Monday, December 9, 2013

Gravity's Sunrise

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With apologies to Thomas Pynchon, I couldn't resist the title for this post. (Coincidentally, I just picked up Bleeding Edge from the library on Saturday.) Despite a weird weekend sleep schedule, I managed to roll out of bed just after 5 a.m. to make the trip up to Mt. Tam in time for sunrise. I brought my mountain bike (a Gary Fisher Hoo-Koo-Ee-Koo, named for a trail very near my morning destination) so I could ride out along the Gravity Car Grade (beginning in 1896 a train took tourists and hikers from Mill Valley to a tavern on Tam's summit, where you could have a filet mignon dinner for $1.35, then spend the night; more on the Gravity Car).

The temperature was a bracing 29 degrees as I biked out in the dark, the path lit only by my small hiker's headlamp (which needs new batteries!). I wasn't exactly sure where I would find a vista point, and I chose to move on after checking out a couple of possibilities, finally ending up at what turned out to be the best spot along the route. Once I was done shooting I continued riding down the trail just to check it out and soon came to the Double Bowknot where the grade began to descend.

Although I'd barely noticed that the trail out was uphill, I enjoyed coasting most of the way back. I'd thought about trying to get up to East Peak, but I aborted before I got there since the sun had gotten so high already. The detour wasn't a total loss: I was happy to see little patches of snow along the road.

I parked at Rock Spring and mosied down the Cataract Trail to look for ice. I'd seen an icy puddle in the Mountain Theater parking lot, and now I wanted to find a more natural patch of ice to photograph.

Cataract Creek was finally running. Hopefully the rain we had the other day will be the first of more to come. There was no ice in the moving water, though, so I explored a frosty area where the Giant Chain Ferns grow.

I checked my thermometer and was excited to see that it was really as cold as it felt, just under 28 degrees. As I was poking around in all the frosty goodness I managed to brush some stinging nettle along the inside of my right wrist, and the affected area remains tingly even now, hours later.

Speaking of the thermometer, I recently added an "Information Kiosk" to the sidebar of the blog where you can waste some time checking out my camera bag and a minor bloviation about why I'm doing this blog.

Not all the giant chain fern fronds were dead. Note the "chains" of reproductive structures along the leaves.

I met up with a coyote once again this morning but didn't try to photograph him. He was coming up the trail just as I was going down, and we met near the big water tank where he detoured into the woods. I continued down the trail, only to turn around at one point and see the coyote following behind me. Once spotted, he veered off the trail again and that was the last I saw of him.

I finally found some actual ice, a patch no bigger than the palm of my hand, but interesting nevertheless.

I eventually circled back to the Jeep and drove out along Bolinas Ridge after placing the trail camera in a new location. I saw very little wildlife other than a pair of kestrels that were hunting on the east side of the ridge since the wind was blowing offshore. I parked where the grassland abruptly becomes forest and hiked a ways along the no-name trail that runs west from there. Is that part of the Coastal/Bay Ridge Trail? I'll have to follow it farther one of these days.

This time I got as far as a manzanita patch, where a hummingbird tipped me off to the surprising fact that one of the two manzanita species in the area was already in flower (the one with relatively smaller leaves and tiny flowers). I'd brought my camera bag along in the hope of finding fungi, but the fungi weren't fruiting yet, so I was glad to find some interesting lichen-adorned manzanita branches.

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