I decided to celebrate National Trails Day this year by hiking in Mt Diablo State Park, where there are over 500 miles of trails to choose from, with a variety of hike lengths and difficulties. Due to a forecast of very warm weather, I decided to choose a hike rated as moderate: a 6-mile loop starting at the Macedo Ranch staging area following Wall Point Rd and passing through Pine Canyon. This loop passes through several types of habitat.
Although spring seems to be progressing rapidly into summer this year, I was hoping to find some splendid mariposa lilies (Calochortus splendens); on a recent visit to the Mitchell Canyon area of the park I had been advised by a ranger/naturalist that Wall Point Rd was a good place to find them. Finding this splendid and beautiful flower was surely one of the highlights of the hike!
The GPS track shows the layout of the hike, with the orange dot showing the location of the Macedo Ranch staging area. Wall Point Rd forms the “balloon string” and the southern side of the loop. When I got to the eastern end of the intended loop, at Secret Trail, I decided to continue to explore Wall Point Rd. I think that the place where I turned around is actually not far from Ridge View Trail, where I could have made a larger loop, but I decided to go back to Secret Trail and complete the shorter loop.
Near the beginning of the hike the trail passes through what I would call foothills of Mt Diablo: lower-elevation, rolling hills with lots of open grassland and scattered oaks. The golden hue of the grasses, with very little remaining green tint, is a good indicator of the de facto arrival of the summer season. Indeed, a sign prominently displayed at the staging area stated that the fire danger was high. At the staging area I also noted separate signage denoting one terminus of the Las Trampas to Mt Diablo Trail, one of several regional trails designated by the East Bay Regional Parks District.
The trail climbs fairly steadily up Wall Ridge, with only a couple of rolls, before reaching the highest elevation of my hike, where I turned around about 3.2 miles from the trailhead. Near the end of the loop there was a 200-foot climb from Pine Canyon to Wall Point Rd before the final descent back to the trailhead.
Throughout the grassland areas of the hike I found harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) near the sides of the trail. Just before the beginning of the loop proper there is a gate. Often such gates mark the boundaries of cattle grazing areas; I didn’t see evidence of any cattle, so I speculate that the associated fence may instead mark the boundary between two of the many formerly separate land parcels that now make up the 20,000-acre park. In any case, as I approached the gate I was overtaken by an equestrian, and I gladly stepped to the side of the trail to wait for the horse and rider to pass me and negotiate the gate. I immediately understood why gates in some parks have a handle that sticks up about a foot higher than my head: the rider did not need to dismount to open the gate, though it was a bit of a tricky operation maneuvering the horse so she could reach the handle.
Along the lower part of Wall Point Rd I noticed quite a few dense spider webs like this one, which seems to reach out from an obvious hole in the ground. I presume the hole denotes the burrow of a burrowing spider, perhaps a tarantula; they are fairly common in the park. The main part of the web looks like a very effective way to trap insects that might be close by. The hole is a bit over an inch in diameter.
Particularly from the lower part of Wall Point Rd there were views toward the summit of Mt Diablo. To me it looks different from this relatively close vantage point than it does from farther away. The prominence of Mt Diablo – the height of its summit above the surrounding area – is about 3100 feet, with the summit elevation 3849 feet. Mt Diablo is impressive from many points of view!
One of the next wildflowers of note was the California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum), sometimes called California cudweed. The small, white, almost spherical flowers are actually slightly elongated and have a small yellow dot at the tip.
I found quite a bit of elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) nearly throughout the hike. The flowers that were in the shade seemed to be newer and fresher-looking, while the blossoms that had experienced more sun exposure were beginning to look not-so-elegant. I also found some winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea), which I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to photograph. The blossoms are not terribly small, perhaps 3/4 inch in diameter, but the dark pink-purple color seems to be very difficult for my camera’s focus system.
Once I had gotten about half way to Secret Trail I found nice views ahead toward Wall Ridge and a small hill called Wall Point.
This section of Wall Point Rd began to pass through chaparral, and the surrounding plant community changed. There was some chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana), with bright pink pretty blossoms, obviously in the pea family.
There were several different types of manzanita, with differing foliage and growth patterns. I’m pretty sure this is Mt Diablo manzanita (Arctostaphylos auriculata), an endangered species due to its very limited geographic range; it is only found on the slopes of Mt Diablo. The leaves are more silver-grey than other types of manzanita, and they grow directly from branches, i.e., without leaf stems.
In this section of Wall Point Rd I was delighted to find some more of the splendid mariposa lily. Here I noticed that the hairs on the inner surface of the petals seemed even longer and denser than the flowers I’d seen earlier. The condition of the petals of this example told me that the flower was most likely in the later stages of its bloom cycle.
One of the reasons I continued past the Secret Trail end of the planned loop was that I continued to see more splendid mariposa lilies, and shortly I also saw some clay mariposa lilies (Calochortus argillosus). This type of mariposa lily looks similar to one or two others, but is primarily found only in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, both in the East Bay. Although the colored markings tend to be fairly variable, this one nicely shows yellow splashes above the maroon splotches, as well as some more coloring on the upper/inner surface of the narrow sepals, which seem to fill in the small gaps between the petals.
As I hiked up the overshoot past Secret Trail I kept telling myself I’d turn around at the next small rise or around the next small curve. Finally I picked a place and simply turned around, and sat down trailside for a brief break. Suddenly I noticed some small, bright pink belly flowers that look like one of several species of whiskerbrush (genus Leptosiphon). The flowers are only about 1/4 inch across, and are best appreciated close-up, on one’s belly or at least from a sitting position.
Not far away there were some clusters of narrowleaf goldenbush (Ericameria linearifolia). The flowers are composites, with both ray and disk flowers, and both flower types are golden yellow.
In addition, in this area there was some phacelia, I think rock phacelia (Phacelia imbricata). I made this identification based in part on the shape of the leaves at the base of the plants. Also, it seemed clear that the plants I saw had finished flowering for the season, and the blooming period for rock phacelia is roughly February through April.
There was also some coyote mint (Monardella villosa), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), and bellardia (Bellardia trixago). I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of wildflowers I was finding.
After my short break I hiked back approximately 0.6 mile to Secret Trail, which descends to Barbeque Terrace Rd in Pine Canyon, on the north side of the loop. In the forested area I found Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa) and some paintbrush or possibly Indian warrior. It seemed noteworthy that the flowers in the shady areas were not as far along in the blooming period as those in the sun. And, although I’d actually seen quite a few yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus) earlier in the hike, the ones I saw along Secret Trail were fresher-looking.
Barbeque Terrace Rd passes along a small stream, which – surprisingly, to me – had running water. In sections the trail passed through woodsy areas, and the shade was quite welcome. Although the day of my hike was warm, it can get downright hot on Mt Diablo; on such days the shade would be especially welcome.
When Barbeque Terrace Rd teed into Stage Rd, I turned left, then left again at Dusty Rd to climb back up to Wall Point Rd. I should note that Dusty Rd lived up to its name! At Wall Point Rd I turned right to hike back down the balloon string to the staging area.
Although the day was quite warm, in the mid to high 80’s, an overcast layer that lasted into the afternoon prevented the temperatures from being even warmer. I would say that I chose a pretty good day to do a hike that could have been more taxing if the temperature had been warmer or if the sun had been beating down. With the sighting of a new mariposa lily and the Mt Diablo manzanita, the hike was also memorable for the wildflowers and plants.