SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Upper Stevens Creek County Park

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Over the last month or so I have been participating in the 2019 PixInParks Challenge hosted by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge, also called the Magnificent Seven, consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge consists of hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy parks.

The hike described in this post was the seventh, and therefore last, hike in the challenge.  It was located in Upper Stevens Creek County Park, which is most convenient to access via CA-35, Skyline Blvd, either at Saratoga Gap or Grizzly Flat.  I think I have hiked at Upper Stevens Creek only once before, in one segment of a multi-day hike from the edge of the Bay (in Palo Alto) to the edge of the Pacific Ocean (at Waddell Beach).

The day I had selected to do the hike was overcast at lower elevations near San Francisco Bay, and it was almost pea soup along Skyline Blvd.  When I arrived at the Grizzly Flat trailhead, this was the view looking roughly southwest across Skyline toward the Pacific Ocean.  It was reminiscent of a hike I’d done the previous spring at Coal Creek Open Space Preserve.  On both occasions the mist was so dense that there was light rain under the tree canopy.  Fortunately, this time I was prepared with an appropriate jacket and headwear.

photo of misty view from the trailhead

Misty view from the trailhead

The Challenge hike is a short loop along Grizzly Flat North and Grizzly Flat South Trails on the uphill side of a junction where they rejoin to form the Grizzly Flat Trail, which then continues downhill to Canyon Trail at the bottom of Stevens Canyon.   The North and South trails nearly touch in the middle of the loop, so I decided to modify the route slightly by turning it into a figure 8.  The GPS track map shows my route, with the orange dot denoting the trailhead along Skyline Blvd.  From the trailhead I took the left fork (Grizzly Flat North), then the very short Cutoff Trail to Grizzly Flat South, around the outer loop counterclockwise, up the Cutoff Trail again, and a final return to the trailhead on Grizzly Flat South.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation markings on the contour lines indicate that the hike was mainly downhill for the first half, then uphill back to the trailhead.  This is also illustrated on the elevation profile.  The total gain and loss were about 650 feet, so the average grade was about 10.5%.  The North trail is mostly like a maintenance road, while the South trail is single-track.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Due to the misty and damp conditions, I saw a lot of wet leaves, and some of the wildflowers looked rather bedraggled.  This woodland star (Lithophragma sp) has water droplets on its petals, but otherwise appears fairly fresh-looking.

photo of woodland star with mist droplets on its petals

Woodland star with mist droplets on its petals

And since the moist conditions are common in this area, there were ferns along the trail in many places.  Here I found two types, most likely sword fern (Polystichum sp) and wood fern (Dryopteris sp).  While I’m not proficient in identifying fern species, both of these types are common locally.

photo of ferns enjoying the moisture

The ferns enjoy the moisture!

At one of the places where the North trail makes a definitive curve to the right, I noticed that I had a nice view through a small break between trees.  I’m not positive, but I think this might be looking northwest toward Skyline Ridge.  In any case, it was a pretty view, even with grey overcast still in place.

photo of view between trees

View between trees

Some of the trees next to the trail were covered in moss.  It’s fascinating to observe the differences in the moss between dry and humid conditions.  In the summer I’ve seen moss that is brown, flat, and drooping.  In humid conditions like this hike, the moss stretches out horizontally from the tree bark with an appearance I can only characterize as fluffy.  The fronds are as much as 2 inches long.  I tried looking it up in Calflora, and it appears to be called dendroalsia moss (Dendroalsia abietina).  I’m surprised that there aren’t many observations posted, since I’ve seen this moss numerous times during my local hikes.  Note additional happy ferns in the background of the photo.

photo of “fluffy” dendroalsia moss on a tree trunk

“Fluffy” dendroalsia moss on a tree trunk

As mentioned before, when I reached the cutoff trail I turned right to go over to the Grizzly Flat South Trail, which turned out to be mainly single-track.  I found a few Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii) that were basically waterlogged.  Then I found several quite fresh-looking gumweeds (Madia gracilis).  This close-up clearly shows that each of the ray flowers has 3 lobes.

photo of gumweed, a type of madia

Gumweed, a type of madia

The trail winds downward, finally bottoming out a little below 1700 feet elevation and then beginning to ascend shortly before reaching the junction between Grizzly Flat Trail and its North and South branches.  Not far after the junction I noticed some two-eyed violets (Viola ocellata).  Note that the leaves are larger than the blossoms, and this leaf has numerous mist droplets.  Some of the other blossoms were showing the effect of prolonged moisture, but this one looked fresher.  The dark purple splotches on the lower side petals are the eyes.

photo of two-eyed violet

Two-eyed violet

The trail began to climb, winding gently around the contours of the ridge through a beautiful woodland area with mixed trees and understory vegetation.  Other than wanting to keep moving due to cool temperatures, it was a very peaceful hike.

photo of Grizzly Flat Trail North beginning to ascend to Skyline Blvd

Grizzly Flat Trail North beginning to ascend to Skyline Blvd

I knew that the PixInParks destination location was going to look like a row of rocks near the edge of the trail.  In the correct vicinity I found two rows of rocks, either helping to define the edge of the trail to prevent visitors from going down the steep hillside, or marking the top edge of a natural retaining wall to help hold the soil in place.  Neither location looked quite like the picture provided for the challenge, so I ended up stopping at both places for pictures.  When I’m hiking solo, as I was this time, I simply photograph my day pack and hiking poles as a substitute for a selfie.  This is the location that most closely agrees with the icon on the Challenge hike map.

photo of PixInParks photo location along Grizzly Flat Trail North in Upper Stevens Creek County Park

PixInParks photo location along Grizzly Flat Trail North in Upper Stevens Creek County Park

Along this section of trail I found a couple of wild roses that I believe are called wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpia).  I also found a few milk maids (Cardamine californica) and two types of lupine (Lupinus sp).  In the woodland areas the lighting was somewhat unfavorable for photography, further exacerbating the damp condition of the flowers.

