Devil’s Slide Trail

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Devil’s Slide Trail is a brand new paved multi-use trail along the rugged Devil’s Slide area on the San Mateo County coast. It is a re-purposed use of the former CA-1 roadway, which became available for the trail with the 2013 opening of the twin tunnels. These tunnels bypass the stretch of road that had been closed by landslides dozens of times since CA-1 opened through the area in 1937. The multi-use trail has two bike lanes and a hiking/equestrian lane, in addition to interpretive signs, overlooks, drinking water, and parking and restrooms at each end. Oh yes, and stunning close-up views of the Slide and the Pacific Ocean. The trail opened to the public on 27 March 2014, and I thank a friend who brought it to my attention. It was a whole week before I was able to get there and experience this beautiful trail.

The north parking area has marked spaces for 15 cars, in addition to 2 Handicapped parking spaces. The south parking area has marked spaces for 22 cars, in addition to 2 Handicapped parking spaces. Each parking area is in 2 sections due to the terrain layout. The trail itself is 1.3 miles long with 3 overlooks between, spaced roughly 1/3 mile apart. The tunnels do not appear on the maps in my GPS software, so my GPS track appears to be (mostly) along the old road. (The route differences are due to the condensed map database, so the road route is not quite correctly shown.)

GPS track

GPS track

I started from the south trailhead. From here the trail climbs about 200 feet and then descends about 100 feet to the north trailhead. I actually walked to the far end of the parking areas at each end, so my total hiking distance is a little longer than twice the length of the trail.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As I left my parked car, before I even got to the trailhead, I noticed this view looking south at the waves crashing into the bottom of the cliff. It is easy to see that erosion of the cliffs is a constant action.

picture of waves along the Devil’s Slide coastline

Waves along the Devil’s Slide coastline

The trail passes through a slot between the main cliff and a smaller one at the ocean side. Signage indicates that the Common Murre Restoration Project  is being carried out in the area. Shortly Devil’s Slide Rock comes into view. This rock hosted a breeding colony of some 3,000 common murres until the early 1980’s, but the colony was completely wiped out by human-caused mortality (gill nets and an oil spill). The colony is now being re-established and monitored, and murres as well as Brandt’s cormorants and perhaps some pigeon guillemots live on the top of the rock.

image of Devil’s Slide Rock with seabirds including common murres, Brandt’s cormorants, and perhaps pigeon guillemots

Devil’s Slide Rock with seabirds including common murres, Brandt’s cormorants, and perhaps pigeon guillemots

Looking roughly north along the coastline there is a beautiful view of San Pedro Rock, about a mile away, with Mt Tamalpais behind, about 25 miles away. It’s an unusual perspective to see Mt Tam across the open water of the Pacific Ocean!

photo of San Pedro Rock, with Mt Tamalpais in the background

San Pedro Rock, with Mt Tamalpais in the background

One of the overlooks is at the small rise at about 0.5 mile on the elevation profile. The trail has a small dip before continuing to curve up the cliffside toward the highest point at about 475 feet elevation.

picture of Devil’s Slide Trail

Devil’s Slide Trail

I found some interesting curly plants that made a pretty silhouette against the blue water.

image of curly plants silhouetted against the ocean

Curly plants silhouetted against the ocean

Just before the highest point on the trail I found some other interesting plants. For some reason, probably the beautiful blue ocean in the background, they reminded me of beach umbrellas. I don’t know what these plants actually are, but they seem to thrive in the microclimate.

photo of “beach umbrella” plants

“Beach umbrella” plants

Part way down the hill to the north trailhead I noticed a tiny landslide, a reminder of the ongoing natural forces in the area.

picture of tiny landslide at the side of the trail

Tiny landslide at the side of the trail

As the trail curves to the east approaching the north trailhead, there is a pretty view across Linda Mar toward Fifield and Sweeney Ridges, where I recently hiked.

image of Fifield and Sweeney Ridges behind Linda Mar

Fifield and Sweeney Ridges behind Linda Mar

From the north trailhead parking area there is a good view of the new CA-1 twin bridges leading to the tunnels.

photo of CA-1 tunnel approach

CA-1 tunnel approach

After checking out the north trailhead parking areas I began my return to the south trailhead. As is often the case, the views walking in one direction complement the views in the other direction. About ½ mile from the south trailhead there is a wonderful view of the slot I mentioned earlier. Devil’s Slide Rock is at the base of the cliff.

picture of view of Devil’s Slide

View of Devil’s Slide

Fairly close to the trailhead I was suddenly serenaded by a small bird in a nearby bush. I’m pretty sure it was a Bewick’s wren, which has a very pretty song.

image of Bewick’s wren

Bewick’s wren

After passing the trailhead I continued to walk down the access road to check out the parking area. Next to the pavement but before the cliff drop-off there were some poppies and several types of ice plant with different flowers. Here is one example.

photo of ice plant flower

Ice plant flower

Although this is a relatively short trail, at only 1.3 miles in length, it is a perfect venue for a leisurely walk. It was a treat to experience the stunning scenery of Devil’s Slide at a walking pace, without needing to keep two eyes on the road to avoid literally driving off the cliff into the ocean. It is worth noting that the Devil’s Slide Trail is part of the California Coastal Trail , which is envisioned as a 1,200 mile long network of trails along the California coastline.

