Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Black Friday: a time for fungi

November 25, 2016

Friday, 25 Nov 2016

When I have several free days, or even two for that matter, I alternate long (more or less) hikes with weed removal. Today was for hiking, El Corte de Madera open space preserve. I haven’t been here since August. I did the usual perimeter trail hike, only 15 miles but 3950 vertical feet, very close to the 4k vertical feet that would make it an official killer hike.

A cool, nice day. I started at 7 and had the world to myself for three and a half hours. At three hours, I was all the way down, as far down as it goes in this preserve, at the creek bridge, enjoying the first calorie break of the day.

Finally I began to see mountain bikies, though not a lot. I was all the way back up to Skyline before I saw the day’s first hikers.

If I saw only a few people, wheeled or otherwise, it was more than made up by the number and variety of fungi.

This new Olympus Stylus camera has a close-up mode in which it shoots a burst at differing focal lengths and then combines the images. Above, the single-shot close-up of the fungus; below, the merged image. I am impressed!

This almost looks like stalactites!

And many hours later, some interesting mushrooms inside the burnt-out interior of a redwood.

More fungi inside the burned cavern.

I wouldn’t upturn a mushroom myself, but someone else had turned this one over, so I got up close for a look at its gills.

This and the two following photos are from a vertical embankment.

For some reason, this strikes me as a bit obscene. No idea why.

A jelly fungus. Without the multi-shot composite close-up the branch is blurred, and the redwood frond in the background it just a stripe of color.

It really is a day for the fungi to come out!

I walked the last quarter mile to Skeggs Pt parking with a couple of mountain bikies who had had enough hard work for the day. From there, it was a fairly flat couple of miles for me back to the parking lot. On the way I talked with three groups about scenery and hikes in the preserve. It was mid-afternoon, and it only occurred to me later that I should also have called to their attention the fact that sunset today was at 4:52. I hope everything worked out well for them.

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New boots, day 2: Industrial grade hike

November 13, 2016

Sunday, 13 Nov 2016

REI had an offer of 20% off more or less anything. I like my boots, but they’re getting to the point that I can see air through the bottom. Asked the REI clerk if I could get the same thing again, and I pretty much did. 20% off a pair of boots is a noticeable amount of money.

Saturday’s volunteer project was about 5 miles of hiking, something over a thousand feet of vertical gain, a good opportunity to check out the boots.

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Monterey cypresses, clearly planted by someone who presumably lived here back in the day.

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We had lunch under a big broken redwood, the side branch showing evidence that it has been broken off and regrown several times.

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The crew, photographed by Ellen as we started back to the car. Dave, Lynn, Doug, Scott, Bill, Miki.

Sunday, I thought I’d do a longer hike. Russian Ridge, for example. 18 miles, 3100 vertical feet. Industrial strength hike, not a killer.

On Mindego Road trail, I saw a bobcat. It stopped long enough to check me out, then went on its way.

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Spent much of the day looking for purple star thistle (above), removing all I found. Yes, I could wait a few months, while more of it germinated, but I might as well stay ahead of it as best I can. Also worked on bull thistle; mostly too late for this season, but many of the seeds are sprouting, and it’s also worth keeping ahead of next season’s crop.

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Fog over the ocean, but here it was a beautiful day, just about perfect. View from the top of Mindego Hill.

A 3-inch Douglas fir had fallen across Charquin trail. That’s small enough I can saw it off and clear the trail.

I found thistle in small clusters in a number of places, and had a chance to talk with a number of visitors as I worked on it. Collected some fresh purple star flowers and seed in a trash bag for landfill disposal.

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As the day wended its way along, the afternoon light became horizontal. Here, a pretty area along the aptly named Ancient Oaks trail.

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A late look at Mindego Hill, from whose summit I took the first picture of the day.

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Oh, yes, the new boots. Tired feet, but that’s hardly unexpected. I think they and I will become good friends.

Pinnacles

October 2, 2016

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Thinking about tarantula season reminds me of the Pinnacles, about a hundred miles south-ish. Haven’t been there for a long time, 2010 I think. With a break in the hundred-degree heat, now is a good time to renew auld acquaintance. Jacky came along; we hiked Bear Gulch and the High Peaks trail.

