Some excellent views are to be had at Monte Bello Ridge. If like me, you start out late (around 5:15 p.m. on a mid-August evening) and want to reach Black Mountain summit, it is best to take one of the shorter routes. The preserve, like other California open spaces and parks, closes to visitors a half an hour after sunset. Sunset was at 7:00 p.m. the evening that I was there. This meant I would have to do the round-trip within two and a half hours. Doable! I would still have time to stop at the summit, take in the view and take some photographs.
I started out at the main parking lot on Page Mill Road and headed towards Bella Vista Trail. Soon I came to a sag pond, densely populated by cattails, under the shade of several oaks. (Take this route and you can make the hike from the parking lot to Black Mountain summit within an hour.) Here by the sag pond is a marker explaining the concept of ecological succession. I enjoyed the shade, knowing that soon I’d be back skirting open meadows in an unforgiving sun.
I hiked past wide open grasslands, and sections of trail shaded by trees, listening to the garbled sounds of birds and the wind rushing down the canyons. Even after 5:00 p.m. the sun was parching hot. I drank almost an entire liter of water on my push up to the summit. The faraway sound of motorcycles on Skyline Boulevard could be heard at intervals but didn’t manage to detract from the solitude and beauty of the ridge. I half expected to encounter a mountain lion or bobcat along the way as there was scat on some areas of the trail; there wasn’t a sign of either animal anywhere.
About a mile and a half into the hike I came to the Black Mountain backpack camp where visitors can stop overnight (with special permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Outdoor Space District (MROSD)), for a maximum of two nights. This is the only MROSD preserve with camp grounds. On its toilet door was a recently posted sign that warned of a rattlesnake sighting. I didn’t bother to stop!
Not too far from the backpack camp was my final destination, Black Mountain summit. Here there are strange looking outcroppings of Calera limestone boulders, quite out of character with the rest of the place; so too, was the power station over to the left, and the steady stream of overhead planes. But the views were spectacular and so I didn’t mind too much, the intrusion of the outdoor world upon this natural space. Here, at an elevation of 2,800 feet, one could look out at Skyline Ridge and Butano Ridge to the west, the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south and dense fog banks over the Pacific Ocean. Directly below the summit was an equally spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the surrounding cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, etc.
If you want to learn more about the land and human succession in recent times, read about George Morell, an old Stanford alumni who purchased the place and later turned it over to the MROSD. Here is a decent link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Monte-Bello-Open-Space-Preserve/137705576250404?sk=info. Another good read is one about “The Land,” a hippie commune that was on Monte Bello at the time that the MROSD acquired the land from Morell. Details are here at http://theland.wikispaces.com/.