Sunday, February 9, 2014

Drought? What drought?

* * *

I know the drought's not really extinguished, but this weekend's rains must have put a pretty good dent in it.

My first stop this morning was Muir Beach. I wanted to see if Redwood Creek had blasted through the sand bar yet so the salmon could make their connections from the ocean. I could see from the hill as I came down past Green Gulch that the creek was in fact flowing to the sea. 

At the parking lot I waited inside the warm and dry Jeep, snapping the photo above through the windshield, but the rain kept coming. I sipped from my tall mug of hot water -- I'd put in the water and the sweetener but forgot to add the instant coffee. I'd spend several hours traipsing around the mountain without ever feeling quite awake because of that little slip-up.... I also realized once I was at Muir Beach that I'd forgotten my tripod. I've forgotten the coffee once before, but forgetting my tripod was a first.


Ordinarily I wouldn't go out in the rain to do photography, but winter's first rain -- and such a heavy rain -- made for special circumstances.

The rain did not let up for even two minutes the whole time I was out there. Every photo in today's post was shot from beneath a large golf umbrella. My last umbrella fell apart, so I bought a new one a few months ago in anticipation of the rainy season. Today was the first day I actually used it.

From Muir Beach I drove along Redwood Creek, heading upstream toward Muir Woods. The scene above is where the Dipsea Trail crosses the creek. I was going to wander into Muir Woods but it wasn't free today, so I headed up to Rock Spring instead.

There were waterfalls in places I'd never seen them before, like this spot between Pantoll and Rock Spring.

Surprisingly, I did not have the mountain to myself. There were actually quite a few hikers taking in the season's first big rain. And it wasn't just a big rain. It was really big! Here, the top of the Cataract Trail is completely washed out -- and this is very near the headwaters of the trail, where the volume of runoff is relatively light.

The moss is digging all the moisture.

Instead of hiking down the Cataract Trail, I drove along Bolinas Ridge (where visibility was just a few feet in heavy clouds) to the parking area above Laurel Dell and hiked down from there. I figured I could use my huge crossing log to get past this section, but the water was so high that I was cut off. Quite a change since I was down here last month on a hike with Pam.

I doubled back to try the "high route," only to reach a bridge that was impassable. I hadn't noticed this log-crossing until this group of hikers approached from the other side and gingerly made their way across. 

One of the hikers who crossed the log told me to just wait till I saw Cataract Falls. "I've been here hundreds of times," he said, "and I've never seen it like today. It's like four times as big." I was not disappointed when I finally saw it -- and heard it roaring -- for myself.

All I could think to compare it to was Niagara Falls. It was just booming. I didn't think of Yosemite Falls, or Vernal or Nevada falls. Something about this unprecedented volume of water going down the ravine took me all the way back to that first huge waterfall I saw as a kid.

This should all mellow out by next weekend, making for prime waterfall conditions. Something without quite so much water, and the muddiness will have subsided as well.

This was a great first storm of the season. The Marin IJ reports nearly 21 inches fell at Mt. Tam from Fri-Sun. Hopefully there's more to come.

* * *

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Feelin' the Drought

* * *

(Click photo to view it larger.)

Since I'm only going to do this blog (in it's Circumannuation of Mt. Tamalpais incarnation) for one year, I can't help wishing it was more of a normal rain year. I can't believe I won't be able to post any decent mushroom photos, and I don't imagine the spring wildflowers will put on much of a show either.

As I drove up to the mountain today I wondered whether I'd find anything at all that I'd want to photograph. I took a walk out on the ridge to look for bobcats but didn't see any. It was such a clear day, though, I decided to snap a couple of pictures. Looking west over the nearly summer-brown hillsides, you could see the horizon beyond the Farallon Islands. Looking east -- well, I'll get to that in a minute.

The cobweb thistle (Cirsium occidentale) is just getting started.

I liked the look of this patch of forest on the edge of Bolinas Ridge and shot a panorama with the 300mm.

I spotted a pair of snoozing coyotes high up a hill as I scouted the possibilities along Bolinas Ridge. I parked and hiked toward them, and although they did get up and move to a new location, they didn't go far.

This spot was safer since it was close to the woods.

The coyotes spent so much time snoozing that I looked for other things to photograph (with a 500mm lens) from my sit-spot, including last year's mugwort plants. Mugwort likes water, and the ground was surprisingly damp in this spot. A few tiny green plants were just getting started.

The biggest surprise wasn't right at my feet, but way off in the distance -- the snow-covered Sierra Nevada. I believe this is the first time I've seen the snowy Sierra Nevada from Bolinas Ridge clearly enough to be sure they weren't just clouds. They are about 130 miles away as the crow flies. I'd love to know the name of the cone-shaped peak toward the right side of the frame. 

