Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Looking for a Waterfall and Finding Spring at San Pedro Valley Park

Brooks Falls

Date: February 12, 2017
Place: San Pedro Valley County Park, Pacifica, California
Address: 600 Oddstad Blvd. Pacifica, California
Length: 2.5 miles
Level: moderate

Friends from Santa Clara (a.k.a. Silicon) Valley scheduled to go on a hike with us on one lovely Sunday afternoon in February. They left the choice of destination to me and, encouraged by all the recent rain, I wanted to see a waterfall. A quick search online revealed to me quite a few Bay Area waterfalls that I have not seen yet, and the dice fell on Brooks Falls at San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica.
We got together at the park and found the trailhead to Old Trout Farm Rd., between the restrooms building and a large oak tree. Hanging under the oak, apparently in mid air, was a small, green caterpillar.
The way to the waterfall view point begins at Old Trout Farm Rd. It is a wide dirt road that looks like it hasn't seen a vehicle in a very long while. It's easy to walk on, however, even when the ground is wet.

The heavy rains had cause quite a few problems for the human communities around the Bay, but the forests welcomed the soaking and responded with vibrant growth. Mushrooms too popped under many trees, although not as many as I had expected. Still, it was quite nice to see some interesting fungi bloom.

I was behind, appreciating the mushroom still, when the family called me to hurry forward: they had spotted an interesting flower for me. I reached them and stood there gaping, for I was standing right in front of a wildflower I have so far seen only in other people's photos: a California Fetid Adderstongue. This one can be found naturally only in the coastal region of California, and it was my first time seeing one in bloom. I didn't know that at the time, but I did know it was something special that I've never seen before.
"Here, here!" called the family. They were pointing at some blue forget me not that were blooming nearby. I waved dismissively at the forget me not and pointed at the adderstongue.
"This one," I said, and knelt down to take a close up photo.
California Fetid Adderstongue, Scoliopus biglovii
A few steps later I was blessed again with a blooming trillium, another special wildflower, and a California species of trillium. I did see trillium before, and in large aggregates too, but I'm always pleased to see them. And this one was the only one blooming I saw on the hike.
Pacific Trillium, Trillium ovatum
I regret to say that most of the trees growing in San Pedro Valley Park are Eucalyptus. But the trail that we hiked on featured also pine trees, of which species I cannot tell.
Old Trout Farm Rd.
The pines were just beginning their bloom. Soon the entire forest floor will be covered with mats of yellow pine pollen.

We reached the turn to the Waterfall View Trail and turned right into it. Now we were on a narrow trail that climbed more steeply up above the creek.
By theis trail I started seeing the familiar early bloomers: the milk maids.
Milk Maids, Cardamine californica
Soon we broke out of the trees and were walking through thick chaparral dominated by manzanita bushes. We were walking due west and whenever the sunlight was on the path, it was also shining right into our eyes.

The sun-exposed areas had very different wildflowers bloom, like the hedgenettle.
California Hedgenettle, Stachys bullata
There were also some nightshade shrubs, but only few were blooming. They were just beginning.
Douglas' Nightshade, Solanum douglasii
about a mile up we came into view of Brooks Falls. I could barely see it - the westernizing sun was in my eyes. The high vegetation near the trail didn't help either. \We went on a bit until we reached the vista point where there is a bench overlooking the falls, and the trail side vegetation is low enough. There was still the sun in the eyes, but at least we could see the entire 3-steps length of the waterfall, and we could see that it was flowing nicely indeed. I wondered aloud if there was any trail to get nearer to the falls (none was marked on the map) and another hiker heard me and said that there used to be a trail that lead under the waterfall, but it was taken out. Now I wonder why.
I was unhappy with my photos of Brooks Falls. While we sat there and ate a snack, Papa Quail took my camera and went ahead until he found a better view and snapped a few decent shots of the falls.
Brooks Falls
We got up to go on. The children took some time to get going again. Meanwhile I was attracted to an  inflorescence of a pampas grass that poked out of the manzanita bushes and was beautifully lit (as well as the gnats) by the afternoon sun.
Pampas Grass, Cordateria selloana, Non-native, invasive
After the waterfall view point the trail curved to the northwest and we lost sight of the falls. It was also going steeper than before, and we needed to make frequent stops to let everyone catch up.
I kept looking under the manzanita bushes, searching for Indian warrior plants, but saw none. I did get to see plenty of other little plants aiming to be big some day.
Baby Pine
While still officialy winter, spring was already underway. Even the willows were blooming, putting forth their flowers before the new leaves.
Willow, Salix sp.
Suddenly we were not climbing anymore, but walking a level trail until we reached its end. The Waterfall View Trail ended at the Montara Mountain Trail, and the view west at the intersection was wonderful. All the way own lay the town of Pacifica and behind it the ocean. Light breeze came up the slope to dry our sweat. It was beautiful.

