Posts Tagged ‘Montebello open space preserve’

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.

Sunday, 18 September

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.

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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!

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.

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.

Page Mill killer hike

October 3, 2015

Saturday, 3 October 2015

I like to park at Palo Alto Foothills park and hike up from there, through Los Trancos open space preserve, Montebello OSP, Coal Creek OSP, Russian Ridge OSP, Skyline Ridge OSP, and back through Montebello and Los Trancos. It’s something over 20 miles, 3500 vertical feet.

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I always wonder whether insects and spiders don’t notice dewdrops or just accept them — that’s the way it is.

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Nice day. I had originally thought to hike some of the preserves further north, but it is definitely tarantula season, and I’ll have a better chance of finding one in the open grasslands down here. As it happened, I saw two tarantula hawk wasps, but no tarantulas. Schade!

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Poison oak mostly red by now.

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Stopped at Horseshoe lake for an apple and to look for small animals.

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It turned out that the great Cruz hike was today, and one of the parking areas at Skyline ridge OSP was given over to a couple of awnings and sag support. Busy and happy place.

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I started back down the hill. It was around 2 PM, far too early for the fog to be blowing in off the ocean, but here it comes! In times past, I have been up there on my bike during that kind of thing. Amazingly beautiful, bright sun and fog alternating, wisps and clouds, blowing and boiling across the road.

Strong, gusty winds, and chilly. In the car later, I heard a high wind warning for points further north, so this was just on the edge of it. I imagine some trees will come down.

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A wildlife camera. Do you suppose I count as wildlife?

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And nearing the end, this is Wildhorse Valley in Palo Alto Foothills park. It would be a good place to herd horses; open at one end, the sides are high and steep. Most horses could probably be captured here; a horse with the spirit to climb out would be tired and easy pickings for a few more riders waiting at the top.

Last killer hike of spring

June 20, 2015

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Two weeks since I had any serious exercise (the Aachener Wald last Sunday was a nice walk of maybe 15 miles, but not very vertical). Can I handle a killer hike today? Parked at Los Trancos entrance well down Page Mill road, and hiked 21.75 miles, 3600 vertical feet, on a sticky, muggy day. Not as much fun as it might have been, and I ran out of water, but that’s what happens. For the locals: down Canyon trail, up Table Mountain, to Saratoga gap, back on the west side of Skyline.

Someone at Saratoga gap had let his front wheels come forward off the pavement down three or four inches onto the dirt, and didn’t have enough traction (front wheel drive car) to get back up onto the pavement. Three mountain bikies and I teamed up to lift and push the car onto the pavement. Our good deed for the day.

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Since last I was here, the green of spring has faded completely. The open areas are California golden, chest high dry grass. The pretty areas are in the woods and along the streams. Above: Peters Creek. There are a few ponds here and there, with newts lazing on the bottom, sometimes swimming desultorily around. Notice the one below exposing his butt to the coolth of the air.

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Also a day to find insects, busy drinking syrup from the flowers.

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Hard work today, but I get a beer as a reward. Well, I would have had a beer anyway, but today I earned it!

Yet another busy weekend

May 3, 2015

Saturday, 2 May 2015

I had originally signed up for a trail-building volunteer project, but my tennis elbow suggests I should take it easy for a week or three, so I begged off. Instead, I thought I’d park at Palo Alto Foothills park and do a serious hike from there, but the gate was still closed when I arrived, so I went on up the hill as far as the first gate into Los Trancos, and improvised a hike that turned out not to be as long as I had intended (16.5 miles, 2800 vertical feet). Nice day, and the wildflowers are out everywhere.

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I stopped at the Stevens Creek crossing along Canyon trail to photograph the underwater newts (three in this picture).

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Many hours later, I entered Coal Creek preserve on my way back toward the car. Given that I am pretty sure I saw a mountain lion at Coal Creek a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t want to sell life insurance on that cow.

Wildlife: as well as the newts, a garter snake. Nice.

Sunday, 3 May

Given that yesterday was less than what I wanted to do, I filled in today by visiting the rest of the trail junctions in El Corte de Madera open space preserve. This is part of my trail signs audit project, which I am going to have to sell to the district.

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The overnight fog was just lifting. Very nice.

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Tafoni is a kind of sandstone, subject to interesting letterboxing, and one of the attractions of this preserve. There is more tafoni around here, for example at Bean Hollow state beach, but not as close and convenient.

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In 1953, a DC6 crashed in the fog on this ridge. This was still during the time when aircraft had names, and this one was the Resolution. So the trail that runs past the site is the Resolution trail. I doubt they had the equivalent of ATVs to help with salvage, and there may or may not have even been a trail along there. Likely as not, whatever was recovered was carried out on horses or mules.

