The 98-acre Montini preserve rises over the Peterson Field in the Field of Dreams in Sonoma. (PD file)

On a night hike, a few things are essential. There’s the requisite flashlight or head lamp, layers of clothing in case it get cools, and the usual hiking safety stuff: water, decent footwear, extra socks, etc.

One thing that’s not essential, but is really nice to have is a historical ecologist accompany you. I joined a group on a hike led by the impressive Sonoma Ecology Center last night on a hill overlooking Sonoma, and while I couldn’t have told you before the hike what such a person does, I’m impressed by what they can add to a walk in the woods around here. The Sonoma Valley’s agricultural and cultural histories are fascinating and intertwine, and having someone around who can explain the significance of the past along with insight into the makeup of the land and the community is pretty educational.

The Montini Open Space Preserve is just a few blocks northwest of the Sonoma Plaza and will one day be open to the public as a hiking spot. Its network of trails will connect to the current Sonoma Overlook Park. For now, it’s a controlled 98 acres of lush hillside land that patrolled by Sonoma volunteers and envisioned as a future park. The initial plan was for the state parks to take over the preserve and develop the two miles or so of hiking trails, but everyone knows the dismal state of state parks funding so the Sonoma City Council stepped in a few weeks ago and will play a larger role. Click here to read the details.

Montini, which dates back more than a century and a half as a working ranch and then came into public protection about five years ago, is a small patch of rolling hills, oak woodlands and some marsh-like wetlands. Some cows are grazing there, although on our evening hike, the only animals we saw were lots and lots of bats. Small critters, they swooped nearby and weren’t bothered by us at all. It’s a great spot to star-gaze and on a cloudless night, there was a stunning astronomy show taking place overhead, narrated by our guides. (Can’t share the few photos I snapped unfortunately due to some technical difficulties with the ol’ digital camera card. Wow, I miss actual film.)

The property includes the remnants of an old quarry, where basalt stone was mined for use throughout the area. You could at one time have found traces from that quarry everywhere from the early cobblestone streets of San Francisco to some of the older buildings in the Sonoma Valley area.

It also includes land farmed by Joseph Hooker, the former Sonoma resident who later became a noted Civil War general. He’s probably better known for another tidbit. Some say his reputation for parties and colorful living on the military front attracted a steady stream of prostitutes, also known as “Hooker’s ladies”, a term which has since been shortened. ¬†See how interesting it can be to hike with knowledgeable historian types?