Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Third of Three: Inside and Out the Marble Cave of Oregon

Date: April 6, 2018
Place: Oregon Caves National Monument, Cave Junction, Oregon
Coordinates: 42.098794, -123.407731
Length: about 2 miles combined
Level: moderate (children under 42 inches are not allowed in the cave)

The rain that begun when we left the Klamath National Forest had followed us into Oregon. Although we did do a short hike to Hobart Bluff at the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument, we looked for an alternative plan for the following day. My idea was to go underground and after dinner I did an online search and the closest place I found was the Oregon Caves National Monument. Pappa Quail convinced me that two hours drive is enough of a vicinity, pointing out that we really didn't have any other alternatives to hiking in the rain or sitting in the hotel room all day long. Thus we packed ourselves early in the morning and started weston a slow and foggy road over the Siskiyou Mountains.
The cave has regular guided tours and there's a recommendation on the website to book the tour in advance. Not sure when we'll get there we didn't. On our way there we passed a sign for a nature area. I didn't pay much attention to it (my mind was on the road) but Pappa Quail made a mental note of it.
When we arrived at the park we found that the parking area is a good walking distance from the visitor center and the cave. Not knowing how things worked there we walked up to the visitor center. There was no wait so we got tickets for the upcoming tour starting in about 20 minutes and Pappa Quail had to run all the way to the car and back to get a backpack and my camera (he wasn't planning on carrying his). Meanwhile I had my shoes wiped well (to prevent any transfer of a certain bat disease from previous caves I've visited). When the time came we gathered with the rest of the tour group outside the visitor center. The guide gave us an introduction and took us up the trail to the cave's entrance.
Access trail to the Oregon Cave 
Everything about us was moist and lush green, looking very different from most of California. It seemed even more green than the North California region of which the Siskiyou Mountains are part of.
The entrance of the Oregon Cave
Our guide told us that this cave was special - it was a marble cave (that is, caves formed in marble rock), one of only three found in the US. When she named the other two I exchanged glances with Pappa Quail. The other well known marble cave is the Crystal Cave located in Sequoia National Park. I visited that cave twice before - once with Pappa Quail and a friend before the chikas were born and a second time when I visited Sequoia NP with my sister and her family four years ago. The third marble Cave in the US is located in Great Basin National Park in Nevada, which is probably the most remote National Park in the contiguous US. We had been there too for a one day visit twelve years ago, and we went on a tour of that cave as well. Now, without prior planning, we were about to complete the series. We were ready to descend into our third marble cave out of three that don't require a passport to get to.
I was surprised that we were allowed to take photos inside the cave, and I made the best of it. My camera Isn't all that great in low light conditions but I took a gazillion photos and a few came out ok.
Right when we entered we saw a bat. That was the only bat we've seen that entire tour.
Little Brown Bat (that's it's real name), Myotis lucifugus
The cave formed when over millions of years the rock was dissolved by the low concentration of weak carbonic acid in the water that seeped through from above. Holes, rooms, and halls were hulled in the bedrock. 
A collection funnel of water samples
When the water level subsided, stalactites begun to form, with calcite depositing one layer after another, in a slow process that continues as long as the water keeps dripping through the same hole.
Stalactite Ceiling 
If the water dries too fast the calcite is deposited at the bottom, creating a stalagmite. Stalactites and stalagmites grow toward one another over millions of years and if the process isn't disrupted, they eventually meet to form a column.
Stalactites, Stalagmites, and Columns. 
When the flow is just too fast for dripping there forms a flowstone. Smooth, and flowing still (in a geological pace), and shining in the cave electric lights.
Flowstone Formation
The first explorers of this cave used candle lanterns and didn't see much about them. Candles introduced smoke to the cave. Later electric lights introduced algae growth. It didn't come out in my photos but it was there - little green strands of algae here and there in regularly illuminated spots.
The first explorers of the cave also were not keen on the preservation of its natural state and beauty. They collected pieces of rock formation, touched and killed the living rock (the skin oils block the water flow and stops the formation growth), and left markings and graffiti on the walls accessible to them. The most prominent one was left there by the geologist Thomas Condon and his students who explored this cave in 1884 and signed their names on a flowstone. The graffiti was later glazed over by the continuing flow and deposition of calcite, making it impossible to remove and leaving it visible for many years to come until it'll finally fade into stone.
Thomas Condon's Graffiti
Our guide led us along the modern cave path through a labyrinth of meandering cement trails, metal ladders and flights of stairs. She would stop in set places and talk about the cave and the formations around. I would take the chance and look for all kinds of interesting sights.
Rock Maze
The guide shone her flashlight at a pretty formation (alas, broken at the tip) and said this one was called "The Scream" after Munch's famous painting. Once seeing it, I couldn't unsee it!
The Scream
Then she pointed at a tall metal stair ladder and said that the prettiest formation are in an upper chamber at the top, and invited those who wished to climb to go up there and take a closer look. Naturally, we all did. I stayed behind to take some photos after everyone else stepped down. Indeed, that was the prettiest chamber in the cave. The beautiful draperies formations looked very appetizing, like flowing cream.
From the top of the ladder I had a n excellent view of the large chamber below and the cement trail cutting through it.

