Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day Hike - Ring Mountain Wildflower Wonderland - 4/9/11

Buddha Rock atop Ring Mountain

          Ring Mountain exists as open space today because of an environmental victory fought by a few local conservationists led by a local named Phyllis Ellman. The land was set for development, however, great efforts were put forth to protect the land. The landscape boasts ancient serpentine rocks with rare lichens as well as several rare wildflowers including the Tiburon Mariposa Lily which is exclusive only to the preserve itself.
          It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when I pulled up to the Phyllis Ellman Trailhead along Paradise Drive. Many cars filled the shoulder which told me I wouldn’t be alone on my hike.
          I loaded my pack and headed off up the trail. The north side of Ring Mountain is great because it remains largely wind protected as opposed to the ridge tops which are often quite gusty. I de-layered and continued onward and upward observing many species of wildflowers along the way. Among some of the usual suspects were False Lupine, Blue Dicks, Yarrow, Buttercups, Goldfields,Blue Eyed Grass and Iris’s. Poison Oak crowds the trails and the leaves in this area can take on an entirely different shape so BEWARE. A bad bout with it several years ago contracted from this same location led me to a hospital visit. A little further up the trail brought me to my first rare wildflower of the day the Oakland Mariposa Lily also known as the Oakland Star Tulip.

Oakland Mariposa Lily aka Oakland Star Tulip (Calochortus Umbellatus)

Blue Eyed Grass

          The small whitish pink flowers are somewhat difficult to locate as they are tucked in the grass and low to the ground. As the grasses quickly grow taller in weeks to come, the flowers will become increasingly more difficult to find, not to mention their blooms won’t last long.
          The Oakland Mariposa Lily is sometimes mistaken for the rarer Tiburon Mariposa Lily which normally doesn’t bloom until late May or early June.
The trail levels out a bit and comes to a signed junction with the Loop Trail. I continued on the Phyllis Ellman Trail which heads steeply up hill. Encountering more Star Tulips along the way, I stopped to observe.

Oakland Mariposa Lilies

          In winter and in early spring this trail can be very muddy but today it was in dry condition. The landscape was strewn with colorful lichen blanketed boulders, or exotic blocks; several Western Bluebirds perched on top of the rocks but were quite skittish upon my approach.
          I exited the Phyllis Ellman trail onto a defined use path heading toward the top of the ridge.
          Once at the top, I made my way to Turtle Rock, a fine example of earths metamorphic magic. More boulders known as exotic blocks were prevalent on the ridge and southern flanks. Fence Lizards perched at the top of several rocks taking in the last of the days sun.

Turtle Rock

"Touch of Blue" - Western Fence Lizard

          I veered northwest to a somewhat secluded ridge that I call Butterfly Knoll. The usual gale that is present on the ridge was absent and I enjoyed the warm sun beating down on my skin. Sure enough, several species of butterflies fluttered about. I managed to capture a few in their brief stillness.

Pipevine Swallowtail on a Blue Dick

Mournful Duskywing

American Lady

Pipevine Swallowtail

          Not only was this knoll rife with butterflies, but wildflowers literally blanketed large patches of the surrounding grasslands. With a mix of Purple Owls Clover, Goldfields, Poppies, Tidy Tips and more. I felt as if I were in a wildflower wonderland.

Wildflower Wonderland

          Another rare flower known as Tiburon Paintbrush was quite abundant on the ridge as well.

Tiburon Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis ssp. neglecta)

          Expansive views of Mt. Tamalpais, San Francisco and the surrounding bay are truly impressive and the perspectives from the ridge tops of Ring Mountain are like no other.
          The sun sank behind Mt. Tam while a Red Tailed Hawk and White Tailed Kite aviated the sky in pursuit of prey.
          Upon my descent I was absorbed observing a succulent when I nearly stepped on a burrowing owl. Greatly startled it quickly took off, startling me as well, then flew a short distance downhill and disappeared into the taller grass. It is a great reminder that sometimes the more you look the less you see.

Great Colors

          I hiked back to the car successfully avoiding any poison oak along the way. In the end of May or early June I will journey back to Ring Mountain in search of the Tiburon Mariposa Lily.


  1. Cole - nice write up of a place I've only been to once a while back, but need to return to see it again. Great photos, too!

  2. Thanks for taking me on a hike of Ring Mountain Cole.

  3. Great pose, Cole! I've always been curious about this preserve, and I think it's time I take a walk there!

  4. Great stuff on your blog, really informative and beautiful pics, especially the ones of animals. it's amazing that you catch so many on film. My name is Leila, I'm a hiker and an intern for , a site that keeps track of the peaks you summit, and lets you browse peaks around the world. For more info check out, and if you have any comments, I'd love to hear them . Let me know what you think!

  5. Thanks. Spring is the best time to visit because of all the wildflowers. I was just up on Ring Mountain again yesterday 5/22 and the Tiburon Mariposa Lilies are starting to bloom! Truly spectacular. I will try to post soon.