Sunday, February 23, 2014

Game of Thrones

* * *

I hadn't planned to get up so early, but since I'd actually woken up around two in the morning I decided to finally roll out of bed around 4:30. Plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and a drive up along the western flank of Mt. Tam to photograph sea stacks along the coast.

I'd noticed this stretch of rocky coast during a couple of recent drives south from Stinson Beach. The light wasn't very good either time, being around mid-day, so I made a mental note to return for a sunrise foray. 

I would have wished for a more interesting sky, but at least the scene was clear of fog. (A day later -- today, Sunday -- the fog is back.) The two peaks in the distance are Mount Davidson and San Bruno Mountain.

Although I'd noticed the stretch of coast during drives south, I figured I could easily find it driving north as well. And I might have, if it hadn't been dark! By the time I reached Steep Ravine I knew I'd overshot my mark. Turning around to head south, I still had a little trouble finding the spot. 

There are actually two good locations. The shot at the top was taken from the southernmost point with a 300mm lens. The next shot (and the fishing boat) was taken from the next point north, using a 105mm.

After the sunrise I headed up the hill, reaching Pantoll gate at about five past seven, just after opening time.

I stopped at a pull-out to take in the gorgeous view and was drawn down onto the steep hillside by fresh California poppies. By the time I headed back down the mountain at the end of my trip (around 11:30 a.m.), the poppies had all opened up to a bright, sunny day.

Also growing on the steep hillside were some wild cucumber plants.

You can see the prickly cuke getting started here. Its elongate shape makes me lean towards M. oregonensis rather than the usual M. fabaceus that produces the spiky globes.

This was part of the view from the pull-out, a line of dense fog on the horizon. The morning light was so beautiful on the mountain that I wanted to remain in the moment forever. Pure bliss. But I had other things to do . . . which reminds me of a funny passage in Joseph Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces

"The dreadful mutilations are then seen as shadows, only, of an immanent, imperishable eternity; time yields to glory; and the world sings with the prodigious, angelic, but perhaps finally monotonous, siren music of the spheres."

I parked at Rock Spring and walked out along the Simmons Trail where I spotted a few shooting stars in a shaded spot at the edge of the woods.

Out in the sunshine I found California lilac in bloom. I believe this particular plant, with its spiky leaves, is called musk brush, Ceanothus jepsonii.

I'd mosied out into the chaparral where the Ceanothus and serpentine play while looking for a new location for the trail camera (which has been sitting uselessly at home the past couple of weeks). I found a bare rock near a trail junction that had a couple of huge bobcat scats on it. I'd love to have aimed the camera at that junction, but I wasn't sure I could conceal it from passing hikers.

I was in an area off the main trails, so I would guess that a week could go by when no one would use the trail, but in the end I decided not to risk it. I don't lock my trail camera, in part because the lock itself would detract from its camouflage, but also in part because I like the challenge of placing the camera in a way that it remains unseen by hikers.

By the time I was out here among the manzanita and Sargent cypress, the game was no longer to find a camera-trapping spot, but to find . . . the throne!

I first found the throne back in the days when I wandered off-trail at every opportunity. Mt. Tam is so criss-crossed with trails, some maintained, others made by hikers taking shortcuts, and others made and used mostly by animals. Whenever I encountered one of these side trails I would go exploring to see where it went.

And one day it went to a throne. It's in such a funny spot and is surrounded by such a web of trails, both human and critter, that it can be a game just to find it.

The royal view.

I'd won the game of thrones but still needed to find a place to put the trail camera. I wanted to put it on the edge of a meadow area, so I kept my eyes peeled as I walked back to Rock Spring. The camera's out there now, hopefully recording passing bobcats and other charismatic critters.

One charismatic critter I stopped to photograph on the way back was this sedge. The fuzzy white stalk is the female flower. The male flower hasn't opened up yet. I believe this is Carex nudata, or torrent sedge. It grows in a very wet place adjacent to the Cataract Trail that usually has such a little trickle of water running through it, and is so festooned with sedge, stinging nettle and giant chain fern, that you can't actually see any water.

But when it's stormy, as it was just a couple of weeks ago, the little trickle becomes a torrent.

* * *


  1. I have never found that dang throne!

    1. Even having been there several times, I recently was unable to find it. I made a few mental notes of exactly how to find it on this trip. Hopefully I'll still remember them next time....

  2. how many minutes did it take you to get there from the trail? I think I never go far enough off trail.

    1. There's more than one way to get there. I could send you a map if you want.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. You always find the greatest little subjects to photograph. I feel I just walk right by them all without seeing. I like the minimalism of the solitary fishing boat in that vast ocean.

    1. Thanks John. I really liked that fishing boat too.