Monday, May 12, 2014

A Drought Reality Check at Potter Ravine

Place: Lake Oroville SRA, Oroville, California
Coordinates: 39.548435, -121.495301
Difficulty: easy

The expected rain hasn't arrived yet, so after our morning exploration of North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve we decided to go on another hike. Taking the suggestion we got at the Lake Oroville SRA visitor center, we crossed the Oroville Dam, parked at the Spillway entrance and went hiking on the Potter Ravine trail.
Map section scanned from the park's brochure. Our trail is labeled yellow (and no, we did not walk on the water). 
We didn't have a lot of time on our hands so we only went out for less than a mile and then looped right back to the parking lot through the lake ... that is through where the lake would have been hadn't it been the third draught year in a row.
Painfully low water level at Lake Oroville
The trail segment we hiked is very convenient, wide and easy to walk. Both trail sides were spring-themed with beautiful wildflowers, the most common of which was the lupine.
Coloring the grass
Beautiful up close too:
Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
Another common flower there was the non-native three-cornered leek, many of which were busy with pollinators.
Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum), entertaining a beetle
Lupines weren't the only blues out there. Every now and then I spotted a beautiful larkspur erecting from between the green grass blades.
Slim Larkspur (Delphinium depauperatum) 
We kept to the right and crossed this creek, already dry, then curved ti the right again to keep with the lake's shoreline.

Between the rocks along the creek I spotted a group of blooming canyon dudleya. If the draught continues, there might be more of them in the future.
Canyon Dudleya (Dudleya cymosa)
We went on for a while and then the chikas wanted a rest stop. I suggested that we go down to the water. Papa Quail was a bit apprehensive, but after seeing the potential for a short-cut, he agreed. We stepped off the trail and moved towards the lake, which was considerably further down than I suspected.
Sky lupine paining the sad walls of the drying lake Oroville
Lake Oroville is in a sad state of record-low water level. After all the morning's green we got our reality check. Save water, folks!  There's not much left!
Newly formed habitats, such as volcanic devastation areas or the exposed sides of a receding lake are first colonized by pioneer plants. Lupine is such a pioneer.
So is the lotus.
Spanish Lotus (Acmispon americanus)
The lupine and the lotus both belong to the Fabaceae family - the legumes. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria live symbiotically in root nodules of these plants. This gives them competitive advantage over other plant species when colonizing nutrient-poor soils. In turn, they enrich these soils, thus paving the way for other plants to settle.
Wrangel's Lotus, (Acmispon wrangelianus)
If this draught continues (let's hope not), we might see the forest take back its former ground from the time before the dam was built.
Another pioneer: Bolander's Lilanthus (Leptosiphon bolanderi)
After a long, calm rest by the water (time well spent teaching the chikas to skip rocks and to observe mallards), we made our way back to the boat launch area, walking on ground that not that long ago was completely submerged.

The dry lake bed and the creek that we originally crossed higher up: a view point down below. The brown 'bushes' are dead christmas trees that were brought there to provide shelter for nesting birds.

In the two days we spent at the Lake Oroville area we did mostly sampling, which left us hungry for more. There's a lot to see there and I'm already planning a return trip with more time to explore. But at the end of the Potter Ravine hike we were going back to the campground for our last night there. Tomorrow we would be on our way to explore another part of California altogether.


  1. Nice flowers :-)
    I hope next winter will be rainy.

    1. Yeah, we need a lot of rain fill up the lake again. I don't know what will happen if the drought continues. It would be sad to see this place become a desert.