After recovering the bodies and personal effects, the next priority would have been forensic evidence. Then whatever small things might have been of value would have been salvaged, for example instruments or computers. Things that were too big or too heavy to justify removal would have been left behind, where they have probably been picked over by souvenir hunters for sixty years.

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I haven’t come along this trail for a few months, and don’t recall that there was much of anything to see. Today, there was all kinds of aircraft debris along the trail, more visible down the hill below the trail. Surprising, in a way, that there still remains this much that’s both interesting and movable.

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My guess that that scavengers have been prowling around down there, and for whatever reason, just didn’t have a chance to haul away the latest set of goodies.

Hours later, I had been down to the further reaches of the preserve and was on the way out, having talked to a number of mountain bikies, found a rotten plank in a bridge for my trail report, and generally had a good time (14 miles, 3300 vertical feet). The fog had blown in off the ocean and it was chilly and windy.

A group of hikers came past, and the red madrone tunnel suggested a perfect photo. (And yes, they agreed. But I shot them before they were all posed.)

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Up the hill again

January 11, 2015

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Poison oak from yesterday? My right forearm was a little itchy this morning, so I scrubbed it (again) with TecNu and a Scotchbrite pad. I hope that’s enough. Scotchbrite? Yes; the idea is to sacrifice a few layers of epidermis before the poison soaks in all the way.

Drove to Arastradero preserve, at the foot of the ridge, and hiked up the hill. Turned out to be 20.6 miles, 3200 feet of climb. Not quite enough elevation gain to qualify as a killer hike, but something a bit more than industrial grade.

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The day started with fog, but turned bright and clear as I climbed. This is something like the tenth 2015 spare-the-air day in the Bay area, and it was pretty murky down there in the flatlands. As well as poor air quality, the stationary high-pressure ridge means we also get no rain. Damn!

I usually take Los Trancos trail through Palo Alto Foothills park, climbing to the Los Trancos creek watershed, but leaving the park before actually entering it. Just for a change, I went up the other direction today, the trail entering the watershed almost immediately and climbing along with the creek. It adds a mile or two to the route, but the point is to be outdoors, not to go anywhere in particular. In the event, I had thought to go as far as Horseshoe lake, beyond Skyline, but ended up making a loop at Montebello: White Oak, Skid Road and Canyon trails, and back down.

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Interesting lichen on a rock at Montebello preserve.

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I was of course doing a bit of trail patrol as I walked through the Mid-Pen preserves. I started to record the tree fallen above the trail just beyond this bridge, then noticed that the bridge railing itself was damaged, maybe because of branches that had fallen onto the bridge.

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Then I noticed: the bridge rail had been cut out in an arc to make space for a big tree. But there is no air space between the tree and the bridge. The tree is leaning ever further out into the creekbed, looking for light, and even if it doesn’t fall soon, it will destroy the bridge if it gets a chance.

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I inspected the bridge piers and structure and saw no evidence of shifting or damage. Reported it to the district; they now have an opportunity to save several thousand dollars in bridge reconstruction.

As I walked back through Foothills park, I noticed a beautiful raptor in a nearby tree. Not in any hurry, it sat there and posed for as long as I wanted to shoot pictures.

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My guess is golden eagle, but I’ll check with Doris for confirmation. Nice! (Lynn thinks it’s a red-shouldered hawk, and Google images tends to confirm that.)

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By the time I got back down into Arastradero preserve, it was past mid-afternoon, getting chilly, but still a very nice day.

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Some of last year’s glory, above, and this year’s promise, below. Do you suppose all willows create pussy-willows?

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Quick stop at the store for groceries, and home. Nice day.

Mellow

January 2, 2015

Friday, 2 January 2015

Yesterday I went to Purisima open space preserve and put in five hours searching and destroying broom. Also exploring one or two informal trails and ancient logging roads. Today, I hiked what might be thought of as the four corners, the open space preserves surrounding Page Mill and Skyline roads.

I didn’t want to do a killer hike today, because I’m meeting a friend tomorrow to visit Grant Ranch. Still, I ought to make the hike long enough to justify driving up the hill. So I decorated the basic loop with a few extras (14 miles, 2000 vertical feet). For example, there is a closed gate where the official trail ends at Alder Springs, in Russian Ridge, but the trail goes on, and there is no Keep Out sign. New country for me, down the Mindego creek watershed to a point above some private homes where it really is a closed area.

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Along Hawk ridge trail, a really beautiful rock.

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Cold this morning — crunchy mud, better than squidgy mud — but I was down to shirtsleeves (two layers!) by late morning. There was no commitment to wonderful weather over the holidays, but that is certainly how it has turned out.