When I reached the cutoff trail I again made the very short climb to Grizzly Flat Trail South, where I turned right to return to the trailhead.  Along this section of trail I happened to notice a beautiful bay tree (Umbellularia californica) with numerous trunks growing from a single base and more moss on its many trunks and branches.

photo of bay tree

Bay tree

When I reached my car I had a brief, silent celebration of completing the PixInParks challenge.

On my way home I decided to see if I could find some distinctive red flowers I’d noticed on a vertical roadcut surface on my way to the trailhead.  I found them!  And they turned out to be canyon larkspur (Delphinium nudicaule), the only red larkspur found locally.

photo of canyon larkspur

Canyon larkspur

Then I stopped a couple of other places to investigate what looked like potentially interesting roadside flowers.  At another stop I found Ithuriels’s spear (Triteleia laxa), some almost brilliant purple, and with unusually large flower clusters.  There were also some Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla) with somewhat muted colors.

photo of Chinese houses

Chinese houses

While stopped for the Chinese houses I noticed, higher up the nearly vertical side of the road cut, some white fairy lanterns (or globe lilies) (Calochortus albus) that were in clusters unlike any I’ve ever seen in terms of the number of blossoms.  Another interesting point is that the flowers were in a range of progression, from relatively fresh blossoms all the way to seed pods.  This entire range is visible in the picture.

photo of large cluster of white fairy lanterns along the road

Large cluster of white fairy lanterns along the road

I made a final stop at a place where I noticed clusters of white next to a small roadside ditch with standing water.  I found these flower clusters, which I have not identified.  Each blossom was small, only about 1/4 inch in diameter.  I thought the flowers were pretty, so I hope the plant is not a non-native.  The four petals suggest that it might be in the mustard family.

photo of white mystery flowers in standing water next to the roadway

White mystery flowers in standing water next to the roadway

At this same location I noticed that the standing water had water striders on the surface and tadpoles visible near the bottom.  It’s amazing to me that frogs are able to reproduce in seasonal standing water and their offspring could actually make it to adulthood.

And on that note, with a brief naturalist experience at the end of my hike, I concluded my 2019 PixInParks Challenge adventures.

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Calero County Park

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This spring I have been participating in the 2019 PixInParks Challenge hosted by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge, also called the Magnificent Seven, consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge includes hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy the county parks.

A few weeks ago I completed my first hike, and this post describes my sixth hike, which was on the Lisa Killough Trail at Calero County Park.  This trail is a relatively new one and has quickly gained a well-deserved reputation for its spring wildflowers.  While the wildflowers were somewhat muted compared to the banner year of 2018, this hike was still pretty much a wildflower walk.

One of my favorite wildflowers along the Lisa Killough Trail is the most beautiful jewelflower (Streptanthus albidus spp peramoenus), which seems to bloom around May in areas where the surrounding grasses have already turned golden brown.  The flowers are about the size of my pinky fingernail and look like tiny urns with fancy petals at the top.  Another reliable place to find these beauties is along the lower part of the Fortini Trail at Santa Teresa County Park, barely 1/2 mile from Calero’s Rancho San Vicente trailhead parking.

image of aptly named most beautiful jewelflower, along the Lisa Killough Trail in Calero County Park

Aptly named most beautiful jewelflower, along the Lisa Killough Trail in Calero County Park

The hike was an out-and-back route following the Lisa Killough Trail to Lisa’s Lookout and back, as shown in the GPS track map.  The orange dot at the top denotes the trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

The hike distance was about 5.7 miles round trip, with a bit over 600 feet of elevation gain and loss – and no steep sections.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Although I mostly saw wildflowers I’d seen previously along this trail, my first observation was new.  It appears to be an albino variant of pale sack clover (Trifolium depauperatum var amplectans).  There were quite a few of these unusual clovers along a section of the trail, and they were all this exceptionally pale color.  Note the typical trifolium (clover) leaves in the background.

image of pale sack clover

Pale sack clover

I also found a different white flower in the first section of the trail: white brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina).  While the insides of the petals were white, the outsides each have a green stripe.  Note the presence of several small pollinators: almost every open blossom had at least one.

image of white brodiaea

White brodiaea

After passing the North Ridge Trail and passing through a gate, I followed the signage to a junction with Cottle Trail, where I continued on the Lisa Killough Trail. In this area there was some seep spring monkeyflower (Erythranthe guttata) in moist areas and brodiaea, probably harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) in the dry grasses.  There was also narrowflower flaxflower (Leptosiphon liniflorus).  These small, pretty flowers sit atop long stems, and the gentle breeze was more than enough to challenge my photographic skills and patience.

image of narrowflower flaxflower

Narrowflower flaxflower

Beyond the Cottle Trail junction the Lisa Killough Trail passes through a nice serpentine area.  My favorite wildflower in this area is the Santa Clara Valley dudleya (Dudleya abramsii ssp setchellii).  Most of the plants were still in bud, but I found a few blossoms.

image of Santa Clara Valley dudleya

Santa Clara Valley dudleya

Across the trail from the dudleyas there were a few cream cups (Platystemon californicus), many fewer than in my previous year’s visits but always a delight to find.

image of cream cup

Cream cup

Past the serpentine area the trail meanders on a hillside for a bit over half a mile, still climbing gently.  The trail passes chaparral and wildflowers such as Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and woodland monolopia (Monolopia gracilens).  Tucked in among some chaparral I found a few white fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus), some delicately tinged with pink.

image of pink-tinged white fairy lantern

Pink-tinged white fairy lantern

There were also some bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), including a white variant.

image of white variant of bluedick

White variant of bluedick

A little farther I started to see the most beautiful jewelflowers, like the one pictured at the beginning of the post.  After the trail emerges from the chaparral area the hillside is mainly open grassland.  There were a few clay mariposa lilies (Calochortus arguillosus).  If I remember correctly there were more last spring; I only saw about a dozen of these beauties this time.  Since there were several very close to the trail I decided to try to take close-up pictures of the inside of a couple of blossoms, to illustrate the details of the hairs and the red and yellow splotches, which can vary among individuals.  There were also at least two small beetles on this flower, which I find is not unusual.

image of close-up of clay mariposa lily

Close-up of clay mariposa lily

As the trail continues into the park’s “back country” it passes in and out of wooded areas and crosses a few seasonal streams that cascade down the hillside.  Since it was May, these streams were mostly dry for the season.  Here is a pretty view into a cluster of California bay trees (Umbellularia californica). On warmer days these shaded areas are a welcome respite from the sun that dominates the open hillsides.

image of wooded area with bay trees

Wooded area with bay trees

The short side trail to Lisa’s Lookout is about 2.8 miles from the trailhead parking, and by this point I generally feel as though I’ve retreated – in a good way – to a remote part of the park.  It’s a very short distance, less than 0.1 mile, up the spur trail to the lookout, where there are two picnic tables.  For the purpose of the PixInParks program, the lookout is the hike’s main destination.  As usual, as soon as I arrived I set up my day pack and hiking poles for my photo (substitute for a selfie).  Then I sat down for a short break, enjoying the views and the fine spring weather.

image of PixInParks photo location at Lisa’s Lookout, just off the Lisa Killough Trail in Calero County Park

PixInParks photo location at Lisa’s Lookout, just off the Lisa Killough Trail in Calero County Park

I want to note that the wildflowers are, or can be, a little different each year.  For example, last year there were many elegant clarkias (Clarkia unguiculata) around the picnic tables, but not a single one this time.  The timing difference was only 2 or 3 weeks on the calendar.

In any case, descending the short spur trail back to the main trail there is a nice view of Mt Umunhum, on the left in this picture beyond the hills of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.  A nice oak tree punctuates the trail junction.

image of view of Mt Umunhum and Almaden Quicksilver County Park descending from Lisa’s Lookout

View of Mt Umunhum and Almaden Quicksilver County Park descending from Lisa’s Lookout

On the return hike I took note of other common wildflowers, such as blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum), scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), yellow sticky monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus), and tomcat clover (Trifolium wildenovii).  There was also some jeweled onion (Allium serra).

image of jeweled onion

Jeweled onion

In the shaded woodland area I found some California hedgenettle (Stachys bullata) and possibly a Mt Hamilton thistle (Cirsium fontanale var campylon) near one of the intermittent streams.  The thistle was not blooming yet.  There were a few clarkias, I believe winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea).  Along with other clarkias, this one tends to signal the approaching end to the primary spring wildflower season.  As in most years, it seems too soon!

image of winecup clarkia

Winecup clarkia

Closer to the trailhead, near the serpentine area, I noted a few owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta) and some California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that had still been closed when I passed on the outbound hike.  If the morning is overcast, with sun later in the day, this is a common experience with poppies.  In this section of the trail there were also nice views of Mt Hamilton to the east beyond nearby Santa Teresa County Park.  It is always nice to go on a hike that features both distant views of neighboring parks and open spaces and close-up views of a variety of wildflowers.

With the completion of this hike, I only have one more PixInParks hike for 2019, in Upper Stevens Creek County Park; I’m looking forward to a new adventure there!

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Martial Cottle County Park

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As I’ve mentioned previously I am in the process of completing the 2019 PixInParks Challenge sponsored by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge is also called the Magnificent Seven and consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge involves hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy parks.

For my fifth hike I went to Martial Cottle County Park.  Like many other county parks and other open spaces in the Bay Area, Cottle Park is a former family ranch and is named for its owner.  Cottle is special for two reasons: it is an urban park, surrounded by residential neighborhoods; and, along with honoring the region’s agricultural history, the park highlights recent innovations in organic, sustainable, and urban farming practices.  The park is just under 300 acres, a bit less than 1/2 square mile, in size.  Since it is essentially perfectly flat, there are unobstructed views of the hills that surround the lower Santa Clara Valley.  The trails go around the perimeter, with one bisecting the park, and all are paved multi-use trails.

This was my first visit to Martial Cottle Park, and it provided a pleasant walk.  It was my second PixInParks hike of the day, since I came directly from the PixInParks hike at nearby Joseph D Grant County Park.

A single picture that captures the essence of the hiking experience in Martial Cottle County Park might be one like this, which shows an impressive view of some of the surrounding hills (here, those to the southeast).  I think the hills in the distance at the right might be in Henry Coe State Park.  The fence at the left separates an agricultural field from the pubic-access paved multi-use trail at the right.  Housing in the adjacent residential neighborhood is visible at the perimeter of the park.

picture of view of East Bay hills from Martial Cottle County Park

View of East Bay hills from Martial Cottle County Park

The map and GPS track show an overview of the park and the route.  The park basically consists of the area without streets.  The start/end point, denoted by the orange dot, is the parking area associated with the main entrance on Snell Ave.  The hike route follows the multi-use trail around the perimeter and then up the center of the park, with an out-and-back extension to the southern part of the park immediately adjacent to CA-85.  My route was as follows: hike around the perimeter to the far point of the extension, then back to the main loop, complete the loop, and finally back to the start.  The PixInParks photo location was along the north boundary before reaching the loop proper, but I stopped for my photos on the return trip.

