Over the River and Through the (Armstrong) Woods

Update 2014: This post was written in 2010 so things have happened. After a threat to closure in 2012, the park stayed open and improvements have been made. Trails in valley floor are now packed earth (watch for tree roots) and improved (for environment and people.) Steps have been removed so a sturdy wheelchair should make it.

I went to Armstrong Woods, (technically Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve) Saturday, for many reasons. It’s beautiful in all seasons and the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods were celebrating their 25th birthday. (They are still going strong.) Those were the top two reasons. Here’s a picture of some other reasons.

I was on my own. Luckily, I found a parking spot near the Visitor’s Center, where entrance is free and the parking is hot. As soon as I stepped into the woods the temperature dropped and the feel and smell of moisture fell over me. This is why these woods are great in the summer. (They’re also good in winter if there’s only a light rain because the tree canopy will protect you.)

The trail to the left of the entrance kiosk is a wide, soft, rolling path that may be soggy in parts. Some of it runs along Fife Creek as it weaves through the valley floor. There are signs and displays along the way. Besides trying to grasp how big these trees are, I’m always amazed at the forest floor of Redwood Sorrel that is now putting out a delicate pink flower. Pictured to the right is an Andrew’s Clintonia, a clumsy name for a lovely plant with large leaves and a cluster of flowers at the end of a long stalk.

After crossing the road the second time the trail splits, I prefer the trail to the left as it weaves more around the woods. This part of the trail has features to help sight-impaired people, such as a guide rope above the low railing that marks most of the trail. I think any blind person could navigate just as well using the railing as the rope has deteriorated. Most sighted people will eventually trip as they look up at the trees or take pictures.

In this section of trail there are more roots to be tripped over and a more exposed trail surface. Redwood roots run close to the surface and this is one of the reason it’s important to stay on the trail to protect these gigantic yet delicate trees. There are different kinds of ferns and a sparse number of trees like Hazelnut.

At the Colonel Armstrong tree, estimated at 1400 years old, go right. (To the left is a small parking area and access to more uphill trails.) This part of the trail has a flight of steps (down from this direction) and then goes along the creek again. Shortly before a wooden bridge is one of the prettiest little beaches – ever. The trail splits around the Icicle tree and at the T,  I turned left to go to the picnic area. This part of the trail runs along the road. Total trip is about a mile and a half from Visitor Center to picnic area.

On Saturday, the Stewards had set up some activity tables for kids and other organizations had information tables. Park rangers were there to answer questions, too. I personally liked the table with various animal skins. Seeing a mountain lion head gave me new respect for the power of this animal and a renewed caution in the warning signs that appear throughout the County. After collecting various information from some of the groups tables (Sonoma Land Trust, Water Agency, BLM CA Coastal National Monuments and Save the Redwoods League) I went over to the Stewards silent auction area. I arrived just in time for “Happy Birthday” and cake. How clever of me!

I talked Mike into going again on Sunday, because I wanted to go up high in the park. We paid the $8, since we forgot our pass. I can’t hike up Pool Ridge or East Ridge Trails, but past the picnic area a narrow road winds for miles. The vegetation changes immediately up the hill. The redwoods give out and meadows and oaks take over on the steep hills.

Armstrong Woods Road is narrow and bumpy and often only one lane. Remember uphill traffic has the right-of-way, but keep an eye out for any pullout in case you meet a car coming the other way.

Past Pond Farm Pottery and staying on Armstrong Woods Road there’s a place in the road that is gated. Before the state’s budget cuts, the campgrounds here were open. (There is camping in the Austin Creek area ‘next door.’)

To the left of the gate is a parking lot with a couple of picnic tables. When Mike and I lived in Guerneville, we would come up the hill to watch the sun set. Today, we looked west to the ocean for a while and then backtracked on the road. I stopped from time to time to admire the view, and the silvery grasses waving from a light breeze. The hills are steep here – and so are most of the trails.

It’s incredibly quiet, just a few birds, and some hard driving insects. We took a trail off to the left toward Bullfrog Pond. Then I struggled up that hill some more to get to a flat trail and a bench that looks out to the west.

Twenty feet along the trail from the bench is a view to the south. Many distant mountains bump the skyline. Mt. Tamalpais seems clear, but we argued about which might be Mt. Diablo. It’s frustrating, because we thought we had figured it out in the past. Maybe we were cranky from climbing up hill.

The meadow does not seem dense with flowers – like last week in Healdsburg – but maybe the grass was higher. There was more variety and the bees were happy. Poppies, Lupines, Flax and Blue-eyed Grass. We walked past a vibrant enormous Tan Oak tree that we’d been watching for several years. We worried it might die because it’s so close to the trail and 100 yards away from one that has died from Sudden Oak Death.

Apparently, we were not really in a walking mood today and the flat part of this trail soon ends, but we delighted in looking up the grassy hills to the blue sky with silhouetted oaks. When we got to a spring fed water trough we turned around.

One more flat walk: There’s a pullout near the Pond Farm Pottery place. If you walk north to a road off to the right, you can walk a short distance to a creek noisily falling over rocks. The road stays flat until after the first turn. If you can make it up the first rise, you’ll see the Pond. Somehow we’ve never explored Pond Farm Pottery. Anyone have some information? The Stewards are having an event 5/22/10. Visit their site.

Here’s a link to a video KRCB did on this park.

Directions: Head out River Road (next to the Russian River) or come by Hwy 116 (that would be over the river- Russian). In Guerneville, at the second light, turn right on Armstrong Woods Road. Go to the end. You’ll run into the park.

Dogs etc: On leash and on the road in the valley and uphill. Horses on Bullfrog Pond Trail. But not bikes. Unfortunately, feral pigs don’t read signs and perform feats of damage throughout the park.

Food and coffee: I think I’ve covered this before – but Coffee Bazaar (well placed on Armstrong Woods Rd.),  for late visits try Main Street Pizza (on Main Street and with music), and for early visits go to Garden Grill west of the main part of town on 116.

Feral Pig of My Heart a poem of mine available upon request.

Again thank the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods for all the hard work they do to make these kinds of places available to us all.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Most of the valley floor pictures are mine. The mountain top pictures are Mike’s.

Meanwhile back to walking…

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