Santa Clara County Parks PixInParks Challenge: Ed Levin

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Tucked away in Milpitas, in the northeastern portion of Santa Clara County, is Ed Levin County Park, a 1500-acre open space that seems much larger than its area suggests.  That may partly be because the park hosts 20 miles of hiking trails or because it connects directly to other open spaces that lead several miles along the ridgeline to Ohlone College in Fremont.

Ed Levin County Park is also the location of one of seven hikes designated by Santa Clara County Parks for the 2018 PixInParks Challenge.  The idea of the Challenge is that you hike a route, generally under 5 miles, that passes a specific location where you take a picture, preferably of yourself or the group you are with.  You then post the picture to social media with hashtags.  I did this hike by myself, as I often do, so I took a picture that included my day pack and hiking poles.  My picture is oriented in a different direction from the suggested direction because I thought the hillsides in the background were especially photogenic, including Mission Peak and Mt Allison on the skyline.  The single previous time I hiked in Ed Levin, I was hiking a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which goes along the ridge line to the Mission Peak area (and beyond).

photo of PixInParks Challenge hike photo spot in Ed Levin County Park

PixInParks Challenge hike photo spot in Ed Levin County Park

This hike is located in the southern portion of the park, in the Spring Valley area.  The GPS track shows my route, with the orange dot showing the location of the parking area farthest from Calaveras Rd.  The semi-loop south and west of the parking area is the designated 2.4-mile Challenge hike route.  I added a smaller loop through the picnic area and around Spring Valley Pond to extend the distance to 3.1 miles.

GPS track

GPS track

My GPS recorded 620 feet of elevation gain and loss, for an average grade of about 7.5%, which I consider to be moderate.  I should note, however, that the initial descent is steeper, about 14% grade, and the short ascent just after 1.5 miles is actually almost a 20% grade.  That’s pretty steep, but fortunately it is short.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

From the outermost picnic area I headed toward the obvious trailhead, which is close to an equestrian staging area.  The park hosts guided rides, which were well-attended on the beautiful Saturday of my visit.  As I hiked southwest on Spring Valley Trail past a Y junction, a group of equestrians was returning to the staging area on the other fork of the Y.  If you look closely in the picture you can see the sign denoting the Y junction, just in front of the second horse.

photo of equestrians on the Spring Valley Trail at Ed Levin County Park

Equestrians on the Spring Valley Trail at Ed Levin County Park

The steeper descent mentioned above is along Spring Valley Trail between the Y and a junction with a connector trail.  At this time, this section of trail is rather overgrown and, in addition, is muddy in places.  I suspect the muddiness is due to recent rains as well as local springs.

photo of overgrown section of Spring Valley Trail

Overgrown section of Spring Valley Trail

The lush (aggressive?) growth includes many different plants, but some fairly tall thistles caught my attention.  Although many thistle flowers are pretty, many species found in the Bay Area are actually non-natives that are considered to be aggressive, since they tend to crowd out native plants.  The current conditions on this trail are an example of this type of crowding.

photo of thistle

Thistle

About 0.3 mile from the trailhead I reached the connector trail, which departs to the left from the Spring Valley Trail.  The Spring Valley Trail is actually closed past this junction currently, due to unsafe conditions – which could mean even more extensive mud.  I presume this is just a temporary seasonal issue.

The connector trail is only about 0.1 mile long; it crosses a paved road, Vista Ridge Dr, and then tees into Los Coches Ridge Trail.  The Challenge route goes all the way around a 1.6-mile loop.  I decided to go around the loop in the clockwise direction, and that meant I was up on the ridge at higher elevations first.

Climbing up the ridge I passed several common wildflowers, including miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), spring vetch (Vicia sativa), wild geranium, winter vetch (Vicia villosa ssp villosa), wavy-leaf soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), and blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum).  Initially the trail passed through a shaded woodland and then emerged onto grassy hillsides with nearly unobstructed views of the Diablo Range foothills to the east.  In a few places there were bright yellow carpets of flowers, possibly (invasive) wild mustard, on the green hillsides.

photo of view of hills with yellow carpets of flowers

View of hills with yellow carpets of flowers

Approaching the highest elevation of the hike there was a nice view toward the west northwest of the southern end of San Francisco Bay, with part of Fremont in the foreground.

photo of view of San Francisco Bay

View of San Francisco Bay

In this part of the trail I found fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis), and some rose clover (Trifolium hirtum).  All of these are commonly found along trails locally.

photo of rose clover

Rose clover

Here is some fiddleneck; it looks like one of the blossoms has a small beetle visitor.

photo of fiddleneck

Fiddleneck

Once I reached the shaded picnic table that serves as the PixInParks location and took my pictures, I sat down for a lunch break.  I noticed a couple of hang gliders floating downward from one of the launch points farther north and higher up in Ed Levin County Park.

photo of hang glider enjoying the beautiful weather

Hang glider enjoying the beautiful weather

In the immediate area there were California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), filarees (Erodium botrys), a few morning glories (Calystegia sp), and bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum).

photo of bluedick

Bluedick

There was also some yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus).

photo of yellow sticky monkeyflower

Yellow sticky monkeyflower

After my break I continued around the Los Coches Trail loop.  As I was hiking downhill I noticed a deer at least 100 meters down the trail ahead of me.  It had stopped in the trail and was looking at me intently, on full alert.  I carefully and slowly got out my camera and took a picture.  Then I must have made a more sudden movement, because the deer quickly ran off into the forested area near the trail.

photo of deer on alert

Deer on alert

This was one area where I saw lupine, possibly sky lupine (Lupinus nanus), which is one of the common local species.  I experimented with getting a rather extreme close-up picture of some of the blossoms.

photo of sky lupine, possibly

Sky lupine, possibly

After descending to an elevation comparable to the trailhead elevation the trail climbed once again; this is the steep section mentioned previously.  Fortunately the trail was fairly well shaded.  I passed some spiny buttercup (Ranunculus muricatus) and paintbrush (Castilleja affinis, probably).

photo of paintbrush along Los Coches Ridge Trail

Paintbrush along Los Coches Ridge Trail

After 1.6 miles on the Los Coches Ridge loop trail and 2 miles total, I reached the connector trail, re-crossed the road, and hiked up the overgrown, in places muddy, trail section.  It didn’t seem quite as tricky on the return, perhaps because I’d already negotiated it once.  When I arrived back at the parking area I decided to explore the nearby Spring Valley Pond.  On the east side of the pond there are some group picnic areas.   The pond itself is pretty and serene.

photo of Spring Valley Pond

Spring Valley Pond

As I continued around the pond I noticed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) standing on a half-submerged tree branch.  Partly because there was a bit of brush between the trail and the heron, I was able to take pictures, walk a short distance, take more pictures, and repeat.  This process took a few minutes, during which the heron barely moved.  It was a treat to view it from almost 180 degrees of viewpoint.

photo of great blue heron at Spring Valley Pond

Great blue heron at Spring Valley Pond

After I finished circling the pond I returned to the nearby parking area.  This southern portion of Ed Levin County Park provides a pleasant venue for family-oriented hiking, picnicking, or equestrian activities.

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Sonoma Valley Regional Park after 2017 Wildfires

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In the weeks and months following a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a wildfire, it can be beneficial to the local community for visitors to return, as part of the more general return to normalcy.  In the aftermath of the large scale, devastating October 2017 wildfires in the North Bay, in addition to the significant rebuilding of buildings and infrastructure, the parks and open spaces have been on a post-wildfire recovery.  Recently I visited Sonoma Valley Regional Park in Glen Ellen, a few miles southeast of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.  This park was affected by what was initially the Adobe Fire, which later merged into the larger Nuns Fire.  My hike passed through areas that had been burned; winter rains had encouraged annual grasses and quite a few wildflowers to grow.

picture of burned trees with a carpet of new annual grasses in Sonoma Valley Regional Park

Burned trees with a carpet of new annual grasses in Sonoma Valley Regional Park

My visit was partly prompted by the possibility of seeing a couple of specific wildflowers in a marshy meadow area near the park entrance.  So, in a way, I actually did two hikes: a short one (about 0.5 mile) in the meadow and a longer one (2.9 additional miles) in the main part of the park.  The GPS track image shows an overview, with the orange dot indicating the parking area.  The meadow is northeast of the parking area, and I spent about 45 minutes wandering through it and taking pictures.  Once I headed into the heart of the park I picked up the pace, covering the 2.9 miles in under 2 hours: still notably slower than a hike without wildflowers!

