Soulful Travel: Sebastopol’s Hidden Preserve 

Madeline Sone Wildlife Preserve, Sebastopol

Visits to Sonoma County allow for personalized experiences, unhurried itineraries, and a chance to explore the county’s unexpected charms. 

Here we help you have that experience in Sebastopol, stumbling on the Madeleine Sone Wildlife Preserve 

A Magic Portal 

Madeline Sone Wildlife Preserve, Sebastopol

“This seems like an odd place to find a magic portal,” you say to yourself after parking in a tiny lot in a rural Sebastopol neighborhood. Then you recall how in myths and legends, magic portals – or gateways into other dimensions of reality – are often found in the most everyday places.  

Consider how a wardrobe filled with old coats hides a secret passageway to the kingdom of Narnia, or how a child’s bedroom can lead to Never-Neverland when night falls. A house in a bland subdivision can suddenly be shaken by an invitation to Hogwarts Academy for Wizardry, and ranch houses in Kansas can be lifted from their foundation and dropped in the land of Oz. 

These imaginary lands where adventures ensue and dreams come true pass through your mind as you head from the car, still doubting you’ve come to the right place for a flight of fancy.  

But the transition from the humdrum to the wondrous, the quotidian to the quixotic, is often sudden, as if a rug is pulled out from under your feet – or a magic carpet. And that’s what happens when the pathway ends and the portal appears, an arboreal archway leading to the Madeleine Sone Wildlife Preserve, a veritable enchanted forest capable of transporting the imagination to realms beyond the ordinary.  

Entering the hillside grove filled with ruddy redwoods and emerald ferns, you find yourself echoing intrepid Dorothy when she awakens in the land of Oz: “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Sebastopol anymore.”  

Madeline Sone Wildlife Preserve, Sebastopol

Her name was Madeleine Sone, and this enchanted woodland was literally her backyard. Sone built her home here during the great flourishing of hippie “flower power” and environmental activism that is such a quintessential part of California’s history. Sone saved the land from logging and sculpted this magical mini-forest from the soil and her own imagination, adding quiet ponds and clearing terrain so the gurgling brook could flow more freely, giving the preserve its tranquil soundtrack.  

Sone also forged the main trail herself, making her not just an environmentalist, but a true trailblazer. Upon her passing in 2016, the Sone Preserve was created according to her wishes. A hidden gem among Sonoma County nature spots, the preserve is prized for the simple handmade trail signs – some of which were made by Sone herself – and close juxtaposition of varied ecological environments. The abrupt transition from dark redwood forest to sunny hilltop with berry bushes and moss-covered oak trees makes for a kind of taxonomy in miniature of the county’s natural diversity.  

Just five minutes from downtown Sebastopol and two minutes off Bohemian Highway – the main thoroughfare connecting inner county to coast – the Sone Preserve is an ideal itinerary addition to excursions ranging from wine-tasting and fine dining to ocean explorations and other soulful travels through western Sonoma County. It’s small but potent, and to enter the preserve is to feel like you’ve left everyday life behind and stepped into another world.  

What kind of world? Well, that’s entirely up to you.  

Madeline Sone Wildlife Preserve, Sebastopol

According to lore from the world’s oldest traditions, magical portals that lead to places like Narnia, Oz and Hogwarts are places charged with supernatural powers capable of ushering adventurers into other realms. Only those who possess a special key can unlock these gateways.  

But what is the key?  

You know you’ve heard the answer somewhere in the archives of popular culture. As your memory struggles to retrieve it, the preserve begins to work its magic. The primary path, known as the Loop Trail, takes you over a small bridge, a cool step ladder, and beside an exposed wall of rock that must date from the Ice Age. But much of the trail winds narrowly between redwood trees and along the edge of the brook, which cascades in small waterfalls during the rainy season. Compared to the highly manicured trails in large state parks, the natural feeling of Madeleine Sone’s Loop Trail is what helps the mind picture lands where wonders take flight, fueling the imagination with … 

“Waitaminute,” you say to yourself suddenly. “That’s it! That’s the key!” From “The Twilight Zone.” The opening narration says, “You open the door with the key of imagination.” 

And that’s precisely what the ancients would say is required to enter a magic portal. Only those capable of letting their imaginations take flight from the ordinary can experience that sacred place beyond space and time, the realm where stories of adventure and discovery are read, written and lived.  

Crossing over the brook, the Loop Trail begins ascending, leaving the fairy tale forest behind. Moments later you find yourself on a sunny hill of oak trees and sticker-bushes, butterflies and bumblebees. And the next thing you know, your feet feel the texture of a paved road, scattered houses appear, and you commence a steep descent back to the parking lot.  

Suddenly, to paraphrase Dorothy once again, you’re not in Oz anymore. 

Madeline Sone Wildlife Preserve, Sebastopol

When asked by the good witch what she’s learned at the end of her adventure, Dorothy surmises it’s something like, if she ever wants to go searching for her heart’s desire again, maybe she should start by looking right in her own backyard.  

“Home is where the heart is,” is how the old saying goes. And the heart is where the key goes.  

There’s no actual gateway into the Sone Preserve, just an arched covering of trees revealing a charming and enchanted plot of nature in the backyard of Sebastopol. It’s so innocuous that most people don’t even know it’s there – rather like their imaginations in an age when digital culture is happy to do your imagining for you.  

But wherever you are in life, there are always more options than you might think. You need only imagine them, as the key to unlimited possibilities is always right there in your pocket. Sometimes, however, you need to remove yourself from the dull routine, take a trip into the unknown, and walk through a magic portal into an enchanted forest, if only to remind yourself that life is always what you make of it, so why not make it magical?  

Other Soulful Adventures

This trip through the Madeleine Sone Wildlife Preserve is just one of a series on soulful travel. For other experiences, visit our Soulful Travel page.  

Remember the Leave No Trace Principles 

Experiencing our destination through the Sonoma County Leave No Trace Seven Principles gives travelers an opportunity to make a difference. Together, we can protect and preserve this special corner of the world for generations to come. Find more info about sustainable travel in Sonoma County here.    

For a list of local businesses helping promote the important message of Leave No Trace, click here

Written by Christian Chensvold 

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