This was a good trip. Eight hardy souls fought the temptation of using their snooze bars at 5 a.m. on Saturday, August 14, and answered the call of the wild from Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve.
Those who rose at “0-dark-thirty” and drove up to the park, in the hills above Los Altos, were richly rewarded with empty parking spaces, a pleasant, cool, overcast morning and an abundance of wildlife. In fact there were so many forest critters cavorting about that it looked like a casting call for a remake of Bambi! Immediately the group was mobbed by a herd of deer, accosted by flocks of Stelling’s Bluejays, California Scrub Jays, and California Quail—not to mention the numerous Gray Squirrels.
Keith and I, having our bag limit of deer photos, turned our lenses to the many Naked Ladies we found along the trail to Deer Hollow farm. Nothing brings out the pink blush of a Naked Lady quite like the diffuse, early morning light…ahem…Naked Lady Lilies, that is—you know, the leafless pink-blossomed Amaryllis belladonna (a.k.a. the Belladonna Lily or Naked Lady Lily) which pop out of the ground in leafless, bare clusters during the late summer. These deciduous lilies were originally natives of South Africa. They grow from bulbs to a height of two to three feet. The sight of the long, red-tinged, bare stalks that hold the clusters of pink trumpet-shaped flowers seem oddly unnatural without their leaves. The plant actually puts its leaves out in the spring and they die back in the early summer before the plant sends out its blooms in the late summer.
In case you haven’t guessed by the Naked Lady’s other name—Belladonna— this pretty, pink vixen can be dangerous since it contains a potentially deadly poison in its sap. The Amaryllidaceae family is large, with more than 1,000 species that are closely related to the lily family. Most of these plants have attractive flowers, can be cultivated with bulbs and include the Narcissus and Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lily). I suspect Keith will be showing some of his Naked Lady pictures at an upcoming meeting, so don’t be shocked.
The group left Keith trailside, in the company of his ladies, and continued on to the Deer Hollow Farm, wading through bevies of quail and herds of deer. We were after some pictures of the domestic animals at this interpretive farm exhibit. There is also a vegetable garden, an apple orchard and numerous other interesting things to look at. Two brothers named Grant established the original ranch in 1850. Grant Road in Mountain View bears their name. The ranch stayed in the Grant family for 70 years and somehow stayed mostly intact before it was acquired by the County Parks System and made into a park. The little white cabin next to the big barn is the original, one-bedroom ranch house, built in the 1850s.
The group lingered for quite some time photographing the rowdy and randy antics of the young goats, the oat-hay luncheon of Michelle the 13-year-old Angus/Holstein milk cow, and the random meanderings of the chickens, geese, ducks and rabbits around the barnyard.
Those who were familiar with this park suggested we take the field trip a few steps further and hike up one of the trails up to the first ridge. Those who didn’t leave early took this advise and trekked up through the shady riparian canopy provided by the oaks and Bay Laurel trees. Soon the group found itself in the higher Chaparral scrub oak zone where the Madrone, sage, Yerba Buena and bright red and green Poison Oak mingled with stately hillside oaks. By then the sun had come out and the sweaters came off. The trail we chose was moderately steep, but not an impossible climb. Karen, Gina and Steve took the lead seeking the big “payoff” at the end of the uphill hike (in the form of a spectacular vista of the Santa Clara Valley). They had faith that they could find it—and they did. The older, larger, less physically conditioned members of the group huffed and puffed like rusty old steam locomotives up the trail. From in front and behind us, joggers and hikers zigzagged around us on the narrow trail. The foot traffic was heavy—almost as heavy as the traffic in the Costco parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.
After I caught my breath a couple of days later, I talked to the public information officer of the Peninsula Regional Open Space District, Kristi Altieri, about the park usage statistics. She informed me that the estimated weekday use for Rancho San Antonio could be as much as 1,000 persons per day. On the weekends, she figured, the numbers could be as high as 2,000 or 3,000 persons per day. “Definitely,” she said, “this is our busiest preserve, by far.” (At times during our hike up the picturesque canyon, I felt like I was participating in the Bay to Breakers—It was too bad we forgot our camera club centipede costume!)
Obviously the joggers are the first to arrive between 6 and 7 a.m., at this popular park, hoping to begin their runs in the chilled air of the early morning. Hikers pour into the park all day long mixed in with equestrians, tennis players, park volunteers and model airplane enthusiasts, who fly their planes in a designated area near the middle parking lot. You want people pictures? There are ample opportunities.
Our uphill leader, Karen, did in fact lead us to the first ridge where we were rewarded with quite a view at a vista point near the intersection of the Upper Meadow Trail. The vast sprawl of the hazy Bay Area lay at our feet as we rested our sore bones, drank our water and took those obligatory group shots at the “summit.” (See attachments) We were all quite pleased with ourselves.
Gina then provided our downhill motivation—the tepid canteen water was not good enough for her, since she let it be known that she craved a cool draw from a chocolate milkshake. In spite of all the fitness fanatics providing their exemplary health lessons, we rolled downhill like a brakeless gravel train on greased rails bound for the Peninsula Creamery in Palo Alto. Upon reaching that venue, four of us raised our fountain glasses to the mental health of all those joggers and slurped cool ice cream moustaches off our upper lips. Yumm, yumm! After a bit of gluttony we caravanned over to Keeble and Schuchat Photography to practice a little covetousness and took a gander at all the expensive toys and useless after-market paraphernalia. Then, and only then, did we call it a day! I think all who had to face the jagged edge of dawn will agree, this turned out to be an excellent, worthwhile day!
© 2004 S.R. Hinrichs