Bay Ridge Trail: White Hill to Pantoll

I did a short backpack trip from Sir Francis Drake Blvd at White Hill, south along the Bay Area Ridge Trail to Pantoll Ranger Station, about 30 miles. This is a continuation of my trip in June (Bay Area Ridge trail sections) where I ended at Pantoll because my feet wore out before my muscles. This was a bus to bus trip, catching the Marin Stagecoach bus Route 61 from San Rafael to the White Hill trailhead, and then Route 68 from Pantoll to Marin City. I love that there are such wonderful places I can get to on transit.

Sargent cypress

From the crest of Drake Blvd between Fairfax and Woodacre, the trail climbs to the crest of White Hill ridge, first on a single track and then on old fire roads. Views open up in all directions, though cloud remaining from rain the night before were slow to clear. The trail wanders through an extensive area of serpentine soils with unique vegetation, including Sargent cypress, manzanita, chemise and Jepson ceanothus (a spiny plant a bit like white thorn ceanothus in the Sierra). If not for the cypress, it would look much like chaparral in other areas, but the species are mostly unique to serpentine soils, which have heavy metal concentrations and lack of soil moisture that create a unique ecosystem.

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Three things that could…

Three things that could make Sacramento a “world class city.”

  • Public drinking fountains, at least one every eighth mile
  • Public restrooms, at least on every quarter mile
  • Trash and recycle cans, at least one corner of every major intersection

Sacramento central city is actually doing much better on trash and recycle cans, but could do much better. Sacramento gets a zero on public restrooms (as in, not just unacceptable work, but the assignment never turned in) and a D- on drinking fountains. It is clear to anyone who looks that drinking fountains used by the homeless and low income are frequently broken, or dribble, but the ones in upper income neighborhoods always work. I cannot see this as other than intentional. 

You might think my rant is just about bias against homeless individuals, but this is discrimination against all citizens. It is a failure of government. The homeless suffer most from it, but we all suffer. 

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Grand Gulch & Cedar Mesa 2017-04

This April I went into Grand Gulch for the first time, many years after hearing it was a place I had to visit. I’ve day hiked in the edges, and spent a fair amount of time on Cedar Mesa, especially Natural Bridges, but never backpacked there. Of course I have to wonder why I waited so long, it was great. 

Since I’ve been car-free, I’ve spent much less time in southern Utah, but still managed to get there some years on spring break trips with Joe and Jeff. So this trip was also an experiment with public transportation that worked well. I took the Amtrak California Zephyr from Sacramento to Green River, then caught the Elevated Transit bus to Blanding, the hitchhiked to Kane Gulch. I was concerned about the hitching, and in fact all the cars in the afternoon were headed into Blanding and not out towards Kane Gulch. It took a while, though in vehicles passing before people gave me rides, it was only a few, and both were good rides. 

I picked up my permit at Kane Gulch Ranger Station, and headed down Kane Gulch, the most used entrance to the canyon system. I explored Junction Ruin, and up Grand Gulch and up Todie Canyon a short ways, and camped in an alcove at a ruin I called pack rat because of the huge pack rat middens filling two caves. Though I’d brought the Trails Illustrated map, I trimmed it down to just the canyon, without noticing I’d trimmed off the key to the numbered pins on the map, which give the names of ruins and other points of interest. Some of the larger ruins have registers with the name of the ruin and background information, but many do not. This ruin is actually named Badger, for unknown reasons. An archeological stabilization crew was working in the ruin, stabilizing walls that were starting to fail and replacing some mortar fixes from the 1970s that hadn’t worked well. After a night of scattered rain, I headed down canyon. 

Grand Gulch, at this time of year and this year, has intermitant water, areas flowing, areas of stagnant pools, and long stretches of dry wash. I didn’t realize it would be necessary to plan campsites and water pickups around availability, but it is. I explored Coyote Canyon, which has a use trail for a short ways. I camped early where two amphitheaters are opposite each other, marked by a beehive shaped rock formation (Utah, after all). The amphitheater on the west side looked like a cut-off meander, with a slot Canyon up against the towering wall. But it ends in a slickrock chute well above the canyon level and I’m at a loss to explain it. The bench in the middle of the amphitheater has some of the best developed cryptobiotic crust I’ve ever seen, and it was hard to traverse using little sandy rivulets and patches of bare rock. The night was very cold and bright with the moon, leaving my water bottles almost completely frozen.

As I headed down canyon, box elders were leafed out, and eventually the cottonwoods as well, but in many ways the trees and flowers say it is early spring. 

In the morning, walking a bit while finishing breakfast lentil soup, I walked up over a saddle and down Sheik’s Canyon. Not sure why this well worn use trail is there, if there were ruins I missed them. Almost every use trail in the canyons leads to a significant ruin. Places without ruins or only traces, no trails, no use. For me this is good, because I can make my own way to places that are beautiful but ruin-free. Of course there are not that many places without ruins. I walked down to Bullett Canyon, which has a well-worn trail probably the second most popular entry point, and a loop trip. Explored Green Spring Canyon below Bullett, as far down canyon as I went, only 18 of the 52 miles to the river. There is plenty of Grand Gulch yet to explore, and I’m happy with my slow progress, seeing a lot of details rather than covering distance and heading towards popular destinations. 