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Fifield Cahill Ridge Trail (northbound)

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This was a return visit to the Fifield Cahill Ridge Trail segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which passes through watershed lands of the San Francisco Public Utility District . All public visits in the watershed are led by docents and require advance signup on the web site. My first visit was a standard through hike, which goes from north to south. For my return visit it was a special treat to hike the trail in reverse, from south to north, as noted by the directional arrows on my GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

Because the south end of the hike is at lower elevation than the north end, hiking northbound means that there is a little more elevation gain than hiking southbound. The elevation difference between trailheads is about 200 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The hike includes 3 sections. The first section begins at Quarry Gate, climbs along Quarry Road to Cahill Ridge, and passes along the ridge to Five Points. The quarry hasn’t been active in some time, but our docent mentioned that it was used for location footage for a James Bond movie. The forest includes quite a few introduced Monterey cypress trees, like this one.

image of Monterey cypress along Quarry Road

Monterey cypress along Quarry Road

There are mile marker posts along the way, which help with keeping track of the distance. Shortly after mile marker 1 there is a break in the forest with a great view of Crystal Springs Reservoir, one of the three primary reservoirs on the watershed property. I-280 winds through the foothills, with the major junction with CA-92 in the center of the photo.

photo of Crystal Springs Reservoir and the I-280—CA-92 junction

Crystal Springs Reservoir and the I-280—CA-92 junction

Cemetery Gate is at approximately mile 1.7. Currently this gate is the access point for wheelchair hikes, which proceed roughly 1.4 miles north along Cahill Ridge, where the grade is relatively flat. External access to this gate is through Skylawn Cemetery, hence the name of the gate. Soon there will be a new segment of Ridge Trail from CA-92 through the cemetery and the edge of the watershed property leading to Cemetery Gate.

Cahill Ridge Road goes along Cahill Ridge, mostly in forest areas with occasional sunny areas. In one of the sunny areas there was a beautiful carpet of forget-me-nots. It seemed especially exciting since it was my first wildflower carpet sighting of the season.

picture of carpet of forget-me-nots along Cahill Ridge Rd

Carpet of forget-me-nots along Cahill Ridge Rd

A bit farther along we found a banana slug right in the middle of the trail. It was longer and skinnier than many, and seemed a darker color. It also seemed to have a little cluster of pine needles attached to its tail end – at least, the needles seemed to move with the slug.

image of banana slug

Banana slug

In the forest along Cahill Ridge there were numerous candelabra-like trees, which I believe are bay trees. This one has at least six trunks; I’ve seen bay trees with up to a dozen, and the shapes fascinate me.

photo of candelabra-like bay tree

Candelabra-like bay tree

Five Points is a distinctive junction at about mile 5.6, at the dip on the elevation profile. Five different fire roads come together here, and the hike route transitions from Cahill Ridge Rd to Fifield Ridge Rd, the second section of the hike. The trail climbs for the next 2 miles, gaining about 550 feet of elevation. Near Five Points there is a glimpse of Pilarcitos Reservoir through the trees, but there is a better view perhaps ¼ mile farther. Pilarcitos is the second of the three primary reservoirs on the watershed property.

picture of Pilarcitos Reservoir from Fifield Ridge Rd

Pilarcitos Reservoir from Fifield Ridge Rd

The trail emerges from the forested area into open chaparral along Fifield Ridge. Here we found a field of goldfields and poppies basking in the sunshine.

image of goldfields and poppies

Goldfields and poppies

I thought it was interesting that there were quite a few ferns along this section of the trail. Normally I think of ferns as thriving in moist, shady habitat. The only “shade” in this area would be fog!

Just before mile marker 7 we had our first view of San Francisco Bay, including the San Francisco Airport. On a clearer (less hazy) day, Mt Diablo would be visible in the East Bay.

photo of San Francisco Bay

San Francisco Bay

Behind us, Montara Mountain began to dominate the skyline to the southwest and remained in view until nearly the end of the hike.

picture of Montara Mountain, a prominent nearby landmark

Montara Mountain is a prominent nearby landmark

Along the sunny ridge top I began to notice new-season poison oak, with its characteristic shiny leaves-of-three. There were also quite a few Douglas irises; here is one pretty example.

image of Douglas iris

Douglas iris

It turns out that there are two picnic tables along the trail. One is near mile 5.75, with the view of Pilarcitos Reservoir already mentioned, and the other is just before mile 8. We stopped for lunch at the second picnic table.

The trail descends about 400 feet from the highest point, then climbs back up 200 feet before leaving the watershed. Here is a good view of the trail during the last part of the descent, showing the upcoming ascent. It seems that the trail went down just in order to go back up again.

photo of Bay Area RidgeT rail along Fifield Ridge

Bay Area Ridge Trail along Fifield Ridge

Just after the 10-mile marker is Portola Gate, where the trail leaves the SFPUD watershed and enters the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on Sweeney Ridge Trail, the third section of the hike. I happened to notice that the Douglas irises were even more prevalent along Sweeney Ridge than they had been earlier in the hike.

A little more than 1 mile along the Sweeney Ridge Trail is the junction with the access trail from Sneath Lane, where the hike would end. Near the junction is the San Francisco Discovery Site, where San Francisco Bay was actually discovered – not by sea, but by land. Apparently the Golden Gate was socked in by fog when the Portola Expedition’s exploration ships came by! A nearby monument depicts major landmarks that can be seen on exceptionally clear days. The day of the hike was beautiful, but was not clear enough to see more than half of the landmarks. Sweeney Ridge is a great place to, on a clear day, see the Pacific Ocean on one side and San Francisco Bay on the other.

At the junction with the access trail there are great views of the Pacific Ocean across Pacifica, including the new Devil’s Slide bypass highway and San Pedro Rock.

picture of Pacific Ocean and San Pedro Rock from Sweeney Ridge

Pacific Ocean and San Pedro Rock from Sweeney Ridge

Coming down the Sneath Lane access trail there are nice views of San Andreas Lake, the third major reservoir on the watershed property. One thing I like about this view is that it’s evident that the lake is higher than the Bay. I think it’s a neat perspective.

image of San Andreas Lake

San Andreas Lake

I have noted on other occasions that an interesting characteristic of out-and-back hikes is getting to see the views in both directions without needing to look behind you. In this case, I did two one-way hikes on different days – actually, about 13 months apart. I found that it was interesting to experience this trail with somewhat different weather conditions. Especially within view of the coast, the weather can be quite different on different days. This is an especially nice hike under a wide range of conditions.