there was a bench there, and we stayed there fore some time, enjoying the view and the breather. Pappa Quail used the time to photograph a hummingbird nearby.
Anna's Hummingbird
Somewhere in that area he also photographed a chipmunk. Later he identified it as Sonoma Chipmunk, a species that is listed only from Marin County and north.
Sonoma Chipmunk
If we had turned left we would have gone up to the peak of Montara Mountain. That was not in our plans, however. Certainly not so late in the day. We turned right to go downhill on Montara Mountain Trail.
The trail was guarded by a manzanita in full bloom, wearing spring like a fancy chandelier.
(Me thinking of planting manzanita in my yard)
Common Manzanita, Arcrostaphylos manzanita
As we walked down the day grew older and the shadows lengthened. The chaparral below us was shaded fully now, leaving only the eucalyptus grove on the hill still illuminated, and the Peninsula Ridge far in the background.

Soon we were too in the shadow. The shadow of the manzanita roof overhead.

In that shadow of the manzanita two little chickadees were having a noisy feast, I don't know of what. They didn't keep still and at no point were in full view. But Pappa Quail managed to capture the moment, even if partly hidden.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Our friend called me and pointed at a pink bloom near the trail. It was a small chaparral currant, the only one I've seen blooming that day.
Chaparral Currant, Ribes malvaceum var. malvaceum
We hiked down much faster, and not only because of gravity's help. It was also getting pretty late and the chikas started talking about dinner. Still, there were quite a few pretty sights worthy of a photo pause.

My elder chika suddenly stopped as well. "Strawberry!" she exclaimed. I managed to stop her from eating it long enough for a photo. It was the first strawberry of the season. Spring really is here.
California Strawberry, Fragaria vesca
Every now and then we crossed sunny patches, which were getting fewer and fewer as time wore on. In one of those patches of sunlight, about half way down the trail we saw a group of iris flowers. They too were just beginning their bloom season.
Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
On and on, down and down we went. And the trail turned and twisted, and at times we were facing southwest again, and ahead was the peak of Montara Mountain. One of these days I'll hike all the way up.
Montara Mountain
The most dominant tree in San Pedro Valley Park is the eucalyptus, an immigrant from Australia that feels very much at home in the California coast. Once established, eucalyptus are pretty much impossible to remove. Very much like grass.
We were descending through a thick eucalyptus grove that had very little in terms of undergrowth. Some ferns here and there, and poison oak. In one place the trees opened up to reveal the view of the town below and the ocean in the background. A very pretty view. So thought also the park authorities, for they placed a bench over the trail, looking out at that view.

We didn't hang around that bench but went on down the trail. Now our little group was very stretched, with large gaps between our people. I lingered behind more now, not for the plants but to keep watch on my younger chika who was walking without any hurry, waving a small eucalyptus twig and chanting to herself.
I pulled her out of her reverie to look at a banana slug, one of many we've seen that day, that was busy eating a mushroom.
Yummy mushroom
Exiting the eucalyptus grove we came through the last sunny patch of that day, and saw a bunch of star lilies blooming there.
Fremont's Star Lily, Toxicoscordion fremontii
Somehow I had passed Pappa Quail along the way down and now he was behind me, walking closely with the young chika. Seeing that she was not alone I hurried down the trail, trying to catch up with the elder chika and our friends. On the way I passed the only oak I've seen that day. Beautiful and majestic it was, but lonely. Eucalyptus don't make friends with other trees.
Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
There were many hound's tongue blooming along the trail, especially in the shaded area. It was also the last wildflower I've seen on the trail before completing the loop and walking back into the parking lot.
Grand Hound's Tongue, Cynoglossum grande
We had a lovely hike that afternoon, in a very pretty park. It wasn't a big trail but it was rich with diverse vegetation and had quite a few beautiful view points.
And t has a view of a nice, big waterfall. Next time I'll be there in the morning, and see it in the sunlight.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Last Spring at Castle Rock State Park

