Sonora has always been a favorite among California's many historic towns. During the holidays, it's a great place to enjoy Christmas-themed activities and shopping.
Sonora also has a 2½-mile loop trail you can enjoy three seasons out of the year. In the spring it is fresh with new growth and wildflowers. In the fall, colorful oak leaves frame the sky and carpet the ground. This time of year, the red toyon berries (commonly called "Christmas berries") stand out in contrast to the green of pine needles and manzanita leaves.
The view from the benches along the section known as the "Vista Trail" includes Sonora's historic downtown and the snowy peaks of the lower Sierra.
The trail is named the Dragoon Gulch Trail because it traverses an area that was mined by a group of former U.S. Army dragoons from 1849 through the early 1850s. "Dragoon" is an archaic term for cavalry.
The five subsections have their own names: North Forest, South Creekside, North Creekside, Ridge and Vista. If you've got at least an hour and a half, you'll have no problem hiking the entire loop. The trail is well-maintained with a fairly smooth surface and clearly marked signs. The total elevation gain for the entire loop is about 300 feet.
Close to home and not too challenging, you can make an easy day trip out of the hike. When you're done, you can get a hot meal and check out some of the interesting stores along Highway 49 in Sonora. I am not a "shopper," but I really enjoy looking at the interesting antiques and unique odds and ends you find in downtown Sonora.
If you go before Christmas, you might just find the gift that you're still looking for. The Tuolumne County Museum on Bradford Street -- just two blocks off Highway 49 -- is a great place to learn about the history of mining, ranching and logging. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
A large number of parking spaces for hikers are available at Woods Creek Park, one of the two trailheads for the Dragoon Trail.
To find the park, enter Sonora on Highway 49 and watch for the fairgrounds on the right side. Turn left on Woods Creek Drive at the historic Sugar Pine Railway locomotive on the right.
Drive to the end of the park and you'll see signs for the trailhead. The first quarter-mile leads through a neighborhood, but is clearly marked. Before long the trail leaves civilization behind and turns into Dragoon Gulch. When you come to the first junction, a left turn makes for a steeper climb but is the quickest way to the viewpoint.
Your dog is welcome, as long as you clean up after it. Bikes also are allowed.
Informative signboards near the parking area provide more information about plants and animals that you are likely to see, the area's history, and the planning process for additional trail development. For more information, go to: www.sonoraca.com/visitsonora/dragoonpage.htm.
Adam Blauert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org