Views, Wildflowers, and Wildlife
Usually I’m not a big fan of docent-led hikes. I’m a slow walker. I like to take time to shoot photos, enjoy the views, and rest. Docents like to share lots of information, which is a good thing, but standing for a lecture hurts my feet.
This hike was an exception. First, the only way to see this area now is through a docent-led hike. (The preserve is scheduled to open in late 2018.) Moreover, this is a special place of serpentine grasslands with great fields of wildflowers, herds of Tule elks, and rare Bay checkerspot butterflies. It also helps when the docent is Paul Billig, an experienced guide and teacher. He gave us lots of information in short, easy-to-understand bursts that helped us gain more than just exercise in a beautiful place.
You can see Coyote Ridge to the east as you drive south on Highway 101. It covers over 1,800 acres of rolling hills covered with fields of grass and spring wildflowers, and sprinkled with rock outcroppings. If you walk the trail from the valley, it’s a straight, steep climb up to about 900 feet.
Our hike was a bit easier. We started from the Motorcycle County Park just 300 feet from the ridgeline. We got special dispensation from the county on a day when the park was closed. When the Santa Clara Open Space Authority opens their preserve, convenient parking should be available.
Our out-and-back hike was about 7.5 miles. Although the elevation difference was only 300 feet, the rolling hills meant that we gained and lost elevation many times.
The views made the climbs worthwhile. We could see Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory to the east, and Mount Umunhum, Loma Prieta, and the Coyote Valley to the west. Better still, we walked through spectacular carpets of wildflowers, surrounded by hills of deep green, fields of red rocks, and big, unobstructed blue skies.
At the far end of our trail, we ate lunch overlooking a beautiful green valley with a herd of Tule elk and the shores of Anderson Reservoir in the far distance. (Go to You Tube to see “Herd of Tule Elk on Coyote Ridge” by David Tharp, a mountain neighbor. He has photographed lots of wildlife, including mountain lions, in Santa Clara County open space.)
Much closer, only inches away, we saw tiny wildflowers of almost every color, a small but loud green Pacific chorus frog, and many Bay checkerspot butterflies. (In a good year, and this was a good year, Coyote Ridge is home to over two million checkerspots.) Due to the limited habitat and too much civilization, these little butterflies are a threatened species.
Although serpentine is the state rock, there are few large areas of serpentine left. The serpentine retards the growth of many grasses, protecting the native flowers, especially dwarf plantane, California goldfields, and fiddlenecks that checkerspots need.
Other wildlife on Coyote Ridge includes California tiger salamanders, California red-legged frogs, burrowing owls, meadowlarks, golden eagles, and many other raptors.
What about coyotes? We didn’t see any, but we saw a herd of cows. Although they eat the grass that could choke out the native plants and threaten the checkerspots, they also leave smelly traps and deep hoof prints on the trail. I guess nobody is perfect.
Although the morning early spring hike was glorious, the treeless terrain was less pleasant when afternoon winds nearly blew us off the trail. This is a great hike, but be prepared with hat, windbreaker, sunscreen, water, hiking boots, and a willingness to walk up and down hills.
For more about Coyote Ridge and other Santa Clara Authority preserves, visit openspaceauthority.org.