When it pops, it’s really gonna pop!

The continual March rains have hit the west coast and made a firm down payment on April. But sooner or later, Spring is finally going to arrive, and when it does, I have a feeling that California’s many species of wildflowers will unleash themselves in a colorful eye-popping frenzy much like last year’s record show.

In the meantime, the weather hasn’t kept me off the trail, no sir. In fact, I must consider myself lucky, in that I’ve somehow managed to schedule my winehiking days when there’s been a brief lull in the storm pattern.

Last Saturday was one of those days. I met a group of winehikers in Santa Clara down by the university and drove them to Henry Coe State Park, the humongous 87,000-acre natural area so close to us here in the Silicon Valley, and yet seemingly so far away when you walk its trails.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park's Flat Frog Trail.

A view to the southeast from Henry Coe State Park’s Flat Frog Trail.

Our group was happy to enjoy the path that leads northward from the Visitor Center up toward Eric’s Bench for a nice blend of oak, yellow pine, bay, and manzanita forest along with a scant few wildflowers in filaree, hound’s tongue, buttercups, and a scattering of shooting stars. Returning from the Little Fork of the Coyote River via Flat Frog Trail, a single-track trail that can often showcase the park’s best wildflowers, we realized that Spring had not yet descended upon the area, but that some of the flowers just can’t wait!

In the sparse forests and grassy meadows of Flat Frog Trail, crossing over many small seasonal streams, we saw many more shooting stars, lupines, and milkmaids, and out on the grasslands approaching the Manzanita Point Road, we saw violets, popcorn flower, many more buttercups, as well as one of my all-time favorites, the fleeting red maids.

I think it’s a simple bet that when we get a string of a few good days of warm sunshine, we’ll start seeing the likes of checker lily, chinese houses, larkspur, blue-eyed grass, and Ithuriel’s spear. I’m almost counting on it. But I’m monitoring the weather reports too.

Meanwhile, Coe Park had borne a foot of snow only 8 days before our tour, and it had left its mark along the contours of Flat Frog Trail. We must have stepped over or circumvented no less than 10 downed trees – pines, manzanita, madrone – there was almost no steep hillside that didn’t show Nature’s depradations. The trees just weren’t used to holding all that snow in their branches.

If I can have moments like this one, I'll want to have a million more.

If I can have moments like this one, I’ll want to have a million more.

Not yet satisfied after our stroll, my intrepid winehikers and I drove back down to Morgan Hill for a catered lunch at Pedrizzetti Winery, where tasting manager Stacie poured us her wares. It was warm and sunny enough to eat outside and be comfortable, so we enjoyed our feast of fruits, cheeses, salad, bruschetta, pasta marinara, and my personal favorite of the meal, charbroiled chicken with a nice garlicky sun-dried tomato cream sauce. I doff my Aussie hat to Darlene at Golden Oak Restaurant of Morgan Hill, who put on the spread. Of course, Stacie took care of us by pouring cabernet, chenin blanc, and a very light and delectable sparkling wine.

Ah, this winehikin’ stuff is fun. And the season is still young!

~winehiker

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Reaching the Pinnacles of early Spring

This past weekend, I led a group of hikers over the singularly unique trails of Pinnacles National Monument. There’s something about this place that attracted me – really gripped me – right from the start. Could it be the Spring wildflowers? Could it be the bat caves? Or, possibly, the chance to see California Condors on the wing? Maybe the wildlife, the chiseled trails, the far-off vistas? The tunnels, coves, grottoes and groves? Perhaps the rock itself?

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle's High Peaks.

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle’s High Peaks.

It is difficult to pick out any one thing about Pinnacles that makes it so attractive, but in combination, a weekend camping and hiking experience at Pinnacles is so magnetic to me that I can’t ever resist wanting to bring other people there to share the experience with me. And you really do need at least two days to experience the full magic of Pinnacles. So, for the 5th straight year, I reserved two contiguous campsites at Pinnacles Campground for a weekend of outdoor fun and frolic in this uncanny, holy place among the hoodoo rock.

The end of March is a fine time to be at Pinnacles, too, when the wildflower blooms are beginning to peak and before the heat of Summer arrives, which it always does at Pinnacles well before it hits the San Francisco Bay Area. Having chosen the last weekend of March each of these past five years, it has been interesting to note the differences in wildflower blooms from year to year. This year, the weather has been much wetter than normal, and as a result, the wildflowers at Pinnacles haven’t quite cranked up to their full showy potential.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see them! In fact, many species of wildflowers were popping out there on the trails, beckoning to us to take a look as we passed by them. From buttercups to blue dicks, bush poppies to golden poppies, indian paintbrush to indian warrior, and purple lupines to purple witch nightshade, there were quite a variety of wildflowers to see – just not as many of them as I’m used to seeing.

But it’s only going to get better as the rains taper away and Spring gets more than just a foot in the door. I hope to return to Pinnacles in the next few weeks just to note the difference. If you can, dear reader, snag yourself a campsite and go there for a weekend, before the 90-degree days of late April begin to fade Pinnacles’ many blossoms.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

~winehiker