At the end of day one we had our tents setup and everything had gone to plan. We stayed at Castle Rock Trail Camp which is usually first-come-first-served. It’s a great campground that’s also an easy hike to get to. The wind was gusty over night but that rarely bothers me. The only goof was that I forgot to charge my little Luci Light. Darn. For the rest of the trip I kept it on the outside of my pack so it would charge in the sunlight.
Note: There are a few galleries of photos in this post. Click on an image to display a more attractive lightbox to view the photos.
I hunted around for an overlook first thing in the morning. It faces generally south and will provide a nice view of the Milky Way over the Santa Cruz Mountains on a future trip, so let’s call this one a quick research hike.
The spot I had in mind was just around 1/4 mile from the campsite. That would have been great, but good luck finding it in the dark. I’ll keep this in mind for my next visit here.
We broke camp and got started. We had 10.5 miles to go today so there wasn’t a lot of time to stop for all of the flowers. I just stopped for most of them. This cluster of flowers was just a few dozen meters out of the campground.
I kept towards the back of the group. This was mostly because I don’t want to make everybody wait for me while I’m fooling around and taking pictures. One benefit was that I’d get a pretty good description of what was being gathered for local tea later.
A short portion kept close to Hwy 35. There was the occasional view of San Jose.
We took a break along Hwy 35. I messed around a little with speeding motorcycle riders. Kids, please don’t try this.
The terrain changed again and the plant life was dominated by chaparral. Occasionally we would hear retorts from the gun club near Los Altos Rod and Gun Club near Castle Rock, but it was less obvious now. We could almost see our starting point from this overlook.
We emerged from the trees and the terrain changed yet again. This is what’s so amazing about this area: you can be under forest canopy for an hour, then in wide sections of rolling trails and grasslands. The wildflowers changed from the California roses to more purple vetch, poppies, and whatever these little yellow dudes are (a highly scientific term). Silly side note: we made a game out of creating “trail names” for each other. I got “Purple Vetch” but I added “The” so it sounded more like a super hero. The Purple Vetch had a nice ring to it and now I can wear a cape. We spent the next few hours crossing the Saratoga Gap trail.
The views were spectacular. You can see for miles
Carrie took this fun picture of me trying to do something interesting with this little sunflower. Heh, that’s the funny part about my trips: I’m almost never in the pictures.
Overloaded with photos yet? Yeah, that’s the nature of this post. There’s lots of hiking and lots to see. It was pretty warm and I absolutely loving just being out and moving. I was hoping to see some wildlife; deer, coyotes, etc. That didn’t quite happen, but we did get a cooperative lizard and a tiny snake.
The next few miles were across exposed rolling hills. Groups of poppies were easily found. There were very few other hikers but there was the occasional mountain bike rider. The Saratoga Gap Trail has to be one of the most under utilized open spaces in the Bay Area.
There were a few flowers that I was looking for. The one I wanted to see the most was the wild orchid. I would find them occasionally here, but more frequently as we approached Portola Redwoods State Park.
More flowers and views. Flowers in the foreground, Douglas Fir and hills in the background. Most of these photos have a saturated color to them. This was mostly intentional because I was using a circular polarizer filter to reduce glare. We were along the Saratoga Gap trail in bright sunlight in the middle of the day — not exactly ideal conditions for landscape photography. But still, I wanted to convey the beauty of the place as well as I could.
Things changed again as we approached Portola Redwoods State Park. The open spaces gave way to trees. The trees gave way to giant redwoods. The grass gave way to poison oak. One thing is for sure, we all got very good at identifying poison oak.
Daylight was ending with just two or three more miles to go. There were small areas of clover, flowers, towering trees, and yes poison oak. The sun was creating this orange glow between the trees. Here I was really missing my tripod, but lugging that extra 5 pounds was just not going to happen. I framed up the shot handheld, increased the ISO to provide just enough shutter speed to offset my tendency to shake the camera, and hoped. ISO 3200 is OK for telling a story and my Canon 7d mk II is very good with ISO noise, so overall I’m happy with this.
Once inside Portola Redwoods SP we were again among creeks, clovers, and shade. I live among redwoods so I’m almost used to these giant trees. Almost. I live in awe of them every day. Many of the trees we encountered were under 100 years old because most of them had been clearcut after the 1908 San Francisco earthquake and fires to help rebuild the city.
We arrived at the site of Page’s Mill (yes, this is what Page Mill Road is named for) to refill water. I made some more creative photos here and shared a little Landscape Photography 101 with a friend. This is where my tiny Gorilla travel tripod came in very handy.
The photos below are available on my sales site: