Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Ultra-date Land: Sonoma County thrills
Austin State Creek Recreation Area
(Gilliam Creek Trail-East Austin Creek Fire Road- Park Road)
Ok, all you running peeps. I think I have figured out the best plan for an ultra-fabulous date.
You must enter the park through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. (They're two different parks but they use the same entrance.) Park outside in the free parking lot if you get there early enough, or you will have to park 3 miles up the road, as I did. If you start from the parking lot outside the Ranger station, you could probably get in a good 16 miles, and at least a bit of it would be running through the very, very tall redwood grove that, while smaller than the groves in Yosemite, for example, are quite stunning on their own.
I missed the free parking though, so I drove up a tiny one-lane road to the Gilliam Creek Trailhead. From there I took the Gilliam Creek trail for almost 4 miles. The trail starts out on the ridge and you get many sweeping views before the trail drops steeply down to Gilliam Creek. Once the trail hits Gilliam Creek, it has to get my vote for one of the best "secret" trails I've been on. I saw only two hikers on the trail the whole time I ran, and I can't for the life of me figure out why more people weren't on the trail, except for the significant climbing in and out of the creek's canyon. Seriously though-- the trail hops over the creek several times, keeping the trail much cooler than the ridge above.
There was even a beautifully perfect swimming hole along the trail-- I was tempted but had a barbecue that I was already going to be late for, so I kept running. For variety's sake, I decided to take the East Austin Creek Fire Road back. This led up to Bullfrog Pond Campground, and I had heard that this was a great vista spot. I was not disappointed! It was!
It should also be noted that the East Austin Creek Fire Road was hot, exposed and very steep. It is a good moment to practice hills and, in the summer, heat training. I was not sure if variety was the spice of life I should have been looking for. I should have perhaps looked for a shadier option.
Anyway, I was highly impressed with this hitherto unknown trail area. It's not a vast network of trails like Marin, but one could easily run a 20 miler without repeating any trails at all. Plus, (here's why it's an ultra-date suggestion) this is right up the road from Guerneville and the Russian River. I was rather perturbed that I had scheduled a barbecue in Sebastopol and had to hurry to avoid being late. It would be entirely possible (and indeed, suggested) to take a long run, then a long swim (with picnic supplies gathered somewhere in Guerneville) and then some wine tasting, because this is smack dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley Wine Country, which means it is FAR less touristed than the famous Sonoma County wineries.
Honestly, could you have a better day?
(No pups on this run, however...)