Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wildflower Hotspot #5 - Bean Hollow and Pescadero State Parks

Flowers, rocks and sea life at the edge of the continent.
When the hills and valleys of the Santa Cruz Mountains get summer dry and the spring wildflowers go to seed, there are still places to see local wildflowers - the cool San Mateo coast.  Coastal parks stay moist with summer fog, and the spring/summer wildflower bloom is later and longer there.  Because much of the San Mateo coast is undeveloped, you can visit not only the ocean and beach, but also coastal prairie and coastal bluff scrub.

Pescadero State Beach and Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve are 15.7 miles south on Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay.  On one side of the highway is the ocean, beach and sandy bluff.  You can follow the winding edges of Pescadero Creek under the highway to trails along brackish and freshwater marshes, creekside forests and brushy habitat for more variety of plants and good birding.  Docents with the San Mateo Coast Natural History Association lead hikes to Pescadero Marsh on the first Sunday of the month at 10 AM and the third Sunday of the month at 1 PM.

Colorful summer wildflower bloom  on coastal bluff scrub at Bean Hollow State Beach by Toni Corelli.  You can see photos of hundreds of plants, habitats and tidal pools Toni has taken and identified at Bean Hollow State Beach at her Flicker website

Further south is my favorite beach in the world - Bean Hollow State Beach, 17.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1.  You can picnic, cautiously wade in the water, watch the sea lions and birds on the offshore rocks, and more.  If you go north on the trail from the parking lot, you descend into a small cove where the entire beach is completely covered with small pebbles in many shades of brown, black, white, red, green, blue, even clear.  These are wave-rounded quartz fragments from offshore reefs.  Sit on the beach and paw through layer after layer of colorful pebbles and try to pick your favorite shade. Listen to the soothing sound of small rocks tumbling onto each other.  Soon you will be very relaxed.

Coast buckwheat (Eriogonum latifolium) on the coastal bluffs - Bean Hollow State Beach
If you go south from the parking lot, Arroyo de Los Frijoles Trail follows the top of the bluff with wildflowers at your toes and great westerly views of the setting sun.  Picnic tables are spread out and nicely placed for scenic snacking, and a few trails lead down to the tidepools which can be visited when the tide is low.

The Santa Clara Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society has a field trip led by Dee Wong to Bean Hollow State Beach this Saturday, September 10, 2011 from 10 am to noon.  Reservations required - see details at the chapter website here and if you missed that hike, check out others.  Dee is a great photographer and an expert native plant gardener, so it should be a fun and easy 2-mile hike.

Sea lions hauled out on the rocks in midground; seabirds on the background rocks.  At low tide, there are tidal pools to explore in the foreground.
This coastal paradise comes with some notes of caution.  It is often foggy and cold at the beach in California.  Check the local weather, bring jackets, and enjoy the mixing edge of the continent.  Swimming can be dangerous here due to the cold water, riptides and large or unpredictable waves.  If you are determined to stick your toes into the Pacific Ocean, stay in shallow water and keep your eyes on the waves.  Visit the tidepools only during low tides and be kind to its watery inhabitants.

It's interesting that Phipps Ranch - home of dozens of colorful bean varieties -  is just down the road from Bean Hollow State Beach with all the colorful round pebbles.
The nearby small town of Pescadero provides several places where you can pick up picnic supplies and visit unique shops.  My favorites are Arcangeli Grocery (aka Norm's Market) for sandwiches, artichoke bread and stuffed olives; Phipps Ranch for u-pick berries and dried heritage beans; and Harley Farms for the cheese and cute goats.  There's even a small thrift store that supports the South Coast Children's Services where I've picked up everything from designer raincoats to canning supplies.

Enjoy the beautiful San Mateo coast.  Bean Hollow and Pescadero State Beach are not scheduled for closures as are many other California State Parks in July 2012.  I hope the grand state of California  can solve its fiscal problems soon and continue to protect and provide access to coastal parks for cool summer wildflower hikes.

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

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