Globe Lily Trail
Frank's Favorite Hikes: The Miracle
by J. Frank Valle-Riestra, originally published in Diablo Review 2013
The winter and spring months of 2013 were marked by a particularly severe drought. Following some decent fall rains, only a couple of insignificant sprinkles fell upon our parched mountain after the New Year. Such serious lack of moisture promised a poor season for our celebrated wildflowers.
Indeed, some species clearly suffered. For instance, Miner's Lettuce—normally a prolific species appearing as early as February—was conspicuous by its scarcity. More serious has been the effect upon Coulter and Foothill Pines, due to side effects such as insect infestation aggravated by drought. You will find withering and dying pines, particularly around the junction of Red Road with Mitchell Canyon Road.
And yet other species, unexpectedly and miraculously, have proliferated, still another example of the difficulty of predicting good wildflower years from weather observations alone. In particular, the spring of 2013 was a banner season for the Mount Diablo Globe Tulip (also known as Mount Diablo Globe Lily or Fairy Lantern), a species endemic to the mountain and celebrated for its striking beauty. It is not really rare, but certainly not plentiful, and in normal years its occasional discovery among the golden mature grasses of May and June brings surprised joy to the heart of the observant hiker. Its bright yellow translucent petals, formed into a nodding globe, light up and glow in direct sunlight, indeed giving the appearance of a fairy lantern. But in the spring of 2013, the little beauty was no longer solitary - whole masses of fellow Fairy Lanterns graced the flanks of the Globe Lily Trail and the parallel stretch of Mitchell Canyon Road below, veritable explosions of color.
Let us follow the Globe Lily Trail loop, which offers perhaps the best opportunity in the park for identifying a large variety of wildflowers, particularly in the spring. The loop is an easy two-mile walk, fairly level, with only a few minor inclines. Mitchell Canyon Road is a well-graded dirt track, and the Globe Lily Trail is an intimate single-track path. In the springtime the emphasis is upon the flowers, but the loop is an enjoyable walk at any time of the year, with small discoveries and surprises around each bend awaiting you. There are welcome benches at the junction of Mitchell Canyon Road with Black Point Trail and again with Red Road, excellent sites for bird watching in the late afternoon.
Start your exploration at the Mitchell Canyon park entrance and visitor center. Be sure to walk through the Native Plant Garden behind the visitor center, the splendid creation of Dave Caniglia, an MDIA docent. This fruit of thousands of hours of devoted work is an excellent introduction to the flora of Mitchell Canyon. Now walk through the gate at the trailhead and follow Mitchell Canyon Road for ½ mile to the first side road, the Black Point Trail. After a few yards thereon, find the start of the Globe Lily Trail on your left. If you are here during the spring, however, continue momentarily upward a couple of switchbacks along Black Point Trail. You just may run across whole miniature carpets of stunted colorful flowerlets in the sandy soil of the road: Baby Blue Eyes, Bird’s Eye Gilias, and many others. If they are not there (nothing is ever guaranteed), the short side trip is still rewarded with fine views of Mitchell Rock across the canyon.
Back on the Globe Lily Trail, enjoy the trailside show, and be on the lookout for stands of Yerba Santa along a dry exposed section of the trail. These plants, with their showy white blooms, are hosts to a parasite plant that feeds on their roots, Naked Broomrape. This is a plant justifiably characterized as rare, a leafless individual with clusters of waxy yellow flowers that seem to pop straight out of the ground. Finding one is cause for some excitement, but, again, in the spring of 2013, something happened—and literally dozens of these weird plants punched through the bone-dry soil in this location. Normally you would be lucky to find one. In the same location as the Yerba Santa, you will find a thriving stand of Diablo Mallow, a plant usually seen only after fires, but here still vigorous almost forty years after the last fire in this location in 1977. And now, as you continue along the trail to the point where it turns to your left along a north-facing slope, be on the lookout for Checker Lilies in the lush undergrowth. They are not easy to spot, by virtue of their dark and spotted petals, a decent camouflage.
Once you reach the end of the Globe Lily Trail at Red Road, turn left, and then almost immediately left again onto Mitchell Canyon Road to return to the trailhead. It is along the first part of this return stretch where you have the best chance of spotting the elusive Fairy Lantern in late spring, on the left side of the road. A variety of supporting information is available to you to enhance your hiking experience. The Native Plant Garden Guide is available at no cost at the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center, as well as the illustrated booklet Mt. Diablo Wildflowers. Mitchell Canyon Road is posted as a nature trail, and guiding leaflets can be picked up from a box at the trailhead. MDIA has an excellent audio guided tour of Mitchell Canyon on its website, www.mdia.org.
During the wildflower season you may wish to explore other trails in the park with exceptional flower displays. In my opinion, some of the best ones include Camel Rock Trail (poppies on Long Ridge), Bald Ridge Trail, North Peak Trail from Devil’s Elbow to Prospectors Gap, Ridge View Trail, Black Point Trail, Twin Peaks Loop, and Falls Trail Loop. Globe Lilies are found at other scattered locations besides the Globe Lily Trail, notably along the Perkins Trail in the Perkins Canyon area. Be advised, however, that the recent Morgan fire on our mountain encompassed the North Peak and Perkins trails. These trails in particular should have splendid displays of post-fire wildflowers in the spring of 2014.
Check out more Spring Wildflower Hikes: