|Views. Ponds. And a Nature Center.
Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve
This 2,143-acre preserve has something for everyone. Children and
naturalists should enjoy the natural history exhibits shown every
weekend through mid-November at the David C. Daniels Nature Center.
They can also see old ranch buildings from the 1930s, and inspect
very old Ohlone Indian acorn-grinding holes.
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 over
rounded hills, open meadows, and through the forest. Bicyclists are
welcome on preserve roads. Hikers have their own single-track
trails. And nature photographers can picture pond creatures, birds,
plants, and scenic vistas.
After enjoying your favorite adventure, share a
picnic at a favorite view site. View the Lambert Creek watershed,
Butano Ridge, Portola State Park, and in the distance, the Pacific
Ocean. So pick what you like, and enjoy a day at Skyline Ridge.
Although I usually prefer solo strolls,
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space offered a photography hike that was
just my speed. (They used the word "leisurely.") I also liked the
intent of their description. "You’ll use your camera to focus on
aspects of nature you might not have noticed before, from the tiny
whorls and grainy pollen inside a flower…to the orange underbelly of
the newt…to the contorted shapes of oak trees…to the broad vistas of
the rolling hills. You’ll have a chance to focus your camera on
intricate patterns and strange artistry in the natural world, and
perhaps discover how plants and animals use their life forms to
survive." All that in four hours, with time for lunch.
The hike did not begin auspiciously. We were to
meet at Monte Bello Open Space, but because of fire at the bottom of
the preserve, our docents detoured us to nearby Skyline Ridge. Also,
the first photographer that I met pulled out a 800 mm lens that
dwarfed all my cameras and lenses put together. I had a bad case of
lens envy, but when he told me that with the pack and extra heavy
tripod, it weighed forty pounds, I realized that I wouldn’t want to
carry photography that far or that long, unless I had my own camera
porter or a golf cart.
He didn’t see a porter either, and decided to
rough it with a 100-400 mm zoom. Appreciating the word "hike," I
brought only one lens—my trusty 28-135 mm zoom. This left more room
in my pack for lunch. It was a good decision.
After our small group introduced themselves,
docents Frances Cleveland and Jack Zirker led us from the main
parking lot up the Ridge Trail. We stopped often, ostensibly to
discuss aperture, depth of field, resolution, megapixels, and
Photoshop®, but also to catch our collective breaths as we climbed
the ridge. Actually, it was a pleasant way to hike, with lots of
talking, picture taking, and enjoying views from the macro (seed
pods and flowers) to the telephoto (hills, ridges, and ocean). After
climbing through a golden meadow, we rounded a rock outcrop over a
steep slope, actually a ledge carved from the mountain, protected by
a somewhat fragile fence. We were at Rattlesnake Point, named by the
men who encountered these reptiles while building the trail. The
view to the ocean was excellent, but unfortunately, we did not see
any rattlesnakes. (I’ve always wanted a picture of people jumping
off a cliff while yelling, "Snake, snake!")
We doubled back to the intersection with
Horseshoe Lake Trail that took us, as you might expect, to Horseshoe
Lake, which is actually a 27-foot-deep spring-fed reservoir,
complete with ducks and coots, ferns and cat-tails, benches, and a
table. The trail goes all the way around the lake, sometimes at the
shoreline and sometimes several hundred feet above. It’s a pleasant
As we walked and talked on the way back to our
cars, I realized that I enjoyed this group hike. Putting people
together on a trail with a common interest works, especially with
the right people, docents, and environment. I hope that Midpen
sponsors more photographic safaris.
Whether you walk with a group, your family, or
alone, Skyline Ridge is a good place to be.
Take Black Road up to my favorite highway,
Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35), turn right, and continue on Skyline
past Highway 9 and past the Palo Alto sign. If you want to go to
Horseshoe Lake, watch for the Skyline Ridge parking lot on the left.
If you want to go to the nature center and Alpine Pond, continue on
about another mile to the Russian Ridge parking lot at the
intersection of Alpine Road, then walk through the tunnel under
Alpine Road to the nature center.
You can get a map covering the entire South
Skyline region at the trailhead. You can also get more information
and maps at www.openspace.org. Parking and admission are free.
If you are low on food or gas, drive north on
Skyline to Alice’s Restaurant at the intersection with Highway 84.
For information about other hikes and
explorations, visit our website—www.mnn.net.