Heaven Loop

2 sunlit bridge
Whitehouse Bridge (over Whitehouse Creek). Light and bridge come together here to form a beautiful pattern.

Costonoa is a great place for hiking and camping. It is just down the coast from Pigeon Point and not too far from the Pie Ranch and Ano Nuevo State Park. I last hiked here during the first week of October and although it was over eighty degrees, I still needed a long-sleeved shirt. (This was only for the portion of the hike that was open to the coastal breezes.)

3 heaven loop
The trails here are well marked

I wonder which word once preceded the trail titled, “Heaven Loop”? What has been erased?

1 -cabin in the woods
Seen on my way into the woods, one of Costonoa Lodge’s cabins.
4 chairs looking out to sea
Empty chairs look out onto the Pacific and Highway One from Ohlone Ridge
5 darkened copse
A darkened copse, mid-hike. Lots of birdsong was to be heard here.

Regional/Historical Notes

Ohlone/Costonoa is a collective name for the First Peoples who once lived in Central California and along the Northern California coast. Many of their legends are centered around coyote, eagle and humming bird, all of which can be found in this part of California.

  • In the 1770s, there was an estimated 10,000-20,000 First Peoples in the region.
  • By 1800, they numbered only 3,000. The Spanish Missions and later, America’s Wild Wild West, took their toll on them.
  • Around the time of the Gold Rush, in 1849, it was estimated that there was only 850-1000 First Peoples here.
  • By 2000, they numbered about 1,500-2,000 people. The numbers are probably around the same today.

Here is a map of Costonoan languages and major villages. (The black dots and corresponding lines indicate current day place names.)

Map from: A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples From the Central California Coast
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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

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

The River Road, Part One

The Morant River in the vicinity of Serge Island, Jamaica. The Blue Mountains are in the background (credit: Claude Fletcher, amataiclaudius)

Morant River (maybe)

I’ve been around rivers all my life. In the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, a river ran behind our house and also across the street. It could have been two different rivers or maybe it was one river and the Jamaica Public Works Department interfered with it by running a road across it. I don’t know. Since we lived about twenty miles upriver in the same direction as Serge Island, I would guess that the river of my early memories is the Morant River. Later on, when we moved further down towards the sea, I again encountered rivers, including the one that emptied out into the Caribbean about a mile or two from my first school. That too, may have been the Morant River. I don’t know.

Constant Companions

1987 New Monklands, Jamaica photo NewMonklandsSept87.jpg
Windows from which I used to watch the river as a child. Decades later, my boy plays outside in the yard.

As a small child, I took all these rivers for granted. They were constant companions to play in, get stranded on boulders in, watch from the upstairs rooms of our house, and follow as we drove down the valley to places like Serge Island, Trinityville and Morant Bay. On longer drives, as we made our way down winding mountain roads to Kingston or towards Golden Grove in Portland, we drove past children splashing about as their mothers, aunts and grandmothers washed and dried clothes by the river banks. Always of interest, were the lambs, new arrivals to the kingdom of god, dressed in their flowing white robes and tightly wound turbans. Dipped into the river, they were born anew and welcomed into the fold of believers. There was the occasional Rastaman, bathing and shaking his locks dry, and there was also me, a small girl, skipping over rocks, collecting “beads” from river grasses, following the river to its end by Lyssons Beach. I didn’t realize it then but these things were all my special friends.

Plantain Garden River

My all time favorite river in our home parish was the Plantain Garden River. I loved its name and I reveled in the names of the communities through which it ran. Most of all, I loved that it “walked its own walk,” refusing to run in the same direction that the other rivers on the island did. This river, the Plantain Garden, runs through communities with names like Ginger Hall, Airy Castle and Sunny Hill. Whereas all the other rivers in Jamaica (nearly one hundred of them) flow north or south, my idol flows eastwards. I am sure there is some geographical reason for this but for me, it is its difference that makes it memorable.

1987 Knutts River, Jamaica photo KingoftheWorldSep87.jpg
Standing atop steps that are needed to cross Knutts River during the rainy season

The parish of St.Thomas is filled with rivers. These include the Clock and Roaring rivers, both of which meet the Plantain Garden River in the district of Ginger Hall. As memorable as the Plantain Garden may be, it is the Yallahs River that is most striking. Just about every year this river floods its banks, rages across the land making roads impassable and in some cases, makes lives unbearable and unlivable. During floods and hurricane season, it cuts country off from town and vice versa. It surges in a mad rush, taking crops, livestock, homes and humans with it.

