Military Ridge Trail: County PB to Fitchburg

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Following my recent hike on the western portion of the Military Ridge Trail, I had hiked the entire 40-mile multi-use trail, which follows a former railroad right-of-way, except for about 2.7 miles at the eastern end, between Verona and Fitchburg and just outside Madison, Wisconsin. Two days after that hike it worked out to hike the eastern section of the trail, continuing for almost 1 mile past the end of the Military Ridge Trail on the Military Ridge Path to a major junction of multi-use paths.

My brother, with whom I was visiting, was happy to walk with me. We started at the Old County Rd PB access point, where I’d finished my first hike on the trail a few years earlier, shown as the orange dot on the GPS track.

GPS track

GPS track

We continued past mile markers 2 and 1, looking for mile marker 0 (which we never did find, though we explored an alternate route up to County PD). The section that continues north of PD is the Military Ridge Path, which connects the Military Ridge Trail to a local network of multi-use trails. Since the trail is based on a former railroad route, elevation changes are very gentle. The sharp-looking peak on the outbound and return paths represents a pedestrian / bike-path bridge over a busy street.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The trailhead at Old County Rd PB also hosts an access point for the Ice Age Trail. As we walked along the trail we passed some of the wildflowers I’d seen on previous Military Ridge Trail hikes, such as staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) and crown vetch (Securigera varia). The first section of trail is just beyond the outskirts of Madison and its suburbs, so there were intermittent views of lush green farmland.

picture of farmland just outside Madison, Wisconsin

Farmland just outside Madison, Wisconsin

One of the common roadside flowers is red clover (Trifolium pretense), which is actually light pink. If you look closely at the flower heads, the blossoms are rather delicate and pretty.

image of red clover

Red clover

A more exotic, though still common, flower is St John’s wort, here shown with a visiting insect.

photo of St John’s wort with a visiting insect

St John’s wort with a visiting insect

We also passed a small man-made waterfall, which turned out to be a cascade aerator: a water restoration project in the Upper Sugar River Watershed.

Shortly before we reached mile marker 2 we came upon a small cluster of elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), with sprays of tiny white 5-petaled flowers.

picture of elderberry bush

Elderberry bush

Other wildflowers in this area included wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), chicory (Cichorum intybus), and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). One flower that was simultaneously common and not-so-common was this one, which looks a lot like a dandelion flower. However, the leaves are different and the plant is 2 to 2½ feet tall. I’m pretty sure it is yellow hawkweed (Hieracium caespitorum).

image of yellow hawkweed

Yellow hawkweed

During this hike we passed several species of sunflower-like wildflowers. One was the yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Here the petals, actually ray flowers, are only partly bent back into the typical cone shape, but the conical cluster of disc flowers in the center help with the identification.

photo of yellow coneflower

Yellow coneflower

We passed a small serene lake, Goose Lake, about 1.5 miles after joining the Military Ridge Trail. Just before we reached mile marker 1 we encountered one of the signs that make up Planet Trek, a 23-mile scale model of the solar system that reaches from the Sun, in downtown Madison, to Pluto, in Mt Horeb. Prior to this hike I had encountered all of the signs in Planet Trek except for Uranus, so I’d been looking forward to finding it – of course, I knew it was in this section of the Military Ridge Trail, but I’d made a point of finding all of the signs once I found my first one, Saturn.

picture of Uranus, part of the Planet Trek exhibit

Uranus, part of the Planet Trek exhibit

We were occasionally passing milkweed (Asclepius) plants, and were lucky to find one with a visiting monarch butterfly on one of the leaves.

image of monarch butterfly on a milkweed leaf

Monarch butterfly on a milkweed leaf

When we were less than 0.2 mile from where mile marker 0 should have been, there was kind of a spur trail that went up to County Rd PD. Looking for the sign, we went up that way but returned, not having found the sign, and continued along the previous path. Within slightly less than 0.2 mile we found signage that indicated that the Military Ridge Trail was becoming the Military Ridge Path – but still no mile marker 0. Other signage indicated 0.9 mile to Cannonball Path. In any case, we continued ahead.

After the 0.9 mile we arrived at a rather complex junction of bike paths and multi-use trails. In fact, no fewer than 5 trails intersect at this junction! They are not even all on the same level: some pass over others, with a series of ramps joining them.

photo of signage for a complex bike/pedestrian trail junction

Signage for a complex bike/pedestrian trail junction

Fortunately there is a kiosk with a map (including “You Are Here”).   And there is a small area planted with some prairie wildflowers, including black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). The central “mound” of disc flowers is quite a bit flatter than in the yellow coneflower.

picture of black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

There were also several purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

image of purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

After exploring around the trail junction for several minutes, we began our return trip. Along the way we stopped to enjoy a few more wildflowers. One was goldenrod (Solidago), with masses of tiny golden-colored blossoms. There are something like 24 species of goldenrod found in Wisconsin, so I decided not to try to identify this any further.

photo of goldenrod


We also noticed spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Finally, there was yet another type of sunflower-like flower: rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). It turns out that there are 4 types of silphium that are found regionally, and in the coming days I would be introduced to all four of them!

picture of rosinweed: one of the four Wisconsin silphium flowers

Rosinweed: one of the four Wisconsin silphium flowers

This was a very pleasant walk/hike along a mostly paved section of multi-use trail: quite close to the Madison metropolitan area, yet with at least a partly rural feel. It was nice to complete hiking the Military Ridge Trail, to find the final planet in the Planet Trek exhibit, and to enjoy many wildflowers.

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Military Ridge Trail – Pikes Peak Rd to Dodgeville

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A couple of years ago I discovered, and started hiking on, the Military Ridge Trail, a 40-mile multi-use trail that runs along a former railroad right of way west of Madison, Wisconsin. I have made it into a small “project” to see if I can hike/walk the entire trail. This walk was on the western part of the trail, starting at my previous westernmost point at the crossing of Pikes Peak Rd and continuing to the western terminus in Dodgeville. This section was about 11½ miles long. My total mileage was a little higher since the best place to park a car was about ¼ mile east of the actual terminus, and I walked to the end and then back to where my ride was parked. On the GPS track the orange dot shows where I started walking at Pikes Peak Rd.

