I couldn’t tell what the four guys in the big red fire truck from the California Department of Forestry were up to. Didn’t smell smoke, though, so I figured it must’ve been a Sunday training hike.

About six steps into Sunday’s hike, it felt hot enough for a good brushfire. Stayed that way for the next four hours, though the occasional breeze from the coast found me. No actual fires happened; I’m guessing the buff firefighter types were a bit disappointed.

This one was just something I wanted to try: string together a loop from a bunch of the trails along Skyline Boulevard around Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve. I’ve done so much hiking in shady redwood forests of late that I’d almost forgotten how warm a sunny July afternoon can get in these parts.

I’d also forgotten how seemingly unremarkable trails can be full of little surprises. Almost from the beginning I was seeing these little purple wildflowers in fresh bloom. And noticing how the yellowed hillsides take on a certain golden glow when the sun hits just right. The sun burns this glow to a dirty brown by September, but a bit of the magic survives well into July.

The route was like this: start out at the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, wander over to Horseshoe Lake, then head north up a hill and back down one to Alpine Pond, then head over to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve past Borel Hill to the Skyline Boulevard scenic overlook, then walk down the highway for about 50 yards to an old gravel road at the entrance to Coal Creek Open Space Preserve, then head south toward Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, and return to Skyline Ridge from there. Four hours of walking, maybe eight miles; didn’t really keep count.

Let’s look at some pictures:

Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake is a pretty little body of water less than a half-mile from the trailhead. It’s wheel-chair accessible, though far too easy for the likes of 4WheelBob. Lots of ducks splashing around.

Fog layer in the distance

A layer of fog hangs over the hills in the distance — Portola Redwoods is down that way; hikers were appreciating the cool, no doubt. I was just sweating it out. But there are far worse places to work up a sweat.

A few rocks

A few interesting rocks along the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment running through Skyline Ridge.

A snag

This snag looks cool from many angles.


Cattails at the edge of Alpine Pond.

Alpine Pond

Alpine Pond is picturesque, as usual.

Blooms gone to seed

There’s a tunnel under Alpine to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, the next park along the way. I noticed a lot of trees turning to summer brown — these looked to be blooming pods that have gone to seed.

Cattails along the trail

Stalks rising from the tall grass at Russian Ridge.

Golden hillside

This is the golden glow I was talking about. California’s hills were all this color when I moved here, so I’ll always associate this shade as the proper color.

Mount Diablo in the distance

Mount Diablo far in the distance from the scenic overlook on Skyline Boulevard just south of the entrance to Coal Creek Open Space Preserve.

Wildflowers in bloom

Hardy wildflowers soak up the afternoon sun at Coal Creek.

Coal Creek Open Space Preserve

I saw no hikers at Coal Creek, only mountain bikers.

A pond

When you leave Coal Creek and pass into Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, you need to turn immediately to the left to head up toward the White Oak Trail. If you do as I did and miss your turn, you might get lucky and stumble upon a view of this pond, unnamed on the maps.

A shady spot

Shadiest part of the hike is along the White Oak Trail near the turn-off to the Stevens Creek Nature Trail. From here it’s a half-mile westward to Skyline Boulevard and the Skyline Ridge trailhead.

One thing to keep in mind on these trails: they get lots of mountain bikers. There’s usually plenty of room to get out of each other’s way, and to date I’ve never run into any of the obnoxious twits other people have complained about (I sometimes wonder if you make your own luck in these regards). Also, these trails do get hot in the summertime — the moist cool redwoods a few miles distant may as well be on another planet when you’re out there with no shade and the sun’s beating down on your shoulders.

Related links:

On Bay Area Hiker: Coal Creek | Skyline Ridge | Monte Bello | Russian Ridge.

My previous hikes: Skyline Ridge | Monte Bello