GPS track

GPS track

As can be seen from the first photo, the entire park is quite flat.  I didn’t include an elevation profile because the entire gain and loss for the hike was certainly less than 50 feet.

In addition to enjoying views of the surrounding hills, I noted several wildflowers and shrubs along the trail.  Some of the wildflowers were natives, like this California poppy (Eschscholzia californica).  Note that only the center of the flower has the typical orange color, while the outer parts of the petals are yellow.  This is a common color variation of our state flower.

picture of California poppy

California poppy

Some of the wildflowers along the trail were non-natives.  Here I show two common examples of non-native thistles which are found along many park trails in the Bay Area.  On the left is milk thistle (Silybum marianum), originally native in the southern Europe – Mediterranean region but now found virtually throughout the world and widely considered to be a weed.  The leaves have distinctive white veins, and the flower heads are usually single, as shown.  On the right is Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), also originally native to the Mediterranean region and now widely found and considered to be an invasive weed.  The flower heads are smaller, lighter in color, and tend to appear in clusters.

picture of milk thistle (left) and Italian thistle (right)

Milk thistle (left) and Italian thistle (right)

While walking along the north perimeter there are constant views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, including the easily recognizable peaks of Loma Prieta and Mt Umunhum.  This picture shows Mt Umunhum and its radar tower behind a huge solitary oak tree.  The tree is actually the location of the PixInParks photo, but I stopped for my photos on the return trip.

picture of view of Mt Umunhum overlooking the southern Santa Clara Valley

View of Mt Umunhum overlooking the southern Santa Clara Valley

A bit later, still along the north perimeter, I noted quite a few ceanothus shrubs with their pretty purple flower clusters.  I’m not very familiar with ceanothus, but I tried an ID anyway: I think it is blue blossom ceanothus (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus), based on locations and photos recorded on the Calflora web site.

picture of blue blossom ceanothus

Blue blossom ceanothus

The southern extension takes off near a pedestrian bridge that crosses Canoas Creek, an intermittent stream that is a tributary of the Guadalupe River.  As mentioned above, I hiked the southern extension of the hike route before continuing around the main loop.  The extension is nearly 1/2 mile long and terminates near CA-85 with an access point that provides convenient access to the adjacent neighborhood near Blossom Hill Rd.

In this area there were several patches of winter vetch (Vicia villosa), another non-native found along many local trails.  There were more lovely views toward the east, including the white Lick Observatory buildings on Mt Hamilton.  These buildings are easiest to see from a distance in the afternoon, when the sun often reflects strongly, emphasizing the white color.  In the picture Mt Hamilton is toward the left.

picture of view of the East Bay hills and Mt Hamilton

View of the East Bay hills and Mt Hamilton

Returning on the northbound leg of the extension, I noticed a black phoebe (Sayornis nigricans) alternately flying around capturing insects and sitting on the top wire of the fence that goes around the agricultural areas of the park.  The lighting was less than ideal for the photo, but when I tried to get a better angle I scared the phoebe away.

picture of black phoebe resting between insect-capturing flights

Black phoebe resting between insect-capturing flights

After returning to the bridge I continued around the loop.  Approaching the northbound leg there was a stretch of colorful flowers growing along the fence.  I think these were non-native garden flowers; indeed, the park map indicates that there is an area designated for Santa Clara County master gardeners, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some unusual flowers in this area.  The northern half of the northbound leg (Valley Oak Crossing) passes part of the main public access area, which includes an amphitheater, picnic areas, a discovery farm, and two orchards.  Interpretive signage highlights native landscaping and drought tolerant landscaping, both of which can provide ideas for local residents to incorporate into their own landscaping.  For example, there was a long row of Peruvian pepper trees (Schinus molle), highlighted for their drought tolerance.

picture of Peruvian pepper trees, part of the drought-tolerant landscaping in the park

Peruvian pepper trees, part of the drought-tolerant landscaping in the park

Part of the agricultural area was being irrigated.  As I approached an area near the north end of Valley Oak Crossing, I noticed that the sun behind me was creating ephemeral rainbows in the spray from the sprinklers.  I tried to capture this in a picture.

picture of faint rainbow in the spray from irrigation sprinklers

Faint rainbow in the spray from irrigation sprinklers

As I turned the corner at the completion of the loop to return to my starting point, I decided to investigate some flowering plants that I had initially noticed on my outbound hike.  I had assumed they were something else, but when I looked more carefully I decided that the plants might be sage.  If so, they are most likely black sage (Salvia mellifera).

picture of black sage, I believe

Black sage, I believe

Continuing along the north boundary of the park, once again I arrived at the PixInParks photo location.  As can be seen in the photo, the magnificent oak tree is protected by a fence. Since I was hiking by myself it was a bit challenging to figure out how to photograph my day pack and poles, my usual substitute for a selfie.  But I determined that I could hang my day pack from the top of the fence (light blue, toward the left in the picture); placing my poles was straightforward.

picture of PixInParks photo location at a magnificent oak tree in Martial Cottle County Park

PixInParks photo location at a magnificent oak tree in Martial Cottle County Park

After a short break for the picture, I continued back to the parking area where I had started.  Once back at my car, I noticed several morning glories (Calystegia sp) growing at the perimeter of some of the pavement.  Morning glories are another common trailside native wildflower.

Since I had done two hikes that afternoon, even if both were relatively short, it was a nice way to enjoy spending time in county parks that I don’t get a chance to visit as often as I’d like.  And I was already looking forward to my next PixInParks adventure.

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Joseph D Grant County Park

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As mentioned in a recent post I am in the process of completing the 2019 PixInParks Challenge sponsored by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge is also called the Magnificent Seven and consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge involves hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy parks.