GPS track

GPS track

The trail is marked with mile markers. Pikes Peak Rd corresponds roughly to mile 28.7, and mile marker 40 is at the Dodgeville terminus at WI-23. As a former railroad route, the trail is very flat: over the section I walked the elevation gain was under 300 feet. There was an 80-foot climb over 2 miles near the end of my walk – I can’t say that I even noticed the climb, it was so gentle.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The trail passes primarily through typical Wisconsin farmland. Much of the way the right-of-way is lined on one or both sides by a row of trees or tall shrubs, but there are numerous breaks where one can see out to the countryside.

photo of Wisconsin countryside view along the Military Ridge Trail

Wisconsin countryside view along the Military Ridge Trail

There was a nice selection of what I consider to be common roadside wildflowers, including several I’d seen the previous year and some others I’d not noticed or else not highlighted. Among the latter was some staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), with its dark red clusters contrasting with the leaves. I saw more staghorn sumac in the spring while hiking several hundred miles to the east in southern Ontario.

picture of staghorn sumac

Staghorn sumac

Perhaps the most common wildflowers were Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), crown vetch (Securigera varia), and pink clover. There was also St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and yellow, or prairie, coneflower (Ratibida pinnata). Another favorite that I associate with the Midwest, rather than California (where I live), is common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). I did see a monarch butterfly on a milkweed flower cluster, but it flitted away long before I could get my camera out and ready to snap a picture.

image of common milkweed

Common milkweed

There were several clusters of day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva) and quite a bit of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). For some reason the monarda flower heads make me think of a bad hair day, but they are actually quite pretty.

photo of wild bergamot

Wild bergamot

Since the day was very warm, well into the high 80’s by the end of my walk (with correspondingly high humidity), I was grateful for the intermittent areas of full shade across the trail. In the shady areas I frequently noted false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemose), which had progressed past the flowering stage into the berry stage. I have seen this distinctive plant, or its “non-false” cousin, many times on California-based hikes, so it was interesting to find it 1500 miles away.

picture of false Solomon’s seal

False Solomon’s seal

There was also common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and white campion (Silene alba), both of which I’d seen previously. A Midwest specialty is the wide variety of sunflower-related wildflowers. One of my favorites is the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The blossoms in this cluster had not yet fully progressed to the coneflower shape, in which the ray flowers bend back to form the cone with the disc flowers at the center forming the point.

image of purple coneflowers

Purple coneflowers

There were several spots with bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), with intensely blue-violet blossoms.

photo of bittersweet nightshade

Bittersweet nightshade

About 2½ miles into my walk I reached Ridgeway, a village settled in the 1840’s as lead mines were developed by Cornish, Welsh, Irish, and German immigrants. As I entered town I noted a gas station sign that was an immediate reminder that I certainly was no longer in California, where today’s gas prices are about $1 higher per gallon.

picture of gas station in Ridgeway

Gas station in Ridgeway

The former train station appears to have been restored to serve as an attractive rest stop along the Military Ridge Trail. At the far end in this picture there is even a restored railroad car that looks as though it might house some office space facing the adjacent town street.

image of Ridgeway train station

Ridgeway train station

At the train station there was a notice posted for an upcoming Party on Pluto – as it turns out, this was a confluence of three backstories. One is that the Pluto “station” of a 23-mile scale-model solar system is about 15 miles east of Ridgeway along the Military Ridge Trail. Another is that the historic New Horizons flyby of Pluto had occurred just three days prior to my walk, and general interest in Pluto should have been at an unusually high level. According to the notice, party attendees would be invited to sign a petition to send to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to change Pluto’s status from dwarf planet to troll planet. The third backstory is that Mt Horeb, site of Pluto, is the self-proclaimed troll capital of the world.

Ridgeway also has an intimate baseball field. As it happened, as I approached the ball field and noticed a couple of workers in the midst of a small project, a very loud siren suddenly crescendoed and then decrescendoed. Although I’d checked the weather and the forecast did not include any intense events, I walked back to the workers to ask what it was, fearing a tornado warning with no obvious place to take shelter. One of the workers looked at me calmly and said “Oh, it’s probably the noon whistle.” It had been at least 40 years since I’d heard one, so I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but a quick peek at my GPS time indicated that that was the right explanation. I confess that that was a relief!

After the relative excitement passing through the only village along my nearly 12-mile walk, I continued back into the countryside and my solitary but pleasant walk. I should note that the Military Ridge Trail probably has more bicycle than foot traffic, and I was passed by a couple dozen cyclists, mostly in family groups, during my walk.

I continued to see more familiar wildflowers, including common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), creeping bellflower (Campanula raspunculoides), birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), and chicory (Cichorium intybus). A new one was horse nettle (Solanum carolinese), which reminded me somewhat of the bitter nightshade except that the yellow stamens (I think) are spread out in the horse nettle and clustered in the nightshade.

photo of horse nettle

Horse nettle

Right next to some horse nettle there was some rough-fruited cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), reminiscent of a related species (sticky cinquefoil) I’ve seen frequently while hiking in the Sierra Nevada. I believe this is cinquefoil even though there are six petals! (Another nearby blossom had the more expected five petals.)

picture of rough-fruited cinquefoil, I think

Rough-fruited cinquefoil, I think

There is a great variety in the Midwest of daisy-like flowers. One example I noted was common fleabane (Erigeron strigosus), with as many as 40 white ray flowers and yellow disc flowers in the center.

image of common fleabane

Common fleabane

A simple contrast is the oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), which has many fewer – and wider – ray flowers. The daisy blossoms are also larger than the fleabane blossoms.

photo of oxeye daisy

Oxeye daisy

When traveling through Wisconsin countryside I always look forward to passing farm buildings. For some reason I am particularly attracted by sets of 3 silos.

picture of Wisconsin farm

Wisconsin farm

In the nearly 10-mile section between Ridgeway and Dodgeville there were a few long sections in which the trail just seemed to pass along, peacefully, between rows of shrubs and trees.

image of Military Ridge Trail between Ridgeway and Dodgeville

Military Ridge Trail between Ridgeway and Dodgeville

Along the way I passed what appeared to have previously been an informal train stop: a colorfully decorated bench with an attached roof, right next to the trail.

By this time I was seeing fewer “new” (for the day) wildflowers, though I enjoyed passing butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris), yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta), and tall bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum). Some of the shrubs along the trail had clusters of orange berries, and others had red berries. I haven’t determined what they are and whether they are one, or two different, species.

