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