Sunday, May 15, 2011

Coyote Creek

Grassy gully near Grizzly Gulch
Never one to waste a good spring day off, I set out for another of my long time favorite seasonal hikes. The Coyote Creek trail head at Henry Coe State Park provides a really good starting point for hiking the central zones of the park. With Coe’s status again in peril from the incompetence and political malaise infesting Sacramento, now is an excellent time to get a hike in somewhere at Coe. It’s going to be a disgrace of monumental proportions if the State government actually goes ahead with the most recent proposed closure list. Henry Coe has been on the closure list for years, and while closing any of those parks would be a short sighted and ineffective move, closing this one would amount to betrayal of public trust. Many of California’s state parks only exist because of the land being donated or otherwise deeded over to the state primarily for protection. These tracks of land do not belong to the politicians, or any sitting regime, but to the tax paying public of the state. But, let’s not give up hope just yet. Go on a hike and enjoy it while the park is still officially open. If you do enough hiking there no one will have to ask you to write a letter to the governor’s office to express your grave concerns about closing it.

Chinese Houses populate the base of a tree
The trails in and around the Grizzly Gulch zone of the park typically have nice displays of wild flowers. The rugged hills infused with serpentine, and dotted with oaks and shrubbery are alive with activity this time of year. Bumble bees and butterflies are buzzing around, and everything is still mostly green. Many of the trails are a mixture of open areas which support many common species, along with scattered, lightly shaded, grassy hillsides, intermittently blooming with Chinese Houses, Ground Iris, and Coast Larkspur. The houses can range in colors from all white, to a pinkish shade, to the classic purple and white whorls, some of which can have 4 or 5 layers. You never know exactly where you will find them, and sometimes they will be mostly off trail in areas where you really cannot get close enough to for taking decent pictures. Along the way you can enjoy some gentle sunshine, cool breezes, and nice views from the high points along the Jackson, Wasno, and Steer Ridges.

Lupine along Wasno Road
My route for this hike began at the gate to Coit Road, hiking .9 miles to the Anza Trail. I hiked up the switchbacks of the Anza Trail to the junction with Jackson Trail, topping out at about 2621 feet. From there turned onto the Elderberry Trail, to Spring Trail, and back to Jackson Road. Heading east on Jackson through to Wasno Road, I thought about heading down to Kelly Lake, but decided instead to hike up to Wilson Peak. I hiked through to the Tule Pond Tail, and down to and Grizzly Gulch Trail giving back some altitude to about 1800 feet. I headed up Wilson Peak Trail back up to about 2612 feet, and along Steer Ridge. I finally headed back toward the trail head descending down the Spike Jones Trail. The numbers for this route were 12.5 miles with 3261 feet of total elevation gain.

Click here to see my pictures on flickr
Click here to view my track log and elevation profile on Every Trail

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back to Santa Teresa

Coyote Peak
I didn’t want to let too much of the spring season roll by with making a return visit to Santa Teresa County Park. Our last trip here was a wet hike, that we went on just to cure a case of cabin fever. We hiked around most of the day in the rain and mud, and actually had a pretty good time. I had noticed that even though this park is at a low elevation, the view opportunities actually looked pretty good. The weather was too murky to really see anything very far away, but knowing the area, I could easily imagine what the vistas would look like. I was also remembering how many of the wild flowers had responded despite the wet conditions, so I was anxious to get back there on a clear and sunny day to see what we’ve been missing.

Most Beautiful Jewel Flower
In the southwest corner of the park is the Style trailhead, which is much quieter than the main entrance over at Bernal Road. We often drive right past here on our way to Rancho Cañada del Oro. I enjoy Rancho Cañada for its more remote and quieter setting, but this would make a nice change. The Style Ranch Trail immediately begins climbing up some rocky switchbacks up to about 700 feet. The shrubbery on this section works as a natural attractant for humming birds, and we ran across a man with a gigantic lens on a tripod that looked like it belonged in an observatory, who was trying to get pictures of them. Evidently some of the humming bird species that frequent this park are quite rare. I don’t know if I would have the patience to sit there all morning shooting birds. After we had reached the ridge top, I began to notice the Jewel flower that was in bloom along this route. I had not seen this variety before in a pinkish color, called Most Beautiful Jewel Flower (Streptanthus albidus ssp. Peramoenus). The Jewel Flower I see most often is dark purple. Finding what was for me a new flower was good payoff after only the first mile or so.

We hiked about a 10 mile loop utilizing the Mine Trail, Ohlone, Ridge, and Hidden Spring Trails, then up to Coyote Peak at 1155 feet. This little peak offers some fantastic long range viewing for so little climbing. We could see all 3 major bay area cities (SF, San Jose, and Oakland), several bridges, and Mt Tamalpias looming in the distant haze. Normally you would need much more altitude for that. Turning to the south you can also see Morgan Hill, El Toro Peak, and can spot Pine Ridge in Henry Coe. Just west is Mt Loma Prieta, and to the east, Mt Hamilton. We didn’t stay all that long because the wind was blowing so hard it was like a freakin' gale or something. Being exposed to the channel of the bay, the wind has a straight shot straight up there which can make it like a wind tunnel. We also had made a couple of diversions that you can see on the track log. The first one was a walk up an old road which we had mistaken for the Ohlone Trail. The other was a trail shown on the map called the Laurel Canyon Nature Trail. Who knew Santa Teresa had a waterfall? I didn’t, but there is was. It’s Small and vey seasonal, but worth seeing. I couldn’t get a very good picture because of the lighting conditions.We should have come here during our wet visit.

