Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve: Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail Loop

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At just 366 acres, Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve is one of the smaller open spaces in the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. It is located in the hills above San Carlos and Redwood City and provides a wooded retreat for residents of the nearby communities. The lower portions of the park are wooded, shaded, and cool, while the upper areas are in chaparral and are a bit more open. There are 6 miles of hiking trail in the preserve. This hike traversed a 3.8-mile loop, with nearly 2 additional miles exploring another trail that can be part of a shorter, 2-mile loop. I had hiked the 2-mile loop on another visit, coincidentally 1 year to the day prior to this hike.

I was hoping to see some wildflowers, including yellow mariposa lilies and perhaps a few others that would be new for me, and enjoy views of the surrounding hills. I was successful on all three counts!

On the GPS track the orange dot denotes the main park entrance, not far off Edgewood Rd.

GPS track

GPS track

The main loop consisted of Cordilleras Trail, Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail, Hassler Trail, Dick Bishop Trail, and finally Blue Oak Trail. About 0.5 mile from the start I took a detour to explore part of the Polly Geraci Trail, and after completing the entire Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail I took another detour to explore nearly the rest of the Polly Geraci Trail. These two explorations added nearly 2 miles to the main loop distance and make the elevation profile look somewhat more complicated than it would if I’d omitted these explorations.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Cordilleras Trail, or its access trail, leaves the parking area and runs next to a road for about 0.5 mile. Although the wildflowers are not spectacular, the trail is pleasant and provides a wheelchair-accessible open space experience. This trail is actually on private property, and on the day of the hike there was a small herd of goats grazing in a fenced-in area across the road from the trail. Some of the goats were bearded.

picture of goat near Cordilleras Trail

Goat near Cordilleras Trail

There were filarees, thistles, yarrow, and poppies along the trail. Perhaps the most interesting wildflower was some pink honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) growing in almost a hedge-like area next to the trail.

photo of pink honeysuckle

Pink honeysuckle

About 0.5 mile from the parking area I made my first detour, to explore the lower portion of the Polly Geraci Trail, which climbs through a moist, wooded area. Shortly I saw what I believe is ookow (Dichelostemma congestum); the “congestum” part of the Latin name refers to the density of blossoms in the flower head.

image of ookow along Polly Geraci Trail

Ookow along Polly Geraci Trail

There was a bit of blue-eyed grass, Ithuriel’s spear, madia, miner’s lettuce, woodland star, rigid hedgenettle, and white globe lilies – among others. There were ferns by the trail side, and juncos and other small birds chirped and flitted among the trees. I noticed a few exceptionally bright pink-purple flowers. I’m pretty sure they are Franciscan onion (Allium peninsulare var. franciscanum). Both the color and blossom shape are distinctive.

picture of Franciscan onion along Polly Geraci Trail

Franciscan onion along Polly Geraci Trail

After about 1/3 mile I turned around and returned to the trail junction, where I turned left to begin hiking on the Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail. This trail is named for a species of woodrat that lives in the area. Innocent-looking piles of sticks can denote nests; I think I noticed a few such piles, but I was careful not to disturb any inhabitants. This trail starts in the wooded area but then emerges into a more open, chaparral-covered area. I found a lizard crossing the trail, then making rustling sounds in the leaves next to the trail.

photo of lizard on the Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail

Lizard on the Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum).

image of chamise

Chamise

There was another type of chaparral shrub with clusters of tiny white star-shaped flowers, but I’m not sure what it is.

picture of unknown chaparral shrub

Unknown chaparral shrub

There was more yarrow, yellow sticky monkeyflower, buckeye, thistle, and rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima). From the highest point of the hike, at around 800 feet elevation, there was a nice view of nearby Edgewood County Park.

photo of view of nearby Edgewood County Park

View of nearby Edgewood County Park

In the sunny sections of Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail there was quite a bit of a small shrub with pretty yellow flowers, called peak rushrose (Helianthemum scoparium).

image of peak rushrose along Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail

Peak rushrose along Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail

Another chaparral plant, which apparently co-exists nicely with chamise, is pitcher sage (Lepechinia calycina). On this specimen most of the buds had not yet opened to reveal the white blossoms.

picture of pitcher sage

Pitcher sage

I was also rather taken with plants with small white ball-shaped blossoms. I think they are called marsh baccharis (Baccharis douglasii).

photo of marsh baccharis (I think)

Marsh baccharis (I think)

As the trail descends from the highest elevation and goes south and a little west, highway noise from I-280 becomes apparent and intrudes a bit on the sense of solitude and remoteness of the area. At one point the trail is close enough to the highway that you can see it through a small break in the chaparral. It is a reminder that some of our open spaces are, indeed, quite close to population centers and transportation links. Earlier in the hike there had been views of the nearby neighborhood in San Carlos, but for some reason the visual scene was less intrusive than the highway sounds.

