Sonoma Firestorm, Part 3, Hiking Arrowhead Mountain

Written by Ken Wornick

Backed by 20+ vintages and many dozens of wines produced, Ken is a Sonoma-based wine consultant and founder of Hydeout Sonoma and Dysfunctional Family Winery.

January 20, 2018


Go back to the blog

In my final post on the 2017 Sonoma Firestorm, (Part 3) come along as we hike through Arrowhead Mountain, the southernmost flank of the Mayacamas Mountains that splits Napa and Sonoma Counties.

The hike started at the base of Arrowhead mountain and climbed up to +/-750 feet elevation near the Sonoma/Napa County line, just above local wineries Gundlach Bundschu, Scribe, and Nicholson Ranch. Along the way, we discovered proof of nature’s power as plants and animals of all varieties are making a comeback.

Above is the ‘normal’ view, pre-October 2017 firestorm, looking south into San Pablo Bay.

And this would be the typical view of native oaks, shrubs, grasses and deer trails.

And this is what we found on January 16th, 2018, at about 700 feet of elevation, also looking south to San Pablo Bay.

And close up view of burned oak and manzanita.

We were lead by the Sonoma Ecology Center ‘Restoration Program Manager’ Mark Newhouser

And Sonoma Ecology Center “Biologist and Research Program Director” Caitlin Cornwall

And Bilingual Educator and ‘master of gate locks’ Alana Fichman

It’s alive! This little fella was crossing the road. It is a California Newt (Taricha Torosa). Glands in the skin release a neurotoxin hundreds of times more potent than cyanide (by volume) which in the case of a newt is minute (mynewt, get it?) Free bottle of red wine to the first reader to alert me that you read this joke, reply to this post please…

Pieces of rock chunked away by the roaring heat of the firestorm.

…with bits exploded off the surface of the Rhyolitic outcroppings.

Now let’s explore the plants enjoying a recovery.

This is Chemise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) first burned in the fire, and then cut by firefighters along the roadway, now making a fast recovery.

And this is what Chemise should look like in a few short months.

Here is a young Madrone pushing new growth before the burned leaves have even fallen away, very unusual for January.

Same for this live oak, rapidly pushing new growth high up on the tree. This is why everyone is cautioned not to be too quick about cutting down seemingly dead trees. Many of our native species are built to absorb some fire and push new growth.

This is Fremont Lily (Zigadenus fremontii) making a fast comeback.

And what it will look like come April!

This is ‘bear grass’ (Xerophyllum tenax) coming back in a location that must have burned very hot given the absolute torching of the manzanita and rocks.

We should find it in this gorgeous flowering stage in just a few short months.

That fried manzanita from a different view.

And what to expect after recovery.

And last, the absolute dreaded and very invasive Broom – Scotch, Portuguese, and French (V. Cytisus), they quickly crowd out the natives, live only 7 to 8 years, and then present a huge hazard, burning very fast and hot.

And despite its ability to spread quickly drowning out all the natives, it is pretty on roadsides and hills, and are therefore presumed by some to be OK.

Want to learn more:

Link to Sonoma Ecology Center

Link to the next SEC hike

Link to topo map of Arrowhead Mountain, Sonoma

Link to Sonoma County Recovery web site

The author, Ken Wornick, of Hydeout Sonoma Consulting

Link to Hydeout Sonoma

You May Also Like…


  1. Sharon Knight

    The signs of rebirth are awe inspiring. I want to take this hike and be awe firsthand.

  2. Lori Melancon

    Thanks for the post – it’s beautiful to see all the life that is emerging from the ashes. I’m definitely checking out the Ecology Center to see if there are additional hikes. Oh, and if I’m your first comment…Great newt joke!

  3. Wornick Michael

    Excellent reporting and cool insights and images.

