The 3D splendor of the Sonoma County landscape

We’ve been here 6 years, and the magical Sonoma County landscape just keeps growing on me. I’ve written about the spectacular coastline, a national treasure just twenty miles to our west that’s pristine thanks to the efforts of a handful of environmental activists, notably Bill Kortum. Even closer, just ten miles to our east, lies the also spectacular Mayacamas range where today I again hiked Bald Mountain in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

If you ever visit this region and fancy a hike with great views, this is the one. (Ping me and I’ll go with you at the drop of a hat.) It’s not too challenging. The nearby Goodspeed Trail, leading up to Gunsight Notch on Hood Mountain, is more demanding, and in the end, less rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, the view from Gunsight — looking west over the Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa plain — is delightful. But the view from the top of Bald Mountain is something else again. On a clear day (which is most of them) you can spin a slow 360 and take in the Napa Valley towns of St. Helena and Calistoga to the west, Cobb and St. Helena mountains to the north, the Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa plain to the east, then turn south to see Petaluma, Mt. Tamalpais, the top of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, the San Pablo Bay, the tops of the tallest buildings in Oakland, and Mt. Diablo 51 miles away. Finally, to complete the loop, turn east again to look at the Sierra Nevada range 130 miles away.

The rugged topography you can see in that video occurs fractally everywhere around here. It’s taken a while to sink in, but I think I can finally explain what’s so fascinating about this landscape. It’s the sightlines. From almost anywhere, you’re looking at a 3D puzzle. I’m a relative newcomer, but I hike with friends who’ve lived their whole lives here, and from any given place, they are as likely as I am to struggle to identify some remote landmark. Everything looks different from everywhere. You’re always seeing multiple overlapping planes receding into the distance, like dioramas. And they change dramatically as you move around even slightly. Even just ten paces in any direction, or a slight change in elevation, can alter the sightlines completely and reveal or hide a distant landmark.

We’ve lived in flat places, we’ve lived in hilly places, but never until now in such a profoundly three-dimensional landscape. It is a blessing I will never take for granted.

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4 thoughts on “The 3D splendor of the Sonoma County landscape

  1. When travel becomes a thing I will take you up on that hike offer

    I had a similar feeling when I went to the Owens Valley near Bishop for my geology MS field work. I had been liking very much the rugged extremes of Arizona, but crossing Death Valley and being sandwiched between the Sierra Nevada and the White mountains just overwhelmed (in the good sense) how much larger, deeper, and more vast the California landscape was.

    Keep on hiking!

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