Archive for April, 2016

Rancho and Montebello

April 30, 2016

Saturday, 30 April 2016

I haven’t done a killer hike for a while now. Spending time working on thistle and fallen trees, which is fine, but I’m getting soft. For reference, a killer hike includes 20 miles or 4000 vertical feet; today’s was both. Rancho San Antonio open space preserve.

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Almost as soon as I left the car, I saw a deer, and a pair of tom turkeys challenging for dominance, a nearby female of course elaborately uninterested.

Up the ridge along the transmission line access road, the trail that runs above the quarry, and to the top of Black Mt. Nice day, and a busy trail. These are some of the more distant and difficult trails in the preserve, ofttimes semi-deserted. Not today. Several groups, many one-sie and two-sie hikers. In contrast, the middle of the road Chamise trail, where I returned later to the parking area, was almost deserted. Nice to see people choosing the challenges.

I had not been to Waterwheel creek trail for quite a while, so I added that onto today’s hike, a way to bring the distance and elevation total up a bit. Pretty, pretty country: it’s really wonderful during the green of spring.

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Met a swallowtail on the way down. Pretty classy!

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Spring has definitely arrived; the lizards are also out scampering about.

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Eventually, back at the bottom, the zero-effort trails near the model farm. California poppies everywhere.

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It strikes me that these flowers are so bright because they contain super-pigment. Rather than just reflecting the red, orange, blue or whatever colour they like from the ambient sunlight, I bet they pump the pigment with high-energy short-wave photons and actively emit light in their preferred wavelength(s). This would make them more attractive to pollinators. In contrast, so to speak, it would be a waste of valuable energy to re-emit green wavelengths from stems and leaves. The result is that flowers are exceptionally bright, both absolutely and in comparison with their background.

I have no idea whether this is true, but it would make sense!

Having done the hard bit, I stopped at the Gate of Heaven cemetery, which abuts the preserve. Talked with the manager about the purple-star thistle I had seen on their side of the fence, offered to go work on it with her permission. The permission was easy; as the rains taper off for the season, the ground has turned very hard very quickly, and the cemetery has a massive infestation problem. So I cleared back from the fence fifteen or twenty feet and told myself it might alleviate next year’s crop on the open-space side.

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Outdoors again

April 24, 2016

Saturday, 23 April 2016

I spent eight hours hiking a bit less than 14 miles in the preserves around the top of Page Mill road. Obviously, much of the time working on weeds, specifically thistle and broom, and even taking a picture or two. Very nice.

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I don’t think I had ever noticed the miner’s lettuce being red before.

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Nice day.

Sunday, 24 April

I had a couple of honeydew projects, so didn’t go off into the wild today. But by midafternoon it was indeed time to get outdoors.

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I first went to the Palo Alto duck pond, where the only bird in the migratory waterbirds area is, well, hardly a waterbird. Too breezy for the small animals, too chilly for me to hang in there very long. So I headed back into town.

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Only to stop while this big guy crossed the road. Classy!

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And a bit further on, another stop while mother Goose and papa Goose escorted six or eight younglings across the road.

I stopped at the allotment gardens next to the library, where there are occasionally things worth seeing. Today, for example.

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Still breezy. The wind blew the butterfly away from the lunch table, but only for a moment.

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A milliscopic fly on an artichoke.

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Don’t know what these are, but I’ve seen them around before. I had never noticed the flowers within the flowers.

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Aphid hiding under the leaf, hoping the giant ladybug larva won’t find it.

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I’ve seen these before, too. Someday I should learn all the names.

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And an unusual shot, the wing shields spread just before it buzzed off.

SF water district, Fifield-Cahill trail

April 17, 2016

Saturday, 16 April 2016

On Saturday, I did a trail patrol at Windy Hill. Ten miles, but I spent a total of six hours attacking various kinds of thistle, broom and ivy.

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I was here at Windy Hill two weeks ago, on a volunteer project to install a fence, to discourage people from cutting the steep grade at the top of the hill, causing erosion. Plastic fence, with snap rings and removable center posts, because this is also a launch site for hang gliders, so we needed it to be easy to remove and restore.

From the trail below, it looks very elegant. I was also pleased to see that it has not been vandalized, and there’s not too much evidence of people bypassing it.

Sunday

SFWD Fifield-Cahill hike

Today, Sunday, was an opportunity to hike the Fifield-Cahill trail through the SF water district property north of highway 92. It’s only open to guided groups, and by permit, so I was glad to have the chance to visit a place I’ve never seen. The organizers are the Bay Area Ridge Trail group, and this was a warm-up hike (13 miles, 1600 feet of gain) for the Ridge to Bridge fund-raising outing in two weeks.

Have to admit I had never heard of them, but in Marin county, it seems to be a pretty big deal. Hikes up to 26 miles, bike rides, equestrian event.

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We met at the Quarry gate just off highway 92. Easy to believe this was a quarry once upon a time.

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A few of us drove shuttles to get the group to the north trailhead, at the end of Sneath Lane in what is probably San Bruno. Popular place. The trail is a paved road that steeply ascends Sweeney Ridge. At the top is the site from which Gaspar de Portola discovered SF bay in 1769.

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Bob, doing the talking here, was the organizer and leader, the one with the permit that kept the rest of us out of jail today.