GPS track

GPS track

It appeared to me that the meadow had not been affected by the wildfire at all, but that could be because there weren’t trees nearby to show burn after-effects.  The grasses and annual wildflowers certainly seemed green and lush.  I had barely cleared the pavement of the parking lot when I noticed some sun cups (Taraxia ovata).  Note that three of the four blossoms in the picture were being visited by small beetles.

picture of sun cups

Sun cups

The green grasses of the meadow were punctuated by areas of red.  Closer examination suggests that this was most likely some kind of dock, perhaps curly dock (Rumex crispus).  Unfortunately curly dock is considered an invasive non-native – I say unfortunately since it is actually rather attractive.

picture of curly dock, perhaps

Curly dock, perhaps

The meadow was also marked by a couple of large yellow areas, which turned out to be masses of one of the wildflowers I was especially looking for: Sonoma sunshine (Blennosperma bakeri).  Sonoma sunshine is endemic to Sonoma County and therefore is both native and rare.  Although the example in the picture looks fresh and cheery, in general the flowers were getting close to the end of their blooming period.

picture of Sonoma sunshine

Sonoma sunshine

There were also a few areas of white, which turned out to be masses of the other wildflower I was especially looking for: Douglas’ meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii ssp douglasii).  Just two weeks prior I had observed a different subspecies of L. douglasii  at North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve; that one is pure white while this one features bright yellow on the lower half of the petals.

picture of Douglas’ meadowfoam

Douglas’ meadowfoam

While exploring around the far edge of the meadow I noticed some small orange flowers against a property line fence.  They turned out to be field marigolds (Calendula arvensis).

picture of field marigold near the north end of the meadow

Field marigold near the north end of the meadow

Within the meadow area I also noticed several fairly common wildflowers: scarlet pimpernel (Lysimachia arvensis), lupine (Lupinus sp), California buttercup (Ranunculus californicus), winter vetch (Vicia villosa), and johnny tuck (Triphyseria eriantha).  There were also a few narrow-leaf mule ears (Wyethia angustifolia) and a patch of interesting-looking lichen-like plants.

As I walked back toward the parking area I noticed a few California poppies (Eschscholzia californica).  A rather striking observation was a pair of very light yellow blossoms.  This side-by-side composite shows how dramatically different in coloration the yellow blossoms were compared to typical California poppies.

picture of California poppies with very different colors

California poppies with very different colors

I also noted some spiny buttercups (Ranunculus muricatus), which have just 5 petals and a prominent spiny fruit that develops toward the end of the flowering phase.

picture of spiny buttercup

Spiny buttercup

After taking my time to explore the meadow I was ready to turn my attention to the heart of the park.  I hiked outbound on the paved Valley of the Moon Trail, then climbed up a small ridge for the return, mostly on the Woodland Star Trail.  Although the climb looks precipitous on the elevation profile, it was only about 250 feet.  The total elevation gain and loss for the hike was about 450 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Along the Valley of the Moon Trail I passed more Douglas’ meadowfoam, some different lupines, a few woodland stars (Lithophragma sp), popcorn flowers (Plagiobathrys sp), and milkmaids (Cardamine californica).  There were also some pretty, snow-white hued baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii var atomaria), with delicate purple veins and tiny purple spots.

picture of shite species of baby blue eyes

White species of baby blue eyes

I should note that the picture of the burned trees at the beginning of this post was taken in the heart of the park, where the evidence of recent fire was everywhere and inescapable.

About 0.7 mile along Valley of the Moon Trail, near the junction with Buttercup Trail, I came across a touching memorial to victims of the wildfires.  Each stone in the memorial was inscribed with a name and age; as was widely reported in the news at the time of the wildfires, many of the casualties were over 65 years of age.  One stone honored someone who had been 101.  These people were unable to flee in the face of rapidly moving fires.

picture of memorial to lives lost in the 2017 wildfires

Memorial to lives lost in the 2017 wildfires

After pausing to remember these losses I continued along Valley of the Moon Trail.  After a bit I found some Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla).

picture of Chinese houses

Chinese houses

Nearby there was some white-tipped clover (Trifolium variegatum), which has tiny and intricate detail when viewed under magnification (like my camera’s zoom lens).

picture of white-tipped clover

White-tipped clover

After covering about 1.3 miles on Valley of the Moon Trail there is a junction with Woodland Star Trail, where I planned to return to the parking area on the Woodland Star Trail “high road,” on a ridge along the southern boundary of the park.  Here I saw some blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), blue-eyed grass (Sisrynchium bellum), purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida), hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande), and common fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia).

Of course, there were many burned trees on this small ridge. In several places there were impressive manzanitas that had been burned.

picture of burned manzanita

Burned manzanita

These manzanitas exhibited various shades of burned leaves.

picture of burned leaves on a manzanita

Burned leaves on a manzanita

In this area I found the trail to be a little confusing.  At one place there was a fork in the trail and I took the fork that looked like it stayed higher on the ridge.  I soon found myself on the “wrong” side of a park boundary fence, and ended up walking through a small opening in order to return to the parallel trail that was within the park.

In this area I found several Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana).  As is suggested in the photo, there were masses of plants with relatively few flowers in bloom at the time of my visit.  I can only imagine how pretty it would be if all of the plants bloomed at once!

picture of Douglas iris

Douglas iris

Shortly after the Milkmaid Trail took off down to Valley of the Moon Trail there was a small open hill from which it appeared there would be views to the east.  I climbed up and was rewarded with a pretty view, between burned trees, of the Sonoma Mountains that separate the Glen Ellen – Sonoma area from the Rohnert Park – Petaluma area.  The brownish color of the mountain side suggests that those areas were also affected by the widespread fires.

picture of view of Sonoma Mountains east of Sonoma Valley Regional Park

View of Sonoma Mountains east of Sonoma Valley Regional Park

The small hillside leading up to the view point was carpeted in a mass of white-looking flowers, which turned out, upon closer study, to be true baby stars (Leptosiphon bicolor), which are characterized by the long pedicels above the many-fingered small leaves.

picture of true baby stars near the view point

True baby stars near the view point

Continuing along the Woodland Star Trail, the last small high point was marked by a pretty view of a small nearby pond.  I almost passed by a mass of small, delicate creamy-white flowers growing among some rocks, but once I noticed them I stopped to investigate and found that they were common phacelia (Phacelia distans).  There are many types of phacelia in Sonoma County and throughout California, and I think they can be confusing.  My identification was based on the color of the blossom, the length of the stamens, and – believe it or not – the lack of hairs on the stamens.  Sometimes it is necessary to go to that level of detail to specifically identify a species!

picture of common phacelia

Common phacelia

Nearby there was a magnificent oak tree with a carpet of new green grasses and sky lupine (Lupinus nanus).  When I arrived at the junction with Valley of the Moon Trail I noticed some English plantain (Plantago lanceolata).  I backtracked a short distance on Valley of the Moon Trail to appreciate the meadowfoam once again, and then continued back to the parking area.  As I approached I noticed some bird’s eye speedwell (Veronica persica), with bright blue, 1/3-inch diameter, blossoms.

picture of bird’s eye speedwell

Bird’s eye speedwell

I would describe my visit to Sonoma Valley Regional Park as beautiful under any circumstances, but it seemed special in the aftermath of the wildfires.  Although I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to tell which, if any, of the wildflowers I saw would be considered fire-followers, I certainly appreciated the colorful signs of new life.

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Santa Clara County Parks PixInParks Challenge: Mt Madonna

stats boxIn addition to official, widely-obsered national and state holidays there is a seemingly ever-growing list of unofficial “fun” holidays, one of which is Take a Walk in the Park Day, celebrated on March 30.  Since I regularly take walks or go on hikes in parks, it was easy to plan an outing to celebrate the occasion.  I decided to go one day later and to visit Mt Madonna County Park, located between Gilroy and Watsonville in southern Santa Clara County.  A second objective was to complete one of seven designated hikes in the 2018 PixInParks Challenge.

The PixInParks Challenge hikes are relatively short, all under 5 miles, each in a different park in the Santa Clara County Parks system of 26 parks.  The idea is that you hike to a specific location and take a picture there, preferably of yourself or your group, and then post it on social media.  Since I typically hike by myself, I have been taking a picture at the designated location including some of my equipment (e.g. day pack and/or hiking poles).

image of PixInParks Challenge hike photo spot in Mt Madonna County Park

PixInParks Challenge hike photo spot in Mt Madonna County Park

Since the official suggested hike was very short, only a 1-mile loop, I decided to make it a bit longer, devising a 1.9-mile loop.  The GPS track shows the route, with the orange dot denoting the parking area closest to the intended trail and that served as my trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

Although the 4600-acre park covers an elevation range of some 1400 feet, my loop hike was in a relatively small area near the top of the mountain and covered an elevation range of only about 250 feet.  The total elevation gain was 340 feet, with an equal loss, so the average grade was a moderate 6.8%.  As the elevation profile shows, the main uphill and downhill sections were steeper: around 11%.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I hiked the loop in the clockwise direction, making sure to pass by the photo location at the Miller House ruins, where cattle baron Henry Miller had a summer home in the redwood forest on top of Mt Madonna.  Mr Miller was an interesting character, having arrived in California at the age of 22 with $6 to his name and later having amassed an empire, according to one historical account, of some 22,000 square miles of land that he either owned or controlled through leases and grazing arrangements.  He was said to talk about his holdings in terms of square miles rather than acres; 1 square mile is equal to 640 acres.

From the parking area I headed along the continuation of the paved road that had led to the parking area, walking around the gate and following a sign pointing to the Miller house.  This is the Lower Miller Trail, and it immediately enters a pretty forested area.  Almost immediately I noticed an interesting madrone (Arbutus menziesii), all three of whose main branches reached toward the sky with an unusual twisted, or spiral-shaped, pattern.  I have occasionally observed this growth pattern in other locations, but this example was quite striking.

image of madrone with spiral-shaped main branches

Madrone with spiral-shaped main branches

The Miller House ruins are less than 1/4 mile from the parking area.  As I approached I noticed two types of wild berry bushes, both common but with unusual characteristics.  First was wild strawberry (Fragraria vesca), which is supposed to have 5 petals.  Clearly this flower only has 4, and as it turns out this complicated my successful identification.

image of wild strawberry near the Miller House ruins

Wild strawberry near the Miller House ruins

Next, essentially right next to the strawberry, was California blackberry (Rubus ursinus), which is also supposed to have 5 petals.  From the leaves and the general form of the flower I was able to identify it right away, but when I studied the picture I initially noted 6 petals – but two of the petals might have overlapped petals, which would make the total 8.

image of California blackberry near the Miller House ruins

California blackberry near the Miller House ruins

Perhaps these two examples were a field lesson that certain types of flowers (they are both in the rose family) are more prone than others to petal count errors.  Certainly our cultivated roses are encouraged to have many more than 5 petals and are bred and selected for petal number and other characteristics.

In any case, I spent a few minutes at the Miller House ruins, took my PixInParks pictures, and continued to follow the Lower Miller Trail, which descended through pretty coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens).  This picture gives a sense of how tall the trees are, with relatively few branches in the understory.

image of coast redwoods

Coast redwoods

About 1/2 mile from the trailhead the Lower Miller Trail tees at Loop Trail, where I turned right.  Almost immediately the Upper Miller Trail heads back up toward the Miller House, but I continued on Loop Trail in order to make my loop longer.  Shortly I encountered some yellow sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus), which I usually associate with a somewhat dryer, chaparral habitat.

image of yellow sticky monkeyflower

Yellow sticky monkeyflower

In the lower-elevation portion of my hike (see the elevation profile) my route passed portions of the rather extensive archery range.  I became aware of this because the trails passed several signs admonishing visitors to stay on the trail due to the presence of an active archery range.  Eventually I noticed one of the shooting sites; basically I would describe it as a kind of tunnel through the trees, with a shooting area nearer the trail and a target area farther away from the trail.  It seemed like an unusually rustic setting for an archery range.  In any case, I made sure to stay on the trails.

I passed a few Fernald’s iris (Iris fernaldii) near the bottom of Loop Trail.  These delicate irises are punctuated by a delicate yellow area along the centerline of the petals.

image of Fernald’s iris

Fernald’s iris

About 3/4 mile from the parking area Loop Trail tees into Ridge Trail, and here I turned right.  Almost immediately the Iron Springs Trail takes off to the left, and I followed it to enlarge the loop of my hike.  After 3/8 mile on Iron Springs Trail I followed Redwood Trail uphill, to the right, where I was hoping to find more redwoods.  I did, and many of the redwoods in this area were surrounded by low-growing redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana).  The three-leaf pattern is easy to identify, and the delicate blossoms range from dark to light pink to nearly snow-white.

image of redwood sorrel

Redwood sorrel

The Redwood Trail is only about 0.3 mile long, and at the top end I turned right to continue uphill on Rock Springs Trail; this was the only steep climb on the hike.  In this part of the forest I passed hounds tongue (Cynoglossum grande), and milk maids (Cardamine californica).  After another 1/4 mile or so I arrived at Upper Miller Trail, where I turned right to return to the parking area.  Along the way I passed a mass of forget me nots (Myosotis latifolia) with small baby-blue blossoms and either white or yellow centers, possibly depending on whether or not the blossom had been pollinated.

image of cluster of forget me not blossoms

Cluster of forget me not blossoms

Shortly after that I approached an amphitheater where ranger-led programs take place.  Under a nearby tree I found a few redwood violets (Viola sempervirens), one of several species of yellow violets that can be found in Santa Clara County.  They are distinguished from one another by the environment, leaf shape, petal color, and pattern of lines on the petals.

image of redwood violet

Redwood violet

As I continued toward the amphitheater I found some chickweed (Stellaria media), which has a distinctive leaf growth pattern and small (less than 1/2 inch diameter) white blossoms.

image of chickweed

Chickweed

After briefly exploring the amphitheater, which was below the park road, I started up a set of steps back to the road.  There I noticed a calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica), which is a commonly found garden flower in California and is actually native to southern Africa.

image of calla lily

Calla lily

Near the amphitheater there is a ranger station, apparently including a ranger residence.  In front of the station I found some periwinkle (Vinca major) and daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), both of which are also commonly found in California gardens.  I also noted some blue-eyed grass (Sisrinchium bellum) before I arrived at my car.

My only previous visit to Mt Madonna County Park was six years ago, to hike a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which this hike did not overlap at all.  This had been a very pleasant forest hike, a good choice for a warm day.

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Annie Bidwell Trail in Upper Bidwell Park, Chico

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Bidwell Park is a beautiful city park in Chico, in Butte County.  At 3670 acres it is one of the largest municipal parks in the country.  For my first visit I planned to hike the Annie Bidwell Trail, which is in the so-called upper park (Upper Bidwell Park), in a lovely canyon bisected by Big Chico Creek.  Although parts of the park are more heavily visited, the area through which Annie Bidwell Trail goes is a bit less-visited, and has a surprisingly remote feeling for a city park.

I was looking forward to learning what Bidwell Canyon was like, and in addition I was hoping to find a few checker lilies that had been reported in the lower portion of the Annie Bidwell Trail.  The lower, middle, and upper sections of the park are distinguished primarily by terrain, with the upper park leading into the Sierra foothills and having steeper terrain.  In addition, this part of the park contains interesting rock formations including Chico Formation sandstone and Lovejoy Basalt rocks.  I think I hiked past both types.