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The view from the parking area. We’re going up there. Well, actually, we’re not. These are more or less the near-ground. Where we’re going is further up and further back. But it gives the idea.

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Zoom view to the top of a cliff. I have the impression that there is some kind of wilderness ethic among climbers, not to leave ironwork behind. Some climbers may be more into that ethic than others.

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First stop on the trek, the Bear Gulch reservoir. The water appears a bit green, probably from algae. We’ve seen it clear and blue, but in springtime.

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Yes, there’s where we’re going.

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Pretty tough environment, pretty rugged trees. They play the hands dealt them.

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We entered from the east side of the park. When we reached the crest and were able to look across toward the west side, the bare rock on that side was more monolithic, less broken up. I predicted into my own head that the old volcano whose split remains are the Pinnacles had split on the east side, the broken rock through which we’re hiking. Sure enough, when I checked the map later, the other half of the old volcano was once east of this part, having now moved along with the San Andreas fault almost to Los Angeles.

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There is a choice to take the High Peaks trail or an alternative. The sign warns that the High Peaks trail is steep and narrow. But pretty. So we did it. Amongst other steep and narrow bits, there are several almost vertical sections with steps carved into the stone and grab railings for stabilization.

I had remembered the difficult down from previous visits, so we went the other way. Guess what! There were difficult downs in both directions; I had just forgotten about the comparatively much easier up routes from before. Jacky swears she will never hike this trail again.

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As well as interesting rock shapes, there is quite a bit of color, both in the vegetation and in the lichen growth that adorns much of the rock.

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As we came off the High Peaks, there were two routes back to the parking lot, and I chose the extra bit, descending through open grassland, where I hoped to find a tarantula.

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No tarantula, but I did see probably the biggest gopher snake I have ever seen. Six-ish feet long, and big to match. Unfortunately, it didn’t hang around long enough for a full-face photo.

Arachnids rule!

September 18, 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Five of us cleared three areas of Fremont Older open space preserve of stinkwort, all of it that we could find. The day was bright and sunny, but started out cool and gray, with wonderful condensation patterns on the cobwebs and indeed, on their proprietors.

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Garden spider season, and no mistake.

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Speaking of which, it’s also getting on into the time of year when the tarantulas come out. Do you suppose, if I go trail patrolling in the open grasslands, I’ll find one? So I drove up Page Mill road and hiked a loop through Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge open space preserves.

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No tarantuli, but I did find two gopher snakes and a garter snake. That’s three-up from the usual count.

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Only recently did I learn that the forked tongue is actually a stereo sensor, able to differentiate the taste of the air left to right and help the snake locate smelly things such as, well, me.

A spare the air day here, not much breeze, highs estimated at 90 in San Jose, 100 in Livermore. Maybe a bit cooler on the ridge over the ocean, but still a hot day. Glad I have water.

A week ago, Ellen, Tom and I scoured Mindego Hill for purple star thistle. It was part of my hiking plan anyway, so I took along a trash bag and scoured it a second time. If we got 90% of it last week, and I got 90% of what was left today, we’re down to 1% remainders. Hard to estimate these numbers, of course, but I think they’re not too far off.

This left me with a trash bag to carry out. I tied it to the back of my backpack, where it probably looked silly, but didn’t get in my way. Dropped it off at the Midpen Skyline Field Office (always known, confusingly, as SFO), where I talked with Ranger Frances for a few minutes.

I used up all of my water before I got there, but I was able to tank up again at Alpine Pond. A life-saver, and no mistake. Too bad there are so few sources of drinking water up there, but that’s how it is.

As to big spiders, the season is yet young, and I’ll be out there looking for them next week, and the next and the next.

Kirkwood

July 27, 2016

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Up, eat, out. A moderate drive today, to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, where we hope to enjoy the shade of high-altitude forest, even if it’s hot.

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The first stop of any significance was at Carson Pass. After the salt desert of Utah and the basin and range of Nevada, it’s wonderful to be back in the Sierra Nevada.

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I talked to the bikie. He said he lives in South Tahoe, just decided to come out and ride today. Thought he’d go as far as Kirkwood, then turn around and go back. Good for him!

