Monday, August 5, 2019

Getting Into Mountain Mood: The Hike to Echo Lake at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Date: July 20, 2019
Place: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral, California
Coordinates: 40.490846, -121.424579
Length: About 5 miles in and out
Level: moderate

Every year I lead a group of families on a camping/hiking trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, showing off my favorite place in California which I find so beautiful and inspiring. Each time I try to have some personal time to do some exploration on my own. Last weekend I went up from Summit Lake to Echo Lake and back. It's a trail I hiked twice before, and I also include here a few photos from my last year's hike of this pretty trail.

The official trailhead is a bit north of Summit Lake but I found parking in the day use area of the South Summit Lake Campground so I begun my hike right there at Summit Lake.
Summit Lake and Hat Mountain

Summit Lake is a lovely shallow lake that invites swimmers and kayakers to enjoy its water. I enjoyed it from the shore.
Between the campground and the lake there is a beautiful meadow that was filled with wetland wildflowers. Among these orchids which were just beginning to bloom. Last year they were at their peak at the time of my visit:
July 7, 2018
Last year I also saw the small mariposa lily blooming at this meadow. This year I didn't see even the buds.
Calochortus July 7, 2018
What I did see this year were many shootingstars, violets, and buttercups. And many butterflies too.

For the first half a mile the trail follows the curve of Summit lake, meandering through the trees. The forest in the higher region of Lassen Volcanic NP is of mixed conifers well spaced apart, so there's lots of sunshine and bits of view in between the trees.

There's also good undergrowth ground cover there. Manzanita mostly, but many other plants as well, such as this lovely lupine.
Narrow-flowered Lupine, Lupinus angustiflorus
The manzanita formed a contiguous mat covering large areas of the forest floor. It was at peak bloom and the green mat looked like it had been dusted with sweet smelling snow. 
Pine Mat Manzanita, Arctostaphylos nevadensis
Swarms of dragonflies were swooping by me. Many of them in pairs, enjoying spring activities.

The dragonflies were coming in large numbers from the lake. Just before the trail fork I went down to the shore of summit lake where I had a grand view of Lassen Peak.
Summit Lake and Lassen Peak
After the turn to Echo Lake the trail started going uphill. Mildly at first but getting steeper. In the beginning of the ascend I was still shaded by more dense forest. Conifers often look like one another, but some do get interesting shapes as they grow. I think this young one in the photo below will turn into a fine-shaped tree in a few decades/centuries.

The higher I climbed the thinner was the forest and thicker the undergrowth bush cover was. I also had to pause and drink more often for it was getting quite hot.

Although the forest looked healthy I did see some trees that were hit by previous years drought and possibly other stresses.

There were also many fallen trees strewn around. Decomposition is slow up there. Harsh, dry conditions slow it down. But that doesn't stop new life from starting and new trees to sprout from the crumbling stumps of their fallen predecessors.
July 7, 2018
The trail reached it's highest point then started descending down toward the lake. At some point I passed the trail fork where the big loop trail of the inner park lakes connected. I hiked the entire loop many years ago with Pappa Quail and I longed to hike it again, but this wouldn't be the day for it.
There were many other wildflowers blooming in the area besides the manzanita bushes. They made a good distraction for me.
Mountain Pride, Penstemon newberi
 I was surprised at how busy this trail was. There were many people walking ahead of me, behind me, leap-frogging me, and of course coming across me on their way back. it was actually a challenge to get any people-free photos of the trail. I did manage a few, though.
The trail down to echo lake was flanked by bushes that weren't manzanita. In fact, the smell of their bloom was very familiar and very strong. These were ceanothus shrubs.

I hurried down the path to Echo Lake and immediately had to apply mosquito repellent. There were a gazillion of them there!
Echo Lake
 There were many dragonflies there as well, although they seemed to be of a different species, and they were not yet engaged in pairs. Rather, they were busy metamorphing into their adulthood. There were so many of them that it seemed as if every other blade of grass had a metamorphing nymph clung to it.

