Stanford Dish and Matadero Creek Trails

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Over the last several months I’ve been going regularly to walk the Stanford Dish Trail, aka The Dish.  In fact, it has become my favorite hilly training walk route, and I typically make two passes around the loop.  This time I wanted to take my time a bit more and stop for pictures of the views and wildflowers.  The day was especially clear, thanks to a couple of days of fairly strong breezes, and the views were exceptional.  I went around the loop just once, and then drove to nearby Matadero Creek Trail for an out-and-back hike.  In this post I’ll describe the hikes, and in another I’ll focus on the wildflowers.

The GPS track image shows both GPS tracks, with the Stanford Dish Trail in orange and the Matadero Creek Trail in grey.  Both trails are on Stanford University land.  The total distance for both was 7 miles, with a little over 1200 feet of elevation gain and loss.  For The Dish, I started at the main entrance at Stanford Ave, where the parking has recently been re-arranged, with back-in parking along only one side of the street – and still no U-turns allowed.

GPS track

GPS track

After the short climb to the loop proper, I went around clockwise.  I have always gone this direction, even though it means a steady climb of 350 feet in about 0.85 mile – almost 8% grade – to the highest point on the loop.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The Stanford Dish Trail is a paved recreational trail for walkers and runners.  Strollers are the only wheeled conveyances allowed (except for campus security vehicles and a few research personnel) and are quite common, though it should be noted that coyotes do live in the hills and are occasionally seen near the trail.  This spring the hills through which the trail winds have been especially beautiful, thanks to normal amounts of rainfall during the winter.

photo of Stanford Dish Trail

Stanford Dish Trail

The highest point of the trail is, in my estimation, an example of a great viewpoint: all of the major peaks of the southern and central Bay Area are visible from a single location.  One only needs to stop and slowly twirl around in place in order to view all of them.  Practically due north, Mt Diablo rises above the East Bay Hills to an elevation of nearly 3850 feet, some 35 miles away.  In the foreground the Dumbarton Bridge crosses San Francisco Bay, and the low, brown hills denote Coyote Hills Regional Park.

photo of Mt Diablo, with the Dumbarton Bridge and Coyote Hills in the foreground

Mt Diablo, with the Dumbarton Bridge and Coyote Hills in the foreground

A bit to the south, still in the East Bay, specifically Fremont, is Mission Peak, about 17 miles away and 2500 feet elevation.  A distinctive landslide is visible to the left of Mission Peak, and Mt Allison is to the right, with Monument Peak out of view.  Mt Allison is topped with communication towers, and Mission Peak is a popular destination for area hikers.

photo of Mission Peak viewed from the Stanford Dish Trail

Mission Peak viewed from the Stanford Dish Trail

Still farther south in the Diablo Range is Mt Hamilton, site of Lick Observatory with white buildings that often gleam in the afternoon sun.  The mountain actually encompasses several peaks, including Copernicus Peak, Kepler Peak, and Observatory Peak.  It is about 30 miles away, almost due east.  The observatory is at 4200 feet elevation.

photo of Lick Observatory atop Mt Hamilton

Lick Observatory atop Mt Hamilton

Looking along the southern part of the Peninsula, actually southeast, Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta are visible about 22 miles away.  Mt Umunhum is topped by The Cube, an historic Cold War era radar tower.  Toward the right in the picture and about 5 miles away is Loma Prieta, near the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake named after it.  Mt Umunhum is almost 3500 feet high and Loma Prieta is just over 3800 feet high.

photo of Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta

Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta

Across the Golden Gate, 42 miles away in Marin County, is Mt Tamalpais, the sleeping maiden, just under 2600 feet high.  A simple metric for the clarity of the air in the Bay Area is how visible Mt Tam is from the Palo Alto area.  This was a good, clear day.  I believe Sutro Tower is right in the center of the picture.

photo of Mt Tamalpais, 42 miles away in Marin County

Mt Tamalpais, 42 miles away in Marin County

To the right of Mt Tamalpais the skyline of downtown San Francisco is clearly visible.  This picture takes advantage of the zoom capability of my camera.  The buildings are 30 miles away!  Unfortunately, shots like this one emphasize some particulates that are inside the lens stack in my camera, I think acquired a couple of months prior during a visit to Death Valley.

photo of San Francisco skyline

San Francisco skyline

To the right of downtown San Francisco the Bay Bridge and San Mateo Bridge are also visible.  The previous six peaks are my “top 6” peaks in the central and south Bay Area.  From this same location I could also see a couple of bonus peaks.  One is Round Top, the round bump on the skyline shown here.  Round Top is an extinct volcano located in Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, in the Berkeley Hills above Oakland.  It is about 30 miles away and, like the other peaks shown here, looks almost close enough to reach out and touch.

photo of Round Top, in the Berkeley Hills above Oakland

Round Top, in the Berkeley Hills above Oakland

The other bonus peak is Black Mountain, only about 6 miles away in Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.  It does not have a distinct “prominence,” but it is easy to spot if you have a clear view of its surrounding area; it’s easier to get that view from farther away!