Yallahs River

Yallahs is a heavily mined river. It is valued by the construction industry for its sand and river rocks. It is also valuable to the National Water Commission (NWC). The primary provider of potable water in Jamaica, the NWC designed the Yallahs Pipeline Scheme to divert an estimated average annual yield of 16.4 million imperial gallons of water per day from the Yallahs River. This water is channeled into the Mona Reservoir, a large concrete dam that serves the semi-metropolitan area of St. Andrew. In some ways this undertaking is similar to the construction of California’s Hetch Hetchy Dam and the diversion of water from the Sierras to the San Francisco Bay area. In both cases, the corporate area gathers water at the expense of the countryside. To learn more about the Blue Mountain Multi-Purpose Project of 1980 and its possible ecological impacts, access the Ministry of Mining and Natural Resources of the Government of Jamaica’s special report here: <http://www.pcj.com/dnn/Portals/0/Documents/SWECO%20PREINVESTMENT%20B3.PDF>

~Please stay tuned for next week’s, “The RiverRoad” part two.~

Northern Elephant Seals

Northern Elephant SealWhat are Elephant Seals? We are deep sea divers and long distance travelers. We fast for long periods of time while on land. Our food sources, skates and squids, small sharks and other seafood are so far away – thousands upon thousands of miles – that once we arrive on land, we have to wait a very long time before eating again.

Northern and Southern Elephant Seals

There are two types of elephant seals: the northern (found along the Pacific islands and coasts of Mexico and California); and the southern (found along the Atlantic islands and coasts of Patagonia, Chile, Tierra del Fuego, et al). This article is only about the Northern elephant seal.

Northern Elephant Seals

Northern elephant seals spend most of their time in the ocean, coming ashore twice each year, once to mate, breed and give birth, and the other time to molt (shed and grow new skin/fur). Between the molting and breeding seasons, the northern elephant seal is at sea for six to eight months, swimming, diving and feeding. Incredibly, they remain submerged for nearly ninety percent of their time in the ocean, surfacing a mere two to four minutes during dives.

Season Change at Ano Nuevo

Now that the breeding/mating/birthing season is over, so too are the guided hikes at Ano Nuevo. That means pretty soon we will be entering the roving season. This is when the public can access areas that up to two weeks ago, were only accessible by guided hikes (led by volunteer naturalists like me). The roving season will be less hectic, more laid back and so, I am hoping to do some sketching and painting while volunteering out by the coast.

Breeding Season

During the breeding season (December to March), many of the adult males (the alphas, for sure) are on the beach for about 100 days without food. The mature females are on land for about five weeks. The females who are coming in pregnant during the breeding season give birth within 4-5 days of arrival. They nurse their pup for about 24-28 days, mate during the last 3-5 days of nursing and then head back into the ocean to find food to eat.

Elephant Seal Pups

A colony of  young elephant seals (early Spring 2013)
A colony of young elephant seals (early Spring 2013)

Elephant seal pups weigh about 70 pounds at birth. They quadruple their birth weight while nursing, but lose about 1/3 of that weight during the weaning period.  The common belief is that the mom weans her pup, leaves it all alone and it then has to figure out how to survive. The mom in me thinks this cannot be! Momma elephant seal, while nursing her baby is saying things, teaching him/her how to survive and us dumb humans don’t even realize it. That is what I think. I watch mom and pup bonding during those 28 days before weaning occurs and I imagine mom passing on the following tidbits: “Baby, you see that far side of the island over there? Don’t stray there, my love. There are these pretty white sharks who are just waiting to greet and eat my plump little baby. Steer clear my love. Swim in the open. Swim toward the deep my love. Head in that direction over there. If you pay attention to what I’m saying, you’ll be just fine. Good luck my baby. I love you.” That is what I think the mom is telling her baby all the while that she is nursing him or her.

Incredible Divers and Swimmers

Elephant seals dive as deep as 2,000 t o 5,000 feet for food. The average dive lasts about 20 minutes, but they can dive for an hour or more. They resurface for 2-4 minutes and continue this diving pattern 24 hours a day! The females eat mostly squid; the males eat small sharks, rays and bottom-dwelling fish.

The male elephant seals from Ano Nuevo typically travel 5,000 miles round trip, towards the Aleutians where they feed along the Continental Shelf. They make this trip twice per year. The female elephant seal travels a shorter distance, about 3,000 miles along the Northeast Pacific, in the direction of Hawaii. She too, makes this trip twice per year.

