Great Treks: Yolo hike's sticky points are being worked out

05/13/2012 12:00 AM

10/01/2014 1:06 PM

Know what's been missing in Great Treks, our monthly guide for trail runners and hikers looking to forge new paths in Northern California?

Controversy.

No, not the simmering, long-standing horsemen-vs.-mountain biker feud. That's been well documented here and elsewhere. Let's not stir that up again.

We're talking about a trek where the very trail itself has been a point of contention, leading to misunderstandings and occasional confrontations but, soon, a cooperative resolution. Which, if peace comes, will be a wonderful thing, because the trail in question is a beautiful stretch of land, an undiscovered gem tucked into the nether regions of Yolo County.

The trail is called – well, there is no official name – but Andrew Fulks on his website Yolohiker.org has dubbed it "Yolo County Road 53 to Pierce Canyon Falls," in the foothills of Guinda. Not exactly a catchy name, like "Stagecoach" or "Rattlesnake Bar" in Auburn, but it'll do.

So what's the controversy?

It started out being a question of whether the 4.6-mile fire road that wends its way to the top of a ridge that runs from Winters to Rumsey is public or private.

Hiking groups eventually got the county to confirm that it's a county-surveyed road, thus open for the public. Still, landowners, including cattle ranchers near the unofficial trailhead, posted "No Trespassing" signs about every 50 yards and added hand-written missives that would make a visitor feel, well, less than welcome.

Here is the (only slightly premature) happy ending: The fire road, running from where Forest Avenue meets Road 53 in Guinda to nearly five miles up the ridge, eventually will be more easily accessible for the public without encroaching on private land. Now, you must hop two fences along the road.

Detente may come as soon as this summer, after Fulks, president of the nonprofit conservation group Tuleyome, met for months with landowners, hammered out a trail-use compromise and presented it to the county.

"What it really came down to was, one, the landowners wanted to make sure their cows didn't get out and, two, they wanted to deal with trespass issues," Fulks said. "The problem was not people hiking up the trail so much, but the offroad vehicles going there in the wintertime to poach or whatever.

"So, we've talked about making (Road 53) a hiking path in which property owners had vehicle access. We propose to post signs at the beginning to make it clear it's open for hiking and, on the route, to have markers to show where the road is. That way, people will know where they can or can't go. It'll happen, definitely within the year."

But, remember, trail users are allowed full access now. Bear in mind, though, that all land on both sides of the road is private. As much as you might want to stray and get a close-up view of the wildflowers, sit under an oak and contemplate the existential meaning of ownership or dip your feet in the fast-flowing creek, please refrain.

Just enjoy a challenging trek – it's 4.5 miles on the way up, with a 1,400-foot elevation gain – that affords views, albeit from a distance, of the Pierce Canyon Falls as well as lovely old oak trees and, in the spring, a technicolor burst of wildflowers.

What will happen if you stray onto private property? We don't know, but the signs make it sound ominous. We picture the Minutemen posse that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border swooping down with cellphones and mace. Check out these two signs, not exactly warm and inviting, we saw posted along the road:

"This area is electronically surveillance and patrolled regularly. No trespassing, hunting, fishing, illegal drugs or marijuana cultivation. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"Warning: Cattle on road and range. All unleashed dogs will be removed."

Thankfully, the dog stayed home, since we feared "removed" might be a euphemism for something more permanent. We can sympathize, though, with the ranchers' plight. The last thing they need is folks messing with their cattle.

We spotted a herd, about a dozen strong, grazing the hillside as we hopped the fence – ignoring the "No Trespassing signs" – to begin the trek. Trail users, for the time being, will have to be nimble to scale the two fences (the other is six-tenths of a mile in), but Fulks promises hiker-friendly gates eventually will be installed.

The first 1.3 miles is a gradual rise, nothing too taxing. It's tempting, so tempting, to stray off the road and dip your feet into the creek that runs parallel to the trail. But don't do it, pal, lest you incur an unspecified wrath.

Climbing begins in earnest at the 1.4-mile mark, just after a wooden bridge over the creek. Though battling hypoxia during the uphill, you must remind yourself to look to the left for a gorgeous view of the Capay Valley below.

At the 3-mile mark comes the payoff – a clear view of the Pierce Canyon Falls. In the winter and spring, the water flows freely. It's not quite a dull roar, but impressive.

"Some Guinda residents call it 'Little Yosemite,' " Fulks said. "They really love it."

Moving on, trekkers are treated to stark blue lupines and bright foothill poppies. At about 3.5 miles, the road passes a house with a red tractor parked out front, but we detected no one pointing anything and telling us to get off his property.

The next half mile is a steeper climb and, near the crest, we heard a rumbling. It was a huge, yellow tractor bearing down on us. The driver waved a gloved hand (an open hand, please note) and seemed neighborly.

At the turnaround at 4.5 miles – note the sign that says "End of County Maintained Road" – it's blissfully downhill back to the trailhead. Remember, at the 7-mile mark, to take time to drink in the view of the Capay Valley once more.

In the last mile, you can really build some momentum, but when we turned the corner after clearing the last fence, we saw that the herd of cattle was smack-dab in the middle of the road.

What to do? We kept running. A few trudged off to the grassland with bovine indifference, but six ran along with us. The cattle were faster than we were – clocking a sub-7-minute pace. They lacked endurance, though, and eventually turned toward a pasture.

See, with a little cooperation, we can overcome rancor and intolerance – lactose and otherwise.

For an archive of Great Treks, go to sacbee.com/greattreks

COUNTY ROAD 53 TO PIERCE CANYON FALLS

Trail: 6- or 9-mile options

Directions from Sacramento: Take Interstate 80 West to Interstate 505 in Vacaville. Take Exit 21 at Esparto and go 17 miles through Madison, Esparto, Capay and Brooks, until you reach Guinda. Turn left on Forest Avenue and travel a mile until the paved road ends at the junction with Road 53. Park on the road shoulder, at least 50 feet from the gate.

Featured route (9 miles)

Climb over the gate and go down the dirt-and-gravel mixed fire road. At .4 of a mile, keep straight. Do not go left or right at the forks. At .6 of a mile, climb over another cattle gate and stay on the road as it winds up the canyon. At 1.4 miles, crossing a wooden bridge, you begin the steepest part of the trail. At three miles, there is prime viewing of the Pierce Canyon Waterfall (during rainy season). At 3.5 miles, the road veers sharply right after passing a home. The uphill ends at 4.1 miles and the turnaround comes at 4.5 miles at the "End County Maintained Road" sign. Return the same way.

Shorter route (6 miles)

At the stopping point to view the Pierce Canyon waterfall, at mile three, turn around and return the same way.

Difficulty: moderate (tough climb, easy descent)

Toilets: no

Poison oak probability: slim (wide fire roads).

Will there be blood? no

Probability of getting lost: slim.

Make a day of it: The Capay Valley is prime agriculture land. Check out the various farms in the area, many of which have periodic farm-to- table dinners. Example: Full Belly Farm in Guinda (www.fullbellyfarm.com). The Cache Creek Casino (www.cachecreek.com) is five minutes away in Brooks. The main restaurant in Guinda is Iberia's Restaurant. Or, on your way back to Sacramento, take the Winters exit off I-505 and visit the popular Putah Creek Cafe (www.putahcreekcafe.com) or the Buckhorn Steakhouse (buckhornsteakhouse.com).

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Great Treks is a California Traveler feature that invites readers to enjoy the region's outdoors by bicycle and on foot. Have a suggestion for a hike or another kind of great outdoors experience? Send an email to fitness@sabee.com.

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