Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Dessert Hike: To Bald Mountain and Back

Up to the Bald

Date: February 19, 2018
Place: Bald Mountain, Mount Umunhum Open Space, San Jose, California
Coordinates: 37.159630, -121.875483
Length: 1.4 miles round trip
Level: easy

At the end of our hike down Mount Umunhum I pulled my family from the parking lot, urging them to go on one additional hike: a short in and out trail to the nearby Balt Mountain.
Our additional hike to Bald Mountain and back as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The chikas made some faces but Pappa Quail urged them on after me. Before long they were running ahead. This trail was nearly flat up until the short ascend at the end. Up until that point it was also considerably warmer than the trail we hiked earlier.
Bald Mountain Trail
Trees were scarce along that trail and the mountainside was covered with thick chaparral. Most of the shrubs were still in their winter slumber but some were already waking to an early spring.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp. 
In fact, there were some lovely blooms along that trail that I haven't seen earlier on the Mount Umunhum trail.
Blue Witch, Solanum umbelliferum
The entire Bald Mountain trail is exposed and as such, the views from the way are wide and sweeping. It gave as a nice, different angle of some of the sights we've seen from the summit of Mount Umunhum.
Loma Prieta
As I mentioned above, we didn't see many trees along that path. Occasionally however, some chaparral members pretended to be trees, growing to a good tree height.
At the far end of the trail the chaparral is replaced by open grass savannah. The winds blow strong there. Or at least on the day we were there it was blowing very strong. So strong that we had to take off our hats. The elder chika rebelled and started to walk back. I called after her and she found a protected corner to sit down and wait for us.
We didn't linger mush on the Bald Mountain summit. The views were terrific, but the wind was intolerable.
South Bay

The younger chika turned around too and run down the trail to join her sister. Papa Quail looked around then started down as well. I tried to give the views more than a few seconds of appreciation but it wasn't long before I couldn't feel my nose anymore.
Imaden Reservoir
I headed back down the trail and joined m family on the bay back to the parking area. In the backdrop loomed Mount Umunhum, looking down on us, reminding me that I didn't really summit it. Driving u and hiking down doesn't count.
We came down all the way from up there ...
We walked quickly. The chikas were already discussing where we should stop for dinner but I chose to linger behind and enjoy the last few minutes in this newly opened Open Space.
Sticky Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus

Just before reaching the parking lot the hillside is cut and the soil exposed. There I saw some very yellow poison oak plants. I've seen them in every shade of red and green but the yellow is new to me.. I wonder if that's lack of iron or the effects of the cold spell that the area was experiencing. Or ma be it's a mutation ... who knows?
Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
Hiking to Bald Mountain was a nice dessert after hiking down the Mount Umunhum trail. But it can be a nice stand-alone trail for people who don't wish or don't have the time to hike Mount Umunhum, but still want to enjoy the views and the interesting vegetation of the area. Just hold on to your hats!

Monday, March 26, 2018

A New Trail of the Old Sacred Grounds: Hiking Down Mount Umunhum

Date: February 19, 2018
Place: Mount Umunhum, San Jose, California
Coordinates: 37.160017, -121.900401
Length: 3.5 miles one way
Level: strenuous (but we cheated)

Some time ago I joined the mailing list of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District. Then, I received a message that the Mount Umunhum trail is now open to the public. The chance to hike there came on Presidents Day after other plans we had for that day got cancelled.
It stands out, that mountain with the large cube-like structure at its top. Every time I drove down to San Jose I wondered what that place was. Each time I came to hike at Almaden Quick Silver I thought I'd check out the place.
It was very cold on the day of our hike. We took out time and when we finally got out of the house it was already noon. I wanted to go u and down but the chikas resisted and Pappa Quail observed that we might not have the time to walk in both directions. Reluctantly I agreed to go in two cars. We parked one at the last parking space we found in the Bald Mountain lot, gathered in the other car and drove up to the top parking area. From there it is a short walk up a flight of stairs to the actual summit.
Down below spread the entire Silicon Valley, framed by the East Bay hills topped by Mount Diablo.
View Northeast. The big peak is Mount Diablo

The view from the mountain top was spectacular. The sky was clear and the visibility good. All around was beautiful view but it was to the east that I had my eyes and camera trained on. There, in full view, was Mount Hamilton, the tallest peak in the Bay Area and home to the Lick Observatory.
View East. The big peak is Mount Hamilton

