Monday, June 13, 2011

Mariposa Lilies

 With the California sun beginning to show its true form, I was thinking that the time was right to expect to see the Mariposa Lilies begin to start showing themselves. They are more of a late season flower, and they seem to love the open grassy meadows and hillsides. Some can be found in the shade, but most prefer the golden sun. If you get some morning fog or clouds, they will very stubborn to open up at all. If the sky is patchy, you might get a glimpse of their true color as a teaser, but their full display is not seen unless you get at least decent sunshine. You won’t find them just anywhere, but there are plenty of places where they can be enjoyed. Some of my favorites include Sierra Azul, Sunol, Almaden Quicksilver, and Rancho San Antonio. The Mariposas will appear in many other locations as well, but my favorite place to see them is in the southern region of Henry W. Coe State Park.

The Phegley Region of the park is an especially good place to look for them because not only is the terrain and climate ideal, but if you cover enough ground there, you can see at least 3 distinctly different color variations of Mariposas on the same hike. Various trails in the region have excellent displays, but the different color variations seem to group together. There are lots of other species that are still around too, and the area is home to lots of different birds and other wildlife. The trick is to get off of the flat areas at the bottom of Hunting Hollow. You will need to put in some uphill to reach the best displays. Very few of the Mariposas will be found at lower elevations, although they will populate the slopes as well as the meadows. The steepest trail in the area is Steer Ridge. Watching my GPS I noticed that the first mile up Steer Ridge was a bit over 1000 feet exactly. That matches the infamous Hobb’s Road “short cut” section for sheer leg burn. Some of the other trails are more gradual, but all of them have potential for nice displays. The slopes will usually have the yellows which will be streaked with dark purple and traces of orange, with a few white ones mixed in, having nice purple and yellow accents that look like air brush work. Along the interior trails you can enjoy more of the white variety, plus many of the rose colored, or pinkish variation, also with nice air brush accents. Another color variation I often see looks like a pale purple with smaller accents and broader pedals.

The route used on this hike begins at Hunting Hollow. We hiked up Steer Ridge to Wilson Peak. We took a little rest there, before heading down Wilson Peak Trail to Grizzly Gulch Trail. From there we hiked on to Wagon Road and along the road to Wilson Camp, and back down to the flats by way of Lyman Wilson Ridge Trail. This is just one example on which we saw quite a few Mariposas. There are lots of route variations to be used though. Just make sure you pick a mostly sunny day. We had almost picked a bad day, but the sun finally came through. There was a 10K run at Hunting Hollow that day, but the racers were sticking to the flat section. The trail in the flats is also popular with cyclists and horse riders. Up on the higher trails though, it’s a different world.

Click here to see my 2011 photos on flickr
Click here to see my 2010 photos on flickr
Click here to see my 2011 track log on EveryTrail

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Woods Trail

View to Mt Umunhum from trail
Some of the highest peaks in the South Bay are located within Sierra Azul open space preserve. Unfortunately, the highest of them, Mount Umunhum, being the site of the former Almaden Air Force Station, and its toxic material residue, remains closed to the public. The huge, cube shaped, concrete dish pedestal that remains there can be seen from more than 50 miles away. The site was part of the old cold war era NORAD radar network designed to keep watch on the air space of the west coast. With a commanding vantage point at 3486 feet, one can only imagine what the vistas would be like from the summit. MidPen has a project underway to get the site cleaned up, but for the foreseeable future, it remains off limits. Mt Thayer at 3483 feet, about a half a mile to the west, is similarly closed and off limits to the public.

Iris blooming along the Woods Trail
If Mt Thayer is the sister, then Mt El Sombroso at 2999 feet, less than a mile away as the crow files, is the uncelebrated ‘ugly cousin’ of Umunhum. El Sombroso is the highest of the legally hike-able peaks within the Sierra Azul. Its summit being a tangle of overgrowth does not provide even the slightest glimpse of the views to the bay that you know is possible having hiked up the trail. The only clear ground being the trail itself and the cut swath that provides maintenance access to the power trusses that string high voltage across the preserve and up the peninsula. The higher peaks to the south, which do have clear sightlines to the ocean, block that view from El Sombroso. Whether you hiked up from the Lexington side, the Quicksilver side, or Kennedy Road in Los Gatos, you have some great view opportunities from sections of all three routes that have clear sightlines, but the peak itself looms like more of an obstacle than a destination. Hikers may find this a little anticlimactic, but even still, I love hiking these trails. The views that do present themselves are amazing if you get a clear day, and I enjoy a challenging hike. But there is an even better reason to hike up from the Quicksilver side during spring. The wild flowers displays are enough to keep an admirer interested all day.