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We too found ourselves at Kirkwood not much later. We’ve gone past here any number of times, but never turned in. It’s actually quite a big place, condos and lodges, surrounded by a U of volcanic cliffs, with ski lifts going up in all directions. These places are trying to turn themselves into four-season attractions, but I think Kirkwood is falling short. Few people here, trails almost deserted, lots of empty parking places, For-Sale signs everywhere. Only food in walking distance is at the general store, which closes at 5.

While we wish them all success, we’re happy to have the world more or less to ourselves. Jacky and I went out for a hike, along the Dangberg trail.

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Wildflowers everywhere, enough water that they can exuberate well beyond the level possible where we live.

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At the junction of Dangberg and Sentinels trails, we parted company. I wanted to do more work than did Jacky, so I hiked on up to the rim and some distance along it toward Thunder Mountain. Jacky continued on Dangberg trail.

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I heard a loud whoosh, and this guy passed within inches of my head, soared off into space, perched on this snag, turned its head back to look at me and ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Notice the band on its leg.

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A view from the top, showing pretty much all of Kirkwood Meadows. We’re staying in one of the buildings down there.

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Different angle from much the same vantage point, showing a sliver of Caples Lake and highway 88 as it comes down from there.

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Yet a third view, yet further to the left, showing the exposed granite north of here. It is somewhat different geology; the local rock is lava, often containing embedded chunks of rock, which are themselves broken chunks of earlier lava flows.

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I presume that these two large rocks are the Sentinels for which the trail was named. The one on the right is visible from Kirkwood valley.

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Looking the other direction from the top of Sentinels trail. We’re near the tree line; much of what we see here is alpine meadow.

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The flow of lava is clearly visible in this outcropping.

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At the top, and maybe in the depths of the ridge as well, the lava is a barrier only 20 or 100 feet thick; the trail runs below the crest, on the side away from Kirkwood valley. I thought there might be views of Silver Lake down the back side, but not from the part of the trail I hiked.

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I hiked into the trees at the top right of this picture, but declared victory before reaching the patch of snow. I have only one water bottle, it’s mid-afternoon, and I’m not entirely comfortable with an unfamiliar trail and a minimal to nonexistent map.

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Showing how thin the wall of lava rock is at the top.

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We usually don’t think of evergreen patterns as particularly artistic, but this one impressed me.

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Having already seen some of the distant views, I looked more closely at the wildflowers on the way down.

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Went back to the Resort office to see about getting checked in. We’re in a separate building several hundred feet away, a condo room that’s just fine — windows on two sides that can be opened to let in the overnight mountain air! Walked back to the general store for munchies, then returned to the lodge where we sat in the lobby and worked on photos and such.

Home tomorrow; nice to end the vacation on a high note. But no more three-week vacations: it’s just too long.

 

Making our way through the wilderness

July 21, 2016

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Up early and out of our BnB (no breakfast: just a B, I guess) in Spearfish.

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Drove to Deadwood where we parked curbside, hoping to eat before the parking meter enforcement began. No problem. Pricey breakfast in Bullies hotel and casino, and we headed on south on the scenic route.

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Next stop was two or three points around Pactola reservoir, surrounded by pine forest, with a few boaters already out on the water. Pleasant place.

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Then a quick stop at Hill City to enjoy the trains. Big crowd already lined up waiting for the train ride in an hour. We don’t see any point in that kind of thing, but it’s fun to wander around and look at the  big machines.

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Further south, the map showed Cascade Spring and Falls as notable roadside stops. We didn’t stay long at the spring; signs warned of poison ivy right at the picnic area and more down along the water, and we believed them. Not the kind of adventure we need today.

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But we stopped longer at the Fall, a distinctly optimistic description of a few vertical feet of rapids. Pretty place.

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I like to view the texture in fast-flowing water by setting the shortest exposure possible.

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A family was there, also enjoying the water.

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Much of the Black Hills region is quite pretty, but as we got further south and into Nebraska, we got more into the long stretches of rolling grassland that don’t have much to offer. Stopped briefly in Crawford, where we talked with an Information volunteer for a few minutes, and then we went on to Fort Robinson.

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The fort is back into the pretty country, probably as much because of water as anything else. Cavalry and infantry, late 19th century. Brick buildings, many of them, some adobe, some wood-frame. Big (big!) stables, as would be expected for a cavalry base.

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And stagecoach rides. The employee hitched up the team while we watched, and drove the coach out. The girl got to sit up top with him, and on the way back, she got to drive.

And then, more long miles in the hot, until we reached Agate Fossil Beds national monument.

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Above the visitor center is a trail to a couple of the hills where the big finds originated. We hiked up in hundred-degree heat, glad that it crossed the green of the Niobrara river flood plain, and that the total loop was only a couple of miles.

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When seeing the name, I have always wondered why agate geology and fossils were compatible. Turns out they are not, of course. The ranch was called Agate Springs ranch because of what’s called moss agate found in the springs here, and the spring got lost from the subsequent name. No quartz around here anywhere.

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Gazillions of insects along the trail, mostly grasshoppers, but also those who are happy to prey on grasshoppers.

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Even grasshoppers can be interesting sometimes.

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I think this little guy is a robber fly.

Getting on in the afternoon, and we need to find our BnB in Scottsbluff.

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Scott’s Bluff is the left end of this ridge, and Mitchell Pass is the low point between. Why, we ask, did the pioneers not just go around the end of the ridge, rather than climbing the pass? Good question. Apparently the badlands and muddy terrain along the North Platte flood plain were more difficult than the pass. (But Google Earth shows that the railroad builders went level along the river instead of winding back and forth up the grade.)

Our B&B is the Barn Anew, an old horse barn (percherons: big rooms on the ground floor!) that has been rebuilt for lodging. We’re told that the framing is original, but I imagine that the rest of it was reconstructed. Picturesque.

Into Gering for an evening with Dorthey, another long day, happy to be out of the car.

Boise

July 16, 2016

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Boise lies in the flat country just west of the mountains. A little online exploration reveals that there are no end of trails nearby, most of them in the mountains. The Table Rock loop sorted to the top of the list, and seems to be pretty interesting, so that’s where we went today. Parking at the old Penitentiary.

Which reminds me … what a misnomer that is! Had this truly been a home for penitents, it would not have needed guards or locks. It might have been called a monastery. The current equivalent is correctional institute, equally a misnomer.

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There were no paper maps, but the kiosk at the trailhead showed the options. Pretty simple; we took trail 15A up, went around the hill on 16, and came back down 15.

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There was a volunteer crew busy uprooting weeds. I thanked them for the effort. Always makes me feel good when I’m in their shoes and someone thanks me.

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The whole area burned recently. Long enough ago that it only weakly smells of smoke, but not very attractive.

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It was great to see the vegetation beginning to come back. For example, this green grass shooting out from the lump of burned grass.

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The photo above came from the non-burned area, just to show what the single orphan flower further up will look like if it has a chance to mature.

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Once we finally topped out and had a wide view further east, we could see the extent of the burn area, looking for all the world like cloud shadow.

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It’s called table rock because it was once the sedimentary solid floor of a lake, now elevated a couple thousand feet above the surroundings.

Up here at the top, a man with a dog. The dog running around, full of energy, full of life, full of joy. It had three legs.

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There are communications antennas up here, consequently a road. But only a few cars; most people walked up and back down.

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One of the bikies was a woman, who walked most of the way down, not confident in her brakes. The other bikie was a guy who rode the whole way. Not far from the bottom, and just ahead of us, he hit a rock the wrong way and took a spectacular fall. Not hurt beyond the usual scrapes, which is good.

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We found a shady picnic table outside the walls of the old penitentiary and enjoyed the views of the warden’s house and the bishop’s house while we munched our apples. Didn’t sign up for the penitentiary tour itself; we’d rather spend the time at the botanical garden.

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And so we did. It’s just outside the penitentiary walls itself, so we saw some of the outside.

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I loosed off a raft of shots at this dragonfly, and am delighted that a couple of them turned out well. They clearly show that the leading edges of the wings are open.

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Well, the botanical garden was very much worth the time, and I have a boatload of photos. But I won’t bore you with more than just a few.

