Thursday, March 10, 2016

Petals & Glyphs

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It's been two or three years since I drove so many miles in so little time, but it was worth a little seasonal insanity to finally see this iconic petroglyph site, complete with the snowy peaks of the Eastern Sierra in the distance. 

I drove out of San Francisco at 3:30 in the morning and was in Death Valley in time for lunch.

It was a pleasant 75 degrees, so I found a likely spot to pull over and mosey around. There was quite a bit of Mojave desert star and desert fivespot to be found, but all the fivespot blossoms had resident mites (Balaustium sp.) (Bug Guide link).

Some blossoms had hordes of them, and they were often speedily scuttling around. Were they chasing each other or just feeling a bit of a nectar rush?

The desert star and fivespot were just tiny plants that you had to walk around to notice, but a lot of people were drawn to Death Valley this year because of a large bloom of desert gold. With so many showy yellow flowers all over the place, it was nice to find this purple phacelia (Phacelia crenulata).

The desert gold was nice too. The "super bloom" was farther south and is probably over by now. I started to drive down there, but the pickings were getting very slim even south of Badwater. Right now it's best between Artists Pallette and the Beatty Cutoff. I'd heard that it was quite crowded but I was surprised just how crowded it was, even on a Tuesday.

Unfortunately I no longer have the Jeep Cherokee, and my Mazda 3 was not going to get me very far off the beaten tracks. I parked on the shoulder north of Daylight Pass and walked east to escape the rush for a while.

One of the more memorable and enjoyable things I did was to spend a half-hour or so just lying on my back in a sandy wash. Ah, peace at last -- and no bugs!

I'd planned to stay overnight in Death Valley, but I was quickly worn out by the unexpected crowds. The sun went down as I drove west across the Panamint Valley.

I spent the night at a motel in Bishop and got an early start the next morning to look for my petroglyph site. Bishop has the most stunning view in the morning. As I was getting coffee in the motel office I mentioned to the lady behind the desk that I often look at the Bishop web cam from my desk in San Francisco, and it was great to be seeing it in person.

The last time I went looking for these petroglyphs I walked up the wrong trail, so I didn't get my hopes up too much when I started up this other trail. Up at the top of the bluffs I picked up some recent sign of a hiker with his dog and followed the tracks to the base of a jumble of boulders. I climbed up toward the top of the jumble and was soon looking back down on a massive, flat boulder face covered with prehistoric rock art.

Once I climbed up to the "canvas" I took some time to just take in all the art before digging into my camera pack. I made a few images and thought about what I was seeing. Had there been a practical purpose to these marks painstakingly pecked into the rock? Did it have spiritual significance in the way the images related to the landscape? What was the cultural significance of this place? Was the art here serious or whimsical, or maybe a mix of both? The images are deceptively simple. However, there were a few places nearby where modern people had made marks on the rocks, and seeing their pathetic, juvenile works raised my esteem for the enigmatic work of these ancient artists.

I'd driven down through the San Joaquin Valley, crossing the southern Sierra at Walker Pass, and now I headed north on I-395, planning to re-cross the Sierra at Lake Tahoe. I made a couple of short side-trips up to McGee Canyon and Convict Lake. Although I had a pocket camera on me, I had to run back to the car to get my D800 when I saw these cool little ice floes. The wind had just come up and broken them loose, and in another 15 minutes that whole ice sheet in the distance had blown to shore.

The Mono Craters had a nice dusting of snow. In fact, many of the mountains in the farther distance east were covered with snow, and someday, not too many years from now, I hope to do a lot more exploring out there. 

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Apres Storm

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If Saturday's storm wasn't wrecking anything for you -- and I hope it wasn't -- I know you had to have enjoyed it as much as I did. One thing I knew for sure was that the waterfalls would be going off on Sunday, so I got up early to drive out to the falls on Little Carson Creek.

We heard a single roll of thunder just before dawn Sunday, and that was followed by a brief downpour of rain and hail. I thought I might not get out of bed after all, but as the sun began to rise I could see breaks in the clouds. Then, still under the covers, I watched passing clouds slowly reveal the waning crescent moon, and I knew I'd have to get up and go. 

