Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tigers at Pescadero

After working most of the day on Saturday; (I always hate to work on weekends); I was off for a solo hike on Sunday 7/18, and I was focusing on finding more Tigers Lilies. I’ve been searching around in areas where I have seen them before for the last few weeks, but except for finding some suspected buds along Opal Creek while hiking with Dave (my brother in law), I have struck out each time. Finally, last week I did find blooms. Sue and I did a hike to Berry Creek Fall by way of McCrary Ridge. On our return route along Skyline to the Sea Trail, I was able to search off trail and spot some blooming leopards along Waddell Creek. These were what I like to call Leopard Lilies even though they are really the same species as the California Tiger Lily (Lilium pardalinum). For some reason, these blooms along Waddell Creek have a slightly different coloration than the more vivid orange shading of the ones that I like to call Tiger Lilies. They are all spotted though, not striped. This actually makes them much closer to resembling Leopards or Jaguars than Tigers. Go figure. Common names are fun like that. You can pick the one you like. These felines are typically found in areas that are very moist; normally along creeks, or in marshy meadows, and are almost always hard to get close enough to for taking good photos. They have an uncanny knack for displaying themselves if precarious locations requiring wading, or groping around on fallen logs and rocks to get close, and are rarely found along a trail. But it’s fun to discover them.

For this hike I parked my car at the Tarwater trailhead entrance to Pescadero Creek County Park (San Mateo Co). I was planning to use the Coyote Ridge Trail to get into Portola State Park, and begin searching along Pescadero Creek, working my way back toward the county park, searching out access points to the creek as much as possible. Coyote Ridge Trail is usually a nice trail, but it hasn’t been maintained very well in recent years. Lots of over-growth has begun encroaching on the trail, which includes stealthy poison oak lurking just out peripheral vision. There are some fresh tree falls, and one of them is a multiple-trunked tangled mess. I climbed over the slippery heap of tortured, broken, logs and found my way down to the switchbacks that descend to the junction with the Iverson Trail. Upon reaching the seasonal footbridge at Pescadero Creek where I expected to begin searching, I was a little surprised to find the first Tiger Lilies of the day right there along the trail. I’ve never known them to be that accessible. Actually, a casual stroll in sandals from Portola park headquarters would have revealed them. There was a small cluster between the creek and the trail right at the footbridge. Where there’s one there are potentially more, so I began making my way up the creek bed. The water level is still high though, and I was finding it hard to get very far. I went back to the trail and turned off and hiked through the forest duff until I found a way back down to the creek and onto a sandbar. I was finding my way further up the creek until I ran up against some fallen trees. Looking further still, I could spot some really nice displays of bright orange Tigers in an area where the water was deep, with a steep drop off directly above. I found my way back up to the forest to a place where a small creek ran down to the main creek, and a fallen log provided a pathway to get back down to the creek bed. As I gingerly walked down the moss covered redwood log and got close to the bottom, I discovered another cluster of Tigers that I had not even noticed before. Many of them were inaccessible in terms of getting close up photos. I used my zoom to get some shots, but that type of photo usually doesn’t look as sharp as a macro shot. I did get a few close ups though by parking my butt on a tree limb and dangling my feet over the water. I could have waded to get closer, but the water was waist deep, and I decided not to try it. I had not really prepared for that.

Please understand that I don’t usually hike off trail like this. I cherish our parks and preserves, and I generally follow all the conventional wisdom about staying on mapped trails to avoid erosion damage and protect delicate habitats. Over the years I have been an ardent advocate for preservation, and have devoted many hours of volunteer time to help maintain trails. I am always cautious, and I know how to navigate and maneuver through terrain without causing damage. I always practice leave no trace ethics. I was only doing this because otherwise, these stunning seasonal examples of nature’s handiwork would likely go undiscovered by human eyes.

I eventually got my fill of doing this, and had gotten some fairly nice photos of Lilies, so I found my way on up to Old Haul Road. I headed back over toward the county park searching out any accessible areas along the creek for any further signs of glorious orange spotted bloom-age. With the afternoon sun beaming away, it was great to have the cover of the tall canopy most of the time. I found my way back up to the trailhead using the Tarwater loop trail, and was back at my car by mid afternoon.