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There was a little creek, possibly with pumped recirculating water, covered with water striders. Cool!

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Back to the B&B for naps, then laundry, then a cool beer in the back yard, then to a middle eastern restaurant for goodies.

Nice day. Tomorrow, Logan, Utah.

ARMS at Rancho

June 19, 2016

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Got an early start at Rancho San Antonio, working on the purple star thistle area that I’ve been visiting since December. Found more, but there is less and less as time goes on.

At 8, met Tom and Ellen, and we three piled in a Midpen truck for a day of work on stinkwort (smells like camphor), bull thistle and poison hemlock.

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We started by finding the Fremont’s bush mallow along Chamise trail, the only one on Midpen property. It had been mowed to the ground a year ago during brush clearing, and we wanted to help prevent the same from happening again this year. So we captured GPS coordinates, cleared the area around it by hand, and put up a number of red flags marked Do Not Brush! Ellen will notify the crew to avoid it.

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Pretty flowers!

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On the way back later, we found a second bush mallow, which Tom had seen a couple years ago and which had then disappeared (under the wrath of the mower). So we also got its GPS coordinates, cleared the area around it, and marked it with flags.

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Our first target was an area of old quarry tailings, with a flat that could have been a house site, and evidence of one or two old roads. Such open spaces, especially where water can form small ponds, are attractive to stinkwort, and indeed we found enough to be worth taking out.

Above and below, a form of buckwheat called wickerstem. There are a lot of wildflowers around, very pretty, but so small, most of them, that they’re easy to miss.

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Here’s another, above and below, this one skunkweed. Guess what it smells like.

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And this one, above and below, is Davy’s centaury.

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These, and more, identified by Tom, who IMO knows damn near everything about the botany of the region.

In Rogue Valley, we parked the truck at successive locations and worked our way along, dealing with bull thistle and poison hemlock. Tom gets nauseated by the smell of poison hemlock, so he peeled off to work on yellow star thistle instead. As for me, I hadn’t worked on hemlock before, so it was an experiment. Seems to have turned out better for me than it did for Socrates.

(BTW: ARMS means advanced resource management steward, an important-sounding title granted to us volunteers who go around pulling weeds. I probably shouldn’t go through a TSA checkpoint wearing a tee-shirt that says I’m ARMed.)

Sunday, 19 June

Did a trail patrol at El Corte de Madera Creek open space preserve. Sunny day, lots of people out, mountain bikies mostly behaving themselves, which makes me happy because there are a lot of gnarly, steep, blind, single-track curves.

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Redwoods and creeks are pretty much impossible to photograph. This does not even begin to do justice to the view of ECDM creek from the Virginia Mill bridge.

Good days to be outdoors

June 12, 2016

Sunday, 12 July 2016

When she has no formal projects planned, volunteer coordinator Ellen is available for ad hoc projects. We met on Saturday to work on broom along Razorback Ridge trail at Windy Hill. Pleasant day, and we made a dent, but there is so much that it was only a dent. It will need to be sprayed next season.

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I talk a lot about broom. Here’s a broom in bloom. This one is Spanish broom, rather than the more common French, and far more difficult to uproot. This one is above Horseshoe lake, a reminder to someone with a big weed wrench some day. Or maybe a pickaxe.

I was on the trail by 7 Sunday morning, up through Los Trancos, Montebello, Coal Creek, Russian Ridge and Skyline Ridge preserves. Pleasantly cool in the breeze, nice day. I should have gone to Mindego summit, but I wasn’t sure how much I had committed myself to, so I skipped it today. Next time: it turned out to be less than 16 miles, even with several little extra side excursions.

One of the side excursions was around Fir Knoll at Skyline Ridge. This is a trail that adds an extra 0.6 miles with no utilitarian purpose whatever; its only justification for existence is that it runs through a very pretty forest. Well, what more could we ask!

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And Ellen told me yesterday that there were still wildflowers on the walk around Horseshoe Lake. There are still wildflowers everywhere, but that’s a route I rarely take, so it was a good opportunity.

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I don’t think I had previously noticed the wild columbine turning up their sex organs for all to enjoy!

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Flowers are to enjoy, right? Small animals in just about every one, enjoying.

