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Between a rainy Friday and a rainy Easter Sunday, somehow Saturday was sunny, which was a big factor in me spending the day in the Palisades, a series of volcanic rock formations and ridges high above Calistoga and just to the south of Mount St. Helena. The calendar says it’s April so that means spring is here, and I was expecting a hike in this area to be through an area absolutely awash with color.
Purples, blues, yellows, oranges and bright reds – all well represented by wildflowers (including the spectacularly bright, and edible, ones referenced by the title of this blog entry), some literally growing from within crevices nestled high overhead in the rocky ridges. Combine that with steady waterfalls, some just a trickle, others a torrent, and it was a hike filled with lush color, the sounds of nature and plenty of company.
Our hiking group that set out from the trailhead by the base of Mount St. Helena in Robert Louis Stevenson Park was fairly small, but given the number of cars at that end and at our terminus in Calistoga, it was apparent we weren’t the only ones heading out on the trail.
The hike started with a two-mile, fairly steep climb to Table Rock, a windy overlook where you can see the layered formations of the rock walls and have a great view of part of Napa Valley.
From there, it’s nearly four more miles to Holms Place, a jaunt that goes directly through the Palisades and to Oat Hill Mine Road, an old mining road that’s now popular with mountain bikers and leads down into Calistoga.
The road is about a 2,000-foot elevation drop over four and a half miles. This makes it thrilling for bikers heading downhill, excruciating for those heading up, and challenging enough for us walkers who are hoping our knees keep holding up as well as they are. Kind of a natural Stairmaster experience, without the gym’s TVs, sauna and pretty distractions.
It was precisely on this hike a few months ago when one of our colleagues was badly hurt, so that was sort of on our minds, especially as we approached that fateful downhill section. But this day was to pass crisis-free, which I welcomed as I had been debating earlier in the week whether to try this hike.
A week ago, I had had a pretty nasty fall and while I was still sore, I don’t seem to possess the ‘take-time-to-recover-slowly’ gene, and instead I am cursed with an indefatigable work ethic and interest in activity, so my only real debate was whether to do a small solo hike in a local park or take on this 11-plus-mile difficult trek.
The difference, as it often turns out to be, is other people. To hike in northern California is to be surrounded by stories of other adventurers. You can literally be regaled with tales of various exploits, be they backpacking yarns, biking tales or other recountings. Personally, I find sharing those kinds of accounts with each other inspiring and invigorating – a push, if you will, for me to follow suit and develop more of my own adventures.
I like to think of myself as an outdoors novice, having taken to this hiking zeal less than two months ago with my move to California, but as the mileage and elevation grows week by week, maybe I’m not quite the newcomer, or at least a bit less so.