Thursday, June 22, 2023

horse camping: skyline napa

Horse camping is fun again! There are too few words and too many photos, though I randomly did not capture some of what I wanted (epic rocks, camp set-up) I think there are enough to tell a (long) story!

I headed out Friday afternoon with Miles, and C with Francisco and S with Rocky, for Napa, California and the Skyline Wilderness park. I'd read a little bit about it (rocky, lots of bikes, but horse camping!) and often would scout somewhere first but I'd read enough and it is pretty local (less than two hours drive). Having very little idea of what to expect was actually a good thing (less to worry about).

camp setup

We all arrived safely (after a lot of traffic) and laughed while I backed my trailer (I'm still very bad) and after a quick set up (new camper is nice for that) decided we wanted to see the trails ASAP! I had a print out of a map and them downloaded into my phone, but the trail system is pretty basic. (However, it did not show topography lines…that will come up later!). We headed out the wider Lake Marie Road trail, and were encouraged by gorgeous views right away! The trail wound up the canyon, but in a manageable way, to the lake.

first view

trough with a view

heading up the hill

love these ferns!

Lake Marie (and right, blooming buckeye tree)
We didn't want the ride to be too long, so we headed back on the Buckeye trail to Passini Road trail. Buckeye was lovely single track with blooming flowers, and some knee-knocking trees, but Passini was very steep and rocky. I got off and hiked that one! Coming back we were perfectly set-up to enjoy the afternoon views out into Napa, grapevines and mountains, it was beautiful. 

down Passini road

Miles inspecting the signage (it was well done everywhere)

our homeward view
I am always a bit anxious that somehow Miles will get loose and run away, though I doubt he'd go farther than the next food source. But this camp I did braid an ID into his mane, and secured his lead overnight with an extra clip, since on the last trip he did untie himself. I only woke up about 30 times in the night listening to him eating, laying down, playing in his water, pawing, chewing, pooping, peeing, nickering to his friends, and all the horsey sounds he manages overnight. Does he sleep at all?

hi, I will be annoying you this weekend.

ID braided into mane
The morning was a bit overcast, though not cold (we're having an unseasonably cool spring here in Nor Cal). We wanted to wait until it cleared a bit to ride (for the views!) and decided to play on the obstacle course. I didn't take enough photos but there were tires at different heights, a bridge, a teeter-totter bridge, poles, and a car-wash (fire hoses hanging down to walk through). Miles did them all (even the teeter-totter!) but did not like the car-wash!

morning in camp

obstacle practice

ready to head out
The sun was starting to peak out when we headed out. We decided on Skyline trail, and it was a very tough climb at first! The first part goes up and up, and is really, really rocky! I should have realized this is a canyon. Any trails other than the center one are going to have to go up the side of the canyon and come back down! But once up we were rewarded with great views. We did start encountering our first bikes of the day. They were all very nice and the trail was easy to share. There were cool old stacked rock walls, views for miles and lots of native plants blooming. We did detour off Skyline to Buckeye when we saw that the next part of Skyline went straight up and then back down (on the map), we decided we didn't need to prove anything. Miles was doing great, we were putting the horses in different positions, and while he does not like to be in the back, he did it (and we worked on not tailgating).

S coming up Skyline

vineyards views

the panoramas were awesome

stacked stone wall

epic tree and wall

flowers, views, stone walls, so lovely!

view to the other side from the ridge

Back at Lake Marie we took the pleasant sounding Lake Marie Creek trail which was not as pleasant as we expected. It was just rocky single-track in the beginning, and we wanted to let some bikes go past but there was no where to pull off. But they were nice and we did finally find a place. This happened a couple times. The trail did finally drop down by the creek, and the horses could get a drink, and that was very lovely with ferns and babbling creek.

Lake Marie dam crossing

Lake Marie, looked very tempting
We could have taken the road back, but Manzanita trail didn't look too bad on the map. I was wrong. It might have been better going the opposite way, but there were big sections of slick rock, and big rock steps, and we were going down the 19–24% grade (I always prefer going UP over steep rocks). So it was slow going. I lost a boot somewhere in there, replaced it with my backup (wet boot after creek crossing then rock hopping is my recipe for lost boots. I was not going back, it was an old boot with my phone number on it. Maybe someone else will find it!). More difficulty in passing bikes (but everyone was still nice). Your horse better be ok with bikes and walking sticks for this park! I didn't take enough pictures of the rocky trails because I was trying to lead Miles, not fall myself, and worried that I was taking my friends on some sort of death march!

following, not tailgating

it doesn't capture it, but very steep dropoff!

heading into the burned area

Manzanita trail

amazing to see the recovery that has happened

It was interesting to see this part of the park, which was burned in the 2017 fire storms in Sonoma and Napa counties. There are old rock walls that can be seen, and the undergrowth is coming back. But the manzanita that the trail is named after is just burned trunks, it is very slow growing and will take a long time to come back. But this trail seemed long and hot, and C had her saddle slip and took a fall! That part was terrible. But she sat it out a bit and seemed ok. I left Miles in between horses while I checked on her (she was in front) and he just stood there, sad there was nothing to eat but scrub. We walked a bit after that, and it seemed never ending, but soon we heading down a hill (steep switchbacks on slippery dirt) and were pretty close to home. Phew!

shady singletrack, much better

almost back to camp
That night I cooked up a spaghetti dinner in my camper (so easy), and C and S provided salad, bread and dessert (homemade pound cake with strawberries!). Camping food always tastes amazing. We took the horses for a walk, over to the obstacle course, and then just around the property. The camping isn't amazing, but it's a nice open field, with water, a clean porta-potty within easy walking distance, showers (could be cleaner) a bit farther away, and easy trail access. But the sunset was spectacular, worth the price of admission!

