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Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac    page 1 of 7

Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 2

San Francisco Bay Area
January 3 thru March 7

After five years of living off a modest bank account in which I could venture out on photographic road trips at will, in 2009 with savings dwindling, I was back again to an 8-5 m-f working life here in Silicon Valley. A year into that work cycle as New Years of 2010 passed, I began a string of ten out of eleven winter weekends where I managed at least some hiking in our south San Francisco Bay area parklands and open space areas. And almost all were to areas I had not yet explored. Well I hadn't ever done much hiking during this mid winter period because for most of my adult life I've been an enthusiastic alpine skier doing regular trips up to Tahoe ski resorts. The following thus offers insight into the progression of spring vegetation in the inner central Coast Range areas. Note images for some of the wildflower species noted but without images on this page can be found on my wildflower species listing at:
California Coastal Wildflower Close-ups Species Latin Name Index Table

Mission Peak Open Space Preserve

My first hike was in Mission Peak Open Space Preserve. I walked most of the way up that most popular summit on a beautifully sunny yet cool January 3 Sunday morning. And indeed on that last day of the long holiday period, by midday I was joined by hundreds of others, both male and female, young and old, fit and unfit, walking, jogging, and riding mountain bikes. Count me at the time as being one of the unfit in true holiday season form. Lots of people, nice bay and urban views, heavy cattle grazing, short grasses, lots of green herbs rising, no native wildflowers at all. The route was more an athletic workout than offering anything aesthetic for my little Canon G10 digital compact.

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve


The following Sunday of January 10, cool and cloudy from an exiting storm, I climbed up 2300 feet over 8 round trip miles on the Kennedy Trail within Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve in Los Gatos. The trail, a favorite of mountain bikers, routes through dense chaparral and woodland areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. That is where I saw our first native wildflowers blooming. Low on the trail were a few blue witch, solanum umbelliferum. Also blooming white hued buckbrush, ceanothus cuneatus and surprisingly normally appearing in late fall, some red toyon, heteromeles arbutifolia berries contrasting strongly with the otherwise dim drab winter woodland. Then higher on the trail saw for the first time ever chaparral currant, ribes malveceum with image below left. These pleasant flowers bloomed at several sunny southeastern exposures at elevations above the usual coastal fog. Thus in mid winter a microclimate that are the warmest zones in Central California despite higher elevations.


Saturday January 16, with sprinkles from a nearing storm all about, climbed up into another nearby chaparral zone of serpentine geology at the Priest Rock Trail in Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, where we passed just a few hikers and mountain bikers. I saw one good patch of the striking just rising Indian warrior, pedicularis densiflora, manzanita with its whitish pink bells, and a few tiny white flowers of miner's lettuce, montia perfoliata, below larger trees.

Saint Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve

Sunday January 24 on another cool day of scattered sprinkles, did the very popular easy climb with many hikers and bikers to the hill in Saint Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve where I saw more blooming manzanita, miner's lettuce, and woodland pea, lathyrys vestifus.

Calero County Park


Sunday January 31 on a more common winter day of early fog that burns off into partly cloudy winter skies, hiked about the Serpentine Loop, Bald Peak's Loop, and Longwall Canyon Trails in Calero County Park and Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve. Very heavy rain had fallen during the preceding week and water was still draining everywhere. The trail starts crossing a trail bridge on Baldy Ryan Creek below tall valley oak, quercus lobata and California sycamore, plantanus racemosa. After passing through cleared bottomlands where earlier settlers planted fruit trees, the route switchbacked through hillside woodlands with blue oak, quercus douglasii, coast live oak, quercus agrifolia, California bay, umbellularia californica, madrone, arbustus menziesii, and California buckeye, aescula californica. There saw several blue witch, woodland pea, and higher up above the frequent morning overcast, the sticky white bells of blooming manzanita. Thus one thing I have learned this spring is that January and February are when flowers bloom in our local mountains on otherwise hot dry southern exposures. On shady northern slopes below coast live oak and California bay trees, suddenly were lots of white flowers of milkmaids, cardamine californica, miner's lettuce, and several beautiful blue hued hound's tongue, cynoglossum grande, with their large green dog tongue like leaves. Also on shady slopes were a few mosquito-bills aka shooting star, dodecatheon hendersonii, and bright yellow hued California buttercup, ranunculus californicus. The ridgeline areas that have nice views are all old cattle grazing grasslands where I could see lots of rising filaree and even 3 early California poppies. Above left, coast live oak acorns rain washed into a dense surface matrix.

Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve

pic9Sunday February 7, on a partly cloudy morning after another night of good rains, I returned to Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve carrying my 4x5 view camera for the first time in 2010 in order to capture a manzanita trunk I walked past the previous Sunday. With the view camera I also add my Gitzo tripod (carrying two tripods), day pack with gear adding up to a load of about 45 pounds or about as much as a person's usual backpacking load. With just my G10, I'm normally carrying less than 15 pounds of clothing, food, water, old Benbo Trekker tripod, and fanny pack gear. I made a point of driving to the park and hiking up the trail early in the morning before the previous night's rain had a chance to dry or sunlight came over the ridge south. The rain left the bark a deeper darker saturated red I especially wanted.