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There were sixteen of us total, several of whom were supporting the Ridge to Bridge event, one of whom was on the board of BA Ridge Trail, others of whom were planning to do the 26 mile hike. Some had done a 17-mile hike yesterday at Mt Diablo, just as a warm-up for today’s warm-up. A pretty fit group.

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Views from the top. Above, toward Daly City or South San Francisco, the bay north of the airport.

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The airport itself, Mt Diablo in the background.

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On the other side, we look down into Pacifica. At the upper left of the picture, the Farallon islands, with more ocean visible beyond.

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At 3 miles, we entered the permit-only SF WD area; not much further was a ranger, probably counting noses. We are all properly permitted, so he was friendly, wished us a good hike.

Being highly sensitized to bull thistle and especially purple star thistle, it was jarring to see both along today’s hike; I had to keep reminding myself that they were someone else’s problem. Although I admit that I did dig out a couple of bull thistles with my hiking sticks at one of the stops.

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Lots of wildflowers; this was the most spectacular site.

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Much of the earlier part of the hike was in the open, bright and sunny, pleasant because of the chill breeze. The last half, more or less, was mostly in forest. Nice view down onto Pilarcitos Reservoir. And eventually, we descended a fairly steep final trail back to the old quarry.

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Beautiful day, great scenery, and as we all agreed, a pretty easy hike.

The new Mindego Hill trail

April 3, 2016

Sunday, 3 April 2016

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Mid-Peninsula open space district formally opened the new Mindego hill trail this week, so of course that was my destination today. I was here on a volunteer trail-building project a couple years ago, but it was long enough ago that today was new. Mid-Pen makes a big deal of Mindego hill, and it’s justified.

I parked at the Los Trancos gate on Page Mill road, where I talked with ranger Frances, who had arrived to unlock the gates for the day. I told her I was planning to visit Mindego hill. “You know there are closer parking places than this,” she said.

“Of course, but why would I want to do that?” She agreed — she knows me.

So it was a few hours later by the time I got there.

Yesterday I had swapped my folding saw for a different one; the new one has a spring steel blade, or something similar, considerably sharper than the previous one. I did well on a deadfall with branches maybe four inches in diameter, where two or maybe three inches was about the max for the old saw. Nice.

I also opportunistically removed bull thistle, trying, not always successfully, to take only the big ones near the trail and not get sucked into taking out all the neighbors as well. I could spend all day and not make it to Mindego hill.

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The first stop was the little side trail to what is called Council circle, a stone disk with a bench around about a third of it, from which we get a wonderful view of Mindego meadow and pond.

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The pond is off limits. The volunteer project I was on went there, where we talked with a grad student who was doing a research project on endangered species. I believe the San Francisco garter snake was one of the species of interest.

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And then the hike to the top. I have to agree with the district that this is pretty special. Almost perfect — almost, I say, because there was just a bit of haze on the ocean, and I couldn’t be more than 99% sure that the irregularity I saw out there really was the Farallon islands.

Lots of people out. For many, this is a difficult hike (4.6 miles round trip, about a thousand vertical feet). I met a number of families heading down from the Alpine Road parking area, with kids from 0 to maybe 6 or 8. It would be safe to predict a number of tired, sore, cranky kids (parents, too) by the time they made it back up to the parking area later.

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Well, and of course Mindego hill was not the only interesting thing I saw today. First garter snake of the season. Jacky and I have just watched David Attenborough’s Cold Blood series about reptiles and amphibians. Very good; one of the things we learned is that the forks of a snake’s tongue are differentially sensitive, so the snake can turn toward, or away from, an intersting scent.

I even saw a ringneck snake later, also the first of the season, but there wasn’t enough light in the deep forest to get a picture worth keeping.

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As I approached the Daniels nature center, an opportunity to refill the water bottle, a little insect landed on the grip of my hiking stick. I feel as if I ought to be able to put a name to this little guy, but it doesn’t come to me. [Update: it’s a snakefly. I forgive myself for not instantly knowing that.]

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Another interesting bit of nature, these little red spiky guys. No idea what they are.

Of course, this was a trail patrol, so I had to do a little trail patrolling as well as sightseeing and taking pictures.

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Here’s a fallen tree across White Oak trail in Montebello preserve. Hikers had worked their way around to the right, but even that detour was pretty difficult. So I pulled and sawed and had at it for a while. Eventually, a couple of mountain bikies came down the trail toward me. In trail patrol mode, I told them this trail was closed to bikes in winter, but of course as a volunteer, I can do nothing more than convey a possibly interesting fact. (As a libertarian, I probably wouldn’t write very many citations, even if I had the authority.)

Their car was on beyond, so they weren’t eager to turn back. They decided to help me clear the deadfall.

Big difference. They were bigger and stronger than I, and especially with the three of us working together, we moved some big branches. From their accents, I asked whether they were German; turned out they were from eastern Austria. Nice.

As I thanked them, I suggested that, if they met a ranger, they might (or might not) get out of jail free by explaining how they had helped me.

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The result, above. There is still one large log to step across; a chainsaw crew will need to clear it. Backed with lots of vegetation, the log in the right foreground blocks off the previous detour.

These hikes turn out not to be all that many miles or all that many vertical feet, but there is a fair bit of work involved anyway.