A highlight of the hike was views of the canyon and creek.  Here is a pretty view of the wall on the south side of the canyon, with brilliant green grasses, trees starting to leaf out, and a couple of western redbuds adding color spots.  I presume that the vertical mini-escarpment is some of the basalt.

photo of Bidwell Canyon south wall

Bidwell Canyon south wall

There is a trailhead providing easy access to the south side of the canyon, at the intersection of Centennial Ave and Falcon Pointe Drive.  The Annie Bidwell Trail runs northeast from the trailhead, roughly parallel to Big Chico Creek, for 4+ miles up to Ten Mile House Trail.  I hiked about 2/3 of the way up before I decided to turn around where a fallen tree crossed the trail.  My hike was about 6.2 miles round trip, as shown on this GPS track image, where the orange dot indicates the trailhead.

GPS track

GPS track

The total elevation gain was a little less than 1000 feet, so the average grade was about 6%.  However, there was a relatively steep 1/4-mile section, clearly distinguishable on the elevation profile, with a grade of about 16%.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

The initial 0.3 mile or so is quite flat, as the trail follows right next to Big Chico Creek and the canyon floor has mostly leveled out.  In this area there is a nearly vertical rock wall immediately on the other side of the trail from the creek.  There is an interesting community of moisture-loving plants, including miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) and others.  I noticed some maidenhair fern, probably California maidenhair fern (Adiantum jordanii), though I didn’t get a very good picture to confirm the identification.  That may have been because I also noticed some California pipevine (Aristolochia californica), which I’d never seen before and was on my “watch list” of native plants.  The pipevine has very interesting flower structures – sometimes in pairs – and serves as a host plant for pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

photo of California pipevine

California pipevine

On my outbound trip I actually passed right by the checker lilies I was looking for, but I did find them on the return trip, not far from the pipevine.  The area was so shaded that I almost missed them.  These checker lilies (Fritillaria affinis) are noticeably darker than the ones I have seen farther south in the San Francisco Bay Area.

photo of checker lily

Checker lily

About 0.4 mile from the trailhead there was a Bidwell Park signpost with a handwritten zero on two sides.  Right after that there was a fork where I went to the right to begin hiking uphill, since I had expected to do some climbing.  Shortly the trail passed into one of the several woodland plant communities in the park (there are numerous such distinct ecosystems).  After passing several large-sized rocks covered in moss, there is a short section of trail that crosses a patch of the Chico Formation sandstone.  The ground was still damp from recent rains, and I decided I should hike carefully through this section, since it looked like it could be slippery.

photo of Annie Bidwell Trail crossing some smooth sandstone

Annie Bidwell Trail crossing some smooth sandstone

After a little over 100 feet of climbing, and about 1 mile from the trailhead, there was a nice view of Big Chico Creek.

photo of Big Chico Creek

Big Chico Creek

The trail passed between woodland and more open, chaparral, areas.  In the open areas there was quite a bit of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus var cuneatus), with tight clusters of tiny white flowers.

photo of buckbrush

Buckbrush

I should mention that I used a nice online resource, actually an inventory of flora and fauna found in Upper Bidwell Park, to help with identification of some species, particularly those that are more local to the Chico and Butte County area.

The trail climbs to about 550 feet elevation and then drops quickly to continue next to Big Chico Creek.  Particularly in the higher areas, it is signed South Rim Trail.  There were some nice views north across Bidwell Canyon, with a portion of the golf course visible below, on the north side of the creek.  At the highest point there is a junction with Guardian Trail, which then runs parallel to the creek at higher elevation.  An online park trail map suggests that, where the trail does the steep descent to creek level, it is again the Annie Bidwell Trail.  I didn’t have a particularly good map with me during my hike, and I would say that the signage was a bit confusing to a first-time park user.

In the higher-elevation areas I saw familiar wildflowers including bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys sp), and common fiddlenecks (Amsinckia intermedia).  Later in the hike I found a very pale – I would say white – bluedick; it might have been D. capitatum ssp capitatum.

In any case, the terrain and trail environment was more riparian and grassland once the trail was essentially next to the creek again.  Here I found buttercups, vetch, and not-yet-blooming soap plant (Chlorogalum pomeridianum); this is one of relatively few plants I can recognize just from its foliage.

I was surprised to see a park sign that implied there was a place to ford Big Chico Creek.  I walked over to check it out, and it was clear that a ford would only be accomplished if there was much less water flowing in the creek!

In the area along the creek I began to see quite a few pipevine swallowtail butterflies.  I think this one must have paused for a moment between nectar feedings.

photo of pipevine swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail

The pipevine swallowtails visited several different types of flower.  Before long I found numerous pale iris near the trail; I believe they are ground, or long-tubed, iris (Iris macrosiphon).  This one was being visited by a pipevine swallowtail.

photo of ground, or long-tubed, iris with a pipevine swallowtail visitor

Ground, or long-tubed, iris with a pipevine swallowtail visitor

Just after I passed the group of iris I arrived at Bear Hole, 2.4 miles from the trailhead.  The trail on the north side of the creek, Lower Yahi Trail, is very close to the creek bank, and there was a virtual parade of hikers.  Some hikers obviously knew that Bear Hole is a nice swimming hole: there was a small crowd of youngsters enjoying some water play.  This view of Bear Hole also shows that the north side of the canyon rises more gradually than the south side, at least in this area.

photo of Bear Hole

Bear Hole

Downstream of Bear Hole, Big Chico Creek tumbles down a series of rapids between basalt-like rocks.

Just past Bear Hole there was another stand of long-tubed iris.  It was interesting to see if I could get a nice close-up of a sepal to show the delicate purple vein pattern and the yellow stripe down the center.

photo of long-tubed iris close-up

Long-tubed iris close-up

The Annie Bidwell Trail was climbing again, but at a more gradual rate, following the creek bank fairly closely.  I passed some johnnytuck (Tryphiseria eriantha), common lomatium (Lomatium utriculatum), goldfields (Lasthenia californica), purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida), and some small white flowers that reminded me of meadowfoam (Limnanthes sp).  The trail passed through a beautiful mixed grassland-woodland area, with lush grasses carpeting the ground under the trees.

photo of new grass, and new leaves on the trees

New grass, and new leaves on the trees

A little over 3 miles from the trailhead I noticed what looked like a faint use trail that branched off to the left toward the creek.  I decided to check it out and found a lovely viewpoint where I stopped for a break.  Here I found large-fruited lomatium (Lomatium macrocarpum) as well as sky lupine (Lupinus nanus).

photo of sky lupine

Sky lupine

I enjoyed a pretty view of the upper Bidwell Canyon, which becomes narrower at higher elevations.   There are steep cliffs on the north side and interesting rock mounds on the south side near the place where I’d sat down.

photo of view of the Upper Bidwell Canyon

View of the Upper Bidwell Canyon

I had already decided I would turn around near this spot, and a fallen tree across the trail less than 0.1 mile farther along confirmed the decision.  (I could have gone around the down tree, but decided to turn around anyway.)  On the return hike, as sometimes happens, I saw a few interesting things I’d missed on the outbound hike.  One was a good-sized cluster of bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor), named for the light purple, darker purple, and yellow coloring.

photo of bird’s-eye gilia

Bird’s-eye gilia

I also noted some old man of spring (Senecio vulgaris) and enjoyed views looking down Bidwell Canyon.  Occasionally there were large manzanitas (Arctostaphylos sp); by large I mean the main branches are at least 2-3 inches in diameter.

I also stopped to photograph some western redbud (Cercis occidentalis) right next to the trail.  The blossoms add wonderful springtime color to the local landscape!

photo of Western redbud

Western redbud

Near the final descent of Annie Bidwell Trail, about 0.6 mile from the trailhead, I noticed several Sierra fawn lilies (Erythronium multiscapideum) just off the trail on the high side.  Most of the blossoms seemed to be past their peak, but they were easy to recognize as fawn lilies.

photo of sierra fawn lily

Sierra fawn lily

After I reached my car I decided to make a short exploration in the upper portion of the park, beyond where I’d hiked.  I wanted to follow up on an observation of scarlet fritillary that had been reported along the Ten Mile House Rd, which is actually a hiking trail (though it may also be a fire road or used for other emergency access).  Along the trail I noted Pacific hounds tongue (Cynoglossum grande), miner’s lettuce, and some leaves that were reminiscent of fetid adder’s tongue; however, that species is only found in coastal counties so what I found was something else.  I had almost given up on finding any scarlet fritillary (Fritillaria recurva), but then suddenly I saw a single plant with two beautiful blossoms and a bud.

photo of scarlet fritillary

Scarlet fritillary

It is always rewarding to go in search of a special flower and then to find it – especially when it is as beautiful as this one.  It made a perfect ending for a very enjoyable hike.

