East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

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The dedication of a new segment of Bay Area Ridge Trail is typically celebrated with a dedication ceremony, ribbon cutting, and official first outings. Recently a new segment was dedicated in Jack London State Historic Park, in the Valley of the Moon area of Sonoma County. The new section of trail, called the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, is only about 1.2 miles long; however, in order to hike or ride it you need to traverse a 2.1-mile connector trail (via Lake Trail and Mountain Trail) and 2.5 miles of previously-dedicated Bay Area Ridge Trail (Sonoma Ridge Trail). On the day of the dedication there was a guided hike to and along the new trail, and I participated in that hike.

Approaching the dedication venue in the winery ruins near one of the parking areas, there was a great view of Sonoma Mountain, where we would be hiking a couple of hours later. The weather was perfect for a trail outing, and there was interest and anticipation among the attendees. Sonoma Mountain is actually more like an entire ridgeline; in the picture the entire backdrop is considered Sonoma Mountain.

photo of Sonoma Mountain across the Jack London State Historic Park winery ruins

Sonoma Mountain across the Jack London State Historic Park winery ruins

After the formalities the outings began. The route is shown in the GPS track, with the orange dot near the top denoting the ribbon-cutting ceremony location. With minor detours and an alternate route taken on the return hike, the total hike distance was 12.1 miles, with 2000 feet of elevation gain.

GPS track

GPS track

Near the winery ruins the trail passes by the lower end of a working vineyard, with rows of grape vines running across gently rolling hills. I was a little surprised that the vines still seemed to be in their winter dormant state, since so many other trees and wildflowers seem to be bursting into spring well ahead of schedule this year.

picture of vineyard in Jack London State Historic Park

Vineyard in Jack London State Historic Park

After a rather short section with a gentle climb, the Lake and Mountain Trails climb with a more noticeable, approximately 8%, grade.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The hike leaders for this hike tend to hike rather purposefully and with minimal stops, so I actually didn’t stop for many pictures until we were almost up to the new section of trail. There were brief stops to look at views, between the trees, of the Valley of the Moon and the ridge line across the valley, including distinctive Hogback Mountain.

After about 3 miles I started to notice some pretty wildflowers with a range of hues from light orange to red-orange. They are called orange larkspurs (Delphinium nudicale).

image of orange larkspurs next to the Sonoma Ridge Trail

Orange larkspurs next to the Sonoma Ridge Trail

About 4.5 miles from the start we came to a short loop trail, which had been the end of the previous Ridge Trail segment. In this area I began to stop more frequently for pictures, including this beautiful shooting star (Primula hendersonii).

photo of shooting star

Shooting star

At 4.7 miles from the start we passed a sign indicating the beginning of the new trail segment, the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. In this “high country” there were lovely grassy meadows with an array of wildflowers just starting to pop out, including vetch and giant hound’s tongue among others.

After perhaps 0.7 mile on the new trail we took a short detour – I presume with the appropriate permissions – to climb a knoll around which the trail passes. From the knoll there were 360-degree views, simply wonderful. One was toward the top of Sonoma Mountain, marked by a communication tower.

picture of top of Sonoma Mountain from a knoll-top vista point

Top of Sonoma Mountain from a knoll-top vista point

To the north-northwest, no more than 20 miles away, Mount St Helena’s distinctive profile marks the skyline.

image of Mount St Helena from the vista point

Mount St Helena from the vista point

To the southeast, Mt Diablo was visible, though slightly hazy, over 45 miles away across Suisun Bay.

photo of Mt Diablo from the vista point

Mt Diablo from the vista point

Mt Tamalpais was also visible, nearly 30 miles away to the south.

The hillside was decorated with poppies, which had reportedly started blooming only within the previous week.

picture of hilltop meadow full of poppies

Hilltop meadow full of poppies

After enjoying a brief lunch break at the vista point, we returned to the trail and continued toward the end, with several other types of wildflower making appearances along the way. Perhaps the most unusual was a plant with small maroon balls of blossoms, I believe purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida).

image of purple sanicle

Purple sanicle

The far end of the new trail returns from open meadow to a forested area with lush ferns and some interesting-looking red rocks. The trail was lined with miner’s lettuce and red maids. At the end of the trail there is a very short loop through this ecosystem. On the return trip, back in the meadow area I stopped to photograph some of the many brodiaeas (Dichelostemma capitatum), or purple head (also familiarly known as blue dicks).

photo of brodiaea near the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

Brodiaea near the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

There was also a fair amount of sky lupine (Lupinus nanus), with distinctive purple tips and white areas with tiny black spots.

picture of sky lupine

Sky lupine

There were also a few baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii). And after we left the meadow and re-entered the forested area I noticed a particularly magnificent tree.

image of magnificent tree near the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

Magnificent tree near the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

We remained in the forest for the remainder of the descent, with fewer wildflowers and different types than we had seen in the meadows. We saw a few specimens of these beautiful fritillaries, called mission bells (Fritillaria affinus).

photo of fritillary, or mission bell

Fritillary, or mission bell

Among the orange larkspurs were a few yellow larkspurs (Delphinium luteum). These were probably lucky finds, since this species, endemic to Sonoma County, is considered endangered.

picture of yellow larkspur

Yellow larkspur

In the shady areas there were also several Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii). These pretty flowers are almost a transparent white in color, with delicate yellow veins.

image of Fernald’s iris

Fernald’s iris

Near London Lake, about 1 mile from the parking area, there are (at least!) two trail options, and we ended up going around the other side of the lake compared to the outbound hike. In this area there is a small grove of redwoods and we found several trilliums. Based on the information I could find about which types could be in this area, I believe they were western wake robin (Trillium ovatum), also called Pacific trillium.

photo of Pacific trillium flowering near some redwood trees

Pacific trillium flowering near some redwood trees

After finishing the lake circumnavigation we made our way back to the winery ruins and out to the parking area. I had not been expecting such an array of wildflowers in mid-March, and that added a nice touch to what was already an enjoyable hike.

This entry was posted in Bay Area Ridge Trail, North Bay, Sonoma County, wildflower hikes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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