Posts Tagged ‘russian ridge open space preserve’

New boots, day 2: Industrial grade hike

November 13, 2016

Sunday, 13 Nov 2016

REI had an offer of 20% off more or less anything. I like my boots, but they’re getting to the point that I can see air through the bottom. Asked the REI clerk if I could get the same thing again, and I pretty much did. 20% off a pair of boots is a noticeable amount of money.

Saturday’s volunteer project was about 5 miles of hiking, something over a thousand feet of vertical gain, a good opportunity to check out the boots.


Monterey cypresses, clearly planted by someone who presumably lived here back in the day.


We had lunch under a big broken redwood, the side branch showing evidence that it has been broken off and regrown several times.


The crew, photographed by Ellen as we started back to the car. Dave, Lynn, Doug, Scott, Bill, Miki.

Sunday, I thought I’d do a longer hike. Russian Ridge, for example. 18 miles, 3100 vertical feet. Industrial strength hike, not a killer.

On Mindego Road trail, I saw a bobcat. It stopped long enough to check me out, then went on its way.


Spent much of the day looking for purple star thistle (above), removing all I found. Yes, I could wait a few months, while more of it germinated, but I might as well stay ahead of it as best I can. Also worked on bull thistle; mostly too late for this season, but many of the seeds are sprouting, and it’s also worth keeping ahead of next season’s crop.


Fog over the ocean, but here it was a beautiful day, just about perfect. View from the top of Mindego Hill.

A 3-inch Douglas fir had fallen across Charquin trail. That’s small enough I can saw it off and clear the trail.

I found thistle in small clusters in a number of places, and had a chance to talk with a number of visitors as I worked on it. Collected some fresh purple star flowers and seed in a trash bag for landfill disposal.


As the day wended its way along, the afternoon light became horizontal. Here, a pretty area along the aptly named Ancient Oaks trail.


A late look at Mindego Hill, from whose summit I took the first picture of the day.


Oh, yes, the new boots. Tired feet, but that’s hardly unexpected. I think they and I will become good friends.

Arachnids rule!

September 18, 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Five of us cleared three areas of Fremont Older open space preserve of stinkwort, all of it that we could find. The day was bright and sunny, but started out cool and gray, with wonderful condensation patterns on the cobwebs and indeed, on their proprietors.



Garden spider season, and no mistake.

Sunday, 18 September

Speaking of which, it’s also getting on into the time of year when the tarantulas come out. Do you suppose, if I go trail patrolling in the open grasslands, I’ll find one? So I drove up Page Mill road and hiked a loop through Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge open space preserves.


No tarantuli, but I did find two gopher snakes and a garter snake. That’s three-up from the usual count.





Only recently did I learn that the forked tongue is actually a stereo sensor, able to differentiate the taste of the air left to right and help the snake locate smelly things such as, well, me.

A spare the air day here, not much breeze, highs estimated at 90 in San Jose, 100 in Livermore. Maybe a bit cooler on the ridge over the ocean, but still a hot day. Glad I have water.

A week ago, Ellen, Tom and I scoured Mindego Hill for purple star thistle. It was part of my hiking plan anyway, so I took along a trash bag and scoured it a second time. If we got 90% of it last week, and I got 90% of what was left today, we’re down to 1% remainders. Hard to estimate these numbers, of course, but I think they’re not too far off.

This left me with a trash bag to carry out. I tied it to the back of my backpack, where it probably looked silly, but didn’t get in my way. Dropped it off at the Midpen Skyline Field Office (always known, confusingly, as SFO), where I talked with Ranger Frances for a few minutes.

I used up all of my water before I got there, but I was able to tank up again at Alpine Pond. A life-saver, and no mistake. Too bad there are so few sources of drinking water up there, but that’s how it is.

As to big spiders, the season is yet young, and I’ll be out there looking for them next week, and the next and the next.

