Saturday, 4 April 2009:
Sarah was in a weekend-long jewelry class, so I went hiking with our friends Elica & Joe at the Sunol Regional Wilderness, about a 90-minute drive south-southeast from San Francisco.
View from the parking lot
It had been two years since my last hike year due to travel in 2008, and I was eager to revisit what is probably my favorite spring hiking park in California. We hit the trail under blue skies and 65-degree temperatures at around 10:40, as a handful of Tree Swallows swirled above us.
We began on the Indian Joe Creek Trail, IMO the only sane way to reach the higher elevations of Sunol Regional Wilderness, as the alternates are all relentlessly steep, while Indian Joe Creek is only sometimes so.
Nia, Elica & Joe’s Shi-Tzu, trooped right along with us as we climbed the sun-dappled, oak-studded canyon. Right away we began to see wildflowers, mostly various lupines, some larkspur, fiestaflower, buttercups, and bluedicks.
Despite the numerous floral temptations to linger, we hiked fairly vigorously, and quickly arrived at Cave Rocks, and continued to the end of Indian Joe Creek Trial at Cave Rocks Road, where we took a short break to give Nia some water and catch our breath.
Nia, the trail Shi-Tzu
We turned right on Cave Rocks Road, which climbs steadily, punctuated by a few short drops, most of which end with a boggy cow watering-hole. We saw few bovines, save for a couple of shady patches. Just as well, as they don’t really contribute to the wildness of the area, and in the east bay hills, can sometimes be rather aggressive.
Cerro Este Road & Flag Hill
A pair of California Towhees “CHEEP”ed, then flew off, and Turkey Vultures circled overhead as we continued upwards. Countless Johnny-jump-ups, a lovely golden violet, dotted the grasslands, accompanied by much more lupine, popcorn flower and accented by, variously, Redstem Filaree, Broadleaf Filaree, and Dove’s-foot Geraniums.
Although there had been a fair number of cars at the trailhead, we saw very few people on Cave Rocks Road, typical for the prettier reaches of Sunol, over 1000′ above the parking areas.
B&W Conversion attempt… meh.
We hiked through a boggy area containing the first group of trailside cows we’d seen, picking Nia up so she didn’t chase them. A little farther up a lone bull strolled down the trail towards us. Although he seemed placid enough, we gave him a wide berth.
Live Oak, Johnny-jump-up, and Lupine
Wildflowers were blooming everywhere on this stretch of Cave Rocks Road, with many large patches of color, purple for Lupine, white for Popcorn Flower, and yellow for Johnny-jump-up.
It was good that we had plenty of wildflowers to look at, since the trail climbed steadily. We were grateful that the weather was moderate, as this would be a hot, exposed, and difficult hike mid-summer!
View west with Mission Peak on the horizon
Our views opened up as we climbed, and we had a nice vista of the miles of green hills in every direction, and could even see the tops of the San Francisco skyline way in the distance. It was a very smoggy day on the bay, but fortunately the air in our immediate area was fairly clear.
Cerro Este Overlook marker
We took another short break at the Cerro Este Overlook to catch our breath, and then turned left on Cerro Este Road. Although this portion of Cerro Este is a dead-end, ending at a gate on the boundary of the park, I had previously seen excellent wildflowers on the two hills here, marked 2038 & 2201 on the trail map, and it’s a great lunch spot with almost no chance of running into anyone else.
Thousands of Johnny-jump-ups
We climbed and climbed some more, startling a pair of Yellow-billed Magpies, which I was a little surprised to find this far west. Yellow-billed Magpies are endemic to California’s Central Valley, but I have heard reports that their range is expanding, and it was nice to see one this close to home, my first ones in several years.
At 12:35, we reached a somewhat sheltered nook between two hills and decided it would make a fine lunch spot. Elica & Joe had kindly made tasty sandwiches, and we munched on those and some nuts, enjoying the panoramic view in front of us.