Mount Umunhum is sacred to the Amah Mutzun tribe of Native Californians. For two centuries they were barred from going up there. For many decades the general public was barred from going up there as well because the mountain top was used as a radar station, monitoring movements of Soviet aircrafts during the cold war. It wasn't just the radar building there at the time but an entire base with an active military community. When the place was turned into a park of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District all the buildings were removed save for the radar building which was left as a memorial and historical site. Great care was taken and still is to restore as much as possible the natural state of the mountain top. The Amah Mutzun tribe elders were consulted and their vision was incorporated into the plan and implemented. A spiritual circle was constructed at the summit next to the radar building, where the tribespeople can now gather at will.
The old radar building

There is a trail in construction that circumvents the building and connect to the main trail down below the summit. This was not yet finished when we were there so we backtracked our steps and went down the stairs again to the parking lot from where we got on the trail downhill. 

Our hike down mount Umunhum as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The trail starts descending from the southeastern side. Before us was the view of the Coyote Creek valley all the way down to Gilroy, and the mountain range south of Mount Hamilton where Henry W. Coe State Park is located. A month later I spotted Mount Umunhum from Henry Coe, the other end of the direct line of sight across the valley. 
View Southeast

It was all downhill from there.
This trail is new, part of the park's making project. As we were going down we kept running into hikers that were making their way up. I started running about taking the easier way so Pappa Quail and the chikas hurried ahead, leaving me to sulk in the rear. 

Soon we plunged into the forest, which in places was just a high chaparral. The chikas started complaining about the cold and I couldn't stop myself from saying that we would've been warm had we been going uphill. 
Manzanita Trail
Although we were going downhill and at a quick pace, I found myself lingering behind and stopping to appreciate the beauty around me. 
I got to admit  that I too found it easier to pull my hands from my sleeves and operate the camera when I was out of the shade.  
There weren't any annual wildflowers blooming yet but the shrubs were having their spring already. This one has a particularly lovely scent. 
Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus
We found a sunny corner of a switchback and sat for a short break. Pappa Quail detected movement in the bushes and identified a cute little wrentit in the branches. 
We were descending quickly, as expected on a downhill hike. Still reasonably high up the trail we could see a pretty looking observation deck. The chikas wondered if the trail goes there. I promised them it was. 

Lower down the mountain side the vegetation was denser and taller. The manzanita was replaced by its relative the Madrone. 
Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
In almost no time we arrived at the observation deck and stopped there for a little while. From there we had a clear view of the next peak to the south - the Loma Prieta. 
Loma Prieta Peak
We also had a lower view of Mount Hamilton, and could be duly impressed by its enormity.
Mount Hamilton
Now there were taller trees on our way down, and more shade. Every time it seemed that the day was warming up a bit we were back under the canopies, shivering. And it was getting later in the afternoon.

Under the trees however, I did find another blooming plant - the California man-root vine with its white, delicate flowers.
California Man-root, Marah fabacea
A bit further down -another early spring flowers: the baby blue eyes. A fitting name indeed.
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemoophilia menziesii

Near the end of our trail I turned around and looked up at the mountain top with its signature man-made ornament. I prompted the chikas to turn around and look as well.
Pappa Quail suggested that I would walk back up to the summit and get the car we've left there while he drive away with the chikas. That was a sound suggestion but I passed on it. Instead I wanted to go on and hike the trail to Bald Mountain too.
Mount Umunhum
On the last few yards of the trail I collected some red sights to post online. A fresh growth of California Laurel, dedicated and tender,
New growth of California Laurel, Umbellularia californica
... the red, shod back of a Madrone tree,

... and the new spring growth of the lovely and dreaded Poison Oak.
Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum 
We made is back to the Balt Mountain parking lot where I refused to open the car for the chikas, stressing that we were going to go on for another 1.5 miles to Balt Mountain and back. The chikas grumbled but Pappa Quail backed me and so we went on for the second part of our days hike, of which I'll post separately.
And yes, I do plan to go back there and hike Mount Umunhum properly - up and down. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Urban Hiking at the Continent's Edge, where Land's End

