Poison Oak is Back

Since western poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) typically loses its leaves in the Fall and doesn’t start leafing out again until after the first of the year, you might be surprised to know that it is coming out now, as I was (see photo taken today). Chalk it up to global warming, I suppose, but the result is that poison oak season is elongating — it’s starting earlier and likely ending later, although I don’t have evidence of it.

This is bad news for hikers, and the stewards who try to keep it cut back off the trail. But since I haven’t yet had a chance to get out there with clippers (perhaps tomorrow), be careful. I’ve seen a few sprouts right at the edge of the trail.

Part of what makes poison oak tough to spot is that it presents differently at different times of year and in different growing conditions. To see some of this variability, see this web site, which has a number of pictures of poison oak in various stages of its life and in different growing conditions. Also, poison oak will often vine up into bushes and small trees, blending in with the other vegetation, which makes it even harder to spot. I’ve often missed noticing poison oak in such situations, even when actively looking for it.

Our program of control is limited to keeping it about 3 feet off the trail, as since it is a native species we aren’t interested in eradicating it like we are invasive species such as Italian and Yellow Star thistle. So if you stay on the trail you should be safe, at least after I get out with the clippers, but it doesn’t hurt to be vigilant.

 

Cemetery Walk November 3rd

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS — DAY OF THE DEAD

WALK SONOMA HISTORY THROUGH SONOMA MOUNTAIN CEMETERY

Saturday November 3

10:00 AM OR 12:00 Noon

The Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards invite you to take a lively, informative walk through our historic cemetery with amateur historian Fred Allebach.

Meet 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!

Here in our back yard, the fabric of the town’s rich history is hidden right in plain sight,” tour guide Allebach has written about the historic cemetery.  “Sonoma had its Natives, then missionaries, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo Californios, Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny immigrants, Civil War refugees, and a Second Great Wave of Immigration from southern and eastern Europe from 1880 to 1910. Then came various immigrants on into the 20th century. All of these are represented in the Mountain Cemetery.”

Your $35 donation includes the walking tour and cookies and cider. All proceeds go to maintaining the Overlook Trailhead Kiosk. The Trail is solely supported by private donations. Questions? email Hope at hopenisson@me.com.

To Register: send a check to Hope Nisson, 3771 Cory Lane, Sonoma, CA 95476. Indicate which hike you prefer — 10 am or 12 noon

The event is sponsored by the volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards and participation is limited to 20 people per session.

 

Watch Out For Ticks!

Yesterday I pulled a tiny tick off me (see photo), sadly not before it had bitten. Now I have a sore and swollen red spot on my back, and I’m on the lookout for any signs of Lyme disease. That is a serious disease that needs to be caught early to have any chance of avoiding potentially serious consequences.

A study in the 1990s found that the Western Fence lizard, which is plentiful on both the Overlook and Montini properties, has an enzyme that can essentially cure a tick of transmitting Lyme disease. However, a study in 2008 found that after removing the Western Fence lizard population from a plot of land, the number of ticks went down as well, as most of the young ticks could not find another host. So although the later study did not negate the findings of the earlier one, it does point out the complexity of the interactions of various populations and these effects on the spread of disease.

All of that is perhaps just a long-winded way of saying — be careful! Check yourself and others after hiking on the trails. Believe me, you don’t want to be me.

The March/April Miracle

Perhaps we could be forgiven, those of us here in Northern California, for believing that we were heading right back into drought. The amount of rain we had received through February (typically some of our heaviest precipitation months) was truly sad. But then March came, and brought more rain, and even more important, snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

And then came April, which has brought a Pineapple Express storm, with reportedly more to come. Today on the trail we saw a phenomenon we only see when the runoff is truly epic — popup springs (see picture). This happens when water completely saturates the soil and finds underground channels. These channels then surface in random spots in the hillsides, spilling out to run down the hill before finding a creek to add its volume to, potentially leading to flooding downstream.

Logically, I know that this can lead to tragic consequences. But upstream, where these popup springs happen, it simply seems exciting. This is one of the reasons why I love to hike in the rain. I never let the weather stop me from hiking the trail. I put on my rain pants, parka, and waterproof shoes, and go for it. It can be an astonishing time. One day I saw a flock of turkeys running through a downpour. Several other times the creek on the Overlook was running so high I had to hike upstream to find a place to cross it. But it never fails to be exciting, at least to me.

