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Blue Ridge Loop

Directions: Along Hwy 128 about 9.5 miles west of Winters.
Park in the second lot on the right just after crossing Putah Creek.
The trailhead is on the left side of the road.

Length: 5.1 miles round-trip
Time: 3-4 hours
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1,300 feet

High along the Homestead-Blue Ridge Loop, you go eye to eye with turkey vultures. Soaring gracefully, the vultures finesse the thermals with minute adjustments of their six-foot wingspans. They glide near enough for close looks at their bald, red, wrinkled heads. At which time you may have a couple reactions. The first? That is one seriously ugly bird. And the second? Envy. Because the turkey vultures are having an easier time than you are. Located in UC
Davis’Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve (interpretive brochures are available at the trailhead), the route travels along Cold Creek. It crosses the creek (use caution during heavy flows) then climbs steadily through forests of scrub oak, bay and manzanita. And lots of poison oak, too (so wear socks and long pants to be safe). At Marker 32, a side trail leads to the stone foundation of the old homestead’s cold storage unit (used for goat cheese) that’s set among big-leaf maples. Then, after a long set of steps, the main trail leads through stands of chamise, turns right at a junction, and sets off along the ridge. But be warned: Just when you’re expecting a relaxed ridgetop ramble and the promised panoramas of Lake Berryessa from 1,500 feet up, the footing gets tricky. The trail leads across boulders and stumbles up, then down three short but decidedly steep peaks. For an easier hike, just climb the first peak, enjoy the view, then turn around. Or just take your time and push on. The boulder-hopping creates a terrific workout and the lake and canyon views keep getting better before a long downhill.  Plus you’ll have that much more time for the rapture of the vultures. nrs.ucdavis.edu/stebbins.html  —M.J.

Temptation comes fast and furious at Putah Creek Cafe. From the moment you arrive at this Winters landmark, you’re hit with the aroma of pizza crust (it’s tough to beat the prosciutto and pesto combo) crisping up inside a brick wood-fired oven on wheels outside the entrance. Next to the register, a towering chocolate cake, thick with swirls of frosting, sits inside a glass-domed stand like a precious work of art. For breakfast, get the French toast piled high with fresh berries. And for dinner, the cioppino—thick with Dungeness crab, little neck clams, mussels, prawns and salmon—earned raves when the café was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. 1 Main St., Winters. 530-795-2682


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