For my fourth hike I went to Joseph D Grant County Park in the East Bay foothills between San Jose and Mt Hamilton.  Grant is a large park, about 11,000 acres and the largest county park in Santa Clara County.  Halls Valley, in the heart of the park, was formerly an active ranch and retreat when it was owned by Mr Grant.  Within this relatively short hike I encountered a nice variety of terrain and ecosystems, from open grassland to shady, forested areas next to an intermittent stream.

On the day of my hike a prescribed burn was taking place just across Mt Hamilton Rd from the Grant Lake trailhead parking area.  There were a number of trained personnel as well as equipment, including at least one fire engine, to monitor the situation.  I spoke briefly to one of the personnel, who indicated that the conditions were excellent for the fire prevention activity: recent wet weather, and a cool day without strong winds.  There was a breeze, though, and fortunately it was blowing the smoke away from the area where I would be hiking.  I smelled the smoke for only a few minutes at the beginning and end of my hike.

photo of fire from a prescribed burn near the Grant Lake trailhead on the day of the hike

Fire from a prescribed burn near the Grant Lake trailhead on the day of the hike

The recommended hike was a 2.5-mile loop along the Yerba Buena, Loop, McCreery Lake, and Halls Valley Trails.  I started around the loop in the counterclockwise direction, and later found that the McCreery Lake Trail was closed, so I needed to modify the route as described later.  I mention it here because the trail closure meant that I hiked a slightly smaller loop but then needed to do a short out-and-back leg to get to the PixInParks photo location.  The orange dot on the GPS map image shows the location of the Grant Lake parking area and trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

With an additional short exploration, due to misinterpreting trails leading from a trail junction, my hike ended up being 3.2 miles long.  The elevation gain and loss were about 530 feet, so the average grade was about 6.3%, which I consider to be comfortable.  The steepest part was the exploration that was actually not part of the intended route.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I departed from the trailhead parking area on the Yerba Buena Trail, which runs more or less parallel to Mt Hamilton Rd in a southeasterly direction.  Almost immediately I began to see what I consider to be common trailside wildflowers, such as scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), hawksbeard (Crepis sp), blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum), winter vetch (Vicia villosa), and Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa).  After about 0.3 mile there was a junction with Loop Trail, but not the junction I was looking for.  There was a nice view across Mt Hamilton Rd toward the row of hills on the west side of Halls Valley.  The hills were a lovely spring shade of green.

photo of view of hills on the west side of Halls Valley

View of hills on the west side of Halls Valley

I noticed quite a bit of tomcat clover (Trifolium wildenovii), with white tips and purple spots on each flower and characteristic narrow triplet leaflets.

photo of tomcat clover

Tomcat clover

Other wildflowers along this section of trail included pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), lupine (Lupinus sp, maybe nanus), and lomatium (Lomatium sp).  In the latter two cases there are several possible species.  The Yerba Buena Trail veers away from Mt Hamilton Rd to go over/around a small hill and past a majestic oak tree (Quercus sp).

photo of oak tree along Yerba Buena Trail

Oak tree along Yerba Buena Trail

Almost exactly 1 mile from the trailhead I came to another trail junction, which I misinterpreted. I actually didn’t see the Loop Trail, which almost executed a U-turn, or its identifying sign.  Instead, I continued uphill on the continuation of the Yerba Buena Trail.  But perhaps I was a little distracted, because at the junction I noticed a colorful striped snake in the grass: one of several possible species of garter snake (Thamnophis sp).  I whipped out my camera to get a quick picture before it slithered away.

photo of garter snake near the junction with Loop Trail

Garter snake near the junction with Loop Trail

The next short section, then, was an unplanned detour/exploration.  I hiked about 1/3 of a mile – and climbed nearly 200 feet – before I concluded that I was, for sure, no longer on the intended route.  However, the additional elevation gain facilitated getting a nice view of the famous white buildings of Lick Observatory peeking over an intervening hill.

photo of Lick Observatory

Lick Observatory

Also, just before I turned around I noted a cluster of narrow-leaved mule ears (Wyethia angustifolia).  Although the flowers are at least superficially similar to other local species of mule ears, the leaves are much skinnier, making the identification straightforward.

photo of narrow-leaved mule ears

Narrow-leaved mule ears

I was also a bit surprised to find some goldfields, I presume California goldfields (Lasthenia californica), along this section of trail.  In any case, once I convinced myself that I had taken the wrong trail I turned around and returned to the junction where I’d seen the garter snake; this second time I had no trouble locating the Loop Trail, which traversed a grassy area and disappeared into woodland.

The Loop Trail shortly approaches and goes parallel to an intermittent stream, and the habitat changes to open forest.  The narrower, single-track trail also descends gradually.  It was really quite lovely.

photo of Loop Trail passing through a pretty, forested area

Loop Trail passing through a pretty, forested area

In this area I found miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and many bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum).  I was pleasantly surprised to find a good-sized area of Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla).

photo of Chinese houses

Chinese houses

About 0.4 mile along the Loop Trail the trail crosses a fence line.  Instead of a gate, a stile had been constructed to allow hikers to climb over the fence.  I have encountered only a few stiles in the US but many more in Europe, so in that sense the stile was certainly notable.

photo of a stile: a way to easily climb over a fence, and an alternative to a gate

Stile: a way to easily climb over a fence, and an alternative to a gate

The forested area along Loop Trail hosted several interesting wildflowers.  First there was a cluster of true babystars (Leptosiphon bicolor), in both the white and pink forms.

photo of both white and pink true babystars

Both white and pink true babystars

Just a short distance away there were some Johnny jump ups (Viola pedunculata), which are one of my favorite forest wildflowers.

