Big Basin! Whuu-huuu!!!!

I finally made it to Big Basin up in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The visitor center, also known as Sempervirens Room, is in Boulder Creek, California. To get down to the seaside on foot, you start your hike at that section of the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail near the visitor’s center. It is twelve and a half miles, one way, down to Waddell Creek Beach.

Since I arrived at the park in the late afternoon, I did not attempt to hike the twenty-five miles round-trip from mountains to beach. I opted instead for two shorter hikes, the Redwood Loop, and a self-made route that criss-crossed three different trails. I plan to do the twenty-five miles round trip before the summer arrives in the Bay Area. An additional treat will be to camp overnight at Big or Little Basin.

From Bonny Doon to Fairy Circles

Fairy Circles (2nd growth trees)
Fairy Circles (2nd growth trees)

The drive up into the mountains from Highway One is spectacular. Up past Bonnie Doon and a few other towns I went. Further up into the mountains I passed the Ben Lomond Youth Conservation Camp, a monastery, and Little Basin, finally arriving at Big Basin.

There are some magnificent stands of redwoods in this park; some of them are surrounded by fairy circles.  If you hike the Redwood Loop Trail you will find some of these circles near the fallen, older trees  from which they sprang.

Father and Mother of the Forest

HillMotherofForest
Mother of the Forest (http://www.bigbasin.org)

Some of the old growth redwoods have been given quaint names like Father of the Forest (he is 250 feet high) and  Mother of the Forest (she is 329 feet high) because they feature what, to those who named them, male and female parts. These trees and others, are on the Redwood Loop Trail, the easiest and shortest of the trails here. It is a mere half-of a mile long and passes by Opal Creek where you will find a beautiful stand of tan oaks along the bank of the creek.

Conservation Camp

This drive to Big Basin is my third encounter with a conservation camp. The first time I came across one was near a forest between San Diego and Los Angeles. The second time, I was in the Sierras, heading to Yosemite. The words, “conservation camp”, makes me think of “concentration camps”. I did some research, expecting to find that the former are places where people learn how to protect the environment. Instead, it turns out that this is just a fancy name for prison or correctional facility. I don’t know why California doesn’t just call them by their real names. Why the double speak? They are listed right there on the California Correctional and Rehabilitation (Prison) Web site!

Big Basin

Big Basin, designated a park since 1902, is the oldest state park in the United States. That distinction used to belong to Yosemite, at least until it became a federal/national park. Big Basin covers more than 18,000 acres from sea to mountains. Located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, Big Basin launched the state park movement in California. Its biggest attraction is a rare stand of ancient coast redwoods that are among the tallest and oldest trees on earth. These include the Mother and Father of the Forest, both of which are anywhere from 1,000-2,000 years old. See my Sequoia National Park article to learn more about some of earth’s giant trees and ancient forest.

Coast redwoods are native to the United States and grow only along the coast from southern Oregon to Central California. They are part of an ancient forest of which less than five percent remains. To meet the demands of the gold rush and urban development we logged the forest and these trees to near extinction. Long gone from the forest are the Quiroste and Cotoni peoples who once made this area their home. Look carefully when you hike some of the Big Basin trails and you will see evidence of their having once been here: The grinding rocks where their ancestors pounded acorns into flour still remain here and in other parks. Some of these grinding stones are also in several Mid Peninsula Regional Open Space Parks along Skyline Boulevard. I’ve seen them at Russian Ridge and over near Alpine Lake too.

Civilian Conservation Corps

Ampitheatre built by the CCC
Ampitheatre
2013-03-16 13.31.01
redwood seating

As part of his New Deal to lift America out of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a civilian conservation corps of men to work the land and help lift America out of its poverty. The CCC as it became known, helped to develop America’s state and national parks. They built many of the buildings, trails and general infrastructure at parks like Big Basin and Yosemite. The amphitheater and the rows of redwood seats pictured here, were built by the corp. They are a perfect complement to the landscape in which they sit.