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Well, maybe not this one. It’s about a sixteenth of an inch across.

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To those who know better: yes, some of these pictures came from later, but I put them in pictorial order here.

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The eye spots on the dragonfly make it look as if it has a real face.

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And I presume the presence of the nymph is purely coincidental, nothing to do with the adult’s presence. I continue to boggle at the fact that the leading edges of their wings are open.

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Ellen said there was larkspur on the Horseshoe lake circuit, one of the reasons I wanted to do it. Maybe what she said, or what she meant, was: there is even a light smattering of larkspur. Certainly nothing like a rich growth.

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I never noticed these little guys before. Tom tells me it’s Fitches spikeweed, and pretty unusual around here.

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I like its compound flowers.

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Well, I mentioned earlier that every flower has its small animals, not all of which are vegetarian. The Mariposa lilies are especially rich in photo ops. Above, we see a spider that has caught a little bee of some sort, while meanwhile, lunch goes on across the way. (Side comment: I think there are far more Mariposa lilies this year than usual, especially in comparison with California poppies.)

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Here’s a hungry spider, and below a good-sized carnivorous insect.

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Saving the best for last, I was delighted with this picture. No sooner do you start eating lunch than you find that you are lunch!

Getting on toward summer

June 5, 2016

Saturday 4 June 2016

Supposed to be a hot day, so I decided to hike Purisima, possibly the coolest of the preserves. Parked halfway up Kings Mountain road, hiked down through Huddart Park, back up through Phleger Estate to the Kings Mountain volunteer fire station, where I refilled the water bottle. Then along Skyline to the North Ridge entrance.

As well as a garter snake (no photo), interesting and unusual sights included a slime mold on a stump.

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Looks like scrambled eggs, doesn’t it!

Not far down the Purisima North Ridge trail, I met Michael, who was a bit unsure what he wanted to do here today, if anything. Turned out he was from Fort Collins, Colorado, taking a day’s break from a week of work, staying at a B&B in Half Moon Bay. We walked and talked for a while; I confirmed his identification of poison oak — probably the single most important thing to do! — and we talked about grades, redwoods and Douglas fir, Audobon birds, and any number of things. Fortunate enough to find another garter snake to show Michael.

Hot enough day that I kept it to 17 miles, 3000 vertical feet — industrial grade, not a killer hike.

Sunday, 5 June

Coming down Kings Mountain Road yesterday, I passed workers out painting brightly coloured arrows on the road, and was reminded that the first Sunday in June is always the date for the Sequoia Century.

I don’t want to add congestion to the roads today, so I decided to visit Pulgas Ridge open space preserve, well away from the century routes, close and convenient, and a place I almost never go. Probably worth a circuit to have a look for bull thistle.

Got there during the coolth of the morning; the sun and heat didn’t really break through until I reached more or less the high point of the outer loop trail, so it worked out well. Short hike, but pleasant.

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And the special feature of today’s hike was seeing the lawn mowers in action. My favourite thing!

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They eat pretty much anything and everything. It’s only a shame they can’t be turned loose on more of the preserves.

Wilder Ranch with Jacky

May 29, 2016

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Up early, spent two hours working on purple star thistle at Rancho San Antonio open space preserve. It’s a month since last I was here, and the ones I missed earlier on are starting to bolt upright. Fortunately, none of them were yet flowering, quite, so I didn’t have to haul away the carcasses to prevent them from developing viable seed. There were also quite a few newly sprouted rosettes, and I’m sure that the tall grass concealed more than I didn’t find. I do what I can.

I left just enough time to make it to the 9:30 start of a broom-pulling group volunteer event at Bear Creek Redwoods open space preserve, and would have been on time, but for slow merging traffic onto highway 17 toward the beaches at Santa Cruz. Not a problem, in any event.

Hot day, eight or ten volunteers found plenty of broom, and poison oak, in the shade of the forest. Good company, hard work, happy to quit around 2 when we had all run out of time, energy and the sliced watermelon that Ellen had brought along.

