Surrounded by blue sky, the hikers stood on a coastal hilltop as they looked north to a bluff at Fort Ross, south to Point Reyes National Seashore and east across sinuous ridges to Mount St. Helena.
With the blue ocean and a light autumn breeze at their backs, the group retreated from the top of Red Hill south of Jenner and descended into redwoods along a shaded northern slope. Soon the hikers emerged amid dry grasses and chest-high coyote bush to continue on the trail to their day?s destination, an inn on the Russian River at Duncans Mills.
The next day they walked across public and, with permission, private lands to Occidental for a second evening of local food and wine. After 25 miles and three days, their trip ended Sunday in Freestone.
The half-dozen hikers were exploring a new way to see Sonoma County, one where remote trails can lead to innkeepers, farmers, restaurateurs and others who can provide food and rest, as well as stories of the land.
The idea is similar to trekking opportunities in Europe, South America and New Zealand, as well as at the high Sierra camps of Yosemite National Park.
?You want to immerse yourself in the landscape,? said Craig Anderson, the executive director of LandPaths, a nonprofit group that seeks to get people out into the county?s public spaces.
The pilot trip was sponsored by LandPaths and by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
The county?s growing collection of public lands, much of them acquired with a quarter-cent open space sales tax, could serve as key links for such journeys. And both private landowners and businesses might see such outings as one more arrow in the quiver of the county?s $1 billion tourism industry.
?It could be very attractive,? Ben Stone, director of Sonoma County?s Economic Development Board. ?There?s a lot of things that it plays to.?
Anderson acknowledged that it could take years to develop the routes and other components of what he likens to the ?hut-to-hut? systems he has enjoyed in Nepal, New Zealand, Italy, Chile, New York and Yosemite.
?I?ve never done anything like this in Sonoma County,? he told his fellow hikers before they set out east from the parking lot at Shell Beach south of Jenner.
Among those spending nearly $400 for the two-night trip was Jessica Diaz, an aide to county Supervisor Shirlee Zane. She had heard about the trip from Anderson a few months ago.
?I thought it sounded incredible,? she said before dipping her boot into the foam of the Pacific Ocean. She looked forward to enjoying such vistas as Red Hill, but also having the chance for ?eating great food and great wine.?
Along the trail, the talk soon turned to the woolly mammoths that roamed the nearby coastal savannah 12,000 years ago, and later to the native Pomos who camped over the ridge in summer so that they could trade with coastal Miwoks who traversed the coastline by canoe.
Occasionally Anderson stopped the group. He noted the coyote scat prominently marking the trail ? a canine trait, he explained ? and took the hikers to see a shaded canopy of ferns growing atop the branches of a misshapen Douglas fir.
The hikers spoke of the prospect of similar treks across county. They expressed hope that the same people who tax themselves to purchase public space and who can?t abide the idea of closed state parks could see a value in developing a support system for such hikes.