photo of Johnny jump up

Johnny jump up

And nearby there were a few white fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus), anther of my favorites.  When the viewing angle is right it is possible to see short hairs on the inside surface of the petals.

photo of white fairy lantern

White fairy lantern

Continuing along the trail I passed woodland star (Lithophragma sp), checkerbloom (Sidalcea sp), California bee plant (Scrophularia californica), and blue witch (Solanum umbelliferum).  I’m pretty sure I also saw some sticky cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa var glandulosa).  After about 0.7 mile on Loop Trail I came to pretty McCreery Lake at a trail junction with Lakeview and McCreery Lake Trails.  There is a picnic table at this junction, and it would – and did! – make a nice spot to take a short snack break.

phoato of McCreery Lake

McCreery Lake

The intended route for the loop followed McCreery Lake Trail.  However, a prominent sign indicated that the trail was closed due to high amounts of water runoff.  So it was necessary to take Lakeview Trail instead.  Lakeview Trail was back out in open grassland with views of the surrounding hills.  There was a small climb, just 50 feet or so of elevation gain, to go over a minor hill.  Along the way I saw a common buckeye (Junonia coenia), which graciously paused long enough for me to shoot a few pictures.

photo of common buckeye

Common buckeye

Particularly from the top of the small hill there was a very nice view of Grant Lake, the main body of water in the park.  The Lakeview Trail is aptly named!

photo of Grant Lake

Grant Lake

Once I arrived at the end of Lakeview Trail, at a junction with Halls Valley Trail, I turned right to follow Halls Valley Trail along the Grant Lake shoreline for about 0.3 mile, as far as the next trail junction.  The PixInParks photo spot was at that next trail junction, close to a section of raised walkway.  Once again I was hiking by myself, so I photographed my day pack and poles in lieu of taking a selfie.

photo of PixInParks photo location near Grant Lake

PixInParks photo location near Grant Lake

After my picture and a nice pause to enjoy the view of Grant Lake, I retraced my path back toward the trailhead.  The prescribed burn, closed trail, and detour were minor adventures that added slight complexities to a pleasant hike which had been accentuated by a nice variety of spring wildflowers.

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

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I am in the process of completing the 2019 PixInParks Challenge hosted by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge, also called the Magnificent Seven, consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge includes hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy parks.

This post describes my third hike, which was in Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear County Park.  I actually did two Challenge hikes in the same afternoon, beginning at Mt Madonna County Park and then going to nearby Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park.  This hike was relatively short, just 2.1 miles, and included a loop trail I was not previously familiar with.  In contrast to Mt Madonna, this hike was more exposed, and was pleasant on a sunny spring afternoon.  There were nice views of the nearby hills and the floor of Coyote Valley, as well as several colorful wildflowers.

One of the wildflowers was fiddleneck, and I believe it was small-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia menziesii) rather than common fiddleneck (A intermedii); both species have been reported at the park.  I enjoyed getting a nice close-up picture of the coiled cyme where the blossoms form, also showing numerous hairs on the stem.  On breezy days it’s typically impossible to get such a clear photo!

image of small-flowered fiddleneck, I believe

Small-flowered fiddleneck, I believe

There are three entrances to the 6700-acre park; this hike utilized the Mendoza Ranch entrance on Roop Rd in Gilroy.  The Mendoza Trail is the only trail that leads to/from this trailhead.  After passing the north end of Roop Pond Trail and the south end of Coyote Ridge Trail, the Rancho La Polka Trail takes off to the left and loops around a hill.  The GPS track shows an overview of the route, with the orange dot showing the trailhead at the parking area.

GPS track

GPS track

The hike featured relatively gentle grades: the total elevation gain and loss were about 365 feet, so the average grade was a comfortable 6.5%, fairly consistent throughout the short hike.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

In the first part of the Mendoza Trail, before the junctions with the Roop Pond and Coyote Ridge Trails, I noted lots of winter vetch (Vicia villosa) growing among grasses, as well as scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis) and some blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum); these are all fairly common trailside wildflowers in the spring.  A nice surprise was finding a few sun cups (Taraxia ovata), since they are somewhat less common.

image of sun cup among some grasses along Mendoza Trail

Sun cup among some grasses along Mendoza Trail

Closer to the junction with Rancho La Polka Trail there were pretty views of the nearby hills, in late April of a wet rainy season still covered in lush green grasses and dotted with oak trees.

image of view of nearby hills

View of nearby hills

Here is another view, not far away but looking in a different direction.

image of view near Rancho La Polka Trail junction

View near Rancho La Polka Trail junction

The junction with Rancho La Polka Trail was about 0.5 mile from the trailhead.  The Rancho La Polka Trail takes off to the left, passes through a gate, and then forks to form a loop.  I decided to take the right fork to hike counterclockwise around the loop.  I took my time a bit, enjoying the day and the views.  Near the south end of the loop I saw some spring vetch (Vicia sativa), with characteristic leaves and pea-like blossoms.

image of spring vetch

Spring vetch

There were lovely views across the Coyote Valley.

image of Coyote Valley

Coyote Valley

After rounding the south end of the loop I looked for a picnic table above me, on top of the hill I was hiking around.  Shortly I found it, and hiked up to enjoy more views and take my Challenge photo.  Instead of a selfie, I took a picture of my day pack and poles.  This is a great spot for a picnic or mid-hike rest stop!

image of PixInParks photo location along Rancho La Polka Trail in Coyote Lake - Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

PixInParks photo location along Rancho La Polka Trail in Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

After enjoying a short break I continued around the loop.  Before long I found quite a few Ithuriel’s spears (Triteleia laxa).  Several plants were notable for having relatively large flower clusters with numerous blossoms.  These were particularly striking.