From the highest point on the Stanford Dish Trail, the trail descends about 100 feet before climbing again.  On the way down there are clear views of The Dish itself, a radio telescope used for scientific research.  Although there is a smaller radio telescope nearby and equally close to the trail, this larger dish is visible from I-280 and – for good reason – is considered a local landmark.  This view shows some of the support and steering structure that allows the telescope to be pointed in a desired direction.

photo of The Dish

The Dish

The Dish is located at the top of the small climb, at about 1.6 miles on the elevation profile.  After passing The Dish I continued around the loop, enjoying views across the Stanford University campus.

Just as I reached the lowest point on the loop I heard a white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus) and then saw it.  It was exhibiting its characteristic behavior of hovering while looking for prey on the ground below.  It seemed to hover in one spot until I almost got it in my camera’s view and focused, and then flew somewhere else before I could get a picture.  I tried for a few minutes to get a picture and finally got lucky.

photo of white-tailed kite

White-tailed kite

I’m not sure what prey the kite was looking for, but there is a large population of ground squirrels that live in these hills.  I think they are more aware of coyotes than of birds of prey.  I have seen dozens of squirrels simultaneously upright on their haunches, all faced in the direction of a coyote and chirping warnings to others.  Only when the coyote leaves the area and gets out of sight do the squirrels stop their warning calls and return to feeding on the grasses and other plants.

After completing the loop and returning to my car, I drove less than a mile to a small staging area along Coyote Hill Rd near Page Mill Rd.  This staging area is for the Matadero Creek Trail, which actually starts at the intersection of Page Mill Rd and Junipero Serra Blvd at the north end of Foothill Expressway.  The first 0.8 mile or so of Matadero Creek Trail is a paved multi-use trail, and after Deer Creek Rd it becomes an unpaved pedestrian path.  (This was at 0.6 mile on my GPS track, which started at my car on Coyote Hill Rd.)  The trail is part of the Santa Clara County Parks Countywide Trails Master Plan.

The elevation profile shows that the trail climbs through the hills to about 425 feet elevation before dropping via a 10% grade to another paved multi-use trail, the Adobe Creek Trail, near Arastradero Rd.  I hiked the Matadero Creek Trail as an out-and-back hike.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

In another post I will showcase wildflowers I saw along the Stanford Dish Trail; here I show a few that I saw only along the Matadero Creek Trail.  One was common yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  Beneath the cluster of blossoms there is a hint of the feather-like leaves that distinguish this plant and give rise to the species name millefolium: thousand leaves.

photo of common yarrow

Common yarrow

As the trail climbed to about 350 feet elevation I passed a beautiful oak tree next to some buckeye, the latter blooming nicely.  Nearby, but just out of view, I could see the moon, a few days past the first quarter.

photo of oak tree and buckeye

Oak tree and buckeye

The trail continued to climb through the hills, with a couple of gentle rolls before reaching the highest point.

photo of Matadero Creek Trail

Matadero Creek Trail

From the area near trail’s high point I once again had nice views of the South Bay peaks: Mt Diablo, Mission Peak, Mt Hamilton, Mt Umunhum, and Loma Prieta.  Mt Tamalpais was hidden by the hills around The Dish.  After that there was a steady descent at about 10% grade to a T intersection with the Adobe Creek Trail.  In this section of trail there were a few views of I-280 making its way through Los Altos Hills toward Cupertino.  For a short distance this busy highway was just a proverbial stone’s throw away from the trail.

As the trail descended I noticed a couple of butterflies, at times on the flowers and at times on the trail itself.  They turned out to be common buckeyes (Junonia coenia).  As usual, a little patience was needed to capture a picture of one of the buckeyes as it paused in the sun.

photo of common buckeye on the Matadero Creek Trail

Common buckeye on the Matadero Creek Trail

When I reached the Adobe Creek Trail I turned around to return to my car.  As I again approached the top of the trail I noticed several horses grazing in the area to my right, on the other side of a fence along which the trail passed.  I paused to look at the horses and take a few pictures, and soon several were walking up an informal path to the area near the hiking trail.  I don’t know what prompted them to come my way, but I enjoyed watching them – and taking some more pictures!

photo of horse in a grazing area near the Matadero Creek Trail

Horse in a grazing area near the Matadero Creek Trail

Continuing the return to my car, I eventually reached the paved multi-use portion of trail.  In my peripheral vision I noticed a few small lizards, probably western fence lizards as they are common in the area.  One of them paused just long enough for me to get a picture, before it continued off the side of the trail into the vegetation.

photo of lizard, probably a western fence lizard

Lizard, probably a western fence lizard

Near the trailhead I noticed some common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) plants, with seed heads that might be from last season.

photo of common teasels

Common teasels

Although I have visited The Dish many times, this was the first time I hiked the Matadero Creek Trail.  Both trails go through the hills just above the main part of the Stanford University campus.  It is a delightful convenience that both trails are open to the public.

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One Response to Stanford Dish and Matadero Creek Trails

  1. Pingback: Wildflowers along the Stanford Dish Trail | trailhiker

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