Good days to be outdoors

June 12, 2016

Sunday, 12 July 2016

When she has no formal projects planned, volunteer coordinator Ellen is available for ad hoc projects. We met on Saturday to work on broom along Razorback Ridge trail at Windy Hill. Pleasant day, and we made a dent, but there is so much that it was only a dent. It will need to be sprayed next season.


I talk a lot about broom. Here’s a broom in bloom. This one is Spanish broom, rather than the more common French, and far more difficult to uproot. This one is above Horseshoe lake, a reminder to someone with a big weed wrench some day. Or maybe a pickaxe.

I was on the trail by 7 Sunday morning, up through Los Trancos, Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge preserves. Pleasantly cool in the breeze, nice day. I should have gone to Mindego summit, but I wasn’t sure how much I had committed myself to, so I skipped it today. Next time: it turned out to be less than 16 miles, even with several little extra side excursions.

One of the side excursions was around Fir Knoll at Skyline Ridge. This is a trail that adds an extra 0.6 miles with no utilitarian purpose whatever; its only justification for existence is that it runs through a very pretty forest. Well, what more could we ask!


And Ellen told me yesterday that there were still wildflowers on the walk around Horseshoe Lake. There are still wildflowers everywhere, but that’s a route I rarely take, so it was a good opportunity.


I don’t think I had previously noticed the wild columbine turning up their sex organs for all to enjoy!



Flowers are to enjoy, right? Small animals in just about every one, enjoying.


Well, maybe not this one. It’s about a sixteenth of an inch across.





To those who know better: yes, some of these pictures came from later, but I put them in pictorial order here.


The eye spots on the dragonfly make it look as if it has a real face.


And I presume the presence of the nymph is purely coincidental, nothing to do with the adult’s presence. I continue to boggle at the fact that the leading edges of their wings are open.



Ellen said there was larkspur on the Horseshoe lake circuit, one of the reasons I wanted to do it. Maybe what she said, or what she meant, was: there is even a light smattering of larkspur. Certainly nothing like a rich growth.


I never noticed these little guys before. Tom tells me it’s Fitches spikeweed, and pretty unusual around here.


I like its compound flowers.


Well, I mentioned earlier that every flower has its small animals, not all of which are vegetarian. The Mariposa lilies are especially rich in photo ops. Above, we see a spider that has caught a little bee of some sort, while meanwhile, lunch goes on across the way. (Side comment: I think there are far more Mariposa lilies this year than usual, especially in comparison with California poppies.)


Here’s a hungry spider, and below a good-sized carnivorous insect.



Saving the best for last, I was delighted with this picture. No sooner do you start eating lunch than you find that you are lunch!

Windy Hill, Russian Ridge

August 2, 2014

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Last weekend, I discovered yellow star thistle at Windy Hill. Not very much, but it would be good to eradicate it before it can spread.


So I left the car on Skyline at the top of Spring Ridge trail about 7, hiked down to the area I had skipped last weekend. It was just at the top of the fog that was blanketing Silicon Valley, cool and pleasant.


I think the temperature was around 60F, cool enough that this bee was lethargic. A bee never lets a camera get that close! I’m sure that the warmth of the sun rejuvenated it a few minutes later.

The thistle colony on Spring Ridge trail proved to be fairly small and local; although I swept the area on either side of the trail, I didn’t find anything more. For completeness, I thought I’d go back to Anniversary trail, along the top, where I had tried to clean it all out last weekend. It’s impossible to get them all; a second pass is a good idea.

And there were indeed a few along the trail, where I had been last weekend. But in being thorough, I went up the steep embankment above the trail, into the tall grass, and found a lot more. A lot more.

I ended up spending three hours on this stuff, at which time I had run out of hauling capacity and enthusiasm. Maybe I (or someone) will come back and get the rest of it.

Stopped at another gate on Skyline, did a quick hike to pick up a little stub trail that I had missed in last weekend’s effort to hike all the trails at Windy Hill. Now it’s complete.

