Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Legacy of a California Legend: Hiking at the Jack London State Historic Park

Date: March 31, 2018
Place: Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Allen, California
Address: 2400 London Ranch Rd. Glen Allen, Ca, 95442
Length: 5 miles
Level: Moderate

Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS

In my youth I read an entrancing book about a Californian dog that was kidnapped to serve as a sleigh dog for gold rush miners in Alaska, where he eventually turns wild and joins the wolves. Although I read other books by its author, Call of the Wild remains until today my favorite book by Jack London.
When I moved to California it didn't take me long to find out that Jack London's origin was in the Bay Area. He grew up in Oakland but had left his mark in many places around the Bay before becoming a world traveler and renowned reporter and novelist. In one of my earlier visits to Sonoma County I also discovered that he had a ranch there where he lived with his wife the last 5 years of his life, where now is the Jack London State Historic Park.
On that first visit there with my family I saw the historic buildings and ruins, and visited Jack London's grave. We couldn't stay long that time, though, and I left with a feeling that I didn't see as much as I'd liked to have seen of this park. It took me nearly 12 years to return there.
At the trailhead
After a couple of previous plans for our spring break got cancelled I had to come up with a quick plan for the week long school break. I took the chance to plan a long trip to the Klamath area and then realized that the Jack London SHP was on the way.
We left home late on Saturday morning and I set the navigator to Jack London Park. When we arrived there it was already afternoon and we started down the trail thinking of having a nice, short hike before moving on to Arcata, where I have booked us lodging for that night.
Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, near the trailhead.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. We walked slowly, enjoying the country views of farmland and vineyards, looking for wildflowers, of which there were plenty, and absorbing the sun warmth.
Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus

A fence lizard watched us from its post.

Old farm buildings are scattered around the historic mansion. A tubular tower was visible from the trail that surrounds the vineyard. There was a trail leading there with a sign saying 'Pig Palace'. I was curious to see what's there but the rest of may family were already ahead on the main trail so the Pig Palace was left to the net visit (which I hope will be sooner than 12 years).
Pig Palace
The vineyard is privately owned and the park's grounds surround it. The Vineyard Trail on which we hiked is a wide and easy dirt road, shared by hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. As we walked a pack of mules passed us and stopped to chat and allow the chikas to pet the animals. The guide suggested a vista point to the valley and I followed his advice. The view, framed by a large overhanging branch of a venerable oak tree was indeed beautiful.

Trees generally are at their best in spring time, especially the deciduous tree when coming out of hibernation in a new coat of young leaves.

The evergreen trees are not behind at all - already in bloom, the Pacific Madrone.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
We took the hikers only trail through the woods up to London Lake. The lake turned out to be a small pond-like reservoir covered in duckweed, its shores overgrown with willows and dry-looking cattail.
London lake 
We explored the pond area a little bit. There were some wildflowers there, including many non-California native.
Purple Dead Nettle, Lamium purpureum. Non-native. 
And not always was the flower the colorful part.
Geranium purpureum. Non-native, invasive. 
Under the nearby trees bloomed a few lupine shrubs. I almost missed them because they blended so well in the shade pattern of the forest canopy.
Lupine, Lupinus sp.

I found there another lizard, and this one posed for me. This posture airs the lizard's belly.

If I'd have checked how long would be the drive to Arcata after we would have turned around at that place. Is it was, I guessed 2 hours and so we continued on to Fern Lake.

The trail took us through the woods, which were a mix of conifers and broadleaf trees. Most of the way the forest felt deep and dense with a wild feel to it.
New growth of a young fir

