Posts Tagged ‘Flag Hill’

Small animals and killer hikes

May 11, 2013

We could start off the small animals category with birds.

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This one has been parked at Moffett field for several days, near the levee trail, where I pass it on my bicycle route home. The tail says Travis (AFB). I have to admit that this bird probably doesn’t count as a small animal.

Well, how about genuine small animals? When Friedrich and Petra were here a week ago, I discovered a mommy long-legs in a corner of the dining room ceiling, complete with egg sac. I was not expecting results so soon, but…

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If you don’t mind my saying so, I think this is really cool!

Saturday, 11 May

More small animals later, as we get into the killer hike. Bottom line first: 19.3 miles, 4970 feet of climb. What? It’s less than 20 miles, less than 5k feet? How can that be a killer hike? Maybe because it was 90 degrees plus today?

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It didn’t start out at 90 degrees. It was a bit foggy when I started, right at 7. Lots of people out; I had to park almost at Mission boulevard, further from the trailhead than ever before. As always, the street was busy with people who came here to hike, driving up to the parking lot, hoping for a spot, then turning and coming all the way back. For me, I just take the first place available and hike.

I took Horse Heaven trail, as per usual. Most times, it’s practically deserted, but today was fairly busy. I was coming up behind a group of four hikers; we had just made a right-angle turn in the trail below a heavily vegetated embankment, when from behind came a long, loud, melodious Moo-oo-ooo. Startled, the hikers in front spun around. The only animate object anywhere in sight was … Dave.

When I passed them a few minutes later, I remarked that I could claim no credit for the entertainment.

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By the time I reached the shoulder of the ridge, it was a sunny, pleasant day. The top of Mission Peak is to the left; I go down the slope to the right, to Sunol.

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This is an industrial-grade hike by default, just to Sunol park headquarters and back to Mission Peak. If I go past the park headquarters, on up Flag Hill (above), it becomes a killer hike, at least on really hot days.

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This TuVu is today’s first comparatively small animal. It was perched in a tree where I’ve seen them before, sometimes two or three.

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Crossing the bridge between Sunol park headquarters and the Flag Hill trail, I see the stream full of mossy pillows. Pretty, but I don’t think I would want to go wading there.

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Here’s how Flag Hill looks from near the bottom, about 900 feet above the stream.

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Small animals, as in really small.

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Coming up just below Flag Hill (above), which was populated with half a dozen other hikers (below). I perched on a rock and enjoyed the view and some calories.

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Looking down from Flag Hill. I emerged from the Mission Peak trail into the Sunol headquarters parking lot just above and to the left of center.

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The red roof just about dead center in the picture above is a house about 200 feet above the level of Flag Hill. The trail runs very close past it. Mission Peak is the high point about two thirds of the way to the right. I come over the shoulder just to its left, and go back over a trail to the right of the peak.

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Came down Hayfield road, which runs past the old JB ranch. I understand the venue is sometimes used as a group camp, but it was not occupied today, except by hikers and a couple of mountain bikies.

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Unlike Sunol headquarters, drinking water is available here. Though probably not from that tank.

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Ok, small animals we want, small animals we get. There were zillions of earwigs. They didn’t like posing for photos, though, so I didn’t get pictures as good as I would have liked.

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While I was shuffling around in the tall grass, I acquired a tiny spider. Here’s my little friend, finding its way through the hairs on my knee.

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When I started looking closely at this thistle, I discovered all kinds of small animals in addition to the bee and the earwig.

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And just to break the monotony, the Goodyear blimp flew over. This is tail number N10A, named the Spirit of America.

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Back to the small animals…

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I dropped back down to Sunol headquarters, where I drank as much as I could from the bottled water they bring in, then refilled my water bottle. It was enough to get me back, but I would have liked more. A lot more.

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And what should to my wondering eyes appear, but an alligator lizard. Their defense mechanism is to freeze, which makes them good subjects for photographers. Nice colors!

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Two things to notice: first, the really interesting shapes to its scales. Second, the blue-ish bulb behind the head is an engorged tick. Often they have more than one. I’m told that there is something in lizard blood that immunizes the tick from Lyme disease. Well, and third, look at the middle toe on the front foot!