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This is the redwood railing over the bridge that spans Lambert creek, the drainage from Horseshoe lake in Skyline ridge preserve. Nice to look at, but I wouldn’t run my hand along there!

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More decorations of the basic hike: a detour down Lambert creek trail as far as a fallen tree, which wasn’t worth my time trying to work around. Then there was the official Bay trail, which goes over Fir Knoll, despite the availability of a 90% shortcut. But the Fir Knoll trail is really pretty, and the right thing to do.

Back in Montebello, several fallen trees to report for a visit by the chainsaw crew. None of them were problems, and when I met a couple with a stroller, I didn’t see any reason to warn them about fallen trees: they would need to lift the stroller over, but it wouldn’t be the slightest problem. The woman greeted me, “Another perfect day in paradise.” Right.

I had almost used up the plastic tape with which I flag fallen trees, so I stopped at the open space district office in Mountain View when I got down the hill. They had been open today, but had closed at 2. Fortunately, someone was still around, and gave me enough tape to keep me going for a while. Then I stopped at REI to indulge my hobby of acquiring trail maps, and called it a day.

Feiertag at Rancho San Antonio

December 25, 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014

There was a wind warning overnight, and I thought Rancho might have fewer downed trees than some of the other places I might go. Rancho it is! Started right at 7, took a somewhat different route up from the usual PG&E trail (so-called because it doubles as an access road to the high-voltage transmission line towers). In fact, I only touched the north end of the PG&E trail, where it joins Quarry trail and goes on up to Black mountain road.

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Although Quarry trail runs along below and to its left, we see nothing of the quarry until we’re well up on Black mountain road. We top out at the forest of communications antennas on Montebello road.

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A 1-point buck standing guard on behalf of two does.

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From the ridge, looking to the west on a clear, sunny, breezy, and very cold morning. I was expecting this, prepared perhaps to come, see, conquer and retire from the field immediately. But I donned my rain shell over four layers of padding, zipped it to the chin, and it broke the wind enough that I was able to perch in the lee of one of those rocks and eat my apple.

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Did the Hidden Villa detour on the way down, rather sparsely populated. I guess everyone sleeps late on the holiday. I always feel like these people are grinches: big signs everywhere about all the things you’re not allowed to do, and then at the bottom, the word, Enjoy! Reminds me of airlines who go through the long list of mandatories and forbiddens and conclude without a trace of irony that the skies are friendly.

Met a couple at the windmill pasture who were looking for a good hike, recommended Black mountain trail out and back, as far as they had time and energy, and assured them that the chances of encountering a mountain lion were negligible. I hope I was right. (Well, I know I was right: negligible probability. But if there really was a lion nearby somewhere… well, I’d be sorry I hadn’t seen it myself.)

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At the bottom of Chamise trail is a dam, whose basin has been dry for as long as I can remember. Today it is not only full, but overflowing the spillway. A wonderful sight!

Talked with a man who had come here just to see the pond, and walked with him back to the parking area. Only 2 PM, only 16+ miles (3700 vertical feet). Lots of people out by this time, everyone enjoying a wonderful day.

Being thankful

November 27, 2014

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Happy thanksgiving. Naturally, this is a day to be outdoors. How about a little killer hike, maybe the 20 mile loop from Montebello parking to Saratoga summit and back!

A cool, pleasant day that turned out to be very quiet in terms of trail traffic. A fair bit of deadfall to remove, and one deadfallen madrone that was too big to move, so I reported it for someone with a chainsaw.

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Horseshoe lake, mid-afternoon. The coots spash around chasing each other, but otherwise the place is deserted.

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Home by 4 or so, happy to have a brew.

I bought a leg of lamb early in the week, and we’ve been working on it ever since. This evening, I cut up some of the scraps and made moussaka, of which we could only eat about half. There is still enough for a round of, say, lamb vindaloo, but I put it in the freezer so we can take a break for a few days before resuming the battle. Good stuff, but it turns out to be a major commitment!

Completing more anvil trails

August 30, 2014

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The anvil award goes to those who patrol all of the open space district trails. For today’s increment, I started just after 7 on Page Mill road at the head of Montebello road, and completed my remaining trails in Montebello with a hike of a bit less than 5 miles.

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Then I drove to the Horseshoe lake parking area at Skyline ridge, and with a bit less than 7 miles, completed the set of trails there. Fir knoll trail, very pretty, and from the high point on Butano ridge trail, a look back at Montebello ridge. I started this morning on the left, at the top of that ridge, and hiked to a point just beyond the communications towers.

In the nearground, the tree farm, and in between, Stevens Canyon, along which runs the San Andreas fault.

