Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Always scouting

While I haven't been on every Mount Tamalpais trail, I've made a pretty good dent in exploring the state park, watershed, and open space preserves that comprise "Tam." But I'm always up for "new" trails.
View south to the Tam ridgeline from Azalea Hill

A few months ago I hiked around and above Bon Tempe Lake. The entrance station on Sky Oaks Road had shifted away from the Ranger Station since my last visit, and when I paused there to pay the day use, I noticed an inviting trail weaving through grassland dotted with oaks, slipping away to the west. Later, at home, I perused the Tam map and learned that the trail passes through Bon Tempe Meadow and provides, via Bullfrog Road, a connection to Azalea Hill Trail. Azalea Hill is a little knoll most often reached by a pullout on Fairfax-Bolinas Road. I've wondered about it for awhile, particularly when descending Pine Mountain Road after a hike to Carson Falls -- while hiking down the fire road there are lovely views to the area around Azalea Hill.
Serpentine coyote mint on Azalea Hill

The name is obscure -- are there azaleas on this hill? Seems unlikely, since the hill's serpentine soil hosts chaparral and grassland, and azaleas generally thrive in damp forests. Yesterday I saw first hand that it does provide excellent habitat for native flowers. On a 1/2 mile out and back on Azalea Hill Trail I savored the last blooming grassland flowers of early summer: several clarkia, a solitary yellow mariposa lily, a few Indian pink, drifts of rosinweed, riots of buckwheat, and patches of serpentine coyote mint. Views south from the hill's slope are super pretty, encompassing the Tam ridgeline and Bon Tempe Lake. On the way back to the parking pullout, I savored vistas north as well. So happy to know Pine Mountain and the surrounding hills are protected.

Azalea Hill Trail offers back (and free) access into the watershed. I'll be back next spring to poke around for flowers and to enjoy the green.

The little out and back jaunt on Azalea Hill Trail was a pit stop on the way to Kent Pump Fire Road. Last week I saw some photos of azaleas and leopard lilies blooming near the junction with KPFR and Old Vee Road. I'd never been on KPFR, so decided to check it out.
Redwoods and friends shade Kent Pump Fire Road

Even though it was a weekday, I snagged the last roadside spot at the edge of Alpine Dam. If you visit here, make sure to park legally -- point your car in the direction of traffic (don't park on the "wrong" side of the road) and well off the pavement. There are additional pullouts on the far side of Alpine Dam. The fire road begins at a gate and descends straight away. Trailside vegetation is a mix of Douglas fir, California bays, oaks, big leaf maples, and some redwoods. After about 1/4 mile the grade eases to nearly flat. One of Kent Lake's narrow fingers sparkles downhill to the left, but the
water is inaccessible here. My son and I didn't make it to the junction with Old Vee (one of us drank all the water in his Camelback in the first mile), but what I saw in our 2 mile out and back hike made me want to reschedule a visit. In summer the trail is mostly shaded but a bit monotonous -- I look forward to hiking here in early spring, when little waterfalls cascade down the slopes, and forest flowers glow in the understory.

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