Today, November 17, 2013:
Sunset hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at Djerassi/SMIP Ranch.
Today, November 17, 2013:
Sunset hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at Djerassi/SMIP Ranch.
Here are some things I’m starting to realize as I navigate the East Bay parks:
These are not necessarily complaints, merely observations. Each park is an adventure. You never know what you will find.
Sinbad Creek and Kilkare Canyon
I am planning to do two fourteen mile hikes through Kilkare Canyon, along Sinbad Creek, onto the top of Pleasanton Ridge and along Thermalito Trail (the same trail where I saw a mountain lion a few weeks ago). The first hike will be before the rainy season begins and the second will be during the rainy season, when the hills are once again green. These hikes will begin at Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park instead of at Augustin Bernal Park. (Both parks are in Pleasanton).
A Short Trial Run Hike
Knowing what I now know about the East Bay Parks, I attempted a short trial run of the Sinbad Creek hike yesterday. I started at 11:30 a.m. This is a late start and so, I only planned to complete four or five miles. The goal here was to get my bearings so I’d be on the right trail(s) for the actual hikes.
I started out at the trailhead (that is, at the parking lot called Foothill Staging Area) and headed uphill along Oak Trail. This trail winds steeply along an exposed hillside, past many oak trees, and lots of poison oak and coyote brush. About a quarter mile later, I arrived at the junction of Oak and Woodland Trail. Taking Woodland (it’s on the left as you head up Oak) I climbed an even steeper grade with a few switchbacks. Here there are more oak trees, the ever present poison oak and gratefully, a canopy of forest cover to protect me from the sun.
The Cow Gate
About a mile later, still on Woodland Trail, I came across a cow gate at a junction by a meadow. I veered to the right, sidestepping the gate. That was a mistake: I was supposed to go through the gate. So instead of heading towards the Sunol side of the park, I found myself squarely in Pleasanton, at the junction of Oak and Sycamore Grove Trails. A marker by that cow gate would have pointed me in the right direction. Now I was clearly off the Sinbad Creek Trail loop.
The next time I hike Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, I will be attempting the complete fourteen mile trip. I will most likely start at sunrise when the park opens. I’ll let you know how that turns out. That will be before the rains start. After that, I will attempt a second hike (probably before Christmas), when, thanks to the rains, the hills will be green once again. For details of the entire fourteen mile hike, I’ve posted the map below.
While working on her paintings in the old Djerassi barn a month ago, artist Nicole Buffett created these colored balls and placed them in shafts of dappled sunlight on the floor. The spheres are made of packed earth, grass, gravel and pigment and are meant to “embody the serenity and power” that Buffet felt while working in the barn. She calls this piece, The Guardians, meant as it was, to guard her paintings as they sat outside overnight.
Should you happen to visit the old barn during the long summer months, you will be treated to a visual delight of busy sunbeams dancing across the floor and along the walls. With the installation of The Guardian, you can have the additional experience of watching the sunlight move across the floor, heightening the colors of the individual balls.
If you stop by on a foggy day – as a group of visitors did recently – your experience will be different, less heightened: The colors of the spheres are totally dependent on the natural lighting derived from the sun. That is the nature of the piece. It is transitory and is defined by an uncontrolled light source that helps to determine how the viewer experiences the work. This installation, like the rest of Djerassi’s outdoor art, will eventually disintegrate. Catch it if you can.
I’ve written about Djerassi and its transitory art collection in previous articles. Here is one of those posts. The springtime photographs of the sun drenched landscape (plus one taken from inside the old barn), should give you an idea of the feel and intensity of the Bay Area sunlight. There is no need for artificial lighting in the barn, at least not during the day.
All of these photos were taken along The Bay Trail, on the east side of the San Mateo Bridge. Tomorrow I will post more pictures and tell you about the marshes that were turned to salt ponds and are now returning to their former state. Oh, the Bay, she is a changing, again.
Photographs and a short video of After the Celestial Axe (see my April 2013 article, “New Sculpture at Djerassi“), are now available at the artist’s site, drue.net. My own personal encounter with the sculpture won’t be until the end of summer, when I lead an outdoor art hike at Djerassi.