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From the Ipawa trail, an overlook view that goes on forever. Butano ridge in the background (well, Pacific ocean really in the background), and any number of creeklets that, if it were ever to rain again, would ultimately deliver water to Pescadero creek, thence to the sea.

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Some of the oaks are amazingly large, not so much in trunk size as in sheer span. It is not surprising that branches come crashing down every now and again.

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As far as I know, oaks live until something kills them. Disease, I suppose. Elegant in death, and they give the woodpeckers something to do.

From Skyline ridge, I went to Long ridge, where I invested another 5 miles of hike in the northerly trails. I’ll need to come back once more to complete the trails here, but I can probably combine that visit with the Saratoga gap trails.

Historically, I have tried to hike the biggest loop I could construct on the map, or failing that, killer out and back routes. By committing to hike all of the trails, I discover any number of really pretty little fill-in choices that I have either never hiked before or have forgotten over the course of the years. Glad I’m doing this!

It has been three weeks since I finished my yellow-star thistle project at Windy hill. I know it’s impossible to get them all, and the seeds continue to germinate, even in the absence of rain. So I stopped to have a look. The yellow star thistle was fairly minimal; I did a good job. But I also attacked a small colony of purple star thistle, which filled my bucket to overflowing, likewise the garbage can when I took it home. Overall, I’m pretty happy with that project.

17 miles, 3200 feet of climb. I earned my beer.

And as it nears its second birthday, my car turned over 10 000 miles on the way home. Being mostly a telecommuter now, I don’t need to drive all that much. Nice.

Another busy weekend

August 24, 2014

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Today’s volunteer project was to clear weeds from the Powell property, a recent acquisition not open to the public, in the Montebello open space preserve near the top of Stevens Canyon road. And thank you very much, Google Earth, for displaying the GPS track (blue line) on aerial photography. I actually went further uphill, back and forth, and around, but my GPS was in my backpack, and I didn’t wear the backpack through the whole exercise.

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The excuse for the venture was stinkwort, which had gotten a start when the old houses on the property were demolished. It looks as if there must have been quite a little village here; someone said the houses were reminiscent of the Flintstones: made of stone, and very crude.

This was my first exposure to stinkwort; from the name, I was expecting a pretty unpleasant experience, but it only has a mild somewhat medicinal smell, not at all unpleasant. Wikipedia says it smells like camphor, and I guess that’s as good as any description. There was also yellow star thistle and even broom. So no matter what your pleasure, there were at least as many weeds as you could ask for.

We finished the project by mid-afternoon — they always schedule projects that way, to avoid burning out volunteers. And even with a lunch break, 5 hours of hard work is enough!

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But being in the area already, and it being only mid-afternoon, I did a trail patrol hike at Fremont Older. From high up on Coyote ridge trail, we see two quarries. Only the one on the left is visible from most locations, and most people are probably completely unaware that there is a really big one further back. The Google Earth shot below indicates the comparative sizes.

Coyote ridge trail

Sunday, 24 August

There was a magnitude 6 earthquake overnight, which woke us up, but did no damage here. Napa, about 100 km away, sustained quite a bit of damage. But I thought it would be interesting to hike the San Andreas fault to see whether there were any exceptional deadfalls or rockslides.

Montebello open space preserve again. I started at Page Mill road, top of the picture below, and hiked down Canyon trail until it becomes a road. (In terms of San Andreas faults: notice how straight the track is!) The Powell project from yesterday is just a bit further down, just to the left of the diagonal orange line. And we see the upper part of yesterday’s quarry.

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Oh, and if you’re wondering, there was nothing untoward at all about this or any other trail. There are always minor deadfalls and rockslides, but nothing more than you’d find any time.

From the canyon, I climbed out toward the bottom of the picture, a steep difficult grunt to Skyline.

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The first part of the climb is the crossing of Stevens Creek. I have seen this so full of water that I crawled across on a fallen tree. Except during winter rains, its usually possible to keep your feet dry by stepping across the stones. But I have never seen it completely dry before!

Grunting my way up Charcoal road, I met a group of about 15, who looked like Chinese tourists. They were going down, and having a good time. I began to suspect that they had no idea what they were getting into; no boots, no water, no sun protection. So when I reached Skyline and got a cell signal, weak though it was, I called the Open Space dispatch center and suggested that it might be a good idea for a ranger to patrol that road in an hour or two.

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I hiked back through Long ridge and Skyline ridge preserves, with a detour down Peters creek into the rock climbing area where it begins to lose a lot of elevation, fast. Not a whole lot of water here, either, just a few puddles. If it rains this winter, every day for four months, no one will complain.