The flowing cream chamber was the highlight of the tour. After that we begun our ascend toward the cave's exit. The guide stopped at a couple more places to show us interesting bits. Once was a box with bones of a bear that fell inside the cave and died there. She mentioned that other animal bones where also found inside the cave.
Bear Bones
The other thing she showed us, already in the tunnel leading to the blasted, human-made exit, were daddy long leg spiders on the tunnel walls. We started with the bat and ended with the spiders. That was the wildlife display of the Oregon Cave.
Daddy Long Legs
Outside were had a choice - to go down by the direct and quickest route or to take the little over a mile trail that went around the and over the mountain side before turning to the visitor center. That trail, said our guide, was the only one open for hiking because at the time the others were still covered with snow.
The chikas wanted to head down right away but Pappa Quail and me chose to hike. After some grumbling on the chikas side we started walking down the trail.

The rain seemed to have paused but everything was wet and the air was dense with clouds and mist. Moss was thriving everywhere - on rocks and trees.
Ferns also thrive in moist conditions. I loved the contrast of the green ferns against the reddish fallen leaves ground cover.
Here and there I saw snow queen flowers in bloom - the same wildflowers I saw the day before along the Hobart Bluff trail.
Snow Queen, Synthyris reniformis 
From the cave's exit we were hiking uphill on a mild sloped, meandering trail. The clouds became darker again and the rain resumed. When we got high enough to peek over the tree tops we couldn't see anything below. the heavy clouds had blotted out all the view.

We ascended slowly up the hill, arriving eventually to a nice vista point from which we could see only the nearest trees and a big gray cloud hanging over the valley below. There were some picnic tables and benches, all drenched, and pretty looking rocks. There were also a couple of other hikes wearing plastic ponchos over a summery attire. The elder chika chatted with them a little while Pappa Quail tended to the younger one who wanted to finish the hike already, and I was looking for little things of interest on the ground, such as snails (only saw one empty shell).

We found something else at the top that got the chikas more excited than anything they've seen earlier - there were snow patches on the ground! The chikas wanted to go and play in the snow but we didn't want them to stray off the trail. They settled for tossing a couple of snowballs at each other and then we continued on.

It was all downhill from there. In a good sense. Going downhill was on a much steeper slope and we had to take care not to slide on the muddy trail.

Also the rain intensified. The lichen-coated trees were dripping water, and the mist and gloom gave the forest the appearance of a Grimm Brothers tale.

I could imagine the Babayaga's hut between the trees ... Fining the witch's butter fungus growing on a fallen log only added to the atmosphere of an enchanted forest.
Witch's Butter
But this was no European ghost-haunted landscape but a lovely American west coast forest. No better reminder of that than the pacific madrone with its gleaming red bark shining through the gray mist.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
We returned to the visitor center and retrieved our backpack (we had to leave it in a locker - no packs are allowed inside the cave), found that the park's cafeteria was closed for the season, and walked down the road to our car.

