Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rock Spring to Rifle Camp

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It was the last hike of the calendar year -- a year so miserly with rain that it will go down in history as the driest year in the last 160 years. Today was also the seventh "Spare the Air Day" in a row (the 31st of the year, also a record; would you believe that from 1992-2005 there were just five Spare the Air Days?!).

But if the smog was bad in the bottomlands, the air was sparkling on the mountain. It was windy enough to blow the Jeep's doors shut at Rock Spring, and gusts hitting 25mph made temps in the mid-50s seem a bit cooler than I'd have liked since I was wearing shorts. It was nice in the sun, though, as we headed for the Simmons Trail...

...which deposited us directly into the cooler, shaded forest. The wind was howling out of the north and the woods didn't always provide much of a wind-break, but it was still a very pleasant hike. The trail follows a creek, but the creek looked much the way it does in the summer, with just a few static pools here and there. 

On the other side of the woods, the Simmons Trail continues up and over a ridge of Sargent Cypress which are festooned with balls of Mistletoe. The Mistletoe was in fruit, full of small white berries.

We dropped down the other side of the ridge, past a couple of spindly Black Oaks, to Barth's Retreat. From here, the Mickey O'Brien Trail goes off to the left toward Laurel Dell, but we went to the right, crossing the bridge toward Potrero Meadow.

The point-and-shoot doesn't capture the clarity of the view we saw from along the Laurel Dell fire road. We could see details on the flanks of Mount St. Helena, some 60 miles or so to the north.

The low winter sun barely made it to Potrero Camp.

Potrero Meadow was mostly in shade. I'm sure I've never seen the meadow this dry despite a winter diet so low in sunshine. I could probably have crossed the whole meadow without a single squishy step.

Nearing Rifle Camp just a short hike east of Potrero Meadow is a live oak so inviting that it has an unofficial trail leading to its shaded base.

The view back across Rifle Camp meadow.

From Rifle Camp we doubled back along the Rock Spring-Lagunitas fire road and picked up the Benstein Trail for a nice little meander through woods speckled with beautiful madrones, back to our starting point at Rock Spring. We came upon a very birdy area near the intersection with the Simmons Trail where we saw a Townsends Warbler and Hermit Thrush among the many Juncos and Acorn Woodpeckers. Just around the bend we encountered another hotspot jumping with more than a dozen each of Robins and Cedar Waxwings.

It was a surprisingly short loop, which was probably just as well given the colds and allergies we've been fighting over the last week, but it was an exceptionally beautiful day to be on the mountain. Also exceptionally windy, as you can tell by Pam leaning into the offshore winds in this view above Druid Rocks, with Bolinas and Pt. Reyes in the distance.

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