Our guided Outings may be on hold, but that shouldn’t hold you back from getting out and exploring special places throughout the Bay Area. And we have the perfect hidden gem for your next outdoor adventure! Fernandez Ranch is a delightful open space area owned and managed by the John Muir Land Trust. Though it’s close to Highway 4, it’s nestled away in the hills and comes under the category, “I never would have guessed this was here!”
This moderate loop hike is just under 4 miles long with a few hundred feet in elevation change. From the parking area, head over the bridge and turn left onto the Black Phoebe Trail. After about 1/3 mile, Black Phoebe morphs into the Whipsnake Trail and heads up the wooded hillside in a number of easy switchbacks.
Keep an eye out for the fascinating Dutchman’s pipe. There’s no mistaking the flower, it looks like its name. Pollinated by native flies that fly in, but then can’t fly out. Trapped by one-way guard hairs, the flies can’t leave until they pollinate the flower; then the guard hairs wilt and out comes the fly, none the worse for wear. Dutchman’s Pipe is the host plant for the beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.
At the top of the hill, continue on the trail to a log bench, where you can rest and take in the expansive view. Some of the nearby trees nearby are California Black Oaks, with large, deeply lobed, and bristled leaves. The scientific name is Quercus kelloggii, named for Albert Kellogg. Kellogg was a doctor with an unsuccessful medical practice back east. He came out to California to mine for gold, but failed at that, too. He settled in San Francisco and opened a pharmacy. Later, he was one of the founders of the California Academy of Science. It was Albert Kellogg who insisted that the Academy allow women to serve as scientists and technical staff. Thanks to Kellogg, the famous botanist Alice Eastwood was hired and headed the Academy ‘s botanical collection for half a century.
Continue on the trail across the meadow and then downhill to the junction with the Woodrat trail. The fragrant tree in this wooded area is California Bay Laurel. The scent of our bay tree leaves is much stronger than the bay leaves sold in stores. (Those leaves come from a Mediterranean bay tree.) The oils and fragrant scent deter insects, especially fleas. And if you look up in the trees, you might spot a woodrat nest. The resourceful woodrats actually collect bay leaves to line their nests and cut down on insect infestation.
Continue up the trail through a dense forest of oaks and bays, then down the Windmill Trail. The trail brings you back to the starting point, but on the way, you’ll want to snap a selfie with the park windmill in the background!
Address: 1081 Christie Road, Martinez, CA 94553
From I-80: Go East on Highway 4. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road (a minor exit off of Hwy 4). Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on the right.
From Martinez: Go West on Highway 4. Take the Franklin Canyon Exit. Turn left and merge onto Highway 4 eastbound. Take the first exit after the Franklin Canyon Golf Course onto Christie Road (a minor exit off of Hwy 4). Fernandez Ranch is .7 miles down Christie Road on the right.