Dates: May 10, 21, and 22, 2016
Place: Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, California
Coordinates: 37.230769, -122.095811
Length: 3 miles
Level: moderate

Important!  This post is about my hikes of last year's spring. This year has seen much storm damage in the park and nearby access roads. If you plan to visit Castle Rock State Park make sure to visit their website and get current information about access and trail conditions.

Last spring was spectacular. All predictions say that this upcoming spring will surpass that of last year. Before it pans out, however, I enjoy looking back at the photos of my 2016 spring hikes.
Last spring I've hiked at Castle Rock State Park three times: solo, and with others.
The park's parking area is small and arriving early is crucial to finding a parking space, especially on weekends.
For my solo hike, however, I was there on a mid-week morning and found parking without having to ambush for any leaving drivers.

My hike as captured by my GPS. The GPS quit on me just before completing the loop. 
The day I went on my solo hike was sunny and fabulous. It has been a while since I've last been at this park, and I was excited to be there again.
At the Saratoga Gap trailhead, May 10, 2016
The trail dips deeply down to the canyon through the shade of the forest. The shade isn't complete but dotted with small patches of sunlight. The forest undergrowth plants make the best of the light that does seep through the canopies.

Most of the undergrowth wildflowers were delicate and white. They reminded me of European forest fairy tails.
Bearberry, Actaea rubra

Early violets were still blooming throughout May, although by the time of my last hike there were very few of them left.
Pinto Violet,Viola ocellata

Thimbleberry shrubs were blooming all over the place. I noted myself to return there in a few weeks. I didn't go back there yet since, but I have enjoyed thimbleberries on other hikes.
Western Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus
The waterfall observation deck is only a short 15 minutes walk from the parking lot. I was surprised to see such a thin flow, since we did have a descent rainfall during the preceding winter and the rains were still coming on and off through May. I guess that the ground was so parched after the long drought that it absorbed all and left very little for surface runoff.
Castle Rock Falls
There were a bunch of people by the waterfall. On all three of my hikes. Some were just enjoying the view and were lingering before continuing on or heading back up the trail. Others, however, were there for a more extreme pleasure - they were climbing and rappelling along the sheet rock wall to the side of the water.

Never been one to enjoy crowds, I took a few quick photos of the place, then moved on down the trail.
I stopped short: a few yards down the trail there was a iris blooming. Other hikers were passing by, and I had to squeeze myself to the edge of the trail and wait for a long enough gap in the human traffic in order to get a closer view of this beauty and take a few photos.
Later I found that my efforts were needless - plenty of irises were blooming in various places along the trail. It was their peak time.
Fernald's Iris, Iris fernaldii
Not too long after seeing that iris I had to stop again. The trail had broke through the trees and I found myself at the cliff's edge with open view to the southwest.
Looking over the Saratoga Gap, May 21, 2016
The view is spectacular any day but on an overcast, storm-brewing day it carries a special air.
Raining over the Saratoga Gap, May 22, 2016
For a good distance the trail was going along the cliff edge, if not quite at the drop-off. For the most part there was thick chaparral covering the slopes on either side of the trail but in places trees emerged high over the bushes and closed over the trail with a nice, shading canopy.
Saratoga Gap Trail, May 21, 2016
Wildflowers were growing all along the sides of the trail. Very different than the flowers I've seen under the trees.
Stinging Lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus, May 21, 2016
Most of the slope's surface was covered with vegetation. Every now and then, however, I saw exposed slide areas that were nearly bear of plants. Of the plants I did see growing there there was the Chilean trefoil, enjoying a no-competition patch of land.
Chilean Trefoil, Acmispon wrangelianus, May 21, 2016

