I was chatting with my friend Old Joe this morning and remarked that for the next month or two, California’s wildflowers will be putting on a magnificent show for all of us to enjoy. The price of admission is a tankful of gas and some wear & tear on your boots. While the high Sierras get all the attention of trout fishers, skiers, and hunters, the most prolific wildflowers are actually a little lower down the mountain. I especially enjoy the profusion & variety of the wildflowers in the foothills at about the 1,500 foot to 2,500 foot elevation level. Living here in the Central Valley we are blessed with great wildflower viewing both in the costal hills to our West and in the Sierra Foothills to the East of us.
We have so many varieties of wildflowers in California that there’s something for every taste. As a child, I remember driving over the Altamont Pass and marveling at the profusion of California Golden Poppies. You probably know that they are our official state flower and they were mentioned by John Muir, and almost every other early California explorer who kept a journal. But did you know that the beautiful blue Brodea have an edible bulb below the ground & were a staple food of most California Indian tribes? Of course the flaming Red Indian Paintbrush weren’t really red because the Indians painted with them, but it made a great story to get children interested in nature. When I picked Lupines to take home to my Mom, I learned that Wildflowers don’t last long when you pick them. Pretty soon, I learned that Wildflowers are best enjoyed when you just view them in place, where God put them.
The exception to the rule that you can’t take wildflowers home with you is, of course, photography. Even an amateur photographer can often take some stunning wildflower pictures. Sure, you can take some pretty shots with your cell phone camera, but to really capture the amazing colors and variety of wildflowers, you need a real honest to goodness camera. Whether you’ve got a fancy new digital camera, a somewhat outdated Nikon, that uses film, of even an antique Argus Brick from the 1930s, you ought to be able to get some great wildflower shots in the next month or two. If you get a set of close-up lenses to take pictures from 3 inches away, so much the better.
Where to go to see great wildflowers? Try one of these two suggestions:
1. The Coastal Range, West of the Valley, or
2. The Sierra Foothills, East of the Valley.
Both areas make a great day trip. You can pack a picnic lunch, leave home after breakfast, and be back home by dinner. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday with your spouse and kids.
My recommendation for the Coastal hills trip is to drive West of Tracy on Eleventh Street & take Corral Hollow Road South bound. Follow Corral Hollow up and over I-580 &and up into the hills past Carnegie Park. Take your time as you drive & enjoy the scenery, that’s why you’re there. Proceed over the pass into Alameda County & turn left on Mines Road. Follow Mines Road as it winds up the mountain in a southerly direction until you get to the top where it intersects with Mount Hamilton Road. You can go West a short way to the observatory at the top of Mount Hamilton and have a picnic lunch there , or you can turn East on Mount Hamilton Road and follow it down Ospital Canyon past Frank Raines County Park in Stanislaus County. You’ll come out on I-5 at the bottom of the canyon. It will take you almost all day, but it’s a great trip.
If you’d rather see the Sierra foothills, drive South on Highway 99 to Merced and take Highway 140 up the Merced River Canyon to Yosemite National Park. You can have your picnic lunch along the Merced River or drive into the Park & eat like royalty at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Cheap & simple, or expensive & fancy, whatever suits your pocketbook.
If you’re in pretty good physical condition, you might want to stop about 10 miles east of the Park boundary at Savages Trading Post where the South Fork of the Merced joins the main river. The South Fork Trail is arguably the best wildflower hike in the world. No Jive! In March & April the wildflowers along that stretch of trail are unsurpassed anywhere on earth. Watch your step, because the trail drops off very steeply to the South Fork. After a couple miles or so, the trail flattens out & becomes less steep. Expect to see Poppies, Lupine, Brodea, Shooting Stars, Indian Paintbrush, and a host of others in the most impressive display of wildflowers you’ve ever seen. You can also explore the old mining ruins along the South Fork and wonder at the ingenuity of our forefathers.
On either the Costal day trip or the Sierra Foothill one, be sure to take your camera because you’re going to see some breathtaking wildflowers. Bringing your camera will enable you to capture these beautiful inhabitants of our outdoors and bring them home to enjoy for the rest of your life. Its great fun, good exercise, and another excuse to get out there and enjoy our amazing state. Who knows? Maybe you’ll bump into Old Joe out there in wildflower country
Until Next Week,