Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wildflower Hotspot #6 - Coyote Lake - Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

Go now. Go anywhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains now to hike in the fresh air and catch the spring wildflower bloom because it is moving fast. We had lower than average rainfall this winter, so the fields are not heavy with flowers.  Still, there is a good variety of colors and shapes to enjoy, just more widely spaced apart.

Go this weekend to Coyote Lake - Harvey Bear Ranch County Park because its serpentine meadows are entering their second phase of flowers. The cream cups and goldfields are starting to dry up and form seed but the poppies are coming on strong.

Quite a color combination - Butter 'n' eggs (Triphysaria eriantha).
East of Gilroy, this 5000-acre park is more popularly known for its boating and campground facilities, but it also provides 35 miles of hiking trails with scenic wildflower fields, oak woodlands and views around the reservoir with plenty of picnicking opportunities.  Managed by Santa Clara County, this park has multiple entrances and fees, so check their website for details and a trail map.

This flower never opens up more than this . . 
. . . until it pops out in seed and is called blow wives (Achyrachaena mollis).
The best and easiest wildflower trail is the Calaveras Trail, particularly the section north of the connection with the short Ohlone Trail which starts at a trailhead across the access road from the boat launch area.  Hillsides above this section of Calaveras Trail have outcrops of serpentine soil which support blazes of goldfields, owls clover and California poppies.  The park website has a description of serpentine soils and a mini-guide to wildflowers commonly found there.

California plantain (Plantago erecta) whose narrow leaves are fodder for caterpillars.
The photos in the top image are from Stephen Rosenthal and Diane West-Bourke, who both lead hikes to Coyote Lake. Steve led a hike last week with the California Native Plant Society - Santa Clara Valley chapter (I got to go!), and Diane guides hikes through her own business at www.NatureExplorations.net.

California balsamroot (Balsamorhiza macrolepis)
Last Sunday, the Harvey Bear Trail had a nice sprinkling of Ithuriel's spear. Several stands of California balsamroot were blooming near the intersection of Harvey Bear Trail and Calaveras Trail.  Although the bright yellow flowers and overall stature of the balsamroot plant look a lot like the more common mule's ears, the leaves are quite different. The balsam root leaves are separated into many curly lobes.

Waving fields of purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra).
As someone who is particularly interested in grasses, I was delighted to find many species of native  grasses, although since this was a wildflower walk, I tried to not bore people too much with my grass passion. The ranch appears to be lightly grazed in the spring and we saw a mama cow moving her two small black calves down a nearby hill.

Go now to the spring fields of California.
We also enjoyed watching the red-winged blackbirds flying in and out of the mustard stands. One of our co-hikers is an excellent birder and she explained these were probably the bicolored blackbird race of coastal California which has no yellow border on the red patches on its wings. She had the binoculars so we agreed and kept watching them fly about the yellow mustard with bright songs.

California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) frame an unusually etched rock in the serpentine field.
Ok, 1, 2, 3, go now, go hiking. If you don't make it to Coyote Lake this year, check for guided hikes next March and April with the groups listed on the Wildflower section of the Links page above.

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


  1. Thanks for posting on Calphoto. I was unaware of your site. It is a good resource and I will follow via RSS. I mention, quote and linked to your recent post on my blog Natural History Wanderings: http://naturalhistorywanderings.com/2012/05/09/santa-cruz-mts-wildflowers-coyote-lake-harvey-bear-ranch-county-park/

  2. Thanks, Sandy. Recently while preparing for a presentation at our local CNPS wildflower show, I searched the internet and polled my friends again for news on wildflowers and found the Calphoto Yahoo group, signed up, and have been enjoying your posts and others. I've added the group to my recommended links and shared it with folks attending my presentation at CNPS. Lots to see and share out there.

  3. I love the wild California poppies! Such a beautiful sight.


Comments let me know to keep on sharing what's happening at the Dipper Ranch. You can either use an existing account or choose "Anonymous" by clicking the arrow after the "Comment As" box. Your comment will appear after a delay to allow screening of spam.