In the forest depths - the regular undergrowth plants I was familiar with from the Bay Area, many of them in bloom.
Starry False Lily of the Valley, Maianthemum stellatum
The chikas called my attention to a red flower a bit off the trail and I got very excited - the canyon larkspur adds much color to the relative gloom of the forest undergrowth and certainly stands out among the delicate white flowers that make most of them.
Canyon Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule
We crossed a small creek. The day was growing warmer rather than cooler so I had to urge my chikas away from there, as apparently this creek is a water source for the nearby homestead.
North Asbury Creek
On the other side of the creek the chikas found a banana slug. Not a bright yellow one like those I see near Sanat Cruz but still a nice find.
Banana Slug
Did I mention above that most forest undergrowth flowers are small and white? Well, some species compensate for that with numbers.
California Man-root, Marah fabacea 
Other show promise of sweetness to come :-)
Blackberry, Rubus sp. 
Some of theses forest whites were not small at all. I am always thrilled to see iris flowers. They look so majestic!
Fernald's Iris, Iris fernaldii 
And then, there was the unexpected late bloomer trillium. All of its friends had gone to seeds but this one was waiting for me to make e happy.
Western Wakerobin, Trillium ovatum 
We arrived at the trail intersection just before the lake. There was a small picnic area there and we sat down for a snack break. Other than the trail leading to the lake there was anther, narrower trail named Ancient Tree leading into the forest. I didn't think to go down that trail but a group of hikers that came from it urged us to go and see the tree. We did and I was glad of it - the Ancient Tree is an old redwood of the branching type, the only one left unlogged on these grounds.
The Ancient Tree
We came back from seeing the Ancient Tree and immediately went down the dirt road trail leading to the lake.
Fern Lake
Fern Lake appeared on the map to be out of the park's grounds but there wasn't any off limits sign. It was a much larger reservoir and the water seemed cleaner but there was no apparent access to the water. The lake was belted by a thick ring of cattail, willow, and other trees. We admired the view for a few minutes then started looking for the other trail that I wanted to take back to the farmhouse area where we started our hike.
Mourning Shroud Butterfly
There was some ambiguity about which trail we should take because there were several, trails bracing out at that point. Pappa Quail was ready to start back where we came from but eventually we decided on the right trail that would connect us back with the Vineyard Trail and started the mild ascend back.
Up the trail from Fern Lake. 
It didn't take long before our mellow trail turned into a steep uphill grade, at the end of which all my family collapsed on the ground, panting. It was also the time when Pappa Quail begun questioning my plan for the rest of the day. It was getting quite late in the afternoon and he suspected we'd arrive at Arcata no earlier than 9 pm. Not really knowing the travel time I evaded his questions and focused on easier topics, like the flowers on the trailside, which happened to be both white and tiny.
Bull Clover, Trifolium fucatum 
After a short rest we moved on and rejoined the Vineyard Trail. The sun was getting low and the forest darkened.

When we emerged from the trees the trail was completely shaded. The mountain range across the valley was nicely illuminated though. From our angle we could not see the scars of the huge fire that raged in that area only a few months before.

Far across the vineyard was a dead tree, standing still. A turkey vulture was rooting upon it and Pappa Quail photographed it. Then a second vulture swooped by and landed on that tree. Then a third. I asked Pappa Quail to photograph all three but he had already dropped his camera and was striding onward. 
Turkey Vulture 
I joined Pappa Quail and the chikas on the trail - going back now in the same way we had gone before.  

As we approached the old farm buildings I saw a pretty blooming tree that I had missed on the way out. It smelled very nice too. A decorative introduced species - hawthorn. 
Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyne, non-native, invasive
Closing our hike I moved closer to a fenced patch of Opuntia cacti - prickly pear. Apparently Jack London was fascinated with these plants (No wonder. So am I) and planted this patch. This desert species does very well in the wetter Sonoma area.

Just before we completed our hike I checked quickly the expected driving time to Arcata and gulped - the navigation app said four hours. And it was already 5 pm. And there would be a dinner stop. Oops.

Thankfully Pappa Quail didn't push the point too much. There was nothing to do about it anyway, since we had our lodging already reserved for the night. It was a lovely hike at Jack London SHP and since we didn't go into any of the historic buildings or visited his grave this time, I do plan to visit there again. Besides, there are more trails in this park, enough for a few more good hikes. 