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North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve – Wildflowers

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Recently I visited North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, located in Butte County several miles north of Oroville, for the first time.  The reserve has a well-deserved reputation for spectacular spring wildflowers, as well as beautiful seasonal waterfalls and unique geology.

Perhaps this image can serve to illustrate the essence of two of the three major features of the reserve.  It shows a carpet of colorful wildflowers – primarily lupine, owl’s clover, and poppies – below a small lava cliff.  And, although not shown in the photo, one of the major waterfalls is only about 100 meters away.

image of colorful wildflowers below a small lava cliff in North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

Colorful wildflowers below a small lava cliff in North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

Table Mountain was formed from extensive lava flows that occurred about 15 million years ago, eventually building up a layer of basalt several hundred feet thick.  It is one of the oldest land forms in California.  Most of the flow area was subsequently disrupted by geological forces, but Table Mountain remains as an isolated island, rising above the floor of the Central Valley.  Due to the hard-pan nature of the lava, the soil thickness varies from zero to thick enough to sustain grasses and wildflowers.  On the top of Table Mountain there are only sparse trees, mainly oaks, though there are more trees around the edges as well as in the many canyons that have been formed over time.  A special type of vernal pool, called Northern Basalt Flow Vernal Pool, is found on Table Mountain.  There are numerous micro-environments, many with specialized flora and fauna.

In addition to areas of relatively dense wildflowers as shown in the picture, I encountered numerous other wildflowers in more of a one-at-a time mode.  The variety was quite lovely.  This post shows many of the wildflowers I found, while a separate post describes my somewhat wandering hike.  For the most part there are not well-defined trails, and I ended up making two larger loops with a couple of smaller excursions.  The informal GPS track from the earlier post is reproduced here for reference.  Altogether I hiked nearly 7 miles, with relatively little elevation gain/loss.

GPS track

GPS track

There is just one public access point to the 3300-acre reserve, which is managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It is worth noting that, a couple of years ago, the DFW expanded a Lands Pass program to include Table Mountain.  Currently all visitors to the reserve are required to have in their possession a valid pass to enter the property; there is a prominent sign next to the gate that serves as the public access point.

An informal use trail leads west from the parking area toward the nearest waterfall, which is usually called Hollow Falls and is only about 0.6 mile away.  The walk can easily take 30 minutes in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and they, as well as the scenery, compete for attention.  The day of my visit had been preceded by several days of rainy weather, and the use trail was wet in many places.  Fortunately, I’d brought an older pair of hiking boots that I didn’t mind getting wet.

Many of the wildflower identifications for this post have been informed by a nice book about the wildflowers of Table Mountain.  In addition, the Chico Hiking Association has information about Table Mountain, including illustrated time-based wildflower guides.

Along the way to Hollow Falls I found several wildflowers right away.  In addition to what I presume to be Western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis) I found lupine, goldfields, and bluedicks (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp capitatum).

image of bluedick

Bluedick

I also found Douglas’ violets (Viola douglasii), shown on the left in this picture.  Until the day became somewhat sunnier later in the morning, I had to look carefully to find a blossom that wasn’t facing downward.  The oakwoods violet (V. purpurea ssp quercetorum) on the right has different leaves, different purple streaks, and grows in a different micro-habitat; I found it near Hollow Falls.  In addition the oakwoods violet petals are a lemon yellow, while those of the Douglas’ violet are a bit more gold-orange in color.

image of Douglas’ (left) and oakwoods (right) violets

Douglas’ (left) and oakwoods (right) violets

Of course there was lots of filaree (Erodium sp) throughout much of the reserve.  There was a large yellow carpet of wildflowers – several different species – sprinkled with lupine and other color spots, as well as small rocks and low bare rock outcrops.  Soon I recognized johnnytuck, or butter-and-eggs (Triphysaria eriantha ssp eriantha), with cheerful yellow and white flowers and reddish leaves and/or bracts.  (I’m not sure I have the plant parts correctly described for these members of the broomrape family.)

image of johnnytuck, or butter-and-eggs

Johnnytuck, or butter-and-eggs

Almost immediately after passing a sign indicating the boundary of the Ecological Reserve – I think the use trail from the parking area actually crosses private land, presumably on an easement – there was a blue carpet of sky lupine (Lupinus nanus), a relatively low-growing species with characteristic white-tipped blossoms.

image of sky lupine, which is common in the reserve and grows in bright blue carpets

Sky lupine is common in the reserve and grows in bright blue carpets

About 40 minutes and 0.6 mile from the parking area I arrived at the area immediately around Hollow Falls, in which Campbell Creek falls into Beatson Hollow.  The creek had a pretty good water flow, presumably due to the recent rain as well as the season.  Near the creek I found some California saxifrage (Micranthes californica), characterized by white petals, a yellow-green center, and yellow stamens.

image of California saxifrage near Campbell Creek at Hollow Falls

California saxifrage near Campbell Creek at Hollow Falls

I also found white, or longhorn, plectritis (Plectritis macrocera).

image of white plectritis, also near Campbell Creek at Hollow Falls

White plectritis, also near Campbell Creek at Hollow Falls

Soon I noticed a field of pink – owl’s clover – on the opposite (north) side of the creek.  I wanted to see it up close, so I walked a short distance upstream until I found a place to cross safely.  Then I could easily view individual plants of purple owl’s clover (Castilleja exserta ssp exserta) – note that the flower heads are actually pink.

image of so-called purple owl’s clover, which looks pink

So-called purple owl’s clover, which looks pink

Among the owl’s clover were a few valley tassels (Castilleja attenuata).  They are reminiscent of how a white owl’s clover would appear.

image ov valley tassel among purple owl’s clover

Valley tassel among purple owl’s clover

I decided to continue generally north, at times following small tributary water flows.  Near one of them I noticed some seep monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus, recently re-named to Erythranthe guttata).  Although this is a common and very widespread wildflower in California, it always seems cheerful and I enjoy seeing it.

image of seep monkeyflower next to a wet spot above Hollow Falls

Seep monkeyflower next to a wet spot above Hollow Falls

Farther uphill from the owl’s clover there were some poppies at the base of a small vertical basalt outcrop.  I could clearly see that there were two sizes of blossom, but most of the blossoms were still in their overnight closed state.  Later in my hike there was more sun, the day warmed up, and the poppies I encountered gradually opened.  Here are the two species found on Table Mountain:  On the left is a foothill poppy (Eschscholzia caespitosa), which is the larger, slightly darker orange, and more cup-shaped flower (when open).  On the right is a frying pan (Eschscholzia lobbii), with a smaller, lighter, and flatter flower.

image of foothill poppy (left) and frying pan (right)

Foothill poppy (left) and frying pan (right)

Soon I also found some lomatium, or hog fennel (Lomatium utriculatum), with clusters of tiny yellow flowers.

image of hog fennel, a type of lomatium

Hog fennel, a type of lomatium

After a prolonged period of exploring and enjoying the wildflowers above Hollow Falls, I began to make my way farther north.  Along the way I passed more goldfields: though three species are found in the reserve, the most common is California goldfield (Lasthenia californica ssp californica).

image of California goldfields, the most common goldfield at North Table Mountain

California goldfields, the most common goldfield at North Table Mountain

Suddenly I noticed some fringepod (Thysanocarpus curvipes).  I’ve seen this a few times before in other places, but always later in the bloom cycle.  This example demonstrates that the flowers bloom from the bottom of the stem upward.  The top of the flower stalk was still buds, with active blooms a few “layers” down, and the more familiar oval-shaped seed pods that appear to have tiny windows at the bottom of the stem.

