Sunday, November 25, 2018

Underground Once More: Visiting Lake Shasta Caverns

Date: April 8, 2018
Place: Lake Shasta Caverns, Lake Shasta, California
Coordinates: 40.804725, -122.303927

Of Lake Shasta Caverns I found out on a family travel forum online and immediately added it to my Wanna Visit There list. Last April, at the tail of our family spring break trip I finally got the chance to incorporate this cave into our itinerary. It was the last day of our trip, after exploring the Klamath River area and a bit of Southern Oregon, we have returned the to California through the Lower Klamath NWR and passed the night in the town of Lake Shasta. Packing early and efficiently, we managed to arrive at the caverns visitor center in time to buy tickets for the 10:00 tour.
The cavern tour is guided group tour. It begins with a ferry ride on Lake Shasta to the other side of the cove.

Lake Shasta is the largest man-made water reservoir in California. Besides storing water and driving the dam's hydroelectric power plant this lake is also a fine recreation area.

The ferry ride was short but long enough to enjoy the sight of the lake at surface level. The water surface has already receded, exposing the rust-colored soil between the green forest and the emerald-colored water.
Pappa Quail had left his camera in the car but the elder chika had taken her small one and took photos of occasional birds she saw, including a great blue heron that was standing on a structure in the water.
Great Blue Heron
The ferry deposited us on the other side of the cove where two tour busses were waiting to take us on the narrow uphill road leading to the cave mouth. There's no other road leading to the cave.
The ferry landing area
The cave was found in 1878 by a federal employee who explored the area. A path was made from the lakeshore to the cave mouth and cave explorers and spectators started visiting it on a regular basis. Now we were riding a tour bus following the very same path.
I sat on the right sight of the bus and the view from the windows was spectacular. The bus did not stop but I did take photos through the wide, clear bus windows, as did many others of the group.
To the right side of the photo, just before the lake view disappears behind the tree, allowed cove is visible. That is Bailey Cove, behind which the cave visitor center is located - where we had boarded the ferry. The adjacent peninsula has a beautiful hiking trail called the Bailey Cove Loop, a trail I'd hike twice later that spring.
Lake Shasta
After getting off the bus we had some time to look around. Then our guides gave us an introduction and led us to the cave's modern entrance.

While not of marble, the Lake Shasta Caverns cave is no less pretty than the Oregon Cave we've visited two days earlier.

Fantastic rock formations drooped from the cave's ceiling and walls, and grew from its bottom. 

Some of the formations are more rare than the common stalactites and stalagmites. This straw-like formations are seen in only few caves and are localized in only a few spots. 

The guide led us along the path, stopping here and there to tell the cave's story. She also did the now familiar cave tour routine of turning off all lights to experience total darkness. This sensation never gets old. 

No plants grow in total darkness, but ever since people have been exploring this cave, it is no longer in total darkness. Throughout the day when tours take place, the cave is illuminated with electric lights. The presence of light, together with the moisture and minerals make it possible for algae to grow on the rock formations. 

I tried getting a good close up photo of the algae but my elder chika did a better job of it:
Algae growing inside Lake Shasta Caverns cave
We didn't encounter any other life in the cave - no bats or spiders. Just the beautiful, living rock.

We exited the cave through its natural opening. After adjusting to the light outside we filed along the stairs down to the little exhibit room and bus stop. On the way I took the chance to examine the local vegetation.
Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum 

I also had some time to check out what was blooming near the bus stop. I've already seen some very interesting flowers along the road but I knew that the bus wouldn't stop for me to take a close look at them. I hoped that they'd bloom below by the ferry dock too.
Pipestem, Clematis lasiantha 

The clouds gathered while we were inside the cave but it didn't look like it was about to rain. Not yet, anyway.

By the ferry dock below I had some time to look around before boarding the ferry on the way back. Redbud trees bloomed along the road and a large rock behind the dock was seeping water from springs above it. It was very beautiful.

Pappa Quail directed my attention to red dots on the side of the big boulder - canyon larkspur flowers. A fluttering motion by the flowers grabbed my attention - butterflies were feasting on the elongated red blossoms.
Pipevine Swallowtail

I would have liked to get an even closer look but then I heard Pappa Quail calling me - the ferry was loading our group for the ride back.
I got to see another butterfly on the ground just before going on the dock. Later on that day, at the Sacramento River Bend Nature Area, we would see many more butterflies :-)
Pipevine Swallowtail

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Migrating to See the Birds at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Golden Eagle, juvenile

Date: April 7, 2018
Place: Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, California
Coordinates: 41.996666, -121.777633
Car tour route

Our 2018 spring break was a very satisfying one. After exploring the Klamath region and taking a short visit to southern Oregon, we were returning to California with one more day left to our vacation. We had hiked the Green Springs Mountain earlier that day but there was still plenty of daylight left and I suggested driving through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to see what birds are there this time of year. Pappa Quail didn't need much convincing, nor did the chikas, once realizing that this would be an auto tour rather than a foot hike.
Yes, this blog post isn't a hiking one, but of a birding car tour.

