03 February 2020

Ecological Staircase to the Pygmy Forest

Jug Handle State Natural Preserve

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I noticed an Earthcache that looked interesting as it asks for study of an area with some unusual geology. The marine floor has been uplifted without tilting slowly over time resulting in terraces. Leaching processes slowly change the nature of the soil so that it supports different plant communities as it ages. Up the hill, where it is oldest, the soil is so bad that the forest that grows upon it is severely stunted. There's no fee to stop and see. Brochures for the interpretive trail are available at the trailhead or can be downloaded. It says, "Welcome to the Jug Handle State Natural Reserve. You are standing on one of the most interesting geological areas in the northern hemisphere. Here, time, geological forces and climate have all interacted to form a staircase of distinct plant communities and associated soils, culminating in the unique Pygmy Forest." Alright then.

quite a few signs at the start
Signs to explain how this bit of land got saved from developers and what can be found on it at the start of the trail.

The trail first swings out over the current lowest terrace to look out over the next one developing under the waves. I ponder the eroding cliff side and how this couldn't be a slow, constant process. The first couple stops have lost their numbers, but the information is general to the area. It points out that this first terrace formed in one go, but not how. Sea level fall or a rather large upward jump in some earthquake are possible. It mentions each terrace is about 100,000 years older than the last as well.

tide pools
The cliffs aren't very high above the tide pools. I can't see much life in these from at the top although I ponder looking closer.

bending the waves
The waves come in flat, but the rocks force them to bend into big arcs.

Turning away from the waves, the stops focus entirely on the plants of the three communities that live on this lowest terrace. Grasses, nearly all introduced species seen today, are one. Closed cone pines is another community. They are severely shaped by the wind, which is blowing only a little stiffly today. I have seen claims that the shaping is due to the wind, but here it says it is actually the salt that causes the slow ramp shape of the trees. The trail gets indeterminate as it goes around either side or into the middle of the trees. The middle is an open space shielded by the green ramp and crossed by branches resting on the ground as they grow.

highway 1
Turning back to have a look at all the pines. The yellow flowers are probably invasive just like the grasses.

The loop comes back to the other side of the parking lot, then sneaks under CA-1 at the bridge over the creek. The creek is an another chance to point out specific plants beside the boardwalk down, across, and up the other side. It's not so good in this season because it tends to identify the trees by their leaves and they aren't wearing any at the moment. Pines tend to be identified by their needles and those are usually too high up for a close look.

02 February 2020

Chamberlain Waterfall Trail

Jackson State Demonstration Forest

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I heard there was a cute little waterfall and decided to go see it. Many of the roads in Jackson State Demonstration Forest are closed this time of year due to the wet, but the one to the waterfall is not. Signs for the various roads come after making a turn to give confirmation, but no direction. My offline OpenStreetMap shows a pair of roads getting where I want. I found a rather nice map at a picnic area showing the roads properly so that I knew which to turn up to get to the waterfall and which would get me to Chamberlain Creek Conservation Camp (AKA "the prison"). Besides the waterfall, the area also boasts some old growth within this working forest. I found the parking area empty of cars so should get to have it all to myself.

steps with a sign a little below
The only markings for the trail visible from the road is the wooden railing with a "TH" attached to it.

Wooden railing is all that marks the trail from the road, but once starting down it, there's a nicely painted sign. Confirmation for those already in the know, just like with the roads. I head down the steps and wiggles to quickly loose some elevation. The trees here are small and numerous. This is not yet the old growth. It gets a little steeper and that starts up. The trees were protected by the small canyon area which made them too difficult to harvest with the technology of the time when the rest were vanishing.

nice bit of trail
The trail is well cared for all the way to the waterfall.

mushrooms taking on the redwood challenge
Bio-degradation of redwood is a challenge, but here are some mushrooms willing to take it on.

The waterfall has a look of a big choke stone sitting in the canyon. This time of year, it should be flowing much more heavily. It is still a pretty little thing.

waterfall among ferns and such
The waterfall on Chamberlain Creek.

31 January 2020

Slacker Hill and Hawk Hill among the Batteries of Marin Headlands

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

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I had planned to start my day with a little sight seeing at Battery Spencer, but I encountered a one way road going the wrong way. I then encountered a parking lot that I could maneuver my little trailer into without taking up any extra spaces and investigate what was going on with my road. Had I been prepared to start then, I'd have started with my hike and had the good camera for the sunrise, maybe even in what the passing bicyclist felt was the best spot for it. Instead I was scratching my head on a bit of trail, chatting with said bicyclist, and generally thinking I don't really want to drive miles to get a parking spot less than a quarter mile from where I'm already stopped.

golden sky over the Golden Gate Bridge
The sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge according to the phone. The bicyclist also indicated that the spotlights on the towers are usually still on at this hour for a nice accent.

