Hike by Sarah Schoen, originally published in the April 2011 issue of Bay Nature magazine
After waiting all winter, you may ask how to enjoy the most spring wildflowers in a short time. It's hard to beat the variety of Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, concentrated in a six-mile loop.
Venture into the upper Stevens Creek Canyon along the Nature Trail, one of the Santa Cruz Mountains' finest riparian corridors. Hound's tongue flowers range in pinks and blues, offset by white to pale lavender milkmaids and striped coral root. In streambeds, western coltsfoot's white flowers emerge before the leaves, while pink flowering currant blooms along the banks. Also watch for white-and-purple two-eyed violets.
As you head up the rocky chaparral grade of Indian Creek, you'll notice the fragrance of buckbrush before the white flowers come into view. Pale yellow lomatium, orange sticky monkeyflower, scarlet Indian paintbrush, and white Fremont's star lily guide you along the path, while the white bells of Pacific madrone provide a shady rest. At the summit of Black Mountain, you're rewarded with phacelia blooms and 360-degree views.
In the grasslands, along Old Ranch, Bella Vista, and the upper Nature Trail, California poppies, popcorn flowers, purple miniature lupine, baby blue eyes, purple owl's clover, and blue-eyed grass are there to greet you. Johnny-jump-ups face you as your back is to the sun. Red-maid flowers awaken in the afternoon, asking you to linger just a while longer.
Getting there The preserve's main entrance and trailhead are on Page Mill Road, seven miles west of Highway 280 and 1.5 miles east of Skyline Boulevard.