I remember distinctly when I learned, as a child, that the tasty white stuff in the middle of Twinkies was lard. It was a mix of horror and amusement. It didn’t stop me from eating them – not that I was a huge consumer – but it definitely was a shock. On a hike last weekend, there was a similar moment when one of our hikers got to hear for the very first time all about the famed Donner Party. Not a tasty story, but definitely unsettling to the stomach. (OK, enough with the lame food references.)
It turns out that just outside of St. Helena in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is a pioneer graveyard that has the remains of some of the Donner Party survivors. We didn’t come across the grave site on a brisk hike in the park, but being able to educate someone about what transpired on that mountain pass in the Sierras in the 1840s was a nice moment.
Bothe Park isn’t the biggest, or oddest, park in the CA state parks system, but you can’t beat the setting. Right in the middle of Napa Valley, it has plenty of majestic redwoods, a robust creek that has recovered nicely from the great drought of 2009, and several decent uphill jaunts to get the muscles working.
The total elevation gain is up to about 2,000 feet but it’s mostly gradual. In the summer, I’m told that the trails can be a killer when the temperature is cracking 100. But that’s true of anywhere. On Sunday, walking underneath the redwoods, it was cool as the soft side of a pillow, to use an over-used cliche.
Our group had the good fortune of being led by two St. Helena residents who know their next-door-neighboring park intently. They knew when to detour, when to pause, and when to turn. They also knew that the view at Coyote Peak isn’t impressive, so if you have a chance to make that detour and you’re hoping for a scenic vista, think again.
There are about 10 miles of trails in the park, and we probably hiked about 5 miles worth on our Valentine’s Day excursion. Our quartet of couples – three Valentine pairings and one brother-sister duo – followed the hike with a visit here for pizza and beer. Rough life.
Enough of the scenery is starting to bloom that it actually felt like spring. The other milestone that struck me for this hike is a more personal one. I joined my current hiking group about 18 months ago and have met some terrific people on the trails and gotten to see some beautiful nature portraits of northern California. And a year ago, I met a very close friend too. So, that’s something too.