Most years I try to go on a special hike to celebrate National Trails Day on the first Saturday of June. The National Trails Day tag line – hit the trail, make new friends, find an adventure – appeals to me. This year I had the opportunity to participate in a group hike that covered both private property and public open space in Marin County. The publicly accessible portion of the hike was mainly in Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve with a short section in Indian Tree Open Space Preserve. Both of these preserves are part of the Marin County parks network. The section of trail within Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve is also dedicated as part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
The hike featured some beautiful views of Marin County, as well as a surprising number of wildflowers still in bloom. Although there had been above-average rainfall for the first time in several years, a situation that produced wonderful wildflower spring blooms, the local hillsides had already changed to the typical summer golden hue, suggesting that the wildflower season might be nearly complete. So it was a pleasant surprise to encounter a nice variety of wildflowers.
The stars of the wildflower show were clarkias, which are often called farewell to spring since they bloom late in the season. I saw two species of clarkia during the hike, but perhaps the “true” farewell to spring is Clarkia amoena, with delicately colored petals with a darker splotch on each petal. If this is an annual farewell to spring wildflowers, it is certainly a beautiful one!
The hike was organized as a point-to-point hike. We met at the ending point at Big Rock on Lucas Valley Rd and were bussed to the beginning point at the edge of Indian Tree Open Space Preserve, shown as the orange dot on the GPS track.
After just a half mile of hiking we had passed through a corner of Indian Tree and entered the privately-owned Hill Ranch. Our hike leader had obtained clearance for our group to hike across the ranch to Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve. The hike through the ranch was a gradual ascent to a ridge with stunning views. From the ridge-top we hiked down through Lucas Valley to our waiting cars at Big Rock. The total distance for the hike was 9.1 miles, with a little over 2000 feet of climbing.
On the way to and through Indian Tree Open Space Preserve we almost immediately found several yellow mariposa lilies (Calochortus luteus); this one was being visited by a couple of small insects.
We also saw yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus), rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima) growing among ferns, and, as we climbed, our first views across golden grassy hills. There was also some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa), also known as Wally basket. The blossoms grow in clusters, each blossom on a leafless stem. In general the Ithuriel’s spear we found was unusually intense in color, like this example.
A related wildflower that we saw throughout the hike is harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans). The plant’s growth pattern often has the appearance of single stem with a single flower. The shading of the petals from green to white to purple, as well as the line down the center of each petal, is typical of this species.
A short distance, perhaps 0.25 mile, after we entered the Hill Ranch property we reached the end of the initial climb (see elevation profile above). From this spot we had a great view of Mt St Helena about 40 miles away, due north.
From the same location we could also see Mt Diablo in the East Bay, a similar distance away to the southeast. We would see Mt Diablo again later (see below).
For the next 2.5 miles or so we followed ranch roads, generally heading toward a higher ridge with communication towers on top. The topography is what I call gently rolling, without significant ascents or descents. In this section we passed a field where a donkey and a horse were grazing and playing with each other. We also passed miniature lupine (Lupinus bicolor), hedge nettle (Stachys sp.), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and paintbrush (Castilleja sp.). In addition there were several areas with winecup clarkia (Clarkia purpurea), with intensely colored petals.
In several places along the trail we encountered a plant with clusters of pretty, bright pink blossoms: slender centaury (Centaurium tenuiflorum).
About 3 miles into the hike we had a nice, though a bit hazy, view of San Pablo Bay. After that the trail began to climb, gaining almost 900 feet in about 1.5 miles. We saw some peak rushrose (Heliathemum scoparium), which I recognized from a recent hike at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve in the South Bay.
We also passed quite a bit of chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), a common chaparral shrub. Chamise is characterized by slender heads of tiny white flowers at the ends of the branches.
Around midway up the climb there was a spot where we could see, right in front of us, how the trail would climb right up the side of one of the hills. The communication tower in the background at the right was at the location where we would go over the ridge, Buck’s Ridge.
As we climbed this hill I stopped to photograph some golden yarrow (Eriolhyllum confertiflorum). The very similar flower I’d seen at Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve may be a related species that is sometimes called seaside golden yarrow.
During the climb the “lead” hikers stopped from time to time to wait for others to catch up, since we were supposed to stay more-or-less together as we hiked in Hill Ranch. In one place, about 1650 feet elevation, there was a large rock outcropping from which there was a nice view across San Pablo Bay. (Apparently there was a place on the back side of the rock where it was a fairly easy scramble to the top!)
There were more farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena) in this area, indeed nearly throughout the hike. In some of the blossoms the spots were especially brilliant.
Five miles from the starting trailhead we reached the top of Buck’s Ridge and quickly found a perfect spot for a lunch break. We enjoyed a great view of Mt Tamalpais and a fog layer extending over most of San Francisco. Just outside the left side of the picture is Tiburon Peninsula. The banner photo for this post is a panorama taken from the top of the ridge, with Mt Diablo at the left, Mt Tamalpais at the right, and San Pablo Bay, Tiburon, and the north San Francisco Bay between.
Near our lunch spot I noticed a type of low thistle, which I think is brownie thistle (Cirsium quercetorum), and a few California poppies (Eschscholzia californica).
Our lunch spot was essentially on the border of Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, near the top of Buck’s Ridge. After lunch we began the descent down the south side of the ridge, on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, toward Big Rock. Along the way there were nice views down the side of the ridge, in one area overlooking a portion of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch movie sound production facility. (By the way, Lucas Valley is named after a different Mr Lucas!)
I also found a cluster of purple sand spurry (Spergularia rubra) next to the trail.
There was also some narrow-leaved mule’s ear (Wyethia angustifolia) as well as bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida).
About halfway down from the ridge, around 1100 feet elevation, there is a horse trough that is maintained by a local equestrian group. Here there were several types of wildflower, including seep spring monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). Shortly after this the trail crosses two bridges across the same stream (there is a switchback between the bridges). Near one of the bridges there was a beautiful California buckeye (Aesculus californica). Later on there were several spots from which you could look back up the hill generally toward Buck’s Ridge.
A bit farther along I found some beautiful late-season blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum).
Approaching the end of the trail we passed a father and child who were flying kites in the breeze. The kites were rather spectacular: colorful eagle-like birds with long colorful streamers. The child was doing especially well flying one of the kites.
The Big Rock trailhead is easy to find along the road: besides being located at a small summit, the rock itself is quite impressive.
Leading to the trailhead parking, basically a wide shoulder along the southwest side of the road, a culvert passes under Lucas Valley Road providing safe passage for hikers. The Bay Area Ridge Trail continues over the next ridge, Loma Alta, to Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
It was a special treat to be able to hike across privately-owned property connecting two open space preserves: a great way to enjoy National Trails Day with a group of fellow hiking enthusiasts.