Sunday, October 05, 2008

Cronan Ranch

Since my son started kindergarten I have been able to ride a little bit on Wednesdays, my normal day off of work. I usually throw my cross bike on the back of the car; after dropping him off, I can leave for my ride right from the school parking lot. I was getting bored with the normal road ride, so last Wednesday I took my single speed to a place called Cronan Ranch. It's a fairly new multi-use trail system on Highway 49 between Coloma and Pilot Hill. The map I saw stated there are various trails totaling about 12 miles out there. I figured it was worth checking out.

It took about 25 minutes to get there from the school, so I would have about two hours and 15 minutes of riding time before I had to go back. I left from the car with a rough memory of what the trail system looked like. After about a half mile I came to a fork in the trail with these signs:

Well, hell, I figure anything with a "no horses" designation must be the way to go!

The trail quickly dropped me down to a river trail that was rocky and pretty technical. There were some rocky sections that forced me off the bike. Other places were a mix of sand and river rock that were tough to power through on the single speed. After about 1.75 miles of this the trail kind of petered out here:

That type of rock was prominent on the trail. To my right was a dirt road leading out. It was a steep, loose dirt climb and I had to walk the last 50 feet. That was the only climb of the day that forced me off the bike.

At the top of the climb I picked up a trail. It was a nice, smooth trail. I figured I was now on the right track.

I crossed a creek and the trail started going up. And up. And up. I cursed the people on MTBR who called this trail system "mild and rolling." I would have gone with an extra tooth on my rear cog if I had known this was coming. I must have hit a dozen switchbacks as I went up the trail. Again, very well made trail with manageable grades on the single speed. Expertly made switchbacks. Nice.

I crested the top and was rewarded with a nice view:

I then went down just a little bit before the trail dead-ended at another trail called "Down and Up Trail." Unfortunately it was more of a steep fire road (think Olmstead Loop in Cool) and I lost all of my hard earned elevation on a descent which wasn't much fun.

I wound around for a while before picking up the Long Valley Trail. It was basically a straight, mild climb all the way to the main trail, Cronan Road. I then picked up one called West Ridge Trail. It started with a tough climb before topping out on a ridge. For once the name of a trail matched its description. It was a pretty cool trail. We don't often see a trail around here that is right on the crest of a ridge. It was awesome to have a 360 degree view as you rode along. It stayed on top of the ridge longer than this picture would indicate:

Another nice view at the end of the ridge. As you can see, the area has roads and trails all over it, certainly more than the map indicated:

I then descended for a while and ended up at river level again. There wasn't a lot of signage, so I rode on a singletrack trail along the river that eventually climbed back up to Cronan Road. I rode past the Long Valley Trail again (been there, done that) and continued up the road. Truthfully, the double-track road wasn't much different from most of the trails.

At the end of the road the parking lot came into view. It did not look familiar. It wasn't where I parked. I looked at my computer and saw that I had been riding for 90 minutes, meaning I had 45 minutes to get back to the car--wherever the hell that was. I panicked a little. Where the hell was I?

I rode down to the lot and looked up at the sign, which looked just like this:

The little "P" you see waaaaaay off to the right was actually where I parked. I had no idea there were two parking areas. The one I was standing at isn't visible from the highway because you come in on Pedro Hill Road.

So none of the trails I rode prior to Down and Up were even on the damn map. I knew I couldn't get back via the trails in 45 minutes, even if I DID know where I was going, so I rode out on the road to HWY 49. I rode about two miles on the highway and was back to my parking area. I looked at the sign and it didn't even SAY Cronan Ranch. Doh! My powers of observation are stellar!

I now had about 30 minutes to kill, so I decided to see what was up the first multi-use trail that I opted out of.

Well, I was only able to ride about 1.6 miles of it before I had to turn back due to time constraints, but it was the best trail of the ride. Smooth, flowing, expertly built singletrack. It reminded me of Auburn's Connector trail many times, and I think we all can agree the Connector trail is great. Here is a sample:

Most switchbacks and corners going through ravines had drainage pipes for runoff. Very nice work:

So I will definitely go back to explore a bit more. I'm betting that the above unmapped trail is the same one I ran into with the great switchback climb. If that is the case, there might be a nice loop out there that can be pieced together. I didn't hit a few of the Cronan Ranch trails, either, so more options to explore.

When I got home I couldn't find much of anything regarding the Magnolia Ranch area. Not even on the Nor-Cal board on MTBR. Maybe I found a little unknown jewel? Not sure, but I can't wait until next Wednesday to get dirty again:


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