Serpentine rock along Rocky Ridge Trail
We headed back toward Style using the Rocky Ridge Trail (aptly named). The serpentine rock along here is perfect habitat for rattlesnakes, and we crossed paths with a couple of them. The first one was moving across the trail, and looked to be avoiding us. Later, I had found some nice Cream Cups on the trail, and was kneeling down trying to get some photos in the wind while Sue hiked on a bit. A few moments later, I barely heard a strange little shriek as Sue had stumbled across another rattlesnake coiled up hidden in the grass not 1 foot off the trail. Unlike the first one, this bad boy wasn’t going anywhere. We finally hiked off trail to make a wide enough birth around it, and were on our way. But It did get a photo. We used the Fortini Trail to make our way back to the trail head. It was a beautiful day, and I’m sure we will make future visits.

Click here to see the photos on flickr
Click here to see my track log on Everytrail

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wild Flowers: Lower Bay Top 5 Most Interesting Sites

One of my favorite times of year is during the spring wild flower season. Hiking takes on a whole new meaning for me when I can look forward to all the surprises in store for wanderers during this season. I actually get a little excited when I begin a spring hike, and spot the first blooms of the day. I don’t know why this happens, but somehow nature’s handy work just seems to stimulate glad tidings. Cultivation doesn’t impress me, but a good display of wild flowers is like getting personal greeting card from nature. You just have to learn to understand the language. It would be hard for me to pick “the 5 best” wild flower sites because that seems too subjective. I don’t think of wild flower displays in terms of better or worse, because the land has nothing to prove to anyone. I think more in terms of how interesting they are. Interesting meaning the places I keep coming back to because the experience is rewarding enough to warrant a “can’t miss” status during the time I expect them to be the peak season, which of course can change from year to year. Meaning sites that can have surprises, and keep the experience fresh. Meaning sites that often show you more than just the usual common species, and may even change quite a bit during the season, inviting repeat visits. So here are Randy’s picks for the most interesting, can’t miss, wild flower sites in the lower SF Bay Area.

1) San Bruno Mountain: This park has really excellent diversity of species, and many species also bloom in very nice quantity. My first visit there had me digging all over cyberspace trying to identify much of what I saw. Without my flickr contacts, and Cal Photos website, I would have been all but lost. This park supports various rare and endangered species, and many other species that just aren’t seen very often, even though they don’t have any official status as rare. I love to savor the history of the place as well. It’s especially great too to know that you are walking a ridge system that was literally saved from destruction to become bay fill. There was an actual plan in place years ago to excavate the entire mountain and toss it into the bay in the interest of wanton expansionism and profiteering. If you ever get the chance to see the public television series called Saving the Bay, then you will understand all about the history of mass destruction that had been planned for the bay. It really made me want to come and hike this park, if for nothing else, just to pay homage to that wild space victory, and to cherish the bay itself. Nice views on a clear day.

2) Henry Willard Coe State Park: Fantastic diversity, and a constantly changing array of species. Coe has the quality of seeming like a different park depending on which of the various regions you happen to be in. The list of wild flowers seems to change for each section of the park. You could hike every day for a week and probably not see everything. Even a section that seems familiar may not show you exactly the same display in subsequent years. You can occasionally spot some rare varieties here too. Coe just always keeps you on your toes, and rarely disappoints. Coe can also have impressive quantities of many species in good years. I always know I’m in for an interesting day when I start seeing a lot of wild flowers while driving along the road before I even arrive. Maybe when I finally kick off, I will want my ashes spread over Coe.

3) Ohlone Wilderness Trail beginning at Del Valle: This challenging section of trail has a wonderful display each year. The best variety of blooms are along the uphill section known as "Big Burn". You can get an excellent training hike in while being entertained by the colorful diversity of wild flowers alongside the trail. Even the sections that are grazed can still produce some really nice specimens. When you get to the ridge top you can also enjoy some spectacular views.

4) Sunol Regional Wilderness: Another of my favorite east bay locations for enjoying wild flowers, which also provides access to the other end of the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. It’s really a bummer that they do so much grazing in Sunol. I often wonder what it would look like if it was left alone more. Yes, manure is a fertilizer, but too much hurts the soil composition. But even despite all the cows trampling around and pooping all over the place, the wild flower displays are stunning. The best places seem to be up at the highest points on ridges and peaks.

5) Sierra Azul: For the most part, Sierra Azul is underutilized by hikers. Kennedy Road gets a lot of bikers, but mostly this preserve is underappreciated. I never hear of anyone talking up Sierra Azul for wild flowers, but I have seen some seriously beautiful displays here. The Lexington side is a completely different display than the Quicksilver side too. You need to hike the whole park to see everything. Even the challenging Priest Rock Trail can be full of surprises. Hiking at Sierra Azul can keep a wild flower admirer busy all day while providing some challenging hiking and great clear weather views.