Being Thankful for the Trails

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry, blissfully oblivious of what most people in the US are doing today.

An adult wild turkey in the Red Quarry, blissfully oblivious of what most people in the US are doing today.

On this, Thanksgiving Day, it’s appropriate to consider what one treasures. For me, the Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve are high on the list. I started hiking the Overlook 5-6 years ago, on virtually a daily basis. When the Montini Preserve was opened, I lengthened my hike by starting there, making my way to the Overlook and then back. For quite a while now this has been my daily exercise, a four mile hike with around a 400 foot elevation gain. This replaces what is for many people their indoor “spin class” or gym time.

So in the spirit of the holiday, these are just some of the things I’m thankful for that have come into my life through hiking these trails:

  • My health. Breaking a sweat for over an hour is always a good thing, especially when performed multiple times each week.
  • My mental health. Unlike a number of people I see on the trail, I don’t have earbuds in my ear piping in music. This lets my mind wander and process a lot of things as well as foster new ideas. I’ve had a number of ideas on hikes that have led to real results once I’ve left the trail. Also, there is new evidence that exercise prevents or decreases depression.
  • The views. I love seeing long distances. Perhaps this explains my love of the Grand Canyon and treehouses. There are some great views from the trails.
  • The wildlifeYou pretty much always see wildlife on the trail, whether it is the ubiquitous birds and squirrels, the frequently-spotted deer, or the more rarely spotted snakes (yes, including rattlesnakes). Of course let’s not forget insects.
  • The sense of adventure. My favorite times on the trail are actually when a storm is raging. I love when the creeks rise so high that they are a challenge to cross, and when there is a waterfall that crosses the Holstein Hill trail. It seems raw and exciting. Plus you often see more wildlife (like a flock of turkeys running in the rain) and fewer people.
  • The friends I’ve madeBy walking the trail so much, and running into volunteer trail Stewards and other regulars on the trail, I discovered a new source of good people to have in my life whom I appreciate.
  • The chance to do good. Whether it is picking up trash on a daily basis, or pulling invasive weeds in the Spring-Summer, there are multiple ways you can make a difference on these precious properties. Knowing that your work is both making an impact and is appreciated (as I’m often told by visitors on the trail), is a gift indeed.

The trails in the hills above Sonoma are truly a treasure. Many people I’ve met have traveled some distance to enjoy them. So those of us who live nearby are well and truly blessed. I am thankful indeed, on this Thanksgiving.

Oh, the Views!

002808_lI’ve always enjoyed seeing long distances, so the views from both the Sonoma Overlook Trail and Montini Preserve have always been one of my favorite aspects of the trails.

The best views in my book are these:

  1. From the top of the Overlook Trail, looking out over the City of Sonoma to Mount Tamalpais and (on a clear day) all the way to the skyscrapers of San Francisco.
  2. 004252_lFrom the Valley View Trail (not the top, but along the ridge before you get to the top) across Sonoma Valley to Sonoma Mountain.
  3. Several spots along both trail systems where the trail traverses an open space and you get a view of the surrounding countryside.
  4. And of course, the wildlife!

So the next time you’re out on the trail, take time to admire the views. It’s one of the best things about our trail system in the hills above Sonoma.

Who? Who?

p1010385_hdrA Great Horned Owl, that’s who. At least some hikers spotted one on the Montini Preserve this week. He or she was perched in a large Bay Laurel tree just below the trail near the Red Quarry entrance (see picture).

Owls are common in the forests and meadows of the Overlook and Montini properties, although sightings are not frequent.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has this to say, in part, about the Great Horned Owl:

“Great Horned Owls have the most diverse diet of all North American raptors. Their prey range in size from tiny rodents and scorpions to hares, skunks, geese, and raptors. They eat mostly mammals and birds—especially rabbits, hares, mice, and American Coots, but also many other species including voles, moles, shrews, rats, gophers, chipmunks, squirrels, woodchucks, marmots, prairie dogs, bats, skunks, house cats, porcupines, ducks, loons, mergansers, grebes, rails, owls, hawks, crows, ravens, doves, and starlings. They supplement their diet with reptiles, insects, fish, invertebrates, and sometimes carrion. Although they are usually nocturnal hunters, Great Horned Owls sometimes hunt in broad daylight. After spotting their prey from a perch, they pursue it on the wing over woodland edges, meadows, wetlands, open water, or other habitats. They may walk along the ground to stalk small prey around bushes or other obstacles.”

Feel free to find out more about this beautiful bird.

Rain, Rain, Come and Stay

Ripening Toyon berries in the rain.

Ripening Toyon berries in the rain.

Today was my first hike in the rain for the season and I was reminded what a joy it is. Hiking in the rain is a joy, you ask? Yes, it is to me, and for these reasons:

  • You tend to see fewer people and more wildlife.
  • Colors are more vibrant.
  • When runoff starts, it’s more exciting.

And if you have the right gear, you don’t get soaked. I have rain pants, waterproof hiking shoes, and a rain shell. But if it is raining only lightly I will often pull my rain shell through a caribiner and clip it to my belt, since if the storm is warm I can get more wet from sweat than a light rain. A ball cap helps keep rain off my glasses. So it’s really quite simple and even if you get a little wet, it’s just water. And the hiking is well worth it.

Given this, and the drought that we are still experiencing, I welcome the rain and wish for much more to come our way this winter. If you’re on the trail when it’s raining, look for me.

Day of the Dead Cemetery Tour

002097_l On Saturday October 29th at 9:30-11:30am and 1-3pm, amateur historian Fred Allebach will lead an informative walk of the Sonoma Mountain Cemetery introducing you to cowboys and Indians, ranchers and real estate tycoons, farmers and farriers, carpenters and stone masons, quarrymen, grocers, butchers, bakers, maybe a candlestick maker and many more!

This fundraising event is limited to 25 participants. The $35.00 cost per person includes the walking tour and a picnic lunch complete with googly eyes! Proceeds support the Sonoma Overlook Trail Maintenance and Education programs. The Trail is solely supported by private donations. The walk and lunch are sponsored by Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards.

To reserve your spot, contact LaurieSOT@gmail.com Please indicate preference of morning or afternoon walk. Thank you for supporting the Sonoma Overlook Trail!

Tour beautiful Oak Hill Farm during fall harvest and help support the all-volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail

home_slideshow_1_0You are invited to join Oak Hill Farm owner Anne Teller for a guided walking tour of her sustainably-farmed fields of flowers, vegetables and and fruit orchards on Saturday, October 1st from 10:30AM -1PM.

Oak Hill, a 25-acre farm at the foot of the Mayacamas and known to many by its distinctive Red Barn Store, is one of Sonoma Valley’s treasures. The Teller family has practiced sustainable agriculture for more than 50 years and harvests 200-plus varieties of organically-grown vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs as they naturally come into season.

The farm is part of a larger, 700-acre property held in perpetuity as protected wildlands.  Anne will be delighted to talk with us about the Tellers’ commitment to sustainable farming and to stewarding Oak Hill’s incredible natural resources.

This is an easy, flat walk of about two miles round-trip. Afterwards we will enjoy a discussion with a light lunch and wine.

The walk is limited to 40 people and reservations are required. A donation of $45 will secure your space.

All proceeds go toward upkeep of Sonoma Overlook Trail. The public trail is managed on an all-volunteer basis by a group of Sonomans who donate their time to keep the trail in good repair, protect natural habitat, assist visitors and lead hikes.

To place a reservation email us at  LaurieSOT@gmail.com

To learn more about Oak Hill farm, please visit oakhillfarm.net.

We’re Winning!

P1010218Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.

But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.

We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.

Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.