Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Almaden Quicksilver County Park - Wildflower Hotspot #3

Almaden Quicksilver County Park
Almaden Quicksilver County Park is located in south San Jose around the former mining town of New Almaden.  Here you get a view of nature reclaiming the mined lands with several of the park entrances right out of residential neighborhoods.  A dreamy afternoon can be spent reading about the wild ways of the New Almaden mining days in the first chapters of Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Angle of Repose, and then hiking further into these very same hills.  Or you can just go the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum after your hike.

Trails wind through open stands of valley oak and blue oak trees with Chinese houses, farewell-to-spring and other colorfully-named wildflowers waving in dappled light, and California quails calling from mossy rocks and crumbled brick foundations.
I particularly like the trails off Mockingbird Hill Lane where one Easter, we scooted around strutting turkeys and met local botanist, Olive Zappacosta, probably in her 80's then, out for a springtime stroll. Olive told us a delightful story about how the fiesta flower (white flower above, there is also a blue version) got its name.  She asked us to feel the bottom of the plant's leaves and we noticed they had sticky hairs like the hooked side of Velcro.  When Mexican girls wanted a fancy outfit for the summer fiesta, she said, they would pick the leaves of the fiesta flower and arrange them in intricate patterns pressed onto their skirts.  Magnifico, a new party dress.

Serpentine linanthus (Leptosiphon ambiguus) at Rancho San Vincente May 2010 by Cait Hutnik.  Almaden Quicksilver has similar flowers in open grassy slopes, some which were once pitted with mine tunnels or covered with the shacks of mining towns.
Even the drive up to Almaden Quicksilver County Park can be scenic, although be careful of the bikes on the narrow road.  Docent Cait Hutnik reported in mid-April, "There's an impressive burst of Blazing Stars blooming above Hicks Road about a mile up canyon from the Almaden Reservoir."  While waiting for a loose dog to return to his owners along Guadalupe Creek Trail,  I enjoyed a windshield view of curtains of spreading larkspurs draped on the cut rock alongside Hicks Road.  Cait reports that the best trails for wildflowers in Almaden Quicksilver County Park are Senador, Guadalupe, Mine Hill and Castillero Trails.

The three photographers featured here, Cait Hutnik, Ron Horii and Debbi Brusco, lead docent hikes for Santa Clara County Parks, Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.  It's worth checking out the hike reports and photographs they post at their websites, likewise colorfully named as Light of Morn - Nature Walks and Photography (Cait); San Francisco Bay Area Parks, Recreation and Travel (Ron); and Moonlit Trails (Debbi).

Flowers of the Santa Clara Valley dudleya (Dudleya abramsii ssp. setchellii), a rare plant found on serpentine soils of the landform now known as Silicon Valley.  This photo was taken by Cait Hutnik at Rancho San Vincente in May 2010.
On May 15, Cait will be leading a 3-mile hike to the newly acquired Rancho San Vincente property near Almaden Quicksilver Park.   She says, "We'll see Santa Clara Valley Dudleya in bloom as well as the not often seen Pitted Wild Onion and Clustered Broom Rape."  Information about the hike can be found at Cait's website here (reservations required).

The purple and white flower featured at the top is bird's eye gilia (Gilia tricolor), and if you look closely into the eye of the flower, you will see the pollen is an unusual shade of blue at the tips of the stamens.  The white fiesta flower (Pholistoma membranaceum) is being visited by an ant in the photo at top.  Although we humans enjoy flowers, we fool ourselves to think their loveliness was developed for our attention.  The shape, colors and scents of flowers are primarily created to attract insects and thus assist in the process of cross-pollination and producing more flowers.  So does that mean that our flower-loving human brains are somehow similar to insect brains?

This post is part of a series of Wildflower Hotspots in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

***Next up is Wildflower Hotspot #4 - Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve where tens of thousands of Johnny Jump-Ups were blooming in late April and lupines, checkerbloom, California poppy and other wildflowers are busting out in May.

See also:
Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Santa Clara County Parks

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