Friday, April 4, 2014

Cascade Falls

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I've been trying to get a Friday off for several weeks -- I sure miss my old 4-day workweek -- and finally got a chance today. I've been wanting to take the borrowed 4x5 view camera out to expose the rest of the sheets of film I bought a few months ago. 

The view camera is quite a handful. It's heavy and its case is bulky (case, camera + one lens and film holders = 25.8 lbs.), so I was glad to be able to practically drive right up to Cascade Falls in Mill Valley. This is the same waterfall that was dry when Pam and I stumbled on it way back near the start of the circumannuation, at the bottom of the Zig Zag Trail.

I fired off a few frames with my D800E, then switched gears to the 4x5. I have to say, I fall in love with using a view camera right away, even the huge, heavy monorail that a friend was kind enough to let me borrow. I think I'm going to get one of my own, and I've been looking at a lightweight Chamonix 4x5 field camera.

I exposed all the remaining sheets of film I had in short order and felt a touch of disappointment over being out of film when the day was still so young. It would have been tough to keep going, though, because the storm blowing through was creating fairly windy conditions on the mountain. Wind blowing into a bulky view camera can make it impossible to get sharp pictures.

After shooting Cascade Falls and using up my remaining sheets of film, I headed up the mountain to check on the camera trap and to move the camera to a new location. I stopped by the Serpentine Power Point area to look for wildflowers, but most were still closed up due to lack of sunshine, and many others were well past their prime.

A covey of quail was feeding along the road very near the pull-out near my trail camera, so I parked and walked back to see if they'd let me get close enough to make a few photographs.

Unfortunately, the quail on Mt. Tam aren't as accommodating as they are in, say, Tennessee Valley. They view a human in much the same way they'd view most other animals -- something to be avoided.

Before checking on the camera, which was close to the road, I poked around in the woods and found these interesting little Amanita pantherina mushrooms.

There were still numerous calypso orchids in bloom, but they're already starting to fade. 

The spotted coral roots, another of our native orchids, are just getting started for the most part, at least up here near Bolinas Ridge. I believe they start blooming earlier near the base of the mountain. The bright orange stuff in the background is fungus, probably incipient turkey tails.

I snapped this frame on the way back to the Jeep after setting the trail camera out in its new location. I'm a little concerned that people will trip the motion sensor in this location, and probably even spot the camera, but we'll see. I've been thinking about setting out in this spot for quite a while. It's near a tree where a bobcat that I had photographed a few years ago lay down to die. Another photographer who'd been with me was looking for it again a couple of weeks after we'd seen it and found the cat peacefully laid out at the base of a huge old oak tree.

There was a little bit of rain off and on, but nothing really significant. I dozed for a while in the Jeep with the sound of light rain tapping the roof and windows. Beautiful.

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Coyote Trail

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I left the trail camera in the same spot for another week.

Instead of catching another bobcat, the camera caught a passing coyote who appears to have caught an interesting scent.

But not too interesting. The camera fires three frames then waits five seconds before the motion sensor becomes active again. These three frames are all we got. Interesting to note that the coyote passed by just this morning. 

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Monday, March 31, 2014

March Favorites

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Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.
--Chuck Close, from the documentary film Chuck Close

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Slim Solomon

Millipede Nursery


Trillium in the Redwoods

Orchard Remnant

The Moss Abides


California Lilac

Lupine Meadow


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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matt Davis-Dipsea-Steep Ravine Loop

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I've been wanting to get around to this ever since a friend at work told me this is her favorite hike. I'd never hiked it before today, and in fact had never hiked down from Bolinas Ridge to Stinson Beach. It seemed insane, really -- too far and too steep. But I left the Jeep near Pantoll Campground at 7:30 in the morning and was back by 11:50 even though I stopped for a few photo ops. It didn't take much longer than a hike to High Marsh. 

If I was going to do this hike, I figured I'd better get to it while there was still some water running in the canyons. I found this little cascade not too far down the trail. While I worked I was passed by the first of several groups of trail runners I'd encounter.

After about a mile of fairly dark forest, the trail emerges into the open along Bolinas Ridge. I doubt it will get more beautiful than this until maybe next year. Everything is green and fresh, the grass is still short enough that the California poppies and other wildflowers aren't overpowered, and the ugly, spiky bull thistle that will soon cover much of the hillsides is only just getting started. It had been a chilly 44 degrees in the forest when I started, but it warmed up to 50 as soon as I reached the sunshine.

I recently tried jogging again but quit before a year was out. My route took me along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, out past Pac Bell Park to Mission Bay and back. It wasn't a bad route, but it was all on concrete and surrounded by motor vehicle traffic. I'll bet I could have lasted longer if my route had been more like this.

