Place: Mt. Diablo State Park, Clayton, California
Coordinates: 37.920359, -121.941730
Length: about 2.2 miles
Ever since I found it, Mitchell Canyon has become a pilgrimage site for me. Every year when the month of May rolls in I make it out there, alone or in the company of family and friends. This year I was fortunate to hike there several times and, like in earlier years, it was Nature galore.
The pleasure begins even before the hike: right by the visitor center there is a beautiful botanical garden of native Bay Area plants. I was tempted to wander in the garden before and after the hikes. I appreciated the nicely arranged sections and the signs naming each plant. Many were blooming at the time, and I enjoyed each and every flower.
|California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)|
|My Mitchell Canyon hike as captured by my GPS|
|Feral Honey Bees|
Mout Diablo is the northeast border of the Coulter Pine. These beautiful trees bear heavy cones and the tastiest pine nuts I have ever ate. And yes, I an shamefully collecting these pine nuts whenever I see them (but only on the trail itself).
There weren't many flowers on the shaded part of the trail. The most seen bloom there was that of the sticky monkeyflower,
|Western Tiger Swallowtail on Poison Oak|
And there is a bench, right at the trail intersection. And once making the turn - more things to see.
Mariposa lilies - very close relatives of the globe lilies -grow in abundance along that trail. There are globe lilies there too, but the mariposa lilies outnumber them by far.
Occasionally though, I see something new to me. Or that was there all along but I've only just noticed. Like this flax, for example.
|Brewer's Western Flax (Hesperolinon brewery)|
|Mitchell Canyon, view north.|
Between the sparse trees and on the south-facing slopes there is dense chaparral. This thicket of bushes, rising from knee- to well above my head - height is a thriving home for rich wildlife: lizards and snakes, little song birds and lots of insects and other invertebrates. In past years I've seen there also rabbits and mice and even encountered a California king snake constricting a vole.
The chaparral comprises of many plant species, but the most dominant at that trail segment is the chamise, which in May was blooming furiously.
|Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum)|
|Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) and a Ladybug|
|Chaparral Clarkia (Clarkia affinis)|
|Purple Clarkia (Clarkia purpurea)|
|Upper Mitchell Canyon|
I count several individuals at that trail segment and show them to the people that join me on my later May hikes there. At least one of them visibly shared my enthusiasm :-)
|Royal Rein Orchid (Piperia transversa)|
|Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis)|
|Fremont's Bushmallow (Malacothamnus fremontii)|
A few days later I was there again, this time with the Redwood 4H Hiking Project. I didn't tell them about the nest - I did not want the hen to be disrupted. But as we were coming down that trail segment I noticed immediately that things have changed: the weeds were all trampled and the nest deserted. Under the buckeye there were 8 cracked eggs and quite a few feathers lying in a mess. I stopped the group and we came over to explore.
There were no signs that the nest was raided. In fact, one of the parents who happens to be a poultry expert, had pointed out that the eggs were hatched naturally and hadn't been cracked from outside.
I hiked that trail thee more times after that until the end of May and each time the ere were fewer and fewer eggs and feathers. By the end of the month there very little evidence that there was any next there just three weeks before.
Meeting the Mitchell Canyon Trail again, I turned left toward the trailhead and the visitor center. Lizards basked in the sunlight and darted away when I came too close for their comfort.
As I descended back toward the parking lot I took the time to enjoy the patches of yellow mustard under the quarry at the Canyon's entrance. The mustard was introduced to California by the Spanish missionaries who sowed to be a marker for the El Camino Real - the way connecting the California Mission. The mustard, along with other exotic species that were introduced since then, have completely transformed the California coastal landscape. To this day the East Bay hills light up in mustard-yellow.
As I'm writing this blog post, fall is coming to an end and winter rolls in, so far with good rains. Last May the creek did not flow at all. Next spring I hope to see it gashing with water. With renewed life.