Posted in Bay Area Ridge Trail, Peninsula, San Mateo County | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Edge to Edge part 6: Saratoga Toll Road and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trails to Waterman Gap

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This hike was a continuation of a multi-segment hike from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean with a group of ice skating friends. We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.  This hike started at the junction of Achistaca Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail (here and here are two great descriptions) and continued to Waterman Gap, at the intersection of CA-9 and CA-236. We passed through part of Castle Rock State Park and some private property. This hike and the remaining two segments are in Santa Cruz County. And this hike is one alternative for Day 1 of a 3-day through hike from the Saratoga Gap area to the Pacific Ocean.

GPS track

GPS track

On our previous hike segment, which was mostly along the western edge of the ridge along Skyline Blvd and just starting downhill toward the ocean, we decided that we were officially over the hill. For this hike our route was more consistently downhill than on any other segment of the entire journey, with an elevation gain of just 500 feet and a loss of 1700 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The Saratoga Toll Road Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail pass through forested areas nearly continuously. I don’t expect that we’ll experience significant sections of exposed trail until perhaps near the end of our final segment. Ferns along the side of the trail are an indication of the usual moist conditions. This year has been unusual, and some of the ferns seemed especially dry. The trail is built, in many places, along steep hillsides: in this picture you can see the steep uphill side, and the downhill side is equally steep.

image of Saratoga Toll Road Trail passing through lovely forested areas

Saratoga Toll Road Trail passes through lovely forested areas

Barely ½ mile into the hike we were startled to notice a car that had somehow come down the steep ravine from the road (Big Basin Way, CA-9). It’s not clear whether this car was dumped or whether there was a terrible accident, but it was quite a long time ago. Obviously the car had been used for target practice. There was a second car a bit farther down the ravine. And about 5 miles later we found a third one. All of them had been there for a long time. It seemed eerie that they were red, white, and blue.

picture of surprise find: a car down the ravine from the trail

Surprise find: a car down the ravine from the trail

By the time we had hiked 2 miles or so, we started to see redwood trees. I have hiked among redwoods before, but am always in awe of these stately trees.

photo of tall redwood tree

Tall redwood tree

There are a few places along the Saratoga Toll Road Trail where there are brief breaks in the vegetation for more distant views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is one example. It seemed (and is!) impossible that we could avoid a good climb or two on our way to the Pacific Ocean.

image of view of Santa Cruz Mountains from Saratoga Toll Road Trail

View of Santa Cruz Mountains from Saratoga Toll Road Trail

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead there is a junction with Travertine Springs Trail, which connects to the Castle Rock Trail Camp. About 0.4 mile after the junction, the trail crosses a stream on a small bridge. Here we found numerous horsetail, or equisetum, near the stream bank.

picture of horsetail near a stream crossing

Horsetail near a stream crossing

At 3.5 miles from the trailhead we came to a junction with Beekhuis Road Trail, which we took as a connector trail to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. It was our only significant climb of the day. Part way up the climb we decided to stop for a break: finding two logs right next to the trail, with enough space for everyone to sit down, made it a good place to stop! Near the logs we noticed numerous smaller branches with very interesting texture to the bark. If we hadn’t stopped for a break we might not have noticed these interesting branches.

photo of branches with interesting texture

Branches with interesting texture

After the break we continued up to Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail and resumed the gradual descent. Along the way we passed a giant mushroom right next to the trail. It was about 4 inches across.

image of unusual mushroom along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

Unusual mushroom along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

As we proceeded we passed more redwood trees, with numerous clusters next to the trail – obviously the trail had been routed near the trees. This picture gives a sense of the size of the trees. I was glad I had hiking poles with me, because I could use the poles to help balance (and ensure that I didn’t wander off the trail into the ravine) while gawking upward at the trees and continuing to hike.

picture of walking past redwood trees

Walking past redwood trees

In some ways, it would not have seemed like a proper hike through moist redwood forest without encountering banana slugs. As it turned out, we only saw one during our 7-mile hike.

phto of banana slug

Banana slug

There are a couple of places where the trail joins a fire road and then diverges again 0.1 mile or so later. These junctions were well-signed.

We came upon a couple of examples of massive redwood trees that had apparently been struck by lightning or experienced a forest fire. Some of these trees were still evidently alive and others were not. Here is a striking example of a burned-out stump next to the trail. Without a person in the picture it would be difficult to comprehend the size of the tree.

image of burned-out redwood stump

Burned-out redwood stump

As previously mentioned, some of the ferns seemed dry, an unfortunate consequence of the ongoing regional drought. Here was a pretty fern that happened to be sunlit when we hiked past. We saw numerous different types of fern during the hike. There were also several different types of moss on the trees, and the moss seemed very dry.

picture of fern enjoying some sunshine

Fern enjoying some sunshine

We also saw a few examples of trees with an unusual spiral-like appearance to the trunk. I think this is a madrone.

photo of madrone with a spiral trunk

Madrone with a spiral trunk

Sometimes trees grow in unusual directions, generally because that’s the way to get enough sunlight. And occasionally a tree falls over and is captured by nearby standing trees.   This group of trees made an interesting geometric pattern.

image of trees in a geometric pattern

Trees in a geometric pattern

We also found a few examples of trees with masses of lichens hanging from the branches. Here is a pretty one.

picture of lichen hanging from tree branches

Lichen hanging from tree branches

We passed numerous examples of old-growth redwoods that had evidently been logged, with the original stump surrounded by second-growth trees. These clusters were quite striking.

photo of ring of second-growth redwoods surrounding an old-growth stump

Ring of second-growth redwoods surrounding an old-growth stump

About 6.9 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the Waterman Gap Trail Camp, which is used by through hikers. The camp apparently closes for the winter season, and in fact had not yet opened. It was interesting to note that the latrine is signed as wheelchair accessible. We could not figure out how anyone would actually get to the camp via wheelchair, though.

