Over the last year, the Azalea Creek campground in Hood Mountain Regional Park & Open Space Preserve has been transformed from a nearly shuttered backcountry site to a Sonoma Valley destination worth showcasing.
Park crews, including myself, installed new picnic tables, food cabinets, and directional signs. We created names for the four campsites, expanded the tent pads, repaired trails, and cut back brush. After all that, it was with great pride and interest that I wanted to “walk the talk” by backpacking there with my family.
Watch the video on You Tube
So with some basic organizing and planning, our family of four and some close friends hit the trail on Father’s Day weekend. As we set out from the park's Los Alamos Road entrance on Friday evening, gratitude was my first thought, gratitude for having access to a place with clear views, clean air and wide horizons, all within a short driving distance. Being able to reconnect with friends and family just reinforced the draw of getting outside.
Kids in the Forest
For our daughter, 12, and son, 5, we wanted their first impressions of backpacking to be memorable and not as burdensome as it might seem. We wanted them to want to do this again and again in their lifetimes.
In papa-bear fashion, I did a majority of the heavy lifting for the nearly 2 mile hike by having the kids haul only their clothes and sleeping bags. Another strategic move was having exciting snacks readily available and stopping to play and refuel in fun areas, like when we forded the south fork of Santa Rosa Creek, which originates on this mountain.
As we continued up the Hood Mountain Trail, we came upon a carpet of lush green growth. It was not another creek but hillside springs that support ferns as tall and wide as humans and reminiscent of scenes from a storybook. We navigated in the shade of towering mixed conifer and broadleaf trees and welcomed brief kisses by the early summer sun. Heaven on earth. The setting made me reflective, and it was easy to see how we are connected to everything and everyone. Bringing our kids into this space was worth a little heavy lifting.
The last half mile to the campsite was a steady climb. When we arrived, we instinctively dropped our packs, kicked off our hiking shoes, and charged for nearby Azalea Creek. It flowed refreshingly cold, and water for our feet, face and hands is exactly what we needed to shake off the dusty trail. We settled into our campsite as the sun warmly illuminated the evening.
I happily watched my stumbling daughter and her friend work together and find fun with successfully setting up their tent. No instruction from me required. I watched my son unfold into the unplugged experience, at times uncomfortable with the change in routine and pushed with problem-solving opportunities. All healthy life lessons. It made me think the kids were a lot like the molting cicadas that decorated the forest around us – shedding their costuming and transitioning to vibrant green.
Over the next two nights, cook pots clinked and small camp stoves gently roared as we prepared simple meals like tacos with savory rice and beans and fresh cilantro from our garden at home. Laughter erupted around the picnic table, which was our hearth during this getaway. We filled the days with beautiful, unscheduled happenings. We explored the creeks, observed flowers and bugs, played cards, snacked, napped, and made friends with neighboring campers.
Daytime heat and nighttime cold, along with a curious around-the-clock nature soundtrack, emphasized our exposure to the wild and reminded us that we are listening, feeling, and ALIVE.
Places like these let us recharge and return to our “normal” lives fuller and more enriched. When we got home, I was struck by how quickly nostalgia welled up as I reflected on the trip, on sharing authentic time together, on teaching outdoor skills, and on demonstrating a comfort and love for wild places. (Here's the link to our backpacking video: http://bit.ly/2aWCEKA.)
In addition to the four sites on Azalea Creek, Hood Mountain has two hike-in sites on Merganzer Pond, accessible from the park's Pythian Road entrance.
All Hood Mountain campsites can be reserved by calling (707) 565-2267 between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday or visiting Regional Parks' office at 2300 County Center Drive, Suite 120A, in Santa Rosa between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday.