Brushy Peak Regional Preserve

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Brushy Peak Regional Preserve is a relatively small (1800 acres, or about 3 square miles) open space just a few miles north of Livermore, CA. Because it is so close to town, it is popular with local residents. On the day of my visit there was pretty constant traffic in the staging area, mostly walkers with dogs, but several mountain bikers as well.

According to the park web site, the area is centrally located within a network of former trading routes that connected several Native Californian tribelets, including the SSaoam tribelet of the Ohlone, the Volvon tribelet of the Bay Miwok, and the Tamcan tribelet of the Northern Valley Yokuts. The Brushy Peak area was likely a center for economic, social, and ceremonial events. The peak itself is in a Resource Conservation area and can only be visited by special arrangement with a guide.

Driving to the preserve along CA-84 as it goes up and over a ridge between I-680 and Livermore, Brushy Peak rises impressively from the floor of the Livermore Valley. Although I had never been to the park before, I was sure I had identified Brushy Peak as soon as I crested the hill on CA-84 it came into view. So my level of anticipation was pleasantly high when I arrived at the Laughlin Rd staging area.

From the staging area I hiked kind of an outer loop, on the Laughlin Ranch Loop, Tamcan Trail, Brushy Peak Loop Trail, and West Side Loop Trail. The GPS track shows my route, with the orange dot denoting the staging area. At the end of the Laughlin Ranch Loop I took a short detour nearly back to the staging area before continuing on the Tamcan Trail, so my overall route looks somewhat like a two-lobed loop.

GPS track

GPS track

The base elevation is about 600 feet, and the trails wind around among the rolling hills. The highest elevation on the hike was about 1550 feet, with modest (comfortable) grades throughout. The Brushy Peak Loop Trail was a bit steeper and more technical than the rest of the hike, with signage reminding trail users of the proper etiquette: bikers yield to hikers, who yield to equestrians.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The day of my hike was mostly cloudy, so the lighting was somewhat flat. This open space is essentially completely exposed, though, so the clouds and moderately cool temperatures made for a comfortable hike. This hike would be quite hot during the summer. I also noted that many of the hillsides seemed bare: the brown color in my pictures denotes soil, rather than the more typical golden brown native grasses of the dry season. But the starkness had a beauty about it.

Brushy Peak was visible during much of the hike. Here is a view from the staging area.

photo of Brushy Peak viewed from the staging area

Brushy Peak viewed from the staging area

About 0.7 mile from the staging area, along the Laughlin Ranch Loop, the Dyer Ranch Trail enters from the right. This trail facilitates access from the nearby neighborhood, without the need for residents to drive – or walk along the narrow road – to the staging area. Shortly past the junction there was a nice view to the south across the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and toward the Ohlone Regional Wilderness. This view would have been quite different for the original native residents of the region!

picture of view south toward Ohlone Regional Wilderness

View south toward Ohlone Regional Wilderness

I should note that the day was fairly breezy. The weather forecast that morning had predicted 20-25 mph breezes in the hills of the East Bay. In addition, Brushy Peak is within a few miles of the Altamont Pass, which is known for its characteristically windy conditions. So I was not surprised to notice, as soon as I rounded the curve at the south end of the Laughlin Ranch Loop, a row of windmills on the ridge ahead of me. I did not realize yet, though, just how many windmills I would see. These were clearly an older style, and they were not turning at all. I presume they have all been decommissioned.

image of windmills on the ridge east of the preserve

Windmills on the ridge east of the preserve

The trail descends as gently as it ascended, reaching a junction with the Tamcan Trail about 1.7 miles from the staging area. At this junction I turned left and hiked back toward the staging area, just to explore a bit, and then returned to the junction to continue on the Tamcan Trail. At this point the trail is climbing again. About 0.3 mile along the Tamcan Trail there is a pretty view down a little valley where there is an intermittent stream that flows down to the Altamont Creek. Below, at the base of the rolling hills, there is a small seasonal lake or pond. Due to the dry weather, the lake was dry.

photo of view of hills and dry seasonal lake

View of hills and dry seasonal lake

After hiking 0.9 miles on the Tamcan Trail there is a T junction with the Brushy Peak Trail, where I turned right to continue around the big loop. From this junction it’s all uphill to Brushy Peak. After a big, gentle switchback the terrain starts to change. There are exposed rocks, as well as some scattered beautiful oak trees.

picture of oak tree near Brushy Peak Trail

Oak tree near Brushy Peak Trail

In this area I also saw two different types of wildflower: except for the oaks, they seemed to be the only living plants in view. As it happens, both flowers were yellow, and in both cases the blossoms were on very long stems. Since I wasn’t expecting fall wildflowers, I was pleasantly surprised by them.

image of yellow fall wildflowers

Yellow fall wildflowers

The upper part of Brushy Peak had more exposed rock, and some of the trees were growing among the rocks. Coming around the corner from north to west, at the northeast part of the Brushy Peak Loop Trail, the trail is close to 1300 feet elevation, higher than most of the surrounding area. I realized that, if I looked to the southeast, I was looking down on the windmills I had previously been looking up at. In fact, there was a virtual forest of windmills across the Altamont Pass area. The higher hills in the background of this picture are in the far southeast corner of Alameda County, perhaps near Mt Boardman, at the intersection of Alameda, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Santa Clara Counties.

photo of numerous windmills in the Altamont Pass area

Numerous windmills in the Altamont Pass area

Shortly after this wonderful view there was a use path that went to the right, toward the top of Brushy Peak. Actually, there were several use paths on the upper hillside. I decided to go up to see what I could see. After about 200 feet of climbing I reached the fence at the north end of the accessible area; beyond the fence is a Resource Protection Area. It was easy to imagine why the local native people considered this peak to be a special place.

Just after I returned to the main trail I noticed a rough circle of stones, actually shaped more like an arrowhead, obviously deliberately placed. The arrowhead seemed to be pointing directly at the top of Brushy Peak, though this was difficult to verify since the peak top is rounded and there is more extensive tree cover.

picture of stone circle on Brushy Peak

Stone circle on Brushy Peak

The view from nearby, down the Altamont Creek canyon, was quite pretty.

image of view down the Altamont Creek canyon

View down the Altamont Creek canyon

There is a slight final climb before the trail starts downhill. From this side of Brushy Peak there are nice views to the northwest, across the Black Hills and Morgan Territory Regional Preserve and generally toward Mt Diablo, which barely peeks over the Black Hills.

photo of view northwest from Brushy Peak

View northwest from Brushy Peak

At the bottom end of Brushy Peak Loop Trail there is a T junction with the West Side Loop Trail. I decided to go right, with a steeper 200-foot climb. As the trail descends there are nice views of the nearby hills, with the staging area below.

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Granite Chief Trail and Pacific Crest Trail almost to Granite Chief

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For a couple of years I have been thinking about hiking up the Granite Chief Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail or to Granite Chief itself. I have hesitated, since the elevation gain up to the peak is 3000 feet: what I refer to as an “eat your Wheaties” hike. I had also developed an impression that it’s difficult to find the beginning (lower end) of the Granite Chief Trail. I decided that I would try hiking the Granite Chief Trail, mainly to see if I could successfully trail-find, and beyond that simply enjoy the experience, however far I managed to hike. As it turns out, I found the trail without too much difficulty, successfully climbed the 2000-foot stairmaster to reach the Pacific Crest Trail, and almost reached the spur trail to the top of Granite Chief before I decided that I needed to turn around to make sure I got back to my car before dark, which seems to come so early in November. The day was comfortably warm for Fall, with the temperature around 60 degrees.

My mileage apparently differed from some published mileages, which claim that it is 9 miles out-and-back to the top of Granite Chief. My round-trip mileage, without detours, was 9.3 miles and I think it would have been at least another mile round trip to the peak. Also, my turnaround point elevation was only 8300 feet, and the top of Granite Chief is just over 9000 feet, so there would have been a lot more work in order to summit.

The trailhead for the Granite Chief Trail is at the back end of the Squaw Valley base area, near the Olympic Valley Inn. In fact, since the nearby signage was for the Shirley Canyon Trail, I went inside the Inn to inquire how to find the Granite Chief Trail. Basically you go up the canyon, staying to the right, and after about 0.3 and 0.4 mile there are two signs that indicate the Granite Chief Trail. After getting past the many use trails at the bottom, following the trail is generally straightforward; a bit more about trail-finding below. On the GPS track the orange dot shows the beginning and end of my hike; I took a different use trail on the return, once I had passed the signs.

GPS track

GPS track

The Granite Chief Trail leads to the Pacific Crest Trail at 3.5 miles from the trailhead. The elevation profile shows the steady climb – what I call the 2000-foot stairmaster climb – interrupted only briefly just under 2 miles into the hike. The entire hike was in the Tahoe National Forest.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Initially the Granite Chief Trail follows Squaw Creek, to the right of the creek. The second sign, at about 0.4 miles, indicates where the trail leaves the vicinity of the creek and travels more steeply uphill. The first mile and a half travels mostly through a forested area. I was a little surprised to encounter a late-season robin in the forest. After the trail emerges from the trees at about 1.6 miles there is a nice view up toward the ski area skyline from Squaw Peak at the left to Granite Chief at the right.

image of view of mountain backdrop to Squaw Valley

View of mountain backdrop to Squaw Valley

To the right the canyon wall is fairly steep and rises over 1000 feet to Silver Peak.

photo of steep canyon wall

Steep canyon wall

To the left and down the hill there is a great view of some of the ski runs and maintenance roads zig-zagging downhill.

picture of Squaw Valley ski runs

Squaw Valley ski runs

At about 7250 feet elevation, after 1.9 miles and 1000 feet of climbing, there is a flatter area where the trail goes around the end of a mini-canyon and crosses a stream. Even after the dry summer the stream, a tributary of Squaw Creek, was flowing down the mini-canyon, creating a mini-waterfall over a small rock.

image of mini-waterfall in a Squaw Creek tributary

Mini-waterfall in a Squaw Creek tributary

The upper portion of the Granite Chief Trail, above the Squaw Creek crossing, had some more technical sections and seemed steeper. At the same time the views got better with the higher elevation. Looking behind, downhill, there are views of the Carson Range skyline on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe. Here is a nice view looking up the hill at Granite Chief, at about 2 miles and 7300 feet elevation on the trail.

photo of Granite Chief from the Granite Chief Trail

Granite Chief from the Granite Chief Trail

There is what seems like a fairly long stretch across bare granite, with a minimum of trail markings. I found my way ok, but on the return trip noticed that there were several strategically selected rocks with yellow blaze marks painted on them for way-finding. Once I noticed them, they were quite useful!

Out of the forest, there were just scattered isolated trees, appearing to grow somehow directly from the rocks. Here is a pretty example. Obviously there must be sufficient soil, nutrients, and water for the tree to attain its current size.

picture of tree growing on the steep, rocky canyon wall

Tree growing on the steep, rocky canyon wall

The last mile or so goes up a small hanging valley, and eventually becomes forested again. Just before the PCT junction there are Ski Area Boundary and No Biking signs. The PCT junction, at 3.5 miles, is a T, so you can go left (south) toward Granite Chief and Five Lakes or right (north) toward Tinker Knob. Right next to the trail there was a small patch of snow with distinct animal prints. I’m not particularly skilled at identifying prints, but I presume they were bear prints. I hoped that any nearby bears were shy or already beginning their hibernation, and made sure that the bell I usually wear was able to make noise and hopefully announce my presence. In any case, I did not directly see any wildlife.

image of snow patch with animal prints

Snow patch with animal prints

I turned left and proceeded south, toward Granite Chief. This is a wonderful section of the PCT, with several notable views along the way and with a moderate grade. There is a fairly level, sandy section not far from the junction that had a bit of snow cover. Fortunately, other hikers had preceded me since the snowfall a couple of weeks prior, and the trail path was obvious. I noted that there were two way-finding posts, with yellow painted blaze marks on their tops, so the trail may actually be less obvious when it is clear of snow.

About 0.3 mile past the junction there was a wonderful view across the upper Squaw Valley ski area toward the Freel Peak – Job’s Peak – Job’s Sister area to the right of the Heavenly Valley ski runs on Monument Peak. These peaks are about 30 miles away.

photo of Freel Peak, Job’s Peak, and Job’s Sister from the PCT north of Granite Chief

Freel Peak, Job’s Peak, and Job’s Sister from the PCT north of Granite Chief

Another 0.3 miles further a nice view of Lake Tahoe opened up, again across the upper Squaw Valley ski area. I am not sure, but the pointy-top peak near the center of the skyline might be Genoa Peak.

pictuer of Lake Tahoe across the upper Squaw Valley ski area

Lake Tahoe across the upper Squaw Valley ski area

Granite Chief itself kept getting closer – actually, I kept getting closer to it!

image of Granite Chief from a closer perspective

Granite Chief from a closer perspective

About 1.15 miles from the Granite Chief Trail junction there was a small meadow off to the right, with another peak behind it. In the foreground there is a small area of standing water partly covered with ice.

photo of high country along the PCT, not far from Granite Chief

High country along the PCT, not far from Granite Chief

Almost immediately I noticed that there was a post with a PCT sign, and I decided to make the post my turn-around point. I had not seen a spur or use trail to Granite Chief, or signage to denote entry into the Granite Chief Wilderness, but I would not be surprised if both were nearby.

I retraced my path on the PCT back to the Granite Chief Trail and down the canyon. When I’ve enjoyed a hike, as I had this one, revisiting views on the return trip simply adds to the enjoyment. Sometimes there are new discoveries, for example the yellow blazes to mark the trail across the large bare granite area, that were for whatever reason not noticed on the outbound hike. In addition, as the afternoon progressed there were interesting clouds that formed. Here is one example, looking down the lower canyon with the ski area and a glimpse of the Carson Range in the background.

picture of interesting clouds dressing up the sky

Interesting clouds dressed up the sky

I arrived back at my car about 4:20, after the sun had dropped behind the Sierra Crest but comfortably before it was too dark to hike safely.

I plan to hike up the Granite Chief Trail at least once more, to the turnaround point perhaps a mile south of Tinker Knob for a previous hike. And hopefully I will be able to make it all the way to this hike’s turnaround point from the Five Lakes Trail, to help connect this stretch of the PCT.

Posted in North Tahoe, Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe National Forest | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Lakes Trail to the Pacific Crest Trail

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This was kind of an exploratory hike. I tend to use the “exploratory” designation when I don’t quite complete what I hoped to on my hike, or I know I’ll plan to return later for a more extensive hike. In this case, I did successfully hike to the Five Lakes Basin above Alpine Meadows, but I only found two of the five lakes. I then continued to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and explored a relatively short distance in both directions, about 1.2 miles of the PCT.   I plan to return to this area perhaps three more times: once to find the other three lakes; once to hike south on the PCT to the Ward Peak area, where I previously hiked from Barker Pass; and once to hike north on the PCT toward Granite Chief, where I was hoping to hike the day following this hike.

The GPS track shows, as usual, my complete route including explorations and detours. The orange dot marks the trailhead along Alpine Meadows Rd. In addition to the PCT explorations at the lower left, the track shows another exploration near the largest of the five lakes. I’ll mention more about this detour later.

GPS track

GPS track

For information about the hike I referred to Mike White’s book, Lake Tahoe Top Trails. The basic hike to the Five Lakes Basin is rated as moderate. It is about a 1000-foot climb in 2 miles to get to the side trail to the largest lake. Some of the trail is a bit technical, but this is offset by the relatively modest distance.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The entire hike is within the Tahoe National Forest, and a portion of it is in the Granite Chief Wilderness. Hiking this trail highlights how closely related the Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley resorts are, geographically. The hike begins on the road to Alpine Meadows, has great views of the beautiful mountain backdrop (Alpine’s so-called front side), and features views of the adjacent parts of the Squaw Valley resort.

About 0.4 miles from the trailhead is a beautiful view of the Alpine Meadows front-side mountains. There had been some snowfall a couple of weeks prior: enough to look pretty on north- and east-facing slopes, but the trail itself was clear.

picture of Alpine Meadows from Five Lakes Trail

Alpine Meadows from Five Lakes Trail

As the trail continues, the rock formations farther up the hillside are quite spectacular.

image of rock formations up the hillside from the trail

Rock formations up the hillside from the trail

There is a set of stairs about 0.8 mile from the trailhead. About 0.3 mile later the trail passes by a row of lift towers. Since they look new, rather than abandoned, and they follow a route between Alpine and Squaw, I wonder if a new connecting lift is under construction.

photo of lift towers crossing Five Lakes Trail toward Squaw Valley

Lift towers crossing Five Lakes Trail toward Squaw Valley

Although a short section of the lower trail is in forest, most of the trail up to the Five Lakes Basin is along an exposed hillside, or more like a rock wall, with only scattered trees and occasional low ground cover. Here is a beautiful isolated tree uphill from the trail.

picture of isolated tree

Isolated tree

This view was about 1.2 miles from the trailhead. The steep, rocky hillside prompted me to wonder how in the world the trail would get to the top of the valley. Actually, if you look carefully, you can see the trail snaking along and up the valley wall, starting at the lower right of the picture.

image of Five Lakes Trail snaking up the valley wall

Five Lakes Trail snaking up the valley wall

There is one particular section that climbs up bare rock in a little gully. Yes, this is the trail; there is a hairpin turn at the small wall visible near the top of the picture.

photo of trail that is rather steep in a few places

The trail is rather steep in a few places

Just past this steep area there are several unusual tower-like rock formations. I’m not sure what they should be called; they are not quite hoodoos, or pinnacles, or tors – perhaps spires? though their tops are rather rounded. Anyway, I thought they were quite striking.

picture of tower-like rock formations

Tower-like rock formations

As the trail gets closer to the lip of the Five Lakes Basin it passes below the legendary KT-22 peak. The story behind the name goes something like this: in 1946, before any lifts had been built, the wife of the owner of the Squaw Valley property hiked up to this peak and, while skiing down, needed to make 22 kick-turns. This is the back side of KT-22.

image of back side of KT-22

Back side of KT-22

Just past the Granite Chief Wilderness boundary there is a very short use trail to the first of the five lakes. There was a little bit of snow about 10 yards off-trail near this junction. Since tree trunks can be seen on the lake bottom, this is apparently a fairly shallow lake, or perhaps it is extra shallow due to the current drought conditions. The peak that’s barely visible in the background would be visible at other locations on the hike. I think it is an unnamed peak at the north end of a mile-long ridge that runs slightly west of north from Ward Peak. For lack of a better name, I’ll call it Ward Peak neighbor.

photo of first of the Five Lakes

First of the Five Lakes

Just about 0.1 mile past the use trail to the first lake is a signed junction with a trail leading to the heart of the Five Lakes Basin and the largest of the lakes, where I stopped for a break. This junction was the highest elevation on my hike.

picture of largest of the Five Lakes, November 2014

Largest of the Five Lakes, November 2014

As it happens, I had hiked up to this area some 7 years ago. It had been so long that I forgot that I actually got to one of the lakes, though this is the easiest to find since there is signage and a clear trail.  I found this picture when I checked my archives.  Even though that hike was a month earlier in the Fall, there was more early snow that year. Also, the surface of the lake was calmer. Clearly I took both pictures from the same location on the lake shore!

image of largest lake, October 2007

Largest lake, October 2007

As I ate my sandwich I noticed several mallards swimming around and enjoying the lake.

photo of mallards in the largest of the Five Lakes

Mallards in the largest of the Five Lakes

As it turns out, the map in my reference book draws the trails in a different configuration from what I experienced. As a result of that difference I continued along the side trail for perhaps 0.3 mile past my lunch stop before I decided that it was taking me in the wrong direction to go to other lakes in the basin. I turned around and retraced my path to the original signed junction. After my hike I realized that other maps show different trail configurations in the basin. Some other time I’ll return, perhaps with someone who knows how to find the other 3 lakes!

At the signed junction I continued toward the Pacific Crest Trail, about 0.7 miles farther and after a gentle 150-foot descent. The PCT junction is a T. I was hoping to have enough time to explore both directions from this junction and still return to the trailhead before dark. First I turned left, which is south on the PCT even though the trail goes almost due east. I knew that there were switchbacks coming soon, so I decided to turn around at the first one, which was only about 0.25 mile past the junction. As I returned, I happened to notice a stalk of flowers, well past their prime but not yet having lost their petals. They were striking because of the backlighting by the sun.

picture of flowers backlit by the sun

Flowers backlit by the sun

At the T junction I continued straight, to explore the PCT in the “logical north” direction, which is actually southwest. I was expecting another junction about 0.9 miles away, and only had enough time to go that far. This section of trail passes below Squaw Peak, and there were glimpses of ski area features, such as the top of one of the lifts. At the junction the Whiskey Creek Trail goes to Whiskey Creek Camp. I turned around and retraced my path to the trailhead without further detours or explorations.

Along the next section of trail I had almost continuous views of “Ward Peak neighbor,” which I had first noticed at the first of the Five Lakes. It was interesting to see the same peak from different angles and to note that there was a snowy side and a bare side, which made it easy to see the changing perspective.

image of Ward Peak neighbor

Ward Peak neighbor

As I left the Five Lakes Basin and started down the 1000-foot hill, the rock faces and formations had warm hues in the late afternoon sun. Here is one place, about a mile from the trailhead, where there are darker and lighter rocks and a few colorful bushes near the trail.

photo of colorful rocks and bushes near Five Lakes Trail

Colorful rocks and bushes near Five Lakes Trail

There were also occasional views of more distant hills, possibly the Carson Range farther to the east.

I had been paying particular attention to the time during my hike, since sundown always seems to come earlier than expected in November. (It was just a week after the end of Daylight Savings Time.) I was surprised to encounter several people heading up the trail within the last mile or so. I even asked one couple how far they planned to go, and they said “just to the end of the trail,” which meant to Five Lakes. There was only so much I could say to them about earlier sunset – in fact, the sun had already set behind the hills and it was more like dusk. I hope they were properly equipped to descend that steep gully safely. In any case, although I arrived back at my car about a half hour before the nominal sunset time, it was definitely getting darker and I was glad to be off the trail safely.

I look forward to return to this pretty trail to complete the nearby sections of the PCT and to find the remaining three lakes I haven’t yet found.

Posted in North Tahoe, Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe National Forest | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sanborn County Park: Sanborn and Skyline Trails to Skyline Blvd

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Sanborn County Park is in the Santa Cruz Mountains along Castle Rock Ridge, above the village of Saratoga. The main entrance is a mere 3 miles from downtown Saratoga, yet the park has a wonderful remote feel, rising 1500 feet up rugged hillsides to Skyline Blvd (CA-35).

This round-trip hike began near the main entrance, at the Costanoan parking area, and proceeded up Sanborn and Skyline trails to the Biddle stairs next to Skyline Blvd. The round-trip distance (without detours) is about 6½ miles. When I reached Skyline Blvd I crossed the road to check out the ocean views, and on the return part of the hike I explored the upper portion of the San Andreas Trail. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the start and end of the hike.

GPS track

GPS track

As is evident from the elevation profile, the outbound hike is a pretty steady climb all the way to Skyline Blvd. The average grade is just under 10%. The trail is well-designed, so the hike does not present challenges other than the distance and elevation change.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

After following signage across a grassy picnic area toward the Youth Science Institute, the Sanborn Trail initially is a paved road that passes through a walk-in campground. The campground includes some 30 camp sites that extend for about ½ mile and 250 feet of elevation gain. Each camp site includes at least one picnic table, a fire ring, bear box, and trash receptacle. It looks like a wonderful place to take a scout troop for a first-time camp-out.

photo of camp site in walk-in campground

Camp site in walk-in campground

At the upper end of the campground the pavement ends and the trail continues up the hill, later becoming single-track width. I continue to be impressed at how nicely-laid-out trails can maintain a reasonable 10% grade and scale much steeper hillsides.

picture of Sanborn Trail

Sanborn Trail

A Steller’s jay flew across the trail ahead of me, then landed in a Douglas fir and proceeded to play hide-and-seek. This rear view shows its beautiful coloring and distinctive crest.

image of Steller’s jay

Steller’s jay

Sanborn Park has a well-deserved reputation for interesting rocks and rock formations. Shortly after passing the Peterson and San Andreas Trails, there is a particularly interesting-looking outcropping of porous rock (tuff, perhaps). For some reason it reminded me of the infamous shark in Jaws.

photo of rock outcropping reminiscent of the shark in Jaws

Rock outcropping reminiscent of the shark in Jaws

The trail passes by the Todd Redwoods. In this area, when you look away from the trail you are literally seeing a redwood forest.

picture of redwood forest

Redwood forest

The park’s redwoods are not the largest on the Peninsula, but they are impressive and beautiful nevertheless. I used my hiking poles to show the scale of a pair of stately redwoods that were immediately next to the trail.

image of impressive redwood trunk bases

Impressive redwood trunk bases

Just about 3 miles from the beginning of the hike is a T junction with Skyline Trail, which is also the Bay Area Ridge Trail. I continued uphill on Skyline Trail for another 0.2 mile to the Biddle stairs, which lead to a small parking area on Skyline Blvd (CA-35). To this point the climb had been just under 1600 feet.

photo of Biddle stairs leading to Skyline Blvd

Biddle stairs leading to Skyline Blvd

I had planned a short detour here, up the stairs and across Skyline Blvd, before returning back down the trail. I wanted to check out the views, which would include the Pacific Ocean if the weather was clear enough. In fact, Monterey Bay is almost due south, about 20 miles away. I have not been able to convince myself whether the light swath in the picture is water or some residual coastal fog.

picture of view roughly south from Skyline Blvd at Biddles

View roughly south from Skyline Blvd at Biddles

On my return trip I decided to explore a bit on the San Andreas Trail. The San Andreas Fault runs through the area, very close to the lower part of the trail near the Visitor Center. Almost immediately I noted that there were many madrones in the forest. The bare branches created an almost eerie feeling.

image of forest of madrones along the upper San Andreas Trail

Forest of madrones along the upper San Andreas Trail

After I had descended about 400 feet in 0.6 miles I decided to turn around, and did that at a switchback. There were a couple of places where there seemed to be alternate trails. In one such place, where there wasn’t any formal signage, I found an informal sign: an arrow drawn right in the trail!

photo of arrow indicating the “correct” trail

Arrow indicating the “correct” trail

After retracing my path to the Sanborn Trail, I resumed the descent toward the campground. As I was approaching the top end of the campground I could hear excited children’s voices, and I wondered what kind of activity was in progress. Just as I approached the cusp of the distinctive U on the GPS track, I saw a group of youth emerging onto the trail as part of a supervised hike along Aubry Creek. In a quick exchange with one of the adults I learned that the hike was part of a youth science camp. Clearly the kids were having a great time! (The ones who are blurry in the picture did not hold still for the necessary duration of the exposure.)

picture of youth science camp participants

Youth science camp participants

Near the Visitor Center I noticed signage I had not noticed at the beginning of my hike, denoting the Peterson Grove of redwoods. This is a very compact grove, with 26 trees (yes, I counted) in a rough circle and a viewing platform inside the circle. I was able to stand in the center of the circle and take a picture directly upward. It provided an unusual perspective on these stately trees.

image of Peterson Grove of redwoods

Peterson Grove of redwoods

Sanborn Trail is well-shaded and would be comfortable for hiking on all but the hottest days. It is a very nice forest hike, not far from the usual bustle of the Silicon Valley.

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Halloween colors

Have you noticed that, in the last couple of years, Halloween decorations in your neighborhood are both more common and more elaborate? That’s certainly the case in my neighborhood, so I am inspired to share some images of the season. I encountered all of these while out on my regular walks in my neighborhood.

Of course there are quite a few traditional images associated with Halloween. One of the most iconic is the jack-o-lantern. This is the most creative one that I think I’ve ever seen: an entire tower. Someone had fun carving and then ensuring that they all stayed in balance!

image of jack-o-lantern tower

Jack-o-lantern tower

Another traditional image is the ghost, often depicted in a white sheet. Here is a group of 6 ghosts, appearing to dance and chant in a circle.

photo of ghost circle

Ghost circle

Not surprisingly, there were lots of skeletons. This is one of my favorites, giving the appearance of trying to emerge from its grave.

picture of skeleton emerging from the grave

Skeleton emerging from the grave

Perhaps the second most iconic Halloween image is the witch. When I was young, it was one of the most popular costumes for young children, and I wore it proudly until my younger sister could. This witch seems to have lost her way flying around, and ran into a tree!

image of witch plastered against a tree

Witch plastered against a tree

There is one particular yard in my neighborhood, on a cul de sac, which gets co-decorated by the owners of the houses on both sides. For Halloween they set it up as an elaborate cemetery, the Haunted Valley Cemetery, complete with gravestones, skulls, a casket, and a scarecrow at the back.

photo of Haunted Valley Cemetery

Haunted Valley Cemetery

Another neighbor has a unique variation on the traditional ghost: his are orange, and in recent even-numbered years have honored the San Francisco Giants (note the numbers on their fronts). The figures are equipped with lights, so they are internally illuminated at night. The trellis at the left has strings of lights that spell out a few letters. This year it’s Boo!

picture of illuminated figures

Illuminated figures

One house on a corner has a low stone wall along the side. There are often small figures sitting on the wall, changed out periodically. These two lovely ladies of the Halloween season are less than 1 foot high.

image of ladies of the season

Ladies of the season

Some decorations are a bit more on the scary side. In particular, I’ve noticed that spiders have become quite prevalent. Some are quite large and are often placed with swaths of spider web. The smaller spider in the background is hanging from a tree branch.

photo of scary black spiders

Scary black spiders

Bats or vampires can be scary, too. Here is a large one, very furry and fierce-looking. It particularly got my attention because the eyes were glowing red.

picture of bat with glowing red eyes

Bat with glowing red eyes

Some decorations depict “accidents” that happened to people. This figure makes clever use of an ornamental rock in the garden.

image of body under a rock

Body under a rock

Some of the spider decorations have colored knees: often orange or green. This spider is completely blue.

photo of blue spider

Blue spider

I also want to include a couple of images of local flora. Here is a pretty leaf, still on the tree but changing colors and getting ready to fall off.

picture of multi-colored leaf

Multi-colored leaf

Finally, I want to note that in the San Francisco Bay Area Halloween is still in season for (some) roses. This is a particularly nice example in someone’s front yard.

image of Halloween season rose

Halloween season rose

The variety and creativity in neighborhood Halloween decorations certainly enhance my daily walks during October!

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Rush Ranch Open Space – Suisun Hill Trail

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Rush Ranch Open Space is a few miles south of Suisun City in southern Solano County. About 2000 acres in size, it is next to Suisun Marsh and not far from Grizzly Island Wildlife Area. There are 3 hiking trails. On a previous visit I had walked two of the trails, and on this visit I walked the third, the Suisun Hill Trail, whose trailhead is just across Grizzly Island Rd from the main entrance to Rush Ranch. It was a pleasant day for a hike, with the temperature about 80 degrees.

The Suisun Hill Trail is a short 1.7-mile semi-loop that goes over and around Suisun Hill, a 212-foot hill at the northwest end of the Potrero Hills. After I completed the loop I continued along Grizzly Island Rd for about ¼ mile before returning to my car, marked by the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail is relatively compact. There is a short access trail before the loop proper starts. I decided to go left, to travel around the loop in a clockwise direction. Way-finding is straightforward, with “Trail” and arrow signage at each junction (there are a few alternatives). And along the trail there are unmarked 4×4 posts that serve to mark the trail. Traveling clockwise, the trail immediately climbs to the top of the nearby hill, which is Suisun Hill. So I arrived at the highest elevation of the hike quickly, just 0.4 mile from the trailhead.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Because much of the immediate surrounding area is sea-level marshland, the top of a 200-foot hill actually affords some nice views. The row of hills in this view is the Potrero Hills, in their seasonal golden brown hue. They would be lovely in the rainy season. At the right (southeast) end of the hills it is barely possible to see a few of the windmills in the large Shiloh Wind Power Plant.

picture of Potrero Hills from Suisun Hill

Potrero Hills from Suisun Hill

Looking toward Suisun City there is a nice view across Suisun Marsh, with Suisun Slough making a pretty pattern and the Vaca Mountains behind.

photo of Suisun Slough and Suisun Marsh from Suisun Hill

Suisun Slough and Suisun Marsh from Suisun Hill

You also have a birds-eye view of the Visitor Center area of Rush Ranch. Two other trails, the Marsh and South Pasture loop trails, start at the Visitor Center.

image of Rush Ranch

Rush Ranch

About 25 miles to the south, Mt Diablo rises dramatically, 3800 feet higher than the intervening marshland and bays. From the relatively high (200-foot) vantage point of Suisun Hill, the connected Suisun, Grizzly, and Honker Bays at the Sacramento River delta are visible.

picture of Mt Diablo across the bays at the delta of the Sacramento River

Mt Diablo across the bays at the delta of the Sacramento River

The hilltop has a couple of benches and sign posts for signage, not currently present. The benches are Boy Scout projects. After enjoying the views I continued along the loop trail down the hill and toward the north end of the loop, where there is a trail junction. At the junction there is a livestock water trough – at least that’s what I presumed it to be. In the picture the Vaca Mountains make a pretty backdrop.