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Caught up with some mountain bikies, one of whom had broken a chain. Ouch! They said they had tools to repair it, and good for them. I never carried that much toolkit myself!

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At the top of Chestnut trail, an alligator lizard. I especially like the projecting sets of scales every three or four columns! They are good photographic subjects because they freeze. Other lizards freeze, too, just until you get the lens cap off, then zip away.

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I went through the tree farm on the trail just next to Skyline, and talked with a guy who had pulled off the road to photograph the christmas trees. He didn’t really know anything about the open spaces around here, so I showed him the map, gave him some idea what was here, and maybe enticed him to come out here and explore!

I put the GPS tracks up on the big screen, on Google Earth. In the forest, the tracks are noisy, not that accurate, but in the open — wow! I can see where I stepped into the bushes; I can see where I stepped over to the fence to talk with the tree farm photographer. Cool!

Top o’ the Page Mill to ye

August 16, 2014

Saturday, 16 August 2014

I was on the job at Los Trancos open space preserve a few minutes before 7, Dave the volunteer, ready to attack the yellow star thistle along Page Mill trail.

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But first, I check out a tiny moth, which was itself checking out one of the flowers.

I have two buckets for YST, and spent two hours filling them, without getting out of sight of my car. There’s a lot of that stuff around. Tramping through tall grass trying to find it. Many of the stalks have faded to a reddish yellow, so they’re harder to spot; many of the flower heads have already fallen off, and many others fell off just from being waved around when I uprooted them. In this particular microclimate, I think the season for picking them is over.

Which is fine. It gets pretty old.

After dumping the dregs into a covered compost heap, I hiked most of the remaining trails in Montebello open space preserve, and crossed Skyline into Skyline Ridge open space preserve, where I hiked as far south as the stand where they will sell chestnuts in a few months. There are a few picnic tables nearby, one of which was in the shade, a nice place to soak up some calories.

On the way back, I hiked all of the grid of trails that runs through the christmas tree farm, and around Horseshoe lake (below).

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Skid Road trail returns on the Montebello side, where a family of wild turkeys crossed the trail ahead of me. The turkey chick is as big as a full-grown chicken.

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I have mentioned previously that, to hike all of a given set of trails, it is very often necessary to hike a given segment twice, not unusual to do it three times, and sometimes four times. My route took me up the White Oaks trail, past the parking lot (where I tanked up with water that I had left in the car), then back down along some of the trails I had already done this morning.

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Back on Canyon trail, where a former lake is now a marsh and will be a meadow on of these years. Beautiful pure white skeleton of a tree across the way that might have drowned in the lake (assuming the lake was created by a dam).

There were more trails I could have hiked, but I drained the last of my water as I got back to the parking lot, so I said 14.5 miles, 1900 feet of climb, was enough for today.

YST and Coal Creek

July 26, 2014

Saturday, 26 July 2014

It was supposed to be a very hot day, so I set the alarm an hour early. Arrived at a side gate of Los Trancos just after 6, and spent 3 1/2 hours attacking yellow star thistle. Hard to get my work gloves on, especially the right hand, because it’s swollen and puffy from last week’s poison oak.

Dumped my bucket of spoils at the tarp-covered compost heap. The way this works is that the flower heads will continue to develop seed even after they are plucked, so they can’t be left where they lie. To keep them from germinating, the compost heap is covered with an open mesh dark green plastic tarp. Mice and voles love to eat the fluffy seed as it develops, which is fine. A high population density of mice and voles attracts rattlesnakes, which is also fine, except that, when you’re popping the top off the compost heap, it’s advisable to be prepared. Being prepared: I had my camera turned on, lens cap off, ready to go, but there was no snake for me.

Having finished the hard work for the day, I went off on trail patrol. Cut across the top of Montebello open space preserve, toward Alpine road, with a detour down to the little pond here.

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Just below the pond, a garter snake. Cool!

Today’s objective is to hike all of the trails in the Coal Creek open space preserve. The main trail here is old Alpine road, which was a complete road up-and-down, albeit unpaved, when I first started mountain biking these hills, lo those many years ago. One wet winter, the road collapsed, and because it was just a fire road, not the essential access to anyone’s home, there was no way to justify the expense of repairing it. So they built a mountain bike trail around the washout, and there it has remained ever since.

I hadn’t realized it, but the trail, and the old road, descend all the way into Portola Valley before finally crossing the boundary out of the Coal Creek preserve. I had taken extra water, to replace the water I had consumed during my thistle-pulling hours, but didn’t have enough for that much additional work.

Reluctantly, I returned to the car, having hiked only old Alpine road, none of the side trails. Drove to Alpine pond, where there is a supply of drinking water, and tanked up, two bottles and the belly. While I was there, I went down to the pond to see if anything interesting was posing for photographs.

