Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Favorites

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Mt. Tamalpais has been a magnet for huge numbers of people for well over a century. Explorers, hunters, artists, writers, botanists, tourists, hikers and runners have felt its pull. Even loggers and ranchers, who came to the Mountain to earn their livelihood, probably enjoyed it for itself. The image of the Mountain which so many revere is in large part the product of those who have loved it.

--Lincoln Fairley in the Preface to Mount Tamalpais, A History

Young Buck

Field Impressions

Pacific Forktail

Pacific Treefrog at High Marsh

Cardinal Meadowhawks

Mr. Slithers

Sunrise Trail

Poison Oak

Madia elegans

Handsome Hopper

Young Sleeper

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fog's Edge

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You had to go all the way up to Rock Spring 
to get above the fog this morning.

I didn't go up with a plan to shoot anything in particular, so I strolled along the edge of the fog, thinking I might see something interesting.

Given the interesting light, the quest was on to find interesting subjects to photograph. I liked the juxtaposition of the two stones here, as well as the tiny red buckwheat and wind-combed waves of dead grass. Although I didn't photograph them, I saw numerous long lines of foraging ants carrying grass seeds into their subterranean nests.

Fogbows work along the same line as rainbows, forming at the antisolar point (i.e., with the sun at your back), making it easy enough to get this little Doug fir tree to line up in the middle of the bow.

It's one dry watershed this high up the mountain. There was a fair amount of fog-drip dripping, but nowhere near enough to make the stream cobbles damp in Cataract Creek.

My stroll along the fog's edge took me along this ridge 
of serpentine near Rock Spring.

Serpentine is California's state rock. There was a legislative attempt (SF Gate article) to repeal Section 425.2 of the Government Code which would have removed its designation, but the bill, though still alive, has languished in committee since August 2010.

I spent so much time with the fog that by the time I chanced to see a group of wild turkeys and, a little later, a buck deer foraging on fresh fir leaves, the good light was gone. I meandered into the forest to follow a trail I'd never used before, and it led me to one of the most excellent sit-spots I've ever encountered up there. It was comfortable and secluded despite being close to a main trail and commanded a satisfying view into the surrounding forest. I lay down my camera backpack and tripod and sat with my five physical senses alert, and one or two spiritual senses too, just taking in the natural surroundings. It was almost hypnotic. Eventually a big black ant dug its pincers into my leg and snapped me out of it. Time to move on.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sitting Bull Plaque

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We left the heavy fog in San Francisco with the hope of reaching sunshine, but our short four-mile round-trip hike to the Sitting Bull Plaque began on a windy and chilly morning.

Starting once again from the Mountain Home Inn, we trekked along the Gravity Car Grade into Marin Municipal Water District lands, then continued along the Hoo Koo E Koo fire road past last week's junction at the Vic Haun Trail.

The Temelpa Trail isn't signed, but it's easy to spot where it intersects the road.

The Temelpa is a steep trail, worn down to bare rock by winter rains.

The Sitting Bull Plaque is set in this big boulder and is a very simple design (inset). It reads (approximately):

"Behold, my friends, the spring has come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love! Every seed is awakened, and all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even to our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves to inhabit this vast land.

"Yet hear me, friends! we have now to deal with another people, small and feeble when our forefathers first met with them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil, and the love of possessions is a disease in them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not! They have a religion in which the poor worship, but the rich will not! They even take tithes of the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, and fence their neighbors away from her, and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.

"This nation is like a spring freshet; it overruns its banks and destroys all who are in its path."

I say "approximately" because instead of transcribing the sign, I cut-and-pasted the text from a web page about Sitting Bull (here).

Apparently the plaque was first put up in 1993 (there's no mention of it in Lincoln Fairley's 1987 Mount Tamalpais, A History, nor is it shown on the 1989 Olmsted & Bros. map), then later replaced by a more scratch- and weather-resistant one (link). An even more elaborate shrine was installed, only to be taken down by the same breed of water district officials who periodically dismantle the Music Camp (an out-of-the-way spot, frequented by gnomes, on a connector trail between Laurel Dell Road and the High Marsh Trail).

We got our only taste of sunshine at the Sitting Bull Plaque. The Temelpa Trail continues up to East Peak, but we continued just a few steps farther to pick up the top of the Vic Haun Trail and head back down.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vic Haun Trail

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It was nice to leave the big camera at home and just snap some shots with the Coolpix P7100. Last week's jaunt down the Zig Zag Trail took us to the bottom of Cascade Creek. This time we started at the same place but took the Vic Haun Trail (Haun was a founder of the California Alpine Club) to the creek's headwaters.

