Tucked away in Milpitas, in the northeastern portion of Santa Clara County, is Ed Levin County Park, a 1500-acre open space that seems much larger than its area suggests. That may partly be because the park hosts 20 miles of hiking trails or because it connects directly to other open spaces that lead several miles along the ridgeline to Ohlone College in Fremont.
Ed Levin County Park is also the location of one of seven hikes designated by Santa Clara County Parks for the 2018 PixInParks Challenge. The idea of the Challenge is that you hike a route, generally under 5 miles, that passes a specific location where you take a picture, preferably of yourself or the group you are with. You then post the picture to social media with hashtags. I did this hike by myself, as I often do, so I took a picture that included my day pack and hiking poles. My picture is oriented in a different direction from the suggested direction because I thought the hillsides in the background were especially photogenic, including Mission Peak and Mt Allison on the skyline. The single previous time I hiked in Ed Levin, I was hiking a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which goes along the ridge line to the Mission Peak area (and beyond).
This hike is located in the southern portion of the park, in the Spring Valley area. The GPS track shows my route, with the orange dot showing the location of the parking area farthest from Calaveras Rd. The semi-loop south and west of the parking area is the designated 2.4-mile Challenge hike route. I added a smaller loop through the picnic area and around Spring Valley Pond to extend the distance to 3.1 miles.
My GPS recorded 620 feet of elevation gain and loss, for an average grade of about 7.5%, which I consider to be moderate. I should note, however, that the initial descent is steeper, about 14% grade, and the short ascent just after 1.5 miles is actually almost a 20% grade. That’s pretty steep, but fortunately it is short.
From the outermost picnic area I headed toward the obvious trailhead, which is close to an equestrian staging area. The park hosts guided rides, which were well-attended on the beautiful Saturday of my visit. As I hiked southwest on Spring Valley Trail past a Y junction, a group of equestrians was returning to the staging area on the other fork of the Y. If you look closely in the picture you can see the sign denoting the Y junction, just in front of the second horse.
The steeper descent mentioned above is along Spring Valley Trail between the Y and a junction with a connector trail. At this time, this section of trail is rather overgrown and, in addition, is muddy in places. I suspect the muddiness is due to recent rains as well as local springs.
The lush (aggressive?) growth includes many different plants, but some fairly tall thistles caught my attention. Although many thistle flowers are pretty, many species found in the Bay Area are actually non-natives that are considered to be aggressive, since they tend to crowd out native plants. The current conditions on this trail are an example of this type of crowding.
About 0.3 mile from the trailhead I reached the connector trail, which departs to the left from the Spring Valley Trail. The Spring Valley Trail is actually closed past this junction currently, due to unsafe conditions – which could mean even more extensive mud. I presume this is just a temporary seasonal issue.
The connector trail is only about 0.1 mile long; it crosses a paved road, Vista Ridge Dr, and then tees into Los Coches Ridge Trail. The Challenge route goes all the way around a 1.6-mile loop. I decided to go around the loop in the clockwise direction, and that meant I was up on the ridge at higher elevations first.
Climbing up the ridge I passed several common wildflowers, including miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), spring vetch (Vicia sativa), wild geranium, winter vetch (Vicia villosa ssp villosa), wavy-leaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), and blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum). Initially the trail passed through a shaded woodland and then emerged onto grassy hillsides with nearly unobstructed views of the Diablo Range foothills to the east. In a few places there were bright yellow carpets of flowers, possibly (invasive) wild mustard, on the green hillsides.
Approaching the highest elevation of the hike there was a nice view toward the west northwest of the southern end of San Francisco Bay, with part of Fremont in the foreground.
In this part of the trail I found fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), and some rose clover (Trifolium hirtum). All of these are commonly found along trails locally.
Here is some fiddleneck; it looks like one of the blossoms has a small beetle visitor.
Once I reached the shaded picnic table that serves as the PixInParks location and took my pictures, I sat down for a lunch break. I noticed a couple of hang gliders floating downward from one of the launch points farther north and higher up in Ed Levin County Park.
In the immediate area there were California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), filarees (Erodium botrys), a few morning glories (Calystegia sp), and bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum).
There was also some yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus).
After my break I continued around the Los Coches Trail loop. As I was hiking downhill I noticed a deer at least 100 meters down the trail ahead of me. It had stopped in the trail and was looking at me intently, on full alert. I carefully and slowly got out my camera and took a picture. Then I must have made a more sudden movement, because the deer quickly ran off into the forested area near the trail.
This was one area where I saw lupine, possibly sky lupine (Lupinus nanus), which is one of the common local species. I experimented with getting a rather extreme close-up picture of some of the blossoms.
After descending to an elevation comparable to the trailhead elevation the trail climbed once again; this is the steep section mentioned previously. Fortunately the trail was fairly well shaded. I passed some spiny buttercup (Ranunculus muricatus) and paintbrush (Castilleja affinis, probably).
After 1.6 miles on the Los Coches Ridge loop trail and 2 miles total, I reached the connector trail, re-crossed the road, and hiked up the overgrown, in places muddy, trail section. It didn’t seem quite as tricky on the return, perhaps because I’d already negotiated it once. When I arrived back at the parking area I decided to explore the nearby Spring Valley Pond. On the east side of the pond there are some group picnic areas. The pond itself is pretty and serene.
As I continued around the pond I noticed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing on a half-submerged tree branch. Partly because there was a bit of brush between the trail and the heron, I was able to take pictures, walk a short distance, take more pictures, and repeat. This process took a few minutes, during which the heron barely moved. It was a treat to view it from almost 180 degrees of viewpoint.
After I finished circling the pond I returned to the nearby parking area. This southern portion of Ed Levin County Park provides a pleasant venue for family-oriented hiking, picnicking, or equestrian activities.