Then I went on to Russian Ridge, parked at the vista point along Skyline, and hiked all of the trails in the northwest area of the preserve.


We hear about Langley Hill, and in particular, Langley Hill quarry. It has the look of a long-abandoned dig, until we zoom in, and then it looks pretty active. Not as big as the massive Permanente quarry west of San Jose, but big enough.


The windmill, turning lackadaisically in the light breeze. It has the appearance of being in full working order. Maybe it keeps that tank filled from a well, and provides reliable water pressure to the few homes below here.


Stopped at Alder spring, which really does have a few alders. I think they’re not native here; maybe imported by some settler long ago. Under their shade, a thick growth of berries, a dozen of which were both ripe enough to eat and accessible. After wet winters, there are berries all over the place, but they’re pretty rare during the drought. A good thing to do.

Only 11.5 miles, 1800 vertical feet today, but with an investment of 7 hours, it still seemed like a fair bit of work.

Mindego Hill, volunteer day

April 26, 2014

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Another volunteer day, this one at Mindego hill, an open area that became part of the open space system a few years ago, but has been closed to public use while they get things sorted out. I always walk out to the closed gate when I hike Russian Ridge. In the early days, a sign on the gate said, “Keep out, unless you can run faster than the brahma bull!”

It is still closed to public use. We are building trails. The trails will need to mellow for a year, but they hope to open them to general use in 2015. One of the nice things about volunteering is the opportunity to see places that are not generally accessible.


Today’s volunteer crew. Ellen is the volunteer program coordinator, white jacket just right of center. Several of the others are frequent volunteers, and as always, there are a few newbies. Welcome, all.


Looking up the hill, we can see the new trail switching back and forth. A shortcut for the motor cart goes up more directly, but it will not be part of the finished project. We need the motor cart to take supplies up the hill.


We car-pooled in a couple of the open space vehicles, collected shovels and hammers and what-not, and started up the hill.


I joined two others installing what are called wattles, these cylinders of straw wrapped in burlap. They are staked down on the broken earth across the steeper grades to retard the flow of runoff, thereby to prevent erosion. The other volunteers were deputized to strew straw beside the trail, also to reduce erosion.


We used up all the stakes battening down wattles, about the time our compatriots used up the straw that had been delivered to a staging point halfway up the hill. We broke for lunch, hiked to the top of the hill.


Terrific views in all directions. That blue stuff over there is the ocean.


We stopped on the way back down to clear out some fennel (much like dill: smells wonderful!), which will take over an area if it gets the chance. Narrow-bladed shovels to try to get the roots out, but as one of the shovelers, I can attest that the roots go a long way down, and sometimes cutting or breaking the roots was the best we could do.


One of the guys discovered a centipede (1 pair of legs per segment).


As a special treat, we went down to Mindego pond, where a USGS master’s degree student told us about his research project on the San Francisco garter snake, found in comparative abundance here.


Abundance means he has caught 17 of them so far. Actually, that’s pretty good.


His snake trap; a long vertical wall uphill from the trap steers snakes and other creatures into the trap. The ball is used to plug up the entrance on days when he isn’t here to inspect and empty the trap, to avoid the possibility that something gets trapped and can’t survive a delay. Next to the ball, we see a soaked green sponge, which allows amphibians that may get caught to avoid dessication.


There are said to be red-legged frogs here, and one of the research topics is whether the frogs eat the snakes or vice versa, or maybe neither or both. We didn’t see any of them, but there were a few California tree frogs around. My colleague’s boot gives an idea how small they are.

Another terrific day.

Yellow star thistle and Mission peak

June 23, 2013


I got a hummingbird feeder to experiment with my new camera. A few shots here. I think the one above is a male, all ruffled out to show off his plumage. The one below would presumably be the female, not very much impressed.


Interesting how a slight shift in the direction of the light makes a radical difference in the colour of the feathers. Iridescence!