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Not long after, I found a lizard on a mossy tree trunk. Usually they scurry away, but maybe the alligator lizard had been on the horn to his buddy. “Just freeze. It works every time!”

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The shoulder behind Mission Peak is a fire road with a hundred feet or so of ups and downs. A hiker came along, trailed by his dog. At the low point of a roll in the trail, the dog decided it had done enough work for one day, and laid down.

The hiker went back and picked it up. Nice of him. Just as well it wasn’t a really massive dog.

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There were quite a number of these little guys. Doris tells me they’re horned larks, with their horns down. Inconspicuous: I might have stepped on a couple of them if they hadn’t moved!

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At the bottom, looking back up. Not so much fog at this hour, and most of the people coming down rather than going up. Two or three hang gliders at the top, and another one had just landed near where I took this picture.

A nice day.

Mission Peak, Sunol Flag hill

November 3, 2012

First, a note on yesterday’s blog. Our redwood deck has a significant amount of space under the floor. For a while, raccoons thought it would be a good place to live, until I put chicken wire around the periphery. For the last year or so, it has been home to an alligator lizard (below, photo from last May).

We have always had a lot of small spiders in, on, under and around the deck. Until the alligator lizard came along. Then there were no spiders (burp!).

But I haven’t seen the lizard since last spring, probably about the time I took this picture. And the spiders are back!

Lizards have to eat, too, but it’s nice to have spiders.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

If I go to the Stanford avenue entrance to Mission Peak well before sunrise, maybe I will even be able to park in the lot, rather than down on the street below. So I thought. Wrong! The sky was only just beginning to show a bit of light in the east, and I had to park as far away from the trailhead as I ever have before. People like to do this in the dark!

And indeed, I saw a number of lights from flashlights carried by hikers on the way up. I guess they like to be at the top when the sun comes up.

As for me, I relied on the fact that the first part of the route is fire road, so I don’t need to see anything in detail. After half an hour, there was enough light to see color — we had our first rain of the season last week, and the grass is already green! — and take off my padded vest, having climbed several hundred feet and warmed up.

I was almost at the top when the sun finally rose. A pretty view over the Sunol valley to the north and east; I believe I have never before seen it fogged in. Mt Diablo to the right.

As I crossed the shoulder and started down the other side, I saw a coyote. We looked each other over and went our separate ways. Thirty seconds later, another coyote. Mom and pop? And then yet another. I hope they’re well fed on rabbit and wild turkey — dealing with three at once — oop! make that four! — would be quite a challenge.

These coyotes probably don’t have direct experience, but maybe they bring in guest speaker coyotes from Nevada or Wyoming, speakers who tell them tales about rifles.

Lots of dew in the early morning. It promises to be a wonderful day.

I noticed a rock made of fragmented seashells and had a minor epiphany: I bet shell and shale are derived from the same root word!

Well, the hike to Sunol is an industrial grade trek, but it’s not a killer hike. 15 miles or thereabouts. But I was early, it was a nice day, and well, why not! So I went on up to the top of Flag Hill (below). It adds a few miles and a thousand feet of climb (total: 19 miles, 4900 vertical feet).

At their request, I had photographed a group of half a dozen other hikers here. They enjoyed the hilltop while I went on down.

And what should I discover on the trail, but possibly the last tarantula of the season! Great!

Sunol park was celebrating its 50th birthday, and the visitor center area was full of rangers, docents, pavilions and exhibits. Not that many participants: maybe the real events happen this afternoon. I wandered around, refilled the water bottle, soaked up a few calories and went on.

As I neared the bottom on the Mission Peak side, I was behind Mom and four-year-old daughter, and Dad and six-year-old son were behind me. I stepped carefully across the rails of the cattle gate, and the son remarked, “You know, you can walk at the edge.”

I turned and said, “Sometimes we choose not to do things the easiest way. It’s more of a challenge.” So the boy came up and walked with me. Quite a conversation, about running on the downhills, about my GPS receiver, and then on into skiing, skateboards, snowboards and that was only the limit because we reached the parking lot and had to say our good-byes.

What a terrific day!