Monday, May 10, 2010

Mid-Peninsula Ridge Trail

We finally got some radiant sunshine over the last couple of weeks, and it appears that those species of wild flowers that thrive while bathing in the warm glow are finally responding. Until now, most of the best displays I’ve seen so far in the Bay Area have been of those species which seem to prefer at least partial cover. I decided the time was right to take a look at the open grasslands of Russian Ridge. Situated west of Palo Alto, CA in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this preserve is usually a good place to find lots of variety, and this fact is no secret. This place is very popular with the general public. This tract has sun exposed rolling grassy hills, along with some interesting woodland trails, located right off of highway 35. A typical spring day there will find the parking lot full of cars, and groups of people hiking, and biking, the preserve’s multi-use trails. It isn’t necessary to embark on a particularly lengthy or challenging hike to enjoy the offerings. The primary wild flower areas can be reached in less than a mile from the parking area, with minimal elevation gain. On a clear day the parks featured peak, called Borel Hill, provides sweeping views of the bay, the surrounding hills, and even the Pacific Ocean. It’s common to see families with young children enjoying an outing at Russian Ridge, and that’s great to see. As for myself, I love to visit this place, but I never actually begin a hike there. Russian Ridge is just one part of the greenbelt system of open space preserves managed by Mid Peninsula Open Space District. Many of these preserves are interconnected by a system of trails including the BART, which make it possible to plan hikes that traverse multiple properties and easements. I think it’s important to note that land management systems like Mid-Pen and other park districts around the bay area are an invaluable asset to the local communities. They provide a great many benefits that enhance our quality of life, which go far beyond mere recreational opportunities; however I will not digress into all that right now. I will suffice to assert that what we’re doing here really should be a model for the rest of the country to follow. So-called “green tech” is one thing, but livable space, and preservation should fit in with our vision of a better world.

Now that I am off of my soapbox, I can describe my hike. I started along Highway 35 at the gate marked LR01 on the South Skyline Region map(available at trailheads). Its located note quite 2 miles north of the Highway 9 junction. There is also a trail head into Upper Steven’s Creek County Park directly across the highway. The terrain varies in character along this route and I have seen different displays of wild flowers along the different sections. Most of Long Ridge has open rolling grasslands that provide grazing lands for the coastal black tail deer. I usually always spot groups of them early mornings, along with other common wildlife species found in this area. Nice long range views out to the west along here too. Hiking north following the BART route leads you to the Peter’s Creek Trail which is thickly wooded, and shaded. After descending some switchbacks, a footbridge crosses a little creek, and the trail leads along an earthen dam shoring up an interesting old pond covered in green algae and mosses like a swamp. The ducks seem to love it. More dense woodland on the other side is dotted with Two Eyed Violets and Woodland Stars. The trail leads though a pretty little murmiring creek under thick tree cover, and then through some sections of old apple orchards blossoming in pink and white with a really nice fragrence. Further on you hike through more rolling grassland, an active chestnut orchard, and a Christmas tree farm, encountering mild elevation changes. Paying attention along the way you can spot Trilliums in the woods, and a lot of yellowish Iris, some of which have striking purple veins contrasting with the delicate coloration of the pedals. This year the pale yellowish Iris is in much more abundance than I can remember. Identifying Iris species can be confusing for a novice like me, but from my analysis for this location, they must be Hartwig’s Iris (Iris hartwegii). After the Christmas tree farm, the ridge trail descends to Horseshoe Lake, which is really a historical cattle pond with the typical earthen dam. Lots of waterfowl can be seen here. I spotted a Snowy Egret grooming itself on the bank and got some photos of this handsome creature. Continuing north, Skyline Ridge preserve has a really nice ridge trail with awesome westerly views and it’s usually peppered with common wild flower species and fragrent ceanothus. On the other side is the David C. Daniel’s Nature Center with Alpine Pond. A cool little interpretive center with some gentle trails great for families. Hiking through a tunnel under Alpine Road you now pass into Russian Ridge. Hiking up to Borel Hill you are treated to displays of Common Madia, Tidy Tips, and scores of Miniature Lupine, Yellow Violets, Blue Eyed Grass, Checker Bloom, and a host of other common meadow type wild flower species. Things are just getting good right about now. Continuing around to Ancient Oaks Trail will lead you past more Trilliums, Winter Vetch, Poppies, and more. Sometimes I do this hike as a loop hike by continuing across the highway into Coal Creek, Monte Bello, Rancho San Antonio, and Upper Steven’s Creek preserves. That is a much longer and more challenging hike. Today decided I retraced my footsteps back along the ridge trail to savor it again in the reverse direction. I always have a great time hiking different variations of this same hike. Combining other trails can give you a completely different hike. It's all good.