Marbeled Murrlet

More recently (in the 1970s), the endangered bird species, the Marbled Murrelet, was discovered in Big Basin. It was the last bird species in the United States to have its nesting site discovered.

For more than a century early ornithologists searched in vain for the elusive murrelet nest. Quite by accident, a ranger at Big Basin discovered it high in the top of an old growth redwood. This bird flies in from the ocean, about forty-miles away from its feeding “ground”, to make its nest in the old growth redwoods. If we lose our old growth trees, we will most likely lose the Marbeled Murrelet. When you visit Big Basin, stop by the museum near the gift shop to learn more about this bird and what you can do to protect it from other birds when you are there.

For additional information on the Ben Lomond Conservation Camp, Big Basin, and the Marbeled Murrelet, visit the following sites:

http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/conservation_camps/camps/Ben_Lomond_Y/index.html

http://www.bigbasin.org/trailsredwoodloop1.html

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/marbled_murrelet/index.html

Purisima Creek Redwoods — All the World’s a Stage!

In the opposite direction from Half Moon Bay, off Highway One, is the Higgins/Purisima Road entrance to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Hike through this peaceful canyon with its magnificent stands of old redwoods and enjoy an unspoiled Northern California gem. By the bridge to your left, not too far from the entrance, is a stately pair of red alders standing guard by the creek. These wind pollinated beauties have both male and female parts. Red alder trees are usually found at elevations below 2,400 feet and within 125 miles of the ocean. The beautiful silvery-white patches that you see all over the trunks are lichens. The barks of these trees are actually a deep tan color but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their mottled, distinctive silvery-white lichen laced trunks.

Many natural delights reside in this canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The red alders with their attendant lichens are but a few. The redwoods for which the preserve is named are the real stars here but beauty abounds elsewhere, like for example, in the red elderberries (toxic), stinging nettle (with its heart shaped leaves) and the California bee plant (part of the Snapdragon family).

coast pretty face
California Bee Plant (watercolor sketch)

I didn’t come across any bees during my recent hike but l think I recognized the leaves of the bee plant close down to the ground. You should definitely start seeing them a little after New Year’s. For soon, very soon, after the first good rains — and we have already had a few of those — the bee plant will come alive. By March it begins to bloom and will continue doing so way into July. Hummingbirds, bees and deer love this plant with its reddish-brown stems and eye-catching red flowers. Look for it while you hike in Purisima. You can also find many of these plants in Montara Mountain just outside of Half Moon Bay.

Bugs in the Sun and Other Creatures

A little up the trail, along the creek, I encountered a burst of sunlight, a sun hole, that managed to pierce through an opening in the dense redwood canopy. Many flies, all male and of the same specie, danced about in their territory in the air. These were probably dance flies doing a lek/breeding display.Similarly, you can see this lekking behavior in the Monarch Butterfly when it over-winters further down the coast in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay.

Down on the forest floor were two clown millipedes, easily identified by the yellow markings down each side of their otherwise all- black bodies. Millipedes don’t really have one-thousand legs. The clown millipede, for example, has about twenty body segments with two pairs of legs on each segment. That is far less than a thousand legs. Yellow lines with black is generally a warning in the insect/bug world. Think, for example, of the lines and colors of bees and wasps. Sometimes this pattern is merely a camouflage but in millipedes, it is not. Centipedes are different; they are harmless. But millipedes are poisonous. The clown millipede, for example, produces a cyanide gas when threatened. As always, do not disturb the creatures in any of the preserves. They are protected by law.

The funniest bug I encountered on my walk was a spittle bug, a baby frog hopper. Overall, it is pretty harmless. It drills a hole into the phloem of a plant and sucks out the liquid, bubbles it out of its back part and forms a bubble house around itself to protect it from birds and other bugs.

Ode to a Spittle Bug

You! Frog face spittle bug

Sitting on that sage

What do you think you are doing?

Oh, you think you are so clever

hiding there in plain view

I want you to know spittle bug

I am on to you.

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