Saturday, 22 June 2013

I volunteered to put in a few hours work for the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District today. Pulling up thistle at Russian Ridge, especially yellow-star thistle, which is highly invasive.


Yellow star thistle


You can see where it gets its name. These photos were from Sunol on Sunday:

Sunday, 23 June

Went to Mission peak, hiked over the ridge to Sunol, up Flag Hill, and back. Almost 19 miles, almost 5000 feet of climb. The new boots were not ideal, but they were okay.


The day was chilly, foggy, condensing enough that I stowed my camera in my backpack for a while. It was windy crossing the top of the ridge, and then I went down the east side, where it was a little quieter.




This memorial to someone’s good friend Rocky has been posted on a tree in the back country for a while now. Nice, and I’m glad no one has torn it down.


There are a couple of trees on the approach to Sunol, flat-topped, something like a gallows, in fact, where the TuVus like to hold court.


This is a great photo, even if I have to say so myself!

I went on up Flag Hill, another 4 miles or so, and 1000 feet of climb, which changes this from an industrial strength hike to a killer hike.


They talk about earth tones being pretty, and they’re right.


I saw a couple of tarantula wasps. At least I think that’s what they are.


They look for tarantula burrows, but will sometimes settle for a large wolf spider. The female stings the tarantula, which paralyzes it. She lays her eggs on the spider, and when they hatch, dinner is served.


Adult tarantula wasps are vegetarians.



The poison oak flowers are especially prolific this year, more than I recall from ever before.

Still cloudy, but at least Mission Peak was no longer fogged in. Lots of people out enjoying the coolth of the day.



A hawk landed nearby and posed for pictures.


It was windy at the ridgecrest, and several hang gliders were showing their stuff.


Just below him, the Morton salt piles.


And here, we see him to the left of the Tesla factory on the near shore, with the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct crossing in the background, the the Hoover tower of Stanford University just visible in the upper left corner.


And there were several adult wild turkeys with their chicks. The chicks were the size of a chicken or a duck. Big birds.


Small animals, at home and abroad

May 18, 2013

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The several mommy long-legs in the garage have produced half a dozen litters. Nice to watch them.



Saturday, I thought I would leave the car at Palo Alto Foothills park and hike to Skyline from there. But the gate was closed when I got there, and parking on the road is verboten. So I drove up Page Mill to Montebello, where the gate was also closed, but it’s legal to park roadside. Just 7 when I started out, on a chilly, sunny day.


From this view, you would never know there’s a drought!

Because this is not to be a long loop, I can do some of the infill trails today, trails that I rarely see. We start with a brief detour to the pond near Alpine road. The trail map just calls it Pond, no name.


I have never been here before; I bet nine people out of eight don’t even know it’s here. I walked most of the way around, until the un-trail disappeared completely, then bushwhacked back up the hill to the real trail.

Several of the other less commonly used trails were also knee high with vegetation, and I stopped at the Russian ridge gate to check for ticks.

Three in my socks. Here’s one that I picked out and deposited on the fence post for photos.



Interesting that this little parasite has its own little parasite, high on the left shoulder. I cannot feel very sympathetic.


I also found a tick on my knee, heading north at full speed. Here we have a female eager to get into my pants. Sounds good, but not this kind of female.


I have always wondered how they manage to crawl around on your skin without you feeling it. And in these close-up shots, I see droplets exuding from the feet — I bet they secrete an anaesthetic onto the host’s skin! How about that for unexpected!


Here (below) is another tick from later. This seems quite different from the one above, which is in turn quite different from the one on the fence post. All told, I encountered six today, three in my socks, two on my legs, one in my hand. Of course, it’s the ones I didn’t see that are the real concern.


I’m glad the bay area is not plagued with serious tick-borne disease!

There was a nice collection of other interesting wildlife, as I wandered Russian ridge, including a walk out to the end of the Mindego hill road, to see whether they have opened a trail to the top of the hill (they haven’t) .