  4. Kimberly Washington

    Yes, I got your joke!!! I would love to hike with you guys sometime, thank you for sharing. XX

  5. Merle Bogin

    Ken, this is a brilliant and fascinating pictorial coverage. Yes, I get your “ joke”. Excellent! What should be now established where it is prolific is a “broom” closet. Love, mil

  6. steve cecil

    caption for your your newt photo: “15 minutes could save you 15% on fire insurance”

  7. Lori Bush

    This is fascinating. Much of it was newt to me! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Ford G

    I read the joke. It was indeed mynewt!





  10. Holly

    What a great read. Thanks Ken.

  11. Simon Blattner

    You are a man of many talents. I had no idea of the naturalist in the farmer, a man of many interests. I wish I could hike again. For many years we hiked all over California and lots of other places. Your article and pictures remind me of how much fun it was and what a great learning experience walking is. I didn’t get the joke, so no wine for me. Keep that scotch on tap. Have a wonderful winter and we hope to see you soon. You are helping at SVMA, many thanks. Simon

  12. Rob Coe

    That is fascinating stuff! The ability to survive and push new growth is incredible.
    Proud of you, Kenny!

    • Ken Wornick

      Thanks Dr Coe!

  13. Ann McNeal

    I read your post. It only took a mynewt. It is an interesting read about the destruction and rebirth of nature.

    • Ken Wornick

      Ann – glad you got the joke, and nice to have you along for the ride…

  14. Rico\

    I feel sorry for those chunked rocks.

  15. Rico\

    I feel sorry for those chunked rocks.

  16. Rico\

    I feel sorry for those chunked rocks.

  17. Lyn Hay

    It has been almost 2 years since we lost our everything and almost our lives on our beautiful Arrowhead Mountain. I have not been back since we fled through the fire and will never go back. We were stewards of her beauty and cherished ever minute. How lucky we we to live in her presence for such a short time. We want to appreciate your blog, but feel your interest and concern is an invasion. We fled through the devastation you smile in on the photos on your blog. It feels you are exploiting the loss of the mountain and all its inhabitants, the wildlife that was a part of us and the nature we honored and cherished. Your concern feels shallow. I am curious how you gained access on private property with gates.

    • Ken Wornick

      Lyn Hay –
      Very sorry for your losses and anguish.
      But one might hope that another lesson learned by those who suffer through any loss, as we all did during those fires two years ago, would be a little humility? My smile is one of happy to be alive to visit Arrowhead Mountain. And to try to learn some lessons from the tragedy.
      How did we ‘gain access’ you ask? Certainly I would not enter private property. We were approved guests by the property owners and relevant agencies through an invitation from the respected Sonoma Ecology Center. Our group was there studying the aftermath and recovery. And trying to learn lessons about woodland fires and the inherent exposure to those risks in areas of questionable residential development. We were not there to exploit the mountain or damage nature. Far from it.
      In my personal case, I stayed on our ranch (within very close proximity of Arrowhead Mountain) despite many notices to evacuate, made due without water or electricity or toilets, and cleared brush and timber with my tractor on many of our neighbor’s properties, doing my best to help whomever I could, throughout the long 12-day ordeal.
      You might think about being more generous and less judgmental, and be especially careful not to accuse people you’ve never met of being ‘shallow’.
      Last, I created this series of blog posts about the impact of those incredible fire storms precisely to inform others, not offend those of us who survived them.
      Nevertheless, I sincerely wish you well as you rebuild your life.

      • Lyn Hay

        Ken I want to apologize for lashing out at you and your group. It has been a long hard road for me after the fire. I have been unable to go back to our property since that unforgettable night. Your photos hit me so hard and triggered the anger and pain I have been fighting. That by no way is an excuse, but I ask you accept my sincere apology. I was completely out of line. After reading your blog with a clearer mind and open heart, I see why you were smiling at the hope for recovery. Thank you for your love and stewardship of our amazing valley.

        • Ken Wornick

          It’s very nice to finish in this fashion. No problem whatsoever. I really am very sorry for your loss. It is indeed extremely stressful. We can happily move on. I thank you for the exchange.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.