Sugarloaf Ridge State Park Is Open

One of our favorite parks in Sonoma County, Sugarloaf was closed for more than four months after the devastating fires that tore through Northern California in October. A huge portion of the park burned, and park employees had been working long hours to restore trails, remove fallen trees, and make the park safe for visitors. We wanted to see for ourselves and so on Valentine’s Day we went for a hike in the newly reopened park.

This is one of our favorite spots on the way into the park where the road crosses Sonoma Creek. The picture on the left is from the wet winter of 2010 when the creek ran high. Now in the wake of the fire, our lovely moss-covered Bay Laurel has been felled.

We started up the Bald Mountain trail and could see where the fire had stopped. The greening grass now covers the burned areas and the part that didn’t burn still shows last season’s dried stalks of grass.

Sugarloaf’s oak forest is blackened but looks like it will survive. The chaparral–manzanita, coyote brush–was burned but is already starting to revive. Some big trees were burned right down to the roots and into the ground.

By mid-February early wildflowers, oak and poison oak were happily flowering.IMG_4531We got a great view of the east side of Mount Hood. It’s hard to tell that the mountain was almost totally burned. Now we can’t wait to return to see how our park is doing. There will be lots more wildflowers and oaks and Buckeye will be leafing out in March.


Sonoma County Parks Opening After the Fires

Two months after firestorms raced through Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties, parks that had been in the path of the fires are starting to reopen. When we heard that Shiloh Ranch Regional Park had opened to hikers, we decided to take a hike and to see what damage the fires had wrought.

Shiloh is an 860-acre mixed woodland of oak, chaparral and fir forest on the hilly east edge of the Santa Rosa plain that had once been a cattle ranch. About 93 percent of the park burned. Firefighters lit backfires through the park to help defend the city of Windsor and stop the fire’s spread. They also used bulldozers to carve fire lines. So we expected to find a treeless burned out mess.

View of the Santa Rosa Plain from Shiloh

What we found was remarkably like the park we had known before the fire. Crews have removed dead trees and installed erosion control wattles on burned slopes. Underbrush had burned and the forest looked more open, but most of the trees should recover.

So my worry about the fate of the oak forest was unfounded. I don’t understand this. How could a fire so hot that it burned thousands of buildings to the ground leave the forest only singed? I do know that this landscape has always contended with fire as part of its natural life cycle and in some ways even depends on it.

Already we can see signs of new growth. Soap plant and Douglas iris poke through the blackened earth. Trees send up new shoots at the ends of their branches. The plants and their communities are healing.

As we drove back home to our neighborhood in the northeast part of Santa Rosa, we passed some of the burned out sections of the city. Chimneys jut from blackened lots and the carapaces of cars and metal appliances wait to be collected by cleanup crews.

Back in our neighborhood, we walked the few blocks to our little patch of open space, Paulin Creek Preserve, a spot of oak woodland that escaped the fire and, thanks to a group of savvy neighbors, also escaped development. It is among the many things for which we are thankful.

Paulin Creek Preserve


Mt. Burdell in Bloom

We discovered Mt. Burdell in Novato, Marin County, when Holly lived in Santa Rosa and I in San Francisco and we would meet in the middle to hike. Spring is the best time to visit this verdant oak woodland with spectacular views of the Bay Area.

We have hiked all the way up to the top which adjoins Olompali State Park. Near the old quarry we found stone walls built by Chinese laborers employed by the Burdell ranch in the 19th century. This time we just hiked the three-mile loop past Hidden Pond, full of water in this wet year.