Hiking with a Friend
Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve
Neil Wiley

This 2143-acre preserve has something for everyone. The physically challenged and stroller-pushers can gain access to nature via smooth paths around tranquil Alpine Pond and the unusual U-shaped Horseshoe Lake. Equestrians have lots of room for trailer parking and plenty of wide trails up rounded hills, over open meadows, and through the forest. Bicyclists are welcome on preserve roads. Hikers have their own single-track trails. And nature photographers can shoot lake reflections, birds, trees, and scenic vistas. Dogs are not allowed in this preserve.

On a short walk, you can experience evergreens, massive oaks, spikey chaparral, and broad grasslands. You can cool down in forests, and warm up as you climb the hills in bright sun. In pre-COVID-19 times on weekends, you and your family could have visited natural-history exhibits at the David C. Daniels Nature Center. Hopefully, those days will return soon.

I’ve hiked Skyline Ridge alone and with docent-led groups. Although I have hiked here several times, this was a different experience. When I walked alone, it was as a photographer. I moved between photo opportunities. Is this worth a picture? Where is the light? What is my aperture? Wide-angle or telephoto? In some ways it made me more aware of what I was seeing, but I wasn’t always enjoying the moment. I was working.

On this hike, I walked with a friend. Photography became incidental. We shared what we saw, where to go, and how we felt. It made the experience richer. We took turns leading and following, but mostly we just walked together.

Solitude felt better when it was by choice. This is a time when we need to be with others, even if we are six feet away while wearing a mask.

We began with a walk to Horseshoe Lake. From the parking area, we took the trail on the left. We crossed over a wide road, and then joined the loop around the lake. It took us along the shore, across an earthen dam, and then up to a ridge several hundred feet above the water.

The 27-foot-deep spring-fed reservoir is home to ducks and coots, ferns and cat tails, benches and tables. We enjoyed it all, but especially with a timeout sitting in shade.

We walked back to the parking area, and then followed the Ipiwa Trail. This single-track took us uphill about 2000 feet to the broad and appropriately named Sunny Jim Trail. We thought about detouring on Butano View Trail. It promised a good view, but the climb and warm sun encouraged us to take a direct route to Alpine Pond, on a short walk to the right by another branch of the Ipiwa Trail.

We could have walked around Alpine Pond, but we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we walked back to our car. Our destination: Alice’s Restaurant at the intersection of Skyline and Highway 84. I’ve eaten many hamburgers over the years at Alice’s, but we enjoyed a real dinner outside. Perhaps it was because we were starving. Perhaps it was because it was a fine meal. Or perhaps it was because it was more fun to eat together than alone. It was all good.

I even enjoyed the drive back through the mountains. My hiking partner drove. I should have been ashamed, but although I’ve driven this road hundreds of times, I never was a passenger. Skyline and West Summit are even more beautiful when you can devote your eyes to the scenery.
You might try taking a friend on your next walk. Sharing can be better than solitude.

Take Black Road up to my favorite highway, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), turn right, and continue on Skyline past Highway 9 and the Palo Alto sign.

If you want to go to Horseshoe Lake, watch for the main Skyline Ridge parking lot on the left. When you turn in, pass the first lot. It’s for horse trailers.

If you want to start your hike at the Nature Center and Alpine Pond, continue on about another mile on Skyline to the Russian Ridge parking lot at the intersection of Alpine Road, then walk through the tunnel under Alpine Road to the Nature Center.

Maps are not available at the trailhead, but bathrooms are open. You can get more information and maps at www.openspace.org. Parking and admission are free. 

For information about other hikes and explorations, visit our website—www.mnn.net. Current exploration stories are also available at mountainnetworknews.com.