We dove to the nearest town, fittingly named, Cave Junction, where we found a place to eat and think of what to do next. Then Pappa Quail suggested that we'd explore the nature area we've passed on our drive to the park. It seemed a good suggestion. After a good lunch even the chikas were fine with it. So off we went, to explore some more of Southern Oregon.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Vista Point of the PCT: Hiking to Hobart Bluff at the Siskiyou-Cascade

Date: April 5, 2018
Place: Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument, Ashland, Oregon
Coordinates: 42.086423, -122.481888
Length: 2.5 miles
Level: easy to moderate

Last spring break we took the opportunity to explore the Klamath area - a region of California that we had never been to before. For three days we camped and hiked along the river and had beautiful weather. When we left the Klamath to Yreka the weather changed to overcast and rainy. The next couple of days we were planing to hike the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument in southern Oregon. There was rain in the forecast but it was so for all of of the West Coast and it was pointless to divert our planned route.
When we left Yreka in the morning of April 5 it was cloudy, but not rainy. The drive on I-5 was quick but then we had a very slow drive through the narrow and winding mountain roads leading to the Siskiyou-Cascade. By the time we arrived at the trailhead I wanted - that of Hobart Bluff - it was raining again. Moreover - there was snow still on the ground. Large patches of it.
The Trailhead

It was cold and misty, and I felt miserable. Unlike my usual self, I was ready to turn back and spend the rest of the day in the hotel's hot tub. But Pappa Quail urged me to hike. He argued that we don't know when we'll be back there again and we might as well look around. The chikas weren't very enthusiastic about walking in the rain but the sight of snow on the ground encouraged them to get out of the car too. So we donned our raincoats and prepared for a rainy hike. Pappa Quail decided to leave his birding camera in the car - he didn't expect to see any birds in this weather and he didn't wish to risk damaging his precious camera. I left my usual camera behind too, taking with me only the little point n' shoot that we got after the disaster at the Mormon Rocks a year and a half before. I tucked the camera inside my coat and pulled it for quick snapshots every now and then. There are only a few photos here, and they aren't the greatest, but they do show the place as we've seen it that day.

The first segment of the Hobart Bluff trail overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We hiked a bit of the PCT two days before near Seiad Valley and I was amused to hit it again in a completely different area, in a different state.
Here, in contrast of what we saw at the Grinder Creek segment, the trail was completely clear of fallen logs and very easy to tread. Mostly.
Hobart Bluff Trail/PCT 
The trail wasn't easy to walk in the places where it was covered with snow. Fortunately for us, the snow cover wasn't much, and most importantly - it wasn't in steep areas that would have made crossing it dangerous.

We simply walked slowly, careful to stick our heels deep for stability. The elder chika was gliding over the snow just like an elf. The rest of us were more careful. 
It was old snow, already dark with dirt and covered with shodden male pine cones. The rain wasn't helping it either. That's how early spring looks like in this area. 

After less than mile we reached the fork that detached from the PCT, leading us uphill toward the bluff. There wasn't any snow there anymore, and the rain intensified and weakened every few step, so I kept my little camera under my coat for most of the way.  

Whenever the rain eased a bit I risked pulling my camera out and taking photos of the view. Many of the photos came out blurry, either because of poor lighting or because of an annoying droplet that got to the lens. I had to wipe it frequently. Still, I got a good augmentation of my memories of this area.

For the most park our hike felt like walking inside a thick, wet cloud. The rain wasn't strong, but it was incessant. The ground was soaked, but luckily not muddy. The light volcanic soil absorbed the rain, wicking it away from the surface. Despite the heavy moisture there was hardly any surface runoff. Wisps of cloud rose from the ground like ghosts between the trees. The colors were intense, the vegetation greens contrasting with the dark, earthy browns of the rocks and soil, and the occasional rusty red shrubs.