Date: January 2018
Place: Land's End, San Francisco, California
Address: 680 Point Lobos Ave. San Francisco
Length: about 3 miles
Level: easy

The county of San Francisco is all city. Here and there, however, there was left an undeveloped area with an almost wild feel to it. One such place is Land's End, today a part of the Golden Fate National Recreation Area.
While Land's End isn't on the absolute must see list of SF tourists, it still attracts many people, and often it is difficult to find a parking spot at the main lot by the visitor center.
Up until the date of this hike I, like many other visitors, was satisfied with viewing at the ruins of Sutro Baths, and enjoying the beach below.
View of the Sutra Baths
The green cliff area however, beaconed me, so I added it to my hiking wish list and eventually to the Redwood 4-H Hiking Project schedule. The photos here are from my solo preparation hike and the following 4-H hike.

Awareness of the California native nature has increased in recent years, and with it the efforts to preserve and also rehabilitate the native vegetation in many places. A good job of that was done at the Lobos Dunes of the neighboring Presidio of which I posted here before. 

The area near Land's End visitor center has been repopulated with native coastal plants, some of them were even blooming. 
Seaside Fleabane, Erigeron glaucus
A wide path meandered between the coastal bushes and I walked slowly along it, paying attention to the new growth and the beautiful colors. On the day of my solo hike the parking lot was nearly full yet the trail was almost deserted. On the day of the group hike the lot was surprisingly vacant, yet the trail was full with bikers, joggers, and some hikers too. I presume that at no time this place would be found human-free.
Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium 
Above the parking lot the path becomes a trail that stretches northward through a lovely grove of cypress trees. 

I spotted a hawk perched on a brach of one of these trees and pointed it to the group. Both Pappa Quail and my elder chika trained their camera at the bird. It didn't seem to mind one bit.
Cooper's Hawk
In the nearby bushes Pappa Quail had spotted a towhee.
Orange Moon
Further down the trail there is a staircase leading upward, connecting to a higher trail through the park. Between the stairs and that trail there is another parking lot and south of it a memorial to the  USS San Francisco - a battle ship that fought and was damaged during WWII.
The USS San Francisco Memorial
Many sparrows were active all around me. some were hopping on the cement ledges. I saw one sunning itself, looking nonchalantly at the passers by.
White-crowned Sparrow
The view form up there was spectacular. Partially overcast on my solo hike but I could  still see a long way out. 

After admiring the USS San Francisco memorial I found the upper trail at the edge of the parking lot and commenced walking, now east bound. Before long I was engulfed in vegetation. The sound of the crashing waves below drowned the sounds of the city above and like by magic, I felt like I was out in the wilderness, away from society.

But not far enough from al the escaped cultivars that populate this park. Many of the plants I saw there were immigrants, brought from overseas to the yards and gardens of the city. Some just took off and set their roots out in the wild.
Plume Acacia, Albizia lophantha
They were all very pretty. It was easy to see why these plants were introduced into gardens here. Still, in gardens they didn't remain confined. California's climate is very welcoming.
Passiflora tarminiana

While these pretty garden plants do catch the eye, there were plenty of California native plants still to give a wild appearance to Land's End. During my solo hike I had an easy time taking trail photos that didn't include any people. It was easy to forget that the city was just a few yards away.

Wildlife too we encountered on this hike. Birds, mainly.
Anna's Hummingbird, male
But also other creatures.
Banana Slug

Nearing the eastern end of Land's End the trail changes altitude, going up and down with many stairs. I took it slowly, stopping to breath and to admire the fresh, green ferns that were growing on the thin topsoil that covered the rocks.

At that part of the hike the trail is a bit more inland and not right over the cliffs. But I did get occasional glimpses of the ocean. And then I had a peep of the Golden Gate Bridge, making sure I would not forget where I was :-)  

There too were areas of native vegetation rehabilitation. The blood currant was in bloom, just as pretty as any of the imported garden plants. Indeed, it is now used to beautify many a California yard, including my own.
Blood Currant, Ribes sanguineum
Eventually I emerged at the north side of the park, where the trail once again goes right over the coastal cliffs and a nicely landscaped vista point with an observation platform and benches, and a terrific view of San Francisco's iconic landmark.

There was also a view of the neighborhood that's between the Presidio and Land's End, and beyond it in the background sticks up the new monster skyscraper in downtown San Francisco.