The trail continued up along on a mild slope, curving around the hill on the outside. On parts, the path became rocky and involved some scrambling. The best part of these rocky places was the lovely rock gardens flanking them.
Saratoga Gap Tail, May 21, 2016
The wonderful view from the cliff edge was wreathed with the wonderful bloom of chaparral bushes like the yerba santa. This hardy plant I often see gray and somewhat dehydrated. On this hike, however, it was lush and happy, and wearing full colors.
Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum, May 21, 2016
The chamise was also blooming, and as intensely as I've ever seen it bloom before. No doubt the chaparral was making the most of the wettest season they'd had in several years now.
Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum, May 22, 2016
Vining over the chaparral was the coast man root, or the local wild cucumber. This one flowers early in spring and by the time of my hike there was all heavy with its round, spiky fruits.
Coast Man-root, Marah oregana, May 22, 2016

The vegetation covered most of the ground but here and there huge holed rocks protruded out of the green. These rocks of hard sandstone are the signature formation of this side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and after which this park was named.
May 21, 2016
Presently, the trail begun curving northward into the hillside. I turned my back to the wonderful view of the forest and entered the cover of the trees myself.
May 21, 2016
There in the trees I found the first and only bird that was willing to stay put long enough to be photographed: a Steller's jay.
Steller's Jay, May 21, 2016

Now I no longer had the sweeping view of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Instead, I was meandering in and out of tree groves. Oaks and laurel, mainly, but also others like the black elderberry, also in its happy spring bloom.
Black Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, May 22, 2016
When it comes to blooming trees, however, very few species match the California buckeye in their beauty and splendor. Its chandelier appearance is simply spectacular.
California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, May 22, 2016
There was a lot of open, grassy space between the oaks and laurels, and patches of wide clearings. The wildflowers again chained their species community and the dominant colors where cream and blue.
Variable Linanthus, Leptosiphon parviflorus, May 22, 2016

There I saw one of my favorite lilies on this area - the white globe lily, or fairy lantern. Not endemic like its Mt. Diablo relative, but very, very beautiful.
White Globe Lily, Calochortus albus, May 22, 2016
Spheres of Indian clover protruded from the low grass, swaying in the gentle breeze that followed me up the trail.
Indian Clover, Trifolium albopurpureum, May 22, 2016

It rained on and off on my last hike there, While the rain came down I had the camera stashed under my coat, and when it stopped, I popped it out and photographed the glistening drops that were left on the lupine lives.
Rain Pearls on Lupine, May 22, 2016

Some of the flowers I've seen on that trail were so tiny that I had to stoop down very low to get a decent photo.
False Babystars, Leptosiphon androsaceus, May 22, 2016
I enjoy seeing all wildflowers, but some came me especially happy, like larkspur. A few larkspur were blooming here and there under the trees. Not many, but very distinctive.
Larkspur, Delphinium sp., May 22, 2016
I came upon an interconnecting trail and had to make a decision. As much as I would have loved to continue on a greater loop, May 10th was a regular school day and I had to be out of the park on time to get my chikas from school. On the other dates I hiked with other families and other considerations lead us to the same trail choice.
And so I turned right and started ascending north on a gentle slope that was shaded almost completely by thin, starving-looking coastal live oak trees.
May 22, 2016
I came to the intersection with the ridge trail and sat down on a downed log to rest and eat my lunch. To my right, and a little bit behind, popped a lizard from under the log, climbed half way up, then noticed my presence and halted. There is stood, eyeing me cautiously, until I was done. It waited politely until I took the photo, then turned and slid back under the log.
May 22, 2016
I turned right and walked northeast on the Ridge Trail. I was walking in the forest still, but big, grassy clearings were visible from the trail. 
May 22, 2016

In the grass - baby blue eyes blooming. Small, but quite distinct on the green background.
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menzuesii, May 22, 2016

The oaks in this part of the forest were bigger and more impressive, One of them in particular had grabbed my attention. It was really difficult to get it all in a single photo frame, it was so large and majestic! Certainly not a live oak, although I do not know which species it is.
May 22, 2016
I reached the trail to the famous Goat Rock and took the turn. It has been a long while since the last time i was there and I was curious to see it the the rock was still there where I had left it:-)
The trail passed through a forest clearing with bunches of mule ears, most have already gone to fruit. A few, however, were still in bloom.
Coast Range Mule Ears, Wyethia glabra, May 22, 2016
A bit off the trail, not too far from the Goat Rock, was a field of iris flowers, but right next to the trail there bloomed the summery sky lupine plants.
Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus, May 22, 2016