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Interesting, indeed. I always like these little guys. How many insects have necks?

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And how many airfoils are open on the leading edge?

Drove to the Russian Ridge Vista Point on Skyline, whence I hiked the remaining trails at Coal Creek. One of the trails is old Coal Road, which does in fact go past a black embankment, but the black really just looks like mudstone. If it’s indeed coal, I bet it’s pretty low grade. The most interesting name, of course, is Crazy Pete’s road, which is a trail. It runs into Crazy Pete’s trail, which is a road. Crazy!

A really seriously hot day, and my ass was dragging by the time I finished, ten hours after the morning’s events had started. I count it as a killer hike, even though it turned out to be only 17 miles, 2800 vertical feet.

Home to plunge the swollen arms into ice water — which didn’t help much, if at all. Well past the time when I ought to be developing an immunity to poison oak, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

Montebello-Saratoga gap killer hike

March 16, 2014

Sunday, 16 March 2014

With the recent knee trouble, and two solid weeks of conferences, I am a little out of shape. But I got in two runs last week, and spent Saturday on an open space volunteer day effort. (That last may or may not have improved my conditioning.)

I first thought to hike Mission peak to Sunol, but the return trip down the front side of Mission peak is not for questionable knees. So I went to Montebello instead. Last time I drove up a mountain road in the dark, I almost hit a deer. So I took it pretty easy — unlike the guy who roared up behind me, passed like a bat as soon as I pulled over, and disappeared into the distance. His lucky day; I never saw him again.

Got to the top just as the sun rose. Left the car along the road, because the gates weren’t open yet.

There were three coyotes wandering through the parking lot. They left when I headed their direction. Half a mile further along, three deer. But the most prolific of the local wildlife was the newts. I lost count somewhere north of 30.

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I pop dead bark off the fallen trees, hoping against hope to find a scorpion. No luck, but I found one of those tiny almost legless salamanders, and a beetle who’s perfectly happy standing on his buddy’s head.

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A pretty day, warm in the sun, cool and pleasant in the breeze and the shade. Fog over the ocean, so there was no crisp blue horizon off in that direction.

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At my second calorie stop, I met Logan and Sean. Logan would be somewhere around 4 years old, I suppose. His father Sean had relocated back here from the LA area, had worked search and rescue in some previous life, but wasn’t 100% familiar with this area. Not sure whether his S&R experience was a long time ago, or just somewhere else.

I told him my itinerary, estimated it as about 18 miles (wrong: 20 miles, 3700 vertical feet). He said, if he ever tried to do a hike that long, he’d end up crying like a baby. “I’m considering it,” said I.

There was as much pain as I needed, certainly. And I always run short of water, even on a comparatively cool day. Still, it feels great to be outdoors and feels even better to have a shower and a brew back home.

Catching up

October 6, 2013

I haven’t updated the blog for a while now. Apologies to my faithful followers (and the spammers, too).

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Go all the way back to September 15 (it really has been a long time, hasn’t it!). On a little sport ride out Cañada road, I noticed this mailbox.

Then last weekend, I decided to do a killer hike on the peninsula, maybe a little cooler than going inland. Montebello, Stevens canyon, Saratoga summit, and back along the trails west of Skyline, 19.3 miles, 3400 feet of gain.

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Well camouflaged. For some environments, that is. Not quite right for here, but at least I didn’t eat him. I can’t speak for the bird population.

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And horseshoe lake, near the end of the route. About 50 trail runners started from here today and ran 30 miles. These are the people who think a marathon is too wimpy to bother with. When the leaders passed me, somewhere around the 12-mile mark, they were still running faster than I can go in a sprint! Good for them.

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One reason I have been less active on the trails lately is that I am pulling down the overhead trellis structure over the rebuilt deck. The idea is to eventually rebuild something there, preferably something that won’t be full of termites and carpenter bees. Poking around up there, I met a big garden spider, just hanging out.

Removing the lattice was not a really big deal. Removing the cross braces was a little more technical, because they are heavy, and toenailed into the support beams. I left the two final cross braces for last; once they are down, the overhead beams just run out straight from the house, with not a whole lot to keep them from tipping over sideways.

Saturday, 5 October, I spent an extremely stressful morning pulling down the last of the cross braces, and three of the five beams. They are heavy enough to be beyond easy control, everything was wobbly, there were hidden toenails that I needed to cut ad hoc with a hacksaw blade, and once loose, they wanted to shift a little. A little is okay!

The two final beam sections are the ones attached to the house. They are pinned to joist hangers with bolts too large for the wrenches I had, and I was glad enough to leave them for later anyway. Not much later: they also need to come down. It will be tricky: they are longer, therefore heavier than the others, there is no good place to put a ladder on one area that’s being framed in for the new deck, and a misjudgment could damage the house as well as the deck.

