Sunday, September 11, 2005

Lime Ridge 4: Paraiso Trail Loop

I’ve been hiking Shell Ridge a lot lately, so yesterday we headed over for a hike in Lime Ridge Open Space which turned out to be a lot more exciting than expected.

Like last time, we start from Arbolado Park and head north on the Ygnacio Canal Trail, past the golf course; but this time, instead of taking the tunnel under Ygnacio Valley Road, we turn right into Lime Ridge Open Space and head uphill on the Blue Oak Trail.

Trail map of Lime Ridge Open Space: Blue Oak Trail.

Here there are more deer than I’ve ever seen in Shell Ridge: groups of three and four foraging in the shade of trees. They’re very timid, keeping a close eye on us, and when we get too close trotting off into the undergrowth, over the nearest ridge, or, in one thrilling moment, leaping away downhill like springbok. Somehow, it’s a lot more exciting than watching the herds of deer in Windsor Great Park; the Windsor herds were semi-domesticated, whereas the deer here are genuinely wild animals.

At the end of the Blue Oak Trail we take the Ridge Trail up to the transmission towers at the peak of the ridge, for a total climb of 800 feet. It’s not as tough going as the Lime Ridge Trail was on the last hike, but it’s still enough of a sustained climb to make reaching the top quite a relief. And in some ways, it’s a more interesting route than the Lime Ridge Trail: there’s a moment when the trail drops over the east edge of the ridge giving us a sudden, and dramatic, view of the quarried side of Mount Diablo.

From the peak, we continue south on the Lime Ridge Trail, which I’ve chosen carefully because it’s a lot flatter than the Crystyl Ranch Trail. It is, however, a hikers-only trail, which means it’s narrower and sandier.

Trail map of Lime Ridge Open Space: Lime Ridge Trail. And it’s here that we have our moment of drama. Melinda suddenly stops short behind me, looking at something on the ground. I’ve obliviously stepped over a large rattlesnake, stretched motionless across the trail. But not motionless for long: it starts angrily shaking its rattle before moving slowly off the trail and into the brush, rattling all the way.

Rattlesnakes, in the flesh, sound exactly like they do in the movies. And it’s a surprisingly scary sound, provoking a strong visceral reaction. You certainly don’t feel like getting any closer to it.

We tell ourselves that the snake’s almost certainly much more scared of us than we are of it, and that it reacted because it was startled, but I’m not sure either of us are fully convinced. After it’s safely away from the trail, we continue, but treading more heavily and with eyes firmly on the ground.

So, one more mark on my “dangerous native wildlife” checklist. Apart from poisonous snakes, California also has ticks (unpleasant in themselves, but also vectors for Lyme disease), mosquitoes (ditto, West Nile Virus), poison oak, various nasty spiders, mountain lions, and—although not in the Bay Area—black bear. A bit of a change from walking in Britain, where the worst you’ll face is nettles and horseflies.

Trail map of Lime Ridge Open Space: Paraiso Trail.

After the snake incident, the rest of the hike is uneventful. We head south on the Paraiso Trail, which approaches the new, large, but very close-packed homes in the Rancho Paraiso development before looping eastwards below them. The trail is quiet, wide, and flat. The views from this southern end of Lime Ridge are different, but not as striking as from the north. Finally, the Paraiso Trail cuts across the estate and heads north back to Arbolado Park.

A 3 hour, 6½ mile hike, although both the steep climb and the snakey adrenalin burst make it feel like longer. I’m not sure I’d bother with the southern stretches of the Paraiso Trail again, but there’s a lot to enjoy around the ridge.

Previous hikes in and around Lime Ridge Open Space:
  1. Crystyl Ranch Loop (March 2005)
  2. Lime Ridge/Contra Costa Canal Trail (April 2005)
  3. Lime Ridge Trail Loop (June 2005)
Categories: Hiking