Even before crossing the borderline back to California we had a big attraction - a small group of sandhill cranes were foraging in a field near our route. I stopped the car and Pappa Quail took a few shots. Seeing cranes always make me happy.
Greater Sandhill Cranes, adult (right) and juvenile (left)
We arrived at the California border and took the road east. For a good long stretch the road lies right by the state line. While the road itself is entirely within California the area to its immediate north (left) is Oregon.
South (right) of the road there's a pond - one of several flooded ponds that make the Lower Klamath NWR. We were heading toward the beginning of the auto tour route.
SR 161, view east
We arrived at the refuge entrance and turned right onto the dirt road. I slowed the car down to a crawl, turned the radio off and rolled down the windows.
The younger chika buried her eyes in her book and the rest of us readied our cameras and binoculars.
Gaggle Crossing
We were welcomed by familiar birds: Canada geese, a red-tailed hawk, coots. The elder chika said she'd like to see an eagle. I remembered seeing a bald eagle there on our previous visit but Pappa Quail suggested I remembered incorrectly and that we've seen that bald eagle outside of Lava Beds National Monument. He was right, but we were still hopeful about the possibility of seeing an eagle.
Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile
Although no rain came down where we were, we could see it pouring down in the east. The clouds and the afternoon sun made the place look beautiful and eerie.

Although we started the tour with our windows down we soon had to roll them back up because the wind blew strong and chilly. Bobbing on the rippled pond were waterfowl - ducks and coots.  

Some of the ducks took to the air as we approached, quacking as they flew.
Redhead, male (top) and female (bottom)
Pappa Quail settled back in his seat - so far he hasn't seen anything out of the ordinary.
American Coot

I enjoyed the general view and continued driving slowly onward.

The elder chika was alert and soon she was spotting birds of interest. Pappa Quail rolled his window down again and aimed his camera. There were ducks in the pond. Pretty ducks.
Bufflehead, male
Little shore bids roamed the mud flats. A yellowlegs raised its head to look at us as we passed by.
Lesser Yellowlegs
As we continued on more interesting fowl came into view. There were many ducks in and near the water. I'm always amazed by the difference in appearance between male and female ion the same duck species. Of course it makes sense as the male is the one that draws the attention (of the females, and also of predators) while the females blend in the background, not as conspicuous therefore more protected.
Cinnamon Teal, male (near) and female (far)
In other species there might still be a difference, though not as striking. Below is a gadwall female.
Gadwall, female
In front of her swam a male gadwall, likely her mate.
Gadwall, male
We were focusing on the ducks when a couple of large raptors swooped by. Eagles!
Two juvenile golden eagles were flying near us, stopping on the road, then taking to the air again. We were very excited - our hope to see an eagle was well satisfied.
Golden Eagle, juvenile
The eagles put on quite a show for us, flying here and there, staying near the road we were driving on.  Pappa Quail and the elder chika took many eagle photos that day, but our favorite by far is the one below - of one of the eagles sitting on a sign announcing, pheasant hunting only.
the funny thing about that photo is that there actually was a pheasant there, hiding in the vegetation just below the sign, but he sneaked away while Pappa Quail was focusing on the eagle.
Golden Eagle, juvenile
It was hard to beat that excitement, but we kept looking for and seeing other interesting birds. The car tour trail looped around the west large pond and there we saw horned grebe in breeding plumage.
Horned Grebe, breeding plumage
Another interesting duck floated near the tule - a decoy wooden duck. This time, however, we realized that before embarrassing ourselves by asking about t as we did after our Colusa NWR visit ...
Decoy Duck
While the decoy was amusing to see and an indication that not only pheasants were hunted there, real ducks were much more interesting and attractive. And prettier too.
Ruddy Duck, male
We completed the car tour loop and turned toward the exit. The wind had picked up considerably and we were more reluctant to lower our windows. It was a very rewarding birding tour, and all of us were very excited about our eagle sighting. Now, however, it was time to go on to Lake Shasta where we planned to spend the night.
White-fronted Goose (the big one) and four Northen Shoveler (three males near the goose and one female behind them)
It was late in the afternoon when we left the Lower Klamath NWR and took Rte 97 southwest. Mount Shasta looms over the area and often can be seen from many miles away. That day, however, clouds covered its top. When we neared the mountain I pulled into a vista point stop and got out of the car to snap a few shots. This was the first time in 2018 I've seen Mount Shasta and the day I've seen the most of it. I passed in that area several other times in later months and each time the mountain was covered by clouds.
Mount Shasta