The coyotes weren't impressed.

That's the female snoozing in the front while the male scratches his back in the background. He actually slid quite a ways down the hill, wriggling like a snake the whole way.

When he was done, he strolled back up to roust the wife so they could move on to a new location. They ambled downhill toward the east; the female pooped; the male sniffed; and they disappeared into the woods.

* * *


* * *

I left the camera in the same place for a second week. The water is really going down, and I wonder how much longer this little spring will last.

The date reads Feb. 25, but it's actually Jan. 25. I didn't have my glasses with me when I swapped the memory card last week, and I must have accidentally changed the date while I was trying to reformat the card. 

I had re-positioned the camera in this spot with the raccoons in mind. They had trooped single-file in the streambed directly towards the camera in a previous set in November. This time only one 'coon got his picture taken, and only just barely. 

I had several daylight frames that left me moaning at what could have been. You can easily see one bobcat going down for a drink in this picture, but there are two cats in the frame. In the first shots, both bobcats are in the blown-out bright spots. Again, this was not shot on March 4, but just this morning -- in fact, not long before I stopped by to pick up the camera.

Here's a crop of the previous frame. Can you see the second cat? The other cat is smaller, and I'll bet it's the mate of this larger male. Coincidentally, I'd just been spending some quality time watching a (presumably) mated pair of coyotes napping in the sunshine on Bolinas Ridge. 

I'd planned to move the camera to a new location, but now I want to put it back at this or another nearby water hole. The other hole has better, more even, light than this spot, but it's closer to a human trail.

* * *

Welcome to February

* * *

Bye-bye, "driest January on record." Hello, hopeful February.

* * *

Friday, January 31, 2014

January Favorites

* * *

And it seems to me that it’s the work of poets and artists to know what the world-image of today is, and to render it as the old seers did theirs. The prophets rendered it as a manifestation of the transcendent principle. That’s what we lack today, really. I think poets and artists who speak of the mystery are rare. There’s been so much social criticism of our arts, which is just one facet. But the other function of the poet – that of opening the mystery dimension – has been, with few great exceptions, forgotten. I think that what we lack, really, isn’t science but poetry that reveals what the heart is ready to recognize.
--Joseph Campbell, from An Open Life

* * *

Winter Sunrise

Heavy Weather on Hwy. 1


Pale Elfin Saddle

Bobcat Over Bolinas

Black-and-White Cat

Alpine Lake

Open Secret Falls

Coyote Gait

Nurse Log

January 2004 (top) and 2012

Candy Caps

* * *

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bolinas Lagoon

* * *

After checking out the emptying reservoirs on the eastern side of Fairfax-Bolinas Road last week, it was interesting to head over to the other side of the mountain to find Bolinas Lagoon at high tide, filled to the brim.

I was lucky to arrive just before a showy sunrise.

Lucky because I'd lingered in bed once again, unsure whether I wanted to drive the long and winding road up and over Mt. Tam. A glance out the bedroom window told me it was already windy, yet another Spare the Air day, and here I was, planning to burn a few gallons of gas in the Jeep. I figured if I was going to smog the air, I at least didn't want to waste a trip.

I'd been looking forward to getting out of the city all week, though, so rather than philosophize all morning I decided to just get going.

Stinson Beach was just waking up as I drove north through town. Skirting the lagoon along Highway 1, I was a little disappointed to see so few waterfowl. Despite its importance for birds along the Pacific Flyway, I've only been out there a couple of times when there were lots of birds. The distant, breathy whistling of wigeons was the dominant sound as the sun came up.

I'd picked a good spot to view the sunrise, a place I'd been to once before, just a pull-out along Olema-Bolinas Road where there's lots of broken glass along the shore.

Even here along the shore of an 1100-acre body of water, the salt grass looked dried out.

It still feels like fall. Like the rainy season is just around the bend.

Heading out the Bob Stewart Trail I was taken by the interesting stripes of yellow lichen on the bark of some very nice alder trees.

The trail led out along Pine Gulch Creek which had coho salmon once upon a time.

I didn't see the leg band when I photographed this golden-crowned sparrow. It's kind of funny to realize this bird was once caught in a net and held in someone's hands. I suspect these guys are the culprits.

Although it had been windy up high, there was just a mild breeze at sea level, and this turkey vulture was content to bask in the morning sun until either the wind picked up or it caught the scent of some of Mother Nature's home cookin'.

Like I said, there weren't many waterfowl in sight, but I felt it was my duty after making the trip to Bolinas Lagoon to take at least one picture of some birds, like these ruddy ducks, on the lagoon.

* * *