After the Celestial Axe is beautiful and changes constantly, as is to be expected of mirrors placed outdoors. They capture the changing landscape, from moving clouds and shaking tree limbs to light and dark. The nature lover in me is concerned about the potential hazard to wildlife, particularly birds. You can hear them chirping in the video. I cannot imagine what the blinding light does to them when the sun hits the piece. (There are 27 parts to this sculpture!) And how do the other animals fare with this glare? There are deer and bobcat, for example, in this area. What is the effect on them?
Of Polliwogs and Red Winged Blackbirds
I spent most of yesterday (okay, 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) removing invasives by a pond at Driscoll Ranch, one of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District’s preserves. Ooooh, there were lots of red winged blackbirds darting about as we made the ascent up over the hills. (A four-wheel drive was necessary!) Numerous cows lazed about near the large drinking hole (an enormous man-made pond fed by underground springs) while deer watched our caravan of three pass by.
No Sugar Cane Here
Down by our little pond (a small man-made one, fed by a trickle from the mountain above), there were polliwogs galore! Seeing them took me back to my childhood in Jamaica, to a year spent playing by the gullies that irrigated the cane fields. These gullies were a treasure trove of tikki tikkis (baby fish) and polliwogs. A little girl and boy, could and did, lay side by side on the banks of the gullies catching tikki tikkis and tadpoles, then releasing them back into the water. When we got tired we’d watch clouds drift overhead as we chewed on freshly broken cane.
There is no cane growing at Driscoll Ranch but just as on the plains in Jamaica, the mountain heat here is unforgiving. One of the nearby ponds had completely dried up leaving behind a landscape scarred by fissures. Any polliwogs remaining in that environment are all dead by now. Hopefully, the adult frogs were able to make it to a pond filled with water like this one.
Saving the California Red-Legged Frog
Most of the tadpoles here are the babies of the rare California red-legged frog. They are the reason my fellow volunteers and I were breaking our backs under an exceedingly hot sun, to remove invasive plants and restore this riparian habitat. How did the slaves do it? How did they work from sun up to sun down, seven days a week? Some of us were on the brink of heat stroke yesterday, and we didn’t even put in a full day’s work! With my volunteer work done at around 2:30 p.m., I headed down to the beach to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
(Note: Driscoll Ranch – near the town of La Honda – is not yet open to the public.)
Pomponio State Beach
Where: On the San Mateo Coast (a few miles from the towns of San Gregorio and Pescadero)
Notes about Pomponio
ACTIVITIES: Hiking trails, beaches, picnics (has charcoal barbecue grills by parking area) bird watching.
REGION: San Mateo County, on Highway One (not too far from the intersection of La Honda Road/Route 84), San Mateo County
HOURS: 8:00 a.m. to sunset
COST: $8.00 per vehicle; pay at the kiosk during the summer months; self-pay at other times of the year
LOCATION: Pomponio State Beach, Highway One, San Gregorio, CA 94074
Where: Pescadero, CA (25 miles south of Half Moon Bay, and 35 miles north of Santa Cruz)
Note: The Calypso Orchid blooms only in the spring. It tends to bloom from the middle to the end of March in Butano State Park, Pescadero.
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Seen last weekend at Butano State Park, the tiny Calypso Orchid (also called Fairy Slippers). When John Muir came across these rare plants in the 1890s he wrote:
“I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual, it seemed pure enough for the throne of its Creator.”
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
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
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.
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, 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
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.
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:
This was a busy weekend. I BARTed into San Francisco for a look at the light show at the new Bay Bridge and for happy hour at Chaya (across the street from the bridge). I also went on a behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (awesome!) and today, re-experienced art in the woods at Djerassic, in the Santa Cruz Mountains (more awesome!!).