Sunday, 29 May

Jacky and I took our own trip toward Santa Cruz, veering north up the coast a mile or two to Wilder Ranch state park. It has been a long time; I searched my log files, and find 24 May 2009 as the last visit here, also with Jacky. That day, we logged 7.2 miles, 400 vertical feet. Today was 8 miles, 940 vertical feet. Cool, pleasant overcast day, lots of mountain bikies, most of them well-behaved.

Back at park headquarters, we wandered around the historic ranch house and exhibits.

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I especially liked the steering mechanism on this John Deere General Purpose (it says so) tractor.

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An old barn, big deal. What’s special about this is that the siding has simply disappeared in places over the years, in small pieces, remaining in place where the wood was a little better at resisting the attack of time.

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We remembered a great old bald cypress tree at the ranch house, and missed it as we came in from the parking lot. It’s just that, from the backside, all we see is a great mass of green that isn’t obviously a single tree.

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The blacksmith shop is not all that unusual, but I think this is the first one we’ve ever seen that was clearly dedicated to plumbing fittings.

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A factory, adjoining the smithy, overhead belts driving all the tools.

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And we’ve always thought Pelton wheels were pretty classy. Here’s a broken one, but I bet it was good for a few horsepower when it was in working order.

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We stopped in Santa Cruz for a quick lunch, then back over the hill before the return traffic built up. A pretty good day!

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.

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.

Edgewood with Jacky

February 28, 2016

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Yesterday, I did 20+ miles of trail patrol and thistle attack at Rancho San Antonio. So I was happy to do something less ambitious today. There were so many wildflowers at Rancho that I thought it might be a good time to visit Edgewood county park, and I suggested to Jacky that she come along. Good idea; it has been a while since we were here.

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Mt Diablo across the bay mudflats and the bay and the east shore and ….

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Turned out that we’re just a bit too early for the real riot of wildflowers. Not that there weren’t flowers to be seen, of course. Just that the hillsides weren’t covered with color. Yet.

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Little guys growing on the serpentine, starting off looking like sea creatures, but eventually turning into plants.

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Lots of really small little guys.

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These are so dark that they look black until the camera brightens them up to red.

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One of three women we met asked me, “Are we right in thinking that everything we see is poison oak?” I agreed emphatically. Everything from naked stalks to red proto-leaves to fully leafed-out bushes, everything from ground cover to vines in trees, strands wafting out across the trail to brush against. “Maybe we’ll find somewhere else to hike,” said the woman.

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We got to the visitor center just as it was opening for the day. Very pleasant volunteer told us to watch for mouse ears, hard to spot, but there for the diligent seeker. So we sought diligently, and sure enough!

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Even amongst the tiny plants, these are hard to spot, but well worth watching for. Nice day, nice place, nice company.

Christmas, San Rafael

December 25, 2015

Christmas, Friday, 25 December 2015

We are getting away for a few days. But not being the type to spend all day in the car, we only came to Marin, specifically San Rafael. We haven’t been north of the Golden Gate for years.

No point in getting there early, so we turned off at Tennessee Valley road to explore the Golden Gate national recreation area. Chilly day, but sunny and clear. We wore jackets until we had gained a couple hundred feet of elevation and warmed up.

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Views of the north bay area in pretty much all directions. Very nice!

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Not so nice, San Quentin federal prison. (They call it a penitentiary, but I have my doubts about the penitence of its occupants.)

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Not crowded, but there were others on the trail, mostly hikers but a few mountain bikies as well.

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Mt Tamalpais over there.

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The trail down into Muir Beach is called Green Gulch. We thought about driving over there later, but it turned out that left turns are not permitted from Tennessee Valley road onto Highway 1, and it wasn’t worth the trouble to find a place to turn around after having turned right.

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Great texture on the ocean.

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And this is probably the clearest view I have ever had of the Farallons. Very clear day.

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Downtown San Francisco visible through a gap in the hills.

Beautiful day, beautiful hike.

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We had parked near the stables, where a couple of women were training a couple of horses. I’d say the horses were having a terrific time.

The hotelier phoned to see what time we would arrive, so the staff could knock off early. Because we couldn’t easily drive over to Muir Beach, we just went on to San Rafael. Staying at the Panama Hotel, a funky, strange place. Our room is called Honeymoon, but the room two doors down is called Bordello. Bathtub-shower in the corner of our room.

