Saturday, March 30, 2019

Visiting the Patriarch


Date: May 17, 2018
Place: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Bishop, California
Coordinates: 37.517860, -118.202279
Length: 2 miles in and out
Level: easy

The White Mountains is the western range of the Great Basin desert, the highest peaks of which are home to the oldest trees in the world - the bristlecone pines. They are the only trees that thrive in the want soil and extreme weather that make up their habitat. The bristlecone pine elevation growth line has been on the rise ever since the melting of the glaciers - there are evidence that during the ice age this species grew in lower elevation and their forest covered much wider areas. Nowadays this species grow only at the mountain tops, each grove separated from the others by the lower Great Basin, like islands in a vast desert 'sea'.
After exploring the Schulman Grove I suggested driving to the higher, Patriarch Grove, where I had visited a couple of ties before. While the trees are of the same species, the views are considerably more magnificent there. Besides, there was the Patriarch tree, one of the most impressive bristlecone pines in that forest. We couldn't possibly go away without seeing it!
I didn't really need to try very hard to convince my friend that we ought to go up. We didn't have much time left, however, and the drive is long and slow.
View from the road of the higher forest where the Patriarch Grove is
The Patriarch Grove grows at 11,000 ft. When we arrived there, after nearly an hour of slow and careful drive up a sharp gravel road we found that the last mile to the grove's parking area as blocked because of snow on the path. After a short discussion we decided to hike in to the grove.
Almost immediately we came upon the snow. I believe my car would have passed it but I didn't wish to bypass the vehicle block sign.
The road to the Patriarch Grove 
Large clouds passed swiftly above us and we were walking between patches of shade and sunlight. The wind was blowing hard and we wrapped ourselves well and moved slowly along the road. We were slow because of the elevation and the wind, but also because of the numerous tiny flowers that we found right at the ground level.
Needless to say, we came down on our knees to take a close look at these.
Brewer's Cinquefoil, Potentilla breweri 
Many of these little flowers we've seen already at the Schulman Grove. Nevertheless, We gave due attention to the higher elevation individuals as well.
Indian Springparsley, Cymopterus aboriginum
Around the trees of the Schulman Grove grew many low shrubs and there was much activity of burds and squirrels. The hills where the trees of the Patriarch Grove grew, however, were almost bare, and we saw very few birds and no squirrels. It could be that it was too early in the season there, or perhaps it was the late hour in the afternoon and the strong wind that chilled us and everything else. I cannot imagine having to live there year-round, but I admit that the thought does entice me.
The south-facing side of the Patriarch Grove peak.
The road wasn't entirely flat but very easy nonetheless. Not being used to the elevation, however, we took it slow and easy, pausing often to look around and take pictures. There was one more car at the road block so we did expect to meet other people, but we saw no one, nor did we hear anyone. In fact, we didn't hear any birds either. The only sound was that of the wind.

We sat down for a brief breather and to explore a few more of the ground dwellers, those tiny belly flowers that were barely visible from standing position. All of these were completely new to my friend, of course, but also to me. I was glad to have come there at that time of year to see them in bloom.
Few Seed Draba, Draba oligosperma 
The Patriarch Grove is much less dense than the Schulman Grove. The trees are further apart and the ground between them almost bare. And it was quiet there. eerily quiet.

There are two short loop trails in the Patriarch Grove. One of them goes up the hill. There's a nice view from there and the trees it goes by are absolutely stunning in their beauty. I have walked up there a couple of times before but this time we decided to stay down.
Add caption
Not that the trees below the hill were short of any beauty ...The second loop goes around the other side of the parking area and passes near the Patriarch Tree, after which the entire grove is named.
This tree is about 2000 years old. Not the most ancient in the park, but very impressive in size and age nonetheless.
The Patriarch
And why it is called 'The Patriarch' I can not guess. It is still fertile despite of its old age, and produces female cones as well.
Bristlecone Pine mature and open female cones
As in my previous visit of the Patriarch Tree I photographed it many time, and from every possible angle that didn't require climbing it. I posted such photos on my previous post of this place. This time I settled for a bit of snow that we found hidden in a crevice of the tree.

We spent a lot of time near the Patriarch. Meanwhile, a small group of people came along the path and joined us at the tree. We chatted a bit, and took each other's group photos. Then said goodby and my friend and I departed and headed back to the road whence we came.

The clouds grew more massive and I wondered if it's going to rain. It certainly got colder. The clouds, however, were very impressive and pretty too, and cast an interesting shadow pattern on the hill.

I wasn't so much concerned about the possibility of rain. I was, however, much more worried about the approaching sunset. I really didn't want to be driving down in the dark.

It did rain. Not exactly where we were, but nit too far from us, in the southeast. I'm amazed at how local these desert rains can be. I wonder how much water actually reach the ground on these rain events.
Local rain
The sun was very low when we arrived at the car, and we both were very cold. My friend was very quiet and thoughtful. The ancient trees had gotten under her skin. We were both very tired too, for it has been a long and busy day. And we still had the long drive down and out of there.

There is a warning sign at he beginning of the road leading from the Schulman Grove to the Patriarch Grove. The sign urges slow driving and warns that the road gravel is very sharp and that tire punctures are common. There's no cellular reception along the road, said the sign (true), and towing costs can exceed $1000 (thankfully we have no confirmation for that). Driving up I did drive very slow and careful. Driving down, however, I allowed us a bit more speed, trusting the tires to hold. Thankfully, we were not the last vehicle there. I hope that the people who did remain behind ys made it downhill safely.

