My annual road trip to California always takes me back to Sonoma County. Having lived there for many years, it still feels like home every time I visit. The area has grown quite a bit, since we left more than twelve years ago. I still know my way around, visit my favorite local book stores and farmers markets, have dinner and some of the very best freshly squeezed, homemade lemonade at East West Cafe and most importantly, I get to hang out with our friends and reconnect!
During my visit, my Christine called and asked if I would like to go check out the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the largest freshwater wetlands complex in coastal Northern California. It covers a vast area of around 30,000 acres. This unique combination of open grassland and meadows, oak forests, creeks and lagoons houses an amazing number of birds, plants, amphibians, and mammals, as well as serving as a rest stop during migration. It is also home to a number of endangered species.
The part of the Laguna we visited is bordered by Highway 12 to the south, Occidental Road to its north; right in between the cities of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
When we arrived Saturday morning, very few people were there. The sky was cloudy and overcast, the air still and the parched grasslands seemed to stretch all the way across the horizon.
As we meandered along the trail, we encountered a brilliantly colored western bluebird, sitting on a perch in a meadow. Above, in the sky, a white-shouldered kite was circling the grassy area. Every few moments, the kite would stop and hover in place, looking for signs of some prey down below.
Gnarly old oak trees, decorated by nature with oak galls and bright red poison oak, were lining some of the hiking trails. The galls are caused by a type of parasitic wasp depositing their eggs on branches and leaves (reddish little cones), and generally don’t harm the trees or people. The poison oak however is a different story. Coming into contact with it can produce a severe itchy rash. So be careful on your hikes!
By the time the sun came out, we were in the oak woodlands. The cool shade felt nice. Following a small deer trail, we discovered a perfect spot, where trees, wispy white clouds and floating branches and leaves, made for a fantastic photo opportunity!
Wildflowers are tough! Here it was, the end of July. Hot and dry, yet these beauties were flowering all across the preserve. We saw chicory, wild roses, Queen Anne’s Lace, pennyroyal and lots of tiny pale blossoms hugging the ground. Fat, juicy blackberries were just beginning to ripen.
Some hikers enjoy bringing along their dogs. Yet, despite some friendly reminders and a generous supply of “doggie bags”, many visitors seem to think, they are exempt from cleaning up after their pet! We encountered quite a few land mines, many of them, right smack in the middle of the hiking trails. We also noticed, empty soda cans, candy wrappers and other litter tossed alongside the trails. That was extremely disappointing!
This beautiful ecological treasure should be, well, treasured!
If you have a chance to visit this area, be sure to make a little time for this natural wonder. I plan on returning to the Laguna, and hopefully Christine will come along! This outing was one of the highlights of my California trip!