Rockville Trails Preserve

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Rockville Trails Preserve is a relatively new open space preserve near Fairfield, CA, owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust. It is just across Rockville Rd from Rockville Hills Regional Park, where I have previously hiked.  The Rockville Trails Preserve 1500-acre property was purchased by the Solano Land Trust in 2011 and 2012. There are some ranch roads and a trail system is under development. Currently, however, public access is available only through docent-led outings. It is planned that a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail will pass through the preserve.

The docent-led hikes require signup, which is easy on the Land Trust web site. Outings are 4 hours, including meeting and carpooling between the meeting location and the trailhead. The hikes typically cover 4-5 miles and less than 1000 feet of elevation gain and loss, so are relatively easy. The GPS track shows the route for the hike I joined; the orange dot at the lower right shows the trailhead. The hike was basically a loop into the western Solano County hills with a few side excursions.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation profile shows the climbing. The average grade for the entire hike was about 6%, which is quite moderate.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The highlights of the day were the beautiful green hills – green after the bountiful rains of the previous month – and the oak trees, especially blue and coast live oaks. But there were many other interesting and scenic moments as well.

From the trailhead we followed a trail that runs parallel to Rockville Rd for about 0.1 mile. From there we could see, though not really clearly, a place across the road where the fault line of the Cordelia Fault is visible where the road has been cut through the hillside. It’s relatively unusual to be able to see a fault line on a hillside, kind of in a side view.

We turned left and continued a gentle climb. A few tenths of a mile later we passed a nice example of the local rocks, after which Rockville may have been named.

photo of rocky hillside in Rockville Trails Preserve

Rocky hillside in Rockville Trails Preserve

A short distance later we were treated to a pretty view of a small mesa with a distinctive peak behind it.  I believe the peak is Elkhorn Peak, though when I asked one of the docents about the name, I was told that the informal local name is Kissing Lips – which is pretty descriptive! I’ve seen Elkhorn Peak many times driving along I-80, as well as on several hikes (see here, for example ) in the area.

picture of Elkhorn Peak behind a mesa

Elkhorn Peak behind a mesa

About 0.7 mile from the trailhead we took a short detour for a nice view of the Suisun Valley. In the picture, I think the nearly vertical bright stripe toward the left is the Putah South Canal.

image of Suisun Valley

Suisun Valley

As we continued hiking there were questions and conversations about local wildlife. Suddenly we heard, then saw, a woodpecker in a nearby oak tree. It was an acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), which seems to be quite common in the Bay Area. However, I’m not sure I have seen its distinctive facial pattern quite so clearly on other occasions. Later on we saw a few other woodpeckers, mostly acorns but at least one Lewis’ woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis), less common and with darker plumage.

photo of acorn woodpecker

Acorn woodpecker

Although most of the ground cover was grass, we came upon a few examples of this plant with pretty, variegated leaves. I think it might be a nettle, or a close relative.

picture of plant with variegated leaves, possibly a nettle

Plant with variegated leaves, possibly a nettle

Oak trees sometimes have clusters of mistletoe growing in the outer branches. The parasitic relationship seems to not bother the oak tree, usually. The mistletoe is very obvious when the oak is a deciduous variety, like this one.

image of mistletoe clump in an oak tree

Mistletoe clump in an oak tree

About 1.9 miles from the trailhead we came to one of several discreetly marked trail junctions. Our docents had maps of the preserve, and the trail junctions are marked with small numbered markers at ground level. We turned left at the junction. Shortly afterward someone noticed a hawk in a nearby tree, apparently enjoying a meal. The prey is barely visible on the branch under one or both of the hawk’s feet. Due to the backlighting we were not able to make out markings that would help with identification. At first I thought that the upper leg feathers were distinctive, but a quick check in my bird guide told me they weren’t.

photo of hawk enjoying a meal

Hawk enjoying a meal

Just after the hawk sighting we turned left on a side trail and made our way about 0.15 mile to a view point, where we took a short break. From the viewpoint we could see Elkhorn Peak to the southwest and Twin Sisters almost due north. The docents were hoping that we could see Mt Diablo, but the conditions were too hazy. After the break we returned to the main loop and continued. Soon we found a small wildflower in bloom: somewhat amazing, considering that it was early January! It was identified as a filaree, I think a redstem filaree (Erodium cicutarium). It was quite small, less than 1 cm across.

picture of redstem filaree in Rockville Trails Preserve

Redstem filaree in Rockville Trails Preserve

We shortly left the main loop trail once again, this time for a longer side trip that passed through a small forested area and had more views of the surrounding hills. We had a slightly different viewing direction toward Twin Sisters, just a couple of miles away. From this part of the trail the “second sister” was more visible than it had been from our break location. The whitish structure on top of one of the twins is an impressive house.

image of Twin Sisters

Twin Sisters

Along this part of the trail we also noticed a particularly impressive coast live oak with very wide and low lower branches.

photo of impressive coast live oak tree

Impressive coast live oak tree

I had noticed several times that, due to the time of year, the sunlight was at a relatively shallow angle, even in the middle of the day. This provided interesting lighting on some of the hillsides, with trees casting pretty shadows.

picgture of tree casting a long shadow down a hillside

Tree casting a long shadow down a hillside

There was a nice view down a gully, with Elkhorn Peak once again in the background.

image of view of a gully and Elkhorn Peak

View of a gully and Elkhorn Peak

We continued hiking southeast for another mile or so back to the trailhead.

It was a treat to visit this new open space preserve, and I look forward to a time when it opens to the public with what promises to be a nice network of hiking trails.

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