We ended the hike at the junction of CA-9 and CA-236, the continuation of Big Basin Way. This is Waterman Gap, and there is a small parking area for day use (no overnight parking). Our next segment will take us to Big Basin Redwoods State Park via a climb up to the ridge at China Grade. It is said that, along Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, the trees and views get better and better as you go along. We can hardly wait to see what comes next!

Posted in Edge to Edge, Peninsula, Santa Cruz County | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

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Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, in southern Contra Costa County, has the feel of being remote from the main population and activities of the Bay Area.  The park entrance is located on Morgan Territory Road, which is a single-lane paved road for most of its 15-mile length.  Some of the on-line mapping software doesn’t even seem to recognize it as a road!  The preserve is partially surrounded by Round Valley Regional Preserve, Los Vaqueros Watershed, and Mt Diablo State Park, which connect to other open spaces that comprise a wonderful green belt in the hills east of the San Ramon Valley population corridor.

For this hike I started with a description of a 4.2-mile loop, studied a park map, and expanded the loop by adding lobes and going a little farther this way on one trail, and a little farther that way on another.  Since this was my first visit to Morgan Territory, I was guessing about what trails might be interesting.  Well, I found some marvelous trails and am blissfully ignorant of the parts of the original loop that I skipped!

I started at the Morgan Territory Road Staging Area, which seems to be the main access point to the preserve.  On my GPS track it’s at the bottom.  I went around the loop clockwise, covering 8.2 miles with nearly 1800 feet of elevation gain and loss.

GPS track

GPS track

The staging area was nearly at the highest elevation of the entire hike, at just over 2000 feet.  The steepest part of the hike was the initial descent along the Coyote Trail, which loses 500 feet of elevation in the first mile, prior to a junction with Mollok Trail.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

This section of trail is single-track through fairly dense forest, and it passes over quite a few tree roots and such.  I had decided that I would prefer to go down rather than up this section (and therefore went around the loop clockwise rather than counterclockwise).  It’s not a section to hurry through.

photo of descending through the forest on Coyote Trail

Descending through the forest on Coyote Trail

I found some early-season new-growth poison oak along the side of the trail.

picture of new-growth poison oak

New-growth poison oak

About 0.4 mile past Mollok Trail, Coyote Trail emerges from the forested area into open hillsides.  The day of my hike was beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-60’s.  I expect that the open areas are very hot in the warmer months, but the weather was just perfect for my visit.  The hillsides are dotted with oak trees, like this one.

image of oak tree on a hillside

Oak tree on a hillside

There was a particular characteristic of the hillsides that, at first, I had trouble identifying.  Eventually I figured out that the trees seemed to be surrounded by a carpet of short green grass.  The grass looked more like what you would find on someone’s lawn than the typical California oat grass.  Perhaps this was because there had been no rain until recently.  However, I didn’t see any evidence of long grass from the prior season.  In any case, it was an interesting visual effect.

About 1.7 miles from the trailhead I came to Stone Corral Trail.  Instead of turning right (northeast) on the original loop, I turned left (southwest) and then, about 0.5 mile later, right on Highland Ridge Trail for a 400-foot climb up the ridge.  There were peek-a-boo views of Mt Diablo (more to come later) and views of other trails snaking across the hills.  I think this is Eagle Trail approaching from the west.

photo of Eagle Trail winding across the hills

Eagle Trail winding across the hills

When I reached Eagle Trail I turned right and continued for about 0.4 mile to the Volvon Loop Trail.  Along the way the trail passed through a gate in a fence separating cattle grazing areas.  The fence made a pretty picture flowing down the hillside.

picture of fence between cattle grazing areas

Fence between cattle grazing areas

The Volvon Loop Trail passes along the west and north sides of Bob Walker Ridge and connects to Valley View Trail and then to Manzanita Trail.  The section running generally southeast from the north end of Volvon Loop Trail provided some fantastic views off-and-on for nearly 2½ miles.  This was especially delightful since I had no idea what I was going to see.  Valley View Trail is certainly aptly named!  With barely a row or two of foothills, the terrain quickly drops to the Sacramento River Delta and the Central Valley.  I even imagined that I could see a bit of snow-capped Sierras below the line of clouds, but that might have been wishful thinking.  A few days earlier, while driving east on I-80 approaching Sacramento, I’d seen the trio of Job’s Peak, Job’s Sister, and Freel Peak in the South Tahoe area 100 miles away, but looking so clear I almost thought I could reach out and touch them.  The day of this hike was slightly less clear.

image of California’s Central Valley from Valley View Trail

California’s Central Valley from Valley View Trail

Almost due north (actually, slightly northwest) is the large Shiloh windmill farm in southern Solano County.  The row of brownish hills in the foreground is in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, where I hiked recently.

photo of windmill farm across Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

Windmill farm across Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

To the east there were beautiful views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir, with more windmills on the eastern hillsides.  I also hiked in the Watershed recently.  From some places I could see farther to the southeast past the reservoir to a couple of peaks that I think are near where Alameda, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Santa Clara Counties meet.

picture of Los Vaqueros Reservoir from Valley View Trail

Los Vaqueros Reservoir from Valley View Trail

About 4.9 miles from the trailhead I reached Manzanita Trail and turned left, still making my loop bigger than the original one.  This trail descends about 300 feet and climbs halfway back up.  Not surprisingly, there were many beautiful manzanitas along this trail.  Some were very large and stately.

