We are on the cusp of my favorite time of year. I look forward to the bursting of Spring color from the day the previous year's crop turns dry. While I enjoy the sights and songs of each season, it's Spring that floats my boat. Parks turn into vibrant, spectral spectacles, color flowing from the hills, flooding our senses into overload.
This is my own list of "can't miss" parks where wildflowers will soon arrive. I've been out on a trail every other day for the past month just waiting for the first fiddlenecks to show. The recent late - season rain should prompt spectacular shows, from Bayside to our interior parks. I'll preface by stating that I'm no flower expert; those species I know, however, took only the time to peruse a California wildflower book or one of the District's brochures to learn more about each one. It doesn't matter whether I'm checking out a monkeyflower or wild hyacinth, poppy or vetch. With a quick look up, you can acquire a wealth of wildflower knowledge, too. Oh, one other thing - my list is certainly no ultimate authority. Years of hiking in the District's diversity of locations has brought me to places you might never expect could be so colorful. Here are my five:
5. Point Pinole - The variety of flowers found here covers a broad range. A startling array of colors such as reds, blues, purples and whites held together by orange poppies makes a day hike memorable. Unlike some of my other favorites, you may have to investigate a little, to check trail by trail and write down or sketch an example to look up later. I usually head out Owl Alley, then make a large loop which will invariably mean a roll toward the inside marshes, then out to the north end where I can pick up the Bay View Trail and it's offshoots on the way back. For sketchers, Pt. Pinole's views of the Bay as well as the floral color are inspiring. You are likely to be accompanied by a red shouldered hawk at some point, which will let you know they are aware of your presence. Birders, too - take note of this park.
4. Coyote Hills - It's tough to argue a trip to Coyote Hills any time of year, but during flower season the Hills and the accompanying Alameda Creek Trail can be spectacular. I may do the easy and just - long - enough paved Bayview Loop, which will provide a deep, rich flavor of the wildflowers found here. The expert naturalists at the Visitor Center are knowledgeable about the local color, and can point you to one of the books they sell so you can take a guide with you. Look closely near the ground at the Blue - Eyed Grass with their yellow centers looking right back at you. My favorite loop is Bayview to Soaproot Trail to Quail Trail and back to the parking lot. As you reach the Quail Trail, stop and look around to the south - you may see a pair of Black Shouldered Kites looking for lunch on the marsh, or perhaps just sharing space on a tree. I've already been to Coyote Hills three times in 2011. Each visit is an event!.
3. Morgan Territory Regional Preserve - Round Valley Regional Preserve - I'd feel awful if I were to leave either of these amazing preserves off the list. Since they're interconnected by use of the Miwok Trail, let's think of them as one huge flower show. While I've made the trip from Round Valley to Morgan Territory with a backpack and gear along, my loops of choice are : Hardy Canyon Loop is special - it'll be a workout, but you may run across some shade flowers, from Chinese Houses to the rare wild iris . There will be no shortage of displays this year at Round Valley. Once over the Hardy Canyon hills, you can take the Miwok Trail back to your car, or head west toward Morgan Territory for a bit. Speaking of Morgan Territory It's my home park, the place I learned to challenge myself once I was in the chair. Here's my route for best viewing: Volvon Trail to Blue Oak Trail. Follow Blue Oak all the way past Miwok Trail and bear right at the Hummingbird fork. You will, by now, have seen why I hold Morgan Territory in such high regard. The changing terrain as the trails head through unabated sunshine to blue oak shaded marvelousness brings with it incredible plant diversity. Blue Oak Trail will eventually terminate at the Volvon Trail, and making a left will fill your nose with fresh, blooming California Laurel - one of my favorite trees. On this stretch of trail I stop almost every 10 feet; the color is wondrous, the views spectacular. And if you're also a birder, listen for hummingbirds and flickers all along this loop. Bring lunch - you'll want to stay for awhile if the sun's out.
2. Tilden Park - At Tilden, the granddaddy of them all, you can take in the show at any number of places. The Visitor Center next to the Little Farm (remember? That place where all who were born in the East Bay grew up?) is staffed by a fine team of naturalists who can send you out for a fun afternoon. When I'm at Tilden, I love the Jewel Lake boardwalk, after which I'll cruise north on the Wildcat Creek Trail. There's only so much sensory overload a body can take, but just a short distance down Wildcat Creek will consume a good part of the day. On the way, I know I can stop to look into the pond and see a half dozen Western Pond Turtles sunning themselves on a log or the bank. You may be lucky enough, as I was last year, to see a Western Tanager in full nesting color stand on a tall clump of grass and warble. You may be distracted by the birds that frequent Wildcat Creek. Tilden is one of the three original parks of the District, and you can breathe the history with a slow amble around Jewel Lake.
1. Sunol Regional Wilderness - If you explore one or all of my previous selections, you won't go home feeling as if you've missed anything. But if you have time to get out to just one spectacular Spring flower show, Sunol is the place to be. On Saturday, April 2nd, Sunol will host the Wildflower Festival, and I expect a dramatic blast of color from the wonderfully greening up hillsides. To be a good sport, I'm going to tell you about a great loop that will leave nothing on the table.
The loop will begin at the Camp Ohlone Road trailhead at the southernmost parking area. Check out the water in Alameda Creek as you cross the bridge, and follow the wide road out through a sun drenched valley. You may hear the gobble of wild turkeys, which are well established at Sunol. The distinctive, deep purple sweet pea known as vetch seems to be attracted to poppies, which makes for startling contrast. Flowers less than an inch from the ground begin a progression of growth vertically, with dozens of different shades gathering to show off. Follow this trail to Little Yosemite's waterfalls; the falls should be roaring right now after the drenching the hills have received lately. At Little Yosemite, take the Canyon View Trail just behind you, and keep an eye out for some really special shade seeking plants beneath the oaks. Look for larkspur and wild iris among many others. You'll grab some wonderful views of the park along Canyon View Trail, and will soon reach the McCorkle Trail. Treading across a section of brilliant blue - green serpentine rock as you make a left and turn toward the parking lot, check out the flowering grasses, vetch and bright poppies. Stop and look around a lot here, too - you may see a Golden Eagle has joined you for the hike down. These graceful birds gain elevation without flapping a wing. Consider the day a very special one if you see one tagging along.
I don't think you'll be able to go wrong in any of the EBRPD's parks and open spaces this year. The timing of the bloom will vary with weather conditions and geographics - Pt. Pinole, for instance, at Bayside might bloom later than Round Valley, which will warm up earlier. Regardless of which you choose, the Spring flower display will be one to remember. I hope I see you out there so we can spend a few minutes trying to put into words the color and drama of Nature.
• Marc Crumpler
• John Krzesinski