I camped in Sheik’s Canyon, with a crowd of people, the first time I’d seen more than a few scattered people. The reason for the crowd is the Green Mask Panel, the most impressive pictograph panel I’ve ever seen. Ledges have fallen away, so the panel is far above the ruin and canyon bottom, preserved by inaccessibility. The green mask, though notable for the unusual green color, is not the most impressive part. 

Heading back up canyon I explored some side canyons, and then the trail shown on the map in Todie Canyon. Though the trail is obvious at the bottom, it becomes obscure in willow thickets and across rock falls. Eventually it heads straight up the south wall of the canyon, well marked but nothing I’d call a trail. At the rim it heads east over the slickrock to an old road. This would not be a pleasant route with a backpack, though I guess makes an interesting day hike entry point, only two hours from road to bottom. There are some ruins in Todie so high up on the canyon walls that I wonder how useful they were, with no alluvial soil in the canyon and a long complicated climb up. In general, the ruins in Frand Gulch seem much less accessible than most places in southern Utah, perhaps more defensive, but these ruins are an outlier even from that. I wonder sometimes if during the ascendancy of Chaco Canyon, the population was subjugated for food and crafts rather than the beneficiaries or free trade. 

After a five day backpack, my friend Joe met me at Kane Gulch station and we did two days of car camping and day hiking. First day was North Mule Canyon just north of Hwy 95. Though similar to and almost as easy as South Mule Canyon, it gets a fraction of the use. As does every canyon on Cedar Mesa, there were some interesting ruins and petroglyphs, but the main attraction is just the beauty of the canyon, the pools and slickrock, the flowers and trees, and the sky.

We camped out again, far up a road that faded out, cooking meals on Joe’s variety of little wood stoves, and telling stories far into the night. The second day we went to Natural Bridges National Monument, hiking the loop from Sipapu natural bridge to Kachina natural bridge and back across the mesa. Joe had not been here before and was amazed at how beautiful the canyons are, and though I’ve spent many days here, it is always good to see it with new eyes. We visited ruins in White Canyon that I had somehow missed seeing before. 

After one last night out, with Bears Ears on the horizon and the sky full of stars, we drove back to Las Vegas so I could spend Easter Day with my family, and then back to Sacramento on Amtrak. 

Photos on Flickr

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Bay Area Ridge trail sections

In June I hiked two sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the two longest sections available so far. Of the ultimate 530 miles or so, 367 is completed, and the two longest sections are Kennedy Grove to Castro Valley, and San Francisco to Alta Loma. With the Sierra still deep in snow, the Bay Area was the perfect place to hike. 

I took the Amtrak and the AC Transit Bus 74 to its end, and walked to Kennedy Grove, where the east bay section starts. It is about 35 miles to Castro Valley. The trail climbs to the ridge, then heads south through Wildcat Canyon, Tilden, Sibley, Redwood, Huckleberry, Chabot, and Cull Canyon (East Bay Regional Parks), plus various pieces of EBMUD (East Bay Municipal Utilities District). At the other end I walked out to the Castro BART station. The ridge nature of the trail is various scenic with views of the bay and to the east, and close in, as it goes through extensive forests, and the trail is mostly in good shape and well signed. There are two backcountry camps, in Sibley and Chabot, but they are hard to find out about and even harder to reserve, so…

There is a closed section of the trail in Huckleberry preserve, where the trail slid out last winter. Unfortunately, there is no information on the trail about an alternate route. I walked Pinehurst Road, and that worked, but I was uncertain and there was considerable additional mileage and climbing. I assumed that I had just missed notice of this on the Bay Area Ridge Trail website, but in fact there is no mention of it at all, despite the fact that the slide happened last winter. Grr. 

The next area of complaint is that the continuing trail turns onto EBMUD land at Chabot Staging Area. After wandering lacksidaisically up the valley, the trail heads straight up a fire road, so steep that I had to zig-zag just to make it up. How the association could call this part of the trail is beyond me. I was wondering why there were almost no footprints on the trail, and now I know, though ironically I did run into one other person who said it was the worst part of the trail she’d ever been on. An alternate route is to go out to Proctor Staging Area, but then one has to walk on the road down toward Castro Valley. At any rate, once down in town, you can catch a local AC bus, though I walked all the way to the BART station. 

From Castro Valley, I took BART to San Francisco, walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, and continued north along the other long section. This section, going through Golden Gate NRA and state park lands, is in much better condition. Of course I had to stop, as always, at Pelican Inn in Muir Beach, off the trail but well worth the side trip. I also walked through Green Gulch Zen Center, which I’d never visited before, very impressive gardens. 

I ended my trip at Pantoll Ranger Station where the Marin Stage stops and takes me down to Marin City and then on to the city, and back on BART to Richmond and home on Amtrak. I’m car-free, and love how much hiking and backpacking I can do in the Bay Area just by using transit. I stopped short of Loma Alta as my feet were worn out, being the first long backpack of the season, so I’ll go back in the fall to finish that piece from Pantoll to Loma Alta, where another Marin Stage takes me back to San Rafael. 