image of Ithuriel’s spear

Ithuriel’s spear

After completing the loop I retraced my path back to the trailhead.  Along the way I enjoyed seeing a deer, some morning glories (Calystegia sp), and pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea).  Near the trailhead I stopped to photograph some popcorn flowers (Plagiobothrys sp) that I had seen at the beginning of the hike.  There was a good-sized cluster of plants.  The blossoms are fairly small, less than 1/4 inch in diameter.  There are several species of popcorn flower found locally (Santa Clara County), essentially indistinguishable to a casual observer.  It was interesting to be able to clearly see the soft hairs on the leaves.

image of popcorn flower

Popcorn flower

I generally enjoy hiking a new trail – this was both a new trail and a pleasant short hike.  One of the things I appreciate about a challenge program like the Magnificent Seven is that the suggested hikes are often ones I haven’t done before.  So, although I don’t need much encouragement to go to local parks, it is fun to discover a new trail or area of a park.

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Mt Madonna County Park

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As mentioned in a recent post I am in the process of completing the 2019 PixInParks Challenge hosted by Santa Clara County Parks.  The Challenge, also called the Magnificent Seven, consists of seven hikes, each in a different county park.  The challenge includes hiking to a particular location, taking a selfie or group picture, and posting the picture on social media with certain hash tags.  The intent is to encourage people to get outside and enjoy parks.

For my second hike I went to Mt Madonna County Park, located about 10 miles west of Gilroy.  Mt Madonna’s peak is about 1900 feet elevation, and at the higher elevations there is a redwood-dominated forest.  Much of the park is shaded forest, so it is a great place to go on warm summer days.  On my hike I saw quite a few forest- and shade-loving wildflowers, such as this two-eyed violet (Viola ocellata); only one of the purple eyespots shows in the picture due to my camera angle.

picture of two-eyed violet

Two-eyed violet

The Challenge hike was a 2.5- to 2.7-mile loop beginning near the amphitheater, which is itself located near the peak of Mt Madonna.  The GPS track shows the loop, which I hiked clockwise starting from the orange dot.  My GPS mileage was 3.0 miles, a little longer than expected, probably due to some extra walking to/from my car, plus taking a slightly different route near the beginning of the hike.

GPS track

GPS track

As shown in the elevation profile, the first part of the hike was primarily a descent and the second part was primarily an ascent – as might be expected when starting from the highest point in the park.  The total elevation gain/loss was almost 700 feet, so the average grade was about 8.5% and was fairly consistent.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

In a small open meadow-like area near the beginning of my hike I was pleased to find several Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii).  These beautiful flowers are cream to very pale yellow, with delicate purple and yellow veins visible on the petals and sepals.

picture of Fernald’s iris

Fernald’s iris

There was also some blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum), which is famously neither blue nor a grass.  This blossom was a virtually white color variant.

picture of blue-eyed grass - white color variant

Blue-eyed grass – white color variant

From the small parking area near the Hillside picnic area where I parked my car, I looked for signs indicating Upper Miller Trail.  After a short distance this trail crosses the Nature Trail, and I may have taken a slightly longer route here, since the trails are a bit confusing.  I continued downhill on Upper Miller Trail to a junction with Loop Trail, where there is a sharp right turn.  Along the way, mostly in forest, I found my first of several fern species of the day, as well as some Fremont’s star lily (Toxicoscordion fremontii).  Not far from the next junction, with Ridge Trail, I heard the distinctive vocalizations of California quail that I apparently had agitated by simply walking down the trail.  Shortly I saw a pair, one of which remained fairly visible before disappearing into the understory.  As shown in this picture, the distinctive head coloration identifies it as a male.  His head plume seems to be drooping to one side.

picture of male California quail next to the trail

Male California quail next to the trail

Continuing down Ridge Trail, sunlight filtered through the trees creating pretty patterns of light and shadow.

picture of sunlight filtering through trees along Ridge Trail

Sunlight filtering through trees along Ridge Trail

The loop path takes a right turn at Contour Trail, which is more level for the next 0.4 mile or so.  In this area I began to see more redwoods with associated understory plants like redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana).   The characteristic 3-part leaves were unusually large, about 2 inches in diameter.

picture of redwood sorrel along Contour Trail

Redwood sorrel along Contour Trail

In this area the trail passes fairly close to a small creek that helps to keep the environment moist.  For the PixInParks Challenge “photo opportunity” destination I was looking for a so-called fairy ring: an older-growth redwood stump surrounded by younger trees.  There were two similar fairy rings, both partial, but one was especially distinctive.  It was located just before I reached the junction with Blackhawk Trail, which has been closed in one direction due to weather-related landslide activity.  As is typical of fairy rings I’ve seen in other Bay Area parks, the younger trees, while impressively tall, are much smaller in diameter – and younger in age – than the original old-growth tree had grown.  As usual, since I was hiking alone I photographed my day pack and hiking poles.

picture of PixInParks photo location: a redwood fairy ring along Contour Trail in Mt Madonna County Park

PixInParks photo location: a redwood fairy ring along Contour Trail in Mt Madonna County Park

Just after I passed the PixInParks photo location, Contour Trail became the open section of Blackhawk Trail, which follows the creek for the next 0.6 miles, gaining 200 feet in elevation.  Needless to say, the creek runs pretty swiftly with that kind of gradient!  Along this section of trail I found a few milk maids (Cardamine californica) and numerous ferns.

Eventually the trail reaches a Y junction where I followed Iron Springs Trail to the right to continue around the loop.  Iron Springs Trail continues to follow the creek upstream.  There were a few forget me nots (Myosotis latifolia, I believe) enjoying the shady environment.