My brother had driven me to my starting point, dropped me off, and gone exploring in Governor Dodge State Park, which is just a few miles from the Military Ridge Trail terminus in Dodgeville. He then parked at the trailhead and walked in to meet me, and we finished our day’s walks together. The actual end of the Military Ridge Trail is at WI-23 in Dodgeville, but the trailhead and parking area are about ¼ mile from the end near a Wisconsin DNR station. Here there is a small kiosk and a branch of the Little Free Library.

photo of Little Free Library at the Dodgeville trailhead

Little Free Library at the Dodgeville trailhead

As we drove back to Madison I noticed what appeared to be a small country cemetery off the highway a short distance. I quickly snapped a couple of pictures and later identified it as St Bridget’s Cemetery, which is outside Ridgeway. It is on a roster of Iowa County cemeteries. Like other country cemeteries, it is closely bounded by farmland – in this case, corn – with an access road.

picture of St Bridget’s Cemetery, Ridgeway

St Bridget’s Cemetery, Ridgeway

In spite of the hot and humid weather, this was a pleasant walk through the Wisconsin countryside, with pretty views and a nice variety of summer wildflowers. At the end of this walk I had completed all of the Military Ridge Trail except for a 2½ mile section at the eastern end, not far from Madison. I was already making a plan to hike the last section!

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Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve

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The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority recently had a grand opening ceremony for a new open space: Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve, located in Morgan Hill in southern Santa Clara County. It was a great opportunity to hike a brand new 4-mile loop trail, the Arrowhead Loop Trail, as soon as it was officially open. The grand opening festivities incorporated several displays, including one which had wild birds hosted by the Open Space Authority. The birds included several owls (e.g. pygmy, barn, great horned) and birds of prey. I think my favorite was Owlivia. Her eyes are amazing!

image of Owlivia the owl

Owlivia the owl

At 348 acres, Coyote Valley OSP is compact. It is located on the west side of the Coyote Valley, going up into some foothills that, farther west, lead into the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. In fact, if you could fly parallel to Palm Ave, the access road, Loma Prieta is located just 7 miles from the park entrance.

The trail system consists of the Arrowhead Loop Trail, along with Heart’s Delight Trail. The loop is 4 miles and includes two scenic overlooks, a picnic area, and two other benches placed along the trail at interesting view locations. On the GPS track, the orange dot denotes the parking area at the trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

I decided to hike around the loop in the counterclockwise direction. The highest point on the loop is about 600 feet higher than the parking area.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The first 0.4 mile along Heart’s Delight Trail and into the Arrowhead Loop Trail has just a slight incline. From this part of the trail I had a pretty view into the hills ahead. The day of the opening there were scattered clouds that made interesting patterns in the sky.

picture of preview of the Arrowhead Loop Trail

Preview of the Arrowhead Loop Trail

The trail begins to climb with a comfortable grade and a few minor rolls as it winds into the hills. Bridges cross seasonal streams, dry at this time. About 1.1 mile from the trailhead there is a short spur trail to a picnic area with three picnic tables near some trees. Although the view is partially obstructed at the picnic area, it opens up just past the spur trail. To the northeast there is a wonderful view of Lick Observatory atop Mt Hamilton. I’m not positive but I think the rounded peak toward the right may be Mt Isabel.

photo of Lick Observatory’s white buildings on Mt Hamilton

Lick Observatory’s white buildings are on Mt Hamilton

To the northwest the towers on Coyote Peak, in nearby Santa Teresa County Park, are visible.

image of view across the hills toward Coyote Peak

View across the hills toward Coyote Peak

And there are great views directly across the Coyote Valley. In this picture the skinny grey rectangle just above the tree in the center foreground is the special event parking for the grand opening. The regular parking is just to the right, almost behind the edge of a hill. For reference, the elevation is about 700 feet.

picture of view across Coyote Valley

View across Coyote Valley

Earlier in the spring there are more numerous wildflowers in the area than I found; clearly the 2015 wildflower season in the Bay Area is just about complete. I did find a few California everlasting (Pseudognaphalium californicum) and some sticky monkey flowers (Mimulus auranciacus).

photo of sticky monkey flower

Sticky monkey flower

About 1.8 miles from the trailhead, near 800 feet elevation, there is a bench which is a nice place to pause to enjoy the views. The trail climbs another 50 feet or so before beginning the descent, gently for the first ¼ mile.

At the southern point on the loop the trail turns left. Approaching this junction (where a “not a trail” continues straight) Loma Prieta is briefly visible. Also, there is another nice view of the hills with scattered oak trees.

image of hills with scattered oak trees

Hills with scattered oak trees

Just before the descent becomes steeper I found a few elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) and some ruby chalice clarkia (Clarkia rubicunda). If you magnify this picture you can see pollen grains and all of the flower’s reproductive parts.

picture of ruby chalice clarkia

Ruby chalice clarkia

As the trail descends there is a junction with a short spur trail that leads to a bench on a scenic overlook. The bench faces essentially directly toward Mission Peak, which rises almost 25 miles away, above everything else in the line of sight. Although it’s not apparent in this picture, the Alum Rock area of east San Jose is also in the line of sight, between the folds of hills.

photo of Mission Peak, 25 miles northwest

Mission Peak, 25 miles northwest

During the remainder of the descent there is another bench and scenic overlook, and the trail winds through the hills to keep the grade pleasant. The trail briefly passes close to an intermittent stream, in the summer surprisingly marked by a few patches of ferns next to the trail.

At the time of the grand opening the hills were in their typical summer golden hues. I expect they are even more stunning in winter-time green hues. There are areas in the preserve with serpentine rock and soil, which host special plant and insect communities. I look forward to visit another time in a different season.

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Tahoe Rim Trail and Pacific Crest Trail: Echo Summit to Bryan Meadow

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This hike was on a section of trail just south of Echo Summit, where the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are coincident. It was an out-and-back day hike and is one of the hikes selected for the Tahoe Rim Trail Association’s 2015 Trail Challenge. I did the Trail Explorers version of the challenge hike, to Bryan Meadow and back. The route is within El Dorado National Forest.

The GPS track shows an overview of the route, with the orange dot denoting the trailhead just off US-50 at Echo Summit, not far from South Lake Tahoe.

GPS track

GPS track

Although I have hiked this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail previously, for some reason I didn’t remember exactly how to find the trail access from the trailhead. As a result, I kind of wandered around the parking area of an out-of-season adventure company before finding the trail; this added about 0.5 mile at the beginning of the hike. However, I enjoyed finding some seep monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) and blue penstemon while on my little detour.

The trail climbs pretty steadily to about 8700 feet elevation before dropping down about 200 feet to the area around Bryan Meadow.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I should note that it was definitely “in season” for Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through-hikers, and I met at least a dozen hiking in groups of 1 to 3 during the day. I enjoy these encounters and particularly enjoy wishing everyone a wonderful – and safe – experience. At times I was a bit apologetic that I was only doing a short day hike, with a correspondingly light pack, but one of the through hikers had a great response. Of his own through hike with his wife, he said “every day is another day hike”.