Photos on Flickr

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Philz Coffee coming to Ice Blocks

Philz Coffee of San Francisco is opening a store in the Ice Blocks Shed on R St between 17th and 18th. It is exciting to see new development and new business coming to this area, only a few blocks from where I live. The store is due to open July 20th or shortly thereafter. 

However, I caution you about giving Philz you business. Philz is the one coffee place in San Francisco that steadfastly refuses to have reusable mugs for customers. I’ve talked to a lot of San Franciscans who won’t go there for this very reason. Philz is part of the throw-it-away culture that believes in convenience over responsibility. 

Since the store is not open yet, I can’t say whether Philz Sacramento will have the same policy, but if they do, please boycott them. If they do, it will be the only coffee place in Sacramento that refuses to offer customers a choice. Every locally-based coffee company and even the national chains do offer a choice. 

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Auburn to Folsom backpack

AmericanRiver_bottom-of-trailI’ve been away from my personal blog for eight months, in part because I’m now doing an additional blog for Sacramento Transit Advocates and Riders (STAR), and in part I’ve just been busy with life. A backpack seems like a good time to start again, since many of my posts are about backpacking, and backpacking season is coming on.

I took light rail and the Placer County Transit light rail to Auburn bus up to the transit center/train station, and then walked to the trailhead. Picking a different route to the trailhead from the one I normally use, I realized that Auburn Alehouse is on the way, so had to stop in for a beer. This is one of three breweries in Auburn, but the other two are not on the way anywhere, so will require a separate trip. From the Auburn Staging Area, where the Western States trail ends, I headed down the trail westward. Though the Pioneer Express Trail has had many different routes over the years, it seems as though it has settled into following the Shirland Canal and then down the Cardiac Bypass trail to the Pioneer Express Gate (174).

A short ways below the tail reaches the river. I reservoir full pool, the river ends here, but with the reservoir low it flows for several miles down as far a Mormon Ravine. The huge gravel bar here, deposited at full pool, has been cut through by the recent high water. The river is a beautiful blue green, though I’m sure it was sediment laden during the warm rain runoff this winter.


Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies mating

Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were everywhere, in fact almost the only butterfly I saw. Though the caterpillars feed only on pipevine, the adult nectar on almost anything in bloom, and the Blue Dicks were the most common flower along the trail. Though the green growth is lush, the bulk of the flowers have yet to come on. Other flowers were Forget-Me-Not (possibly), lupine, poppy, painbrush, iris, wallflower, and of course shrubs of which buckbrush Ceanothus was the most common. Redbud was brilliant where it grows, but not widespead.

I camped at an old homesite where a long abandoned road comes down, one of the few good flat spots along the trail. The apple tree there was in bloom, though most of it is now dead. A bit further down I ate an orange, very tart, and I wonder if that is just the taste of oranges back in the old days before they were bred to be sweet, and bland.

There were a passle of people near Mormon Ravine and Rattlesnake Bar, running clubs and runners, three backpackers, and several families. But the rest of the trail was mostly empty.

Poison oak is already growing into the trail, this will be a good year for it, so I’m glad I did this section early.

When I got to the Folsom truss bridge, the parkway trail was signed as closed, and I realized that 26 miles on the trail had left my feet pretty sore (I’ve neither been backpacking nor hiking much, just bicycling and walking), and I was unlikely to finish the 28 miles back home, so I walked to Folsom light rail and went home.

With the deep snows in the high Sierra, I imagine I’ll be backpacking and hiking a lot more in the Sierra foothills and the coast ranges this year, maybe not getting into the high country until late July.

This trail, in addition to being called the Pioneer Express Trail, is part of the American Discovery Trail (ADT) segment 5, Auburn to Sacramento. For other ADT trips, search American Discovery Trail.

Photos on Flickr:


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more ADT backpacking

Continuing walking and documenting the western-most portion of the American Discovery Trail (ADT), I backpacked from Virginia City to Tahoe City. From Virginia City to the Tahoe Rim Trail above Carson City, the trail is more characteristic of the Great Basin than the Sierra, but the remainder is higher and wetter.

Washoe Valley

Washoe Valley

I took the Amtrak bus to Reno, went on a side trip to the Patagonia Outlet, and then hitchhiked up to Virginia City (no public transportation). Dinner at the Red Dog Saloon while my devices charged, and then out on the trail about sunset. The route follows Ophir Grade, a road that was the original route serving Virginia City. At Five Mile Reservoir, which is a holding pond for water in the Marlette to Virginia City water system (no water access, however), I took a wrong turn along the new pipeline road, since this waypoint was not in the ADTS document, and it looks invitingly flat though it later does two major roller coaster dives and climbs. The correct route turns left on an old road and goes up nearly over the top of McClelland Peak. Rejoining the route west of McClelland, it descends into Washoe Valley at the ranger station and campground. This section from Virginia City to the campground is dry.

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