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!

Time for Vigilance

In Northern California, despite the current cold snap, we have essentially entered Spring. This means several things. Plants like poison oak are flourishing, sending tendrils out to conquer new areas. We are presently trying to cut this back from the trail.

Soon we will also need to watch out for ticks, which are particularly bad early in the season, from March to mid-May. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to prevent the little buggers from biting you. Wear long pants and inspect yourself after your hike. If you do get bitten, then watch the bite carefully for signs of Lyme disease, as early treatment by a medical professional is essential. Thankfully, we have the Western Fence Lizard to help us out, since when a tick bites that lizard an enzyme is transferred to the tick that cures the Lyme disease. This has led to a much  lower incidence of Lyme disease than in other areas without this helpful lizard. So be kind to the Western Fence Lizard! They are already scurrying across our trails.

Another hazard to watch out for is rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the Spring when the days become warm enough for cold-blooded reptiles. I’ve already seen the Western Fence Lizard scurrying across the trail, which means snakes will not be far behind. However, this recent cold snap has sent them to ground. But rattlesnakes are typically around from March to September, so we are entering the time when they will be coming out of hibernation in the lowlands and making their way to their higher hunting grounds. Since they will be on the move, most of my sightings of rattlesnakes tend to happen in the Spring.

So stay alert and safe out there!

The Removal Season Has Begun

Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).

It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.

After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.

Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.

Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.

If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.

Earth Abides

abide – to endure without yielding

Readers of this blog and locals probably know that during the recent firestorm Cal Fire bulldozers cut fire breaks on the Montini and Overlook properties. We are happy that they did this, as it was essential to protect the town. But nonetheless we were concerned about these scars as we are entering the rainy season.

Cal Fire and the City of Sonoma worked hard to mitigate the impacts of those scars, and that work is already paying off.

The Stewards had planned to meet this morning to spread seed over the cuts, but we canceled due to rain. I went hiking anyway and spotted a lot of grass starting to poke through the straw that was laid down on some of the cuts. This was surprising to me, as bulldozers moved over those cuts not once, but twice (once to make the cut and again to spread the mounds of soil left from the first time) and grass is already coming up.

That’s a really good sign that Mother Nature is going to heal itself, with little intervention from us. We will monitor the situation, and seed where it looks like it needs it, but for now it might just be enough to let nature take its course.