Thursday, July 28, 2005

Shell Ridge 3: Costanoan Trail

I’ve had enough of feeling trapped away from nature by the summer heat. The key to hiking on hot days: start early, before the morning haze gets burnt away and before the shadows get too short. And pick either wooded shadows or breezy hilltops, not baking valleys.

So today, we did a morning hike in Shell Ridge, the part of Walnut Creek Open Space closest to home. I’d forgotten how good a natural resource Shell Ridge is: great trails, excellent views, quiet, and full of wildlife.

Trail map of Shell Ridge Open Space, showing Costanoan trail loop.

We start at the trailhead at the end of Snyder Lane. No dedicated trailhead parking here, but plenty of room to park on the street—although the lemon did look a little out of place parked outside the multi-million dollar McMansions which dominate the end of Snyder Lane. Watch out for California quail: a flock of twenty or thirty of them crossed the road in front of us as we walked to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, we head left on the Costanoan trail, taking a counter-clockwise loop. It’s hilly here, north of Shell Ridge itself, but the trails here are wide and easy, and totally empty. By now, the hillsides are completely brown, and the dry grass is flattened down against the hills by the wind. This seems to make the ground squirrels nervous: we’re forever hearing their alarm calls ahead of us as they run to their burrows.

The dry grass at the trailsides is littered with funnel-shaped spiderwebs; some small, some huge. I poke at one of the biggest, about 18 inches across, with a grass stalk: a huge spider (not quite "the size of a meatball", as Melinda put it, but plenty big enough) races up out of its burrow to investigate. Not only is it big, but it’s quick: it appears so fast that it makes both of us jump.

At one point, we see a pair of deer—a doe and her fawn—taking shelter in the shade of a tree. It’s not until they move that we spot them: when they’re still, their colouring blends perfectly into the dry hillside. They amble slowly off over the hilltop and out of view.

The Costanoan trail ends as it approaches Borges Ranch. We take the Hanna Grove trail north, and at the junction with Flat Top trail face a choice: continue the loop on the hillsides, or double back and return on the Sulfur Creek trail? Both have attractions: the hillside route is hotter, but has good views and a better chance of cooling breezes; the creekside route is shaded and cool, but offers no views. We take the hillside route, saving the creek for another day.

The Hanna Grove trail takes us right to the northern edge of the park, at the Hanna Lane trailhead, where we double back on the Costanoan trail. There’s an odd little detour at Good’s Spring, where the trail runs outside the park boundary for a while; and soon enough, we’re back at Snyder Lane.

This was an excellent hike: not too hot, not too strenuous, but hilly enough to make it worthwhile. Just under five miles, and about two hours.

Categories: Hiking