It was 57 degrees in the fog, which made for a nice cool hike. Redwood trees in the background pull enough precipitation out of the fog to support themselves as well as a host of ferns, and even a few russulas.

We hiked out along the Gravity Car Grade, sharing the route with bicyclists, trail-runners, dog-walkers and other hikers.

Our trail forked to the left at about the one-mile mark. Incidentally, I'm using the Mt. Tam Trail Map from Tom Harrison Maps, which shows trail distances.

I haven't done much hiking on this part of the mountain, so having a map was invaluable. There are also plenty of signs to help you get your bearings. We hiked past our trail turn-off to have a look at Cascade Creek where it crossed the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, then doubled back to pick up the Vic Haun.

Elk clover, aka spikenard, gone to fruit along Cascade Creek.

We finally left the fire road at the Vic Haun Trail. This section is marked as the Old Plane Trail on the Harrison map, but a trail marker just calls it Vic Haun. Mountain biking isn't allowed on these little trails, but we still encountered an idiot riding down who almost plowed into Pam.

The Vic Haun Trail took us above the fog (with East Peak in the background). We went from the high 50s to 80 degrees in just a few short steps. The chaparral was composed of manzanita, chinquapin, coffeeberry, oak, toyon and other hardy plants of Mt. Tam's southern flank.

Where the Vic Haun crossed the upper reaches of Cascade Creek, the creekbed was bone dry. Pam had been hoping to find a spring at the headwaters of the creek since that had been the destination of the previous week's wild edibles walk mentioned in my last post. 

We hiked down an unmaintained trail next to the creek, knowing it would eventually run into the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo fire road, and we were in sight of that road before we finally found water running well enough to collect in a bottle. Pam felt this water must be special since it was the destination of a commercial hike led by vegans, but to me it was run-of-the-mill creekwater. 

Finding cardboard coffee cups left by idiots in the vicinity reminded me of the saying, "Never drink water downstream of a white man." I drank some, nevertheless. As of this writing, Pam, though she collected a bottle's worth, still hasn't had a drop. She still remembers what it felt like to pick up a giardia cyst in the Ishi Wilderness 12 years ago or so. I didn't get sick on that trip, and I'm hoping my luck holds out....

The red "berries" are chinquapin galls, made by cynipid wasps (Dryocosmus castanopsidis).

This chipmunk was gnawing on a real red berry -- from a manzanita.

We took a different route back, following a fire road above the part of the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo that's a true trail (not a fire road). It was 0.7 miles to the Hogback, then another 0.6 or so down the Hogback and back into the fog.

We both enjoyed being on a different part of the mountain. It was nice to see a different plant community and to often be hiking in the open. We could easily see Mt. Diablo in the distance, but all of the earth between there and Mt. Tam was covered by fog. Even Sutro Tower was obscured. Looking at the map, there is no end of loop hikes to choose from. We're looking forward to further explorations in the area.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Zig Zag Trail

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Pam heard about a wild edibles walk on Mt. Tam that left from the Mountain Home Inn at 1:00 p.m. Their destination was a natural spring I've never been to, so it sounded like an interesting hike (which we might try next week, in fact), but I never start a hike that late in the day and suggested we do an earlier jaunt of our own and explore a new trail. 

We headed down the Gravity Car Grade but somehow missed the trailhead. As we backtracked, we asked several people if they'd heard of the Zig Zag Trail (created in 1914), and no one had. I wondered if the trail had been decommissioned since the map came out. Luckily, though, the trailhead was much easier to find on the way back. It's just a short distance north of the Inn. 

The Zig Zag Trail might be the steepest half-mile of trail I've ever hiked on Mt. Tam. Luckily, we wouldn't have to hike back up it. The temperature was a cool 57 degrees on the way down, but even though the sun would come out by the time we headed back up, it never got hotter than 67 degrees thanks to thick fog on the windward side of the ridge.

Fat solomon berries.

I thought this plant was a strange form of elberberry until I learned it was called spikenard, or elk clover. It's in the ginseng family, Araliaceae, along with English ivy (which the canyon sported quite a bit of).