On my hike there last year I was there with my family including Grandma Quail and my nephew. We got to the lake and soon after headed back without any further exploration. While I didn't have the time this year to hike any longer as well, I did have a few minutes to go to the far side of the lake and sit there for some time, away from the numerous people that were frolicking by it's western shore.
Echo Lake
I sat there by the lake for a while, looking at the nascent dragonflies. The metamorphosis took a very long time. Too long to follow one from beginning to end. Fortunately, there were metamorphing dragonflies on almost every blade of grass poking through the water surface, so I got to see and document the entire process through many different individuals.
Adult dragonfly, July 7, 2018
I was sitting near spreading shrubs of mountain heath, some of them already in bloom.
Brewer's Mountain heather, Phyllodoce breweri
Last year Pappa Quail was planning his own bit of writing about woodpeckers and sapsuckers. He was fascinated by a tree we found at the lake shore that was drilled through and through by a sapsucker in preparation for winter. He asked me to photograph that tree and I happily obliged.
July 7, 2018
Last year was a dry year and, although we were there earlier in July there was no sign of snow on the ground. This year however, snow was copious and a few small patches were still present on the ground even late in July.
Snow on the trail
Many more people were coming down the trail as I started to make my way back uphill. I used a momentary gap between the group to capture the trail with its beautiful ceanothus flanks. The scent of the blooming ceanothus hang sweet in the air and I inhaled it deeply, savoring each breath.

Commonly named 'deer brush' this ceanothus reminded me more of fluffy little clouds. It also attracted many bees so I kept a respectful distance from these pretty bushes.
Deer Brush, Ceanothus integerrimus
Up at the crest of the trail and now facing west I had a very nice view of Lassen Peak, still wearing mostly white and looking majestic.
Lassen Peak
From there is was all downhill hike and at a very quick pace. Because I was backtracking the same trail I went out on I didn't pause as much. Only for sights I had missed on my way up.
A spider's bed of Manzanita blossoms
Between the trees I caught a glimpse of Hat Mountain. Many years ago before Pappa Quail and I became parents we hiked the entire 12 mies loop of lakes with the trail going right by Hat Mountain. It was easier then to see the shape that gave it it's name.
Hat Mountain
I kept on downhill, the trail melting away under my feet. Before long I was down by Summit Lake once more. I then slowed my pace looked for more flowers along the lakeshore.
Slender Penstemon, Penstemon gracilentus
Last year Summit Lake was full of people recreating in the water. This time around the lake was people free and as calm as a mirror. I meandered slowly along its shore toward the trailhead.
Summit Lake reflection
Between the lake and the trailhead is a small, lush meadow. At the far side of the meadow a deer walked slowly across the vegetation.
I decided I could dedicate a few more minutes to take a closer look at the meadow and what grew in it.
California Cornlily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum

Eventually though, I needed to complete my hike and drive on to the Loomis Visitor Center where I was to meet with the families of our camping group and show them around Manzanita Lake before heading on to the campground for the night. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Where A Shipwreck Changed Human and Natural History of Mendocino Coast

Point Cabrillo Light Station, June 9, 2019

Date: January 8, 2018, June 9, 2019
Place: Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, Mendocino, California
Coordinates: 39.350012, -123.813205
Length: 1.7 miles
Level: easy

