Castle Rock State Park: A Walk in Four Micro-climates

Roger Ready for Another 3.2 Miles

During the first weekend in April 2008, Roger and I headed to Castle Rock State Park for a bit of a walk in the woods.

Castle Rock State Park is located about 20 minutes from downtown Saratoga, CA off of Skyline Boulevard.

The park has lots of trails and there is an excellent high resolution PDF map made by a third party. Roger and I hiked a 3.5 mile loop.

Rocky Landscape (With Trail)

The terrain is quite rocky and the trails hug the mountain side.

This is actually a photo of the trail we hiked along from the distance. You can sort of see it carved into the side of the mountain.

While it looks treacherous, the actual trails are quite nice. Generally fairly level and wide with only a few areas where you need to scramble over some rocks.

Castle Rock

While the 3.5 mile loop we took dropped and climbed several hundred feet, yet we spent the entire time near the top of the mountain.

Thus, the views are often spectacular. On a clear day, you can easily see all the way south to Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay.

Looking north, you can see the Pacific in the direction of Half Moon Bay.

Rarely, though, is it that clear.

There is typically a bit of fog rolling off of the Pacific ocean that obscures the view.

Small Waterfall

You can see the haze in this photo. Instead of the dirty brown of heavy pollution, it is a bluish fog off the Pacific.

While the haze limits the ability to take sweeping landscape photos, it makes for some very interesting flora and fauna.

Which is what the rest of this post is about. As the fog rolls in each evening, the lay of the land guides the fog in very specific areas more than others.

Thus, a simple 3.5 mile hike led us through 4 different micro-climates. Given that it was early spring, there were tons of early blooming spring flowers out — the little ground hugging flowers that try to get out and bloom first in their competitive efforts for the attentions of the various pollinators in the area.

So… for a photo tour of the flowers (and a few critters) of the area, click on through….

Mystery Yellow Headed Lacy Bug

As we walked out of the cool and moist parking lot — almost felt like a cool fall day prior to snow — we descended into a towering red wood forest climbing up both sides of the trail that wound along next to a small creek.

This is the first micro-climate. Beyond the red woods, this area leads down to a cliff face with waterfall and a lookout deck built on top of the falls.

Beautiful. This little valley also guides the fog up through the area and, thus, the forest is fairly lush with ferns and underbrush.

This little lacy fly like bug was hanging out on the leaf of a plant. I certainly never would have found it, but Roger misses nothing!

The fly was, perhaps, about 2 inches long from head to end of wings.

Photo tip: If you want to photograph bugs, do so on a cold day or capture the subject and stick it in the fridge for an hour or two. It won’t hurt the bug and it slows them right down to photographable speed.

Hairy Hover Bug Hovering

As you move more deeply into the woods, the trail angles out of the little redwood valley and starts to cut across the mountain.

While it is still quite lush, the sun starts to break through and shine upon the forest floor here and there.

White Tree Flower

This is when we started to hear the steady bzzzzzz of flying insects. Bees and bee-like bugs, in particular. Nothing that bothered us. We certainly weren’t nearly as interesting as the hundreds of blooming trees in the area.

This incredibly hairy bee like critter would hover just over the trail with three or four of its friends. Roger labeled it a “Hummingbee” and the description is apt.

Mountain Strawberry Like Flower

As we moved along, we transitioned into the next micro-climate. As the trail moves away from the little redwood valley, it starts to cut across the side of the mountain (eventually below the big rock pictured above).

As it moves into the open, the climate becomes much more mountainous desert. Quite literally, the temperature climbed from about 55 to about 80 in about a hundred yards.

While this area bakes in the sun, there is still the evening fog providing nightly libations to the plants of the area.

Thus, the trees are lush and oft covered in thick hanging moss or lichens. Likewise, the underbrush has lots of little plants, many of which were in bloom as we made our traversal.

This is a wild strawberry or false wild strawberry that we found growing amongst the rocks along the trail.

There were huge patches of these. I have no idea if their fruit is edible to humans, but I would bet that the lizards and rodents of the area find them quite tasty.

Blue Speckled Mystery Lizard

Speaking of lizards, it wasn’t long until we started seeing quite a few lizards running around as we passed by.

This is a fairly typical example, though there were others that were much smoother, more chameleon, in shape and coloration.

This lizard was probably 8″ to 10″ from head to tail and moved rather rapidly.

While it looks to be of plain coloration from a distance, getting close reveals that its back is covered in little blue gem like markings.

As long as you don’t move quickly, it’ll stick around. However, as soon as the lizard decides that you are close enough or have moved too quickly, it simply vanishes. The speed with which they move combined with their camouflage makes them quite difficult to find when they aren’t trying to catch a few rays.

Mystery Orange Flower
Mystery Orange Bush

Along the path, there were occasional explosions of color.

This Indian Paintbrush is one of only a handful of such bushes we saw. Gorgeous intense colors exploding out of fairly drab foliage.

If you look closely at the left-hand side of the trail picture, the little spot of orange is actually this bush.

At this point, we are quite completely in a desert like climate. The sun is intense. In the summer, this part of the trail can be utterly brutal with heat.

This bush, and the trees, are a bit of an exception. Most of the flowers in the area tend to be flat out tiny.

There was, however, one other explosion of color in the area.

Mystery Purple Raygun Flower

For some reason, this flower reminds me of the planet killing ray gun on the death star.

While the flower, itself, was tiny, it was but one of thousands of blooms on a single instance of this plant — likely some kind of potato?

Mystery Purple Raygun Flower Bush

It was the only bush of its kind along the way.

The bees in the area would take a brief break from the blooming trees to dive into this bush, but they pretty much ignored the Indian Paintbrush. Go figure.

