Santa Teresa County Park: Stile Ranch and Fortini Trails

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This spring I seem to be doing some short hikes with specific purposes, generally to try to find a particular wildflower. This time I went to Santa Teresa County Park south of San Jose hoping to see some most beautiful jewel flowers. With such a pretty name, I was sure I would be enchanted with the flowers!

I hiked a 2.7-mile loop starting at the park entrance near Fortini Rd. Going clockwise around the loop this involves hiking up Stile Ranch Trail, then taking Mine Trail to Fortini Trail and back to the trailhead. On the GPS track the orange dot shows the location of the trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

The Stile Ranch Trail climbs steadily via a series of switchbacks and crosses two summits at about 700 feet elevation before descending to the junction with the Mine Trail. This portion of the route is part of the Bay Area Ridge Tail and I have previously hiked it in the summer. The Fortini Trail descends more gently back to the trailhead.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The day of this hike was partly cloudy, with greater cloud cover peeking over the Santa Cruz Mountains in the west. From the trailhead the trail passes a picnic table under a large tree before quickly reaching the loop proper, with Stile Ranch Trail going left and Fortini Trail going right. Both of these trails are well-known for spring wildflower displays.

Stile Ranch Trail almost immediately passes a seep, or damp area, where there were several types of wildflower. One of the first I saw was a tall, light purple flower that I haven’t been able to identify, though the blossoms are reminiscent of larkspur.

image of tall light purple flower (unidentified)

Tall light purple flower (unidentified)

In this area there were poppies, yarrow, golden yarrow, and a few others. But the star was the bright yellow seep-spring monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), or common monkeyflower, with delicate brownish dots.

photo of seep-spring monkeyflower

Seep-spring monkeyflower

I learned later that there are apparently some rare and endangered Hamilton thistle plants here also. Unfortunately, the only thistles I noticed were very large ones, probably about shoulder-high, elsewhere along my route.

Not far up the trail was the first of several sightings of the most beautiful jewel flower (Streptanthus albidus ssp. peramoenus). These lovely blossoms are only about ½ cm long in the long direction. And as I thought I would be, I was enchanted by them.

picture of most beautiful jewel flower: quite beautiful, indeed!

Most beautiful jewel flower: quite beautiful, indeed!

About 0.4 mile from the trailhead there is a distinctive lichen-covered serpentine rock with another special find growing right on the rock: endangered Santa Clara Valley dudleya (Dudleya abramsii ssp. setchellii). This succulent plant in the stonecrop family is able to extend roots deep into cracks in rocks to find its necessary nutrients.

image of Santa Clara Valley dudleya

Santa Clara Valley dudleya

A bit farther, as the trail climbs around a bend, there is a pretty view back down toward the trailhead area along a fence and an older stone fence, across a freshly mown field in the valley below. In the background is Loma Prieta, and Mt Umunhum is just out of view to the right.

photo of view from Stile Ranch Trail

View from Stile Ranch Trail

As the trail passes through grassland, soon I started to see some clarkia flowers, specifically ruby chalice clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda) with light petal color and a deeper-colored throat. These clarkias are also known as farewell to spring.

picture of ruby chalice clarkia

Ruby chalice clarkia

I also began to pass clay mariposa lilies (Calochortus argillosus). I saw these beautiful mariposa lilies off-and-on for almost the remainder of the hike.

image of clay mariposa lily

Clay mariposa lily

Another flower I saw in several places is another that I haven’t yet identified. My temporary, descriptive name is purple carpet, since one of the sightings was a patch rather like a purple carpet by the side of the trail. The plants are low-profile, less than 6 inches tall, and the heads are less than ½ inch in diameter. The small blossoms are delicate, though intense in color.

photo of unidentified “purple carpet”

Unidentified “purple carpet”

After passing over the first summit, Stile Ranch Trail descends about 100 feet and then climbs back up to a second summit. The Stile Ranch Trail is almost entirely on an easement on IBM property, and this part of the trail passes within sight of one of the buildings. From the summits there are nice views to the east, including part of the Diablo Range and Lick Observatory on Mt Hamilton. The “feel” is one of remoteness, with beautiful meadowlark songs. There were also quite a few cobweb-covered small holes in the ground next to the trail, I presume inhabited by ground-resident spiders using the webs as protection or food catchers.

In the little valley between the summits I began to hear distinctive bird calls that I didn’t recognize right away. But soon I caught a glimpse of one of the birds and could easily identify it as a California quail (Callipepla californica). For the next 10 minutes or so I was serenaded by at least two quails, which perched on fence posts, looked around, and periodically called.

picture of California quail on a fence post

California quail on a fence post

After climbing to the second, east, summit, there was an especially nice view of the trail zig-zagging down the side of the first, west, summit.

image of Stile Ranch Trail

Stile Ranch Trail

Shortly after beginning the second descent I noticed a few intensely blue-purple flowers and determined that they were royal larkspur (Delphinium variegatum).

photo of royal larkspur

Royal larkspur

At another small seep or stream area there were quite a few common teasels (Dipsacus fullonum), with distinctive seed heads and long bracts. The first time I saw one of these I called it lampshade plant until I learned the correct identification!

picture of common teasel

Common teasel

Although the interior section of the loop, including the short section of Mine Trail, is in open grassland, there were beautiful oak trees here and there, often isolated trees. The color of the grass is a strong signal that spring for 2015 is nearly over.

image of beautiful oak tree

Beautiful oak tree

As I continued, I passed Ithuriel’s spear, some morning glory (or bindweed), pineapple weed, and wild radish. Fortini Trail continues the gradual descent from the Stile Ranch Trail summits, passing yet another seep. Along the way there is a particularly distinctive tree-size manzanita.

photo of manzanita along Fortini Trail

Manzanita along Fortini Trail

I also passed another rocky section in which there was a cluster of Santa Clara Valley dudleya. When I arrived at the end of the loop I made a quick detour to the first seep area to look at the flowers again, then returned to the trailhead. This loop is known as a prime spring wildflower viewing area in San Jose, and it certainly lived up to its reputation, even relatively late in the season.

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