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Skyline Ridge Habitats

Explore 4 plant communities—riparian, forest, chaparral, grassland—in a short, scenic hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
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Rating: 5 out of 5 by EveryTrail members
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2 miles
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly

Overview:  A lively, sound-rich introduction to Skyline Ridge, one of the most beautiful and intriguing preserves in the Midpeninsula Regional... more »

Tips:  The preserve is open from dawn until a half hour after sunset. No dogs, please. Poison oak and ticks are the most common annoyances.... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Daniels Center

Welcome to Skyline Ridge.

In this opening segment, MROSD area superintendent Brian Malone and biologist Cindy Roessler offer some ideas about making the most of the 2-mile-long adventure ahead.

2. Riparian Habitat

An introduction to Alpine Pond and its inhabitants, including marsh wrens, red-winged blackbirds, black phoebes and dusky-footed woodrats. With the help of the Renee Fitzsimons, you can learn how to identify some of the pond's avian visitors by the sounds they make.

3. Grinding Stone

Docent Sharon Thomas takes us into a magical place where you can see evidence of the native peoples who once lived here. Renee Fitzsimons illuminates a different era, when big Douglas firs were hauled to Palo Alto on Old Page Mill Trail.

4. Big Snag

Head up the Sunny Jim Trail (a fire road). When it turns left, you'll see some reddish farm buildings. Stop there to gaze at an old Douglas Fir snag and—if you're lucky—hear the raucous call of the acorn woodpecker.

5. Forest Edge

Keep heading up the Sunny Jim Trail. When it makes a 180-degree turn into the woods, it's time to ponder transition zones—and get to know tanoaks and thimbleberries.

6. Mixed Evergreen Forest

Just ahead you'll be walking gently upward amid the weird, wavy, only-partly-illuminated shapes of an oak forest. Keep an eye out for massive old canyon oaks, which have many big branches reaching out from a short trunk.

Biologist Cindy Roessler reports on how canyon oaks are faring in the fight against the Sudden Oak Death—a disease that is... More

7. Ridge Crest

As you emerge from the oak woodland, you'll see a sign to your left that says "To Butano View Trail." Take that trail up to the top of the ridge. You'll be there in no time, on top of the world. Our next stop is at an unsigned trail junction about a hundred yards below the ridge.

8. Douglas Fir & Madrone

At the trail junction, we discuss the trees you can see just uphill from here. Int In this segment you'll learn
—how to identify a Douglas fir from its cone
—why the red-barked madrone is called the "refrigerator tree," and
—what a "Scotch" pine is doing in the USA.

9. Rattlesnake Point

Docent Strether Smith tells rattlesnake stories and biologist Cindy Roessler revels in the grand view.

10. Chaparral

Now we're in the prickly neighborhood. But chaparral can be pleasant if you know its secrets. Right on this trail, you'll make the acquaintance of plants that 1) can track the sun, 2) smell like cherries, 3) give butterflies an edge over their predators, and 4) make cowboys more appealing.

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11. On the Rocks

The Vaqueros sandstone you'll see in an outcrop just ahead has moved up from Southern California over millions of years.

12. Grassland

Look for tracks on soft soil of the trail ahead. But don't forget to look up, too. You could easily see a vulture, a red-tailed hawk, or even a golden eagle. You're not likely to see a badger here, but you might see the dome-shaped burrow of this fierce digging machine. Listen as Cindy Roessler exults in the sight of half a dozen deer "... More

13. Canyon Oak

Now it's time to get serious about identifying one of this preserve's signature trees: the canyon live oak. Don't worry about whether the leaves are prickly or smooth. As Cindy Roessler explains, it's all about the shape of the acorn and the back of the leaf.

14. Buckeye & Elderberry

Trees with unusual abilities, such as killing fish and making music.

15. Homeward Bound

Cruising back to the nature center, Cindy Roessler hears two different messages from a California quail. The tour ends on a froggy yet philosophic note.