There was a great variety of flowers around us, Purple Clarkia, Bluedicks, Johnny-jump-up, Redstem Filaree, Popcorn Flower, Lupine, and more.
After enjoying the views and relaxing for half an hour or so, we decided it was time to head back down. Among the many charming features of Sunol Regional Wilderness is that it is very easy to make loop hikes of nearly any length (so long as you don’t mind some stiff climbing somewhere along the way, as that is unavoidable here!).
A pair of birds flew by and caught my eye – a closer examination showed them to be pretty Horned Larks, complete with horns! Like the Magpies, this was a bird I hadn’t seen in several years. Although this hike wasn’t proving long on species, I was happy to see a few that had been long-missing from my year lists.
Rolling green hills
When we re-reached the Cerro Este Overlook, we continued down Cerro Este Road, which descends steadily, often steeply.
More distant fluttering turned up a pair of bright, spiffy Western Bluebirds, always a pleasure to behold.
Our views eastward toward Rose Peak were chock-full of green grass and live oaks, and I fondly remembered the difficult 3-day, 32-mile Ohlone Wilderness backpacking trip through that area that Sarah & I did shortly after we’d met.
Bovine watering hole
At the intersection with the McCorkle Trail it was decision time: Take McCorkle eastward and do a long loop through Little Yosemite, or continue down Cerro Este Road, taking the shorter route back to the trailhead.
Joe had to be at work before 5, so we opted for the shorter walk. Some stopped hikers asked about the flowers blooming farther up the road, and I encouraged them to make the effort, although two were clearly reticent to climb any more than they had (again, this is why I only ever climb up on the Indian Joe Creek Trail – the rest are quite steep!).
Calaveras Reservoir peeked through the hills to the north as we descended the steep, sometimes gravelly road. About here, I struck up a conversation with a fellow hiker named Jon who was leading a bus-full of hikers here. At the second junction with the McCorkle Trail we exchanged cards (his website is www.natureoutings.com) and he continued down Cerro Este, while we bore right on the McCorkle Trail.
Nia, who had been a real trooper on this fairly difficult hike, was starting to tire, so Joe gave her a ride, baby bjorn-style. The trail briefly entered some chapparal, characterized by Manzanita, much poison oak, and some blooming Sticky Monkeyflower.
Although we all felt strong and well, a brief uphill pitch quickly reminded my legs of how much climbing we had done and that soreness was likely in the next couple of days!
A mile after turning off of Cerro Este we crossed the Canyon View Trail, but kept on McCorkle, as it ends near where we had parked, while Canyon View is more by the visitor’s center, not that the two are particularly far apart.
Flag Hill and trail
Flag Hill was back on the horizon now, having sunk well below it in our views from the higher reaches of the park, and the parking lot was visible under a mile away.
Lupine & Oak
Although there was less flower variety here, colorful purple patches of lupine flocked the hills.
More lupine, more oaks
The McCorkle Trail ended at the Camp Ohlone Road, and we hiked the remaining quarter mile back to the car on the broad, flat, and family-friendly tail.
Finally, at 2:45, we were done. This was a truly fine outing; birds, wildflowers, exercise, and most importantly, good company!
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1875′
Moving time: 2hrs 57min
Stopped time: 1hr 5min
|Birds seen:||Wildflowers seen|
|Location: Sunol Regional Wilderness
Observation date: 4/4/09
Number of species: 10
+ Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo 8
This report was generated automatically by
|– Bird’s Eye Gilia
– Blue Nightshade
– Blue-eyed Grass
– Broadleaf Filaree
– California Buttercup
– California Manroot
– California Poppy
– Dove’s-foot Geranium
– Iceplant (invasive)
– Larkspur sp.
– Lupine sp. (3 different ones)
– Miner’s Lettuce
– Popcorn Flower
– Purple Clarkia
– Red Maids
– Redstem Filaree
– Scarlet Pimpernel (invasive)
– Serrated Onion
– Shooting Stars
– Sticky Monkeyflower
– Wild Radish