Ring Mountain Open Space: Phyllis Ellman Loop Trail

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The motivation for this hike was to try to see the rare and endangered Tiburon mariposa lily, which had been featured on a recent segment on a local TV news program. These mariposa lilies grow on Tiburon Peninsula, in southern Marin County, and nowhere else in the world. It turns out that I couldn’t visit Ring Mountain Open Space until about ten days after the story ran, and I was unable to find any mariposa lilies. However, it was a very pretty hike, and I’m sure I’ll visit again some other time.

The loop that I set out to hike is only 2 miles, but by the time I did a few side trips and explorations my hike was a little over 4 miles long. And, as shown below, though I didn’t see any mariposa lilies I did see a lot of other wildflowers. I started at the main trailhead on Paradise Dr, shown as the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

The view from the trailhead shows Ring Mountain rising above an area with a few streams and dotted with trees.

picture of view of Ring Mountain from Paradise Drive trailhead

View of Ring Mountain from Paradise Drive trailhead

About 0.2 mile from the trailhead the Phyllis Ellman Loop begins, and I went left where the trail splits. The first mile is basically a climb up to the upper area of the preserve, where I did most of my “extra” explorations before returning down the other side of the loop.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

By the time I got to the trail split I had already seen mule’s ear, scarlet pimpernel, sun cups, and yarrow, among other wildflowers. A short distance past the split I saw some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa).

photo of Ithuriel’s spear

Ithuriel’s spear

As I began to climb more, there was blue-eyed grass and bird’s foot deerweed (Lotus corniculatus).

image of bird’s foot deerweed

Bird’s foot deerweed

I saw quite a bit of what I think is johnny-tuck (Triphysaria eriantha). However, I’ll note that various pictures of this species on-line look quite different from others!

picture of johnny-tuck, I think

Johnny-tuck, I think

Among some tidy-tips (Layia platyglossa) I noted what looked like identical flowers but with yellow tips! One of my wildflower resources did mention that tidy tips “usually” have the distinctive white tips, like the one at the left of the picture, but sometimes yellow tips.

photo of yellow-tipped tidy tips

Yellow-tipped tidy tips

About 0.8 mile from the trailhead I reached a T intersection at the top of the loop. Straight ahead is distinctive Turtle Rock.

image of Turtle Rock

Turtle Rock

I had decided to explore once I got to the top of the loop, so I turned left (east) and headed toward the top of Ring Mountain. Shortly I saw a pretty white flower that is either a wild onion, sometimes called fringed onion (Allium fimbriatum), or else fool’s onion (Triteleia hyacinthina). These two species look quite similar, at least to my novice eyes.

picture of wild onion, or else fool’s onion

Wild onion, or else fool’s onion

In any case, once I’d reached the higher elevations (though only just over 500 feet), there were lovely views of the surrounding area. To the north, China Camp was the most prominent feature, with San Quentin in the foreground and San Rafael Bay between. I passed this spot several times as I explored, and I saw at least one ferry go by on its way to San Francisco.

photo of view of San Quentin, San Rafael Bay, and China Camp

View of San Quentin, San Rafael Bay, and China Camp

Just to the east the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge crosses the lower part of San Pablo Bay. Mt Tamalpais is very close (only about 5 miles away) to the west and Mt Diablo was visible about 30 miles away to the east. There were great views from a small side trail just east of the loop.

On my way over toward Ring Mountain I passed morning glory, poppies, and other wildflowers. Angel Island, just at the tip of the Tiburon Peninsula, was visible from some trail locations, with downtown San Francisco behind some fog that was still hanging out in the Golden Gate.

image of Angel Island, San Francisco, and some fog

Angel Island, San Francisco, and some fog

Some wildflowers seemed to be hiding in the grass, among them what I believe is linanthus (Leptosiphon andosaceus or perhaps L. ambiguous). I saw these near the junction with the Phyllis Ellman loop as I headed west toward the other leg of the loop after my Ring Mountain-top explorations.

picture of pretty linanthus flowers hiding in the grass

Pretty linanthus flowers hiding in the grass

Continuing past the first junction with the Phyllis Ellman Trail I arrived at the second junction, where I happened to notice some purple (sometimes called red or ruby) sand-spurrey (Spergularia rubra). These are quite small flowers and it would have been easy to miss them entirely.

photo of purple (or red or ruby) sand-spurrey

Purple (or red or ruby) sand-spurrey

Before heading down the hill I did another brief exploration by continuing straight on Mountain Fire Road for another 0.25 mile or so, climbing a small rise. From the rise there was a magnificent close-up view of Mt Tamalpais.

image of Mt Tamalpais from Ring Mountain Open Space

Mt Tamalpais from Ring Mountain Open Space

Looking back toward Ring Mountain there was a nice overview of the upper area of the preserve. Mt Diablo is in the background at the left edge of the picture.

picture of overview of upper Ring Mountain Open Space

Overview of upper Ring Mountain Open Space

After these explorations it was time to start down the western leg of the Phyllis Ellman Trail. After descending to about 350 feet the trail climbs up again next to a rocky hillside. In this serpentine area I saw some purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida), which has been difficult for me to photograph. This time I got a good picture, I think.

photo of purple sanicle along Phyllis Ellman Trail

Purple sanicle along Phyllis Ellman Trail

The area where the trail climbs (about 50 feet) up the hillside is where it is most likely to find the Tiburon mariposa lily. I went back and forth along this part of the trail several times and even climbed up a so-called social trail a little bit higher on the hillside. I was extremely careful not to step on any plant life in this entire area – for several reasons, including that I’m not sure that I would have recognized a flower-less mariposa lily plant and I certainly did not want to step on an endangered plant, either on or off the main trail.

After this final exploration I continued down the trail toward the trailhead. Along the way I saw even more wildflowers, including yarrow (so-called thousand leaves), Fernald’s iris, rattlesnake grass, smooth vetch, and pineapple weed. I have mentioned only the wildflowers that I identified or took special note of, and there were undoubtedly many more that I missed. It was a wonderful, relatively short hike with a profusion of spring wildflowers.

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