Eventually, the Matt Davis Trail makes good on its promise to get you on your way down to Stinson Beach. It leaves the open ridge and switchbacks like crazy down the hill, passing through some interesting parts of the mountain. I enjoyed the park-like feel of this area where the Douglas firs were spread out, with some gnarled old grandfather firs mixed in.


In another spot along the steep trail down, the vista opened up across a stream canyon. I just love the way the woods look here. If I ever get a lightweight large-format camera, I'll make a point of returning to this spot to photograph these woods in a way to capture the incredible detail.

There were several nice patches of Slim Solomon along the trail.

I finally reached Table Rock, which was being guarded by a superb California buckeye that was freshly leafed out. I know some hikers pass right by this spot, unaware of the nearby vista point.

Once you duck through the vegetation and come out the other side, you're taking in the views from Table Rock. This is the top of the huge rock formation that's cut by the stream canyon. Off to the right is a vertiginous drop-off to the stream far below.

I found this nice little waterfall just below the vista point. I hadn't run into anyone on the way down the trail until I reached Table Rock. I think a lot of people hike up from Stinson Beach, but a couple of ladies who'd done so were unaware of Table Rock's existence. I hiked the rest of the way down to the small town of Stinson Beach and easily found my way onto the Dipsea Trail after a very short walk along the Shoreline Highway. The trail crossed the bottom of Panoramic Highway and rose through an open area of coyote brush chaparral with nice views back along the coast and up the steep flanks of Mt. Tam.

As I hiked up the Dipsea Trail I thought about the incredible runners who race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach every year. I knew a guy at work who runs it, and when he gets to Stinson Beach, he often turns around and runs back to Mill Valley -- a Double Dipsea. 

In any event, that little stretch of the Dipsea Trail was okay, but it wasn't until I reached Steep Ravine that I fully understood why this loop was someone's favorite route. You enter the redwood forest with the sweet little creek and all the fresh wildflowers, from fairy bells to Clintonia to redwood violets, plus five-finger ferns, coast elderberry, you name it. It's like Shangri-La.

The name "Steep Ravine" is not a misnomer, but I don't believe it's as steep as the steepest parts of the Matt Davis Trail. My knees were glad to finally be heading uphill after that long descent.

Yesterday's rain probably didn't add much to the flow of Mt. Tam's creeks, but there's still enough water to make for some pretty falls.

There'd been a sign at the bottom of the trail warning of this ladder eight-tenths of a mile farther up. This family was just coming down from Pantoll. The little girl was completely fearless, but she wasn't rushing anything either, as you can tell by this eight-second exposure.

P.S. A nice alternative would be to hike the Matt Davis to Stinson Beach, do some exploring in town and at the beach, have a picnic or get some late lunch at a local eatery, then take the $2 shuttle back up to Pantoll.

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On the way to checking my camera trap today I noticed a new bobcat scat on the trail. When I checked the camera I got the good news that I'd caught a bobcat on the first day of the set.

The bad news, unfortunately, was that the cat was my only catch all week (aside from a few wind-blown tanoak branches).

I suspect the camera trap frightened the bobcat. The three images you see here are the three-in-a-row that the camera fires off whenever it's triggered.

I'm sympathetic with the frightened cat. Here it comes around the bend, minding its own business and probably having passed this way numerous times in its life, when it encounters something uncanny and probably unique in its experience -- a small box-shaped creature with flashing red eyes. I only hope I haven't tainted the cat's route forever.

But how about an alternative explanation for the quick turnaround. Maybe the cat spotted a squirrel up in a tree and was simply slinking back the way it came to better stalk its quarry.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Touring Bon Tempe

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Pam hadn't been able to join me for a hike in quite a while, so I figured a relatively mellow trip around Bon Tempe Lake would be a nice way to ease back into things. We were struck by the beauty of this little meadow full of ground iris (Iris macrosiphon) before we'd gone a quarter of a mile along the Sunnyside Trail.

I knew I wouldn't have to rush my photography in this spot when Pam took out her sketch pad.

This old grandfather oak (black oak?) was absolutely coated with lichens, bursting with new leaves, and singing with bird life.

I had time for one last shot before sketching was done and it was time to get back on the trail. I'd brought my whole camera bag, but this meadow, our first stop, turned out to be our only photo stop. Hiking and photography don't really mix, and even though I knew that, it seems like I need a reminder from time to time. The find of the day was a single small patch of striped coral root, one of our native orchids. I didn't photograph it, but I kind of wish I had. That's how it goes sometimes. It was a nice hike, but I don't think I got my ya-ya's out, photography-wise. Might have to return tomorrow.

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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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