Besides being the season for PCT through-hikers – and Tahoe Rim Trail through-hikers – it was definitely wildflower season. Very soon after starting up the trail proper I passed by a large colony of white-flowering tobacco brush (Ceanothus velutinous) along the trail. The characteristic fragrance was especially strong in the warm sun.

photo of tobacco brush

Tobacco brush

Not much farther I passed a pretty patch of lupine.

image of lupine


There was also a second white-flowering shrub that I think is mountain red elderberry (Sambucus microbotrys). The trail passes back and forth between open and forested areas, where I saw snowplant (Sarcodes sanguinea), pussypaws (Calyptridium umbellatum), and wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus) among large boulders and outcroppings. In a damp, shaded area there were several beautiful crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

picture of crimson columbine

Crimson columbine

In many places along and near the trail there was mountain pride (Penstemon newberryi), with masses of brilliant pink-purple blossoms.

photo of mountain pride brightening up the trail

Mountain pride brightened up the trail

About 1.5 miles up the trail (not counting my detour at the beginning) it crosses a creek on a simple wooden bridge, just above Benwood Meadow. In this area I saw pretty face (Triteleia ixioides), spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa), paintbrush, and a yellow flower that looked a lot like chicory – except that I can’t find any reference to a yellow-colored type of chicory or similar flower. I also saw a flower that reminded me of mule ears, but the entire plant is shorter, with different leaves and more profuse flowers. I think it is seep-spring arnica (Arnica longifolia).

image of seep-spring arnica

Seep-spring arnica

After the bridge the trail begins to climb, with a grade of about 11.5%. It winds and climbs about 400 vertical feet through a rocky area.

picture of trail at the beginning of a rocky area

Trail at the beginning of a rocky area

Part way through this section I stopped for a short break where there was a nice view of nearby Little Round Top, about 3½ miles away.

photo of Little Round Top

Little Round Top

There was a beautiful, old-looking Jeffrey pine growing among the boulders.

image of Jeffrey pine

Jeffrey pine

About 2.7 miles up the trail it crosses the same stream again, around 8300 feet elevation. Near this stream crossing there was marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala, sometimes designated C. howellii), which grows in damp, marshy places.

picture of marsh marigold next to a stream crossing

Marsh marigold next to a stream crossing

Shortly after this, at a switchback in the trail, there is a distant view of the southeastern corner of Lake Tahoe some 2200 feet below, with the South Lake Tahoe Airport clearly visible. The Carson Range, including Genoa Peak, is visible on the skyline.

photo of Lake Tahoe view

Lake Tahoe view

Not far past this viewpoint I found a pretty, low-growing evergreen shrub with needle-like leaves and distinctive pink blossoms with long, protruding stamens. It is called purple mountain heath or red heather (Phyllodoce breweri).

image of purple mountain heath

Purple mountain heath

About 3.3 miles from the trailhead the trail crosses over a slight ridge and begins to descend toward Bryan Meadow. In this area it passes through forest, passing shooting stars, forget-me-nots, pine violets, and other shade-loving wildflowers such as these tiny (less than ¼“ long) blue-eyed Marys (Collinsia parviflora). I have seen these dainty flowers elsewhere but I generally have a difficult time getting an in-focus picture.

picture of tiny blue-eyed Marys

Tiny blue-eyed Marys

I intended to turn around at Bryan Meadow. It’s possible that I didn’t hike quite far enough, or else the meadow is more like a hillside clearing filled with meadow-like flora, including flowering corn lilies. In any case, at 3.8 miles from the trailhead I decided to turn around. Near my turnaround I noticed a patch of several of these low-growing wildflowers: western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata).

photo of western springbeauty

Western springbeauty

As I returned through the forested area I paused to appreciate some Douglas wallflower (Erysimum perenne).

image of Douglas wallflower

Douglas wallflower

I happened to notice a small butterfly as it landed on a plant and then slowly pirouetted almost a full circle before continuing to another plant. I think it is a Hoffman’s checkerspot, based on the coloring and pattern.

picture of Hoffman’s checkerspot, I think

Hoffman’s checkerspot, I think

From time to time I heard (rather than saw) birds in the forest. Suddenly I noticed a bird with an orange head. While I didn’t get any really good pictures, I was able to determine that it was either a female or an immature male pine grosbeak.

Later on during the descent I decided to photograph some of the manzanita (Arctostaphylos) blossoms. There are over 100 species of manzanita found in California, so I do not want to try to guess which one it is!

photo of manzanita blossoms

Manzanita blossoms

Near the trailhead I stopped to photograph another wildflower I’d been seeing in numerous locations but had had difficulty photographing. I found some with good lighting, as well as several nearby blossoms, which facilitated getting a good picture. It is called sticky cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa).

image of sticky cinquefoil

Sticky cinquefoil

Near the trailhead I noticed that a list was posted of local PCT trail angels, available to support through-hikers with rides (presumably to South Lake Tahoe) or lodging. Angels indeed!

As I had driven to the trailhead in the morning I had noticed that there was some visible smoke from a wildfire that had started a few days earlier not far from Markleeville. There were a couple of places along the trail where it was possible to see some smoke. Fortunately it did not impact the hike – and, more importantly, has been progressively contained without property damage.

Posted in Eldorado National Forest, Pacific Crest Trail, South Tahoe, Tahoe Rim Trail | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Butterfly Valley Botanical Area Nature Trail wildflower adventure

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Butterfly Valley Botanical Area is a specially designated botanical area in the Plumas National Forest a few miles north of Quincy, California. It is about 500 acres in size. It was designated as a botanical area in 1976 and currently hosts a Nature Study of 5 species of plants including the California pitcher plant, also known as the cobra lily (more about this plant later).

I learned about Butterfly Valley in connection with a recent hike on the Pacific Crest Trail not far from Quincy, and immediately resolved to return for a wildflower visit as soon as it was practical. A formalized list of vascular plants found in the botanical area exceeds 500 species, including significant biodiversity. The most famous of the plants is the California pitcher plant, but the list includes some 4 insectivorous plant species, 12 orchid species, 24 species in the lily family, numerous ferns, etc.

My visit was somewhat late in the spring wildflower season and therefore was kind of a tantalizing introduction to this special place. I’m sure there were many more wildflowers a bit earlier, but still my visit was highlighted by numerous wildflowers, many still unidentified (by me, anyway). In this post I’m including pictures of some that I thought were pretty, interesting, and/or photogenic.