Near the summit the trail fails. Not that it wasn't there, but there were plenty of other foot paths, making it nearly impossible to identify the official trail from all the rouge ones. There was also a wilderness campsite there, I assume of use for PCT backpackers. 
After some trials and errors we found the trail leading to the summit. The rain paused enough for us to get a good look around. The view seemed the same in every direction - soft cloud-donning mountains patched with dark forests separated by narrow, light green vales. A silver, winding line indicated a road. We saw no cars on that road. 

View northeast from Hobart Bluff
The nearby sights were also worth attention - the top of Hobart Bluff was covered with low cushions of juniper and manzanita, but with dark red branches and lush green foliage.

We were surprised to find a couple of other people on the summit, mainly because until then we had the impression of being the only humans in the area. They were coming up to the summit just as we were going down, and seemed unsure if the trail. We reassured them that they were on the right track and continued downhill.
In the Siskiyou-Cascade spring was just beginning. The snow was melting and the grasses greening up. It was way too early to be expecting any sort of a bloom show, but there were a few ephemerals about, little and unassuming. they were also very difficult to photograph, especially with the lesser camera I was using on that hike. I did try my best, though.
One particular flower was blooming in small patches along the entire trail. It was very close to the ground and its purple bloom was almost camouflaged by the background of reddish-brown fallen leaves. I took many photos of this little spring flower, but only one came out ok. 
Snow Queen, Synthyris reniformis 
It is a short trail to Hobart Bluff. I am glad that Pappa Quail insisted on hiking it - it gave us a good idea of how the area looks like and what can be found there. Besides, as we walked on my spirit rose with each step and by the time we made it back to he car I was content and happy to go check in our hotel in Ashland. Pappa Quail knows me well - had we missed on that hike I probably would have been in a sour mood for the rest of the day.
The forecast for the morrow was rainy still, and stronger too. Now I had plenty of time in the hotel to figure out what to do on the next day. Already on the way to Ashland my mind kept going to the one rain-protected hike possibility - underground. Where there any worthy caves in the area? I should find out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In the Regenerating Kingdom of Trees: Hiking at El Corte de Madera Preserve

View Southwest from Manzanita Trail

Date: October 13, 2018
Place: El Corte de Madera Preserve, Redwood City, California
Coordinates: 37.406016, -122.304327
Length: 4.5 miles
Level: moderate to strenuous

A new school year has begun and with it a new hiking season for our Redwood 4-H Hiking Project. My selection for the season opener was a park that I've never hiked before - El Corte de Madera Preserve west of Redwood City. I went there for a prep hike with a friend but sadly I forgot to take my camera along. I did bring it for the 4H hike and snapped a few shots whenever I had the chance to divert my attention from the project members for a moment.
At the Trailhead
Pappa Quail came along too. He an the elder chika soon found an attraction - a Red Admiral butterfly clinging to a tree.
Red Admiral Butterfly
Shortly after they found the only bird that cooperated with the camera - a brown creeper. All the other birds we saw on the hike hid away quickly, leaving us to enjoy their songs only.
Brown Creeper
We started at the middle parking area which is merely a large pullout off Skyline Blvd. and started on the Sierra Morena Trail which follows the road for about half a mile before  turning onto Fir Trail.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
It was a busy Saturday at that park. Every few minutes we had to squeeze ourselves to the side of the trail to allow bikers to pass by.
Less than half a mile into the Fir Trail we turned left and connected with the Manzanita Trail. We were already descending by now we were walking downward on a much steeper slope. The trail sure lived up to its name - we were walking through high chaparral of mostly manzanita bushes.
Brittle leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos crustacea 
The terrain in that park is sandstone of special formation called, Tafoni. I read that on the map and trailhead sign. I could tell we were treading on sandstone but I have not the knowledge to tell that formation from any other. Still I mentioned that bit to the children. One can never tell what bits of information will stick in their minds.
Tafony Sandstone
Down, down, and down we went. We lost much altitude in a very short time. Another parent who went along wondered aloud about having to go all of that back up ... I merely smiled. If any of the children thought about that, they kept it to themselves.
The trail we did was nearly completely shaded. Whenever we were not walking in the high chaparral, we were in the forest. Whenever it was not manzanita, it was the madrone - it's relative. The madrone has a very thin bark. The new bark is green and photosynthetically active. It ages throughout the year and then it peels off to reveal the new green bark underneath.
Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
We came upon a large patch of spiny fruit on the trail. I didn't know what plant it came from (I could only see manzanita around), and of course the project members asked me what it was ... they had to settle for, "I'll look it up and tell you later".
Back at home I uploaded the photo to the California Native Plants Society page, and within seconds I had the answer - that is the fruit of chinquapin plant, another chaparral bush that I simply didn't pay much attention to before.
Fruit of Giant Chinquapin, Chrysolepis chrysopylla