Mystery White Headed Hairy Fly

For whatever reason, there were a handful of flies that were in the area of the Indian Paintbrush.

This rather tiny and very hairy fly posed for me while sitting on a leaf in the sun. I have never seen a fly with such a white head before.

Quite the interesting little snout, too.

Fortunately, like the bees, the flies had no interest in us.

Actually, the only time we have been bothered by bugs in Castle Rock is in the late summer or fall. And, then, they only come after you if you stay still for a good long while.

Nothing that bits, though.

Mystery Orange Flower
Mystery Intense Pink-Purple Flower

As I mentioned before, the desert area was largely dominated by incredibly tiny flowers.

The details of these tiny blooms are easily missed unless you look closely at the ground near the trails edge.

The little orange flower is one that commonly appears in yards in throughout the bay area. It grows as a ground hugging vine with tiny little orange blossoms.

However, on the side of the mountain, it grew as ground cover. There would be multiple square feet of ground covered by this vine with a couple of hundred tiny orange blossoms.

And by “tiny” I mean “about the size of a dime”.

There were also tiny clumps of these little purple flowers growing in rockier areas that the little orange flowers didn’t seem to care for.

This is another flower about the size of a dime. Extremely tiny, vividly purple, blooms with little flakes of pollen dusting anything that got near, including itself.

Knot Tying Vine

While walking along the trail, we would occasionally run into a weedy vine winding its way through the rocks and vegetation.

The vine, itself, was unremarkable. Scraggly. Colorless lowers and very plain leaves.

However, the means via which it tied itself off to anything close by was rather amazing.

This is a typical “tie-down” that vine produces. While the vine is held tightly by these squiggly bits of growth, the spirals add quite a bit of springiness that allow the vine to move about without damage.

Interestingly, any of the little squiggly bits that grew off the vine, but didn’t find purchase, would quickly die and fall off.

Clearly, the squiggly bits know when they have become an integral part of the overall structure and the vine wastes no energy keeping parts alive that serve no purpose.

Makes sense, given the overall rather barren environment that it is living in.

(My grape vines are doing the same).

Mystery Pinkish Flower with Purple Veins

About this time in our hike, we made an abrupt transition from a desert mountain climate into something more like mountain fields.

And by abrupt, I mean the trail leads off the mountain side into a little thicket of woods with a stream. There is a bench to sit on and it is a nice, cool, place to take a breather.

When you continue on the trail, you come out of the thicket into a long set of steep fields that run down the mountain. Gone are the giant boulders and scraggly trees hugging the mountain side.

Instead, it is all grasslands with the occasional rock and large tree.

This was actually the last flower we saw as we headed into thicket. It was a single stem of flowers sticking out of the hillside as we entered the thicket.

Mystery Shiny Yellow FlowerMystery Blue/White Flower

Moving into the meadow environment, it quickly became abundantly clear that the meadows were not just full of various grasses.

There were hundreds of little wildflowers scattered throughout.

Unlike the desert areas, the flowers in this area tended to be larger and the plants grew taller, likely to compete successfully with the taller growing grasses.

While it was noticeably more humid than the desert area, this area was certainly not damp and certainly did not lack in sunlight.

It was actually difficult to get a semi-decent picture of the Yellow flower because it was just so darned reflective!

Mystery White Flower with Blue Veins (0.5 inch in diameter)

The flowers in this area tended to be more numerous and spread over larger areas.

Whereas you might encounter only one or two instances of a particular kind of flower on the mountain desert trail, there would be hundreds of any given plant spread across the meadows.

Mystery White Flower with Blue Veins (Many)

For example, this tiny flower — a geranium, maybe, says my Dad — grew in little clumps all over the meadow.

Mystery Purple Flowers
Mystery White Flower

Oddly, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of flying insects in this area. Whereas there was, quite literally, a constant hum of flying insects in the previous environment, the meadows were pretty close to dead silent!

Lots of lizards in this area, too, but smaller and much faster moving.

Orange Fungi on Log
Little Brown Mushroom

Walking out of the meadows, we rather rapidly transitioned into our fourth micro-climate of the day.

A traditional forest. Lots of big trees, not much underbrush.

Flowers were few and far between, but there was lots of interesting life in the woods.

Including these two examples of fungus.

Though a forest, it is still quite clear that this micro-climate, like the rest, is heavily influenced by the nightly fog.

In particular, the trees were generally covered in thick, hairy, moss.

Spider in Hidy-Hole

Roger (of course!) found a wonderful spider living in a web made in amongst the moss.

The spider was quite clearly biding its time in the safety of its web, not at all phased by our presence.

Small Waterfall

From the woods, the trail led back through all of the micro-climates one last time along slightly different trails.

While hiking back up the seemingly much longer than when we started trail to the parking lot, we stopped along the way and could hear water falling.

Looking off the trail, there was this wonderful little water fall cascading into a perfectly clear pool of water.

Quite a relaxing place to stop for a moment on the way home.

4 Responses to “Castle Rock State Park: A Walk in Four Micro-climates”

  1. Wes says:

    Wow, that’s such a great collection of photos, especially considering they were all from the one outing. Not sure if you’ve mentioned it in other posts but I’m curious what lens you’re using for the macro shots.

  2. annbb says:

    Beautiful! Hope you share pics of our Missouri valley.
    Can’t imagine you being at Mom and Dad’s without a trip
    or two down to the valley.

  3. mr micr says:

    Very nice collection of pics! That reflective yellow flower turned out nice. My friend is trying to make a site comprised of this type of nature pictures too…i think it’s called or something like that. Anyways, good stuff!

  4. Scott Henderson says:

    Thank for taking the time to share that. I really enjoyed the pictures very nice and beatiful flower shots

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