image of fringepod illustrating varying stages of bloom

Fringepod illustrating varying stages of bloom

For a while I followed a small stream that flowed down toward Campbell Creek.  Fortunately it was narrow enough that I could cross back and forth as needed to find dry footing and avoid needing to climb up and down small lava outcrops.  I found (at least) two types of popcorn flower: The one on the left in the picture is taller and was in a drier grassland area, though not far from the stream; I think it is rusty popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys nothofulvus).  The one on the right is a much shorter plant, with different foliage and right next to the stream in a damp area; I think it is one of the several variants of vernal pool allocarya (P. stipitatus sp) that are found at Table Mountain.  I am not sure whether it is important for identification whether the centers are white or yellow; in some popcorn flowers the center is yellow when the blossom is fresh and ages to white.

image of popcorn flowers

Popcorn flowers

Along the stream I found some Table Mountain meadowfoam, also called snow-white meadowfoam (Limnanthes douglasii ssp nivea).  The other subspecies of Douglas’ meadowfoam look quite different from ssp nivea, but the yellow anthers seem to be a distinguishing characteristic.

image of Table Mountain, or snow-white, meadowfoam

Table Mountain, or snow-white, meadowfoam

I temporarily left the stream bank and, while exploring, found some white-tipped clover (Trifolium variegatum).

image of white-tipped clover

White-tipped clover

Another short exploration was to a small nearby area of bare lava rock, another of the many micro-environments in the reserve.  Here I found some small, just 2 or 3 inches tall, volcanic onion (Allium cratericola).  Especially when the onion grows among some low mossy plants, it appears to have virtually no stem (or else the short stem is prostrate, on the ground); then there is a cluster of delicate pink blossoms.  There is also a long, very narrow leaf.

image of volcanic onion

Volcanic onion

Back to following the stream slightly uphill, I came to a place where it cascaded down a small (few feet high) lava cliff; there is a picture of this in the post about the hike.  Near this crossing I finally stopped for pictures of a small yellow flower that, to some, looks like a goldfield.  It is actually yellow carpet (Blennosperma nanum var nanum), and I saw it in many places along my route.  Like goldfields, yellow carpet is in the sunflower (or aster) family and has ray flowers and disc flowers.  I do not know the significance of the outer ring of disc flowers being white, but it was one of several characteristics distinguishing yellow carpet from goldfields.

image of yellow carpet

Yellow carpet

Near the small cascade I found some buttercups that I had not seen before.  They are called Sacramento Valley buttercup, or Hartweg’s buttercup (Ranunculus canus var canus).  The blossoms are larger than California or Western buttercup, and the stamens are longer and more pronounced.  The Calflora range maps show that the Sacramento Valley buttercup mainly occurs in the Sacramento Valley, while Western buttercup occurs outside the valley, perhaps in higher elevations, and the California buttercup occurs mainly in the counties along the Pacific coast.

image of Sacramento Valley, or Hartweg’s, buttercup

Sacramento Valley, or Hartweg’s, buttercup

After crossing the stream I continued generally north, and a little while later I saw my first red maids (Calandrinia menziesii) of the day.  As is well known, red maids are not actually red, but more of a dark pink-to-purple.  My point-and-shoot cameras have all had difficulty focusing on red maids, giving my pictures an aura of dreamy, soft focus.  Later in my hike I would see quite a few more.

image of red maid

Red maid

As I explored I came across some bird’s-eye gilia (Gilia tricolor ssp tricolor), another species I would see more of later.  The three colors in the Latin name are the light purple of the petals, darker purple at the base of the petals, and some yellow in the throat, hard to see in the picture.

image of bird’s-eye gilia

Bird’s-eye gilia

After this, I actually walked for quite a while before I found more new species to document.  I passed a vernal pool, wandered almost back to the parking area, and then hiked north past another vernal pool.  I hoped to see some new flowers near the vernal pools, but perhaps the pools are not drying up quite yet.  I think some of the associated species, for example downingias, appear as the vernal pools shrink after the rains have completely stopped for the season; if this is so, these species will only appear later in the spring.

After passing the second vernal pool I found Ravine Falls, sometimes called Fern Falls.  Here I found some ferns that I was unfamiliar with; I think they are known as polypody ferns (Polypodium sp).

image of pretty polypody ferns near Ravine Falls

Pretty polypody ferns near Ravine Falls

I also found some spreading larkspur (Delphinium patens ssp patens) while I took a short break at Ravine Falls.  The cluster of plants was only 10-20 meters away, but the slope was steep and dropped off into the ravine so I decided to just make use of the zoom on my camera, rather than try to get closer.

image of spreading larkspur

Spreading larkspur

On the other side of the ravine I could see a patch of bright yellow on a ledge part way down the ravine wall.  Using my camera as binoculars, I zoomed in and concluded that the flowers were seep monkeyflowers.

After leaving Ravine Falls I hiked generally south, with a bit of a detour to the west to enjoy the scenery.  Eventually I arrived back at Hollow Falls, where I did some more exploring before returning to the parking area.  As I was returning from a brief exploration on the south side of Hollow Falls, I noticed a group of few-flowered blue-eyed Marys (Collinsia sparsiflora var collina) at the base of a small rock.  These pretty flowers are more purple than blue, and they are easy to miss because the blossoms are individuals rather than the many-blossom whorls found on the closely-related Chinese houses.

image of few-flowered blue-eyed Marys near Hollow Falls

Few-flowered blue-eyed Marys near Hollow Falls

In this area, the base of a small lava cliff is the location where I found the oakwoods violet pictured near the beginning of this post.

Finally I made my way back to the parking area and, much later, had a chance to review my photos and try to do identifications.  There are many locally specialized wildflowers at North Table Mountain, and I had also found several first-timers that are not quite as specialized.  At least half of the plants pictured in this post were first-time observations.  That’s a big day!  And I’d like to return another time, at a different time during the wildflower season, to enjoy even more of the beautiful wildflowers.

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North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve – Wanderings and Waterfalls

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Recently I learned about North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, which is located in Butte County several miles north of Oroville.  The context was wildflowers – spectacular spring wildflowers – in addition to beautiful waterfalls and interesting and unique geology.  When I had an opportunity to be in the area I made plans to visit the reserve.  In part because there aren’t well-defined trails, it turned out to be more of an initial exploration than I planned, but it was quite memorable.

This post focuses on my wanderings and the waterfalls and other scenery I saw.  A separate post is about the wildflowers.

The waterfall closest to the parking area is usually called Hollow Falls, and it can be reached via a leisurely 30-minute walk.  It’s only about 0.6 mile from the parking area, but in the spring there are enough wildflowers and pretty scenery to slow you down.

picture of Hollow Falls, the waterfall closest to the parking area

Hollow Falls, the waterfall closest to the parking area

The picture of Hollow Falls provides hints about the special geology of Table Mountain, with steep cliffs leading down into narrow canyons.  From a distance Table Mountain looks like a flat-topped mesa, a few miles across and several hundred feet high.  This is how it appeared as I drove to the reserve from Oroville.

picture of Table Mountain viewed from several miles away

Table Mountain viewed from several miles away

Table Mountain was formed from extensive lava flows that occurred about 15 million years ago, eventually building up a layer of basalt several hundred feet thick.  It is one of the oldest land forms in California.  Most of the flow area was subsequently disrupted by geological forces, but Table Mountain remains as an isolated island, rising above the floor of the Central Valley.  Due to the hard-pan nature of the lava, the soil thickness varies from zero to thick enough to sustain grasses and wildflowers.  On top of Table Mountain there are only sparse trees, mainly oaks, though there are more trees around the edges as well as in the many canyons that have been formed over time.  A special type of vernal pool, called Northern Basalt Flow Vernal Pool, is found on Table Mountain.  There are numerous micro-environments, many with specialized flora and fauna.

There is just one public access point to the Ecological Reserve, which includes 3300 acres.  The reserve is managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It is worth noting that, a couple of years ago, the DFW expanded a Lands Pass program to include Table Mountain.  Currently all visitors to the reserve are required to have in their possession a valid pass to enter the property.