A short spur trail leads left to Rock Springs Trail, which continues to follow the creek more steeply up the hillside.  On a park map the stream seems to appear part way up the trail, suggesting that it originates at some springs in that location.  There were more moisture-loving plants, including sword ferns (Polystichum sp) with tiny teeth at the margins (edges) of the leaflets.

picture of sword fern

Sword fern

Some old down tree branches and/or trunks were adorned with turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor).

picture of turkey tail mushrooms decorating some down tree-wood

Turkey tail mushrooms decorate some down tree-wood

A short distance before I arrived at the amphitheater I was pleasantly surprised to notice a couple of trillium plants (Trillium ovatum) that were well past their blooming stage.  Trilliums are one of my favorite early spring flowers, though they sometimes bloom well into spring.

picture of trillium

Trillium

After I reached the amphitheater area I turned right to follow the Upper Miller Trail back to my car.  In this sunnier area I noted miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), and some rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima).  As mentioned earlier, due to the high proportion of shaded areas along the trails in Mt Madonna County Park, it is a great place to visit during warmer summer days.  But it was also pleasant on a spring day with a nice variety of wildflowers to enjoy.

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SCCP PixInParks 2019 – Coyote Creek Parkway

In recent years several of the Bay Area parks and open space agencies have hosted programs to encourage members of the public to get outdoors and enjoy activities in local parks.  For example, 2019 is the third year that Santa Clara County Parks has held its PixInParks Challenge, also called the Magnificent Seven.  This is the second year in which I have decided to complete the challenge.  Each of the seven hikes is located in a different park, and the idea is to hike to a specified destination point and take a selfie or group picture, which is then posted on social media with certain hash tags.  The hikes are generally fairly short, roughly 2 1/2 – 6 1/2 miles, and are either out-and-back or loop hikes.  Shorter versions are suggested for ADA participants.

For my first 2019 PixInParks hike I decided to go to Coyote Creek Parkway, which hosts a portion of the Coyote Creek Trail between Hellyer County Park and Anderson Lake County Park.  The trail is a paved multi-use trail, and the 3.4-mile section designated for this challenge hike is quite flat, with just 130 feet of elevation gain and loss for the round trip.  I have hiked, or more accurately power-walked, the trail numerous times before.  However, I think this was the first time that I took my time a bit to enjoy the pretty scenery and some spring wildflowers.  (Typically when I’m power walking I’m training for something and prefer not to stop.)  Here is a view toward the hills that lie northeast of the Coyote Valley.

photo of view of hills northeast of the Coyote Valley

View of hills northeast of the Coyote Valley

The GPS track shows an overview of the route, which started at the southern terminus of the Parkway a few blocks off Cochrane Rd in Morgan Hill.  The orange dot shows the start/end point for the hike.

GPS track

GPS track

As it turns out I did more “photo opp” stops on the return trip, so this description essentially starts at the turnaround point, which was at the Eucalyptus Rest Area 3.4 miles from the beginning of the multi-use trail.  The first thing I did at the rest area was to take photos to use for the PixInParks challenge.  As is typical, I was hiking by myself, so I used a technique I developed for last year’s challenge: I took a picture of my day pack at the designated location, one of the picnic tables.

photo of PixInParks photo for the Coyote Creek Parkway hike

PixInParks photo for the Coyote Creek Parkway hike

The rest area is located in a grove of eucalyptus trees.  Looking to the west, I noticed that I could see Mt Umunhum framed by branches of one of the eucalyptus trees.

photo of Mt Umunhum framed by one of the eucalyptus trees

Mt Umunhum framed by one of the eucalyptus trees

Then I noticed that anther tree appeared to have pink puffs, so I took a closer look.  I’ve never seen – or noticed – a eucalyptus in bloom before.  After I got home I searched the Calflora web site for eucalyptus in Santa Clara County.  I was surprised to find that 19 species are found in California and 7 in Santa Clara County; of course all are non-native and several are considered to be invasive.  The most likely species is called red iron bark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon), based on the leaves, bark, and flowers.

photo of pink flowers on a eucalyptus tree, likely red iron bark

Pink flowers on a eucalyptus tree, likely red iron bark

After leaving the rest area to return to my starting point, I stopped occasionally to enjoy some spring wildflowers.  Here I found California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) growing among some non-native winter vetch (Vicia villosa) and grasses.

photo of California poppies growing among winter vetch

California poppies growing among winter vetch

In a nearby location I noticed some white variants in a large cluster of winter vetch.

photo of white variants of winter vetch

White variants of winter vetch

About half a mile from the rest area I noticed what appeared to be a row of shrubbery with pink flowers.  Surprised, I walked 10-20 yards off the paved trail to investigate.  Later, looking more carefully at a map of the area, I discovered that there are a few streets near the trail, and I suspect that this was an escapee from someone’s garden – and most likely a non-native.  It certainly was a striking blossom!

photo of pretty, but unidentified, pink flower – likely a non-native garden escapee

Pretty, but unidentified, pink flower – likely a non-native garden escapee

Perhaps a mile later, I noticed a California man-root (Marah fabacea) that had gone to fruit.  It had several large (about half the size of my fist), spiky ball-shaped fruits.  I’ve only seen these a couple of times previously, so it was quite interesting.

photo of California man-root

California man-root

The Parkway crosses under US-101, and I found an area next to the underpass with quite a few owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta).  Since I didn’t see them elsewhere along the trail, but they are generally common in the county, I’m not sure what made the specific location favorable.

photo of owl’s clover next to US-101 underpass

Owl’s clover next to US-101 underpass

I also found several common wildflowers, such as rose clover (Trifolium hirtum), lupine (Lupinus sp), and spring vetch (Vicia sativa), in many places along the trail.  They added nice splashes of color to what was already a pleasant walk / easy hike.

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