Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Short and Sweet: A Loop Around Bollinger Creek at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness

Dates: March 17, 2017
Place: Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon, California
Coordinates: 37.816232, -122.050022
Length: 1.8 miles
Level: easy

Necessity had me change the destination of our latest 4H hike at the last moment. I therefore chose the Bollinger Creek Loop trail at Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, a nice, easy trail near Castro Valley where members of the Hiking Project needed to be. I know this trail well, as I used to hike it often whet I lived close to that area, but it has been nearly four years since I last hiked it, and I needed to make sure that everything was still in the same place before taking the group there.

The trail system at Las Trampas isn't very extensive but it is well connected to nearby East Bay Regional Park trails, and well as trails of the East Bay Municipal District (EBMUD) lands (to hike which one must first obtain a permit).
The little loop trail around a section of Bollinger Creek is a lovely introductory level trail with very beautiful views, interesting vegetation, and good chance of sighting wildlife.
My Bollinger Loop hike as captured by my GPS
I was a bit worried before the hike because I was going there only a few days after a good rain storm and my experience there had taught me (the hard way) that even this simple and easy trail can become quite challenging when muddy. To be on the safe side I wore my sturdy hiking boots and brought my poles along.
I was a glorious day. Sunny and mild. Perfect for hiking. I decided to hike the loop counter-clockwise and begun on the off-creek trail at the foothill.
The grass was bright green and mowed close to the ground by the cattle that graze this area. Near the treelike that marked the creek I saw a nice patch of yellow flowers - buttercups.

I stepped off the trail to take a closer look. They were indeed buttercups - one of the earlier species to bloom in the Bay Area. I snapped a few shots and went back to the trail, skipping over cow pies and little streams of water that sprung from the only slightly higher ground above me.
California Buttercup, Ranunculus orthohynchus 
Both arms of the loop go along the contours of Bollinger Creek. The eastern one that I was walking on is a bit removed and allows a nice view of the riparian growth of the oak, laurel, and maple trees that mark the creek line.

I was going northward, and to my right towered the hills of Bollinger Ridge. The trail going up those hills are very pretty, yet quite strenuous, especially during summer. The hills look much milder from below.

There wasn't much bloom that I could see, save for the buttercups. Perhaps it was too early in season. Perhaps it was the grazing effect. Either way, there wasn't much of a color show on that day. I was very happy therefore, to see a little patch of lupine near the trail.
Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus
The deciduous trees, however, were already wearing their new spring foliage.
California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
The trail wound quickly under my gait and soon I was nearing the turning point to the creek trail. Just before arriving there I had to cross a little muddy stream that flowed from the hills to join the creek below. With my high waterproof boots and hiking poles I balanced myself on a narrow line of grass to the side of the trail and thus crossed the brook without sinking in the mud.

It was still muddy on the morrow when I was there with the 4-H children, and they chose to leave the trail altogether and go closer to the hill where they could cross the brook with a single hop. There, between the trail and the hill the area was flooded. In the green puddle the 4-Hers made a discovery: brown and green tree frogs. We saw at least 10 of them there and there were probably many more. Pappa Quail, who had joined our 4-H hike took a photo of one of the frogs.
Pacific Tree Frog
At the trail turn to the creek I sat down for a short break. Just ahead of me was a large maple tree covered with blossom. The tiny spring leaves were just beginning to bud out.
Big Leaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
The off creek tail continues further north and eventually connects with Redwood Regional Park. I did not continue along that trail. I did notice, however, the numerous mud slides that had occurred following the stormy winter.

I turned toward the creek. The partially shaded area at the edge of the trees was covered with miner's lettuce - this cute little plant is also one of the first species to bloom. It is also very tasty.
Miner's Lettuce, Clayton parviflora
Fresh growth was everywhere, and not just on the ground. The trees themselves were putting on a spurt of new growth.
Coastal Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
Water was flowing along a rut parallel to the creek. Strangely enough, the creek itself wasn't flowing all that much.
I crossed the rut, then the creek, and started back south along the narrow trail that runs close to the creek right under the trees.

