Sunday, December 13, 2009

Figeuroa Loop: Calero County Park

El Cerrito Pond

Calero County Park is just outside the development boundary of San Jose but seems worlds away in fact my little sunday stroll ended up turning into the wild kingdom. Interestingly a good chunk of Calero is serpentine soil. A soil loaded with normally toxic metals, only a small variety of plants and trees can survive in the soil. This is what has preserved it for the most part the way it was before the arrival of westerners and protected it from exotic invasive plants. The park's centerpiece is Calero Reservoir which is not particularly interesting unless you are a boating enthusiast. The area is very equestrian friendly. One can't help but notice all the horse ranches on the way in. Sadly this is to the detriment of lowly hikers like me.

I fortunately showed up right after a rain storm (which closed all the trails to horses, suckers!). A few of the steeply graded trails were a challenge to be sure. Overall though the trails are quite mellow and boast some very nice views. Unfortunately the Diablo range was still obscured by rain from the storm so I could not enjoy the full majesty of the park.

Hawk/Falcon buzzing me near the entrance of the park

Some sort of fungus I can not identify.

Rocky outcropping at the top of the first hill on the Pena Trail.

Dead Oak trunk near the Pena Trail

Following the Los Cerrito's trail from the HQ past Los Cerritos pond (first photo), I took the Pena Trail over a small ridge. Once I arrived at the top it had been my plan to continue along the Pena Trail towards Calero Reservoir. At the top though I saw a flock of birds darting around from tree to tree down a ravine along the Valecito trail.

Flock of some small bird, Doves maybe?

I was not sure what the birds were so scared of but I had to find out. Putting the sign on the trailhead about staying safe in Mountain Lion country out of my head I planned out a new route to get back to the car that would take me by the flock of birds. As I got closer the birds started freaking out more and more, three groups at least of 30 birds would land in one tree, then all together fly to another one. There had to be 100 birds at least. Something was obviously frightening these birds and they had gone in to prey mode. I watched them for awhile and slowly walked down the trail until eventually it went under the tree canopy and obscured my view of this spectacle.

I stopped for a second to fiddle with my camera just out of the tree canopy when a huge crash startled me. I jumped back and my heart raced as two HUGE black shapes burst out from the tall grass. They were two enormous vultures which had obviously been the source of the flock's fear (now also mine). One perched itself on a huge oak branch which hung above the trail 10 feet away. We looked at each other for about 10 seconds and right when I went for my camera, it flapped its monster wings and flew away.

Vallecito Trail looking just a little wet.

I was eager to keep moving on after the scare so I continued along down towards Calero Creek and at the junction with the Figuroa trail decided to take it back towards my car.

Dead log along Calero Creek

No more than 10 steps on to the Figuroa trail and still near Calero Creek I nearly stepped on the highlight of the hike. A Newt. I spent probably 10 or 15 minutes studying the little guy who froze the moment he saw me. Eventually he felt safe enough around me to start slowly moving away towards the creek with his awkward little legs. After taking plenty of photo's though, I moved along.

My Newt friend plodding along the trail with me.

Newt attack!

The "nut sack" of some strange little tree along McKean road.

I followed the trail out back to McKean road, and took the entry road back in to Calero park for about 5 minutes before getting back in my car and driving off. The whole hike took me about an hour exactly. A very nice little treat for a Sunday afternoon day hike.
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