When Pappa Quail suggested visiting the Cabrillo National Monument on our latest SoCal trip I was surprised: at that time I had known only about Point Cabrillo Lighthouse State Historic Park, which I had already visited nearly a year before. As I learned. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who was the first European to have set foot in the North American West Coast, had never made it as north as where Mendocino County is today. Still, Point Cabrillo is named after him as well.
And since our SoCal trip during which we hiked the Cabrillo NM and explored the tide pools there I also had another opportunity to hike Point Cabrillo yet again, and this time in spring.
I include here photos from both of these hikes.
At the trailhead, January 9, 2018
I dated the photos, but I think it's pretty obvious which was taken when. In it's not the clouds that are the determining difference - it's the vegetation. The difference between the mostly last season's weeds with the beginning of new greening to full early summer green and wildflowers colors is striking.
June 9, 2019
Along the coast of California there would be always something blooming. In early January the early bloomer was the huckleberry.
Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, January 9, 2018
The park's main attraction is the old lighthouse and the fascinating history of the place, but the park's area also have a few very beautiful nature trails. It was the north loop that I hiked on both occasions.
January 9, 2018
Less than a mile down the west-bound trail I took a turn on a narrow foot trail through the coastal prairie to the northwestern corner of the park where the Frolic Cove Beach is.
June 9, 2019
On January I did this hike was very quickly. On June however, I stopped a lot to look at wildflowers or to graze on the blackberries that were ripening at the time.
Purple Checkerbloom, Sidalcea malviflora ssp. purpurea June 9, 2019
Coastal plants are often low and spreading as an adaptation to windy conditions. The irises grew  taller than most of the plants in their surroundings and were the easiest to spot from afar. Still, they were considerably shorter than their inland forest area counterparts. They were also much darker in color - both the green leaves and the deep purple of their blossoms.
Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana June 9, 2019
The local thistle provided a great example of this flattened wind-adaptation phenotype. It blooms pretty much at ground level.
Browny Thistle (Circium quercetorum), and Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), June 9, 2019
Mendocino County is part of the Pomo Native Californian territory. By 1850 the Pomo at their southern borders were already being harassed by the Spanish missionaries but in the northwestern part of their territory they were still largely unbothered. All that changed when the opium runner The Frolic run aground on the rocks right off the shores where Point Cabrillo SHP is now. All hands survived the wreckage and on their way back to San Francisco they had made a discovery: the huge forests of old growth giant redwoods.
The Frolic Cove. June 9, 2019
That discovery brought the end for the Pomo way of living and for many of the old growth redwood forests of the area along with the ecosystems they supported. The logging industry moved in in full force. New communities mushroomed along the coast and ports were built. The Pomo people were forcefully evicting to reservations where many of them died from diseases, starvation, and abuse. Of the huge redwood forests only a few enclaves were preserved.
And the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was built to alert the ships which shuttled the redwood logs south to San Francisco and goods back north to Mendocino of the dangerous off-shore rocks.
A coastal rock ledge, January 9, 2018
From the view point of the Frolic Cove I made my way south along the coast, following the beautiful cliffs and enjoying the breeze.
June 9, 2019
This coastal trail was leading me south to the old lighthouse. It has a lovely red roof and looks very pastoral in the blue sky backdrop of June (photo at the top of this post). In January however, it was already getting dark when I was heading that way, and I could barely see that the roof had any color at all. There was only the radiant evening sun glowing through a thinner spot of the cloud cover. 
January 9, 2019
A second later there was a mother flash of light, from the still operational lighthouse itself.
January 9, 2019
Each season has its own charm and beauty. On my June hike I didn't see the lighthouse light but I was treated to a colorful display of wildflowers.
Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus, June 9
And the water in the narrow coastal coves wore a sparkling emerald hue. I could stand there for a long time just watching the small waves washing in and out of those little coves.
June 9, 2019
The lighthouse building stands alone very close to the cliff edge. In the old time, the foghorn was located too in this building but theses days it is located on a buoy off shore. The light is still operational and the bottom floor is a nice historic museum. In this museum is the story of the area, including Pomo items and relics of the Frolic, excavated after its story was rediscovered by an anthropologist researching he Pomo old sites.
Point Cabrillo Light Station, January 9, 2018
Further inland are three more red-roofed houses where the lighthouse keeper, his assistants and their families used to live. Two of these very nice looking houses are available as vacation rentals. The third is another museum dedicated to the life in the old pioneer times of North California Coast.
Assistant Lightkeeper's House, now a museum. June 9, 2019
There is a paved road leading from the park entrance to the lighthouse area. It is possible to drive all the way and park right there. Driving there however, would have deprived me of that beautiful hike.
I walk back along that road, completing a loop hike.
January 9, 2018
Walking back and forth this road is how most visitors get to the lighthouse, and it is indeed a very nice walk and a good leg stretch for long distance drivers on Hwy 1. It is also where the park  personnel had strategically pace some nice information boards explaining some of the local nature, including some nit readily visible things like whales.
When I walked that road in June I had the pleasure of seeing more wildflowers along the way.
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica, June 9, 2019
One of these flowers was new to me and I was duly impressed with its color combination. At first i thought it was an invasive species but searching Calflora I identified it as the harlequin lotus, which isn't only a California native plant, but also a fairly rare one - it is endemic to the Mendocino coastal region. Such a fortunate sighting makes me happy.
Harlequin Lotus, Hosackia gracillis, June 9, 2019
As I neared the end of the road I turned around and took a last longing gaze westward. The lighthouse was hidden from my view by the grove of trees planted around the historic residential buildings, but the blue ocean was a visible thin line between land and sky. California coastline is very beautiful, and the Mendocino coastline is absolutely spectacular. Cabrillo would have loved it had he ever made it there in person.
June 9, 2019