Click here to view the my photos

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Big Basin Coastal Loop

Coast Redwood
 The Big Basin Falls loop is an undisputed classic. Beautiful any time of year, the awesome redwoods, babbling creeks, diverse understory, and the singing waters of the 3 major falls all combine to make this a common favorite for Bay Area hikers. This fact is also made evident by the sheer number of hikers on the trails, especially during nice weather. The hike has gotten so popular that the crowds can sometimes detract from the experience. But there are other routes to the falls. One of my favorite ways to hike to Berry Creek Falls is to use a less traveled route from the coast. Lots of hikers and bikers also know about the out-and-back coastal route using Skyline to the Sea Trail. With very little elevation gain and a mostly multi-use trail, this is also a popular outdoor experience. It is possible to enjoy the falls and still have some quality quiet time along the way though. A good outdoor experience should include some time alone in nature for your party. We like to search out the less traveled routes. And yes, there is another route from the Waddell Beach trailhead that virtually no one uses. My wife and I first used this route during the winter several years ago when the water level in Waddell Creek was so high that some of the temporary footbridges along the creek were washed out. The rangers had posted signs at the trailhead warning of this condition, and of dangerous current at the crossings. But seeing this sign only caused me to imagine what the falls would look like with that volume of water flowing. Why would I want to miss that? Right? I considered the possibility of attempting to wade across, but it was way too cold for getting wet. I was unprepared for doing that, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. Plus, Sue was definitely not into any such thing. So we decided to re-route to the fall area using the McCrary Ridge horse trail in order to bypass the section of trail with the bridge out. We had a great time, and we still use this route even when the trail is open. McCrary Ridge connects with Hihn Hammond Fire Road, which in turn intersects the Howard King Trail near Mt McAbee. The King Trail descends back down the ridge all the way back to Skyline to the Sea Trail very close to the junction of Berry Creek and West Waddell Creek, where Berry Creek Fall is close by.

View from McCrary Ridge toward Waddell Beach
 I really don’t pay much heed to the sign at the McCrary Ridge trailhead which warns that the trail is “For horse use” and “Not recommended for hiking”, “Very Steep Sections”. These signs are very reminiscent of the signs up on Middle Ridge Road which state that the Berry Creek Fall hike is a “Strenuous hike”, and warn to be sure you have enough daylight to complete the hike. These signs seem to be intended for the generally public. The route has an uphill return, and I suppose the rangers are tired of having to find people who are overdue because they are really not hiking savvy, or not of a reasonable fitness level for hiking 1000+ feet of elevation gain. For a seasoned rambler, that hike is really only a good intermediate level hike. I tend to enjoy a hike that offers some challenge anyway. As for McCrary Ridge, it’s really not as bad as the signs indicate. There are some sections on the trail that are steeper than the recommended grading for hiking trails, but they are do-able. I find McCrary Ridge to be a really nice hike with beautiful scenery, lots of character, and very quiet due to the relative lack of travel.

Spindly Knobcone Pines on McCrary Ridge Trail
 The trail begins with in dense woods climbing up, sometimes steeply for short sections, but mostly gradual, under the shady forest canopy, eventually reaching the scrubby chaparral at the top of the ridge. On the way up its quiet enough to hear the bird sounds and breeze really well. You get lots of exposure when you reach the upper sections, but it’s quite interesting with its array of scrubby vegetation, and spindly, sparse, weathered, knobcone pines reaching for the sky. Plus you get wonderful views in all directions. Use your sun protection and drink plenty of liquid up here. Many sections level out, but you basically keep climbing almost the entire way to the fire road. Once you connect with Hihn Hammond Road, you turn right and do a short graded uphill to the junction of the King Trail, turning left to go briefly up, before heading down. Soon you are back into dense woods and giving back all of your elevation. This section of the Howard King Trail is the most elevation change in any one section in the whole park. From just over 400 feet up to Mt McAbee at 1730 feet. The direction we were headed has you doing this as a 1300 foot downhill; also a beautiful trail though. We found some really nice Pine Drops along the trail. Sue is usually the one to spot stuff like that. She’s good a spotting Spotted Coral Root and unusual stuff like Pine Drops.

Leopard Lilly
 We visited Berry Creel Fall, and I was impressed at how much water was flowing this late in the season. It was crowded there however, so we didn’t stay around. I had wanted to return by way of the Skyline to the Sea Trail in order to hunt for late season Tiger and Leopard Lilies. This is the third time this year I have planned hikes along areas where I expected to find the Tigers, and so far have struck out, although Dave (my brother in-law) and I found pods that had not bloomed a couple of weeks ago in a different section of the park. Searching diligently in areas where I have found them before, I was able to found several clusters of Leopard Lilies right in the habitats they like, near the creeks. Usually they are difficult to get close to for photos, but using my best skills, and some rocks and fallen logs, I got some decent shots. I then had to really pick up my pace to catch up with Sue as she continued hiking out the Skyline to the Sea Trail back to our car at the coast. On the way back I was tempted to stop at Swanton Berry Farm on highway 1 for a home made organic berry pie, but I resisted for some reason (darn it!). Instead we stopped for some favored food shopping. Sue always likes to visit the natural food stores in Santa Cruz because they have excellent quality and much better prices than in the valley. We expected heavy beach traffic driving back “over the hill”, but it wasn’t bad. Only a little bit of accordion action to watch for.

Click here to see the photos from this hike