So I packed up properly and thought about the breakfast I hadn't had yet and got moving a bit after the sun completely rose. This means crossing into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on foot. There is no need to do so if one is feeling cash strapped. Entry is free to nearly all of it including this part. I'm on another big piece of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART), at least until I get to the road above and turn toward the battery. The California Coastal Trail, too.

well used path under the trees
BART as it heads up from the Golden Gate Bridge.

into Marin Headlands
Into the Marin Headlands part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The sign is from before the road was one way for cars. The right hand lane here is bikes only.

The battery is where they kept the really big guns to protect this major port and the west coast from whatever navy might challenge it. One building has been repurposed to a bathroom, but most are in various states of openness. The only thing left of the guns are the mounts. Some of it is built to vanish into the hillside at a distance, but not everything can do that.

mounts for little guns
Gun mounts! These, it turns out, are the little ones.

battery on a hill
The battery itself is ahead, built into the hillside.

30 January 2020

San Andreas Fault Trail in Los Trancos Open Space Preserve

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space

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I had been hoping the clouds would burn off before I crossed over to Los Trancos to hike a bit of it. I wanted to do the San Andreas Fault Trail, which is an interpretive trail about that largest of faults in California. It is one with traditional numbers and the handouts to go with them are tucked in beside the maps. They are well stocked and I expect they can be found online if there's been a run on the physical ones.

information signs once again
Information signs and the interpretive trail brochure, but don't start here.

The brochure says to actually start off to the left of the main trail. It climbs up onto a hill with a bench and the first couple numbers so that you can look out over the fault including the emergency water storage that has been built directly on it. It is no coincidence that this happened. The fault creates narrow, deep holes that looked attractive for water storage by engineers who didn't know how they formed. I have seen them before and can picture them, but there is nothing but cloud to see now. It really should have burned off by now. Who has the fog machine turned up so high?

smaller fault
This I can mostly see. The main trail below is near a set of posts that mark a smaller fault that also runs through the area.

clump of mushrooms
The mess of mushrooms aren't on the itinerary, but they're there.

Annoyed at the weather that no one can control, I head down around the loop where the rest of the education concerns much closer features. The San Andreas Fault is marked with posts topped with a yellow line while a second is marked with white lines. At one spot, we can compare the reality today with what it looked like shortly after a rupture, which is to say an earthquake. Further on, old ruptures have filled in to give a flat area like a road bed. The markers stalk their way down the middle of it. It notes these were often used as ready made road beds. A fence built where a fence once stood to illustrate the distance the land moved feels a little gimmicky, especially as they've collected wood from the area to build it so that it carbon dates correctly. (Disclaimer: carbon dating does not discriminate well on the order of 100 years, which is the age of this wood.)

pair of big oaks to either side of the trail
Some mighty oaks to act as guardians of the trail.

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space

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The morning is a little foggy and mostly overcast, bringing a whole new light to the area just across the highway (CA-35) from Skyline Ridge. The sun keeps peeking out, showing it is clearing quickly, but then another thick batch of cloud wells up from the unseen source on the other side of the ridge. Mostly, the clouds are winning. I have selected a short loop along Stevens Creek. The Bay to Ridge Trail that I bumped into yesterday crosses through here for its final climb and happens to follow one side of this loop. There are larger loops possible, including one that passes the only backpacking camp in the MROSD. (A permit is required to camp here plus a fee of $2 per night per person.) The gates on the lot open at sunrise, but there is a little parking outside legal after 6AM if one wants to start a half hour before sunrise when the preserve is open. There are no dogs allowed and bikes and horses are limited to certain trails, especially in the wet season.

information and maps
Information signs with rules and maps including paper maps hikers may carry with them. You are encouraged to return them when finished.

I head out and the view quickly grows out over Stevens Creek. The canyon it has carved in the softened rocks of the San Andreas Fault drops quickly, although not so far. I follow the trail that does likewise as it strives to meet that creek. This is a nature trail with interpretive signs on the preserve considered to have largest wildlife and ecosystem diversity in the MROSD, not that they feature much out of the ordinary.

looking over Stevens Creek
Stevens Creek follows the San Andreas Fault. The south facing slopes are grassy and the north facing ones quite full of trees.

tall trees to their tops
There are some tall trees down in the creek.