One of the early shade-loving annuals that are first to bloom is the milkmaids. Its little white blossom dotted the line forest's floor.
Milk Maids, Cardamine californica 
I called it a line forest because it was so thin - a narrow strip of trees hugging the creek no more than 20-50 yards east or west.  A strip of protective coolness from the hot mid-day sun.

I walked on southward, going up on the slope at one point to bypass a section of the trail that was damaged in the storms. All and all, the trail was not half as muddy as I had feared and was very easy to walk on.

As I was closing the loop the trees thinned a bit and I passed through bigger sunny spots. The sun rays penetrating the canopy allow some nice undergrowth to thrive in these places. 
Spider web on a gooseberry bush. 
A sunny spot is also the perfect place for sunning :-)

There by the creak I saw the new spring growth of poison oak. The previous year had seen me changing status from 'immune' to 'sensitive' and now I carefully avoid this plant, pretty as it is.
Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum 
I stepped out of the woods and passed through the narrow gate in the cattle fence. To my right (west towered another hill. The park's trail ends there at the ridge. Beyond that it's EBMUD land. One day I'll check it out.

In the few minutes I had left before having to go and take the chikas from school I sat down at one of the picnic tables near the parking lot and watched little California towhees as they scratched the leaves-covered ground. On a nearby table lied a man deep in peaceful meditation. For a few moments the world was a quiet, calm place, a perfect bliss. Then a tiny dog rushed near me, all excited about something. The dog's owned rushed apologetically after her, clipping on the leash and pulling her away. The moment of peace was broken. The meditating man sat up. I gathered my things, stretched my legs, and walked off to my car.

I was back on the following day with the 4-H Hiking Project. We had a very lovely hike, but it was anything but quiet. It was also cloudy again. A day after the rain had returned.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mosaic Canyon: The Rock Shrine of Death Valley

Mosaic Formation

Date: November 27, 2016
Place: Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park, California
Coordinates: 36.571920, -117.144279
Distance: 4.1 miles
Level: moderate

On Friday morning we broke camp and drove back south to Stovepipe Wells. It was our last day at Death Valley and we wanted to go on a nice hike before starting on our long way back to the Bay Area. Taking the recommendation of the ranger we've spoken to on the previous day we decided to hike the nearby Mosaic Canyon.
We drove up the large alluvial fan to the canyon mouth. Many cars were parked there already but we managed to find a spot.

A couple of ravens were hanging by the canyon mouth near the parking lot. They didn't get too close to the hikers but they seemed unafraid and curious.
Both Pappa Quail and I have hiked Mosaic Canyon before, way back when on our first visit to Death Valley in our pre-china era. I didn't remember anything from that hike. I barely remembered that I did hike it. Now I was ready to produce more durable memories of that place.

Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The name of this canyon comes from the thick and beautiful layers of conglomerate pressed from long ago creek sediments. This polished conglomerate looks like elaborate mosaic of stones, worth of any classic archeological digging site.
Mosaic Formation
We didn't have to go far to see the mosaic formation. There were many of them: polished and unpolished, with large, small, or mixed size pieces stones, in a variety of colors and hues. These mosaic layers, however, fill in between old sedimented bedrock inside which the canyon is carved.

Mosaic Canyon narrowed right at its beginning. There were so many people inside on that day that it became a serious challenge to shoot a human-free photo of the canyon. Moreover - at times we had to wait in line to go past a particular narrows section.
Since we were moving painfully slow I took the time to appreciate the rock vegetation that was growing in the cracks.
A tight spot: Rock Nettle
Mosaic Canyon is in the Panamint Range and the mountains it is carved in are of sedimentary rock layers that have undergone uplifting and folding.
The canyon cut right through these layers, laying them visible to us as we walked between the rock walls.

