Rubicon Trail to Vikingsholm and back
Emerald Bay State Park
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Distance: 8.59 Miles
Duration: 6 hours, 19 minutes
Coppertone and I had planned on hiking through Emerald Bay and D. L. Bliss State Park to complete the Rubicon Trail. Guides had given us the impression that the distance between them was not that great. In the end we never made it out of Emerald Bay State Park but we had a great day of it anyway.
Driving down Highway 89 we passed the mayhem of the mass of humanity trying to park at the Emerald Bay Overlook for the shortest route down to Vikingsholm. We continued on towards the main entrance into Emerald Bay State Park and found a large parking lot for the trailhead that was mostly empty. Yes, one would have to put in some miles from this starting point, but we were here to hike!
The trail hugging the slope overlooking Emerald Bay to the north is very pleasant and well maintained. It does not take long before one is afforded nice views of the water and eventually Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe, as well.
Several snags dotted the area, many featuring large nests at the topmost point. One of them sported what appeared to be a Osprey adult feeding their young. We waited some time to watch the bird take flight, but they had a different time schedule than we did.
Shortly before reaching the very busy area around Vikingsholm we traversed part of the rock fall associated with a rockslide that occurred in 1955. During our trip back up the trail we spotted the mangled wreck of a pickup truck amongst the boulders and could not help but wonder whether it had slide down with these boulders in 1955 or whether it had flown off the highway at a later date.
The solitude for this hike takes a nosedive near the Eagle Creek crossing. The bridge over the creek provides an enjoyable view of tumbling water itself. However, taking the Lower Eagle Falls spur about a quarter mile uphill boasts of a view far more impressive.
We wander into the area around the historic Vikingsholm and its surrounding buildings and it feels like the height of summer. People are everywhere. We make a judgement to abandon our original plans to head all of the way to D. L. Bliss State Park and buy tickets for a tour of Vikingsholm. After the tour we do continue down the Rubicon Trail to the viewpoint of Parson Rock. Then we doubled back to our car and called it a day.
Out to Picnic Rock for a view of all of Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Rim Trail
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Distance: 4.64 Miles
Duration: 3 hours, 36 minutes
Coppertone and I chose this portion of the long Tahoe Rim Trail because of the well known scenic spot of Picnic Rock. We parked along Highway 267 and crossed the road to get to the trailhead. The are a few switchbacks here and a steady ascent from the road. The signs point to there having been a fire here in the not too distant past. Some trunks shows signs of charring and a large number of trees had fallen. Someone, perhaps the forest service, had come up and cut up some of the felled trees into smaller chunks which we sometimes aggreagated into conical piles.
The fallen trees were somewhat reduced a bit over a mile from the highway near the junction with the Picnic Rock spur. There are two signs along the trail which indicate where you need to turn. The tree cover remains fairly dense right up until the moment you come upon the rock formation known as Picnic Rock. A quick 180 degree turn rewards the hiker with a sweeping view of almost the entire lake.
One might be forgiven if one assumes Picnic Rock is named for the hikers who stop by here to have a meal or snack while they take in the breathtaking views. That certainly does happen. However, it may be more truthful to admit that it's the neighborhood chipmunks who do most of the picnicking here. Years of hikers feeding the tiny creatures have given them a boldness that belies their size. Merely sitting still for a period of time is likely to result in one of them to come right up and crawl into your lap to investigate whether you have anything to offer. It's hard to resist them and obviously quite a number of hikers fail to adhere to the rule about not feeding the wildlife.
After lunch we got back on the main trail and continued heading northeast until we had decided that it was probably time for us to turn around in order to make our day hike of a suitable size. It was a shame in a way because outside of the views of the lake the path here was amongst the most enjoyable in the hike. The number of people on the trail dropped dramatically. Everyone goes to Picnic Rock. Almost no one ventures further. There were far fewer fallen trees and everything just seemed more peaceful and quiet.
We doubled back towards our starting point and started encountering lots of people again, which is why we set the solitude of this hike the way we did. One of the more disturbing sights was a couple ascending straight uphill, ignoring the switchbacks designed to ease the ascent and cut down on erosion. The worst part was the fact the man was carrying a baby in his arms while it did this!
Memorial Day Scorcher
Sonoma Overlook Trail
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Distance: 2.57 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Well, scorcher may be too harsh a term, but the weather definitely turned a lot hotter recently so Coppertone and I decided to hit the trail a bit earlier and closer to home than we otherwise would have this weekend. By the time we wrapped up things were starting to get toasty outside.
We chose to revisit here also because we just heard that the trail will be closing down June 17 for repairs. Wear and tear over the years have done it's part, but apparently so has some of fire break efforts that were utilized to save Sonoma from the 2017 wildfires. It could take up to 12 weeks before the trail is reopened.
The combination of Memorial Day and the trail closing may have brought out more people on the trail than we are used to seeing.
The way up was uneventful. We were rewarded for the effort by mostly clear air that allowed for good views over much of Sonoma Valley. The view south toward San Pablo Bay was obstructed by a little haze, but we were not denied our vista view like our recent outing at Hood Mountain.
On the way down we took the Toyon Trailhead spur that empties out into Mountain Cemetery and continued the rest of the way down along the cemetery roads. Wed never done the Toyon spur and I wanted to map it out.
Mapping some missing segments
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
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Distance: 6.11 Miles
Duration: 2 hours, 44 minutes
Coppertone and I were looking for something flater and easier after our Hood Mountain Transect last week and flat is definitely what we got here. There were also a few trail segments we hadn't yet hiked that I wanted to map.
