memories that make us want to don our boots and return to savor them anew.