This hike begins at the trail head just off of Hicks Road. The Woods Trail provides a gradual, winding, 6 mile assent to the summit that is dotted with an impressive variety of wild flower species. If you go to the trouble of setting up a car shuttle, you can also hike through from Los Gatos by way of Lexington Reservoir, or Kennedy Road. The best diversity of wild flowers are here though, making the Woods Trail a sweet little out-n-back within close proximity of the city. The upper section of trail is mostly exposed, and can be hot and dry, but most of the lower trail is shaded. A great way to get some exercise in while enjoying the mix. Someday the higher summits will be open making Sierra Azul even better, but for now the Woods trail is about the best you can do in spring.

Click here to see my 2011 photos on flickr
Click here to see the track log on EveryTrail
Click here to see my 2010 photos in flickr

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spring Strangeness

View to town and the ocean
Well, now that it is just about summer, it looks like we nature cravers in the bay area can now look forward to a few real California spring days before the season evaporates, and sales of sunscreen and electrolyte solution begin to pick up. The weather was so awful last weekend that I decided to take my chances on a Sunday urban bike ride instead of going on a hike. I’m getting a little tired of wet hikes. Especially considering that this should be prime time for wild flowers. But I’ve been on a couple of decent hikes lately in spite of all the strangeness in the climate. I’ll post a few as time permits. I’m just glad I didn’t have plans for the high country any time soon. I have a feeling the mosquitoes are going to be just about unbearable this summer with so much standing water after the melt. Not that any time is really bad in Yosemite. But don't get me dreaming this close to our vacation.

View to the clubhouse from the Spring Trail
Casual hiking at Pogonip is pleasurable any time, but during the spring it was positively a joy. It would be amazing to have the Santa Cruz greenbelt close at hand, but a drive over the hill is more than worth it when you want to get outside and enjoy yourself without any major challenges. Then, when you are through with the hike, you’re still fresh enough (…not too stinky), to spend some time shopping for great prices on local fresh produce; or go enjoy some suds and a meal at one of the quaint little restaurants in town. The park is located just on the edge of the southern urban area and is adjacent to UCSC. The versatile trail system provides many different smaller loops, which can be combined for a longer meandering route that will bring you through thickly shaded groves of trees, pretty riparian routes, and open grassy meadows, all within a relatively small area. Pogonip’s trails also link up with the Cowell-Wilder Regional Trail for an even longer ramble that will keep your feet moving all day. Head into the redwoods of Henry Cowell State Park, or out to the coast. The place has a rich history which includes native artifacts, some of Henry Cowell’s old lime works, and a defunct 30s era polo club among the curious relics.

Chinquipin Road
The trailhead on Golf Course Drive, right off of highway 9 has very limited parking, so getting there early is recommended. There are other ways into the park though. The Harvey West Park entrance just a couple of blocks south would be a good alternative. The trailhead is at virtual sea level, while the highest point in the park is along the Spring Trail which tops out at about 1131 feet. The center section is open and sunny, but the ocean breezes tend to mitigate somewhat. The surrounding higher areas are mostly wooded with plenty of shade, and you will get some views. The trail system is mostly well marked, and many wild flowers can be seen if you keep your eyes open. We combined our interior route with an out-n-back up the U-Con Trail, and Fuel Break Road, into UCSC, and along Chinquipin Road to Empire Grade. I have enjoyed this section of trail many years past for its wild flowers. Lot’s of Blow tube Iris and violets, plus many other common species abound as cyclists blow past them hardly noticing. This regional trail route is a popular multi-use route, so expect to have plenty of 2 wheeled company outside of Pogonip or Henry Cowell. Chinquipin Road and the nearby UCSC trail system is mostly flat, so it makes a nice casual bicycling route, in a pastoral setting, with natural terrain. The U-con Trail passes through a nice redwood grove with white Two Eyed Violets peeking out at you with their little purplish eyes the whole way, joined by yellow Wood Violets, and lots of Hedge Nettle.

Up behind the old lime kilns, you can enjoy some strangeness that people with too much time on their hands have created with rocks. It looks like some kind of rock garden maze with weird cultic overtones. I keep expecting to see the Blair Witch pop out from behind the bushes up there on the Kiln Trail. I want to be the first to get a photo. Down in the flats, the old clubhouse is worth some checking out. There was supposed to be a restoration carried out, but I don’t see any progress being made. There are some nice bee hives up in the rafters though. If the creeks are running, don’t miss the Pogonip Creek Nature Loop. Keep your eyes open for wildlife too.

Click here to see a track log and photos from this hike on Everytrail