Friday Night on the Embarcadero
The new Bay Bridge is nearing completion and is set to be opened soon. Here is a nighttime view of the waterfront along the Embarcadero with a view of the bridge. The new installation art piece (an LED light show) is in the foreground of the bridge. (Those are the lights you see in the upper right hand side of the photograph.) It looks like San Francisco is almost ready for the 2013 Americas Cup!
Moon Jellies and Such, Oh My!
Oh, the jellies I saw! Lot and lots of jelly fishes were on show at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Moon jellies. White moon jellies. Purple sprite jellies. Spotted jellies. Mediterranean jellies. Can you figure out which ones these are?
The history of how the Monterey Bay Aquarium came to be is fascinating. It involves David Packard (of Hewlett Packard fame) and his daughter who was at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station (in Monterey Bay). The senior Packard was looking for a family project to do with his daughter. That project evolved into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Aquarium sits at the far corner of Cannery Row. The entire area was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, Cannery Row, and The Sea of Cortez. His friend Doc features prominently in both novels and also on the Row, where he died in a car crash. One interesting note is that Monterey Bay is, in fact, a bight, not a bay. It is more open (less sheltered) than a bay and shallower also. The rocks in Monterey Bay are also an indication that it is not a true bay. A bay, by contrast, is a inlet of water enclosed on three sides by the land. Monterey Bay is not enclosed at all. It is wide open to the ocean with tide pools and salt water constantly moving in and out.
Here are some art installations in the woods at Djerassic and also, a window view from the Artist’s Barn.
After nearly a year, I finally got onto a docent-led hike at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Preserve in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Stanford has several studies going on at Jasper Ridge. In fact, the place has been used for scientific studies since the inception of the university. The preserve is the site of discoveries that are important to both the scientific community and to society. Professor Paul Ehrlich’s discoveries about Bay checkerspot butterflies, for example, demonstrated the unique value of long-term research in ecology, and led to federal programs to fund such studies.
It was a nice sunny day when I visited the preserve. Many flowers and trees were in bloom. The woods echoed with bird calls. The loudest of them all was the blue and white California scrub jay. It and the ravens were out in full force as were the hummingbirds.
The ubiquitous Indian Warrior plant filled in the spaces beneath the oak trees, doing what it does, living off its host. This hemiparasiste survives in areas with hot dry summers probably because it knows to stay in the shade of trees like manzanitas and oaks. Our guide told us that a name change is afoot as Indian Warrior is a politically incorrect name. What will this plant end up being called, I wonder?
A definite treasure at Jasper Ridge is the dirca plant, several of which can be found along the edges of the chaparral. Dirca or western leatherwood are known to grow only in the Bay Area. They are rare and endangered California natives that do extremely well at Jasper Ridge. Their lemon yellow flowers are practically iridescent in the sunlight. It is more than likely that butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are drawn to this plant.
One of the most picturesque spots at Jasper Ridge is Searsville Lake which owes its genesis to the creation of the 120-year old Searsville Dam. The dam, built by the Spring Valley Water Company 1n 1892, was eventually acquired by Stanford University. Today it is part of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.
Like the Hetch Hetchy Dam, Searsville has been a source of contention: environmentalists want both dams removed and the land restored to its original state. Unlike the water source(s) of the Hetch Hetchy, that of the Searsville Dam is not potable, and so, is severely limited in its use. Stanford is now trying to figure out what to do with the dam and consequently, the lake.
There is no disputing that Jasper Ridge is a special place for wildlife, flora and fauna alike. While there I was treated to the spectacle of hole-ridden trees where acorn woodpeckers had hidden their loot. I came across an emerald green hummingbird with a flash of red, an Anna’s Hummingbird. There was no point looking for the orange and black Bay Checkerspot butterfly that once made this place its home. Endemic to the Bay Area, the Bay Checkerspot was last spotted at Jasper Ridge in 1998.
To learn more about Jasper Ridge and also about the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water, visit:
To learn about the green, sustainable field station at Jasper Ridge, visit: http://jrbp.stanford.edu/fieldstation.php. If you ever visit Jasper Ridge Preserve, remember to look for the hole-ridden tree that is adjacent to the the field station. It is but one of many such caches on the preserve.