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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not surprisingly, there was a lot of chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum).
There was another type of chaparral shrub with clusters of tiny white star-shaped flowers, but I’m not sure what it is.
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.
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).
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.
I was also rather taken with plants with small white ball-shaped blossoms. I think they are called marsh baccharis (Baccharis douglasii).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
There were also patches of coyote mint (Monardella villosa), with pretty purple puff flower heads.
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.