Recently the Forest Service has constructed a nature trail that loops around the heart of the Botanical Area. My GPS data recorded 3.1 miles not counting a deliberate backtrack. I spent nearly an hour tromping around in the area where the pitcher plants are, so the actual loop distance without this tromping around would be somewhat less. But who would come here and not spend some time marveling at the stars of the wildflower show?

Finding the nature trail turned out to be a bit of an adventure, especially since I’m not familiar with the local roads. The way that visitors usually get there is via Blackhawk Rd, less than 0.3 miles north/west of the Forest Service’s Mt Hough Ranger Station on CA-70. When I arrived in the area I went to the ranger station for information and was given (partial) directions and a map to access via Butterfly Valley Rd. Unfortunately I continued to refer to some information I’d found on the internet regarding the Blackhawk Rd entry route, while trying to figure things out with the Butterfly Valley Rd map. No wonder the mileages, turns, road markings (where present), etc did not agree!

Eventually I did a full restart after nearly an hour of driving around and scratching my head. And I turned on my GPS to at least record my path for my subsequent edification. The first GPS track shows the two driving routes. The orange track is my path from CA-70 to the trailhead I’d actually found while driving around, and the grey part of the track is my exit path, which shows the approach via Blackhawk Rd.

GPS track - driving routes

GPS track – driving routes

In any case, during my pre-hike drive I stopped several times to investigate wildflowers that I saw along the road. One of the first was some chicory (Cichorium intybus). I’d also seen some along CA-70 driving into the area, so was planning to stop as soon as I saw some off the high-speed road. I see chicory often in Wisconsin but had not noticed it in California.

image of chicory


There were several patches of brilliant pink everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), also called perennial pea or sweet pea. I simply had to stop and investigate the colorful flowers!

photo of everlasting pea

Everlasting pea

Another bright pink flower also caught my eye. This one’s blossom is fluted, with a flare to an almost flat tip. I haven’t yet discovered what it is.

picture of tall bright pink wildflower along Butterfly Valley Rd

Tall bright pink wildflower along Butterfly Valley Rd

And yet another distinctive flower by the roadside was this one. The right picture shows the leaf structure at the lower part of the long stem, with separated platter-like layers of leaves. The left picture shows the pretty white blossoms.

image of tall white flower with layers of leaves

Tall white flower with layers of leaves

The information pamphlet provided by the ranger – so new that it is clearly labeled DRAFT – shows 3 trailheads for the Butterfly Valley Botanical Area Nature Trail. The Butterfly Valley Rd entry goes to the north trailhead, indicated as the orange dot on the GPS track. I decided to go around the loop in the counterclockwise direction, saving the pitcher plants for near the end of my mini-hike. The pitcher plant area is the dead-end part of the track at the upper center of the loop. There was relatively little elevation change, only about 260 feet, so I’m not including the elevation profile.

GPS track - nature trail

GPS track – nature trail

The trailhead, at the junction of Butterfly Valley Rd (PC [Plumas County] 417) and Bog Rd (25N47), is well-signed with a parking area for 3 or 4 cars. About 0.1 mile down the trail there is a Y junction; I went right to go around the loop counterclockwise. Most of the trail passes through forest. I passed some pincushion plants and a down log with some white fungus. Shortly I found what I think is leafless wintergreen (Pyrola aphylla). Notable characteristics include the red stem and inverted (nodding) flowers with 5 cupped petals.

photo of leafless wintergreen, I think

Leafless wintergreen, I think

I saw quite a few of this next flower all along the trail. They might be wild orchids, but I don’t know the orchid family well enough to make an identification. The flower heads have what I call an apartment house type of structure, with rows of bracts(?) denoting where blossoms will emerge. Note that the lower petal of each blossom has a fringed edge. Some plants had reddish flower heads, like these, while others’ flower heads were green – perhaps earlier in the blooming cycle.

picture of unidentified wildflower noted all along the Nature Trail

Unidentified wildflower noted all along the Nature Trail

The trail crosses Bog Rd at the south end of the loop, about 1 mile from the trailhead. There was signage at the road crossing for Beargrass Glade, so I decided to backtrack to see if I could find the feature that was prominent enough to have signage. My trail information mentioned finding a small trickle and then following it off-trail. I didn’t find a trickle, or any other evidence of moisture, near the right location so I abandoned the search and continued around the loop. At the Bog Rd crossing there is another trailhead. About 0.4 mile after the road crossing there is a T junction; it looks like a sideroad on the GPS track. I went left (north) here, to approach the bog area. Along the next section of trail I encountered some white brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina), or white wild hyacinth.

image of white brodiaea

White brodiaea

Approaching the bog the forest gives way to a meadow-like area, with plants that appreciate more sun. Here I found a shrub with pretty light purple flower spikes. The smaller flower clusters almost make a spiral pattern around the main stem.

photo of shrub with light purple flower spike

Shrub with light purple flower spike

Continuing along the trail, perhaps 0.3 mile past the T junction, I finally found my first California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica)! Pitcher plants use various means to attract insects into an opening under the hood. After that, the insect gets trapped in liquid that the plant stores inside the lower part of the leaf, and the insect decomposes and is digested. This is why the plants are designated as insectivorous.

picture of California pitcher plants

California pitcher plants

Another example shows the prominent leaf structure that extends from the main leaf. It certainly looks like a forked tongue! It is easy to see why these plants are also called cobra lilies.

image of pitcher plant

Pitcher plant

To be clear, the part of the plant that people marvel over is the leafy part of the plant. There is also a flower, which grows on a taller stem. Here is what the flower looks like: nodding, with yellow-green petals. The structure in the center is the fruit, or seed pod.

photo of California pitcher plant flower

California pitcher plant flower

The pitcher plants were growing among shrubs with long leaves and clusters of small white flowers.

picture of shrub with white flowers, growing among the pitcher plants

Shrub with white flowers, growing among the pitcher plants

In the damper areas near the bog – which was no longer very boggy – there were quite a few leopard lilies (Lilium pardalinum), with spectacular orange blossoms with large, backward-curving petals with maroon spots. The spots are only partly visible in this picture. These flowers are also, for some reason, also called tiger lilies; I didn’t see any stripes!

image of leopard lily

Leopard lily

In this area there was hedgenettle, some tiny blue-eyed Mary-like flowers (less than ¼ inch across), a couple of past-prime star tulips (Calochortus family), and what may be rein orchids (Piperia or Platanthera families). There were also some Macloskey’s violets (Viola macloskeyi).

photo of Macloskey’s violet

Macloskey’s violet

On my way back to the T intersection I took the very short spur trail over to Bog Rd, where the third official trailhead is located, then continued around the loop. On the east side of the bog area the trail is close to the meadow/bog, but mostly back in forest. Here I noticed quite a few more wildflowers, including pretty California chicory (Rafinesquia californica) and some mallow-like flowers.