I parked and hiked up an unmarked but often-used trail. I mean it is unmarked on my maps, which I forgot to double-check before I left home. About half-way up the trail I remembered that the mapped trail, called the Old Sled Trail, was a little southwest of where I parked. No matter. I ran into a couple of women at the falls who had hiked up a third route -- Pine Mountain Road to Oat Hill Road -- from Azalea Hill. The ladies were looking for a loop hike, but they didn't have a map so I told them there is no loop. You could follow Little Carson Creek down toward Kent Lake reservoir, turn left (south) on the Alpine-Kent Pump Road, then left again on the Old Vee Road back up to Oat Hill Road, but try explaining that to someone without being able to show them on a map.

I used my binoculars to look for foothill yellow-legged frogs along the edges of the waterfalls and would not have seen this guy without them. From a distance he was too well camouflaged.

It began to rain just as I was leaving the frogs and falls behind. I enjoyed watching the rain glinting in the sun from the comfort of my portable cave (a large golf umbrella), and soon reach a serpentine outcrop near the top of the falls. 

Spring beauty wildflowers formed little pink pillows in the serpentine soil.

This view of East Peak from the Old Sled Trail was especially nice with the fragrant California lilac bush in full bloom. I ran into numerous hikers on my way down, and there were lots of cars parked at the bottom, and also at the bottom of the Old Sled Trail.

Looping back home by circumnavigating Mt. Tam, I stopped by the Lily Pond to see what was up. Along with the Indian warrior, there were a few early-blooming mission bells (Fritillaria affinis).

I was interested in this banana slug. I've seen them eating mushrooms and even heard one eating living plant leaves (in an otherwise very quiet redwood forest), but this was the first I'd seen one eating lichen.

Between Lily Pond and Alpine Dam, this fallen tree lay across the road. There was no way to know for sure if I would eventually be turned back by a rock slide or downed tree, but thankfully there was nothing more serious than this spot. Numerous cars were parked at the foot of Cataract Creek, but I didn't stop. My stomach was telling me it was lunchtime, so I drove up the mountain and along the length of Bolinas Ridge toward home. There was a little more rain up there, but when I got home I learned it hadn't rained a drop all day in San Francisco. However, we appear to be getting a few drops right now, as I wrap up this blog post at 5 p.m.

This was actually my first picture of the day. I'd brought along an old Lumix point-and-shoot for just such an event. I was lucky to find a spot to pull over with a relatively unobstructed view. Unfortunately, there had been no rainbow happening back when I was nicely centered between the sun and the mountain, but I was still happy to catch this rainbow with the mountain, if not centered under the bow, at least still in the frame.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016


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I ended up going over much the same ground on this trip to Mt. Tam as I did the previous week. 

I started with the calla lilies because the sky was nicer this time around.

I checked up on the camera trap, and a chipmunk scampered away from the area as I approached. Such a fast-moving critter could be hard to catch when it takes 2.5 seconds for the video to start recording after movement is detected.

Once again, I was mainly drawn to the little stuff, like lichens in the moss.

I even found some pixie-cup lichens holding goblets of water.

Delicate white maids also grew in the moss.

Mushroom season isn't over till the fat porcini sings.

The hound's tongue inflorescence has unfurled since last week.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Arch Rock

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Out at Arch Rock last week in Point Reyes I was interested to see how the collapsed section has changed. There's no longer any remaining arch. The creek remains re-routed at the newly created dam, and I'll be interested to see how long it takes before the collapsed section is completely cleared out.

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Flowers 'n Stuff

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I'd love to shoot this at sunset, but I'm such a morning person. In all these years I've probably been on Mt. Tam at sunset a half-dozen times. I'm sure a lot of people are just the opposite, and it's definitely great to be up there when a colorful sunset goes off. I'd like to have a lot more callas in bloom when I finally check the sunset shot off my bucket list.