Sunday, 6 October

This yard work has been anaerobic, and I have the sore muscles to prove it. But I need some aerobic exercise as well. So I hiked Mission peak to Sunol and back, 15.7 miles, 4000 vertical feet.

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Street parking below the preserve is bounded by eucalyptus on one side, houses on the other. Eucalypts are generally disliked here because they are not native Californians. I am not very sympathetic to that view, because I’m not either.

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A cool sunny day as I hiked up the secondary route. Dozens of hikers across the way on the main route; I’ll go down that way five or six hours from now.

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Half a dozen cows, each with a freshly minted calf. Not completely fresh; the ones I could check out did not still have umbilical stubs. But their mothers were in aggressive defense mode. One pair blocked the trail. I advanced very slowly, enough to stress the mother but not enough to provoke an attack — at least that was the idea. After a few minutes, she moved aside and I didn’t have to spend the day camped in the middle of the trail.

Hours later on the return trip, most of the cows had moved along to find the shade of a tree or three, but one calf had crept through some loose barbed wire, and was separated from mom. There was a nearby gate, but locked, so not a whole lot I could do about it. Everything was calm for the moment, but when Junior got hungry, I figured things might become a little stressful.

As it happened, there was cell phone coverage out there, and the parks guy I talked to said he would let the rangers know. So I hope I did a good thing today.

Stopped at Home Depot to buy two 1 1/8 inch box-end wrenches (that would be about 29mm for my metric-literate friends), the tools I need to detach the final beams from the house.

Small animals, at home and abroad

May 18, 2013

Saturday, 18 May 2013

The several mommy long-legs in the garage have produced half a dozen litters. Nice to watch them.

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Saturday, I thought I would leave the car at Palo Alto Foothills park and hike to Skyline from there. But the gate was closed when I got there, and parking on the road is verboten. So I drove up Page Mill to Montebello, where the gate was also closed, but it’s legal to park roadside. Just 7 when I started out, on a chilly, sunny day.

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From this view, you would never know there’s a drought!

Because this is not to be a long loop, I can do some of the infill trails today, trails that I rarely see. We start with a brief detour to the pond near Alpine road. The trail map just calls it Pond, no name.

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I have never been here before; I bet nine people out of eight don’t even know it’s here. I walked most of the way around, until the un-trail disappeared completely, then bushwhacked back up the hill to the real trail.

Several of the other less commonly used trails were also knee high with vegetation, and I stopped at the Russian ridge gate to check for ticks.

Three in my socks. Here’s one that I picked out and deposited on the fence post for photos.

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Interesting that this little parasite has its own little parasite, high on the left shoulder. I cannot feel very sympathetic.

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I also found a tick on my knee, heading north at full speed. Here we have a female eager to get into my pants. Sounds good, but not this kind of female.

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I have always wondered how they manage to crawl around on your skin without you feeling it. And in these close-up shots, I see droplets exuding from the feet — I bet they secrete an anaesthetic onto the host’s skin! How about that for unexpected!

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Here (below) is another tick from later. This seems quite different from the one above, which is in turn quite different from the one on the fence post. All told, I encountered six today, three in my socks, two on my legs, one in my hand. Of course, it’s the ones I didn’t see that are the real concern.

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I’m glad the bay area is not plagued with serious tick-borne disease!

There was a nice collection of other interesting wildlife, as I wandered Russian ridge, including a walk out to the end of the Mindego hill road, to see whether they have opened a trail to the top of the hill (they haven’t) .

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I spotted a spider stalking a little leafhopper kind of thing. Life and death drama here, so of course I watched.

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When the spider pounced, I could actually hear a little plop as it landed. No more leafhopper!

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Grin!

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Ever been grinned at by a spider?

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This bee really gets into his work!

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At Alpine pond, scum on the water, but clearly not random. I am reminded of Golgi bodies in histology, but have no idea what this would be. Interesting. The nature center was open; they had scooped some water from the pond, and captured a dragonfly nymph. The volunteer said the nymphs take two years before maturing into dragonflies. Who would have thought!

In the spirit of picking up some of the side trails that I don’t see very often, I hiked down the old Page Mill road trail until it ended. My new shoes are hurting my feet — that’s not good. Applied some moleskin and gritted my teeth.

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My bod is so attractive, it’s just irresistible!

Near Horseshoe lake, I saw coloured ribbons marking the trail, and there was a sign about an ultramarathon here tomorrow.  Probably as well I came here today.

Hot, tired and sore by the time I got back to the car, but it was a pretty good day.