I spotted a spider stalking a little leafhopper kind of thing. Life and death drama here, so of course I watched.


When the spider pounced, I could actually hear a little plop as it landed. No more leafhopper!




Ever been grinned at by a spider?


This bee really gets into his work!


At Alpine pond, scum on the water, but clearly not random. I am reminded of Golgi bodies in histology, but have no idea what this would be. Interesting. The nature center was open; they had scooped some water from the pond, and captured a dragonfly nymph. The volunteer said the nymphs take two years before maturing into dragonflies. Who would have thought!

In the spirit of picking up some of the side trails that I don’t see very often, I hiked down the old Page Mill road trail until it ended. My new shoes are hurting my feet — that’s not good. Applied some moleskin and gritted my teeth.


My bod is so attractive, it’s just irresistible!

Near Horseshoe lake, I saw coloured ribbons marking the trail, and there was a sign about an ultramarathon here tomorrow.  Probably as well I came here today.

Hot, tired and sore by the time I got back to the car, but it was a pretty good day.

Signs of spring?

February 23, 2013

Saturday, 23 February, 2013

Last time I did more or less this hike, I parked at Arastradero Preserve, and hiked uphill from there. That hike was upward of 21 miles, and I didn’t have time or stamina to complete a loop at the top, just went out to Horseshoe lake and back. Today, I parked a little further up the hill, at Foothills park, and stitched together trails through Foothills, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, Montebello OSP, Coal Creek OSP, Russian Ridge OSP, Long Ridge OSP, and back through Montebello, Los Trancos and Foothills park. It was an industrial strength hike (17 miles, 3300 vertical feet) but not a killer hike.

It was a sunny day, cold in the shade, cold in the wind, warm in the sun. Nice.

As I hiked up Los Trancos trail in Foothills park, I met another hiker who asked me whether there was another trail off to the left, a trail that would take him back down. The Los Trancos trail swings around to the right for a good-sized loop, but left? Hmmm… In the absence of guidance, the other hiker turned back and went back down on Los Trancos trail.

Two minutes later, I came to the Castanoan trail turnoff, leading down and to the left. Now that I see it, I remember that it was there. I have never taken that trail; maybe I’ll do it on the return trip as a way to remember it next time.


A spider web, with dew that would likely last all day, even in the sun.

From Montebello, the route went down old east Alpine road. This was the only really muddy and gunky part of the hike, mostly because it’s in the shade and graded below the adjacent hill. When I first started riding and hiking the bay area, east Alpine was a real road, that ran all the way from Portola Valley to Skyline. Unpaved and closed to cars even then, but for a mountain bikie, it was a fire road ride, not a single-track trail ride. Many years ago, part of the road collapsed in a landslide, and as a secondary road, it just wasn’t worth repairing. So they built a mountain bike trail around the landslide… today, I notice on the map a note that the route is completely impassible. Not clear whether the note refers only to the road part — that’s not new news — or also to the mountain bike trail.

In any event, I turned back uphill before reaching Crazy Pete’s road — there’s a name I like! — and crossed Skyline near the vista point into the Russian Ridge OSP. Sunny up here on the ridge, but cold in the wind.


From Russian Ridge OSP, the trail crosses under west Alpine road into Long Ridge OSP and Alpine pond. I stopped there to soak up calories and enjoy the day. On the bulletin board, I notice that there will be a Signs of Spring event here tomorrow. Well, it’s true that the predominant colour is green, but in the bay area, that is more a sign of winter than a sign of spring. Wildflowers? Arthropodae? Not many.


Having been primed to look for signs of spring, I kept a close eye out as I went back down the hill. Yes, there are a few wildflowers, but not many types and not very prolific. You have to look carefully for them.




I like the 2×5 pattern of the petals on these microscopic blossoms.