An informal use trail leads west from the parking area near a solitary oak tree.

picture of oak tree near the parking area

Oak tree near the parking area

Visitors are requested to stay on the use trails as much as possible, in order to avoid disturbing the flora.  Also, there is a cattle grazing program that helps reduce the presence and impact of non-native grasses.  It is recommended and requested that visitors stay a good distance away from the cattle, let’s say to promote peaceful coexistence by not bothering them.

The GPS track for my wanderings is unique.  As it turned out my track data failed to record on the memory card in my GPS unit and, as a result, I was unable to upload the track to my computer.  The photo shows the track as stored in temporary memory and displayed on my unit.  The arrow at the lower right points to the parking area.  Data on a different display page indicate that my walk was about 6.9 miles with a total elevation gain and loss of about 870 feet.

GPS track

GPS track

If the track suggests that I didn’t know quite where I was going, it’s a good description of my wanderings.  Actually, I had some information about how to find three of the major waterfalls in the reserve; I believe I found two of the three.  However, it’s difficult to tell exactly where I went since my GPS unit has only rudimentary maps, and specifically lacks any topographical information.

To go to the closest waterfall, Hollow Falls, you follow the use trail essentially west from the parking area.  The day of my visit had been preceded by several days of rainy weather, and I discovered that the use trail was pretty sloppy.  I was glad I’d brought an older pair of hiking boots that I didn’t mind getting wet!  The use trail follows a seasonal stream that descends gradually, and I tried to find a relatively dry route.  After about 0.6 mile the small stream had emptied into Campbell Creek and I arrived at Hollow Falls, which spills down a cliff face to the bottom of a canyon.  As I approached the brink of the falls I noticed a field of pink-colored owl’s clover on a hillside on the other side of Campbell Creek, so I backtracked upstream far enough to find a safe crossing point.  This view is from the far (west) side of the Campbell Creek, looking down into the canyon.  I didn’t realize until later that there is actually a trail that zigzags down the canyon to the bottom; the trail is visible at the upper right of the photo.  I believe the canyon is called Beatson Hollow.

picture of Hollow Falls falling into Beatson Hollow

Hollow Falls falling into Beatson Hollow

In the spring the bottom of the hollow is covered with lush green grass and other plants, and the oak trees look ethereal.

picture of Beatson Hollow below the waterfall

Beatson Hollow below the waterfall

From Hollow Falls I headed north up the small wildflower-covered hillside, at first not following a trail.  Later, when I did find another use trail, I just followed it – at this point I felt like I was on a cross-country adventure, and figured that I could return to the parking area by backtracking on my GPS track if necessary.  Awhile later – my photos have time stamps but not GPS coordinates – I came to yet another seasonal stream that cascaded down a small slope.  The use trail I was following at the time crossed this small stream.

picture of stream crossing just below a small cascade

Stream crossing just below a small cascade

Between the lush green of the plants, the wet areas around the many small streams, and the sometimes grey clouds, I almost felt like I was hiking in Northern Ireland, where trails are sometimes faint or marked with only infrequent markers.

There were numerous places where there were small areas with rather dense wildflowers, often multi-colored.  In this picture there are goldfields, lupine, owl’s clover, and a few poppies.

picture of multi-colored wildflowers

Multi-colored wildflowers

In some places there were beautiful views of Sutter Buttes, which are about 30 miles away to the south-southwest.  From Table Mountain you really have the impression that you are looking over the edge of a high place across the Central Valley, and can see the next land form that rises above the valley floor.

picture of Sutter Buttes viewed from North Table Mountain

Sutter Buttes viewed from North Table Mountain

In other places, gently sloped hillsides show another interesting phenomenon related to the plant micro-environments.  Surrounding areas of exposed lava rock there are rings of goldfields, and outside this ring the soil is thick enough to support other types of plant.  This colorful phenomenon adds to the beauty of the Table Mountain landscape.

picture of Table Mountain landscape

Table Mountain landscape

I found two vernal pools during my walk; this is the first one.  These pools are places where water collects during winter rains, but there is no channel leading to a nearby seasonal stream.  Later in the season the pool will completely evaporate, and during this process specialized plants will grow at the edge of the pool.  Also, I noted that many of the clouds seemed to be floating on an invisible “floor” perhaps a few thousand feet above the Central Valley floor.  I liked the fact that the pool was big enough to mirror some of the clouds.  In the background of this picture, just over the edge of the mesa, you can barely see a stripe of the Central Valley floor.

picture of first vernal pool

First vernal pool

Shortly after passing this vernal pool I came to a cow carcass: one of those “smelled before seen” events.  Earlier I had noticed a number of vultures flying over an area north of Hollow Falls, and I presume they were interested in the carcass.

I may have gotten myself slightly mis-oriented in this area.  I began following a small stream uphill, thinking I was still traveling north.  To my surprise, however, I found myself approaching the parking area along the use trail that leads to Hollow Falls.  Since I wanted to continue exploring, I headed away from the parking area once again, this time to the northwest, in hopes of reaching another of the major waterfalls.  And I paid more attention to the direction I was hiking, just to make sure I maintained a generally northwest track.  At this point I was on the easternmost branch of the GPS track.

In this area I found a second vernal pool, again in a generally flat area with no path for the water to flow away into a stream.  In the background, past the edge of Table Mountain and across the Central Valley, it was possible to see a row of peaks in the North Coast Range, which is roughly 65 miles away in Mendocino National Forest.

picture of second vernal pool

Second vernal pool

Near the north extent of my hike I found a second large waterfall, which I believe is Ravine Falls.  If so, this is where Ravine Creek tumbles into a canyon called (on some maps) The Ravine, which is a small arm of Coal Canyon.  Note that the creek bed is at the bottom of a V-shaped shallow slot between lava formations.  The view was stunning, and I stopped for a short break to enjoy it.

picture of Ravine Falls

Ravine Falls

Continuing to look to the left, down the canyon, the cliff face was also spectacular.

picture of cliff face along The Ravine, the south arm of Coal Canyon

Cliff face along The Ravine, the south arm of Coal Canyon

From Ravine Falls I think I followed the more westerly branch of my GPS track generally southward, later curving around to the east and south.  Almost an hour later I found myself once again approaching Hollow Falls.  After doing another safe crossing of Campbell Creek above the falls, while trying to get a better view of the falls from the south side, I noticed a small sign indicating a trail.  I believe this is the trail that eventually leads to the bottom of Beatson Hollow.  In any case, I followed the trail for a short distance, again looking for a good view of the falls without climbing all the way down.  I found this view and stopped for another short break to enjoy Hollow Falls and the cliff faces.

picture of Hollow Falls

Hollow Falls

While on the marked trail I passed a small rock on which a butterfly had stopped to sun itself.  It stayed in place long enough for me to get out my camera and take several pictures.  I think it is a Western white (Pontia occidentalis) – this seems to be the best match to the coloration pattern.  I took particular note of the pair of very long antennae; in the picture they look longer than the body length!

picture of Western white butterfly

Western white butterfly

From Hollow Falls I simply followed the use trail back to the parking area.  Along the way, I encountered a somewhat large sparrow foraging in the grass.  Based on the unique head coloration, it is probably a lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), the only species in its genus.

picture of lark sparrow

Lark sparrow

After I arrived back at the parking area, before driving back to Oroville I made a short side trip to see a covered bridge near the unincorporated community of Oregon City.  The community was first established in 1848 and later served as a gold mining and supply center; it is now a registered California Historic Landmark.

picture of Oregon City covered bridge

Oregon City covered bridge

The bridge is much more recent than the mining town, dating from the 1980s; a nearby sign recognizes the contributions of several Butte County employees in the construction.  The sign is most visible through one of the three windows along each side of the bridge.

Just past the bridge I noticed an interesting super-sized mailbox, clearly intended to look like the bridge.

picture of mailbox near the Oregon City covered bridge

Mailbox near the Oregon City covered bridge

My explorations of the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve and vicinity had certainly been an interesting adventure; see also the separate description of the many wildflowers I found.  I am now looking forward to an opportunity to visit again, perhaps at a somewhat different time during the wildflower season.