After returning to my car, I drove out via Bog Rd and Blackhawk Rd, passing areas identified as Rubble Gap and Fern Glen. I stopped several times for brief explorations. Near the Big Blackhawk Creek crossing there were more leopard lilies, rein orchids, possible wild orchids, and ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare). When I reached CA-70 via Blackhawk Rd, perhaps 2.5 miles southeast of Butterfly Valley Rd as shown in the GPS track, I began my 70-mile return drive to Truckee. Quincy hosts the campus of Feather River College, a two-year community college. Near the road to campus I noticed several groupings of everlasting peas, including some that were a lighter shade of pink.

picture of light pink everlasting pea

Light pink everlasting pea

Along the roadways there were several types of wildflower, some of which I tried to identify on-the-fly and others that required a careful stop on the road shoulder for a quick look. There were at least two, perhaps more, types of lupine (Lupinus), as well as johnny-tucks and, near Sattley, patches of smooth vetch (Vicia dasycarpa). One of the roadside stops revealed some yellow seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) and what I think are common madia (Madia elegans).

image of common madia, I think

Common madia, I think

Although this visit entailed a 150-mile round-trip drive from my local base in Truckee, the array of wildflowers – even almost off-season – made the trip well worthwhile. I look forward to return another time, closer to the peak of the wildflower season!

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Hunter Lake Trail

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The Hunter Lake Trail – distinct from the Hunter Creek Trail, which is not far away – is in the Eastern Sierra just west of Reno, NV. It is in a strip of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest between two sections of Mount Rose Wilderness in Washoe County. The trail is basically a forest road that climbs up into the National Forest; like many other forest roads, there are subsidiary roads here and there, some better signed than others.

Because I was leading a group hike without having hiked the trail before, I did a checkout hike about 3 weeks in advance of the official hike. This post is kind of a combination of the two hikes. In both cases, I took a somewhat different route on the outbound and return trips, on the lower part of the trail where there are quite a few alternate trails. For the official hike we went about 7 miles on the outbound hike and ended up returning by a shorter route following the main road/trail. The orange dot on the GPS track shows the trailhead, which is at the edge of a residential area with a modest amount of street parking.

GPS track

GPS track

As soon as you go up what amounts to a berm, there is a flat grassy area to the left where, on the checkout hike, I immediately noticed some white flowers and went over to investigate. It turned out that they were prickly poppies (Argemone munita). The flowers are reminiscent of matilija poppies that I see in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the prickly poppy plants are much shorter, perhaps 2 feet tall.

picture of prickly poppy

Prickly poppy

Near the prickly poppies I noticed more white flowers and was startled to discover that they were mariposa lilies. From my close-up photos I was able to identify them as Bruneau mariposa lilies (Calochortus bruneaunis). They actually look quite similar to the Leichtlin mariposa lily, but the purple anthers and subtle green stripe on the outside of the petals confirm the Bruneau mariposa lily identification.

image of Bruneau mariposa lily

Bruneau mariposa lily

At a Y intersection not far from the trailhead I went left, and this branch of the trail is relatively flat for 1.5-2 miles before beginning a steady climb for the remainder of the outbound trip. The elevation difference between the trailhead and the turnaround point for the hike was nearly 3000 feet. I should mention that we never found Hunter Lake. Someone we met near the trailhead told us there really isn’t a lake, so we didn’t look very hard for it. Instead, since the temperature was getting into the 90’s, we turned around when we felt we had accomplished sufficient climbing for the day!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

On the day of my checkout hike I found more wildflowers than on the day of the official hike just 3 weeks later. In fact, the day of my checkout hike I encountered someone jogging up the trail and commented on the number of flowers I was seeing. He responded that, at that time, it was about as green as Reno gets. So I wasn’t really surprised that there were fewer flowers a few weeks later as the ground was getting drier and spring was transitioning into summer.

One of the unusual finds of the checkout hike was this unidentified white flower with interesting and intricate structures on the many flowers in the flower head.

photo of unidentified white flower

Unidentified white flower

There were several different types of yellow flower along the trail, and I’ve been having difficulty getting them identified. On the checkout hike, in the lower flat section, I first heard, then briefly saw, a couple of quail.

I have seen several different types of lupine in the Tahoe area. This one, perhaps longspur lupine (Lupinus arbustus), had relatively tall flower stalks, with whiter blossoms at the base than at the top of the stalks. Note that an insect seems to be about to land on one of the blossoms.

picture of lupine with an approaching insect

Lupine with an approaching insect

Also on the checkout hike, I noticed an unusual thistle that was not yet quite ready to produce blossoms, though it was getting ready. I believe it is an elk thistle (Cirsium scariosum var. scariosum), and I thought the rosette-like structure was striking.

image of elk thistle getting ready to produce blossoms

Elk thistle getting ready to produce blossoms

There was plenty of mule’s ear, some balsamroot (similar to mule’s ear but with different-shaped leaves), and phacelia, as well as checkermallow in some areas. I happened to notice a particular rock that had apparently been painted red, and a small lizard was sunning itself on top of the rock.

photo of lizard warming in the sun

Lizard warming in the sun

I also noticed a patch of pincushion plant with several small blossoms radiating out from the ball. I think it is called needleleaf pincushion plant or Great Basin navarretia (Navarretia intertexta ssp. propinqua).

picture of navarretia, or pincushion plant

Navarretia, or pincushion plant

A little over 6100 feet elevation there is an area where there was a fire within the last few years. There is an entire hillside where more than half the trees burned.

image of hillside with trees indicating the location of a recent fire

Hillside with trees indicating the location of a recent fire

There were some areas covered with a low-growing plant, like ground cover. I believe it is mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus), actually a very low-growing shrub.

photo of mahala mat

Mahala mat

Below 6500 feet or so, the trail passes primarily through grassland and chaparral, with modest tree cover. Above 6500 feet there are sections with more variety: pine, chaparral, even some aspens. In addition to the quail I heard meadowlarks and wrens, and saw a few California sister butterflies. On the checkout hike I turned around just under 6800 feet elevation, where the trail curves around the side of the hill and enters a forested area. A little below that I passed some thistle plants that were a silvery color. On the official hike they were blooming with brilliant red flowers. I think they are snowy thistles (Cirsium occidentale var. candidissimum).