I turned off on Castanoan trail, as I had promised myself. It dropped me out at the top of Wild Horse valley, as I had also recalled. From there, it was a simple walk half a mile back to the car.

Today’s adventure: this is where I came upon a gent lying on the semi-paved trail. When I got closer, I saw that he had a camera, so I went over to see what he was doing. He had a sheet of soft white plastic and a shaker of forest duff. What he would do is shake a loose scattering of duff onto the plastic sheet, inspect it for small animals and then photograph them. My kind of guy!


Of course, he had a real camera, with two radio-activated flashes and the whole bit. I can hardly compete… but even so, this looks like a really good idea. I think I will experiment with it myself.

As to the signs of spring, yes, they exist if you look for them, especially down a few hundred feet and inland a few miles from Long Ridge OSP. But unless something really dramatic happens overnight, anyone who drives to Long Ridge tomorrow hoping to see meadows chock full of wildflowers and arthropodae is likely to be a bit disappointed.

Not yet spring, but close

January 13, 2013

 Saturday, 12 January 2013

With rainy weather and vacation and various things going on, I have not done a killer hike for a number of weeks now. There may not be enough daylight for some of the usual routes, where for example, the gates at Sunol only open at 8. But I can drive quickly to Arastradero open space preserve, and hike from there through Palo Alto’s Foothills park, thence to and through Los Trancos open space preserve, Montebello open space preserve, and maybe end up at Horseshoe lake, in the Long Ridge open space preserve.  (Yes, there are strings of parks and you can go for a long way from one to another to another. Nice!)

And do I did. Several degrees of frost when I started, but as soon as the trail started uphill, I took off the two outer jackets. I had cool-weather gloves, which I put on and took off innumerable times over the course of the day, according to the nano-climate of the moment.


We are watching a video course on particle physics, and I am reminded of the professor’s comment that the hexagonal nature of snowflakes tells us a lot about the molecular structure of water. I don’t see any hexagons here. Is it possible that the cross section of these crystals might be hexagonal?

Saw several deer, a number of rabbits. A coyote came across the trail not far away, turned in my direction but ran off when it saw me.


A sunny, cold day, but definitely showing signs of spring.

I got to Horseshoe lake by taking the Canyon trail in the Montebello preserve, then cutting over to the Skid Road trail. It was quite squidgy, really the only extended difficult section of trail all day. I considered going back by way of the Russian Ridge open space preserve and the Coal Creek open space preserve, but it would add another couple miles to the hike, and I wanted to be sure there was enough daylight to get back to the car.

As I got back down into Foothills park, I clearly had enough margin to take a short photo break. All of the following photos come from a little area of duff and deadfall of only two or three meters along the trail.


The things we see when we look carefully.


Last week, I got down on my knees for some of the close-up photos, and ended up acquiring a tick. They like to hang out on the grass, which is a good reason not to brush against the vegetation. They like to drip down from the overhead, which is a good reason to wear a wide-brimmed hiking hat. But it hadn’t occurred to me that they would also be lurking in the duff. Once bitten, and all that. Today, I didn’t get down into the duff.






This last one is a horse chestnut in the process of sprouting.

Got back to the car a few minutes after 4, as intended. Plenty of margin before a 5:20 sunset. 21.4 miles, 3300 vertical feet.

Sunday, 13 January

I may have blogged about the leaking pipe last weekend. It was repaired properly during the course of the last week, but the follow-up was a disaster. So I started the day by spending two hours digging out mud, by hand, and resetting the utility box around the irrigation system.


These pictures are the before view, as left by the plumbers. The after picture would show the box flush with grade, and an interior view would show the wiring, solenoids, valves and manifold exposed. Moomph!


Another chilly day, but it was good for a 5-mile run after lunch. It turns out that the ring of major roads around home is a 5.0 mile circuit, according to Google maps, so it’s very convenient. There are a few traffic lights, but most of them are secondary and the odds of having to stop and wait for more than a second or two are fairly low.