Date: April 15, 2017
Place: Vargas Plateau Regional Park, Fremont, California
Length: 9 miles
On a fine day in May of 2016 the East Bay Regional Park District opened the long-awaited Vargas Plateau Regional Park. On that very afternoon I was there with the Redwood 4-H Photography Project members, wandering near the Vargas Road staging area and snapping images of the beautiful sweeping views seen from the heights of the plateau. I made up my mind to go back there for a hike as soon as all my end of school year obligations were over. Alas! Just a few weeks later, by the time I could go hike at Vargas Plateau again, I found the gates shut, closed by a court order, until improvements were made to the access road to make it safe.
There followed a whole year of negotiations during which I saw the park's hills turn yellow and brown, then green once again, and scarred by several mud slides, and then burst into colorful bloom. (I live nearby so yes, I did see all of that). Then, just as the hills were fading back into yellow I was informed that the park was to be reopened on Monday, May 15.
I preempted that morning and a few minutes after dropping my chika in school I was by the Park's lower gate at Morrison Canyon Rd. There I run into a fellow parent from my chika's school who had planned to go up the hill too. Glad for each other's company we entered the park and started eagerly uphill.
|My hike as captured by my GPS|
Right at the first turn, however, the trail bended sharply eastward and upward. Not slowing for a heartbeat, my companion rushed uphill. She had already informed me that she was in it for the exercise and I could keep up with her, but was too short of breath to talk.
With the exertion came the heat, stemming from my body and steaming from my skin, fogging my glasses and condensing on my eyebrows, dripping down my neck. I bas grateful for the short relief provided by a grove of oaks that shaded a bit of the trail.
Coyote Hills. All this beauty now lay below me, fitting the palm of my hand.
|View northwest from Vargas Plateau|
Up on top my companion finally slowed down and I too slowed down, taking in the views. Vargas Plateau, like most East Bay hills, is now cattle grounds. Brought here by the Spanish missionaries along with numerous mediterranean grasses and herbs, cattle had brought a complete and irreversible changed over these hills.
|Cattle bottom-levelled oak.|
|Black Elderberry, Sambucus nigra|
I went back down the trail bit, then took the turn to the Higher Ranch Loop Trail.
The local wildlife had to adapt to the change, and many did so splendidly, like the California ground squirrel.
|A California Ground Squirrel stands guard|
The plant community change left many native California species still growing and blooming on the hills, including our state flower: the California Golden Poppy.
|California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica|
|Pond, Wood, and View|
All too soon I was out of the shade again, going uphill under the direct noon sun. I excused my frequent stops by checking out the wildflowers, which bloomed in much greater numbers on this side of the hill.
|Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum|
Near completing the Higher Ranch Loop I turned aside to the view point labeled on the map. From there I could see the bay below with the cities aligned along its shores, but I was less focused on the view on more interested with the killdeers that stood by the edge of the gravel flat of the view point. The killdeer blended so well in the background that I wouldn't have noticed them at all if not for their sharp, thrill calls, and their nervous, jittery motion on the line between gravel and grass. It is possible these were a nesting couple, but I didn't get closer to check if that was the case.
More interesting to me was the view southeast toward Sunol and beyond. I wish the air was clearer but that too would probably never get much better, now with all the industrial air pollution.
As I made my way down from the view point, completing the loop I noticed a somewhat yellowish gray bird on the wire fence along that part of the trail. I pondered weather to bother photographing it (it was quite far and I had only the wide angle lens with me). As I raised my camera to the bird there flew in another one - a bright yellow bird - and attacked the bird that was sitting there. The two birds had a violent and very noisy fight that lasted a few seconds. Then the intense yellow bird flew off, followed a few seconds after by the grayer one. I photographed the fight but the distance and unsuitable lens yielded only a few blurry shots. Enough, however, for my elder chika to later identify the birds: a female and male of Bullock's Oriole.
Below is a cropped image of these birds in mid-fight: the female is hanging from the top wire by the legs, pecking the leg of the male, and the male flapping upside-down under the female, pulling her wing with his beak.
|Red-winged Blackbird, male|
|Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum, non-naive, invasive.|
|Hill Morning Glory, Calystegia subacaulis|
|Sand Spurry, Spergularia sp.|
Although mostly gone to seeds, many local lupines were still blooming too, hidden in the tall, drying grass.
|Summer Lupine, Lupinus formosus|
I made it to the lower, flatter part of the trail and my legs were shaking. It occurred to me that all that hike I not once did I take a sitting break. It was too late for that now, with less than half a mile left, so I trudged along with small, painful steps.
The lower entrance is but a short walk from my home, but it felt like many miles. After passing the doorstep I removed my shoes and collapsed on my bed. Surprisingly, a short 10 minutes rest revived me almost completely and after washing my salty face I was all back to my normal self.
|Pacific False Bindweed, Calystegia purpurata|