Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve: Mindego Hill Trail and Ancient Oaks Trail extension

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On the occasion of a trail opening I made a return visit to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve. The new section of trail is a 1-mile extension of the Ancient Oaks Trail down the hill to the new (2014) Mindego Gateway staging area. Although this is not a long section of new trail, it does a nice job of connecting the upper and lower portions of the preserve and makes it possible to hike or ride a 4-mile loop from either the main parking area or the Mindego Gateway staging area.

I turned the trail opening celebration into an opportunity to explore the Mindego Hill Trail, which – for now – goes just to the base of Mindego Hill. I ended up hiking the Mindego Hill Trail before the ribbon-cutting ceremony and then hiking the new trail after the ribbon-cutting. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the location of the Mindego Gateway staging area.

GPS track

GPS track

The first part of the hike, on the Mindego Hill Trail, was mostly downhill on the outbound leg. Conversely, the new trail was mostly uphill on the outbound leg. Total elevation gain and loss was just over 1000 feet, so the average grade was about 7½ %.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The day was a bit misty and cloudy, and I even encountered light sprinkles on the Mindego Hill Trail part of my hike. Next to the parking area there is abundant owl’s clover and there was some lupine, among other plants and flowers. Not far away I found some gumplant or gumweed (Grindelia). Even before I reached the Mindego Hill Trail, there was a pretty view generally to the southwest toward several successive rows of hills spilling down toward the Pacific Ocean.

picture of view of hills toward the Pacific Ocean

View of hills toward the Pacific Ocean

I soon passed a beautiful purple salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) next to the trail.

image of purple salsify

Purple salsify

There is quite a bit of winter vetch (Vicia villosa) at Russian Ridge. I was surprised, however, to see some pink blossoms among the more common purple blossoms.

photo of pink as well as purple winter vetch

Pink as well as purple winter vetch

As the trail descended there was a pretty view of Mindego Hill, with the trail – actually a fire road – meandering over the terrain.

picture of Mindego Hill, viewed from Mindego Hill Trail

Mindego Hill, viewed from Mindego Hill Trail

Continuing down the trail I passed numerous white globe lilies (Calochortus albus) growing on the uphill side of the trail.

About 0.6 mile from the parking area is a junction with Charquin Trail; to traverse the newly-possible 4-mile loop, you turn right here. I continued straight on Mindego Hill Trail. In this area I noticed some Italian thistle (Carduus pycnocephalus), which can be most easily distinguished from the similar slender thistle by the presence of 5 or fewer flower heads on each branch.

image of Italian thistle

Italian thistle

In a grassy area I noticed some light purple daisy-like flowers; I think they may be common lessingia. Elsewhere I found hedgenettle (Stachys).

The lower part of Mindego Trail passes through a slight depression, too subtle to be thought of as a valley. In this lower area there was quite a bit of Western vervain (Verbena lasiostachys), whose flowers tend to bloom from the bottom toward the top of the long purplish flower heads.

photo of Western vervain

Western vervain

There were several good-sized patches of scarlet pimpernel (Anagalis arvensis) next to the trail. A close-up picture shows the yellow-tipped anthers on the small (<1 cm diameter) flowers.

picture of scarlet pimpernel

Scarlet pimpernel

There was also a lot of wild radish (Raphanus raphanistratum) in this area.

image of wild radish near the lower part of Mindego Hill Trail

Wild radish near the lower part of Mindego Hill Trail

About 1 mile past Charquin Trail I reached a gate at the current terminus of Mindego Hill Trail and turned around to hike back up to the parking area. I noticed a few common fiddlenecks (Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia), well into their blooming stage.

photo of common fiddleneck in bloom

Common fiddleneck in bloom

I also noted some grassy tarweed (Madia gracilis) and some yarrow. Sometimes I notice different flowers on the return trip compared to the outbound trip!

picture of grassy tarweed, or Madia

Grassy tarweed, or Madia

I stopped to try to photograph some yellow clover that I’d noticed earlier. It is shamrock clover (Trifolium dubium). I’m finding it interesting to try to get good close-up photos of smaller flowers; it is often the case that additional detail is visible in the photos compared to what I see from my normal fully upright hiking stance.

image of yellow-hued shamrock clover

Yellow-hued shamrock clover

When I reached the Charquin Trail junction I decided to do a brief exploration, since I had a little extra time before the dedication ceremony. Not far along Charquin Trail I noted some common madia (Madia elegans), which has larger flowers than the grassy tarweed type of madia.

photo of common madia on Charquin Trail

Common madia on Charquin Trail

The short section of Charquin Trail I explored was shady and moist – at least partly because the brief sprinkles I mentioned had already occurred, and partly because the trail goes along a small stream. There were quite a few delicate forget-me-nots, some star flowers, and horse-tail near the stream. I only spent about 10 minutes on my little detour before continuing to climb up the hill to the parking area.

Along the way I noticed a flower I’d missed on the way downhill: imbricate phacelia (Phacelia imbricata). Due to the greenish color of the buds, this pretty flower would be easy to miss entirely.

picture of imbricate phacelia along Mindego Hill Trail

Imbricate phacelia along Mindego Hill Trail

After the dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting there was an official first hike on the Ancient Oaks Trail extension. The lower part of the trail winds through a forested area, here with a broad, gentle curve.

image of new extension of the Ancient Oaks Trail

New extension of the Ancient Oaks Trail

In the forested area there was miner’s lettuce, Fernald’s iris, some white blue-eyed Mary, and a patch of pretty, small, white lily-like flowers.

photo of unknown, but pretty, white lily

Unknown, but pretty, white lily

Perhaps 2/3 of the way along the new trail it rather suddenly emerges from the forested area onto a grassy hillside. Here I found two types of clarkia: probably chaparral clarkia (Clarkia affinis), though difficult for me to be sure since the blossom was mostly closed, and four-spot clarkia (Clarkia purpurea ssp. quadrivulnera). The four-spot clarkia is a lighter color and has a distinguishing spot on each of its 4 petals.

picture of four-spot clarkia

Four-spot clarkia

When I reached the upper end of the new trail, essentially at the east end of the Ancient Oaks Trail, which I passed on a recent hike, I turned around and returned to the Mindego Gateway parking area. Just as I reached the parking area I made one last “new find,” some common coyotemint (Monardella villosa ssp villosa).

picture of common coyotemint next to the Mindego Gateway parking area

Common coyotemint next to the Mindego Gateway parking area

This hike was quite enjoyable and, once again, I encountered a nice variety of spring wildflowers at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.

This entry was posted in Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, San Mateo County, wildflower hikes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve: Mindego Hill Trail and Ancient Oaks Trail extension

  1. Cindy says:

    Glad you made it to the trail opening and went exploring. The new Mindego Gateway is so much more than a parking lot. There are two observation decks at the end of the short gentle paved trail north of the bathroom that is wheelchair accessible. The views from those decks to Mindego Hill and the Pacific coast can be quite stunning and one deck was specifically designed for people who like to paint landscapes. Early morning yoga has been known to occur on the other deck. During construction of the project, we discovered and protected what appears to be a Native People’s bulb garden to the east side of the decks: soap plant, brodiaea, mariposa lilies, yampah and native grasses grow densely there. Signs explain some of the Native People’s use of this area. This is a great place to take visitors who are not used to hiking far but are interested in seeing some of the beautiful natural features of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

  2. Pingback: Russian Ridge loop wildflower hike | trailhiker

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