This hike along the Stevens Creek Nature Trail in Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is a relatively short 3-mile loop with modest, less than 600 feet, elevation loss and gain. I selected this trail as an appropriate one on the occasion of the 40th Year Founders’ Day celebration for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. MROSD was founded to preserve open space areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Santa Clara and southern San Mateo Counties, at a time when there were proposals to build several square miles of housing in the mountains. Because of the Founders’ Day event, it was a particularly good occasion to enjoy the open space and appreciate its preservation.
The Stevens Creek Nature Trail is a self-guided nature trail, with several informational signs along the way. The starting point is the main parking area on Page Mill Rd approximately 1½ miles east of its intersection with CA-35, Skyline Blvd.
Almost immediately after leaving the parking area there is a wonderful view southeast, with rows of hills, Mt Umunhum, Loma Prieta, and some mist over Lexington Reservoir. I usually view Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta from a different direction, for example from the other side of the San Francisco Bay, and it was interesting to note the apparent inversion in their positions. Here Mt Umunhum is on the left, with the Radar Tower visible on the skyline, and Loma Prieta is to the right.
The Stevens Creek Nature Trail descends about 500 feet into the Stevens Creek Canyon, crosses the creek, and climbs back up on the other side of the canyon, passing through different types of habitat. I decided to go around the loop counterclockwise.
The upper part of the trail is in open grassland, and I noticed quite a bit of the soft skittering sound of small lizards, several of which ran along or across the trail. One of the informational signs identifies them as western fence lizards. The largest one I saw, about 8” long, paused long enough for me to take its picture.
About 400 vertical feet down the canyon the trail crosses a tributary creek on a bridge. The canyon is forested, and cooler and moister than the grasslands higher up. In September, the time of this hike, though, the creek bed was dry and “moist” seemed a relative term. Even the moss on the tree trunks was dry.
About 0.1 mile past the junction with Skid Road Trail, the Stevens Creek Nature Trail reaches its lowest elevation at another bridge and creek crossing. Here there was a mass of large-leafed ground cover that looks like it thrives on the winter-season rains.
As the trail climbs up the canyon, different habitats are again encountered. I happened to notice several acorns in a perfect row on the trail. They made it seem like Fall had already arrived!
After the trail again emerged into grass-covered hills I noticed above me a solitary oak tree with a bicyclist passing by, on the Bella Vista Trail.
As I approached some trees next to the trail I noticed a bright red area in the middle of one of the trees. Sure enough, upon further inspection the red was poison oak, in its Fall colors.
The grasslands were home to several types of wildflower. I’ve been kind of fascinated by thistles, so I particularly noticed this purple thistle with a very interesting spiral pattern on the bulb-like structure at the base of the flower.
From the last part of the trail, approaching the parking lot, there was a nice view of the Monte Bello Ridge leading to Black Mountain. I had always thought that Black Mountain was dark. Apparently it used to be, when it was covered by trees, but today it is covered in grassland.
This was a quite pleasant loop hike, and the interpretive signs described several highlights and interesting points. It was a perfect prelude to the Founders’ Day celebration.