Jug Handle State Natural Preserve
Click for map.
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.
|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.
|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.|
|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.
|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.