While I was admiring the geographical features Pappa Quail was looking for birds. And he found many of them, ocean side.
Glaucus-winged Gull
And right over the water, gliding through the spray.
Western Gull
This place is truly a birder's heaven. On my solo hike I've met a few near the Sutro Baths. For the group hike I brought two of my own :-)
Surf Scotter, male
Pappa Quail also aimed his camera at the Golden Gate Bridge, but as it turned out, it was the bird he was looking at. A beautiful red-tailed hawk was suspended in mid-air, balanced on the wind without flapping a wing.
Red-tailed Hawk
Pappa Quail also captured some niece close ups of the cormorants on the rock, but I liked this image of the boats cruising to the Golden Gate.

From the north end of Land's End we took the sidewalk up along El Camino Del Mar, the road that will eventually bring us back to the upper trail. It was a bit unusual to have our hike turn into a city walk but that was the quickest way up and back on our planned loop trail. And it too provided some interesting sights. Like this bump I thought was a bird on the lower branch of this tree below. (A close up revealed it to be the stump of a branch.)
Yes, I fell for it. 
San Francisco is a city of monuments. Sure enough there were plenty of monuments to see along the way. I liked this one - a monument for peace inscribed in Japanese with translation to English on the side. During the group hike all the children gathered around the inscribed stone, admiring its smooth and graceful appearance.
Monument for Peace
We moved quickly on the sidewalk until we reached the Legion of Honor where we reconnected with our park trail. At first, however, we had to cross the park's golf course.
It's nice to see green in winter. It would hurt in summer. Either way, this isn't public grass to run and roll on. 
We crossed the golf course, found the trail connector, and went right away to the lower trail. Turned west and found the steep, multi-steps path to Mile Rock Beach.

On my solo hike I didn't go all the way down to the beach itself, but enjoyed the nice coastal sight from above. There were very few people there and the sound of the sound of the waves drowned all other sounds.
On the group hike I had to exercise my will to get the children to the labyrinth first but after that we all went down and enjoyed a good time at the beach among a gazillion other people. The waves were higher and stronger but the dominant sound was that of humans talking, shouting, and laughing.
Mile Rock Beach
Just above the beach, at the end of a little side trail, was another monument - an unofficial one - the Labyrinth of Land's End.
The first time I encountered a labyrinth of this type was during my hike at Sibley Volcanic Regional Park. Later I have found the one at the top of Mori Point, along with its numerous (and still multiplying) little 'offsprings'. When I learned that Land's End has one I had to include it in my hike plan, and I wasn't disappointed.
Built by the artist Eduardo Aguilera, this labyrinth is much more interesting and complex than the simple spirals laid out in other places. It has become a well loved landmark and its location is prime, no doubt. It was almost impossible for me to get a people-free photo of this monument.

I prompted all the 4H hikers to go through the labyrinth. Meanwhile I scouted the horizon. I didn't see any whales that day, but it was impossible to ignore the huge liner that was making its way slowly to the mouth of the Golden Gate.
What goods do you bring from far away?
We had a good time at the beach and I wish we could have stayed more, but eventually it was time to move on. With some effort I managed to gather everyone and urge them up the stairs and back on the trail.
We continued west on the lower trail. For some time we were once again walking in an almost wild setting but soon the path widened and became paved. We reached the cemented vista point just below the stairs leading to the USS San Francisco Memorial. Below, just off shore were the remains of an old shipwreck, sticking out of the water.

I looked back east. There was the Golden Gate, and the magnificent bridge in full view. I took yet another photo of this iconic sight (heading this post). Then I turned my attention to the place we just left - the rock ledge over Mile Rock Beach, and the labyrinth. A fitting landmark for San Francisco, more moving than any of its official monuments. 

From there, it was a matter of five minutes walk back to the visitor center and the parking lot. Any thoughts I had of going down to the beach by the Sutro Baths were dismissed - the children had already their beach time and were ready to go home. None of us had any thoughts of remaining in the City for further exploration that day.
This loop trail is fairly short and can be walked quickly if fitness is the only thing on one's mind. Taking the time, however, is very rewarding because a large art of this trail still has a very wild feel to it, and provides wonderful opportunities to immerse in Nature. In an urban block such as San Francisco, that is priceless.