California — Small animals?

by

Sunday, 16 September 2012

I spent yesterday on airplanes, getting soft and fat. Today is to get outdoors, get a little exercise. I thought I might drive up Page Mill road to Montebello open space preserve and hike at least the short Stevens Canyon — Skyline open space loop from there, but the gas gauge was a little low. Also, I’m late getting started (almost 9:30 by the time I was on the trail), and rather than spend time driving, I’d prefer to leave the car and hike.

So I went to Arastradero open space preserve instead. I can hike up to Foothills park, then on into Los Trancos open space preserve, which connects to Montebello. I thought Alpine pond at Skyline and Alpine road might be a good destination: drinking water there, and the possibility of small animals in and around the pond.

I spotted the first small animal of the day before leaving Arastradero. The multiple black dots make it hard to tell where the eyes are. Do you suppose that’s a survival trait?

Because this was an ad hoc adaptation, I didn’t have trail maps. I picked up the Arastradero map at the kiosk, but that isn’t the problem. I have rarely, maybe never, gone into Foothills park from here, and ended up wasting significant time and distance getting that transition sorted out.

The higher elevations are okay; I have been here before. Even so, it was apparent that going to Alpine pond would be a stretch, and I’m not sure there’s a direct trail from Montebello anyway. If I need to take the roundabout trail, there is certainly not enough time.

When I reached the Montebello parking area, I got the high country trail map and confirmed that there was no direct trail; it was also 1:15, so I needed to consider the time it would take getting back. I should be smarter on the return trip, but still, there could be a false turning or two. So I turned back. It’s enough for one day, anyway: it turned out to be 19.6 miles, 3000 vertical feet.

Too bad I can’t refill the water bottle, but I still have a little left; I know there’s water at Foothills park, and I won’t need as much going down anyway.

When I got back into the upper reaches of Foothills park, I thought I would take Pony Tracks fire road down, rather than the trail route I had taken on the way up. I thought Pony Tracks would intersect the trail some distance down, and I could turn off onto the trail when I got there. Just a way to avoid backtracking.

Wrong. It was a steep descent and the fire road ended at Page Mill road. I recognize that part of the road: it’s a hard right turn, steep going in, and then with increasing steepness, the one most dangerous curve for a bicycle. I still sweat when I remember the first time I went through there, not having braked enough in advance…. I ended up on the left side of the road, thanking my lucky stars that there was no oncoming traffic.

But because I know the road, I also know that walking along the road is a really poor idea. I didn’t want to go back up Pony Tracks fire road to the place where I should have turned off. The alternative was a short spur called the Parks fire road, which ended at a water tank. Could there be a way downhill beyond the water tank?

I worked my way around the chainlink fence to check it out. There is an electrical line going downhill, probably also a water line. Both run perpendicular to the contours: the steepest possible route. But there was at least something of an access — I will not call it a trail.

What were the risks? No big trees could fall across the alleged path, because it was just bush. Probably the biggest thing would be the risk of  a heavy growth of poison oak, too much to get around. Of course, there was also a good chance of falling on this very steep grade, but that’s not too much of a concern.

And fall I did, three times. But as expected, it was pretty minor. Hardly any blood, and my tetanus shots are up to date.

The untrail does not descend to a ridge where I could pick up a real trail; it actually descends to the top of Wild Horse valley. When I finally got there, I found a picnic site — with drinking water. I knew there had to be something good about this.

Note to self: Self, don’t ever do that again.

Taking Pony Tracks fire road down was a bad idea, but not quite stupid. Not stupid, not within the meaning of the act. Stupid would have been risking serious injury or worse, or risking getting lost or benighted.

I drank as much as I could, and refilled the bottle. Further down, I went around Lake Boronda, hoping for small animals to photograph. There were a few dragonflies, but they didn’t want to pose for pictures. Along the shore of the lake, two more drinking fountains, and I took full advantage of them. Much better!

Back over Bobcat point and down into Arastradero. It was past beer time, and I was stepping right along, when lo and behold, a ringneck snake! Cool!

Ringnecks are fast and agile and don’t like to pose for pictures. Fortunately, this one was out in the middle of the fire road, and I was able to go around and head it off whenever it broke for the underbrush. I guesstimated at 2/3 overexposure, but didn’t have time to calibrate the results. I think a full stop of overexposure would have been better. A dozen shots, of which I think I’ll keep these two.

Both of today’s small animals were in Arastradero preserve. Mike would point out that I didn’t need to do the 15 miles in between.

Home to plunge the feet into a bucket of ice water. As they say, if you can walk away from it, it’s a good hike.

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