Sunday, March 16, 2014

Return to High Marsh

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Sitting in the Jeep across the street from the Pantoll Gate in the dark at 6:30 a.m., I wondered if I'd get a lucky break and see the ranger pull up to unlock the gate before the official opening time of 7 a.m. I knew from experience that I could drive to the East Peak parking area and climb the hill in time for a 7:21 a.m. sunrise -- if the ranger opened the gate early. But 7 a.m. came and went. Every time a new set of headlights approached, I mentally crossed my fingers. Pick-up truck ... nope. SUV ... nope. BMW ... no way -- but wait! The ranger drives a Beemer! Is that an only-in-California thing, or what?

The sun had just crested the horizon when I got up there, but that was fine since this time I pretty much knew the lay of the land and had an idea where I wanted to shoot from. After it was over and I was hiking back down the trail I couldn't resist taking a snap of the north side of the mountain including Lake Lagunitas and the larger Bon Tempe Lake and all the green hills and forest. I wish I could show the photo as big as a living room wall to give you a better feel for it.

After photographing the exploding ball of hydrogen and helium some 93 million miles beyond the Earth's horizon, I drove back to Rock Spring to begin my hike down to High Marsh. When I visited last November I should have been able to find it full of water, but it was bone dry. 

So I set out this morning around 8 o'clock and made a point of taking time to smell the roses as it were, starting with this mushroom sprouting from a fallen tanoak. I thought this would be an easy mushroom to look up when I got home, but I was mistaken, as I so often am when I think a mushroom will be easy to identify. 

Chaparral Indian Paintbrush along the Simmons Trail.

Mt. Tamalpais Manzanita, a little farther along.

And just above Barth's Retreat I finally stopped to photograph a pair of Calypso Orchids. I'd seen many of them already, but most were growing in relatively un-photogenic spots.

I'd had to avoid stepping on a few California Newts here and there, and at Potrero Meadow I found this guy trying to keep his head down.

Okay, so I finally made it to High Marsh.

What a difference a bit of rain makes.

There were several Chorus Frog egg masses along the edge of the pond, so I took off my shoes and waded out into the surprisingly chilly water. It wasn't Sierra snowmelt-cold, but it was quite bracing nevertheless. The crescent-shaped "eggs" are slightly more mature tadpoles; the white stuff is nourishing yolk.

Right next to the marsh I was surprised to see Giant Trillium. I'm not sure I'd ever seen this species on Mt. Tam before.

On the way back -- very near the place where I'd photographed the Chaparral Indian Paintbrush on the way up, I was surprised to see a Chipmunk foraging around the forest floor. It's so rare that I see a chipmunk on Mt. Tam. I was just able to get my camera pack off and fire off a frame (in very low light, alas) before he took off.

This time last year the Sky Lupines were going gangbusters, but this year not so much. However, even though the California Poppies aren't laying down carpets like Antelope Valley does in a good year, I was surprised to see so many in bloom along Bolinas Ridge. Better get it while you can.

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