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The Trail Companion (ISSN 1528-0241 (print); 1094-222X (online)) is the quarterly newsletter of the Trail Center.

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The Trail Companion

Spring 2000

Theme: San Francisco Bay Area Wildflowers

Six Sure-Fire Wildflower Hikes


Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve

Great flowers and killer views, what more can one ask? Russian Ridge has more hikes in our log than any other Midpen preserve.

Owl's clover in the mist, Russian Ridge
Owl's clover in the mist, Russian Ridge
Photo by Tim Oren
It's also notable for having one of the greatest variety of microclimates and therefore species. Come up here any time in the spring and you won't be disappointed. Bloom times are often later in Russian Ridge than other places, due to the frequent cool damp fogs that flow over the ridge, so if you missed a seasonal bloom elsewhere, try here. I've noted the apparent peak times for various blooms in past years, though they will be present at other times and every season is different.
      From the parking lot, head uphill on the Ridge Trail. On the way up you may find the two-toned tidy tips (Layia platyglossa) and a completely yellow layia (a variation) along the trail (June), and purple owl's clover (Castilleja exserta) (early May) as you come closer to the top. This north slope is also a good place for California buttercups (Ranunculus californicus) (April). Now on the ridgeback, stay right at the first junction and keep following the ridge. Here are crowds of checker bloom (Sidalcea malvaeflora)(April) and the pansy-like johnny-jump-up (Viola pedunculata) (early to mid-March is best for viewing them, before grass gets too long). Midpen has been experimenting with annual controlled burns in this end of the park to reduce the noxious yellow star-thistle (Centaurea solstitialis), so it will be interesting to see the long term impact on the native flower population.
      Coming to the next junction, turn right to climb Borel Hill. Keep an eye out for red maids (Calandrinia ciliata) (early April) and deep magenta farewell-to-spring Clarkia (Clarkia amoena ssp.) (May to early June). Continue over the hilltop and down to the gap and junction near Skyline. Continue along the ridge to the northwest. This segment of the ridge often has an abundance of common fiddlenecks (or Menzies' fiddleneck) (Amskinkia menziesii) (early June).

The perfect tidy tip, Russian Ridge
The perfect tidy tip, Russian Ridge
Photo by Tim Oren
Most of the way along the ridge, you come to the junction with the Hawk Ridge trail. Walk ahead up the hill with the microwave antennas. There are California poppies everywhere on the ridge, but this spot is often most picturesque, with scattered rock outcrops for backdrop (May). On the hill top, walk all the way to the fence to look for California creamcups (Platystemon californicus) (late May) and a fabulous view past a windmill up the Peninsula to San>       Retrace back to the Hawk Ridge trail junction and turn down hill, with a view toward Mindego Hill, the remains of an ancient volcano. This trail drops you down from the grasslands into wooded terrain. Stay left and join the Alder Springs trail as it contours along the hill and soon crosses below the gap (stay right at the intersection). In the drainages along the way, keep an eye out for yellow seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) (late May). After contouring around the head of a canyon, turn left and uphill on the Ancient Oaks trail. Watch for white globe lilies (Calochortus albus) under the trees, and we have occasionally seen striped coral root (Corallorrhiza striata) along this trail (both mid-June).
      The trail climbs to enter a stand of truly amazing, moss covered California live oaks. If you brought a picnic, this is the place to stop and let them keep you company for a while. Following along the Ancient Oaks trail, keep right at the next intersection and traverse through grasslands above a steep side-slope. This is another good place for owl's clover. Coming to a junction just above the Alpine Road, turn left to return back to the Ridge Trail and the parking lot.

Getting there: From I-280, west on Page Mill Road up to Skyline, park in the lot at the northwest corner.

Hike distance and elevation change: 4.5-mile loop, 600'

Best time for flowers: April to early June

On the Web:Russian Ridge on the MROSD site

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Six Sure-Fire Wildflower Hikes
San Pedro Valley County Park
Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve
Wilder Ranch State Park
Joseph D. Grant County Park
Sunol Regional Wilderness
A Few More Wildflower Tips
Identifying the Mystery Plant
Wildflower and Plant Guides - Web and Electronic Resources

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