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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.