That evening we arrived at the town of Lake Shasta. I had a special plan for the morrow - I wanted to go under ground again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Closing the Circle: Hiking the Green Springs Mountain Loop

Date: April 7, 2018
Place: Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, Ashland, Oregon
Coordinates: 42.140025, -122.497350
Length: 2.5 miles
Level: easy

On April 7, the last day of the Oregon bit of our 2018 spring break trip the rain was finally over. After spending the last couple of days walking between the droplets or hiding underground we were finally able to go hiking with our cameras out of cover. Our original plan was to head back to California that morning and hike in the Shasta area but we decided to take the opportunity and spend one more day in Oregon before going back south. So after checking out framer hotel in Ashland we headed back to the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument, hoping to get a more serious impression of that area.
I followed the online instructions to the Green Springs Mountain Loop Trailhead.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's gps

At the described spot was a small parking area but the trailhead itself was a short walk away down the dirt road. This had caused us some confusion, but we walked in the expected direction and eventually found the place where the trail splits off from the road.

That part of the trail overlaps with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We had met it four days before at Seiad Valley and two days before at Hobart Bluff, so for the third time this trip we got to walk a bit of that long scenic multi-state trail.
And we almost didn't - the beginning of this trail was covered by a large snow patch. After traversing it we found that the rest f the loop trail was clear of snow.

There was no more snow after that first patch we've seen but the trail was wet and muddy. The scenery was that of a very early spring - the snow has melted but only the very beginning of plant growth could be seen.

Of the plants that did green up quickly I found the now familiar snow queen. A true ephemeral.
Snow Queen, Synthyris reniformis
For the first part of the loop we were walking through a gloomy conifer forest. perhaps it wasn't raining but the clouds were reluctant to leave so we walked through interchanging spells of sunshine and overcast grayness.

Then the trail split from the PCT, curved left and broke out of the woods. We were now walking along a mild slope of open grassy area.

And finally - we had view. A vast, gorgeous view of the valley and mountains across the deep valley below.

The clouds were still hanging low around the mountain tops. Perhaps there it was raining still.

It would have been the perfect place to have a break and sit down to enjoy the spectacular view but it was actually pretty cold and windy on that exposed mountainside. Moreover - the ground all around us was soaking wet. There was no place where we could sit comfortably without wetting our behinds.
From a distance the slope looked grayish yellow of last year's grass, but in between the dry grass new, green blades were growing thick. And there I made another discovery - a wild parsley blooming!

The soil was very wet but the trail itself was downright muddy. We walked slowly, taking care not to slip and fall.

Pappa Quail and the chikas marched ahead but I lingered behind, taking my time to enjoy the wild sights that unraveled before me as the clouds retreated.

A small group of red bushes grabbed my attention. They were too far for me to identify what they were, nor to tell if the red colors is from new or old foliage. I assume new because of the season. I didn't think it was bloom. I liked the nice spot of red color in the otherwise mellow grayish-green backdrop.

The trail curved around the mountain, going through small patches of trees and back out in the open again. The clouds retreated more and clung to the mountains.

Then the chikas made and exciting discovery - they found a larkspur! They called me to hurry up to where they were (as if the flower would run away any moment ...). The plant was very small and it was the only one of its kind there. It's flowers were large and impressive.
Larkspur, Derlphinium sp.
The trail kept curving left and now we were walking east, looking at different mountains and the spread of the Siskiyou-Cascade National Monument. I could feel the appeal of this place and the reason this area became a National Monument.

The trail entered the woods again and the view disappeared behind the trees - tall and thin, lichen-covered conifers with low-hanging boughs.

Smaller trees filled what seemed to have been a forest clearing. I didn't see any evidence of fire there. I wonder if that are used to be a meadow before, or was it cleared by people in an earlier time (there were no obvious stumps either).

When we completed the hike I was satisfied with the impression I got of the Siskiyou-Cascade. I'd love to be there again, probably later in spring to catch the flowering season.

It was easy in the afternoon when we finished our hike and the chikas wanted lunch so we drove down the mountain to a picnic area where we considered our next lag of the trip. Hiking by Mount Shasta would be saved for a different trip- we decided to drive through the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and look for birds. The next day would be our last of the spring break trip and we had plans to visit the Lake Shasta Caverns.