Barefoot at Pomponio

Barefoot day, Pompinio State Beach (5/3/13)
Barefoot day, Pompinio State Beach (5/3/13)

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 

  • Pomponio State Park is a refuge for the: barn swallow, blue heron and kite; and deer, fox, racoon, skunk and weasel.
  • The park is named after Jose Pomponio Lupugeym, a Coast Miwok who fought against Mexican rule and the Mission system. He was captain of a group of outlaws called Los Insurgentes. Pomponio died before a firing squad in 1824. (California was under Mexican rule then and Pomponio, along with many other First Peoples, was forced into the Mission system.)
  • You can connect to Pescadero State Beach on the south and San Gregorio State Beach on the north from Pomponio. Only do so during low-tide; it is extremely dangerous at other times.

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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
Latitude: 37.299814
Longitude: -122.405216

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The River Road, Part Two

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout, Yellowstone River (photo credit: FishEyeGuy)

Yellowstone River

I learned this interesting fact as I started doing research for my trip to Yellowstone National Park: The Yellowstone River is the only river in the contiguous United States that is not damned. The 692-miles long river rises in Wyoming on the Continental Divide, flows through Yellowstone  National Park, runs northwards into Montana and finally flows into the Missouri River near Buford, North Dakota.

The River, a tributary of the Missouri, is known for its trout fishing. One of its forks was a favorite fishing spot of author, Ernest Hemingway. In 2011, an oil pipeline belonging to ExxonMobile ruptured in the river. Only with the passing of time will we understand the extent of the damage. No matter where in the world we are, we seem to manage to despoil our rivers.

Hudson River

Unlike the Yellowstone River which I only recently started learning about, I am quite familiar with the Hudson River. The Hudson was the site of many environmental studies and environmental activism during many of the years that I lived in New York. Along with the Long Island Sound, the river had been under severe stress. The details below are an apt description of the Hudson of the 1970s and ’80s, and perhaps, of the ’90s too:

“New York City was dumping 1.5 billion gallons per day of raw sewage into the River, the paint from Tarrytown’s GM plant dyed the River a new color each week, the Indian Point power plant was killing millions of fish each day, the National Guard was filling tidal wetlands at Camp Smith, and Penn Central Railroad was discharging oil from a pipe at the Croton Rail Yard. The oil floated up the Croton on the tide, blackening the beaches and making the shad taste of diesel.”

Man, business and government were killing the river. Today the Hudson has rebounded, thanks in part to a Riverkeeper boat that patrols the river in an effort to protect it from environmental lawbreakers. But other problems like the introduction of non-native invasive species (example, water chestnut and zebra mussels) have altered and impacted the aquatic animal populations. What will the river look like in ten years, fifty years, from now?

The Mississippi River on Exhibit

If you ever read the adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, you will recall that one of the biggest stars in both books is the Mississippi River. Just like the Morant and Yallhas Rivers in Jamaica (See The River Road, Part One), the Mississippi held a special place in my childhood fantasies.  I read and re-read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and pretended that my local river was the Mississippi upon which steamboats ran and adventures were to be had. Now my old friend is on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum.

Tom and Huck rafting on the Mississippi
Tom and Huck rafting on the Mississippi

In an exhibition that runs until June 2013, photographer, Richard Misrach brings the Mississippi River to life in a way that is far different from Mark Twain’s version of it. Though invisible in some of the photographs, the river is still very much a presence in each of the twenty-one images. The larger than life scale of the photographs (each is about five or six feet high), makes it unlikely that the viewer will soon forget the subject matter. The title of the show? “Revisiting the South: Cancer Alley.”

Cancer Alley is an eighty-five mile stretch of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge through to New Orleans. There are innumerable industrial plants there. All are drawn to the region because of favorable taxation policies. The first photograph that the visitor encounters upon entering the gallery is to the immediate right. The photograph is striking for two reasons: First, there is an ethereal light beyond which the viewer cannot see and so, cannot imagine what it is that the woman in the photograph is looking at. The second striking thing about the photograph is that the lady doesn’t seem to belong inside this house. Is she standing in a museum looking outwards? Is she the owner of the house or merely a visitor? As you move closer to the photograph you learn from the wall tag that she is a tour guide. The plaque reads, “Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, 1998.”

Today’s Nottoway is a tourist destination. In yesteryears, it was a slave plantation. Not so long ago, this woman would have been a slave in this place. She may have been in the fields or she may have been in the house but either way, she wouldn’t have had time to stand around, looking out windows.

cancer alley
Tour Guide, Nottoway Plantation, White Castle, Louisiana, negative 1998 (photo credit: Richard Misrach)

This show makes me Jim, the runaway slave (in Huck Finn) kind of sad.  Today there is destruction of communities, the river and the environment. The entire show is dressed in poverty, destruction and degradation. In Huck Finn there was hope — hope that Jim would be free, hope that he wouldn’t get sold down river, hope that he and Huck would remain on the island in the river, happy and undetected. If you read the book as a child, you know all about hoping, hoping, hoping, against all odds. Today, after viewing the show, I hope that the:

  • Mississippi River, poisoned and polluted as it is, will make a comeback
  • people, like the woman in the photograph, will be able to continue living there
  • petro-chemical factories that pollute the area be forced to stop degrading the environment and everything connected to the River (including the nearby communities)
  • cancer rates in the area will subside/lessen

As is the case of the pollution of the Yellowstone River, only with time, will one have answers to these questions.

