Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve - Wildflower Hotspot #4

Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve - Woods Trail and Barlow Road
Above the town of Los Gatos, my favorite trails in the 17,600-acre Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve are Woods Trail and Barlow Road.  These connected trails are interesting and botanically diverse because together, they carve a 360-degree circle below Mt. Umunhum in open grassland, chaparral and shady forests with rocky outcrops and small headwater streams.  You get to see many different types of vegetation and most wildflowers are presented to you right alongside the trail, even at eye level.  There is one location along Barlow Road where I often see  red larksur (Delphinium nudicaule, shown above) growing shoulder to shoulder with a deep purple larkspur.

The Barlow Road to Woods Trail route is 4.3 miles one-way and you can make a loop out of it by walking 1.3 miles uphill on Mt Umunhum Road from the Jacques Ridge parking lot, or you can arrange a shuttle to gate #SA08.  Sound complicated?  It's worth it in the fall, winter and spring - check the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's website for details on parking and trailheads.  When I was up there in April, we ran into a couple who weren't sure which trail they were on, so one of our well-prepared and helpful trail patrol volunteers got them oriented and gave them a map.  I think the great air makes hikers feel friendly and helpful when cruising this trail, however, I recommend you print up and take a map with you when you go.

Happy on the trail going uphill or downhill, sunny or shady.
Twice on this trail circuit, you will cross Guadalupe Creek within the first one-half mile of its highest source.  This is the same watercourse you see flowing past the San Jose airport as a wide, lazy river, for it starts on the slopes of Mt. Umuhum, travels northerly to Guadalupe Reservoir, through the center of Silicon Valley and finally discharges into San Francisco Bay.  Mt. Umunhum means "resting place of the hummingbird" in the Ohlone language.  Now do you understand why there are hummingbird statues along the Guadalupe River Parkway in downtown San Jose?  When you walk the trails of Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, you are above yet connected to our busy lives in the San Jose metropolis.

There are great views from these trails to the Santa Clara Valley, Mt Umunhum (elevation 3486' with the dwindling remains of a cold war era air force base - closed to the public), Mt Thayer (elevation 3483', closed to public), Mt. El Sombroso (elevation 2999', further west on the Woods Trail), Bald Mountain (elevation 2387', a short 0.7-mile hike from the #SA08 parking pullout), and on a clear day, to the Hamilton Range on the opposite side of San Francisco Bay.
Admiring plants growing on the rocky cliff faces along the Woods Trail.
In the winter or other times right after rain (yah, it's May 25th and still raining this year!), water flows down the rocky cliffs above the trails and forms tiny waterfalls between the bright green patches of moss and miniature ferns.  Later, rock plants like the yellow-flowering Pacific stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium, by Debbi Brusco) shown at the top, will cover the rock faces with their seasonally resurrected leaves and petite blossoms.  I do not recommend this trail during the height of the summer as it becomes quite hot and the views may be obscured by haze.  But on early or late summer days with mild temperatures, it can be pleasant and you might even get to see the golden eagles that nest nearby.

Mule ears among a foam of forget-me-nots.
A ranger who just followed this route on May 21 gave me the following breezy list of flowers: globe lily, Ithuriel's spear, red larkspur, winecup clarkia, Fernald's iris, western delphinium, lupines, wood rose, crimson columbine, Indian paintbrush, blow wives, woodland star, blue witch nightshade, heart's ease, blue dicks, sticky monkeyflower, California buttercups, elegant clarkia, madia, and finally, Venus thistle - a lovely deep red native thistle.  She said, "I felt like I was on a sugar high."

After our April hike, we added naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) as a new plant to the Natural Diversity Database list for Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve.
How can you get your own list of wildflowers that occur in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve and 227 other parks in the greater San Francisco Bay Area?  Go to the Natural Diversity DataBase to make lists of flora or fauna, to search for locations of specific plants, and to follow links to photographs and information of the listed species.

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

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