Date: February 10 and April 6, 2019
Place: Dragoon Gulch, Sonora, California
Trailhead address: 680 Woods Creek Dr, Sonora, CA 95370
Length: about 2.5 miles
After conceiving the idea of taking my family camping group to California's Gold Country I set out scouting for nice family-friendly hiking trails. I found plenty beautiful trails and I already wrote here about two of them - the lovely Red Hills Area of Critical Ecological Concern and about the wet adventure of the Natural Bridges Trail. But perhaps the most surprising discovery I made was of the Dragoon Gulch Trail which goes out directly from the town of Sonora and provides some of the most beautiful sights I've seen on my trips to this area.
The trailhead is right in the middle of town, within walking distance from the historic downtown. The first time I got there the parking lot was icy and I had to watch my step to avoid slipping. The air was crisp and refreshing and a thin layer of snow rested on the ground like a white angelic mantle.
I still had to cross an occasional patch of soft snow. Receding snow dusted the trail sides, revealing deep, earth colored layer of fallen leaves.
|Dragoon Gulch Trail, February 10, 2019|
After less than half a mile the pavement ended and the trail turned in a sharp switchback uphill. Through the thick mat of composting fallen leaves poked the early greens - mosses and lichen.
Lichen covered also rocks and branches, and there were many types of them, in many colors. They are very fascinating entities - a symbiotic bonding between algae and fungi, each bond creates an independent biological entity with distinct traits and appearance. Thy are probably the most enduring eukaryotic beings, and the likely ones to begin it all again should our current ecosystem collapse.
There wasn't much greening yet other than the mosses but I could see the early signs of spring in the germinating acorns of the live oak.
Jumping two months forward, the place was alight with early spring bloomers.
|miner's Lettuce, Clayton parviflora , April 6, 2019|
|Common Water Buttercup, Ranunculus alismifolius, April 6, 2019|
|Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia|
|White Leaf Manzanita, Arcrostaphylos viscida|
I continued uphill where there was still much snow left on the ground. The air did warm up however, and I no longer was able to see my own breath. The manzanita bushes seemed lower and sunlight washed the spring-hungry plants and me.
Finally, when the manzanita were at my height level, I could see that they were blooming. The only blooming plant there at that time, but they sure were making up for the lack of others with the mass quantities of their bloom.
|White Leaf Manzanita, Arcrostaphylos viscida |
Sonora doesn't get snow all that frequently. The winter of 2018-2019 was unusual in that sense - much snow fell on Sonora and it stuck for a while. Much of that snow was there still as I looked over the town from the vista point up the Dragoon Gulch trail. Every now and then the clouds to the east would part a bit and I could glimpse the white-clod peaks of the High Sierra.
|Sonora, February 10, 2019|
At the turn of the trail I got another view of the snow-covered Sierra foothills. A cool and refreshing sight that now doubt is missed there right now when late August temperatures reach the triple digits there.
But going down the trail had become a strain. I had to be slow and careful nut to slip in the mud. My shoes soon got covered in in mud and my eyes were down on the ground rather than around on the views.
I made the final turn down to complete the circle. Going uphill were three dog walkers with a group if at least fifteen dogs running about them off-leash and having a lot of fun. The dog walked and I exchanged greetings and got into some smalltalk while a few of the dogs approached me for a good sniff.
After our paths separated I continued downhill with very few photo stops. By then I started to be pressed on time - I was expected back early in the afternoon and the long drive home was awaiting me.
I paused briefly just above the tail merge with the creek to take a goodbye look and capture the small triple cascade that merged down at the gulch. I would be back there in two months when wildflowers were blooming, the water level lower, and all snow gone and replaces with spring greens.