Easy Hike at Shell Ridge

Sutherland Drive entrance to Shell Ridge Open Space

This easy walk of about one mile provides a view of two different habitats: grassland with plants such as buttercups, blue-eyed grass, yarrow and a very sunny and dry quarried area having plants like foothill penstemon, California fuschia, deerweed, buckwheat and telegraph weed.

When to go: Buttercups start to bloom in late February. Zigadene are a week or two later. Foothill penstemon blooms from April through the end of June. Elegant clarkia, deerweed and harvest brodiaea are in bloom in May into June. California fuschia blooms from late July or August through October.

Driving directions: This walk starts at the Sutherland Drive entrance to Walnut Creek’s Shell Ridge Open Space. (For directions visit http://wcosf.org/enjoy/entrances.html .) Park in the small parking lot at the end of Sutherland Drive or along Sutherland Drive. (Don’t block residents’ driveways.)

Walking directions: Walk through the gate at the back of the parking lot into the Open Space. The slope on the left has some poppies and many small buckwheat plants. Take the left fork of the dirt service road and walk for 100-200 yards until you see a broad path to the left. Walk up this path into the old gravel quarry area. There are several levels in this quarry, with different vegetation in each level. The rocky spine of a ridge runs next to the quarry. After the quarrying ended, plants from the rocky spine colonized the surface of the quarry. The very shallow soil and sunny dry conditions in the quarry was suitable for plants such as poppies, California sage, deerweed, foothill penstemon and nodding needlegrass (Stipa cernua).

Look for the blue and sometimes pink of foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophylla), note the flower buds are yellow), the red tubular flowers of California fuschia and the yellow of deerweed and telegraph weed. You will pass close to gray-green California sage bushes. Brush your hand gently over the leaves and then smell the sage scent on your hand.

California fuchsia (Epilobium californicium (Photo by Cill Hunt)

California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) Photo by Bill Hunt

Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus). Photo by Bill Hunt

Foothill penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus)  Photo by Bill Hunt

After you finish exploring the quarry area, return to the service road and turn left (away from the parking lot.) You’ll be walking downhill toward Indian Creek. Take the right path at each fork in the road. Look for wavy-leaved soap plant and the blue-purple flowers of lupine.

Just after you see a trail sign on the left side of the road and a four foot steel post on the right, turn right on a narrow trail.

You’ll be walking through a grassland with Indian Creek downhill to your left. This area has buttercups in numbers as well as blue-eyed grass, zigadene and yarrow.

Blue-eyed grass (Sysirinchium bellum) Photo by Bill Hunt

Blue-eyed grass (Sysirinchium bellum)  Photo by Bill Hunt

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculatat). Photo by Bill Hunt.

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata)  Photo by Bill Hunt

The trail takes you to another dirt service road with a pond beyond it. Turn right onto the service road. Look for elegant clarkia and colorful lichens on the rock wall to the right. The service road goes uphill and then curves to the right, taking you back to the parking lot where you entered. (Keep right when the road splits.)

Conservation notes: In the early 1970s, residents of Walnut Creek defeated a proposal to level Shell Ridge to build a very large housing development. Then in 1974, voters in Walnut Creek and Concord passed a bond measure to pay for acquiring land along several ridges. In 1991, Walnut Creek’s City Council voted to acquire additional open space land in Lime Ridge.

Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) Photo by Bill Hunt.

Deerweed (Acmispon glaber)  Photo by Bill Hunt

Walnut Creek’s 2700 acres of open space are a resource used daily by many people who live close to it and at frequent intervals by many more residents. Having natural areas close to where people live complements preservation of natural habitats in larger but more distant wilderness areas.

The Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation has worked on several restoration projects in this area including planting native oak trees, native grasses and wildflowers and removing invasive plants such as mustard and non-native thistles.

The plants in the quarry area are threatened by mountain bike riders who view the quarry as a place to cut new bike trails down the steep quarry walls. Enforcement of existing rules and fostering understanding and appreciation of the value of Walnut Creek’s Open Space areas continues to be needed even in a community where many residents value that open space.

Useful links:

City of Walnut Creek Open Space web page:
http://tinyurl.com/ln2t8dz Click on a link on this page to get a map of Walnut Creek’s Open Space areas in PDF file format.

Walnut Creek Open Space Foundation web site:

Jerry Fritzke’s Fossil Hill walk description
This walk is similar to the one described in this article.

Article by Bill Hunt