Click here to view my photos on flickr

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Can’t Get Enough of Coe

With summer rapidly approaching, I always feel like I am really missing something if I have not spent enough time at Henry Coe. The place is so vast it’s actually not possible to day hike all of it. While most parks can be fairly well documented on a small, pamphlet sized piece of paper; the official map of Coe is so humongous, it has to be printed of both sides of a large, reinforced, folded map that’s too big for a pocket. If it was waterproof you could probably make an emergency shelter out of it. The park is divided into regions, almost like there were separate, but contiguous, smaller parks that exist within the boundaries of the one enormous tract of land. Many areas are so remote you simply cannot expect to hike there, and get back out on the same day. One of these days when I finally have more time on my hands, I plan to do a lot of backpack trips here, but for now I am content to stick to the areas that I can day hike. This time of year, Coe’s punishing terrain is a lot more manageable than it will be when the glowing California sun starts coming in buckets. In spring, the hillsides are green and moist, and there is a lot of natural fresh running water around that is filterable. If you get a clear day you get treated to nice mild sunshine, cool breezes, and beautiful views. But maybe best of all are the springtime displays of wild flowers, billowing white clouds, and butterflies. With our proximity to the south end of the Santa Clara valley it’s a fairly easy drive for me (us) to get to Henry Coe, which is where I’ve been for the last two Saturdays, and likely will go back several more times before the season evaporates into the heat of summer.

On 4/24 I went hiking by myself out of Coyote Creek around the Mahoney and Grizzly Gulch regions of the park. The Mahoney region has quite a few seldom used trails that are a bit more obscure than the more popular trails and old ranch roads. They are especially nice to hike if you enjoy not seeing other people all day, and don’t mind if the trail markers are not quite as good as other places. In areas of high grasses, the narrow single tracks can be a good place to pick up ticks if you are not careful, and there are rattlesnakes moving around. I had one fairly large rattler cross the Grapevine Trail right in front of me. I spotted its back and stopped in mid stride. It calmly disappeared into the grass and I think it never even knew I was there. I didn’t get a photo, but I wasn’t about to go looking for it. Past visits have taught me that the wild flower displays are always changing. The types of species you are likely to see are not always as expected making each year’s hiking a different experience. My favorites this time were the Chinese Houses, some pure white ones, and some with the traditional purple and white whorls. Owl’s Clover in 2 different varieties, along with Tomcat Clover seems to be unusually abundant at Coe this year. I also enjoyed hillsides covered in Goldfields and Johnnytuck, clear blue skies, and lots of birds and butterflies.

On 5/1 Sue and I decided to hike Blue Ridge. I would have been content to hike the flatter trails around the headquarters area just to scope out the flowers, but Sue must have been feeling some cabin fever. She wanted a workout so we did the Mt Sizer loop. We did the short sidetrack onto the Ponderosa Loop Trail. I really enjoy the sounds of the sighing breeze high in the tall pines on this section of Pine Ridge. With the pine scented air it reminds me of being in the Sierra. Coyote Creek is still running strong and clear. Perfect for using a filter for a quick refill on refreshingly chilled water before hiking up the Hobb’s Road “short cut” section to the top of Blue Ridge. From the high points near Mt Sizer we had views to the east all the way to the Sierra snowcaps. This was the first time this year I have been able to see the Sierras without being in them. We’ve had a lot of murky skies this season, but we’re finally getting some clearing. Damage from the Lick fire is still very much in evidence up here, but at least the views have opened up. Before the fire the views to the east from this ridge were mostly obstructed by overgrown mixed vegetation. Now the views are excellent in all directions. Further down the trail we were both amazed to watch the soaring pass of a bald eagle gliding along the valley between Blue and Middle ridges. I was not fast enough to get any photos, and it was quickly gone as it banked off to the south. I’ve never seen a baldy out here before, and it was quite a surprise, but it was unmistakable. That’s the second eagle we’ve seen this year in the Diablo Range. We hiked past masses of Purple Owl’s Clover, lots of Lupine, and Ground Iris is in much greater presence than I can remember. Even the scorched Jackass Trail, which had been a virtual black moonscape, has lots of Iris showing. We ran into the Sierra Club Day Hikers along Poverty Flat as they were headed up to Manzanita Point for a barbeque. They invited us to join them, but we had to get back home, so as they were turning up the Cougar Trail, we headed for the dreaded 1000+ foot return climb up Poverty Flat Road to regain Pine Ridge. This climb always seems worse than it really is at the end of a fatiguing hike. This is a really great classic hike which we usually do at least twice a year. Not a casual hike, this is one for the ramblers.

Click here to view my photos from 4/24
Click here to view my photos from 5/1