"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Little Pond on the Ridge

 My quest with twin newborns is to find trails wide and flat enough to accommodate a double stroller. I want to feel like I'm far from the city, but I don't want to drive over an hour. An easy level trail isn’t bad either, considering I'm still sort of recovering from giving birth. Finally, since my mom accompanies me on occasion, and hiking isn't her thing anymore (once upon a time we trekked the Himalayas, but that was a long time ago), I'd walk with my kids no more than a mile while she read a mystery novel at the trailhead. 

Alpine Pond met all criteria. It has a wide, flat trail. It's less than an hour south of San Francisco. 

 And so it was that on a fine mid-week afternoon where fog hung over the city most of the day but sunshine blazed on the peninsula, that we--my mom, my kids, and I--set out. 

We drove south on 280, west on 92, and then south on Skyline Boulevard, also known as Highway 35. The road wound through forests, including redwoods, and as we traversed swathes of coast chaparral we got jaw-dropping views of the Pacific and the peninsula.

I’d visited Alpine Pond many years ago with a group of teenagers when I was a teacher and one of the leaders for our school’s hiking club. We had hiked Skyline Open Space Preserve, an area that seems epitomized by golden hills, oak trees, and views, but today with babies, a four year old, and my 72-year-old mom, we’d just roll around Alpine Pond. 

We were the only folks there, so it was particularly quiet, even meditative.  It was a great way to spend time outside with kids, have a little picnic, and not tax the elders.

The trail around Alpine Pond
The Trail
We parked in a lot where a friendly motorcyclist affirmed, “Oh yes, Alpine Pond is the way to go for a stroller.” He gave us a park brochure and told us we could find evidence of Ohlone culture, mortars chiseled into a boulder, located off a trail (he wasn't sure which) near the pond.  

A long ramp, perfect for strollers or wheelchairs, led from the parking lot to the main trail, starting under Alpine Road. 

The tunnel under the road
We walked through a tunnel with corrugated walls, the breeze making the air distinctively cool. My big kid found a stick, enjoying the tat-tat-tat-tat sound of wood on metal. 

The trail was less than a quarter mile to Alpine Pond, and it passed one informational sign listing the different critters one could find her, and passed under a large, gnarled, and moss hung oak.

At the pond's edge is the David C. Daniels Nature Center, some picnic tables and benches, and a water fountain. There's an observation platform on pontoons, a little weeble-wobbly as you walk on it, but it gets you past the reeds and up close with the water. 
Floating observation deck

The David C. Daniels Nature Center looked intriguing from the outside with its bulletin boards and placards, but it's only open on the weekends, noon to 5 pm from April to mid-October, and 11 to 4 from mid-October through the last day in November. It's free too. Though we didn't go inside since it was closed, a sign proclaimed attractions such as a "touch table,"an aquatic lab, a "skull and skins" display, and a pet gopher snake. 

The trail around Alpine Pond is wide and flat (0.5 miles), just what I wanted. The sun beat down, my babies sweated, and my big kid whined a bit, but it was a good walk. Iridescent dragonflies zipped around us. A duck cruised into center lake. Cattails waved. All around other trails branched off, inviting and interesting, one of them leading to those Ohlone "bedrock mortars" carved into a boulder, but they meant for other days and bigger adventures. 

Dusk and Dawn 
Coming in the middle of the day when it's 80-plus degrees isn't the optimal time to see wildlife, but that's when we were there. If possible, check out the pond in the evening or the morning and maybe you'll spy raccoons, deer, or rabbits. Coots, ducks, and herons might be swimming. This is also mountain lion territory, but one would have to be really lucky to get a glimpse of one of those big cats. 

Alpine Pond was a spring that was dammed in the Fifties for livestock. It's now 25 feet deep in the middle, and has become a water source for wild animals instead of cows and whatnot. Long before the ranchers of the 1800s, the Ohlone lived, hunted, and traveled through here. The bedrock mortars that you can find near Alpine Pond were used to pulverize acorns into a flour that'd be turned into an edible mush.

From San Francisco head south on 280. For the prettiest drive, go west on 92 to Highway 35, then south on Highway 35. About 13 miles down Highway 35 you'll pass Skylonda, a sweet little rest spot with food, gas, and water. Sally on 9 more miles to the intersection of 35 and Old Page Mill Road. Turn right onto Alpine Road. You'll immediately see a parking lot for the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve, where you'll park. Grab a map, use the port-o-pottie, and head for the ramp.

David C. Daniels Nature Center
Old Page Mill Trail
La Honda, CA 94020
(650) 691-1200

Big kid and grandmom
Three kids on a picnic table
Kids in the shade around Alpine pond
Map to Alpine Pond

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