In a canyon in Northern California sits the classic marble pavilion, the Sunol Water Temple. Built in 1910 by a private water company, it now belongs to the municipality of San Francisco.
More than half of San Francisco’s water used to pass through Sunol. Now most of the Bay Area’s water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Water System nearly one-hundred-and-sixty miles away in the Yosemite valley.
Hetch Hetchy Water System
Pulgas Water Temple
Another water temple, this one made of cast stone, is on the other side of the San Francisco Bay. Twenty-four years younger than its Sunol counterpart, the Pulgas Water Temple (in Redwood City) was built by the municipality of San Franciso to commemorate the completion of the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct. Compared to the water temples of Bali, however, these two are babes, aged as they are at seventy-eight (Pulgas) and one-hundred-and two years (Sunol).
Balinese Water Temples
There is an ancient ritual of water management – irrigation – that has been practiced on the volcanic slopes of Bali for over a thousand years. This is subak, a custom built around water temples. It is/was at the heart of Balinese rice paddy/terrace farming. I wonder what materials are used to make these water temples. With their subdued color they blend into the landscape in a way that the California ones don’t.
The Essence of Subaks
In the subak system, priests apportioned the water for farming. Different communities (subaks) planted their crops at different times and allowed their paddies to go fallow simultaneously. Rotating the cultivation was an effective means of distributing and conserving water; letting fields go completely fallow controlled pests.
Challenges to the System
The thousand year old subak system came under pressure when Asia embraced the Green Revolution in the 1970s. Conflicts between government agencies and subaks, plus a steady increase in tourism, significantly altered the Balinese landscape. In 1999 there was about 1,500 subaks on Bali (with about two-hundred members each), covering an irrigated area of more than 90,000 ha.* In 2012 when UNESCO gave subaks its national heritage designation, there were five rice terraces (and their water temples) covering 9,500 ha.** Although some of these changes can be attributed to post-colonial migration, much of it is due to the pressures of tourism on land use. Today, the remaining subaks still meet at water temples to discuss community farming decisions.
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:
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
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
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.
A friend sent me NASA’s earth art book and immediately, I started scribbling down place names for no other reasons than these: They are arresting names; and I wonder what goes on there. What do these places look like up close? Who lives there and how do they live in and treat these places and spaces? Are there open spaces for me to go wandering about in and exploring?
Ever since I arrived in the Bay Area, I have a renewed appreciation for open spaces that I have not felt since my childhood and my later adult sojurn in Jamaica. Just as importantly, this appreciation informs and colors my art. When I looked at the NASA pictures I thought once again, how cheeky, trying to create something, anything, when nature has already done it and done it so well. Here I am, getting ready to re-work my “the vees in picasso” sketches that I did last spring. I know not where the inspiration came from nor why it came from those particular sketches. All I know is I have a clear vision and I am going to move it from inside my head and out onto my canvas. But damned if one of the NASA shots isn’t an almost exact replica of what is in my mind’s eye! Even the coloration and texture (hence the use of modeling clay on the canvas) are the same as what I envisioned.
I just got through experimenting with a light modeling clay and a golden bronze acrylic paint that I have been reluctant to use. The experiment was tedious and it took me a long time to master that paint. I tried working with this bronze before and it hadn’t been tactile. In fact, the wretched thing was and still is, a very heavy paint. It does not rest easily on the canvas. This is the same paint that I worked with in the “David at Yosemite” painting. Turns out this paint is truly a bitch to work with and not simply because the David painting was a difficult subject.
I finally finished this new experiment in bronze painting. It has turned into a painting called, Little Fairy Castles in the Cow Pasture (or Childhood at Belvedere Estate). When I finished it I thought, “That was really difficult but I’m ready to work on my “vee” painting. Now along comes NASA with its “Earth-observing environmental satellites in orbit around the planet”, to show me that it has already been done! They have all conspired to outdo me, NASA, Earth, Nature and those dim-witted satellites that never did anything except spin about in the skies. They never lifted paintbrushes nor tried to coax heavy bronze paint onto canvas! Adding to my chagrin, the NASA picture, shown at the top of this post, is of the desert outside of the United States that I have my eyes on. Yes, it is of the Namib area that I wrote about in an earlier article, the same Namib desert that I invited my Yosemite painting man to visit with me so we could photograph, paint and sand-board there. Sand-boarding and sand-sledding in Swakopmund, Namibia, was another of our Urban Daddy Magazine discoveries. But that is another story.
Here now are some of the place names from NASA’s earth as art book that stirred my imagination:
Painted Desert, USA
Desolation Canyon, USA
Lake Disappointment, Australia (childhood fairy tales and river myths come to mind)
Parana River Delta, Argentina (this conjures up images of piranha fish)
Anti-Atlas Mountains, Morocco (what does it even mean to be “anti” in a place name?)
Carbonate Sand Dunes, Atlantic Ocean (how do you even have dunes in the ocean??)
Ribbon Lakes, Russia
The following are not place names but oh, the conjuring up my mind does just thinking of these titles: gravity waves, ice waves, phytoplankton bloom, and Wadi Branches, Jordan (is this a geographical feature or a place-name?).
We went to Yosemite and enjoyed the waterfalls, brilliantly powerful from last year’s rains and snowfall. The Merced was a rushing, roaring monster of a river. It was breathtaking. In a little grove inside the park I agonized over a plaque, a commemoration of the First Peoples. It told the story of the original inhabitants who were burned out of their home in the very spot where I stood. I took some photographs of the plaque so I could go home and do some research/further reading on the peoples and the subject. Ironically, they are part of the cache of deleted images that remains deleted from my computer files. Though in no way incriminating, these photographs stayed where I sent them, first in and then out of the Trash Can. Not so the other photographs that you find interspersed in my “Red Book Stories” posts.
I created an oil and acrylic painting of the very first stop that DSan and I made in Yosemite. It is our first view of the river [the Merced?] from a very high perch atop granite rocks. If you look carefully, you will see his profile along with a head in the clouds and also an emerging (or disappearing) face in the water below. Both head and face are substitutes for two women, his Europe woman and his California woman.
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!
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!!)