ROMP is planning ahead for a Coe Epic Weekend in the Dowdy Ranch area on May 11-13. This will be a free event for ROMP members only in cooperation with MTBR May By the Bay. Following is a report of the ongoing trail work and scouting in preparation for the event.
The fabulous weather of the weekend encouraged our trip to the Dowdy area on Saturday. Richard tracked our progress with his GPS, and to satisfy your curiousity, if any, here is a link to the track:
You can see a generalized track of where we went. We parked at Pacheco Creek Crossing and rode up the Kaiser-Aetna road, Center Flats, and Burra Burra to get to Dowdy. This way we got a little ride in, and got a good look at Burra Burra on the way. They all look really good. No impeding deadfalls or erosion issues. At this time of the year the tread is obvious, but that will change when the grass grows up.
Then we went down to Dowdy by the back way next to the water tank. This is fine too. Since this will probably be frequented by staff vehicles, I suppose it will be maintained through vehicle use.
We were impressed again by the grand facilities down there.
Then we got to work, if you can call it that. We each had a roll of orange flagging tape. Plus, I had a quiver of orange wire flags in my pack. We marked the way with these.
Sorry for the long email, but descriptions take a while.
Start of Macks Trail
At Dowdy there is a prominent partially dead large oak at the brink of the hill. There used to be a water spigot here, and that is where I always used to start down. I suppose this tree will eventually die and fall down within a couple of decades. In any case starting a trail under its canopy and over its roots is a bad idea. Also the hill is steep below.
It looks as though it has been determined. The egress from the equestrian parking area, and the tractor trail up from the septic field intersect to suggest a natural place to start Macks trail from the picnic area. I figure it would not be good to have the trail come up to the picnic tables directly.
It would serve well to have another spur to the start of Macks that stems off Kaiser-Aetna Rd (KA) a couple of hundred yards or so downhill from the gate, so that through trail users don’t have to bother with the picnic area. There used to be a trail there, but we did not investigate. The construction destroyed most of it for sure. A new route would be simple to route along the periphery of the field along the woodlands edge.
Even with winter baring the hill, Macks trail is extremely vague up at the top.
For the purpose of example and suggestion only, I layed a pin flag line, starting from the place mentioned above. We used a clinometer and kept the grade below 16%, tracing a track that would make establishing a trail very easy, with no excavation of soil, or the creation of cribbed switchbacks. The switchbacks would be broad climbing turns. The hill is so steep, that a strict 10-12% grade isn’t practical confined to the established corridor.
I forgot to shoot the grade of the existing Macks trail, but it must be around 25%. If the original Macks Corral Trail alignment is retained, a good amount of use is going to create some bad erosion here. It is a fall line trail. The only thing keeping it nice, is the lack of use. I actually do not think that the Dowdy will be very popular for visitorship. So this issue may not be all that urgent. But what do I know.
About a 1/4 mile down the trail crosses a fence line at an old gate location, marked by thick timber. The trail alignment exercise ends here. Above this the switchbacking flags can be seen, placed rather sparsely apart. The barren hill gives up the real location of the Macks Corral Trail readily when you look at it, and it just goes straight up. Just before the gate there is a drainage area and crossing which would be a soggy to quagmire problem area in the trail during wet periods, for above is a significant acreage of catchment that drains here. A trail would need to address this with some design. Not a big problem, but a real one. If you look at the sattelite image zoomed in, you can see the gulch clearly.
On a side note, the flags are merely a suggestion of what could be a relatively pleasant trail to hike with or without a pack, amble on a horse, and ascend on a bicycle. I think it can work, I know it can. Visitors will not like the original Macks Trail. I can hear the cursing already! Details are lacking.
Below the gate, we simply and frequently flagged the existing route. In an 1/8 of a mile the track turns left as you go down on a decent alignment that contours/angling down over another drainage (maybe a contiuance of the gulch crossed above). Nice here.
Between this contouring section and the gate above, you’ve got some steep road. There’s room to wangle some turns to take many degrees of the trail. If staff wants to develop a real trail, like the one I flagged, everything above this left turn would be a good application of attention. The rest of the trail below this with a few exceptions, is much more acceptable as is.
Continuing below you go under the canopy of the woodland over rocky tread and cross a couple of drainages, which will be running with water during a wet year. The shallow bedrock keeps water on the surface and erosion is not a problem. Angling down the second larger drainage here, we flagged a line left of the original road bed, favoring a very prominent deer trail that is 5 degrees less steep than the overgrown and impassable road.
Cross the streambed and a short steep climb out (well done trail design here although brutal steep) takes one to a wide flat area of oak and grass woodland. The road peters out a bit and then is picked up to the left, not dead ahead, and continues down. It would be good to shoot the grade here, but we didn’t. On trail work day, whenever that comes, we’ll check this. This part is steep, but is pretty damn decent by Coe standards, and so is good to keep as is . This is a very pretty part too. It’s pretty much a straight shot down the hill for the next mile. The trail can be invisible, and we’ve marked it generously.
