Trails do change. It’s sometimes hard to notice, what with the effort often required just to get through a hike or the dizzying spectacle of surrounding nature. But the path itself can evolve too. I thought of that on a long hike up into the Palisades north of Calistoga last weekend. It’s a hike I’ve done several times, in different directions, in different seasons, in different moods, but the trail is shrinking.
Well, just part of it is. The start of the rainy season has further eroded one of the highest and narrowest stretches of the former Oat Hill Mine Road trail that leads up to the volcanic formations that are known as Table Rock. Actually, the area really hasn’t stopped moving since it was formed by seismic activity many, many years ago, but that kind of change will never be noticed by any of us. The narrowing meant that at about six miles into the hike, on a broad stretch of the side of a mountain that overlooks Calistoga, you’ve got to pay attention, or else risk slipping down the hillside.
In any case, the Napa area trail is a great place for a killer hike. It doesn’t have to be a killer one – you could start at ground-level at the Silverado Trail in Calistoga and then head uphill about 4.5 miles to the old Holmes homestead ruins. My walk first led there, and then continued for another 6-plus miles to the top of the hill, which is also the parking lot for Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, and the base for a hike up to Mount St. Helena. Most people start at state parking lot (no charge nor any facilities) and then hike a couple of miles into the Table Rock formation. On the way, you’ll go by a fun area that’s sort of a rock playground. There are three labyrinths to navigate and dozens of impromptu rock sculptures to wander around. Or make your own, of course. (Side note – it’s a labryinth, not a maze. There’s a difference. A maze has choices, a labyrinth doesn’t. I’m starting to gain some expertise on the subject. Santa Rosa, in fact, has a rich history of the things, including one in my neighborhood that’s pretty cool.)
After too much time away from trails, it was good to work hard, and the rugged stone steps of this hike rise to the challenge. You can slowly weave among the ruts caused by the wagon wheels that used to mine for quicksilver in those hills and work your way northward. It’s an exposed hike so definitely best in the winter, although then there are muddy stretches to contend with. And nothing like climbing some 3,500 feet in six hours to make you forget about the joys of the office, eh?
One of the joys of hiking is, of course, the random interaction with fellow hikers. Everyone starts out a stranger on a hike, but there’s a common appreciation for the setting. There’s also some respect among hikers as tales of “I hiked the xxxxx” or “I just got back from xxxx” often pop up. Which is why I did a double-take when I met a couple of my fellow hikers on the Calistoga trail who had quite a resume. They had just hiked across the entire freakin’ country, all 4,300 miles. They were a terrific couple and they have my awe. Well done, Karen and Jerry, very well done indeed.