Of course, we went out to explore the town. By and large, the restaurants that are open today are Asian of one kind or another. We stopped in a pub, but it was crowded and loud, not our kind of thing. Walked and wandered, came upon some wonderful shell sculptures at a store called Namaste.

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The upper-crust Thai restaurants closed at 3 and didn’t re-open until 5, and we were hungry. Eventually found a durchgehendes Thai restaurant, hole in the wall, pretty good, pretty inexpensive. Stopped at a 7-11 on the way back to the hotel for a Lagunitas Imperial stout, which we enjoyed in our room.

Nice day!

Saratoga Gap volunteer project

December 5, 2015

Saturday, 5 December 2015

I like to get up and get going, so I stopped at Rancho San Antonio to work on star thistle before going on to the 9:30 volunteer project at Saratoga Gap open space preserve. Which, by the way, was at the bottom of the hill, not the top, along Stevens Canyon road. There were two from the open space district, and three volunteers, the real hard core. We worked on broom, ivy and yellow star thistle.

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A creek draining down through some old-growth redwoods. Very pretty.

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Full of ladyfinger ferns, among many other vegetables.

There is an orchard on the property, fruit of various kinds, and a house whose cellar I’m told was once a cidery or winery and speakeasy. There is also an old swimming pool, with a foot or two of water in the deep end.

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Newts get into the swimming pool and can never climb out. So we checked it out, found one, and returned it to the nearby creek. Our good deed for the day.

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And we found what I believe is a goats’-beard fungus. Very classy!
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Along with what I’m told is a year-round creek, spilling water onto a stone that it has polished to a mirror finish over the decades.

Nice day. Hard work, poison oak, tired and sore, and of course happy.

Autumn hiking

November 22, 2015

Sunday, 22 Nov 2015

Although I went for a run Friday, there have been enough other recent claims to my time and attention that I have had very little exercise for the last two weeks. So I was motivated to get out and do something strenuous today. 21.7 miles, 3700 vertical feet. Strenuous enough.

Parked at Los Trancos, near a place that has llamas. Usually they are some distance away from the road, but they had come down to the fence today to hobnob — or maybe sneer — at four deer on the Free side of the fence.

When I do these trails, I usually go around clockwise, but I reversed the order today. Makes a difference; not only to the trails have a fresh look as seen from the other side, but I have energy to hike a couple of the frill detours that I always skip when they’re at the end of the hike, rather than the beginning.

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Sunny, mostly, but cool. Beautiful day. Peters creek bridge here, not long before I turned uphill and hiked to a calorie stop at a stone bench in memory of Wallace Stegner.

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Peters creek runs into the ocean. Two or three hours later, here we are at Stevens creek, at the bottom of Table Mountain on the other side, draining into the bay. And from here, we climb back to the ridge where the car was parked. Nice day, hard work.

Time for a beer.

Albino redwoods

November 8, 2015

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Prompted by a comment from last week’s post, I hiked the perimeter of El Corte de Madera open space preserve today, hoping to find another giant salamander.

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No luck, but the cool autumn day was wonderful, no matter what. I would have been happier with fewer crazy mountain bikies, but you take what you can get.

Sunday, 8 November

Ellen had very nicely organized a short hike for open space volunteers, into an area that’s completely closed off from public access, to visit a couple of groves of albino redwoods. There were about ten or a dozen of us.

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It was a little rainy, but beautiful.

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Even without albinos, this would be worth a visit. Very nice.

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Here is the larger of the two albino groves. The trees in the background are not albinos; the albinos have no chlorophyll, and cannot photosynthesize, so they grow as much as they can, and die off. We see lots of the dead earlier growth here.

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The group looking and talking.

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This is what they look like close up. Full redwood foliage structure, just no color.

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We went on to the second albino observation. This one is actually a burl on the side of a tree. Someone said this might be caused by a virus, and the idea of having an anomalous structure on an otherwise normal tree would tend to reinforce that idea.

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More beautiful views, these along the creek.

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There were at least two newts at the bottom of those little ponds. Don’t see them?

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Here’s one.

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Later, we found a couple more, out hiking along the trail.

Great place, great day! Thanks, Ellen.