Albion Monitor /Features

The Oak Woodland Next Door

by Simone Wilson

Annadel feels like back country

A classic oak woodland thrives within the boundaries of Annadel State Park, 50 miles north of San Francisco. This 5,000-acre expanse is on the edge of Santa Rosa, a town of 125,000 doing its darnedest to emulate the urban sprawls farther south. As Santa Rosa grows, Annadel is almost sure to become a Central Park, ringed by retirement enclaves and cookie-cutter estates named for the natural features they replaced.

Unlike San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, though, Annadel is vast and largely undeveloped -- it feels like back country. Deer and coyote roam among the chapparal, and red-shoulder hawks cruise over slopes dotted with manzanita, bay, madrone, and live oak. Waterbirds congregate at Lake Ilsanjo and Ledson Marsh. In spring, a thousand creeks race downhill between the volcanic boulders and outcroppings of serpentine. In summer, warm hillsides turn to straw.

Annadel is easy to reach by car; it's only 10 minutes from downtown Santa Rosa. But to enjoy the vistas, ponds and upland meadows, you have to leave your car at the edge of the park and commit yourself to some uphill walking. (Or pedaling: Annadel's challenging trails are a favorite with mountain bikers as well as equestrians.)

The main entrance to Annadel is on Channel Drive off Montgomery Drive, just past the turn-off to Spring Lake, a Sonoma County park. The pocket-sized visitor center isn't always open, but maps are for sale in a vending machine (bring three quarters). The office also sells a $5 bandana with the map printed on it. There's no drinking water in the park, so be sure to take some along.

Annadel was once the private reserve of flamboyant entrepreneur

Annadel was originally home to native Pomo; later it was part of Los Guilicos Rancho. Scottish Gold Rusher William Hood bought it in 1849. In the 1930's, Annadel became the private reserve of flamboyant entrepreneur Joe Coney, who hosted lavish hunting parties and invited local Scouts to camp under the oaks. In 1953 he dammed Spring Creek to create Lake Ilsanjo, which he named after his wife and himself: Ilsa and Joe. ("Annadel" probably comes from "Annie's Dell"; Annie was the daughter of Samuel Hutchinson, who sold the ranch to Coney.)

Coney's far-flung empire included steamship companies, gold mines and vast tracts in the Andes, but when his finances lagged in the 1960's, Coney put the ranch up for sale. Annadel nearly became a vast subdivision, but State Parks -- with matching funds from local financiers -- was able to scrape together the money to acquire most of Coney's estate in 1969.

Annadel's criss-crossing trails range from jeep roads to deer tracks. The map only shows the main trails, and only major junctions are marked with official posts, so don't expect your first hike here to go like clockwork. Leave some time to explore. You can generally get your bearings from distant views of Mt. St. Helena and landmarks in the Santa Rosa plain.

Lake Ilsanjo is the park's most popular destination. Several trails to Ilsanjo begin on Channel Drive; the most gradual are Cobblestone and Orchard. The name "Cobblestone Trail" is a nice tribute to an important part of the park's history. Busy quarries at Annadel and Melita supplied San Francisco with paving stones in the 1880's, and Southern Pacific built a rail line through Sonoma Valley to haul cobblestones.

Deer are a common sight throughout the park, especially around sunset

Park on the wide gravel turnout just before the "Fee Area" sign. (If you park past this sign, you'll need a $2 permit from park headquarters.) Cross the street and follow the signs for Cobblestone Trail. Head uphill over the broad trail filled with chunks of volcanic rock that give the trail its name. (There's one tricky spot: an unmarked junction about half a mile in where the rocky Cobblestone Trail goes steeply uphill to the left and a narrower path continues straight ahead.)

At .8 miles, a post marks the junction with Orchard Trail. Turn left and head uphill on Orchard; after a short steep stretch the trail gently slopes down into False Lake Meadow. Once at midday, I saw two coyotes lounging on the hillside here; they watched, unconcerned, as I walked by. A friend reports seeing two dozen stags congregate in the meadow at dusk. Deer are a common sight throughout the park, especially around sunset.

Wild boar used to be fairly common in Annadel, but they're pretty destructive and about 15 years ago, the park's pig population of 150 (or so) was removed. It's not their legendary tusks that are the danger; pigs use their sturdy snouts to plow up hillsides in search of bulbs and grubs until the soil looks like it's been rototilled.

Orchard Trail ends at Rough Go Trail (marked by a signpost); turn left and head southeast into the bowl where Lake Ilsanjo lies. You can sit at one of the picnic tables scattered around the lake, or lounge on the dam and listen to the piping of red-winged blackbirds in the rushes. Swimming is allowed, but the lake is sometimes infested with a parasite that causes mild itching. Head back the way you came, or make a loop by returning to Channel Road via Live Oak and North Burma Trails.

As an alternative, stay on Cobblestone Trail instead of turning left onto Orchard Trail. One minute you'll be deep in oak and fir, the next you'll be gazing west over Spring Lake and its suburb, Bennett Valley, with views all the way to the blue coastal hills. Where the trail dead-ends, follow the uphill path to the left and then hike southeast to the lake.

For a shorter, steeper route to Ilsanjo, use the free entrances on Stonehedge Dr. or Carissa Ave. in the neighborhoods off Summerfield Rd. Head southeast on Spring Creek Trail to reach the lake. Start late in the afternoon and head back in time to watch the sunset from the ridge above Bennett Valley.

If you're starting from Sonoma Valley, there's an entrance on Lawndale Road in Kenwood. This is a good starting point for the southern portion of the park; the trailhead is about two miles from Ledson Marsh.

Bill Krumbein, the tireless ranger who's been the driving force at Annadel, has compiled a logbook of seasonal happenings in the park. "Annadel, the First 20 Years," published last year by Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, is available at the park office and at Copperfield's Bookstores around Sonoma County.

There's no camping in the park, and at sunset it becomes the sole property of the deer, hawks and oaks. For information call Annadel Park, 539-3911, or State Parks' Silverado District, 938-1519.

Albion Monitor October 30, 1995 (

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