image of manzanita along Manzanita Trail

Manzanita along Manzanita Trail

Volvon Loop, Valley View, and Manzanita Trails pass in and out of forested areas.  In one of the shady spots I found some miner’s lettuce.

photo of miner’s lettuce

Miner’s lettuce

Manzanita Trail tees at Miwok Trail, about 6.1 miles from the trailhead.  Here I turned right to return toward the parking area.  There were still a few final views of the Central Valley, windmill farm, and Marsh Creek Road crossing a final hill on its way to Brentwood.  After ¾ mile on Miwok Trail I turned left on Blue Oak Trail.  Just as I was wondering whether I would have a relatively unobstructed view of Mt Diablo, it began to emerge from behind the previously intervening ridge. 

picture of Mt Diablo across Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

Mt Diablo across Morgan Territory Regional Preserve

From one location I could see the profile of some North Bay peaks in the distance.  During the last mile of my hike there were many wonderful views of Mt Diablo.  Just a few tenths of a mile from the parking area there is a popular vista point, marked with a section of fence adorned with a sign advising “please stay on trail” – I’m not sure if park visitors would otherwise just strike off cross-country to get closer!

The Blue Oak Trail connects to the Volvon Trail, which goes back to the trailhead.  While coming down a gentle hill next to an open grassy area with scattered rocks, I noticed numerous active ground squirrels.  There was obviously a whole network of burrows underground with access points that were sometimes reached with amazing speed.

image of ground squirrel checking things out

Ground squirrel checking things out

There are many more trails in the preserve that I did not have time to explore.  In addition there are several regional trails that pass through the preserve: for example, Bob Walker Regional Trail and Diablo Regional Trail were indicated on some of the signage.  I’ll look forward to a return visit another time.

Posted in Contra Costa County, East Bay | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Distant views from Alameda Creek Trail

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Generally when I walk on the Alameda Creek Trail I’m on a training walk, and this was no exception.  I set out to cover 18 miles, which was relatively ambitious for my current training situation.  I’m walking a half marathon in 4 weeks, and I usually like to train somewhat beyond 13 miles to prepare for a half marathon; it seems to be a good way for me to have a bit of extra reserve to go all-out on race day.  Beyond the physical preparation it’s mostly mental, and this seems to work well for me so that I feel prepared; for anyone else, I note that “your results may vary.”

The trailhead I like to use is 6 miles from the San Francisco Bay end of the trail.  I decided to stay mainly to the Bay side of the trailhead, even though that meant more looping up and back than I usually do.  I also keep notes of quartiles of long training walks, and it’s easier to sort out on my GPS data if I turn around at the quartile.

I also knew from previous walks that I would probably be able to see all of the main South Bay peaks from the end of the trail, so I did two things I don’t usually do on training walks: I took my camera, and I planned to take a break at the Bay end of the trail, halfway through the 18 miles, for stretching and photos.

Because my peak viewing was so successful, I wanted to show a somewhat unusual perspective on my GPS track.  Here is the track (note the yellow curved line near the center) with a much expanded view of the South Bay region.  This map includes the full range of peaks and features I could see at the end of the trail, which is at the left end of the yellow track.

GPS track

GPS track

First I have to mention one special view that I had well before I got out to the end of the trail.  Mission Peak is the closest of the main peaks, and as I looped up and back I noticed that there was a really pretty field of mustard grass in the foreground with Mission Peak behind.  It was some dramatic evidence that the recent rains are coaxing local plants to blossom.

image of Mission Peak behind a field of mustard grass

Mission Peak behind a field of mustard grass

I also want to mention that it’s not worth showing the elevation profile for this walk.  Since it’s along Alameda Creek the route is pretty flat, except for several underpasses under major streets and I-880.  In fact, the 130 feet of elevation gain and loss is almost entirely accounted for by the underpasses!

Once I reached the end of the trail, temporarily turned off my timing devices, and stretched briefly, I climbed onto the bench of a picnic table and basically twirled around in place taking pictures.  This is what I’d hoped to be able to do: just turn around in place and see everything.

I started with Mt Tamalpais, our famous local “sleeping maiden,” about 35 miles away to the northwest.  The downtown San Francisco skyline is visible in the right half of the picture.  And the structure going across the foreground is the eastern approach to the San Mateo Bridge.  I’d had Tam in view for a few miles, and was excited that the air was clear enough for a good view.

picture of Mt Tamalpais behind the downtown San Francisco skyline

Mt Tamalpais behind the downtown San Francisco skyline

Turning clockwise, I could see Sutro Tower, San Bruno Mountain, and the entire ridgeline along the Peninsula, including the modest bump that is Black Mountain just to the right of the Dumbarton Bridge (near the I-280 icon on the map).  Facing the peninsula, I particularly noticed the continuation of the Alameda Creek channel making a pretty curve out into the Bay.

photo of Alameda Creek channel curving out into the Bay

Alameda Creek channel curving out into the Bay

Continuing down the peninsula are Mt Umunhum (right) and Loma Prieta (left), with radio broadcast towers at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge at the left of the picture.  Loma Prieta is also about 35 miles away, with Mt Umunhum about 5 miles closer, just barely off the south side of the map southeast of the CA-17 icon.

image of Mt Umunhum (right) and Loma Prieta (left)

Mt Umunhum (right) and Loma Prieta (left)

On the East side of the Bay, Mt Hamilton is visible above the hills of Coyote Hills Regional Park.  It is “only” about 31 miles away.  Lick Observatory is barely visible (if you know what to look for).