Eventually you come to a left turn and enter a rocky tunnel through poison oak. This is a major site for our trail work. It is straightforward in winter to mitigate the poison oak by hacking the vines at the base, and digging up some of the roots. This is something I am willing to do, and take precautions doing. The trees here would appreciate it. Some of our volunteers brushed this area for a season’s passage in 2002 (IMBA Epic). Now it is tricky to get through.
The trail becomes too steep again. The originators of the trail seem to have picked an angle that was as straight as possible without hitting any trees. It’s catty-wompass off camber if you know what I mean. This part would be great to realign. There are some areas where the road bed shows significant erosion damage. We are down close to Pacheco Creek here, and silt contribution from the trail might be an issue. It cross a rocky gully, which collects silt from the trail, and then finally you reach the barbed wire enclosure which I figure must be the namesake and the end of Macks Corral Trail.
North Fork Trail
From Macks Corral the trail crosses a pasture. I pin flagged the tread. There’s a nice view to the hillside. Spring time wildflowers can be spectacular here. I’ve seen large spreads of owls clover here. At the other end there is a pile of rock with poison oak growing in it. Then there is the first creek ford.
I did mention it is a bit of shame to cross the creek so much, but it is the only practical route available, and I am fine with it the way it is.
On the other side a worn in track climbs over to what turns out to be the top of a steep rock. For mountain bikers this is the cat’s meow. We like riding this stuff. You come down onto rocky sand and head along the side upstream for maybe 40 yards, and then the trail corsses the creek again. After some uneven ground and a gulch crossed above a newly fallen pine, the track crosses a small meadow, and then becomes a side hill single-track, climbs up and along the west creekside.
The section described in the previous paragraph has some fun things for volunteers to work on. The short climb up to the top of the rock could be widened a bit. Some brushing and tread clearing will make the passage better for all users. Overhead clearance for equestrians is an issue to address as well. Some ramping in and out of the creek crossings would help. Most anything done under the flood line is obviously temporary. The part where the trail sidehills above the creek on the west side is a great piece of trail that was probably a cow track originally. It can be widened a bit and brushed.
Next the trail goes down to creek level again into an area of small boulders. Tricky to walk across, and impossible for all except trials riders to ride a bike across. Here is where I’ve crossed the creek and rode on gravel bars in the past, but things change, plus that is not as good practice anymore. We can keep everyone on the west side for a piece, even through the rocks, as it is a brief passage. Some rearrangement of the rocks could make this part better and more enjoyable.
Then you come to another obligatory creek crossing, which is not too bad, but rocky. On the other east side there is a fallen tree which is in the way for equestrians and will eventually fall an block the track, that ought to be removed. You can hike or ride under it no problem.
Then the trail contours up to a low ridge spur to circumvent a large rock outcrop above the creek. We flagged the tread on the uphill side, because this is the better one. Recent horse trips have favored the left and lower tread by accident, and have trampled in a lower parallel track, that climbs much steeper, and ruins a nice pocket meadow. A bit of cutter-mattock and mcleod work along this section would be nice. It forms a good ramp up to a knoll.
The trail goes down the other side and adopts a rocky gulch for 12 feet and comes out to a nice meadow for camping by a good swim hole. Then the Tie Dwon trail junction appears. N Fork tail continues and stays on the east side of the creek until PCC. This part is nice to hike and ride. Some parts need contouring, drainage, & benching, and lite brushing.
The final creek ford across the the PCC area of Kaiser Aetna is too hectic for most cyclists, but no problem for everyone else. A narrow slot between boulders forms a natural and pleasing end to the N Fork trail before crossing the creek over to the west, and serves good notice to riders that they might want to get off and walk soon. It is rideable, and these rocks would soon bear scrapes from bike metal.
There’s a multiplicity of social trails trampled around this area of the popular PCC. It would be good to define one practical route.
The Macks Corral and N Fork Trails would become a primary attraction to visitors to the Dowdy Ranch trailhead. A lot can simply be done to improve Macks Corral.
If/when the Scherrer trail gets a good treatment, then an excellent large loop could be created with Macks and N Fork trails.
The N Fork trail is good as it currently exists. Since it follows a placid creek, it is not vertically challenged. Continous rearrangement of low lying sections by seasonal floods will be ongoing.
Macks Corral trail needs some sort of attention. A placement of the trailmarker is needed, and then an erosion resistant route down to the trail needs construction. This is the minimum. A practical alignment has been suggested. If staff indicates that this is desirable, it is possible to make this happen quickly. All it would take to establish the trail is to have users use it.
Below the first left turn, Macks Corral could be left as is, except that the last half mile contains sections that should be modified in coming years.
Dowdy Volunteer Days
Groups split into two. One group heads down Macks, and the other starts at PCC and works on the N Fork trail. The Macks crew will ride bikes downhill with tools in a bike trailer, and that will save on travel time. N Fork is much shorter, and can easily be covered on foot.
It looks like next weekend will be rained out. I feel that this work is really needed, and will keep trying for this on as many weekends as I have free, even if it means bringing only small numbers of volunteers. Persistence will eventually prevail in some worthy improvements.