Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Old Map's Trail

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I don't always stop to photograph wild turkeys when I see them, but every now and then I can't resist, and I've been seeing them a lot lately. Courtship displays started back in November or December, but they are still going on. I have yet to see any turkey chicks, but I imagine there's more than one brood per year. From what I read, a hen might lay nearly a dozen eggs at a time, and they take only 28 days to hatch.

You'd think with that many chicks potentially running around, I couldn't miss seeing them. But I don't believe I ever have. Wild things have their ways.

The jackrabbits are out and acting frisky in all the fresh green grass. I watched two meet up and chase around like squirrels before settling back down to keep an eye on an encroaching photographer.

The big surprise when I got out of the Jeep to photograph the turkeys was how cold it was! I saw the sun shining and went up in short pants. Thankfully I at least had a windbreaker because I believe it was the wind chill that was really getting to me. My fingers were almost numb in minutes, and I was glad to finally get back to the warm Jeep. Even though I knew it was going to be cold out, I still couldn't resist making a stop here for the beautiful light. I'd stop here again on the way home a few hours later and watch several turkeys in a courtship ritual on one of the near ridges. They must never quit.

The gate out to West Ridgecrest was open early, so I headed on out to my trailhead destination. If the gate had been closed, the plan was to check out the trail camera before starting the day's hike. In the end I decided to leave the trail camera alone until next week.

The light was kind of nice as I drove out along Bolinas Ridge, so I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife. These two deer were resting right at the edge between a meadow and the woods, maybe fifty feet apart from each other. The deer below the lichen-crusted branch is a young buck, with very tentative yet velveted antlers. I'm proud to say that I took my pictures and was on my way without either deer rising from its bed.

Despite yesterday's cloudy, rainy weather, or maybe because of it, the air today was clear as a bell. I thought it might even be clear enough to see the newly snow-covered Sierras again, but it was not. Here you can just make out Pt. Reyes' Chimney Rock in the distance. A group of hikers is taking a confab near the center of the frame. The hikers are near the junction of the Coastal Trail and the Willow Camp Fire Trail, which is where I expected to be in a few hours (after beginning my hike a little farther north).

After having no luck spotting bobcats in the nice light, I finally got under way with the hike I'd planned for the day, which was to drop down the McKinnon Trail toward Stinson Beach, then hike south along the bottom of the ridge, pick up the Willow Camp Trail to hike back up to the Coastal Trail and finally get back to the Jeep. The sign at the trailhead said the McKinnon Trail was only 0.12 miles long. But that only gets you as far as a stone bench with a nice view.

I'd never before hiked the route I was attempting today, but I'd been on forays part-way down. So I knew the trail was lightly used and I was not perturbed by the lack of signs beyond the stone bench. My old 1989 Olmsted map shows not just a trail, but a fire road, that leads down the hill. I think you can still see a trace of the old fire road near the top of the hike, but it peters out into a faint trail with little more sign of any passage than a few bobcat and coyotes scats, as well as some deep deer tracks probably made when the ground was soft after a rain.

I was happily surprised to find this weird member of the mustard family growing along the trail. I've never seen this species before, and there were only three plants growing in a small area. I imagined I'd found one of the most rare plants on the entire mountain. I tried to look it up when I got home to no avail. Instead of being the last remaining stronghold of a nearly extinct Mt. Tam endemic, though, it's probably either something that grows in huge fields somewhere else, or it's some sort of Mediterranean weed.

The spotted coral root are still in bloom. I can't remember if I mentioned already that these plants, which lack chlorophyll and do not photosynthesize, get their food by parasitizing fungi. And not just any fungi, but fungi in the Russula family.

Following the trail down past the first meadow and into the woods, you soon run into the old pig fence. Feral pigs used to root around Mt. Tam and were considered to be something of an ecological nightmare. The pigs were chased into the fence, then herded toward waiting riflemen. The only wild pig up here now is the Wild Boar Half Marathon. 

This is not a member of the Russula family and has nothing to fear from parasitic orchids.

I kept looking at my back-trail as I descended what I presumed to be the steep remnant of the McKenna Trail, thinking that I sure didn't want to have to hike back up that way. Here I've recently emerged from the woods into an expansive meadow. You can just make out the trail near the center of the frame. When I finally reached the woods you see farther down the hill, even this modest game trail petered out. To continue would have required bushwhacking down to the cross-trail that would take me south to the Willow Camp Trail junction. Maybe I will try that sometime when I'm not carrying so much camera gear, but on this occasion I decided to turn around and head back up. Sometimes an exploration goes that way. I'm reading a book right now about early polar exploration, and my little trip on Mt. Tam turned out a whole lot better.

The return trip was ridiculously steep but not crazy-difficult. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you get there. I hadn't even paid attention to this chert outcrop on the way down, so I took the opportunity to rest and photograph it on the way back up. I wondered what the explanation is for those layers. I mean, it's pretty obvious there are layers, right? It's not just one continuous slab. These rocks are believed to have formed on the Jurassic seabed. Presumably, the creatures that lived in the oceans died and sank to the bottom. So what's the explanation for the layers? Are they composed of different organisms? And if so, I have follow-up questions!

Finally back at the top of the hill near the trailhead, I take in one last view before heading home. One nice thing about having hiked back up the hill -- I was no longer the least bit cold.

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