We passed through the first narrows and found ourselves in a wide open area. The photo below is a bit misleading, as I had to position myself very carefully and time the shot just right to snap it at the split second there were no other people in the frame.
Mosaic Canyon last first narrows
There weren't many plants growing in the canyon, and the few that did, blended in perfectly in the background, doing their best to be inconspicuous.
Desert Holly, Atriplex hymenelytra 
We quickly passed the open wide area and entered the second narrows beyond. The stream of other hikers thinned a but, suggesting that some of the visitors were satisfied by seeing the formations at the first part of the canyon.

More formations, however, were revealed to those who moved further up Mosaic Canyon. Not all the formations we saw were of rock: some nice stalactite-like dried mud formations decorated the softer sides of the canyon.

Soon we arrived at a place where the canyon was blocked by a pile of collapsed boulders. There were two bypass possibilities, both seemed equally precarious. We observed the possibilities, and the people who tried this way or that, and made our choice to climb along the narrow gap behind the main large boulder that had collapsed into the canyon. It was a slow business but we all made it up and around the canyon block.
Boulder Block
Past the block point the human traffic was considerably thinned. But the path through the canyon had narrowed so to allow only one person through at a time. So even with less people about, we still had to fall in line with other hikers who were going up the canyon, or wait for people descending down this single lane path.
It was well worth it, though. Slot canyons are much fun.

Beyond the third narrows the mosaic formations appeared again, layering the canyon walls. Once again I saw the variety within this formation and I wondered if these upper layers are folded continuation of those I've seen at he entrance to the canyon, or perhaps different conglomerates that hardened on a different geological time.

Going further up the canyon meant some climbing through some tight narrows. Nothing too challenging, but quite exciting and fun to chikas and adult quails alike.

At the second canyon block there was no climbing the rocks around it. We had to go up the side slope and bypass that place in a wide arc. Luckily the bypass was well marked. It seemed also that fewer hikers continued beyond that point because after descending back to the creek bed above the block there were just a few more hikers behind us. In fact, we were almost alone.

We made it up the forth and last narrows. The last narrows for any normal hiker, that is. Because any progress beyond that required rock climbing skills that we did not possess.

Our path ended at a 30 foot tall dry waterfall. I would have loved to see this waterfall run, but that of course would be impossible because there is not going through that canyon while water wis running through it.
End Waterfall - our turning point
After good appreciation of the waterfall we went back to the wider are before going back into the forth narrows, and sat down for a short break. I took the time to look more closely at the rocks and appreciate the color patterns I saw.

Meanwhile Pappa Quail photographed a cute little rock wren :-)
Rock Wren
Finally it was time to go back. We rushed down the canyon narrows, flowing along the rocky curves that  cut through the mountains.

Arriving at the top of one waterfall we had climbed its side on the way up I suggested that we should slide down it on our behinds. The chikas quickly jumped on the idea and slid down the fall shouting with thrill. Papa Quail passed on the pleasure and climbed carefully down along the side. I watched the three of them below and wondered if the rock chute was narrow enough to accommodate my behind. Eventually I too reconnected with my inner chika and slid down the smooth waterfall.

We progressed quickly down the canyon,climbing down the boulder blocks we had encountered on our way up. I looked more closely at the rock patterns, enjoying the colors and textures that changed with each turn.

As we went further down the view outside the canyon opened up wider. It was a bright, sunny day, and the temperatures were very mild. Inside the canyon we were also protected from the wind that still raged outside.

By the time we made it through the first narrows again on the way out, the sun had already turned so our passage was completely shaded. It was afternoon already.

Pappa Quail and I had hiked Mosaic Canyon a long time ago, on our first ever visit to Death Valley NP. I was not able to recall anything of that first hike, not even as I walked through the striking formations a second time around. To me it was a first time discovery. And in my memory it is now etched as one of the nicest hikes in this magnificent park.

Always when I turn by back to Death Valley on my way home I feel as if I am leaving way too soon. I had this feeling again as we got in the car and started down the alluvial fan on our way out. It was less poignant than other times, though. Maybe because we had the chance to explore new places on this visit. There is still much more to explore there, though. We had barely scratched the surface.