picture of Mt Hamilton behind and above Coyote Hills Regional Park

Mt Hamilton behind and above Coyote Hills Regional Park

Moving up the East Bay skyline, Mission Peak looms above Coyote Hills, with Mt Allison and Monument Peak to the right.  Mission Peak is about 14 miles away.

photo of Mission Peak behind Coyote Hills Regional Park

Mission Peak behind Coyote Hills Regional Park

Mt Diablo is so tall – at 3850 feet, the tallest peak in the immediate Bay Area – that it is visible over the East Bay Hills ridgeline.  Actually, one reason it is so visible is that the ridgeline has a low point near Castro Valley, where I-580 cuts through the hills into the San Ramon Valley.

image of Mt Diablo from the end of Alameda Creek Trail

Mt Diablo from the end of Alameda Creek Trail

Almost due north are the Berkeley Hills, including Round Top and Redwood, Vollmer, and Grizzly Peaks about 20-25 miles away.  The large white building just to the right of center in the picture is the Oakland California (Mormon) Temple.

picture of Berkeley Hills skyline

Berkeley Hills skyline

Finally, just a bit farther to the west, I could barely see downtown Oakland rising above the mud flats in the immediate foreground.  The downtown is perhaps 18 miles away.

photo of downtown Oakland skyline

Downtown Oakland skyline

It was quite delightful to be able to see all of these landmarks from a single location.  At other places along the trail some of the peaks disappear behind intervening hills.  It’s almost like they take turns hiding and being visible.  About 2½ miles up the trail is another place where I believe the major peaks are all visible, but Mt Diablo is almost gone behind the hills, and others, like Black Mountain, are hidden by the Coyote Hills.  I’m frequently on the lookout for interesting juxtapositions of Bay Area peak and landmark views, and this was a wonderful treat on a long, 18-mile training walk (nearly 4½ hours including my break).  After I finished my mid-walk stretching, I headed back to the trailhead.

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Edge to Edge part 5: Long Ridge OSP to Skyline to the Sea Trail

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Almost exactly a year ago a group of ice skating friends started a multi-segment hike from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.  Last year we hiked a total of 23.9 miles, with 3970 feet of elevation gain, in 4 segments, reaching the Grizzly Flat trailhead on CA-35, Skyline Blvd.  We took the summer and fall off and are ready to resume our adventure.  In this 5th segment we started at Grizzly Flat Trailhead, which is at the edge of Upper Stevens Creek County Park in Santa Clara County, and hiked generally along Skyline Blvd to CA-9 just west of Skyline.  Our endpoint for this segment was the junction of Achistaca Trail and Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail.  We hiked most of the length of Long Ridge Open Space Preserve, including a short portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Long Ridge OSP is partly in San Mateo County and partly in Santa Cruz County.

GPS track

GPS track

After a brief descent we climbed up to Long Ridge, where we achieved the highest elevation of the entire trip at approximately 2630 feet.  We ended the segment about 100 feet lower than the high point, prompting someone to declare that we are now the Over the Hill Gang!  During the remainder of our trip (after this segment) we will lose more elevation than we gain in each segment.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From the Grizzly Flat trailhead we immediately crossed Skyline Blvd into Long Ridge OSP.  At 0.4 mile from the trailhead the trail intersects Ridge Trail and, another 0.1 mile farther, Long Ridge Trail.   Here, at the lowest elevation of the segment, we followed Long Ridge Trail which makes a loop to the north and climbs in elevation, heading south along Long Ridge.  In this section the trail is mostly in a beautiful forested area, with manzanita interspersed here and there.   The trail has been built along fairly steep hillsides.

picture of Long Ridge Trail climbing up to the ridge

Long Ridge Trail climbing up to the ridge

The trail arrives onto the ridge top and rather abruptly emerges from the trees into open grassland hills.  Almost immediately there is a beautiful view, roughly west or southwest, across several ridges of the western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with the Pacific Ocean peeking through in a couple of places.  It was our first view toward our eventual destination, and we tried to figure out how we would be able to get to the ocean without actually going up and over the ridges.

image of western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with a small peek at the Pacific Ocean

Western Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, with a small peek at the Pacific Ocean

We had gotten a somewhat late start, and the view was so beautiful that we stopped for a break.  The trail becomes more like a fire road, and is now named Long Ridge Rd.  About half a mile later we were surprised to encounter a trail junction marked by street signs.

photo of street signs in the middle of an open space preserve

Street signs in the middle of an open space preserve!

At this junction we picked up the Bay Area Ridge Trail route, which we followed for about 1 mile.  At the street signs we continued straight, heading toward Hickory Oaks Trail.  Looking back, it was easy to see how Long Ridge got its name.

picture of Long Ridge, looking back to the northwest

Long Ridge, looking back to the northwest

Just before the junction with Hickory Oaks Trail we passed remnants of a former fence, with fence posts waving down the hillside.

image of fence along Long Ridge Road, near Hickory Oaks Trail

Fence along Long Ridge Road, near Hickory Oaks Trail

Hickory Oaks Trail continues southeast, roller-coasting up and down a bit from hill to hill (see the elevation profile).  There were frequent views of the Pacific Ocean kind of behind us, and I found myself turning around frequently to enjoy them.  This view was from the top of the second rise and shows that the typical coastal fog bank was in place just off-shore.

photo of Pacific Ocean from Hickory Oaks Trail

Pacific Ocean from Hickory Oaks Trail

About 0.6 miles along, the trail splits, rejoining again after about 0.1 mile.  We chose to go left, not realizing that the other trail goes up a little higher right at the highest elevation of our journey.  So we just missed being able to view our destination from our highest elevation.

About 0.2 mile past the re-convergence of trails, we arrived at the junction with Achistaca Trail.  Here we continued along Achistaca Trail, on the west side of Skyline Blvd, while the Bay Area Ridge Trail crosses to the east side to follow Saratoga Gap Trail.  Shortly after we started on the Achistaca Trail I happened to be behind the rest of the group, rounded a curve around the side of a hill, and saw a majestic solitary tree ahead, just above the trail where the first hikers in the group were passing by.

picture of solitary tree guarding Achistaca Trail

Solitary tree guarding Achistaca Trail

Just after passing this tree the trail enters more forested area; indeed, it is forested for most of its 1.7-mile length.  It was clear that we were close to Skyline Blvd because we could hear, though not see, traffic passing by.  Achistaca Trail loses and then regains 100 feet or so twice.  About ½ mile from the northeast end of this trail, we passed a couple of bleached animal bones right next to the trail.  Perhaps a mountain lion had had a meal here.

image of bones next to Achistaca Trail

Bones next to Achistaca Trail

Just as we approached what turned out to be the highest point along Achistaca Trail we were startled to find a large, elaborate cairn.  Part of the reason we were so surprised was that there was no ambiguity at all about where the trail was supposed to be.  (Usually cairns are used to assist with way-finding.)  The cairn was about as tall as my waist, included 9 rocks on top of the base rock, and was even decorated with a small leaf on top!

photo of elaborate cairn along Achistaca Trail

Elaborate cairn along Achistaca Trail

Past the cairn the trail descends about 125 feet, generally along a steep hillside, before regaining most of the elevation approaching the trailhead.  At the bottom of dip in this section there is a huge, amazing tree with numerous trunks and main branches branching out close to the ground.  To illustrate the scale, I decided to stand on an open spot at the base of several trunks.

picture standing on the base of an amazing tree

Standing on the base of an amazing tree

As soon as my picture had been taken, I took a picture of several of my fellow hikers who had just been taking my picture.  It seemed like a paparazzi moment.

image of paparazzi who had just taken my picture

Paparazzi who had just taken my picture

A few minutes after we continued past the tree we found another large tree that had fallen across the trail, and the trail had not yet been cleared.  Fortunately we were able to make our way over the main trunk, which was about chest high and surrounded on both sides by smaller branches.

At the end of Achistaca Trail there is a junction with Skyline to the Sea Trail.  We were excited to reach this milestone in our journey and to mark that we are officially over the hill and on our way to the ocean.  Here two of us point out the trail name while a third feigns exhaustion.

photo of part of the Over the Hill Gang at the junction of Achistaca and Skyline to the Sea Trails

Part of the Over the Hill Gang at the junction of Achistaca and Skyline to the Sea Trails

It is always a special experience to hike with good friends, and we are having a wonderful time on our march to the Pacific.  Next time we’ll continue to Waterman Gap.

Posted in Edge to Edge, Peninsula, San Mateo County, Santa Cruz County | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sanborn County Park and Castle Rock State Park

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This segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail is on Skyline Trail just east of, and parallel to, Skyline Blvd between Sunnyvale Mountain picnic area in Sanborn County Park and the vista point at Saratoga Gap, at the intersection of CA-35 (Skyline Blvd) and CA-9.  The trail is in Santa Clara County, though Skyline Blvd is the Santa Clara – Santa Cruz county line.  A small portion of Castle Rock State Park is on the east side of Skyline Blvd, and the trail passes through this portion.

The length of the trail from Sunnyvale Mountain picnic area to the Saratoga Gap vista point is 6.3 miles.  On this out-and-back hike I hiked directly to Saratoga Gap on the outbound leg and enjoyed several side trips on the return leg.  Highlights included majestic trees, serpentine rock formations, a couple of surprise views of the South Bay Area, and (on side trips) a lovely redwood grove and views of the Pacific Ocean.

GPS track

GPS track

Much of Skyline Trail goes along Castle Rock Ridge.  As the trail goes up and down the ridgeline, it attains the highest elevation of the entire current Bay Area Ridge Trail at just over 3100 feet.  This high point is roughly across Skyline Blvd from Castle Rock (the rock, which is in the park).  Unlike most other “highest points,” there isn’t a peak per se, and it’s hard to know as you hike along when you have achieved the highest point.  Also, unlike other “highest points,” there isn’t what I call a distant view.  The forest, however, is lovely to hike through.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The trail begins at Sunnyvale Mountain picnic area and immediately climbs and descends 100 feet or so a couple of times before getting to the higher part of Castle Rock Ridge.  Because the trail runs rather close to Skyline Blvd, there are several access points along the way.  I visited several on my return trip.  About 1.6 miles from the start there is a junction with Sanborn Trail, which goes down the steep hillside toward the heart of Sanborn County Park.  Nearby a set of stairs, the Biddle Stairs, continues the last little bit up to Skyline Blvd.

image of Biddle Stairs, leading from Skyline Trail to Skyline Blvd

Biddle Stairs, leading from Skyline Trail to Skyline Blvd

This part of the Santa Cruz Mountains is studded here and there with large rock outcroppings, like this one that just appears suddenly alongside the trail.

picture of rock outcropping next to Skyline Trail

Rock outcropping next to Skyline Trail

The forest contains many massive and majestic trees, like this Douglas fir with many branches radiating out from the trunk.

photo of Douglas fir

Douglas fir

In many places the forest is quite dense, and moist.  The moisture results in moss on some trees and rocks, and ferns in the understory.  This forest view was quite striking, with so many tall trees of different types growing so close together.

image of dense array of tree trunks

Dense array of tree trunks

About 2.7 miles from the trailhead, at one of the mini-summits along Castle Rock Ridge, there is a tree growing in the middle of the trail.  I presume that, when the trail was built, it was deemed more sensible for the trail to split and go around the tree rather than cut it down.  About 3.1 miles from the trailhead there is an access trail to Castle Rock State Park across Skyline Blvd, as well as a short side trail to Indian Rock.  I visited Indian Rock on my return trip.  About ¼ mile past the Indian Rock trail is the south end of Summit Rock Loop Trail.  The entire loop is open, but Summit Rock itself, near the north end of the loop, is currently closed to protect sensitive habitat and threatened wildlife in the area.