We explored a bit where the trail bottoms out in a residential area along Cascade Drive. Someone had tacked a couple of signs onto a redwood near a no-name dam. The signs read, "Progress Stops Here, For Here Nature Rules All".

I scrambled up to check out the no-name dam, and a kingfisher swooped up the canyon and landed on a nearby tree where it chattered loudly before swooping farther upstream and out of sight.

This is the bottom of the Zig Zag Trail, looking back toward the way we came down. The roof in the background covers a small water reservoir. The sign on the railing marks the Mill Valley Steps-Lanes-Paths trail #305.

From the bottom of the trail it was a short walk down the narrow, paved road to a spot along Old Mill Creek called Three Wells. I'll have to visit again after the rains get started.

Back toward the trailhead we took the short hike up to the falls at Cascade Park. It'll be good to see these falls after some rain, too. Instead of hiking back up the steep grade of the Zig Zag Trail, we took the much easier Tenderfoot Trail. There's a fork near the start of the trail, and you can take the thinner right fork (heading north) back to Panoramic Highway. You actually strike pavement before you get that far, since there are rich folks' houses built among the woods near the top. I thought a couple of the places must be resorts. One was a huge, multi-level unit, and another had a full-size tennis court. The road topped out right at the Mountain Home Inn, and we might have been tempted to stop for a beer, but Pam needed to get back to the city before the farmer's market closed at one o'clock....

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oaked 'n Poked

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You know it's summer on Mt. Tam when you get home, take your shoes off -- and have to pull all the seeds out of your socks. You know you've been doing nature photography on Mt. Tam if your legs are tingling from stinging nettles and you're a couple of days away from itchy red bumps of poison oak: I call it getting oaked and poked. It's okay. It's all good -- and certainly preferable to having a couple of ticks buried neck-deep in your flesh....

I was out in Chicago for the wedding of my sister's eldest son last week, and today was my first chance to get up to Mt. Tam this month. After a week in Chicago followed by three days at work back in San Francisco I really needed a nature photography fix. Thank you, Mt. Tam! 

Even early in the morning it was sunny and toasty on the trail. I tried to photograph dragonflies in flight but had to settle for a butterfly perched on a twig of oak.

I had no grand hiking plans, so I just kind of mosied around and never got farther than maybe a half-mile from the Jeep. This scene of rocks and "weeds" (rosinweed and yerba santa, with manzanita in the background) struck me as appealing for reasons I can't really articulate. Something about the light and the green serpentinite, just an ordinary patch of Mt. Tam.

Rosinweed. It's what Mt. Tam smells like in the summer.

At one point a couple of mountain bikers passed by, heading north, immediately followed by a water district pick-up truck heading south. It must have been the five-minute rush hour because I hadn't seen anyone else up to that time or in the remainder of the time before I got back to the Jeep.

The Douglas fir trees are putting out new cones with fresh little mouse tails. The scientific name Pseudotsuga menziesii lets you know this isn't a true fir. One way you can tell it's a pseudo fir is that its cones hang down instead of standing upright.

What do you call a praying mantis that tells jokes? 
A shtick bug.

I believe this is our native California mantid. I've only seen brown ones, but they come in green as well. You can tell the male from the female by the length of the wings (the wings are longer than the abdomen in males), but I'm not certain I can tell where the wings end and the abdomen begins. I spotted this gal (?) in some brown grass near the ground and coaxed her into posing for a picture on this juncus stalk. I've only seen mantises in the summer, and it turns out they don't live through the winter. The species only survives because the eggs overwinter and hatch in spring.

It was mainly during my stalk of the leopard lilies 
that I got oaked and poked....

I was waiting for a junco with a beak full of bugs to take the meal to its nest when this sweet little guy landed on a nearby branch. If you know what kind of bird it is, please tell me. There were so many interesting bird songs out there, and several were a mystery. I had to wonder if it might be easier to identify birds by ear than by eye (but I doubt it).

I waited quite a while for this junco to take its loot to the (presumed) nest, but he wasn't having any.

I actually thought I could wait him out, but I started to be concerned for its little ones and finally gave up.

I made one last stop to check up on the "pet cemetery" site (which is no more critter-excavated than it was the last time) and was surprised to see this white Jeep parked up by the picnic tables. I thought it was a park ranger's vehicle at first, but then I noticed the citation on the windshield. Is this just a summer thing? I'd love to see the "police blotter" sometime to find out what other nutty stuff goes on up there.

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