Sightings on Pleasanton Ridge

long ridge view of valley 2
View of Mount Diablo from the Valley View Trail

Know Where You’re Going!

Planning a hike? Know the trails you plan to take. If the park you start out in abuts another, be aware of your route (otherwise, you may find yourself doubling, even tripling the miles you plan to cover).

Wednesday morning’s hike started around 9:00 a.m. I planned to do a four and a half mile loop, starting and ending at Golden Eagle Way. I should be home by noon.

Up Golden Eagle Trail to Pleasanton Ridge I went, stopping by a bench overlooking the valley. Here is where Golden Eagle and Valley View Trails intersect. Mount Diablo is visible in the distance. The East Bay/Tri-Valley hills are in the foreground.

long ridge view of valley
View of Pleasanton from Long Ridge Trail

Summer Sights

The trails are dusty, making it easy to spot the tell tale tracks of wild turkeys. They have three toes forward and one back. Lizards scurry along at the edge of the ravine. Golden grass and yellow thistle cover the open fields.

Down by the turtle pond an Anna’s Hummingbird is frolicking in the water. Overhead an acorn woodpecker tap tap taps, moving from cavity to cavity. Is he removing or hiding acorns? My hummingbird is gone now. In her place, are blue damselflies. How pretty.

turtle pond at end of long ridge
turtle pond at end of long ridge trail

Thermalito Trail and Beyond

I decide to take a different route back and eventually end up on the Thermalito Trail. Am I still in Augustin Bernal Park or am I in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park? I don’t know. Up hill, downhill, on mountain bike trails, past several dried up watering holes. Something tawny colored and quite large darts out of the bushes, directly across my path. It is an adult or sub-adult mountain lion. I’ve only ever encountered one once before. (S)he stops on a hilly overlook a short distance away. She stares curiously, unwavering. My naturalist’s training kicks in: I stop walking; I make myself look big (I raise my hands up above my head and do so a few times); I keep eye contact, remembering never to look away; I begin talking loudly to myself for there is no one else around. She isn’t budging and neither am I. Finally, she loses interest in the crazy lady talking to herself and saunters off. This is an amazing encouner and according to what I’ve learned in my training, I ought not to have been alone.

This hike ends up taking all day. I do not exit the second park until 4:30 p.m. and I still have to walk another two miles back to where I parked my car. Worse of all, half of it is up a steep hill. I have covered the entire Thermalito Trail and most of Oak Hill Trail too. I’ve hiked about eighteen miles and I am exhausted. This is my second mountain lion sighting and it has made my day.

Oh, you know I didn’t take these photographs. I was too busy keeping my eyes on my new found friend.

Mountain lion photos, credit: U.C. Santa Cruz, California; and Mountain Lion Foundation.

Jasper Ridge!

After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of  the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.

Dirca and Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
indian warrior -closeup
close-up of Indian Warrior

It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.

The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?

A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.

Searsville Lake and Dam

lake -hillside viewOne of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.

dam 1
Searsville dam
dam -lower view
Dam, lower view

There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.

To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:

To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.

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