Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Up the Creek to the Old Homestead at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve

Date: May 25, 2014
Place: Cold Canyon, Lake Berryessa (right by the dam), Solano County, California
Length and Difficulty: The full loop is 5 miles, strenuous. To Old Homestead and back: 2.5 in and out, moderate.

After another sweaty night we woke up on Sunday morning to yet another scorcher. It would be the last day of our friends at this camping trip because of prior commitments on Memorial Day, but we had time for one more hike together before they would leave. I feared that yesterday's hikes at Smittle Creek and Pope Canyon in the triple digits may have drained all will of hiking away from our group, but everybody seemed to have slept better than me and were in an energized mood. So after breakfast we got into the cars and drove south to Lake Berryessa dam, to the trailhead of Cold Canyon.
Trail Illustrated on Aerial Photo. Photograph from a post sign at the trailhead. 
The name of the trail was promising. I also hoped that the creek would have some water.
The dam is quite a drive from Putah Creek Campground. When we got there we found that the heat didn't deter other hikers, and that the parking lot was full. We managed to squeeze our cars along the road and nearly died of heat during the short segment of road we walked to the trailhead. It was clear to everyone in our group that we won't be hiking the entire loop that day.
The trail looked well shaded, though, so we set up to go to the Old Homestead, about a mile and a quarter up the creek.
California Buckeye blossom. 
There's a bit of a walk, a few hundred yards, before entering the reserve. No one told the plants that, they were flowering along that entire trail segment. Some I've already met the day before, at Smittle Creek.
Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) 
And some I saw for the first time that weekend. I was particularly happy to see Clarkia flowers.
Winecup Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea)
There is an information sign post at the entrance to Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. On top of that information sign rested an unopened beer bottle. Not quite what I would expect to find going on a nature hike.
I didn't dwell on that beer for too long. There were so many clarkias about.
Woodland Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)
And penstemons too. I love penstemons.
Bunchleaf Penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)
We started ascending. The slope wasn't steep and it was mostly shaded. Still, the heat was intense and we did stop frequently to wipe the sweat and drink so we could sweat some more. Good thing the chikas and their friend found things to keep their minds too busy for complaining.
Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar on the trail
Whenever we walked through a clearing I took a wide look around, to the chaparral-coated hill tops. They looked very inviting. If only it wasn't so hot ...

And in the chaparral, some very familiar bushes.
Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)
We crossed the creek at one point, and my hopes of seeing water crushed. The creek bed was parched dry. No swimming, not even dipping feet. The only water on that trail was in our bottles, and shortly after beading on our foreheads and drenching our shirts.
The flowers were pretty, though.
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)
Our fast-pacing friend was way ahead once more. I was relieved that he remembered to stop at the turn to Old Homestead, because there was no chance of us chasing him through the entire loop in that heat.
The Old Homestead is the remains of an old settlers stone house in the forest, and a water duck built from the creek to where the house had stood. The forest was deep and the shade very pleasant. We stayed there for quite a while.
At some point we were accompanied by a sister butterfly:
California Sister Butterfly
The forest floor didn't have as many flowers. Too shady for that. It wasn't completely devoid, though.
Woodbalm (Lepechinia calycina)
As much as we longed to stay in the shade, the time to move on had arrived. We got back to the main trail and, braving the glare of the now mid-day sun, started down the trail back toward the entrance.
Forest and chaparral
The children darted along. With at least two grown ups running after them I felt confident enough to lag behind and stoop over the blossoms I saw, even the tiniest of them. I even took the time to switch lenses for good macro shots.
Pincusionplant (Navarretia sp.)
Going down was much faster. Even with my frequent photo stops. We maid it quickly to the reserve's entrance gate (and yes, the beer bottle was still there, still unopened) and from there to the road and parking lot.
A view down Cold Canyon, roofed with blooming California Buckeye
Cold Canyon is a lovely trail. I do have it on my wish list to go back there and complete the loop someday. When the weather is a bit more favorable, that is.
We stopped for ice cream on the way back to the campground. The children had earned it. I got a sixpack and shoved it inside an ice box.
It was nice to have a cold one, back at the campground. The children went to the water again. Our friends broke camp and packed their things. Then we sat down for a late lunch. A visitor that joined us at the table had all the childrens very excited. It seemed harmless enough and had no interest in us or our food. It merely sat still and posed for the camera. That was the first time any of us saw a mayfly.
Mayfly on the picnic table
Mayflies leave almost a year long, as larvae in the water. When they reach their final metamorphosis and pop into the air it is for the grand finale: to fly, mate, lay eggs and die.
As far as insects go, the mayfly is a pretty one. I love its sickle posture.
Then our friends departed and us quails were alone at the campsite. It took one look at Papa Quail, sweltering semi-conscious by the table, for me to realize that our time there has ended as well. We did make one last attempt to find a worthwhile trail for the morrow, but were too tired and hot to make the effort real. Everyplace we were told we should find water turned out to be bone dry when we fount it.
We returned to the campground and broke camp, Papa Quail in silence and me  with low grumbling. We packed the car, took a final look at the lake, bade farewell to the osprey and drove home one full day short of our plan.
Lake Berryessa, right by our campsite at Putah Creek
I was in a very sour mood that evening. I didn't even bothered to unpack the car. The thought of spending the following day indoors doing house chores in the blasting air conditioning while the chikas zombie out in front of the TV was all too depressing. I wasn't shy of voicing my thoughts so Papa Quail had promised that we would go hiking.
When there is a serious heat wave inland there is really only once place to go for a decent hike, and that's the Pacific Coast. I entrusted Papa Quail with the job of finding us a good place to hike and he found the perfect place: Mori Point, at Pacifica.

Many thanks for members of the California Wildlife Appreciators group for their help in identifying the mayfly! 


  1. The green vegetation and the flowers pictures make it difficult for me to understand how hot it was... the text helps :-)

    1. You can see the sun's glare from the leaves and tree tops but, yes, it is hard to imagine the intense heat with all that greenery. Trust me, that if I agreed to turn back then it was really very very hot.

  2. very interesting place, but this heat... sounds horrid.
    I think you did wisely when you cut your trip short - and found a good hike in a cooler place.
    I really enjoy reading your blog! hugs & kisses to all you Quails!

    1. Thank you, my friend! Yes, the heat was too much. Even for old desert-grown me. I hope to go back to that area for a more thorough exploration soon.