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

Still Life, La Honda Creek

photo-collage, “Oh, the finds you find!”

Turret spiderwebs, fantastic vistas, faces between trees, oh my! These are some of the things I saw as I recently walked along the trails and spaces of La Honda Creek.

The feathers and leaves, the patterns and colors, may all wend their way into my art. Oh! The things you find when you look, listen and smell along a walk.

At La Honda Creek there were the smells of: coyote brush; a fading whitish plant giving off the scent of maple syrup; pine and other evergreen trees; and scorched summer earth and grasses.

Still life, i (What is this animal?)

On the forest floor I came across this little guy, truly a still life for he was dead. I know not what this creature is but I am guessing it and others like it are responsible for many of the holes I saw along the paths. Its little snout is probably good for ferreting and making holes. Then too, there were the spider holes from the turret spiders, so ethereal in the sunlight. These I encountered before I entered a grove of mixed evergreen and oak trees.

Turret spiders are only to be found in California, in moist woodlands. They almost always make their homes along north-facing slopes. Look for them as you walk the hillsides and trails and as you walk alongside rivers and creek banks. Although their webs are easy to spot, they are not. The only time I ever saw one is when I was on a night hike at Monte Bello Ridge. It was up by the headwaters of Stevens Creek. A fellow hiker, using an infrared light, pointed it out as it nested in its hole. That picture may also find its way into my paintings.

Here are more photographs from my hike. I hope you can see the  outline of a face between the tree trunks. A perfect end to the day was a stop at Alice’s, in Woodside, for a Laguanitas. California has such interesting beer names: Laguanitas, 21st Amendment, Old Dirty Bastard, A Little Sumpen Sumpen (not sure of spelling but it’s good!). Check out Alice’s if you are ever up Woodside along Skyline Boulevard and Sky Honda/La Honda way. If you are not a vegetarian, try their Kawasaki burgers and their Teriyaki Skirt Steak. I also recommend their sweet potato fries. Here is Alice’s Web link: http://www.alicesrestaurant.com/.

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I’m Late! I’m Late!

Mini Ghirl, up at Russian Ridge

Day Hikes

Mini Ghirl doesn’t handle right: She needs new tires. We’ve done twenty-one thousand miles in twenty months, mostly up and down the Northern California mountains and coastal areas.

From East Bay to PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, i.e.), to Santa Cruz (and places in between), to Yosemite (Aah, Yosemite, I’m coming back to you soon), to Mount Diablo in Clayton and Mount Tam in Marin (Don’t get jealous of Yosemite, Mount Tam! I’m going to check out one of your pancake breakfasts next spring and your play in the woods next summer), to Point Reyes Seashore, to San Rafael. It’s no wonder my poor little birdie has worn out her threads!

Then there were trips up and down Alpine and Page Mill Road, Skyline Boulevard and Highway 17, into lots and lots of lovely Open Spaces (mostly the MROSD’s). That’s a whole lot of miles and plenty more to go!

Skyline Ridge (looking towards La Honda)

Thanks to my friends over at Petrol Blog, I’ve learned about the Michelin Super Saver+ tyre. But why can’t I find it here in the United States? Michelin is an American company, isn’t it? And we here in the Bay Area try to be environmentally (i) friendly, (ii) conservative, and (iii) aware. All the better, when you save money by reducing gas (petrol) consumption.

So Michelin! Why the lower level/standard energy savers in America??? I want my American resident Mini Ghirl to have what her European cousins have: super saver, energy saver tires. Do something about it, Micheline Man!!! I’m late! I’m late! My Mini wants only the same things you offer to Europe — the best energy saver tires/tyres that Michelin makes. And just so you know, mountains and coasts up Mendicino way and beyond, and as far afield as Oregon and Washington states are calling meeeee! (There is the Sylvia Beach Hotel on the Oregon Coast, for example, just waiting, waiting for me and Mini Ghirl!!)

Oh, the places I have been

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Up to Black Mountain (Monte Bello Preserve)

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Day Hike

Some excellent views are to be had at Monte Bello Ridge. If like me, you start out late (around 5:15 p.m. on a mid-August evening) and want to reach Black Mountain summit, it is best to take one of the shorter routes. The preserve, like other California open spaces and parks, closes to visitors a half an hour after sunset. Sunset was at 7:00 p.m. the evening that I was there. This meant I would have to do the round-trip within two and a half hours. Doable! I would still have time to stop at the summit, take in the view and take some photographs.

I started out at the main parking lot on Page Mill Road and headed towards Bella Vista Trail. Soon I came to a sag pond, densely populated by cattails, under the shade of several oaks. (Take this route and you can make the hike from the parking lot to Black Mountain summit within an hour.) Here by the sag pond is a  marker explaining the concept of ecological succession. I enjoyed the shade, knowing that soon I’d be back skirting open meadows in an unforgiving sun.

I hiked past wide open grasslands, and sections of trail shaded by trees, listening to the garbled sounds of birds and the wind rushing down the canyons. Even after 5:00 p.m. the sun was parching hot. I drank almost an entire liter of water on my push up to the summit. The faraway sound of motorcycles on Skyline Boulevard could be heard at intervals but didn’t manage to detract from the solitude and beauty of the ridge. I half expected to encounter a mountain lion or bobcat along the way as there was scat on some areas of the trail; there wasn’t a sign of either animal anywhere.

About a mile and a half into the hike I came to the Black Mountain backpack camp where visitors can stop overnight (with special permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Outdoor Space District (MROSD)), for a maximum of two nights. This is the only MROSD preserve with camp grounds. On its toilet door was a recently posted sign that warned of a rattlesnake sighting. I didn’t bother to stop!

Golden light at the summit, time? 6:23p.m.

Not too far from the backpack camp was my final destination, Black Mountain summit. Here there are strange looking outcroppings of Calera limestone boulders, quite out of character with the rest of the place; so too, was the power station over to the left, and the steady stream of overhead planes. But the views were spectacular and so I didn’t mind too much, the intrusion of the outdoor world upon this natural space. Here, at an elevation of 2,800 feet, one could look out at Skyline Ridge and Butano Ridge to the west, the Santa Cruz Mountains to the south and dense fog banks over the Pacific Ocean. Directly below the summit was an equally spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay and the surrounding cities of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, etc.

If you want to learn more about the land and human succession in recent times, read about George Morell, an old Stanford alumni who purchased the place and later turned it over to the MROSD. Here is a decent link: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Monte-Bello-Open-Space-Preserve/137705576250404?sk=info. Another good read is one about “The Land,” a hippie commune that was on Monte Bello at the time that the MROSD acquired the land from Morell. Details are here at http://theland.wikispaces.com/.

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