About 4.3 miles from the trailhead, Skyline Trail leaves Sanborn County Park and enters the portion of Castle Rock State Park east of Skyline Blvd.  About 0.4 miles later is a junction with Loughry Woods Trail, which is actually on the other side of Skyline Blvd. Just about 0.1 mile past this junction a down tree lies across the trail just before Skyline Trail splits, with a hiking-only branch and a separate multi-use (hiking / biking / equestrian) branch.  As I approached the down tree I decided I would follow the hiking-only branch on my outbound trip and the other branch on my return trip.  The tree, however, was just big enough that I had to pause to figure out how I was going to get over it, under it, or between the two main branches.  As I paused to figure this out, I happened to look to my right and was startled to see a wonderful view across south San Jose, with the East Bay Hills in the background.  The rippled peak at the right of the skyline is Mt Hamilton, some 27 miles away to the east.  And the light line snaking up the hillside at the left is CA-9 climbing up to Saratoga Gap from downtown Saratoga.

picture of view across south San Jose toward the East Bay Hills and Mt Hamilton (at the right)

View across south San Jose toward the East Bay Hills and Mt Hamilton (at the right)

The trail is split for about 0.4 mile.  In this section I found the only wildflower I noticed on the entire hike.  Just as I was taking some super-close-up pictures, a bee came in for a visit.  Actually, it was probably a good thing that I’d stood up for a moment to make a camera adjustment, since that’s when the bee arrived.  The picture is actually a little out of focus, as I didn’t quite dare to bring my camera close enough to focus properly in super-macro mode!  I thought the bee’s wings are surprisingly clear in the picture.

photo of bee visiting a wildflower

Bee visiting a wildflower

About 0.8 mile past the end of the split trail there is another view toward the Santa Clara Valley through a small gap in the trees.  This view is a bit south of east and shows a few rows of hills.  I’m not sure of all of the identifications, but El Sereno Open Space Preserve, Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, Almaden Quicksilver County Park, and Santa Teresa County Park are in this general area.  I have hiked Bay Area Ridge Trail segments in several of these parks (see here  and here and here), and it is always interesting to see parks from new perspectives.

image of view across the South Bay, including several other open spaces

View across the South Bay, including several other open spaces

Shortly after enjoying this view I exited Castle Rock State Park, just about ¼ mile before the Saratoga Gap vista point parking lot.  As is often the case, especially on weekend days with nice weather, the parking lot was full.  I am always surprised to remind myself that there actually aren’t any views from this parking area.  It’s a bit more like a Park and Ride lot, where people meet up and set out on hiking and riding adventures.  There is even a public phone.

I took a lunch break and walked across CA-9 to the trailhead for the next segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which passes through portions of Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve and Upper Stevens Creek County Park before crossing Skyline Blvd to enter Long Ridge Open Space Preserve.  After my break I started back toward Sunnyvale Mountain picnic area.

As I’d planned, when I got to the trail split I took the multi-use trail.  This trail section goes out to Skyline Blvd where there is an access point for Skyline Trail.  Every time I got to such an access point on my return trip, I walked out to Skyline to see if I could see the Pacific Ocean.  Here I was treated to a wonderful view across several rows of ridges.  The typical fog bank was in place just off-shore.

picture of Pacific Ocean view from Skyline Blvd

Pacific Ocean view from Skyline Blvd

When I got to the Indian Rock Trail junction, I took the side trail to see Indian Rock, a popular spot for rock climbers.  It is a distinctive sandstone structure in the forest; note that there are a few backpacks with climbing equipment in the foreground.  Along the access trail there were numerous interesting smaller (refrigerator-sized) rocks.  I did not try to climb to the top of Indian Rock, since it appeared that climbing equipment was needed.

photo of Indian Rock

Indian Rock

When I reached the Biddle Stairs, I climbed up to Skyline Blvd to check out the ocean view, and was startled to see what looked like daffodils in my peripheral view.  Sure enough, they were: in the mini front yard of a house.  The residents have a fantastic view!

When I reached the junction with Sanborn Trail, about 1.4 mile from the trailhead, I set off down the trail to see the Todd Creek Redwoods, about 0.3 mile away.  No signage was needed to indicate that the redwoods had been reached.  These wonderful trees thrive in the cool, moist shade.  Some of the trunks were massive, and the bark is distinctive.

image of majestic redwood in Todd Creek Redwoods, along Sanborn Trail

Majestic redwood in Todd Creek Redwoods, along Sanborn Trail

After passing the redwoods I thought I would continue to the junction with San Andreas Trail. According to the signage this junction should have been just 0.1 mile past the redwood grove.  However, I discovered that the distance was more like 0.4 mile, with a total descent from Skyline of about 300 feet.  In any case, I retraced my steps to Skyline Trail and continued southeast.  Soon I was startled to encounter a newt crossing the trail, and I stopped to try a few pictures.  The red light associated with my camera’s autofocus seemed to signal the newt to hurry up and get away, which it promptly did!

The last access point to Skyline Blvd is about 0.6 mile from the trailhead and is the location of a former homestead of the Seagraves family.  The view was so beautiful that I stopped there again after I’d reached the trailhead and started my drive home.  This picture was taken about a half hour before sunset.

picture of Pacific Ocean view across Skyline Blvd from Seagraves homestead

Pacific Ocean view across Skyline Blvd from Seagraves homestead

The combination of beautiful forest, redwoods, sandstone rocks, and Bay and ocean views made this a memorable hike.

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