A Journey Worth Taking - by Maureen Gaffney
A lot can happen in 47 miles. In the Mare Island Strait—mile # 1 of the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL—fresh water from the Napa River mixes with saline waters from the San Francisco Bay. Marshlands sprung from reclaimed salt ponds abut fields then neighborhoods then fields again, grasses turning to oak and crag. The birds, mice, deer, bobcat and occasional mountain lion pay no mind to County line or ‘city limit’ sign. Edging into wine country the soil is changing underfoot. With fully half of the world’s soil orders represented in Napa Valley—over 100 variations—the soil underfoot could change with every step, here a volcano, there an alluvial fan, some gravelly loam or clay thrown in for good measure.
Around mile 12, the VINE TRAIL along the edge of the Napa River in Kennedy Park is a view of reeds and rushes with the occasional egret or heron eruption alongside. The open vistas and wide, slow roll of this water is a very different experience than one has just a few miles upriver. Stepping off the path to the east by a half mile, the “river” is now more like a creek as it runs under a narrow, decorative concrete-and-moss bridge—bay, oak and willow coddling the adolescent waterway.
At mile 22-ish, marsh grasses and wrens have now been fully replaced by conifer and redwoods, the steep rocky slopes beginning to squeeze the valley floor, this squeezing starting to cause fissures and cracks where hot springs bubble up to the delight of many. The spring explosion of mustard grasses along the trail and highway delight the senses and ignite that hopeful feeling of renewal that this season never fails to bring.
Mile 47: The end of the line for the Napa Valley VINE TRAIL. Keep going on the adjoining Oat Hill Mine Trail and find grooves etched into the rocks from wagons of old seeking and hauling cinnabar. Mt. Saint Helena presides over all, keeping watch over the Valley with quiet fortitude. To journey from stem to stern on the VINE TRAIL is to experience a condensed version of California’s geology, flora and fauna, from the bustling bay edge to wistful wetland, redwood grove and bubbling cauldrons of mineral laden spring waters. It is a journey always worth taking.