We kept going on on the Manzanita Trail. In places the manzanita boughs closed over us to form a tunnel.
Tunnel View
In oter places the vegetation opened up and standing on our toes we could see the view to the southwest. We would have been able to see the ocean if not for the blanket of fog that covered it.
View South from the Manzanita Trail
The Manzanita Trail loops around the hill side, making a sharp turn eastward. For a short distance we were walking on the south facing slope and enjoying full sunshine. Accordingly, the vegetation was much lower and less lush.
Manzanita Trail
We connected with the Timberview trail and immediately plunged into dark forest. It could have been darker - this used to be old growth redwood forest, but it was heavily logged. The park's name (El Corte de Madera - tree cutting), indicates that past. All the trees there now are young growth, but the stumps of the old, venerable redwood trees that used to dominate the forest there are still there - silent evidence of the massive destruction of the old California forest.
Logged and regenerated Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
When we arrived at the Timberview trail a debate started among the youth project members. Some wished to turn right and extend our hike a bit more. Others wanted to turn left and head right away toward the trailhead. Because we've hiked a a very good pace so far (no surprise - we were going mostly downhill) I sided with the kids who wished to extend the hike and so we turned right all the way to Crosscut Trail. After an extension of 0.9 mile and one wrong turn which was corrected after some unnecessary sweat was perspired on an unnecessary upslope we turned back north on Timberview Trail and finally started our way uphill.
Timberview Trail
The forest was much denser and darker along Timberview Trail than we've seen earlier on the hike. The canyon was much deeper too but the creek was dry. We were hearing creaking sounds all around and I remembered that on my prep hike there with my friend I though I was hearing a tree breaking down above us and I made us run uphill a little bit because I feared that a tree might fall on us. Maybe I was exaggerating a bit but trees do collapse in the forest every now and then.
Collapsed Trees
No we were going p and up. The slope of Timberview Trail didn't feel steeper than that of the Manzanita Trail upon which we came down. There were less level itervals, however, leaving the uphill walk continuous and without a break.
We did take it easy, though. stopping every now and then to look at things, like the waterhole in the creek that had a little water left in it still.
Water Hole
This part of the creek appeared to be recently eroded. A sign on the other side announced that 'This is not a trail," making me think that maybe once it actually was. I thing that this would be a nice little waterfall in winter, when the creek will be running.

The hike uphill spread our group. The eager to finish kids made it uphill quickly. perhaps the others were just as eager but didn't wish to spend up. I found myself at the rear, helping my young chika along - she had a blister forming on her heel and was hurting with each step. She was one of the kids who wanted to extend the hike and now she moped about that choice. I supported her the best I could,  which was mainly staying by her side and listening to her runts all the way up. I consoled myself with the sight of a perfect, lush fern by the trailside.

When we finished the hike we decided to meet together at a restaurant in Redwood City for lunch. Pappa Quail treated the chika's blister and taking a long goodby look at the forest we said goodby and drove off. 
El Corte de Madera park has a complex trail system and we had sampled only a little but of it. There is much more to explore in that park and I hope to get back there soon. Perhaps after the rains begin and the banana slugs come out. 

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!
Thank you Anenet for identifying the butterfly!