Come enjoy the miracle, as I do. In the glorious wet. It’s only water, after all, and what you stand to gain is a lot more impactful than that.

There’s Never Just One

Tripping down the trail today I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, there’s one!” I had spotted an invasive purple thistle plant at the trail’s edge (see pic). I stooped to pull it out.

As volunteer trail stewards, our remit includes not only maintaining the trails, but also helping the City of Sonoma to maintain their property that the trails traverse. This includes removing invasive species such as broom, purple thistle, and yellow  star thistle.

Purple thistle season begins in early Spring, which means we are already working to remove it. Later in the season the yellow star thistle will start to come in. Since we’ve been attacking the yellow star thistle for several years with vigor, we are seeing some real progress on eradicating it from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties.

However, purple thistle is quite another story. Mostly due to years of cattle grazing, purple thistle has essentially already overrun the Montini Preserve. So at this point we only focus on yellow star thistle there. But on the Overlook, we think we have a chance to knock back the purple thistle so we are working on it as well. Since we only began our work on it last year, there is still quite a bit of it on the trail.

Today, as I stooped to pull the plant I had spotted I thought to myself, “Oh, wait, there’s five — no ten, crap, there’s a lot!”

I had momentarily forgotten that until the day when we reach the point of eradication — years, perhaps even decades from now (if ever), there’s never just one.

The Joy of Hiking in the Rain

Ever since I can remember I’ve enjoyed being out in nature when it is raining. There are likely many reasons for this. As a photographer, I like how it makes colors more vibrant. As an introvert, I like that fewer people brave the rain. As a naturalist, I like that there are animals who are not deterred by the wet. When it has been raining hard for some time, I enjoy the drama of the runoff. Places that are normally dry become waterfalls. Dry creeks become raging watercourses. There is much to like.

And these days, with great outdoor gear available, there isn’t any reason why we can’t venture out into the rain. My personal set of gear is as simple as this: a rain parka, rain pants I slip on over my jeans, and waterproof hiking shoes. I sometimes add a baseball cap to help shield my glasses. However, it should be noted that I always come back wet to some degree, but whether that is from rain or sweat is not entirely clear to me. In any case, stripping off the wet clothes and taking a nice hot shower banishes any lingering chill.

It’s also an adventure. Sure, it’s an adventure of quite limited proportions, but when others spurn hitting the trail in the wet we could be forgiven if we think we are being more adventurous by venturing out when others are put off. And although there have been days when I haven’t seen anyone else on my hike, there have been days when I have. So you are out there, you adventurous people, I know you are. Time to represent, as we have entered an extended period of rain (finally!).

 

 

Join Us for our 3rd Annual 150 mph Hike at The Sonoma Raceway

unnamedWe’re Now Full! Thank You For Your Support!
Join us on May 12 at the Sonoma Raceway for a very unique opportunity to tour remote stretches of the hills and valleys around Sonoma Raceway’s 1,600-acre property and help support a good cause to boot!
This 3 OR 5 mile hike (your choice), will raise funds to support the Sonoma Overlook Trail Maintenance, Restoration, Recreation and Education Programs run by the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, an all-volunteer group that monitors and performs maintenance on Overlook Trail.
Hikes will be guided by Overlook Trail docents and Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway’s President and General Manager. Winding along the hillsides to the west of the main raceway facility we will cover open space that is not normally accessible to the general public.
The walking is easy and suitable for all ages. The route meanders through native grasslands and is timed to coincide with our Spring wildflower bloom. You may even encounter some “Wooly Weeders and their Spring lambs in action! Afterwards, we’ll enjoy a catered lunch including wine or soft drinks.

Date/Time: Saturday, May 12, 2018 – 10 a.m.-1 p.m
Cost: $50 Non-refundable, Tax Deductible Donation 

Includes:
  • Docent Led Hike
  • Lovely picnic lunch catered by Levy Restaurants
  • Highly-acclaimed Bedrock Wines
  • Non alcoholic drinks
  • Jaw Dropping Views!
This event is limited to 75 people. Last year this hike sold out, so register early!