We set off from the Lakeville Road trailhead, which seems by far the best bet this part of the wildlife refuge. There's a reference to parking down near Port Sonoma, but the parking area here is well used and easy to get to.
Our first leg was going down what we'll call the HQ Trail leading towards the cluster of buildings near Highway 37 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses to help manage the property. The path along here is very well maintained gravel. Though one field of grassland had been recently cut others are left to grow high grass that red winged blackbirds in particular seem to love. They were almost a contstant companion on this trail. Turning around at the cluster of HQ buildings we were led for some distance by a killdeer who mocked injury as she coaxed us farther away from her nest nearby.
At the junction of trails near the train tracks we then headed west along Sonoma Baylands Trail. We had saved this segment for last because we had high hopes that it would be the better of the two. The trail surface is a seldom used jeep trail that is a bit overgrown in places. Unfortunately, the rougher path did not translate into much better opportunities for wildlife viewing. Low tide may have dried out some of the marshy areas to the south during our visit, limiting the number of ducks and other waterfowl one might normally see.
One thing we did see in terms of wildlife was bird egg shells and a couple of bird parts along the levee path. We noticed that these kill sites seemed to correspond with the very large nest perched at the top of one of the high tension power line poles that cross the area. We could see some movement in the nest, but we did not have binoculars and did not spot anything coming or going during our hike. Perhaps mother and father pick apart whatever game they've captured within view of the nest before heading home?
The turnaround point near Port Sonoma corresponds with a jeep trail that loops around and crosses the train tracks. It's not obvious exactly where the parking is a little further down the road.
A grand total a 6.11 miles and almost no elevation gain. A welcome relief from the mountain climbing from last week!
Hood Mountain Transect
Hood Mountain Regional Park
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Distance: 9.25 Miles
Duration: 6 hours, 30 minutes
Coppertone and I made use of the "Sugar Shuttle" to do a one way hike through Hood Mountain Regional Park to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.
The temperature was quite a bit cooler than yesterday, so we thought we hit the jackpot. Surely, the fog would burn off as the Sun rose higher. It would, but would it burn off quickly enough?
We started off at the Los Alamos Road trailhead where the Sugar Shuttle dropped us off and quickly worked our way down Hood Mountain Trail. Our pace was interrupted now and then by banana slugs. We had seen them before on other hikes, but the frequency in which we encountered them today was uncommon. What was really interesting is when we came upon one eating a sprig of moss. I had never seen a banana slug eat before. When we encountered addition slugs later we offered up some moss we found nearby.
The water was flowing briskly in Santa Rosa Creekso the creek crossing was not as easy as it had been during our previous trips. The trail splits into two right before the creek with the trail leading into Sugarloaf Ridge to the left and continuing on to Hood Mountain to the right. We ended up going down the Sugarload fork, cross the creek and then hug the creek shore on the other side for the short distance until we could get back onto Hood Mountain Trail.
From that point the trail steadily climbs towards the summit. Hood Mountain Trail is a jeep trail that presents a wide path for hikers, cyclists and horses. At the junction with Summit Trail we considered taking the hiking-only path to the summit but found the trail there a bit more overgrown that we would have liked. So we continued on the main trail that roughly parallels to the top.
We did later join Summit Trail higher up when it intersected again and the trail there looked far more clear. The higher elevation helped thin some of the grass from Summit Trail, but so did the October 2017 fires. Parts of the trail looked like the scene of a post apocalyptic movie set. Blackened trees and brush stems reflected off an eery light. With that said, the evidence of recovery is abundant. Sprouts of new growth are popping out of the ground and even out of the trunks of trees many would have considered dead.
As we encountered in our previous visit to Hood Mountain the last segments to the top are very steep and tiring. When we reached the summit we took some time out to have lunch try and check out the views, which were non-existent. The fog had not burned off. The view from the top of Hood Mountain was never as great as from Gunsight Rock Overlook, so we had hopes that the time spent eating would deliver us some clearer weather.
We continue from the summit along Nattkemper Trail towards Gunsight Rock Overlook. The trail junction with the overlook spur was severly burned. The charred remains of the trail marker pointing to the spur was leaned up against and equally burned tree trunk. Miraculously, the overlook itself was not badly burned. We did not get a miracle today from the weather though. The fog, though thinning somewhat, was still too thick to provide a view over Sonoma Valley.
We continue down Nattkemper Trail, hiking along paths we had never been before and discover it's charms. There's an interesting mixture of steep grasslands and forested groves. The grasslands open up to the west, providing views over Sonoma Valley. Yes, the fog is lifting and with every open vista to the west we can see farther and farther. Just a bit too late for us!
We continue towards the boundary with Sugarloaf Ridge State Park where the trail turns into the Goodspeed Trail. There's extensive fire damage in sections here as well but an abundance and variety of wildflowers provide color to even the most burnt areas. We see a young lady passing by with a handful of picked wildflowers. Unfortunately this just means there are fewer flowers for other visitors to enjoy and fewer plants laying down seeds for next year's plants. Please enjoy the wildflowers where you see them!
At a bit over 9 miles and lots of climbing (over 2,000 feet) we were fairly tired heading back to our parked car. But the Goodspeed Trail provided some interesting experiences, including a tree trunk bridge over a creek crossing made somewhat easier by the installation of a climbing rope handrail to help steady oneself.
I think when we go back to get a view from Gunsight Rock Overlook without the fog I think we'll head out from Sugarloaf if we need to do an out and back. The distance to the overlook is a bit shorter and the elevation gain seems more consistant. But return we must. We can't let the fog get the best of us.