We arrived at Arcata that night just past 11 pm. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Table is Set: A Boom Bloom at the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

Date: April 14, 2018
Place: North Table Mountain Ecological reserve, Oroville, California
Coordinates:  39.59555, -121.54164
Length: 1.5 miles in and out
Level: easy

Last spring was a super bloom year in California. This year the rains came late and I already resigned to the thought that this spring will be just nice, not mind blowing. For some of the places of last year's boom bloom that is true, but thankfully other places more than compensate for it. After seeing the online posts with photos from Oroville's North Table Mountain Ecological reserve I looked for an opportunity to go there. That came last weekend when my mother came to visit me with her friend and I convinced them (with ease) that Oroville was the place to see.
We left home just before noon on Saturday and took our time, including a lunch stop, to get to Oroville. As we made our way along the narrow, winding road leading from the town to the reserve I got a strange feeling that we might not be alone there, as in our last visit. Many cars were parked along the road, indicating that the small parking area is probably full. People were walking up and down the narrow, shoulders road, slowing down our drive. Already I could see colorful carpets of wildflowers behind the cattle fences on either side of the road.
Perhaps it was because we arrived relatively late that we found parking fairly close to the trailhead, just outside the parking lot. It took us some extra moments to clear all the cars and people that were between ourselves and the reserve but when we finally made it through the (new) gate we stopped and stood there, gaping.
The sky below: A field dominated by Lupinus nanus and Cryptantha intermedia 
I have been at the North Table Mountain Reserve before and it was beautiful, but nowhere close to the colorful display of this spring. 
California Goldfield and Stonecrop, Sedelle pumila (yellow), and Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus (blue)  
The two most dominant colors there however where the backdrop colors - the dark basalt rocks and the intense winter green. This background made the perfect contrast for the wide carpets and patches of wildflower colors. 
The main yellow came from the tiny inflorescences of the California goldfield. Between the rocks and in the shallow depressions was another yellow bloom - the delicate stonecrop. 
Stonecrop, Sedelle pumila
Between the dominant flowers that made the unicolored patches hid many other wildflowers, in singles or in small groups. I tried finding as many as possible but only few made it here to this post. 
 Pretty Face, Triteleia ixiodes
There were also areas that were not dominated by any single species but a mix of several. Many were 'belly flowers'. The soil was muddy so I didn't go down to my belly for any of them. All of my photos were taken from above. 
Variable Linanthus, Leptosiphon parviflorus, and California Goldfield, Lasthenia californica
There is one trail that stretches along the creek that cuts through the meadow but people were meandering through the fields among the wildflowers. I remembered that last time we were there there was cattle on those fields. I was glad to see that the people were f`orly careful - not much seemed trampled. The exposed piles of basalt rocks helped - they made great stepping stones. 

The first meadow we walked through was also the highest. Water was oozing from the ground all over the place, muddying the soil and collecting into little puddles and tiny brooks, flooding the narrow trail. 

Wetter soil flowers bloom in theses flooded basins - the indian clover and the yellow monkeyflower made a wonderful purple-yellow color combination.  
Yellow Monkeyflower, Mimulus gutattus, and White-tipped Clover, Trifolium variegatum

It took a while but eventually we stopped meandering and started down the trail. It was already left in the afternoon and I knew we wouldn't get very far but I wanted to get at least to the first waterfall which wasn't far away. 
The trail followed the path of the creek and the creek banks were marked with beautiful white bouquets of snow-white meadowfoam. 
Snow-white Meadowfoam, Limnanthes douglasii ssp. nivea
While our progress remained slow, at least now we had direction. Even so I kept hopping from one side of the creek to the other to take a closer look at one flower or another. 
Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii
It was hard to remain focused on the trail with all the pretty wildflowers around. 
Bird's-eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor
The creek, which was almost level at the upper meadow was now flowing faster, dropping in places in little cascade falls. 

At the place where the trail remained above the mildly descending creek I had a nice view of the colorful slopes above the narrow glistening strip of water. 

