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Nature Study Goals 2013: New Hike #1 Cronan Ranch

I challenged myself to hiking four new trails this year and we are excited to share the very first one with you because it was such an awesome hike! My husband and I had an afternoon to spend together last weekend and he picked the destination. We packed up a few snacks and filled up our water bottles, traveling light. The sun was hot and had the feel of late spring/early summer….I made sure to put on sunblock and secure my hat before setting off on the dusty trail. Northern California doesn’t stay green very long in the spring so I will share with you my green hills while I can.

Our new trail at a familiar spot..the Down and Up Trail at Cronan Ranch. The Bureau of Land Management has a huge section of this foothill property down to the river set aside for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. We opted to hike…I love the slow easy pace that we take and the ability to easily stop and take photos of all the amazing sights.

The rolling foothills give way to a river canyon about two miles from the parking lot. Now you can see why this particular trail is called the Down and Up Trail. The gentle ups and downs make it interesting and around each new corner and on top of each new hill there is another sight to take in as you go along. The soundtrack is birds in the distance, slight breeze blowing over the grasses, and the buzz of bees and other flying insects.

We usually hike the Long Valley Trail but this time we heading up hill and along the ridge. The Fiddlenecks are in full glory and I kept trying to pick just the right spot for a photo. This view is looking up from the trail to a hilltop oak….so very Sierra Nevada foothill in flavor. This IS my habitat.

There were many, many butterflies flying and landing on the wildflowers along the trail. Some places had so many that I thought they were going to fly into my face as I hiked. I don’t complain about dodging butterflies because I love them so much.

There are some magnificent oaks in this part of California and we could hear and see woodpeckers as well as swallows flying over and around the trees. I dream of having a home with a huge old oak on the property. I love the shape of them and the smell of the hot oak leaves in the sunshine is a wonderful fragrance…one you don’t forget.

I wondered about snakes as I climbed up on the rock for a better view and to take a few photos. I also stood on the top of this rock for a long time having some FaceTime with my daughter who is living in Bolivia…the reception was perfect up there on the rock and my daughter got to see some of the view that she has been missing.

Then we hiked down the trail and I saw unusual metallic bugs on some grasses and I stepped off the trail to investigate. As I stepped back onto the trail my husband starting yelling at me that there was a snake. A snake indeed! It was a huge rattlesnake and it was stretched out across the trail…I hopped over and out of the way and the rattler moved quickly up onto the hillside into the grass. A little way down the trail we saw a much smaller snake but he was a gopher snake…much to my relief. We think this rattler is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake.

We made it down to the river at last and I took off my shoes to cool my toes. We had a cool drink and watched the whitewater rafters float by and on down the river. It was so refreshing! Two hikers came along as we rested and we told them about the snakes…showed them some photos and swapped snake stories. I love the camaraderie of hikers who share their passions and interests. One of the guys told us of his sighting of a rattlesnake on the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite and we tried to decide how high in elevation rattlesnakes are found. We decided to look it up when we got home. (We read in our field guide that there is a rattlesnake that is found up to 11,000 feet in elevation.)

The water was high and there was very little beach so we opted to sit on the granite rocks and enjoy the sound of the water rushing by. The sun was hot but the water was still freezing…melted snow.

Back on the trail again we found a large area of lupine blooming, this one was in the middle of the trail. The bees were buzzing and it reminds me how much I love the purple and green combination.

Here are some more lovely wildflowers that were clustered along the trail.

I learned about the Monkeyflower a few years ago and now can spot it in the moist parts of our area. These were growing along a little moist ditch with just a bit of water and a bit of shade.

One more snake…snake number three was another gopher snake and he was quickly moving across the trail in front of us as we hiked up the hill. You can read and see the difference between a Rattlesnake and Gopher Snake on the CaliforniaHerps website.

And here is one last look at the trails from the top….left to the Down and Up and right to the Long Valley Trail. This is one of our favorite local hiking spots and there is one last trail to try before we have tried them all. (Don’t you love the panorama setting on my iPhone?)

The East Ridge Trail is on the list of things to do in May before it gets too much hotter. I will be glad if we don’t see any more snakes but I am anxious to explore a brand new area of this park. My goal for the year 2013 is four new hikes…one is accomplished and three more adventures to go!

4 thoughts on “Nature Study Goals 2013: New Hike #1 Cronan Ranch

  1. What a beautiful hike. The snakes would make me uneasy but they are very interesting!

  2. Barb–I would have never imagined a place in CA having this type of topography and grasses! Some of your pictures remind me of the hills and prairies of Kansas (The Flint Hill region)! Amazingly beautiful!!! Thank you so much for sharing. You are a brave on with the snakes. 😉

  3. Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing. 🙂 It was snowing a little here today. I’m so ready for spring!

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