Reflections of Coal Mine Ridge

Discovering Toyon Trail

Shown here are excerpts from a "Reflections" article written by Nick Cabell.  Click here to read the full version.

Trail Conception – When Joe Whelan granted the easement to the town of Portola Valley for Coal Mine Ridge open space and trails in 1975, Toyon trail did not exist. Herb Dengler, a naturalist known for his work on Jasper RIdge, was a leader on the PV Town Conservation Committee. In that capacity, during the latter part of the 1970's, his vision for this extraordinary trail was conceived. As Nancy Lund puts it in her book "History of Portola Valley", Herb Dengler "hacked through two miles of tough underbrush to lay out Toyon Trail on Coal Mine Ridge". George Mader, long time town planner, adds some color, recalling that Herb "layed out the trails in his moccasins".

Notice the simple image of a bare human footprint on the post beneath the trail name, signifying the only type of user this trail was intended for by its designer, Herb Dengler.

One of the original sign posts, still standing at the Coalmine connector.

Toyon trail is 2.3 miles long, from the trailhead above Alpine Trail near Willowbrook, winding and gently climbing to the top of the ridge before descending to its terminus at Lake Trail. Each of the three sections is about 3/4 of a mile in length.

The author's personal reflection: “The Sound of the Trail” – One of my most powerful experiences when traveling Toyon was that of sound. On this occasion, I stopped to listen to the birds. I had seen them fluttering above and below me, but I could not hear for the distant roar of a jet overhead. I waited until the sound faded, but the anticipated quiet was again interrupted by a passing jet.  As I waited for it to pass, what I thought was silence started to encroach, taking back what felt like the land's natural state. I then started to hear several bird calls and chirps and even rustlings. I could not connect the creatures with their sounds, any more than I could name any of them - nameless birds and detached music, no less beautiful for it. Then strangely, I thought I had finally reached perfect silence, but only for a second or two, when steadily a new sound arose, as if always there, but simply unheard before this moment - the soft rush of Corte Madera Creek. It comes AFTER the silence, as if a deeper quiet, a more natural form of silence. I walked on, and like most poetry found in nature, it was swept away as if by a soundless wind.

Trail Route – Besides the two entrances at top and bottom, there are two connectors; it is often from these intermediate locations [Map: B and C] that hikers join the path to make their hike a loop experience. Coal Mine Ridge Nature Preserve contains only Lower Toyon (A - B) and Middle Toyon (B - C). Upper Toyon (C - D), also known as the Toyon extension, falls on the Blue Oaks open space and it was built at a different time and under very different circumstances. The two sections from A to C were designed as a single trail by the legendary naturalist, Herb Dengler.

Fewer extended views exist today due to the growth of trees on the steep bank. A favorite of the author’s is this iconic view of Windy Hill, framed by the trail's namesake, the red berried Toyon.