picture of snowy thistle

Snowy thistle

There were also some shrubs with oval-shaped clusters of tiny white flowers. One of the clusters was being visited by a bee. I haven’t yet identified this shrub.

image of shrub with white flower clusters

Shrub with white flower clusters

At about 7300 feet elevation there was a T intersection where we turned right to continue uphill. In this area there was quite a bit of phlox as well as some onion (Allium), though I don’t know the exact type.

picture of onion wildflower

Onion wildflower

Another flower that we saw in numerous places along the trail is penstemon.

photo of penstemon along Hunter Lake Trail

Penstemon along Hunter Lake Trail

As the group hike approached 7500 feet elevation we noted that the trail was apparently going up the side of a hill in front of us, and we could see a jeep descending the trail. A few minutes later we met up with the jeep just as we were about to make our way around a large puddle that had filled a slight depression in the trail. We asked the couple in the jeep if they’d found Hunter Lake; they said No, and we all agreed that the puddle might be as close as we were going to get to a lake that day!

photo of Hunter Lake – not exactly!

Hunter Lake – not exactly!

With increasing elevation the views of the surrounding area got more and more spectacular. Here is a view across the Washoe Valley south of Reno with the Virginia Range in the background.

image of view of the Washoe Valley and Virginia Range

View of the Washoe Valley and Virginia Range

Above 7500 feet there were several secondary roads with signage indicating that we were on road 41392. We passed 41392A, B, and C. When we came to D we stayed on what we thought was the main road, but my GPS track told me afterward that we had turned off the road that goes to whatever exists of Hunter Lake. In any case, when we got to 8300 feet elevation we decided to take a break on a small hilltop, enjoying some welcome breeze and views of the surrounding hills before making our way back toward the trailhead.

On the way down we bypassed the more circuitous route we’d taken uphill and followed the main trail to the trailhead. Around 5800 feet elevation there is a big intersection where we turned left to go around a hill. From this section of trail there was a great view of Peavine Peak about 9 miles away almost due north.

picture of Peavine Peak

Peavine Peak

There was also a nice view of the downtown Reno skyline.

image of Reno skyline

Reno skyline

From this point it was less than a mile back to the trailhead.

Considering that we had found the trail to be relatively rocky and with steeply banked sides in many areas, the hike was more difficult than the average 10% grade suggests. However, the views were excellent and, in season, the wildflowers are numerous and colorful.

Posted in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada, wildflower hikes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edge to Edge part 8: Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Park HQ to Waddell Beach

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This hike, along Skyline to the Sea Trail from Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters to Waddell Beach, is basically Day 3 of a popular 3-day through hike from Saratoga Gap to Waddell Beach on the Pacific Ocean. It is also the 8th – and last – segment of an 8-segment hike that I have been doing with a group of ice skating friends, from the edge of San Francisco Bay to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. We decided to call our adventure Edge to Edge.

Actually, most of the group completed the final section a year ago. Two of us couldn’t participate in that hike and had been planning for several months to do it together. A large part of the complication was arranging for rides to Big Basin and from Waddell Beach. There is a summer-season bus from/to Santa Cruz but that didn’t seem convenient, so we arranged family/friend rides. Eventually the details fell into place and we were ready to go hike!

This entire section is in Santa Cruz County, and the orange dot on the GPS track shows the starting point at Big Basin Headquarters. When we walked up to the ranger station window for a map, they knew right away that we were hiking one-way to Waddell Beach: being dropped off was the give-away clue.

GPS track

GPS track

The previous segment of our Edge to Edge hike had included a moderate climb from Waterman Gap to China Grade Rd before descending into the heart of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This time there was a smaller climb to Middle Ridge Rd and an even smaller climb on the hikers-only trail between Alder and Horse Camp campgrounds at the lower end of Skyline to the Sea Trail. In addition, we had decided that, if we felt we had time and energy when we got to the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail, we would take a 1-mile side trip up this trail to see two more waterfalls. Apparently Berry Creek and West Berry Creek run all year, even in a drought, so there would be water flowing over all three falls. That was a pretty good incentive!

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

This side trip added about 2.4 miles to the total hike distance, as well as about 300 feet of climbing.

At the beginning of the hike we decided to go the long way around the beautiful Redwood Trail loop near park headquarters, and this added about 0.6 mile to the total hike distance. It was a beautiful way to set the stage for the rest of the hike. The trail loops around past several exceptionally large old-growth redwoods, including Father of the Forest (estimated age: 2000 years) and Mother of the Forest (previously the tallest in Big Basin). Here a youngster is posing in front of one of the named trees, I believe Chimney Tree.

photo of old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

Old-growth redwood along Redwood Trail

We noticed a pretty flowering shrub which turned out to be western azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Our hike was the day after an unusual, but welcome, June rain shower, and we noticed droplets on some of the flowers and shrubs we encountered.

picture of western azalea

Western azalea

Some of the redwoods are impressively tall, as well as broad.

image of tall redwood

Tall redwood

After going most of the way around the Redwood Trail loop we were ready to set off down Skyline to the Sea Trail. Before long we started seeing violets, both yellow redwood violets (Viola sempervirens) and white two-eyed violets (Viola ocellata), the latter also known as western heart’s ease. The two dark purple splotches are the eyes.

photo of redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

Redwood violet (left) and two-eyed violet (right)

There was also a lot of redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) growing beneath the redwoods, almost like a carpet in places.

picture of redwood sorrel

Redwood sorrel

We saw quite a bit of Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and hedge nettle (Stachys ajugoides) as well as some Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa). I was a bit surprised at the Ithuriel’s spear, since I tend to associate it with more open areas, i.e., a bit more sun. At one point, when we had stopped for pictures, we were overtaken by a group of young hikers, perhaps a summer camp group accompanied by counselors. They were immediately followed by another group of mostly seniors. I think both groups were doing a popular loop hike past the waterfalls and back to park headquarters. Not long after the groups passed us we arrived at Middle Ridge Rd, the highest-elevation point of the hike, about 1.6 miles from the start.

We heard one or more Swainson’s thrushes singing; the rising spiral-like song is hauntingly beautiful and always makes me feel that I am in a huge, remote forest.

Another redwood forest find was western trillium (Trillium ovatum). We saw quite a few of these distinctive 3-leafed plants among the redwoods. They were not actively blooming, but the flowering part of the plant was on a stem, and this is characteristic of the species.

image of western trillium

Western trillium

The trail is very well-maintained, but occasionally down trees have been left in place. In this case a notch was cut to facilitate hiking under the tree. I thought of it as a drive-through tree for hikers!

photo of drive-through tree for hikers

Drive-through tree for hikers

Another plant we saw frequently was Andrew’s clintonia (Clintonia andrewsiana), or red bead lily. A beautiful flower head is at the top of a tall naked (leafless) stem, with several large leaves at the base, here with fresh rain droplets.

picture of Andrew’s clintonia

Andrew’s clintonia

We also saw quite a few of these plants with small, delicate star-like blossoms. I’m pretty sure they are sugarscoop (Tiarella trifoliata var. unifoliata). I don’t know that it’s related to the flower’s name, but the blossoms reminded me of sugar granules being sprinkled onto some kind of confection.

image of sugarscoop


In this part of the park there is a network of creeks, and Skyline to the Sea Trail passes along Kelly Creek and West Waddell Creek.

Just past 5.2 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction with Berry Creek Falls Trail. First we hiked the short distance up the trail to the viewing area for Berry Creek Falls, certainly a highlight of this hike or of the popular loop hike the groups were on. There is undoubtedly more water flow in wetter years, but even with lower water flow this is a beautiful waterfall.

photo of Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

After a short break we continued up Berry Creek Falls Trail, which climbs next to Berry Creek and West Berry Creek for about a mile before reaching Silver Falls. Along the way we passed some Pacific star flower (Lysimachia latifolia) and an as-yet unidentified caterpillar, as well as a beautiful cluster of horsetail (Equisetum).

picture of Silver Falls

Silver Falls

The trail continues to climb very steeply past Silver Falls, with steps cut into the rock and cable handrails. Shortly past the falls we reached what might be the lower part of Golden Cascade, where we turned around and returned to Skyline to the Sea Trail. While we were stopped for another short break – not because we needed another one, but because it was so beautiful and there was a bench – a Steller’s jay played hide-and-seek with us in the nearby redwood trees.

We continued down Skyline to the Sea Trail, which passes from old-growth to second-growth around Berry Creek. The forest is still beautiful. About 0.5 mile below Berry Creek there is a fairly large sign and the trail changes into a fire road. Shortly before the sign the trail crosses West Waddell Creek on what could best be described as a seasonal bridge: a couple of wide planks, easily removed if needed, spanning from each edge of the creek to a large rock in the middle. Then a more substantial bridge re-crosses the creek overlooking lush plants below.

The trail goes over a couple of small rolls, and overall the descent becomes quite gentle. Some of the down trees are decorated with colorful fungus; this is known as turkey tail (Trametes versicolor).

image of turkey tail fungus on a log

Turkey tail fungus on a log

At some point it started to rain lightly; this had been in the forecast so we were prepared, and donned light rain jackets. I also had a rain shield for my pack, which I deployed, more to try it out than for serious rain protection.

As we descended the forest gradually opened up, with small clearings and meadows near the trail. We passed clusters of forget-me-nots (Myosotis), a few globe lilies (Calochortus albus), and Fernald’s irises (Iris fernaldii). There is even a piece of equipment, apparently abandoned in place next to the trail (and, sadly, subsequently tagged by hikers). In one of the open areas we came across a few tall plants topped by stalks of white bell-shaped flowers, which I’ve been unable to identify.

photo of white bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

White bell-shaped flowers on the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

This section of trail is second-growth redwoods with some deciduous trees, and the mix gradually changes. There was a distinctive down tree, apparently suspended across the trail about 10 feet up in a configuration that I refer to as a good catch. Some investigation revealed that it was actually resting on another stump that acted as a fulcrum. Pretty amazing, but I guess the tree is not about to collapse onto the trail!

The trail passes Twin Redwoods and Alder campgrounds about 12.3 miles from the start; it would have been 9.3 miles without our side trips. Here a hikers-only trail branches away from the fire road, and there is a last climb through pretty forest habitat. We passed some wavyleaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum var. pomeridianum) and quite a few trees draped in lichen; this is a particularly impressive example.

picture of lichen-draped tree

Lichen-draped tree

Through the trees lining the trail we could see a few wisps of ocean fog in the valley to our left, through which Waddell Creek runs to the ocean. We also encountered a few examples of this pretty flower, which I think is California chicory (Rafinesquia californica), or California plumseed.

image of California chicory blossom with some buds

California chicory blossom with some buds

As we descended from the highest point of the hikers-only trail we came to another highlight of the hike: our first view (of the day) of the Pacific Ocean, the endpoint of our amazing 8-hike journey.

picture of initial view of the Pacific Ocean

Initial view of the Pacific Ocean

The ocean view was so exciting, in fact, that I almost missed a group of canyon dudleya (Dudleya cymosa) blooming on the rock face immediately next to the trail on the high side. While researching the identification I learned that dudleyas’ stems grow from one side of the succulent leaf cluster at the base, while stonecrops’ stems grow from the center.

photo of Canyon dudleya

Canyon dudleya

I had provided our ride with a radio so that we could touch bases and let her know our progress, since our arrival time was at best an estimate. We had already checked in a couple of miles back, but she called again to see how we were doing: reveling in our first ocean view and sightseeing!

After about 1.6 miles on the hikers-only trail, it rejoins the road through the Rancho Del Oso portion of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and the view across the valley opens up. Here we could see more wisps of fog floating over the valley.

image of fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

Fog along the lower part of Skyline to the Sea Trail

The trail passes through Rancho Del Oso and next to the Theodore J Hoover Natural Preserve. In this area we passed a few stands of plants with tall stalks topped by these striking red flower spikes.

photo of red flower spikes

Red flower spikes

As we walked along the last half mile or so we saw 3 or 4 bunnies venture onto the trail, then scoot away back into the vegetation as soon as they detected our presence. And as we crossed CA-1 to Waddell Beach our friend was waiting, enjoying watching the waves and a couple of sail-surfers zooming around in the breeze. Of course we continued across the sandy beach to do our ceremonial finger-dip into the Pacific. It was more than a little tricky to figure out how to get my fingers wet without getting my feet even wetter, as the waves alternately ran up the beach and then retreated.

picture of ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

Ceremonial finger dip in the Pacific

If I look a bit awkward in the picture it might be because I’d loaded up my pack with at least 5-7 extra pounds of things I wouldn’t need, as training for an upcoming hiking trip.

This particular hike had been anticipated since the first segment of our Edge to Edge journey, and it was a beautiful and enjoyable final stage of that journey. I wonder where we will go next!

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