Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Shell Ridge 4: Monday Night Nature Hike

Monday was the first time we’ve hiked in the evening. We usually hike late mornings and afternoons, and I think we’ve been missing out: there seems to be a lot more wildlife about at dusk.

We start at about 6pm at the Marshall Drive trailhead and head up onto Shell Ridge itself, taking the official trail this time: the last time I hiked this way I took an unofficial scramble up the end of the ridge. There’s not much to recommend this trail: it’s on the wrong side of the ridge to catch any breeze, making it a long hot uphill slog. Next time I’m taking the paved road straight past the EBMUD water tank.

First nature spot, though: Melinda stops me to flick a big red tick off my trouser leg. Ugh. I’m glad now I suggested long trousers rather than shorts; we follow the CCMVCD advice, tucking trousers into socks, shirts into trousers, and stopping every 15 minutes to check for ticks.

The trail eventually switchbacks its way onto the ridge, where the views are, again, spectacular. And at this time of day we can see the cloud and fog rolling in from the Bay and spilling like water over the Berkeley hills. Hawks circle on the breeze coming up the ridge, and something fat, furry, and with blurred wings buzzes us: not a hummingbird, but a hummingbird moth.

Out along the ridge, we circle the peak, coming back past my old friend NUECES 1946; still there. And just past the NGS marker, we see an ant migration: a procession of ants moving their entire colony from a hole on the trail to another hole some 12 feet away. Ants leave the original nest carrying white ant eggs and grass seeds; carry them to the new nest; and return emptyhanded for another load.

Trail map of Lime Ridge Open Space

We drop down the back of the ridge again, which is where we make the most interesting sightings: first a deer, picking its way down the side of the ridge. And then, five minutes later, a young coyote passes us, some 30 feet lower down the ridge, before climbing back up to rejoin the trail a way in front of us, where he nonchalantly leaves a scent mark before trotting off around the corner. My first coyote, and an amazing view of it. It’s smaller than I had imagined: like a large fox, rather than a small wolf, although without the bushy tail of a fox. We meet him again a few minutes later as he darts back around the corner and down the ridge to avoid a jogger coming the other way.

There’s good views from here of the Concord valley, which—thinking about it—we’ve hiked a good deal of: Shell Ridge to the south, Lime Ridge and Concord Open Space to the east, and the Contra Costa Canal Trail running through the middle of it.

From the Ridge Top Trail, we take the Costanoan Trail north, covering some of the same ground we did last time, before dropping back down on the Upper Buck Trail, past Deer Hill, and returning on the Corral Spring Trail. I’m keen to explore further on the Lower Buck Trail and the Deer Lake Trail, but Melinda’s flagging: we leave it for another day.

And suddenly, on the way back, the sunset starts; the hills behind us are painted in extraordinary oranges and pinks, and the streaks of cloud overhead glow in brilliant golds and oranges. Just amazing. We stopped at the trailhead—which has a handy 300ft elevation, enough to see over downtown Walnut Creek—to watch it fade.

A quick hike—about 3½ miles in about 2 hours—but a really good one: a lot to see. I’m thinking of returning and timing it carefully to hit sunset on the ridge with a picnic.

Categories: Hiking