photo of water trough with the Vaca Mountains in the background

Water trough with the Vaca Mountains in the background

I followed the trail signs along a curve to the south. After about 0.3 mile there was a side trail that angled back up the hillside. I walked up this trail, just to confirm that it intersected the loop trail where I thought it did, and returned to the main loop. After completing the loop I returned along the short access trail to my car. I still wanted to explore a bit more, so I walked up Grizzly Island Rd for about ¼ mile. Alongside the road there were a few wildflowers, including this purple star thistle. While I recognize that star thistles are considered invasive plants, the flower is still pretty.

image of purple star thistle along Grizzly Island Rd

Purple star thistle along Grizzly Island Rd

I also found this pretty yellow flower. The blossom bunches are at the top of quite long (perhaps 24-inch) stems.

picture of yellow flower along Grizzly Island Rd

Yellow flower along Grizzly Island Rd

One of the reasons I walked up the road was to see if I could get a different perspective on the Potrero Hills. What I discovered was that I got a different perspective on Suisun Hill! From this perspective I’d say it is a pretty gentle and mellow hill.

photo of Suisun Hill from Grizzly Island Rd

Suisun Hill from Grizzly Island Rd

Though my hike was only 2.2 miles and I took my time to enjoy the views, it turned out to be a pleasant hour-long interlude.

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Causeway Coast Way from Carrick-A-Rede to the Giant’s Causeway (part 3)

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This post covers the third and final part of my single-day hike along the Causeway Coast Way walking trail , continuing from Bengore Head along the Giant’s Causeway to the Visitor’s Centre. It’s another part of my eachtra aisling Éireannach (Irish dream adventure).   In the previous section I hiked from Ballintoy Harbor to Bengore Head. I just kept hiking, and after-the-fact I am breaking the hike into three posts, since there were so many wonderful sights to see and pictures to share.

This section of my day’s hike was about 6½ mi long and focused on the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site, the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. It has been justly designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The actual Causeway Coast Way trail distance was only about 3 miles, but I took time to explore the additional trails between the Visitor’s Centre and Lacada Point. In the downloadable WalkNI brochure about the Causeway Coast Way this is a portion of Section 4. It is also part of the North Antrim Cliff Path.

GPS track

GPS track

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

After all of the wonderful sights and views I’d had during the first 10 miles of my hike, it was exciting to look down from Bengore Head and see my first view of the columnar basalt structures for which the Giant’s Causeway is justly famous.

image of first view of basalt columnar structures below Bengore Head

First view of basalt columnar structures below Bengore Head

The columns here are not as regular or as closely spaced as they would be once I was within the World Heritage Site, but they were unusual and beautiful nevertheless. These structures are remnants of volcanic activity and great lava flows some 50-60 million years ago.

The coastline in the area is scalloped, with heads alternating with bays or coves. Each time I rounded a head there was another dramatic view, whether I looked ahead of me or behind me. Here is a view of columnar structures in two layers, as I rounded Benbane Head. The highest point in the trail is in this area and is known as Hamilton’s Seat, named for Dr William Hamilton, who is credited with providing the volcanic explanation for the basalt columns in 1786. The cove in the center of the picture is Horseshoe Harbour, and I believe the rock in the middle of the cove is called The Nurse and Child. Just behind it are two rocks with a common base and a gap between. This is called the Giant’s Eyeglass, and used to be a complete arch until part of it fell into the sea. Another structure here is called The King and His Nobles.

photo of columnar cliffs coming into view while rounding Benbane Head

Columnar cliffs coming into view while rounding Benbane Head

The trail remains on the cliff-tops, around 300 feet above the water. There is a little bit of elevation gain and loss. Notably, the trail is outside the primary fencing for grazing animal control. There is some signage reminding walkers not to stray too closed to the cliff edge. Note the plank-type stile at the smaller side fence at the bottom of the dip.

picture of North Antrim Cliff Trail near Benbane Head

North Antrim Cliff Trail near Benbane Head

There had been a few periods of intermittent light rain earlier in the afternoon. I was glad that the rain didn’t last too long, because I was just starting to get used to what I needed to do to keep myself – and especially my gear (camera and GPS) – dry. I had brought a lightweight emergency poncho, which I was able to use to cover up, including my backpack and gear. After each raincloud passed, the sun came back out and it got warm under the poncho. I also discovered that the rain apparently encouraged thousands of small insects to emerge, fly around, land on certain objects, and generally be a bother. My hands, camera, and poncho were good targets, as well as certain types of flowers. The little buggers almost covered some of the flower heads!

image of flowers covered by small bugs after a rain shower

Flowers covered by small bugs after a rain shower

After passing Benanouran Head the path passes Port na Spaniagh, or Spanish Bay, where the Spanish Armada warship Girona went aground in 1588. From here there was a spectacular view behind me toward Rathlin Island, where I was planning to hike the next day. The picture shows Benanouran Head framing the foreground, with the west end of Rathlin in the background. The white building on Rathlin is the West Lighthouse, which is notable for being designed and built upside down, i.e., with the entrance at the top and the light at the bottom, down the cliff-side.

photo of Rathlin Island and its West Lighthouse, with Benanouran Head in the foreground

Rathlin Island and its West Lighthouse, with Benanouran Head in the foreground

From here on I would be encountering many of the unique and distinctive features of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. This map provides an overview of the site, and I entered the map area at the right, or northeast, end. Note that there are eight locations identified as viewpoints!

