Saturday, we set off early to reach the east side of Sonoma. Walk early and get home in time for a few chores.
It was a sunny day with clear air. The colors of autumn were strong from trees to vineyards as we made our way down the Sonoma Valley.
We arrived at one entrance too early to the Bartholomew Memorial Park, via Bartholomew Winery, (it didn’t open until 11AM). We went to a second entrance off of Old Winery Rd. (It didn’t open until 10AM). We found the perfect place to wait it out at Sonoma’s Best back on East Napa St. After a cup of fine coffee and a scone, we were right on time.
The entrance to Bartholomew Memorial Park starts at a lush lawn area planted with exotic trees. (See history below.) Picnic tables surround the area and a gazebo beckons.
Behind the gazebo is the south gate to a trail that loops up a canyon and back crossing the Arroyo Seco (Spanish for ‘dry stream’). I mean it really goes up and it really goes down. By the end of our 3 hour walk, we could say the ups and downs outdid the beauty of the place. Other people and dogs on the trail did not seem to mind the trek. One woman said she comes here all the time. One terrier slowly walked behind his group. He had my sympathy.
For an easy walk, stick to strolling around the lawn area, go over to the Bartholomew Winery and vineyard and have a nice picnic lunch. That’s what we’ll do next time.
But this is what we did. We went through the South Gate on a dirt path and then another gate. Buena Vista Winery was down hill and across a creek to our right.
Throughout the 400 acre park, the trail is well marked with signs and maps. “You are Here,” designations haunted us as we began to realize how little we had traversed and how much was left. At first though we were sturdy, we passed Angel’s Flight Trail, a reputedly less strenuous hike and went past You-Walk-Miwok-Trail (terrible pun) to go out to Solano’s Hideaway.
I was stopped at a shoulder high rock climb. Mike went on. I communed with a Madrone and the rocks. Mike shortly returned and we went back to the Miwok Trail.
Oaks, Manzanita and Madrones are everywhere. The path is narrow, dirt with rocks and then many steps. (You know, wood beams imbedded into hillside, dirt leveled. Stairs!) The higher we got the more Black Oaks we saw. At about ½ mile there was a view across the Sonoma Valley. We could hear the whistle from Traintown.
We took another slight detour to Szeptaj (Hungarian for beautiful place) Point. We rested for a while on a lopsided bench under the shade of an oak. We could see San Pablo Bay and the next row of mountains behind the Sonoma range. Mt. Tam’s distinctive peaks were visible.
Back on the trail, a short-cut trail went left, steps up went right. I soon was afraid to look as the zigzags revealed more stairs. Mike took to stopping every 30 steps. A view opened again between the trees and we could see the Bay and Mt. Tam more clearly.
The colors of the trees around us were remarkable. Against a bright blue sky was the tan Madrone, the dark red Manzanita, the red Toyon berries. When we looked higher in the trees, we saw red clusters of berries on the Madrone, the densest in the sunniest spots.
Somewhere along here we reached the high point and a north slope of the hill. There were redwoods down a canyon, with sedges and ferns on the forest floor. The trail was wider even dirt with big zigs and zags and many steps down.
We passed Angel’s Flight Trail and kept on to Benicia’s Lake. More steps down until we reached the lake. When climbing down in to a canyon, one must climb out. So now we traversed a creek and climbed a hill with stairs and without. At about a mile and a half, we crossed a road and a creek.
The vegetation changed from redwood to oak and we saw the first Big Leaf Maple. The road looked so appealing as it evenly sloped down. The trail was up and down and repeat. We stopped for a break on the four flights of stairs down. We had water, snacks and smelled the small bay trees around us.
The trail was finally flat. The North Gate opened to a vineyard and duck pond near the Harazthy’s villa. Picnickers laughed hard. My knees hurt and I would have killed for a bathroom.
We decided if we had started at the North Gate we never would have made the loop. I felt good and proud, but my knees still hurt and I won’t do it again.
See you on another trail!
Photos by Mike Millar
Directions: Off of East Napa Rd. in Sonoma. North Gate is open at 11AM off of Castle Rd in Bartholomew Winery is open. South Gate is through Bartholomew Memorial Park on Old Winery Rd. and is open 10AM, Wed, Sat and Sun.
Wheelchair: Access to the formal park grounds and at the winery. Not sure you can get from one to the other. Go to either Castle Rd or Old Winery Rd.
Bathrooms: Near both gates.
Food and Coffee: The coffee at Sonoma’s Best was great and the deli looks good. We had a late lunch out on the patio at the Red Grape just off the Sonoma Square.
History: The winery’s website indicates a museum in the winery. The Miwok lived in the area first. The most famous native is Solano, a Suisun, (whose name is on the Hideaway.) He was friends with General Vallejo. (I think I read that about everyone.) Grapes were first planted here in the 1830s. The gazebo marks the site of the house of the wealthy Johnsons. They bought the place in 1867 from Hungarian nobleman Agoston Haraszthy (whose replica villa is next door on the winery grounds). Kate Johnson and her 200 Angora cats took over the place until her estate went to the archdiocese, who in turn sold it to the State. Before burning down, it was briefly a State Farm for Delinquent Women. Either one of the women was especially delinquent, or some of the townspeople were.