The trail lead me to the top of Goat Rock. On my first hike there, there were quite a few rock climbers coming up the other side of it. On May 10th, however, it was lonely and quiet.
Goat Rock, top. May 10, 2016
Well, not quite lonely. As I approached the rock I saw young adult termites running along the rock face, consummating their nuptials.
Termites, May 10, 2016

I avoided climbing that rock. And not just because of the termites.
There is a little trail that goes down to the bottom of Goat Rock so I went down to look up at it. On the way I enjoyed the two colors of the woolly Indian paintbrush. The normal red:
Wooly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa, May 10, 2016

And the less common yellow: 
Wooly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa, May 10, 2016
And then I made it to the bottom of Goat Rock and looked up. On May 10th I was there by myself, but on the following hikes there were ropes dangling from the top of the rock, and several climbers were going up, crawling like spiders on the gray, sieve-like wall.
Goat Rock, looking up. May 10, 2016
After appreciating the Goat Rock I continued down the trail back to the Ridge Trail. An interesting pink color caught my eye - not a flower, but the new foliage of an oak.
May 10, 2016
From the Goat Rock the trail continues once more along the cliff edge, looking over the Saratoga Gap, somewhere above the Saratoga Gap Trail on which I hiked earlier that day.
Once again I see the lovely sweeping views and enjoy the bloom of the chaparral bushes, this time including the fragrant ceanothus.
Wavy leaved Ceanothus, Ceanothus foliosus, May 10, 2016

Other rocks tower over me along the trail. Not as famous as the Goat Rock, and no climber was crawling along their faces, but no less beautiful and impressive they were. I could imagine myself curling up for a nap in one of those holes, but never actually tried to go up any of them.
May 22, 2016
Sometimes the trail went right up those rocks and I had to use all my limbs to scramble up the narrow, sometimes slippery path.
More shaded and very moist, this part of the trail had many ferns growing along it. I could always take a break from my climbing to appreciate the ferns.
May 22, 2016
In these shaded spots I spotted the yerba buena - the lovely local mint that I also have growing on a rock in my yard. Makes a nice, fragrant infusion, this one.
Yerba Buena, Clinopodium douglasii, May 22, 2016

It seems like I had walked very slowly on that hike but on May 10th I was actually in a great hurry and hardly took any photos on that segment of the trail. I did compensate for that on my two later hikes, especially the rainy one.
White Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia calycina 
I saw butterflies on all of my hikes there, but on the overcast day they were also slower and easier to photograph.
Butterfly, May 22, 2016
Then the trail dipped into the woods once again, and once again I was out of the view and surrounded by trees. This time maple trees dominated the scene with their mighty trunks and big, bright-green leaves.
Maple, May 22, 2016
Honeysuckle vines climbed on bushes and rocks underneath the trees. Sometimes they just heaped upon themselves.
Southern Honeysuckle, Lonicera subspicata, May 22, 2016
There were two species of honeysuckle there. Both pretty, and very fragrant.
Pink Honeysuckle, Lonicera hispidula 
The Ridge Trail joins the Saratoga Gap Trail above the waterfall. Just before it rejoins it there is a nice rock with a large low height cavity where the children of our family hiking group loved sitting together.
On my solo hike on May 10 I saw this red larkspur blooming right by that rock. O have not seen the red canyon larkspur before and I was bummed when I got home and discovered that most of my photos of this flower didn't come out right. I took note to photograph it again on my next hike.
Canyon Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule, May 10, 2016

On my next hikes, however, that larkspur down by the rock was already done blooming. I didn't stay disappointed for long, though, because up above the rock there were many more - all clustered together in a big, red cloud.
Canyon Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule, May 22, 2016

And from that point it is a short hike up the Saratoga Gap Trail back to the parking lot. Short, but at the end of the loop it's also tiring. A good excuse to stop and take a breather right by the blooming wood rose.
Wood Rose, Rosa gymnocarpa, May 10, 2016
The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to some of the most beautiful forests I've been to. This year the area had taken quite a beating from winter. Many trees fell and many trails have eroded. The main access road to Castle Rock State Park is out of commission who knows for how long. It might be a while more before I visit this lovely park again. Hopefully not too long. I wouldn't want to miss this year;s spring bloom there!