Black Mountain Trail

Last Monday I joined fellow members of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) to hike up Black Mountain, a ridge that separates the Santa Clara Valley from the San Andreas Fault. I had hiked the San Andreas Fault earlier, so this hike offered views and hiking with people who know about California native plants.

This map shows both hikes. The blue squares show the first part of the San Andreas Fault hike, from the Monte Bello trailhead to Stevens Canyon. The straight valley between those two points marks the San Andreas Fault, and the trail follows the fault.

Black Mountain Map
Black Mountain Map

Black Mountain is the ridge just north of the San Andreas Fault. Monday’s hike, shown with red balloons, started at the Rhus Ridge trailhead and proceeded to the Black Mountain summit. We took the Black Mountain Trail, hiking 5.1 miles each way, with a 2,400 foot elevation gain. The CNPS members knew all sorts of California native plants and happily shared their knowledge, so I learned a lot.

The initial 3.5 miles of the hike is through woodland. This ribes menziesii, canyon gooseberry, has thorns, fine hairs on the edges of its leaves, and small red flowers.

ribes menziesii
ribes menziesii

This pedicularis densiflora, indian warrior, has dark red flowers.

pedicularis densiflora
pedicularis densiflora

This trillium chloropetalum, common trillium, has a dark burgundy flower emerging from the middle of three broad leaves. A very striking combination!

trillium chloropetalum
trillium chloropetalum

This young rattlesnake, with only one rattle, was lying on a bank beside the trail. The rattlesnake kills by injecting venom from its fangs. It then swallows its prey whole.

rattlesnake
rattlesnake

This piperia elegans, elegant rein orchid, is growing on this dry hillside.

piperia elegans
piperia elegans

The last 1.5 miles in on a dirt road up a ridge line. This trail is steeper, sunny and hot. You just keep going, to get it over with.

We stopped for lunch on a limestone outcropping at the summit. Lupines grow at the summit, especially in the limestone rocks.

upine on limestone outcropping at Black Mt. summit
lupine on limestone outcropping at Black Mountain summit

This view west from Black Mountain has a hazy Pacific Ocean beyond the hills. In person, we were able to see the ocean through the gap in the hills, but this photo doesn’t have enough contrast. The San Andreas Fault is in the valley below Black Mountain.

view west from Black Mountain
view west from Black Mountain

Hiking down the ridge line from the summit, we’re rewarded with views of the San Francisco Bay. The aircraft hangers at Moffett Field show up as a large, light-colored object on this side of the bay, with the cities of Los Altos and Mountain View in between. When monitoring rainfall, I use records from Moffett Field.

hiking down the ridgeline from the summit
hiking down the ridge line from the summit

Black Mountain and this ridge form part of the headwaters of Permanente Creek. In the photo below, the barren mountaintop is the Lehigh Cement Plant. The limestone in these mountains contains calcium, the primary component of cement. Permanente Creek is in the canyon below this ridge. Permanente Creek flows to the right of the Lehigh plant and out to the bay.

headwaters of Permanente Creek
headwaters of Permanente Creek

This patch of toxicoscordion fremontii, Fremont’s star lily, grows on the south side of the road. I saw this lily last week at Rancho Canada del Oro in San Jose.

toxicoscordion fremontii
toxicoscordion fremontii

Back in the woodland we spotted this ring-necked snake on the trail, so we carefully placed it off the trail where it wouldn’t get stepped on. Notice the red belly and red ring around its neck.

ring-necked snake
ring-necked snake

The hike to Black Mountain offers bay and ocean views, California native plants, and wildlife — all at the edge of Silicon Valley. The 10-mile hike with a 2400-foot elevation gain took most of the day. Pack a lunch, and carry 2 liters of water. The parking lot at the trailhead is small, so start early. Hiking in a group is wonderful — you see and appreciate so much more because different people will spot something and point it out to the others. With the wildflowers, spring is a great time to go take a hike.

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Published by

charley280

I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

2 thoughts on “Black Mountain Trail”

    1. Yes, I agree. Most of the hike is shaded woodland with plants and flowers, the top has great views, and the trailhead is minutes from the freeway. That said, people don’t talk about it much. The small parking lot without nearby roadside parking or an overflow lot really limits usage. Our group carpooled, and we still shuttled two drivers who had to park a couple miles away.

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