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.