See image at page top, 10_A1-2. I'd been looking for a good manzanita situation for several years and more often searched at Henry Coe. The tree was in front of a California Bay seen behind the trunk split and below branches of a valley oak of which dried leaves and acorns can be seen in the forest litter below. On the trunk were patches of moss and lichen, and shredding bark. Like all my 4x5 work, the intent is to produce images that can be drum scanned, processed for good fidelity to the scene captured, then printed large with high detail. Of course far more than can display on these tiny web images. After exposing a couple 4x5 sheets of Provia 100F slide film, I continued up the Longwall Canyon Trail and around back to the parking lot via the Mayfair Ranch Trail.

Particularly interesting was where the trail follows Baldy Ryan Creek through a bedrock area of whitish geology. Crossing a wooden trail bridge, below rushing rain waters in the scoured creek bed were gnarled white and green blotched roots of a California sycamore tenaciously wrapped about small stream boulders. See image bottom left. On shady slopes below a heavy understory of bays and maples were rainbow shelf fungi, lots of mossy trunks, rocks, and various other lichen and fungi. Where the trail leaves the creek climbing the ridge were two nice areas of Indian warrior. Generally saw the same species from the previous week that were out in increasing numbers as well as a few white hued baby-blue eyes, nemophila menziesii var atomaria. Along the old ranch ridge top are beautifully green open grasslands with picturesque valley oaks.

Hunting Hollow at Henry Coe State Park


The next Saturday, February 13, on the 3-day holiday weekend, I drove south to the Hunting Hollow entrance of Henry Coe State Park that is at a low 860 foot elevation and with just my G10 hiked a 6 mile up 1300 feet loop on Steer Ridge south facing trails. Swaths of Padres shooting stars, dodecatheon clevelandii, were freshly rising on several lower woodland south facing slopes. There were nice areas with lace lichen hanging on blue oaks, California bay, and California sycamore. And at right with my G10 a dewy piece of lichen that had fallen to the ground:

Coit Road at Henry Coe State Park


And on President's Day Monday February 15, drove south to Henry Coe's Coit Road trailhead at the 1000 foot elevation where a bridge crosses Coyote Creek up to the old Gilroy Hot Springs location. At this time of winter, the creek is good sized and everything is nicely green in what will be a very hot dry zone in just a couple months. One of the most pleasant springtime-like relatively level mountain bike routes for the first couple miles one will find anywhere in the region, a hard pan and gravel dirt road that in some places one can still see some old pavement. A few wildflower species sprinkled roadside grasses including milkmaids, California buttercups, blue witch, woodland pea, and mosquito bills. At right blue witch, solanum umbelligferum:


After walking north about 1.5 miles on the Coit Road beside canyon live oak, blue oak, manzanita, and digger pine, at the Anza Trail junction I headed east up a winding footpath into a cool shady woodland of coast live oak and California bay trees within a slight canyon containing a small seasonal stream. At 0.6 miles up 300 feet reached a grassy bench with dense areas of Padres shooting star beneath blue oak and valley oak. There I took a trail junction right south onto the Cullen Trail that would climb through more cool shady north facing woodland over the ridge at about 1800 feet. Passed the most blooming western hound's tongue amid happy butterflies that I've yet to see anywhere in the SF Bay region. At the top, the ridgeline was similar to many Coe ridge lands that are either chaparral or blue and valley oak savana grasslands from former cattle grazing days. On the sunny south facing slope I immediately began passing through areas of chamise and began seeing a few fuchsia-flowered gooseberries, ribes speciosum, in spectacular bright red bloom, above right:

Grizzly Gulch


Lower down I passed some of the more common less showy California gooseberry, ribes californicum. The trail dropped down into Grizzly Gulch, crossed a small feeder stream and came to a junction with a trail of that same name. From here back west 250 feet down to the Coit Road near the trailhead was about 0.7 miles of the most interesting and pleasant landscapes of my 5 mile loop route. On the canyon bottom, two lively small streams with dense live oak, California bay, and big leaf maple, cut steep ravines separating benches with blue oak and valley oak and belowflowing grasslands of shooting stars, popcorn flower, plagiobothrys nothofulvus, johnny-jump-ups, viola pedunculata, and lupinus bicolor. At one bench was a spectacular limbed valley oak where many generations of woodpeckers had drilled in acorns.


Where the trail crossed the main stream, I heard a loud chorus downstream so stepping quietly wandered down about 100 feet to a pleasant shaded mossy pool. Keeping still and quiet, it wasn't long before I spotted one of several female northern Pacific treefrogs, pseudacris regilla, swimming about the grasses on the shore while loud male honkings came out of the undercut steep bank of the opposite side. Looking down in the water I could see several translucent egg globs about shallow underwater grasses. Also another amphibian, an orange hued California Coast Range newt, taricha torosa torosa, swam by. I'd seen dozens of these pleasant little creatures the past few weeks and am always careful to look while I'm stepping on wet trails where they often slowly crawl about early mornings. The final third of a mile to the road was nicely shady beneath California bay, blue oaks, and even some black oaks, quercus kelloggii, with mossy greens below. Near the end I came upon this strange fluted black elfin saddle, helvella lacunosa above right.

Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 2
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac
   email: sales@davidsenesac.com

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