No longer flat, the Table Mountain features were more apparent and impressive - the dark, dry basalt surrounded by stonecrop and goldfields, and then the wetter soil flowers, lupine, cryptantha, and the green grasses. Each plant species in its own patch of soil mix perfection. 
Color Patterns
Whether by soil, precipitation, or weather, only few trees were growing up at the top of the Table Mountain. Wind-beat they looked graceful and venerable. Nearly all of them were oaks. 

Other than flowers there were also lots of weeds. Non-native, invasive weeds. The monarch butterfly that fluttered by didn't seem to mind though.
Monarch Butterfly
My mother's friend drew my attention to a pink spot on the slope. A clump of owl's clover in between the sky lupine. These were the first owl's clover I've seen this season and I got very excited.
Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus, and Owl's Clover, Castilleja exserta
As we progressed down the trail I saw large patches of that very same owl's clover on the dry basalt slopes. There were many of them all over the place.

We reached the top of the waterfall. The trail narrowed and became steeper. My mother and her friends decided to stay up but I moved a little further, trying to get a good view of the waterfall.

On my way I found out what those elongated buds I have seen near the rocks were. They were buds of clarkia. I found the first one that was open. All the rest of them were still maturing.
Kellogg's Clarkia, Clarkia arcuata
I also found another surprising wildflower there - one I didn't expect to see on such an exposed terrain. I usually see the woodland star in forests, but there it was - in full sunlight, under a mass of basalt rock.
Woodland Star, Lithophragma heterophyllum
I slowly paced down the trailand stopped at the corner of the first switchback. It was far enough to get a glimpse of the waterfall without getting too far away from my companions. There was more water falling there than the last time I was at that place, which was in April too.
Hollow Falls
 I didn't go all the way down. Turning around I walked back up to join my mother and friend. On the way I found another pretty face :-)
Lilac Pretty Face, Triteleia lilacina
And also other purple flowers that somehow I had missed on my way down.
Kellogg's Monkeyflower, Mimulus kelloggii
I rejoined my companions and we started back along the creek. There seemed to be fewer people now, but new ones were making their way down, crossing our path. I now focused less on finding new wildflower species and more on the beauty of the landscape.

It was getting late and the sun was hanging ow in the western sky, making the flowers shine and more difficult to photograph.

Well above the waterfall I resumed hopping back and forth both sides of the creek, trying to take it all in. I am well aware of how fleeting all this beauty is. A single heat wave can end it all. Even with no hear wave, this boom bloom will be over as spring turns into summer.
Allocarya, Plagiobothrys stipitatus, and White-tipped Clover, Trifolium variegatum
With the exception of the clarkia, nearly all the flowers I've seen there were at their peak bloom. I plan to return to this place in May but I doubt the display would be as vibrant. I hope it will still be spectacular though. Maybe other species will take over.
Tupftet Eschscholzia, Eschscholzia caespitosa , and Caterpillar Phacelia, Phacelia cicutaria
There were certainly fewer people in the reserve as we made our way back. At last I could take people-free photos of some nice creek nooks.

I aslo noticed some plants that might be part of the next wave of bloom. I'll check on this one next month.
California Pipevine
My companions were impressed by the bright green algae growing at the bottom of the creek. The water was very shallow and the algae glistened in the almost direct sunlight.
Algae at the bottom of the creek
There was a small grove of trees right at the place where the creek leveled off again. At the time we were going downstream there were many people sitting or walking between them but on our way back they were alone. The few people that were still there were, like us, making a slow progress up the trail.

Nearly all the trees we saw there were oaks but there were some willows, and they too were blooming. Willow bloom isn't a colorful display but is very delicate and pretty.
Red Willow, Salix laevigata
Slowly we came back to the top meadow. Now there were many spots available in the parking lot. Cars were pulling out and heading back toward Oroville. We were heading in the opposite direction toward Redding. I felt very fortunate for having the chance to see this wonderful super bloom at the North Table Mountain Reserve. I don't think my spring would have been complete without it. 

Many thanks to the members of the California Native Plants Society for the reports and the beautiful photos from the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, without which I probably would have not go there this year.
And many thanks to the members of the California Native Plants Society for all the help in identifying plants!