mmm, spaghetti…

restful view

Miles liked to stand up and take in the new view from up higher

Miles sunset

camp sunset
I slept marginally better (since Miles hadn't killed himself the first night). We needed to leave by 11, but that means I could fit an early ride in. S wanted to ride in the giant arena that they have there, and C wanted to do the obstacle course and round pen. So I headed out for a trail ride by myself, planning on just taking the main easier trail. I'd been worried that the rocks and hills were more than he was used to, so didn't know what kind-of horse I'd have. Plus taking him away from his now best friends!

morning, and Miles dunking hay

weird fenced gauntlet you had to ride through

beautiful, but inaccessible, lake

property was originally part of the Napa State Hospital
I shouldn't have worried! He was full of it. No problem leaving his friends, and wanted to trot. So we did! We even got in a canter up the lovely shaded hill. I did make him stop and inspect some ruins (old foundations?) of a little house/shack and a weird area, carved out from the hillside, that had a doorway in the back? I've got some researching to do! 

heading up!

what's this weird carved doorway?

an old carved stone foundation? Steps (right) and fireplace and chimney (left)

spring seeping from under the hill, or where trolls live

fields of gold
As we turned around I wasn't sure if I'd have the sensible horse or the barn-sour one. He wanted to be a little rushy but with a little discussion we kept it to a trot (when sensible) or walk. There were a few groups just heading out on the trail, we passed bikes heading out and a couple families. Miles is very good and likes to say hi to the kids, but I could tell he wanted to get back to his buddies.

heading back home

rocky and walking this part!

Miles is ready to go home, lined himself up!
We got back to see S practicing her cantering in the huge area, and C just finishing up. We got packed and ready to go, and had a simple drive home. A successful weekend of only about 18 miles, but they were tough miles and in a new place. More importantly I had fun, my friends don't hate me for choosing the rock trail (they did have fun!) and I think Miles did too! I'm super proud of Miles and impressed by how level headed he was about the trail, and camping, and that he seems to take care of himself really well. I honestly came back wanting to plan another camping trip and looking at my schedule for July. Any suggestions?

that was fun, can we go again?

Friday, June 9, 2023

friday fun: hidden falls

My work transitions to a 4-day-a-week schedule in summer, which means free Fridays! I've already got the next month of Friday's planned out, and of course they're mostly riding!

Our first foray was to Hidden Falls, which is pretty close but not the same-old trails I've been doing in Auburn. While it isn't my favorite it is fun sometimes and always good to see some new scenery. My friend S brought her good boy Rocky, who has upped his fitness and enjoys keeping up with Miles when we want to have a faster ride.

still some green even in June!
From the staging area the trail goes down some switchbacks and along a creek. We continued on the shady creek trail, I like this one because it is more technical but with some pretty views of the creek from above (horses can't go to the main falls area). A couple sets of bikes came up from behind on this narrow trail, both horses didn't care, and we squeezed over to let them past. Other than that we almost had the place to ourselves!

one of the many little bridges, this at least had water under it
The trails on this side of the creek are bird names, so we took Pheasant to Golden Eagle to Warbler to Coopers Hawk (only missing Mourning Dove). There are so. many. little. bridges. They are short, and nicely built, and at most parks would just be a dip in the trail. But here they went all out and put bridges. I completely lost track of how many of them but kept taking pictures (I think it was because we slowed down over them). I will not spam this post with all the Miles' ears and bridge photos I took!

yes, a tiny bridge

No, Miles, 36 tons is not close to what you weigh

We did cross the big bridge at the far side of the park (where Miles had his only small spook-in-place at light gray rocks that he was offended by) and went down to the creek and watered the horses. This park is pretty easy to figure out mileage. If you've gotten to this end you're at 5-6 miles, then have to go back. 

tasty creek water

upstream pretty view

S and Rocky and the big bridge
The trails on this side are mostly mammal names, but we avoided those and took Creekside all the way back. It was just too pretty to not ride alongside. The trail is at different levels above the creek, and is pretty easy, I did get a little canter in here (which I haven't done much) which was pretty fun! There is a one-way section that has some cliffy drop-offs and S wasn't sure about those, so I said we could cut over to another trail, which is always fine. But she was brave and we did it no trouble, yeah!
it's not too scary if I can take one-handed photos

water below looked so refreshing

After that there is a little slog on a wide, hot, gravel road, where there was a bike just laying there. The guy was standing off to the side. I asked him if he was OK, but he said he'd just seen the hugest rattlesnake! Glad he scared it off and not us. We continued across one of the other big bridges they have (there is a cool overlook for humans above the creek).

bridge with overlook above

this is a big bridge (they helicoptered them in sections!)
You can continue on the wide, gravel road to the staging area, but that is boring. We took the smaller single-track technical trail back to yet another large bridge (stopping underneath to water them again), then back up the big hill. Miles knew we were going back and thought we should go faster, but settled for a trot instead. Back at the staging area he was more interested in his hay, and our ride was complete! 

the buckeye trees are blooming gorgeous!

priorities (he got a sponging too)
I still find this park a little boring, like a trail Disneyland, with everything labeled and neat, but maybe that is just because I'm use to wandering about not knowing where I'll go. I'm also still not loving my Freeform saddle. Miles loves it, my hip after about eight miles does not (and I miss my big knee rolls). For now I'm just seeing how it goes because I really don't want to get into the saddle fit dilemma, but I'm sure that is looming. More Friday adventures to follow!