A Vista, a Beach and a Garden

We had to go to 3 places along the coast to get to all the above title proclaims, but they were near each other. State Parks had recently reopened two of them. Of course, now Vista Trail and Russian Gulch are closed. But you can still go to A Garden spot and there are a few other little spots like it north of Jenner.

Our trip to the coast started in fairly sunny skies but we wondered how much fog would be at the coast. We could see it looming over the mountains. We went along the Russian River and at one curve in the road were sure fog was around the next bend and then it seemed to disappear. Past Jenner, at the mouth of the River, the ocean was striped in blues and grays. The sun shone through in blue or the fog dominated in gray. We headed north on Hwy 1.

Vista Trail mid-point rest

Vista Trial was going to be my first post last December but the State intervened and closed it to save some money. Not that the State is in any better shape now – but it’s open and I’m so happy. Hurry up and visit while it’s open.

Vista Trail - trailhead near parking lotIt’s not a long walk (.7 mile) and it appears inauspicious. We used to stop here for a bathroom break on our way back from Mendocino, unaware of its treasures. In the last few years, we have come many times. It’s always different, day to day, over the day or the season.

We came New Year’s Day 2009, in bright sunshine and all the picnic tables were taken. It has the best picnic table site in all the County.

Vista Trail Best Picnic Site

Best Picnic Site!

Some days are sunny and you get a vista of the rocky coast south to Goat Rock with Bodega Head in the distance. Some days, it’s foggy and you feel alone either in the fog or just above it surrounded in a great white blanket with blue sky above.

“What about the path?” you ask. It’s paved, but is lumpy from weeds poking through the asphalt’s cracks.

Vista Trail looking east on overgrown trail

We prefer taking the loop to the right. The advantage to circling counter-clockwise is to get the best view down the coast and climbing back the best view of mountains to the east. I don’t say “awesome” but on a clear day you’ll be awed. Even on a half foggy day, like Sunday, I was awed.

Yellow dandelions lined much of the path. Intermingled in the low grass were Flax, poppies, Blue-eyed Grass. In the high grass, anise was past its prime and thistles were about to bloom.

Only a few sparrows and goldfinches flitted around the coyote bushes. There was a serious lack of gulls and crows, floating along at eye level or diving down the steep hillside. Often there is a hawk patrolling the meadow on the east side of the hill. But there was none. Mike found his possible lunch, for he interrupted a vicious mole trying to cross the path and bared his teeth. The mole, not Mike. We had our own lunch of sandwiches.


Vista Trail - view to Goat Rock

When we left several carloads of rock climbers had shown up and were filling backpacks with jangles of quickdraws for their ropes.

A Beach

South of Vista Trail on Hwy 1 at the bottom of the hill is Russian Gulch. The parking lot is not inviting, but a family from Thousand Oaks was enthralled with the place. Past the outhouse-looking bathroom is a trail that meanders through an overgrown riparian area.

Russian Gulch overgrown pathWillows were surrounded by Thimbleberry and other bushes and vines. Mike caught the Stinging Nettle this time. The path was narrow and wet in spots. We ducked under trees and stepped over logs, until we came to the beach in about ½ mile.

The beach is small with steep cliffs on either side. Sea Lettuce and Seaside Daisies coated the cliff sides. A meandering creek was not visibly breaking through the sand but it was flowing to the ocean.

There were a group a people fishing and one proud young man showed us the catch of a rockfish and something else in the cool holding pond of the creek.

Russian Gulch Beach

We went back along the creek, crossing at a wobbly rock path. In spring, we have worn our rubber boots to romp through the creek. We found a shortcut back to the muddy trail and a way to the parking lot. Closing this place for several months seems to have increased its popularity. Maybe people finally noticed it as a ‘special’ place the government is keeping from us. There were 15 cars in the lot.

A Garden

Short trail off Hwy 1Back on Hwy 1 we headed south to mile marker 23.82. (The distance from Bodega Bay.) There’s room for a few cars. This is also part of the Sonoma Coast State Park.

The walk is about ¼ mile on a narrow dirt and grass path that goes out to cliff edge. We weren’t expecting the springtime garden and some early flowers (like coastal iris) were gone, but the first meadow part of the walk had monkey flower, lotus, Flax, lupine, Checker Mallow, Scarlet Pimpernel and Morning Glory. But the general sense was coyote bush and brown grass.

Garden Meadow north of Jenner

When we looked over the cliff, it was a ‘wow’ moment. Reds and purples and ‘wow’ again at each angle. We saw flowers we hadn’t seen on the cliffs as we drove along Hwy 1. And flowers we had, but more of them. Lots of them. These included Indian Paintbrush, Seaside Daisy, Pink Sand Verbena, another kind of lotus and Seaside Wooly Sunflower. The last is also called Lizard Tail. One name for the flower and one name for the leaf. There were many purple bushy headed flowers, probably Western Pennyroyal.

Cliffside GardenAgainst the stunning flower display, I studied the rock formations and the sharp ridge that separates back to back coves and links the main land to a flat-top bluff. Sunday, the water glowed green from the predominate serpentine rock.

Double coastal cove

We had a great day exploring these short walks. We’ve been many times before and we hope to go many more times. They are familiar, yet there’s always something new.

Cafe Aquatica deckWe went to Café Aquatica, which has the best view for a café in the County. It’s in Jenner, don’t blink, near the Visitor Center and the new Post Office. We sipped our coffee and ate our giant chocolate chip cookies while sitting on a new deck overlooking the Russian River. What a marvelous day!

Thank the State Coastal Conservancy and Coastwalk for these great places to walk.

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

Wheelchair: Vista Trail should be okay, though the path is lumpy with weeds and in one area the tall grasses were falling over into the path. Weeds caught in the wheels is probably no fun. Picnic tables at Vista Trail are accessible for wheelchairs.

Dogs: On a leash at Vista Trail and at the beach at Russian Gulch. Other bluff trails do not allow dogs. They’re too rough on the trails and no good for the wildlife.

Bathroom: The one at Vista Trail used to be a rickety swinging in the strong winds door kind of place. A couple of years ago it was replaced with a sturdy building. Some graffiti has marred it over the-supposedly-closed-park months. Vandal is a right-handed woman. I didn’t go in the shed at Russian Gulch, but that was intentional. There’s a bathroom in Jenner near the Visitor Center.

Downtown Jenner

Additional walks: At the farthest point of Vista Trail’s loop, near the best view picnic table is a narrow dirt and grass path that heads out and down the bluff. I’ve not taken it the whole way, maybe it goes down to the beach. I didn’t ask the rock climbers where they were going. The ‘garden’ walk at marker 23.82, has a path that goes down to the beach – accessible at low tide and one that goes along the bluff heading south. There are several offshoots and it ends at another small pullout further south at mile marker 23.21. LandPaths is organizing walks on the new access to the Jenner Headlands area, to the east of Hwy 1. Too much hill for me, but I bet it’s beautiful.

Cliffside garden

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