Remarkable Comeback

The northern elephant seal was hunted to near extinction for their blubber. By the early 19o0s, only a small group of between 20-100 managed to survive the hunts. Protected first by Mexico (where this small group was found) and later by the United States (as they multiplied and expanded their range), the elephant seals have managed to multiply and increase their population. Today’s population is estimated to be around 175,000 to 185,000 seals. All of them are from the bottleneck, the same gene pool, that was discovered on Guadalupe Island, Mexico, a little over 100 years ago. Researchers at the nearby University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), are tracking and building a database on the movement and habits of the Ano Nuevo population of elephant seals. With each year comes new revelations. For a brief overview of the work being done on elephant seals by the UCSC, visit their site at http://news.ucsc.edu/2012/05/elephant-seals.html.

Interesting Facts

The adult females can weigh up to around 1,700 pounds and the males, up to around 5,000 pounds. The mature male has a bulbous appendage for a nose. It is called a proboscis. He uses it to honk and to assert dominance. For more interesting facts about the northern elephant seal, visit the National Marine Mammal Laboratory’s site at:

http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/nmml/education/pinnipeds/nelephant.php

•          •          •          •          •          •          •          •          •          •          •          • 

About the Photographs

Photo credit for the male juvenile elephant seal at the top of the post belongs to The Marine Mammal Center. You can see his proboscis is just barely starting to form. Only the males of the specie grow this nose and it seems to serve no other purpose except for asserting dominance, which is crucial in the breeding season. (Not all males get a chance to mate.)

I took the second photograph of a colony of what is mostly young pups, at Ano Nuevo State Park, two weeks ago. The seals in this photograph will be heading out to the ocean soon. They will have many challenges along the way, including figuring out where to go, what to eat, and how to avoid predators like the great white sharks that lay in wait not too far from where they are now. The mortality rate for young elephant seals is extremely high. Only about twenty six percent of them make it to age two. Some of the young die at the rookery but the majority of deaths occur at sea. For more details on elephant seals’ mortality rate, see the UCS”s 1971-78 Ano Nuevo study at:

http://neophoca.ucsc.edu/leboeuf/pdfs/Eseals.1994.LeBoeufMorris.7.pdf

No wonder then, that once a female is mature enough to have a pup, she continues to have one every year, for the rest of her life.

The old guy below is an alpha male. He has been in many a battle as is evident from the scarring on his chest shield. This photo is the property of Marinebio.org.

Northern Elephant Seals

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

Jasper Ridge!

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.

Dirca and Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
Indian Warrior
indian warrior -closeup
close-up of Indian Warrior

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.

Searsville Lake and Dam

lake -hillside viewOne 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.

dam 1
Searsville dam
dam -lower view
Dam, lower view

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.

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.

Ye Olde Arab Fling

Crawling out of the same old womb

they headed their separate ways

he, a seeker of fortunes,

she an itinerant with no place of her own

unlikeliest of pairs.

Magpie and dusky footed rolled into one,

he lined his world with trinkets, baubles,

blood red garnets, platinum, aluminum, bauxite,

until several of his houses, filled to the hilt,

exploded into a dizzying array of colors.

Blues of the bluest blues

floated along on the wind

radiating skyward, outwards.

She, his other half,

hungered for some safe place

folding inward

on gossamer wings

shining, iridescent

reminiscent of youthful treasures

like the barrette she’d been given

to contain her hair

on the cusp of dawn.

A slight wisp of a silver clip,

special even after it had lost its luster,

the glistening paper-like synthetic slowly peeling off

to reveal the transience of her gift,

adhesive and plastic,

glued onto a shiny metal base,

the cheapest of alloys,

tin really,

sparkling randomly,

releasing prisms into the air

raining diamonds

alongside shadows

upon the land.

Elusive, no two the same

never again seen

yet continuous in places

long discounted:

South America, the Caribbean,

Asia, Eastern Europe,

and now, today

this Arabic spring.

*****                    *****                    *****

One of the Four Rs & Into Cow Pastures We SailedYesterday I came across the old video in the link below. Although it presents some  of my ideas of what travel and tourism ought to be about – grassroots, local and community-based – it caused me to re-examine the idea, taken so lightly in the video: “Once these wheels were turned by slaves.”

Enjoy the people and the place as you watch the video. Make a toast to great rum everywhere. Most importantly, pay homage to the genesis and evolution of rum in Jamaica and the rest of the “New World.” My doing so resulted in the poem, Ye Olde Arab Fling.

http://www.bing.com/videos/watch/video/jamaica/17wz1p937?cpkey=67be0d62-10c0-4650-b540-910a25bb467e%257c%257c%257c%257

 

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