Big country, small animals

April 14, 2013

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The round trip from the Montebello parking area to Saratoga gap is a hike of 20 miles, 3600 feet of gain. A sunny, chilly day. The larger of the small animals on display included ten deer and two wild turkeys.

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As to the smaller of the small animals….

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 I’m not sure what this one (above) is. A centipede would have longer legs and more of them. Millipedes are slow, and this little guy was scurrying around at a pretty good pace. And both of those myriapods are pretty much uniform throughout their lengths, rather than having noticeably different body sections. It’s a mystery.

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Centipedes operate under the principle that, if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.

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The wildflowers are out, but most of them are tiny, visible only from very close up.

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Back at home…

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I found this lump on the side of the house. Had I not seen legs sticking out of it, I would have taken it as just a bit of tree fluff.

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After photographing the lump, I nudged it to see if it was alive. Alive, indeed! And what a strange dish-shaped abdomen! It’s amazing how many different species there are.

Signs of spring?

February 23, 2013

Saturday, 23 February, 2013

Last time I did more or less this hike, I parked at Arastradero Preserve, and hiked uphill from there. That hike was upward of 21 miles, and I didn’t have time or stamina to complete a loop at the top, just went out to Horseshoe lake and back. Today, I parked a little further up the hill, at Foothills park, and stitched together trails through Foothills, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, Montebello OSP, Coal Creek OSP, Russian Ridge OSP, Long Ridge OSP, and back through Montebello, Los Trancos and Foothills park. It was an industrial strength hike (17 miles, 3300 vertical feet) but not a killer hike.

It was a sunny day, cold in the shade, cold in the wind, warm in the sun. Nice.

As I hiked up Los Trancos trail in Foothills park, I met another hiker who asked me whether there was another trail off to the left, a trail that would take him back down. The Los Trancos trail swings around to the right for a good-sized loop, but left? Hmmm… In the absence of guidance, the other hiker turned back and went back down on Los Trancos trail.

Two minutes later, I came to the Castanoan trail turnoff, leading down and to the left. Now that I see it, I remember that it was there. I have never taken that trail; maybe I’ll do it on the return trip as a way to remember it next time.

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A spider web, with dew that would likely last all day, even in the sun.

From Montebello, the route went down old east Alpine road. This was the only really muddy and gunky part of the hike, mostly because it’s in the shade and graded below the adjacent hill. When I first started riding and hiking the bay area, east Alpine was a real road, that ran all the way from Portola Valley to Skyline. Unpaved and closed to cars even then, but for a mountain bikie, it was a fire road ride, not a single-track trail ride. Many years ago, part of the road collapsed in a landslide, and as a secondary road, it just wasn’t worth repairing. So they built a mountain bike trail around the landslide… today, I notice on the map a note that the route is completely impassible. Not clear whether the note refers only to the road part — that’s not new news — or also to the mountain bike trail.

In any event, I turned back uphill before reaching Crazy Pete’s road — there’s a name I like! — and crossed Skyline near the vista point into the Russian Ridge OSP. Sunny up here on the ridge, but cold in the wind.

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From Russian Ridge OSP, the trail crosses under west Alpine road into Long Ridge OSP and Alpine pond. I stopped there to soak up calories and enjoy the day. On the bulletin board, I notice that there will be a Signs of Spring event here tomorrow. Well, it’s true that the predominant colour is green, but in the bay area, that is more a sign of winter than a sign of spring. Wildflowers? Arthropodae? Not many.

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Having been primed to look for signs of spring, I kept a close eye out as I went back down the hill. Yes, there are a few wildflowers, but not many types and not very prolific. You have to look carefully for them.

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I like the 2×5 pattern of the petals on these microscopic blossoms.

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I turned off on Castanoan trail, as I had promised myself. It dropped me out at the top of Wild Horse valley, as I had also recalled. From there, it was a simple walk half a mile back to the car.

Today’s adventure: this is where I came upon a gent lying on the semi-paved trail. When I got closer, I saw that he had a camera, so I went over to see what he was doing. He had a sheet of soft white plastic and a shaker of forest duff. What he would do is shake a loose scattering of duff onto the plastic sheet, inspect it for small animals and then photograph them. My kind of guy!

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Of course, he had a real camera, with two radio-activated flashes and the whole bit. I can hardly compete… but even so, this looks like a really good idea. I think I will experiment with it myself.

As to the signs of spring, yes, they exist if you look for them, especially down a few hundred feet and inland a few miles from Long Ridge OSP. But unless something really dramatic happens overnight, anyone who drives to Long Ridge tomorrow hoping to see meadows chock full of wildflowers and arthropodae is likely to be a bit disappointed.