Giant's Causeway map

I carefully went just a little closer to the cliff edge for this dramatic view of Spaniard Rock below the distinctive basalt columns known as Chimney Tops. The long, skinny dark rock in the water to the right is Lacada Point. The Girona wreck is just off the end of Lacada Point.

picture of Spaniard Rock, Chimney Tops, and Lacada Point

Spaniard Rock, Chimney Tops, and Lacada Point

The path goes around one more small cove, which houses The Amphitheater and where I would shortly return. When I got to the trail junction shown on the map I was about halfway around Port Noffer, the Giant’s Port. I decided to first explore some of the lower area, then return to the cliff-top path. This included descending the Shepherd’s Steps, something like 162 steps total, and continuing back generally in the direction from which I had come. This path goes to the small cove that houses The Amphitheater, but the path stops before entering the amphitheater proper. This is due to a landslide that occurred about twenty years ago, covering the trail. It is evident that there is still a trail on the other side of the slide, below rows of clustered basalt columns.

picture of The Amphitheater, showing the landslide that has closed off the trail

The Amphitheater, showing the landslide that has closed off the trail

After this brief exploration I returned to the Shepherd’s Steps and back up to the cliff-top trail. This is an overview of the trail: to the left of center it splits into a lower and upper trail. The handrail next to the steps is visible at the upper right. The two paths curve around the bowl that sweeps up from Port Noffer.

photo of trail along the cliff side above Port Noffer

Trail along the cliff side above Port Noffer

From the cliff-top at the northeast end of Port Noffer there is a wonderful overview of the bay and the Giant’s Causeway, the skinny spit that kind of disappears into the sea in the center of the picture. The peninsula behind it is Great Stookan.

image of Giant’s Causeway overview

Giant’s Causeway overview

After the cliff-top path continues around Port Noffer it presents a dramatic overhead view of the Giant’s Causeway from a small headland called Aird Snout. The Grand Causeway is in the center of the picture, with the Middle Causeway at the left. The entire ground area that is not covered in grass, and some that is, consists of basalt columns. There are an estimated 40,000 columns here. During the 13.5 miles of my hike so far, except for the detour to The Amphitheater I had encountered fewer than 10 other walkers or hikers, but evidently I was about to have significantly more company!

photo of Giant’s Causeway top view

Giant’s Causeway top view

This view of Port Noffer is from the same location at Aird Snout, looking northeast. Spaniard Rock and Chimney Tops are visible in the background. At the very left of the picture the very low, flat rock with a bigger rock at its shore end is called Sea Gull Isle.

picture of Port Noffer (The Giant’s Port) overview

Port Noffer (The Giant’s Port) overview

The path to The Amphitheater is clearly visible about a third of the way up the cliff wall and passes just below a dark-colored area. This is another basalt column feature called The Organ, shown here in a close-up from a slightly different perspective. The Organ, or Giant’s Organ Pipes, is a row of about 60 columns up to 12 meters high. The path passes right next to the base of several of the central pipes.

image of The Organ, or Giant’s Organ Pipes

The Organ, or Giant’s Organ Pipes

Continuing along the cliff-top between Aird Snout and the next small headland of Weir’s Snout there were some pretty, light purple thistle-like wildflowers. I think they are common knapweed – common in the United Kingdom but not in the United States.

picture of common knapweed

Common knapweed

I should mention a little bit about the legend of the giant. According to legend, the Irish giant Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill) was challenged to a fight by a Scottish giant and built a causeway across the North Channel so they could meet. Later the Scottish giant destroyed the causeway as he returned to Scotland. It turns out that there are essentially identical basalt columns at Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, about 60 miles away to the north, thought to result from the same lava flows. As a consequence of this legend there are numerous rocks and other features in the Giant’s Causeway area with giant-related names.

Near the Visitor’s Centre the cliff path crosses the paved access road that goes down to sea level. I walked down the road to explore the causeways. There are actually three: the little, middle, and grand causeways. I almost skipped the Little Causeway as I headed for the Middle Causeway, which is notable for having almost perfect hexagonal-shaped columns with a striking gradation between dark and light rock. Somewhere on the Middle Causeway – I did not see it – is the Giant’s Chair. (Perhaps if I had known to look for it, I would have taken the time to find it.)

image of Middle Causeway

Middle Causeway

In any case I continued to the Grand Causeway and walked out toward the tip, which just gets lower and lower until the waves wash over it. I thought it was beautiful.

photo of Grand Causeway tip

Grand Causeway tip

While out near the tip I turned around and looked back to the shore and had a very nice view of the rest of the Grand Causeway, the cliff face, and Aird Snout above.

picture of Grand Causeway base, below Aird Snout

Grand Causeway base, below Aird Snout

After I had explored the Grand Causeway I decided to walk along the rest of the paved lower path, which passes the Giant’s Gate and Giant’s Boot before arriving at the trail junction below the Shepherd’s Steps. I returned via the paved path and the access road to go to the Visitor’s Centre. After passing Great Stookan there is yet another small cove, Portnaboe, with a distinctive rock formation called The Camel.

image of The Camel, Portnaboe

The Camel, Portnaboe

The Camel is at the base of the next headland. The North Antrim Cliff Path and the Causeway Coast Way continue along the coastline. From the section of the path prior to the Visitor’s Centre there is a nice view southwest across flat-topped Runkerry Point. Farther in the background is Inishowen Head, which is in County Donegal, Ireland.

photo of view southwest, beyond the Giant’s Causeway, across Runkerry Point

View southwest, beyond the Giant’s Causeway, across Runkerry Point

Just past the Visitor’s Centre there was a bus stop where I was able to catch a Rambler bus back to my home base in Ballycastle.

The visit to the Giant’s Causeway was the highlight of a wonderful and very full day of hiking along the North Antrim Coast. I had been expecting spectacular scenery, and my expectations were fulfilled and then some. My plan for the next day’s hike was to go to Rathlin Island for what I expected to be different but also beautiful scenery.

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