The junctions are well signed and the trail is nice as long as it can get some sun. Once down in the trees, there are some guey mud spots that take a bit of care to navigate without slipping. There's worms all over the trail so the point that I'm probably stepping on a few. There's newts, too, and one almost gets the same before a quick redirect of my foot allows it to scramble to the side and away. I didn't see it until my foot was inches over its head!

trail beneath the oaks covered in moss
Nearing the creek, which is singing mostly out of sight.

29 January 2020

Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space

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After a mildly harrowing experience of turning onto highway CA-35 only to find myself on miles of one lane road, I found some open space to showcase the ridge top. (Well, the road is what gets called 1.5 lane these days, but does have enough room to pass if everyone is hugging the edge really tight. It got more relaxing to drive after an large intersection where it regained a yellow line down the middle.) Sunny ridge top trail with views leaves me happy to just select a random loop and see what's there. For hints, there's a couple lakes and a named knoll along the loops. I am once again along the domain of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which I had forgotten about. I expect this is part of the largest completed segment. There's also a Bay to Ridge Trail, but the only bit of that's I'll be on is the bit crossing the highway from my parking spot outside the gate (just in case I'm a bit late out). There's no one in the parking lot, but the park isn't empty.

parking lot and trail signs
The trail starts by the signs with the map and more maps in paper across the empty parking lot.

I start off with a gentle climb through meadow, then duck in among the oaks. In the shade, the trail is moist and slick. It hasn't been all that wet, so it's not bad. There's even culverts to help it drain in some areas.

oaks and evergreens
Oaks wearing nothing but lichen out in the meadows while the live oaks bunch up into shady forest to the side. Just for kicks, there's a Christmas tree farm just over the hill.

trail under laurel and oaks
Live oaks and laurel for a bit of shade. The late afternoon isn't so hot anyway.

It doesn't really matter much which way I go at the first intersection. My loop is really a string of three loops, so I'll be here again. I keep to the one marked BART for now.

lots of signs
No dearth of signs here. They have mileages too.

Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space

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I was trying to wander my way along the ridge line, but I failed to notice where I needed to turn to go over the big freeway from Summit Road to CA-35 and was unceremoniously dumped onto CA-17, but I found this nice park because of it. Like the East Bay Regional Park system, the Midpeninsula Regional Parks have plenty of signs that include a map with more paper maps in a box to take with you. If they do happen to be out, it's online too. They also have gates on the parking that get locked. Generally it is half an hour after sunset to sunrise, but this one opens a half hour before sunrise. There's almost no one here, although it says the lot can fill quickly on the weekend and there is no nearby overflow space. It might be because dogs are not allowed, so there are no dog walkers keeping it busy in the early morning. The map shows a pair of trails that join again on their way to Madrone Knoll, one passing a spot marked "old-growth redwoods". Sounds good to me.

across the street
Everything on the parking side of the road is currently closed to entry, so one must cross to get started. There is a cross walk with alert lights for the drivers and a warning they might not stop anyway for the pedestrians.

It's all across the road. There's only a little lake and bathroom surrounded by closed area on this side. Cars go by fast in big bunches leaving plenty of room between the bunches to get there safely even though the sign next to the crosswalk button warns they might not figure out they need to stop if you push it. The traffic is quickly put behind as a gravel trail winds its way up past a flow of water to a gravel road above. The flow is probably considered a trickle around here, but it gives out a nice little song. The gravel makes it a nice walk even with plenty of wet.

the gravel road under some young redwoods
Redwoods and laurels surround the area for a very shaded walk but not much view.

deer by the side
The deer aren't much worried about the walkers and hikers.

something like view
There are some open spots for a little view, but the light morning fog reduces it a bit.

They mention that the park area is far from pristine and have a long list of camps and compounds and retreats that have occupied the area over the years. The geocachers have pointed out one of the locations where ruins of one of these remain. Just up from the trail is a bit of fence and a large outdoor cooking thing. Steps lead up to where a building stood, but there's only the outline of the foundations and the palm trees left now. One cannot live in California without a few palm trees, right?

Ecological Staircase to the Pygmy Forest

Jug Handle State Natural Preserve Click for map. I noticed an Earthcache that looked interesting as it asks for study of an area wi...