Locals interested in people, history and nature will want to join historian Arthur Dawson this weekend on a half-day hike up Calabazas Creek, spine of the eponymous Open Space Preserve under county protection since 2004. The 1,290-acre property is said to be “one of the most exquisite natural sites in Sonoma Valley, containing a wide array of habitats and breathtaking vistas,” according to the Sonoma Ecology Center which is sponsoring the hike.

The area was once home to a handful of homesteaders, pioneered by Hugh and Sarah Nunn and their children, who arrived in the 1850s, according to Dawson. Brother Alexander Nunn arrived some time later, and others including the Crosby, Clark, Weise and Weingartner families followed. But with the turn-of-the-century most of the homesteaders were gone.

But the Nunns left their imprint on the property – though sometimes spelled wrong to lead people to think a convent was up Nuns Canyon Road, off Highway 12 near the Dunbar school. In fact, said Dawson, “I sometimes joke they came to Sonoma for the schools – Dunbar had just opened when they got here, so there was a school within walking distance.”

The hike will follow Calabazas Creek up into the hills, to the original 320-acre Nunn homestead and possibly further. Along the way, Dawson is sure to pepper the hike with tales from the colorful history of the canyon – of the short-lived mercury rush in the 1870s, of the 1889 murder of Joseph Weber by a quarrelsome Norwegian named Tula Wilson, and of the coming of Mary Ellen Pleasant, whom Dawson calls “probably one of the most fascinating people I’ve run into in Glen Ellen history.”

Pleasant was born a slave, supported John Brown and worked on the Underground Railroad, but eventually amassed a fortune of some $30 million. In the 1890s she bought up much of the Calabazas homesteads to piece together what became Beltane Ranch. “My favorite quote about her is someone said, ‘If she had been white and a man she would have been president,’” said Dawson. “These days that doesn’t mean so much.”

Hikers will meet at the quarry parking lot at the end of Nuns Canyon Road at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 14 (if it’s raining, the hike will be held the following day if possible). This is said to be a moderate to difficult five to six hour hike with substantial elevation gain; some off-trail and rock scrambling may be expected, with water crossings of the creek, so appropriate clothing is recommended, including long pants and sturdy footwear, a hat or sunscreen, lunch and plenty of water.

Though the hike is free, preregistration is requested at brownpapertickets.com/event/2722586.

For more information or questions, contact Holland Gistelli at 996-0712, ext. 108 or holland@sonomaecologycenter.org.