In the dry, sunny areas there was colorful paintbrush. Another resident of the chaparral area was yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum), with delicate pale purple flute-like blossoms.

image of yerba santa

Yerba santa

Near the southwestern end of the Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail there was a single shrub (that I noticed) with bright yellow flowers, called bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida).

picture of bush poppy

Bush poppy

Gradually the trail starts to go in and out of wooded areas and alternates with chaparral. About 3.4 miles into my hike I reached the end of Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail, where it tees into Hassler Trail. Actually, the trail really doesn’t go anywhere to the right, so you go left. Near the junction there is a nice view of San Francisco Bay. On the initial section of Hassler Trail there were a half dozen yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus): not many, but they were right next to the trail and easy to find.

photo of yellow mariposa lily

Yellow mariposa lily

There were also some views of the nearby forest-covered ridgelines to the west, in San Francisco PUC watershed property. About 0.2 mile along Hassler Trail is a junction where Polly Geraci Trail goes left and Dick Bishop Trail goes right. I took my second major detour to go down Polly Geraci Trail. From the upper part of the trail you can look left toward the upper sections of Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail. In the open areas of the trail there is more yerba santa and some rather large manzanita, and in the shady areas a bit lower there is solomon’s seal and what I thought might be fat solomon’s seal. I turned around as I approached the curve where I’d turned around in my earlier exploration. Earlier in the spring I think there are more wildflowers along Polly Geraci Trail.

After I returned to the junction I continued on Dick Bishop Trail. With a more southerly view of the ridgeline, I could see marine fog peeking over the ridge-top. From here almost all the way back to the parking area there were lots of cheerful prettyface (Triteleia ixiodes) flowers.

image of prettyface along Dick Bishop Trail

Prettyface along Dick Bishop Trail

In the upper section of Dick Bishop Trail there was also a patch of western vervain (Verbena lasiostachys), with distinctive long flower stalks and small light purple blossoms.

picture of western vervain

Western vervain

There were also patches of coyote mint (Monardella villosa), with pretty purple puff flower heads.

photo of coyote mint

Coyote mint

I continued down Dick Bishop Trail about 0.6 mile, then turned right on Blue Oak Trail, which descends through a lovely forested area lined by blue oaks and dotted with more prettyface. This created a peaceful ending to a very enjoyable hike.

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6 Responses to Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve: Dusky-footed Woodrat Trail Loop

  1. dipperanch says:

    By the leaves, I believe that the unknown chaparral shrub above is the Blue elderberry. Pulgas OSP has an interesting history. It used to be the City of San Francisco’s tuberculous hospital facility with housing and medical care for many patients. Midpen bought the property when the city did not need it anymore (medical treatment for tuberculous has advanced so far, it is not necessary to isolate patients on remote hilltops) and knocked down all the buildings on the hilltop to make a park. We have needed to remove a lot of exotic landscape vegetation like acacia, broom and eucalyptus which were invading the wild sides of the mountain, and have been planting back native chaparral shrubs. There are many pretty and quiet spots in this preserve so close to cities and with such a unique human history. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • trailhiker says:

      I am gradually learning about the human history of our local parks, as well as the natural history (wildflowers and birds especially). There is always a bit more to learn and appreciate, it seems!

  2. CL says:

    Great post, as usual! We hiked the West Side Rails Trail in Tuolumne County last Saturday and it is a place that I would recommend to wildflowers’ lovers. We were amazed by the sheer number of mariposa lilies, yellow ones included. Hundreds, really. Have a great Memorial Day!

  3. Tom Cochrane says:

    The one you thought was Marsh Baccharis looks like California Everlasting- Pseudognaphalium californicum

    • trailhiker says:

      Thanks, Tom. I always appreciate updates (aka corrections) to my identifications. I wasn’t sure about the march baccharis ID, but the first picture I found of California everlasting was at an earlier stage of deployment of the flower heads, so it didn’t look right either. Checking more closely, I agree that it looks more like everlasting. And I’ve seen it elsewhere, too, so the correction is especially appreciated!

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