References:

http://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/misrach.html

http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/story.php?story_id=18694

Literature Lovers’ Hike: Eugene O’Neill’s Tao House

eugene oneill

Where: Danville, CA (approximately 31 miles east of San Francisco)

Note: This property can only be accessed on foot or by a National Park Service shuttle.

•          •          •         •          •          •          •

Take a leisurely hike through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Follow either the Williams or Madrone Trail to where they junction at a fire road leading to the back of Eugene O’Neill’s old property. Enter the gate and walk past the final resting place of Blemie, O’Neill’s elderly Dalmatian.

The residence, Tao House, sits on a one-hundred-and-fifty-eight acre property that was once part of the Rancho San Ramon Mexican land grant. Many of the almond and walnut trees that Eugene and Carlotta O’Neill planted are still here. Except for Saturdays, entrance to this National Historic Site is by reservation only.

A black gate (pictured above) leading to the courtyard is decorated with four Taoist characters, Dao, Da, Bie, and Shu. Navigate the zigzag path directly beyond to arrive at the house’s main entryway. Inside the first floor guest room are two wall murals titled, The Mountains of Mist. Although they are representative of the Chinese countryside, they also remind me of the California mountains — Las Trampas Ridge and Mount Diablo — both visible from either side of the property.

ACTIVITIES: Hike, Art (Literature)

REGION: East Bay

HOURS: Varies: depends on whether you are doing a guided or self-guided tour. For details visit: http://www.nps.gov/euon/planyourvisit/hours.htm

COST: Free

LOCATION/VENUE: National Park Service, Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, 1000 Kuss Road, Danville, CA 94526 Phone: (925) 838-0249

DIRECTIONS: Hiking: 5.9 miles (moderate, 3 hour hike) through the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. Start your hike at the west end of Hemme Avenue in Danville. Take the Ringtail Cat and Madrone Trails to Tao House. Enter through the back gate near the barn.

Shuttle: The National Park Service’s  shuttle picks visitors up at The Museum of the San Ramon Valley in Danville. For details visit: http://www.nps.gov/euon/planyourvisit/directions.htm

TIP: If you visit in the late spring – early to mid-May – be sure to catch one of the plays being hosted in The Old Barn/Playwrights’ Theatre. The 2012 lineup included a recently discovered one-act play, Exorcism, that was thought to have been destroyed by the author in 1920. It is based on O’Neill’s 1913 suicide attempt. Don’t forget to get a first hand look at the replica of O’Neill’s 1936 Nobel Prize before you leave. It is the only Nobel Prize to have been awarded to an American playwright. See the National Park Service’s Web site, http://www.nps.gov/euon, for more information on arranging a visit to Tao House, the home where O’Neill penned his final plays, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, The Iceman Cometh, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

Additional: Here is a short video about Tao House: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMheCcsBYb0

A slightly different version of this hike appeared in my Bay Area Adventures Summer 2012 blog post.

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

2,000+ Year Old Trees and Such, Oh My!

Some of earth’s largest trees are here in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Sequoia, the nation’s second national park, was established in 1890. The largest of the large trees in these two parks is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia that stands 274 feet tall with a base diameter of 36.5 feet. The shot to my left is my favorite photograph from my walk among the big trees. These trees look as if they are marching right along with me. No, that is not the General Sherman.

A Park is Born

As late as the 1860s, people came from all around to chop down the big trees in the Sierras for lumber. Thanks to John Muir’s nature writing and newspaperman George Stewart’s editorial comments, public opinion led to the formation of Sequoia National Park a few decades later. Today, there are a number of trails leading park visitors to the few isolated groves of sequoias that remain in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Some of these trees are said to be over 3,000 years old!

Mountain yellow-legged frog, courtesy/Adam Backlin, USGS

Endangered Species

Although the sequoias are not an endangered specie, other plants and animals in the park are. The mountain yellow-legged frog, the highest-dwelling amphibian in the United States, is one such creature. It lives along the headwaters of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park and hibernates nine to ten months of the year. Its numbers have collapsed by about ninety percent. For more information on this once-abundant frog, read John Upton’s 2012 Bay Area Citizen Wildlife Magazine article at http://www.baycitizen.org/wildlife/story/once-abundant-frog-may-deemed-endangered/

Of Beetles and Rocks

photo courtesy of MCZ Type Database @ Harvard Entomology

Trachykele opulenta Fall, a bore beetle, may or may not be threatened. It was discovered at Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park around 1906. Because these beetles live in tree tops during their flight period, they are seldom seen. Their status has not been evaluated.

The photograph above is of an adult Trachykele opulenta Fall. This particular specimen was collected from Beetle Rock in 1906. It is part of Harvard University’s H.C. Fall Collection. If you go to Sequoia National Park, visit Beetle Rock. Maybe you’ll spot one of these creatures. I didn’t, but lying on this mass of granite enjoying the sun and views was enervating. When you visit Beetle Rock also go see The Sentinel tree, a 2,200 year old sequoia  that is just a stone’s throw away from the rock. Of course, don’t forget to go see the rest of the mighty giants in the Giant Forest.

Below are photos of:

  • Beetle Rock where Trachykele opulenta Fall was discovered around 1906, and
  • two of the mighty trees, the Sentinel and the General Sherman.
beetle rock, i
2,200 year old Sentinel Tree
General Sherman Tree, older than the Sentinel Tree(?)

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