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Sequoia National Park – sightseeing

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I recently spent a day visiting the lower-elevation western foothill section of Sequoia National Park.  In addition to a hike along the Marble Fork Kaweah River on the Marble Falls Trail I did some other sightseeing, mostly driving but with two short hikes and a few stops at interesting sights along the way.  I had decided to limit myself to visiting elevations below an active snow chain control point on the Generals Highway (CA-198), the main park road.  The chain control was at about 5200 feet elevation, which is lower than the Giant Forest area and General Sherman Tree, which are above 6500 feet.  I would enjoy returning another time to see more of the high country, but for a single-day visit I enjoyed what I could without dealing with chains.

The scenery was outstanding and at these lower elevations – the Ash Mountain park entrance is just below 1400 feet – and there were several types of wildflower in bloom, even in late February.

As I drove up CA-198 from Visalia and approached the park entrance I had several glimpses of a snow-capped peak, which served as a preview of my views for the day.  When I reached the Ash Mountain entrance station there was a short line of cars waiting to enter the park – and it turned out that everyone was receiving information about the chain controls about 15 miles up the road.  While I waited I had a great view of the same snow-capped peak, which is 11204-foot Alta Peak, about 12 miles away to the northeast.

picture of view of Alta Peak from Sequoia National Park’s Ash Mountain entrance station

View of Alta Peak from Sequoia National Park’s Ash Mountain entrance station

After entering the park, my first stop was the Park Information station about a mile up the road.  My experience at other national parks has been that the information station staff are well-informed about current conditions and can make recommendations based on the conditions and your time and interests.  So when I exited the station I had a plan for the day, in addition to a nice booklet about the park’s wildflowers.

Outside the station there was a small botanical garden with several plants identified with signs.  A flower I saw in the garden but not plentifully elsewhere was silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons).  The blooms were just getting started and should be spectacular in a few more weeks.

picture of silver bush lupine at the information station

Silver bush lupine at the information station

My plan was to continue up Generals Highway to Potwisha Campground, where I would hike up Marble Falls Trail, hoping to see the waterfalls.  Although I did not get to the top of the trail, due to a little more snow than I was prepared for, I did have a lovely view of the falls.  After my hike I would drive up Generals Highway to the chain controls and then back down, stopping at several points of interest along the way: a vista point near Amphitheater Point, Big Fern Springs, Hospital Rock River Trail, Tunnel Rock, and Indian Head River Trail.  I decided to record a GPS track for the trip down from the chain control, marked by an orange dot in this overview image.  While there were a few flatter sections, most of the road was a steady 6.5% grade with lots of turns, several signed 10 mph.

GPS track

GPS track

There were frequent turnouts that were convenient for stopping for views, or to let faster traffic pass.  Not far from the information station I stopped at one of the turnouts to enjoy another view of Alta Peak.  Across the highway I noticed several chaparral yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei) on the grassy hillside.

picture of chaparral yucca next to the Generals Highway

Chaparral yucca next to the Generals Highway

The chain control point was at about 5200 feet elevation, and once I explained to the personnel that I planned to turn around I was able to do so without any problems.  I started up my GPS unit and continued downhill.  The first point of interest was a great vista point near Amphitheater Point, at about 4300 feet elevation.  There is a dramatic hairpin turn, with the vista point parking area inside the turn.  In the GPS track image it is just to the right of an unlabeled peak, which is called Switchback Peak.  The views from the vista point are quite remarkable.

About 5 miles away to the southeast is a formation known as Castle Rocks, with individual peaks between 8500 and 9000 feet elevation.  Just to the left, peeking between Castle Rocks and a nearby hill feature, is 12160-foot snow-capped Mt Eisen, about 13 miles away in the heart of the Great Western Divide.  In the foreground is a deep canyon cut by the Middle Fork Kaweah River.

picture of Castle Rocks and snow-capped Mt Eisen

Castle Rocks and snow-capped Mt Eisen

Less than 1 1/2 miles away to the northeast is distinctive Moro Rock. In the sky just to the right you can see the moon.

picture of Moro Rock viewed from the Amphitheater Point vista point

Moro Rock viewed from the Amphitheater Point vista point

And to the south, directly past the apex of the hairpin turn, there is a great view of the lower-elevation foothills, with Milk Ranch Peak at the left.

picture of Sierra foothills and Milk Ranch Peak

Sierra foothills and Milk Ranch Peak

After enjoying the views I continued down the highway.  My next stop was Big Fern Springs, which was marked with a sign and another pullout with space for a few cars.  I decided to explore the springs at least briefly.  I found what I presume to be a spring-fed very shallow stream flowing down a stepped rock hillside.  What I would call the stream bed was at least 10 feet wide, though except for a few tiny pools the water was just a sheet flowing down the rocks.  In the shaded area there were moss-covered rocks, a fallen tree, and lots of ferns.  It was a bit tricky to capture in a photograph but it was beautiful!

picture of Big Fern Springs

Big Fern Springs

After my brief exploration of Big Fern Springs I continued down Generals Highway to the Hospital Rock area around 2700 feet elevation.  There is a short trail that descends about 100 vertical feet to the Middle Fork Kaweah River.  The bottom several yards of the trail pass under a rock arch.  This is a view from the river side, looking back up the trail, with sunlight coming down from above the river canyon.  Although the rock on the left might look somewhat precarious, I am confident that it’s very stable, or else the National Park Service would not allow visitors to walk underneath.

picture of rock arch at the foot of the Hospital Rock River Trail

Rock arch at the foot of the Hospital Rock River Trail

The Middle Fork Kaweah River is quite pretty, here tumbling down a small rapid just before entering a series of several pools of quiet water in the smooth, marbled brown rock channel of the stream bed.

picture of Middle Fork Kaweah River

Middle Fork Kaweah River

After climbing back up to the top of the trail I visited Hospital Rock, a special rock that has Native American pictographs.  Park signage indicates that the village that once occupied the site was the largest Native American village within current park boundaries.

picture of Hospital Rock, with Native American pictographs

Hospital Rock, with Native American pictographs

Another short drive down Generals Highway went past Potwisha Campground and then Tunnel Rock.  This is an impressive rock arch – really a single massive headstone between two other rocks, forming a short tunnel.  This site is signed and is right next to the highway.  It just takes a few minutes to park, then walk through the tunnel and back again.

picture of Tunnel Rock

Tunnel Rock

My final stop in the park was at the Indian Head parking area just inside the park entrance.  The famous Indian head sign is currently undergoing repair.  There is another short trail from a small parking area that descends 100 feet to the bank of the Middle Fork Kaweah River.  As I left the parking area I forgot to look at the views because I was distracted by a pretty display of blooming common fiddlenecks (Amsinckia intermedia).  I am kind of fascinated by plants that bloom in sequence from one end of the stem to the other, especially when the end of the stem gradually uncoils as the active blooming section approaches.

picture of common fiddleneck next to the Indian Head River Trail

Common fiddleneck next to the Indian Head River Trail

Growing among some of the fiddleneck was some Pacific popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys tenellus), with characteristic white flowers about 1/4 – 1/3 inch in diameter.  The detail at the base and edges of the petals is remarkable.

picture of Pacific popcorn flower

Pacific popcorn flower

Near the river bank I found some miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) in bloom, with similar size white blooms on long stems above the distinctive leaves.

picture of miner’s lettuce

Miner’s lettuce

Near the trail access point to the river there were several pools in which the water was very calm.  This beautiful and calm reflection was looking downstream.

picture of peaceful reflection in the Middle Fork Kaweah River

Peaceful reflection in the Middle Fork Kaweah River

After exploring the river bank for several minutes I climbed back up the river trail to the parking area so that I could see the view I’d missed on the way down.  It was a lovely view looking upstream, with the river below in the foreground, illuminated by the late afternoon sun, and Moro Rock and Alta Peak in the background.

picture of Middle Fork Kaweah River, Moro Rock, and Alta Peak

Middle Fork Kaweah River, Moro Rock, and Alta Peak

After that final stop I headed out of the park at the end of a whirlwind day of sightseeing and exploration.  I hope to return to Sequoia National Park some other time when I can get up to the higher elevations to see the famous giant sequoias.

Posted in Sequoia National Park, Tulare County | Tagged , | 1 Comment