Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Favorites

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I used to run out on short excursions to Mt. Tamalpais, and I always brought back a lot of flowers--as many as I could carry--and it was most touching to see the quick natural enthusiasm in the hearts of the ragged, neglected, defrauded, dirty little wretches of the Tar Flat waterfront of the city I used to pass through on my way home.... It was a hopeful sign, and made me say: "No matter into what depths of degradation humanity may sink, I will never despair while the lowest love the pure and the beautiful and know it when they see it."
--John Muir, quoted in Tamalpais Walking 
by Tom Killion and Gary Snyder

Coulter Pine Toes

Buck at Meadow's Edge


Paper Wasps

Forest Litter

Flame Skimmer

Bolinas Ridge #1

Bolinas Ridge #2

Potrero Meadow


Ladybug & Milkweed

Milkweed & Mylitta Crescent

Datura Fruit

Redwoods on Helen Markt Trail

Mud Dauber

Quail Run

Fir in the Fog

Cat Stretch

Fog Drip Puddles

Helleborine Orchid

Coyote on Edge of World

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Bolinas Ridge #3

Friday, August 30, 2013

Over the Hill

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I went officially over the hill last week, turning 55 years old, and decided to take the day off to enjoy a four-day Labor Day weekend. In my previous life I had every Friday off, but I had to go back to a five-day workweek a little more than a year ago. It was nice to go up to Mt. Tam on a Friday again and have the place to myself.

I'd planned to stop at the California fuchsia patch on my way up Pantoll Road. I wanted to photograph it in some new way, but nothing new came to me. There was just enough of a breeze falling down the side of the mountain that I had to keep the exposure short, and it also made focus-stacking impossible. Still, the fuchsia's a pretty flower, one that continues to bloom right into October.

I'm not sure if these are the same cones I photographed in mid-July, but they are definitely from the same tree. I don't know why I was surprised to see that they'd already turned from green to brown and set seed. 

It's so dry out there. I hiked out to check a patch of milkweed and look for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but not only were there no caterpillars, there was no milkweed. I guess the conditions were too dry this year. It's kind of a lone patch (there's more at Potrero Meadow), so I hope it comes back. This dried hedge nettle was one of the plants that did manage to grow in the milkweed's spot. Some of the other, still-green plant tips had been browsed. You can probably tell whether a deer or a jackrabbit browsed it by the angle or condition of the severed tip. The rabbit's got sharper teeth. But I didn't have my hand lens with me and didn't take the time to take a stab at it. 

I was more interested in this purple leaf gall (guessing Asteromyia carbonifera) that had made itself at home on the goldenrod. The plants were still putting out plenty of flowers despite having many of their leaves infested. It got me thinking about a biology teacher who liked to talk about the multitude of organisms that live inside our bodies, and how, by weight, most of our body is actually other organisms. He was kidding, of course, but a thing like that sticks with you anyway. The current thinking is they account for about three percent of our total mass. 

Some critters are always trying to burrow into other critters (like the pesky flies buzzing around my face), and biologists say that's how complex organisms arose from simpler ones. Instead of eating their host, or making it sick, they actually joined up to form a new team.

Leaving the milkweed-less patch, I sauntered over to a rocky area to look for rattlesnakes, but finding none, took cover from the sun beneath an oak whose branches were coated with moss and lichen.

I believe these organisms are all epiphytes. They live on the real estate of the oak's branches, but don't burrow into the plant tissues for nutrients. Not that plant tissues are any more free of invaders than we are. Even a thin leaf can have numerous harmless endophytic fungi living in its tissues.

Sure, they're epiphytes, but you still wouldn't want to encounter one in your dreams....

I was drawn to the rock in the next photo when I noticed this interesting old piece of wood on the ground next to it. That is some crazy, Van Gogh-looking grain.

Pretty rock. Serpentine, I believe.

Madrone trunk with belly button.

View toward Stinson Beach from Bolinas Ridge.

I thought I pretty much had the whole mountain to myself -- until I met this guy, a praying mantis at the Druid Rocks on Bolinas Ridge.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summertime Blues

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"There ain't no cure for the summertime blues...."
--The Who

As I poked around Mt. Tam this morning, feeling not-so-very inspired, I got to thinking about an episode of Northern Exposure that I watched online with Pam a week or so ago. It was the one where the whole town is on edge and kind of loco because it was close to break-up, close to the time when the ice would finally crack and winter would loosen its grip on everyone and everything. Around here it isn't winter that puts everything on lock-down; it's summer. Instead of waiting for the ice to crack and let the water start flowing again, I'm waiting for the sky to crack and the rain to start flowing again. Nuts, right? Summer is what California is all about. That may be true in the popular imagination, but I didn't see any of those popular imaginers sunbathing on Ocean Beach when I drove home.