I'd hoped to find shooting stars, and there were just a couple in bloom. I'm sure there are many more at lower elevations. The flower on the left is so fresh its anthers haven't changed to blue yet.

I also spotted a very few telltale spots of pink in the forest and was glad to see my first calypso orchids of the year. Like the shooting stars, they are only just beginning to bloom.

Shooting stars, coming in at an angle.

It was a day for macro photography. I saw the colorful madrone leaf on the ground some distance away and walked toward it thinking it was something man-made. As a bonus, I found it near some pristine moss with no douglas fir needles in it.

California native people used to eat the almond-sized bulbs of these orchids, but I've always resisted doing so myself, not wanting to sacrifice a plant. I finally decided to give it a try though and found it bland with just a slightly bitter tang, and not terribly mucilagenous.

This is a fairly large fruiting of bear's head fungus. This is another wild edible that I have yet to try. I rarely remember to bring wax paper bags with me to collect anything I might find while shooting pictures. I don't really have extra room in the camera pack anyway. Another item for the bucket list.

I enjoyed just slowly stalking around the wet woods and dewy meadows, seeing whatever I might find. The wet season is my favorite time of year on Mt. Tam, and I've resented the long drought for taking that away from me. Days like today, once taken for granted, are now savored.

I know it's been a good morning when I head home with soaking wet knees.

In contrast to the mossy garden, a tapestry of rock and scattered lichen.

Veins and cracks in the serpentine.

I looked for more oak leaf critters like I found on my last visit, but there were none to be found.

My final stop was with a crowded inflorescence of hound's tongue waiting to spring into action.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Morse Gulch

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Two weeks without rain, and the Great Morse Gulch Flood has receded. I still needed to change out of my hiking shoes due to shallow pools and mud near the trailhead. I wore short pants and the same kind of footwear I like to wear when I'm photographing on the reefs at low tide. They're like rubber moccasins, and they were fine for the whole trail.

I didn't do any photography until I reached the falls, which are maybe a half-mile up the trail, but I did a little shooting on the way back. The trail is maintained basically by people hiking on it, and I saw one set each of relatively fresh human and dog tracks. Although I've only been up there once before, I still remembered it -- walking through pine duff, coming out into a small meadow, treading carefully along a stretch not much wider than my feet. Someone had put up rope in a few places, meaning to be helpful.

Most of the fungi was spooged out, but it was nice to find this late-season cup fungus still attached to its host branch.

The creek runs down that ravine in the middle distance. On the opposite hillside are numerous buckeyes. All that brown on the ground is dried-up sword fern.

I have some canyon gooseberry trying to grow in my very shaded little yard, but it has yet to unfurl its leaves or sprout any flowers.

More gooseberry flowers.

Close-up of the white maids (or milk maids, as some people call them).

After leaving Morse Gulch I went up the mountain and hiked down to Upper Cataract Falls which was already kind of disappointingly tame after two weeks with no rain.

I've been watching for wildlife in vain for so long, I couldn't believe it when I spotted my first coyote in probably a year. It used to be a fairly common thing to see coyotes, and not unheard of to see the occasional bobcat or gray fox, but the last few years have been tough for sightings, at least for me.

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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Gone Trappin'

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I haven't set out my camera trap since the rains started. I like to set it up at water holes since they are a natural lure to animals, but once the rain starts, there's water everywhere, not just in a few places. I had a waterless spot in mind where various animal trails led into the woods next to a meadow, and I happened upon a few chanterelles near my new trap location.

Chanterelles often grow under oaks, and these were no exception. This is a close view of the underside of a fallen oak leaf. Our live oaks are evergreen, and I took an interest in the fact that there were still-green leaves that had fallen to the ground. Most of the leaves were very small, but this one was just big enough to be worth photographing. Check out the cropped section below:

When I was out in the woods trying to photograph the leaf, I didn't notice the little denizens burrowed into the brown spots. They look more like a critter than a fungus, don't you think? I have got to start bringing my hand lens with me again. I tried to find the little nuggets in this online field guide to no avail.

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