Bugs · Hikes

Triple Threat Trail: Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve

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Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve in the Tiburon Peninsula is a triple threat of Bay Area trails, providing superb 360-degree views of the bay, rich geologic and Native American history, and a display of rare, native wildflowers.

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Sweeping views of Mount Tamalpais, San Quentin State Penitentiary, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, San Pablo Bay and San Francisco from the high ridges of Ring Mountain

While its name suggests otherwise, this preserve has nothing to do with Frodo’s quest to destroy the One Ring in the fiery chasms of Mt. Doom. Officially, the area was named after former Marin County Supervisor, George E. Ring. A more apocryphal origin tale suggests it was named after the mysterious round and semi-circular shapes carved by Native Americans into Petroglyph Rock, a boulder located a short distance off the trail close to the summit.

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Faded by weather and lichen, the pre-historic rock carvings made by the Coast Miwoks on Petroglyph Rock are still visible today

These carvings are believed to be important to the Coast Miwoks and were made centuries ago. This particular style of carving has been found throughout the coastal ranges of California, either alone or with other styles of rock art. While their precise meaning is unknown, they are thought to have both practical and spiritual purposes.

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The trail winds through outcroppings of green serpentine and under old coast live oaks and California bays
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Serpentine, a rare rock type most often developed in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate is subducted under another. In 1965, serpentine was named the official state rock of California.

The unusual geology here resulted in harsh growing conditions for plants. Plants that live on serpentinite have adapted to survive in these unusual chemical conditions. Consequently, Ring Mountain is home to seven rare species of plants, including the Tiburon mariposa lily, which grows nowhere else in the world, making this area not just a geologist’s dream, but a botanist’s as well!

Unfortunately, it was too late in the year to catch the Tiburon mariposa lily, but the wildflowers dotting hillsides made up for it with a colorful display.

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Tiburon Buckwheat (Eriogonum luteoleum var. caninum), a rare native wildflower that grows in serpentine soil
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Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia rubicunda)
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Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)
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Indian Pink (Silene californica)
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Sea Lettuce (Dudleya farinosa)
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A fading Ithuriel’s Spear (Triteleia laxa)

California poppies were also in abundance, but a closer peek revealed the presence of little bugs making themselves quite at home in the cups of these flowers. Poppies are often planted in gardens to ward off aphids, so this seemed rather unusual.

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A blister beetle getting cozy in its new digs?

Incidentally, California poppies are the official state flower of California. Pair that with serpentine rock, and you’ll be up close and personal with two official state symbols in one short hike!

IF YOU GO:

  • Location: Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve in Tiburon
  • Directions:
    • North access: From Hwy 101 in Corte Madera, take the exit for Tamalpais Dr east. Go straight onto San Clemente, which merges into Paradise Dr after 0.4 miles. Follow Paradise Dr approx. 1 mile (go past Westward Dr). Gate is on the right.
    • South access: From Hwy 101 in Mill Valley, take the exiit for East Blithedale Ave. Go east on Tiburon Blvd and turn left at Reed Ranch Rd. Gate is at the end.
    • East access: From Hwy 101 in Corte Madera, take the exit for Tamalpais Dr east. Go straight onto San Clemente, which merges into Paradise Dr after 0.4 miles. Follow Paradise Dr approx. 1.7 miles, turn right onto Taylor Rd, and follow to dead end.
  • Level: Moderate (short but uphill hike)
  • Attractions: Rare, native wildflowers, Coast Miwok petroglyphs, rich geology, panoramic views of San Francisco Bay
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