As I walked out among the dry, crackling grasses on Mt. Tam's steep south-facing flank, I felt I'd never before noticed how truly blue it was in the shadows. It doesn't just appear blue in pictures because film (digital or otherwise) sees it that way. The grass down at my feet was as blue as the sea, but only on the edges. It was as if someone had drawn a blue outline on everything. I actually did a double-take when I saw it.

I mosied down the Cataract Trail a short ways, feeling lonesome without the sound of water flowing. Water striders occupied the still pools, and I even spotted a newt in one of them, but it wasn't until I turned my gaze upward that I saw my buddy, the moon, gibbous and waning, as she made her slow descent towards Stinson Beach.

Up along Bolinas Ridge I watched a pair of wild turkeys snapping at seedheads as they bobbed along through the tall grasses. A few doe deer fed placidly next to the woods. A young oak with a fresh buck-rub was kind of exciting to see, but the bucks stayed hidden. We still have September and October to get through before the sky breaks. Until then, please excuse me if I seem a little blue....

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Upper Bootjack Loop

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It's been years, maybe even a decade, since we last hiked to the West Point Inn, so we decided to make a loop that would take us up there and beyond, starting on the Matt Davis Trail at the Bootjack parking area. I wouldn't mind spending $8 to park there if I had a heavy cooler and was going to use the picnic area, but since we just needed a trailhead we parked on the other side of the street.

The picnic area is kind of interesting on its own, although no one was using it when we set out at 8:45 in the morning. I don't think anyone was using it when we got back at around 11:15 either, finding very few cars in the lot and still no one parked behind me across the street. I know that parking lot fills up eventually, and that people do picnic there, but I guess it was still too early. You might think hanging out on the south-facing side of the mountain on a summer day would be crazy hot, but it was supremely pleasant. The fog was close, just below Bootjack, but everything above that was sunny and warm. 

It was 59 degrees when we set out, and the warmest it got during our hike was a mellow 72. I guess we were paying too much attention to the picnic area because we missed our trail, heading to the left of this sign and up the Bootjack Trail. We soon reached the ranger station and ran into a ranger who set us in the right direction.

The Matt Davis was probably the "bridgy-est" trail I've hiked on Mt. Tam. So many bridges. I guess it's appropriate since Matt Davis (d. 1938) was known as "the dean of trail workers" back in the early days of the Tamalpais Conservation Club.

The obligatory manzanita tunnel.

The trail follows the contours of the mountain in a very shallow descent and has lots of great views, even when the long views are obscured by heavy fog.

It's also nicely varied. One minute you're in the woods, and the next you're out in the chamise chaparral.

The trail forks at this bridge, with the Matt Davis continuing on the right toward Mountain Home Inn. But we turned left onto what here becomes the Nora Trail, which takes you up through the woods to...

...the West Point Inn.

There were a few guests, but it was fairly quiet here in the lounge.

Besides finding restrooms, shade, and comfy chairs, Pam even got to tickle the ivories a little. And yes, the piano was even in tune.

A squadron of hummingbirds availed themselves of the Inn's hospitality as well.

On the other side of the Inn, we continued our hike up the Rock Springs Trail. Up at the top of the mountain, you can just make out the white radome (the "golf ball" protecting the radar unit long-since abandoned by the Air Force, but still in use by the FAA). Missiles fired from the nearby Nike Missile Site were guided by electronics placed up there as well.

Again, there were lots of great views and open areas like this serpentine outcrop.

I've hiked out on the north-side trails many times where I hardly ran into anyone. That is not a likely scenario here on the south side. There were large groups and small groups, trail-runners and dog-walkers. And for good reason, since the whole route is fairly easy and a pleasure to behold.

The Rock Springs Trail ended here at the Mountain Theater. The oak tree on the far right of the frame is where Pam and I staked out during the recent Tam Jam rock concert. Shade is scarce, and we were glad to have it on that hot and sunny day.

On the other side of the Mountain Theater, the trail drops down, with the Bootjack Trail going left and the Easy Grade Trail going right. Like the folks in the picture, we also took the Easy Grade.

View of East Peak from the Easy Grade Trail.

And before we knew it, we were picking up the Matt Davis Trail again where the Easy Grade runs into the (paved) Old Stage Road. It was just another five-minute hike from here back to Bootjack and the Jeep.

We're thinking about the next trip being a Lower Bootjack Loop, starting at nearby Pantoll but heading down to Muir Woods.

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