The big bonus of the drive back was the magnificent view of the Sierra Nevada to the southwest.
It was night by the time we rolled into Big Pine. A bit later we arrived at Lone Pine where we would stay the night. It was the end of a magnificent day at one of the most interesting and beautiful places in California, and I'm very glad that my friend got to see it too.
Many thanks, Anenet, for giving me an opportunity to visit this place again, and of course for identifying all the little belly flowers we saw!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Timeless Trees of the Schulman Grove of Ancient Bristlecone Pines


May 17, 2018
Place: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Big Pine, California
Length:1 mile
Level: moderate

When I planned the road trip with my botanist friend to the Eastern Sierra region I naturally included the White Mountains in our itinerary. Pappa Quail wondered about snow blocking the road but considering the low count of precipitation in the previous months I didn't think that would be a problem. In any case, I wasn't about to get by the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest without at least trying to see it and show the place to my friend.
After a restful night in Bishop we drove south to Big Pine and then turned east toward the White Mountains. Snow wasn't a problem: there was none on the way up. What did slow us down was the pretty display of wildflowers along the road. In a couple of places where there was a particularly pleasing display of colors I pulled over and we got out of the car to explore the flowers more closely.
Checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne leanira) on a Brittlebush, Encelia actoni
I was very please to see cacti blooming. Ot always amazes me to see how delicate and attractive are the flowers produced by these thorny entities I dare not touch.
Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii
My friend was pleased with the blooming cacti too, but she was truly thrilled to see the desert mallow in bloom. After seeing it without bloom at the Travertine Hot springs and the photos I showed her of my previous sightings of this plant in spring colors, she was really happy seeing them blooming in person.
Desert Globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua
There were many other wildflowers in that pretty roadside spot and also all the way along the road in places where we couldn't stop. If I include them all It'll be a roadside botany pst rather than a White Mountains hiking post, so I keep this part short.
California Primrose, Oenothera californica
Well, except for this one more cactus for which we pulled over on a very thin shoulder in a very narrow canyon pass. It was very high up the cliff but the bright red blossoms clearly visible.
Mojave Mound Cactus, Echinocereus mojavensis 
There was no sign of an snow by the Schulman Grove visitor center. The visitor center itself was closed so we didn't linger, but got to hiking right away.
Well, almost right away, first we had to greet the local squirrel that posed for us by the parking lot.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel 
We selected discovery Trail - a short, 1 mile loop that covers the essentials: wonderful ancient trees along with younger, vigorous ones, sweeping views of the area and of the Sierra Nevada peaks on the west, and early spring wildflowers. Although to view the wildflowers we had to go down on our bellies.
King's Bladderpod, Physaria kingii
While the valley flowers were already blooming beautifully as we've seen on our way earlier, up here in the heights f the White Mountains, spring bloom was at its very beginning. We didn't see many flowers and those we did see were some of the tiniest I've ever seen. Not just the flowers - the entire plants were diminutive.
Popcorn Flower, Cryptantha sp. 

Little birds hopped in the thick-needled pines like fleeting flashes of movement, too quick to catch by eye, let alone by camera. we were luck that at least one of these tiny energized feather balls came out in the open for a few moments while poking for pine nuts. There were other species of birds there, but the only one I got a good image of was the pygmy nuthatch.
Pygmy Nuthatch 
Tiny wildflowers and hyperactive little birds aside, the stars of this place certainly were the Bristlecone Pine trees.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva 
The longest living trees in the world belong to this species. The oldest known tree, named Methuselah, grows somewhere in this grove. It's exact location is kept secret to avoid vandalism.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva 
But even not knowing which of these magnificent trees is Methuselah, we were in complete awe of these trees. Each and every one of them is an impressive individual.
The trail led us uphill. We walked slowly. Very slowly. Taking a close look at each of the trees along our way. Enjoying the clear, cool air.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva 
Many of them look gnarled and weather-beaten. They, as all other plants there, have evolved to withstand the harsh White Mountains weather.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva 
In fact, all the trees up at the heights of the White Mountains are pines, and nearly all are the Bristlecone pines. The few yellow pine that manage to germinate and establish themselves there, never actually reach the size of a full grown tree.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva 
The bristlecone pine is named after the little bristles at the edge of the developing female cones. The female cones take two years to mature and release the seeds.
Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva, mature and open female cone
The Discovery Trail is a short loop. Although we were walking slowly soon we were  at the highest point and started heading back downhill. We came out of the forest, which was't very thick to begin with, and our path took us down a mostly exposed hillside, covered with scree.
There were a few plants there that were not bristlecone pines, nor belly flowers. A few 'fern' bushes grew on the more exposed western slope and we encountered them as we looped our way back and down the trail.
Fern Bush, Chamaebatiaria millefolium 
A few individual pines were growing outside of the main forest area. They looked wide and very impressive.

Looking to the southwest we could see the towering snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada range. On the morrow we would drive up to the Whitney Portal to get some mountain air over there, but on this day we were enjoying the desert scenery of the White Mountains.

The bristlecone pines grow very slowly. The growth season up there is very short and the weather extreme. What looked like small young trees can be a few centuries old.

Because of the dry climate there decomposition is also very, very slow. Dead logs can lie about for millennia before turning to dust.

In fact, dendrobiologist (tree scientists) were able to reconstruct a climatic timeline of the area that goes back nearly 13,000 years by matching tree rings of living an dead bristlecone pines.
Dead but still standing. 
From the final stretch of the loop trail we had a good view of the Schulman Grove. We snacked quickly, then got in the car and started driving up the road to the Patriarch Grove, about 2000 ft higher up the mountain.
Schulman Grove of Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mysterious Charm: Hiking Brockman Canyon at the Sutter Buttes

Date: March 16, 2019
Place: The Brockman Property at the Sutter Buttes, Yuba City, California
Length: about 6.5 miles in and out
Level: moderate+

Every time I drive on highway 5 past Colusa I see in on the east: the cluster of toothy, rugged peaks, distinctly separate from the Sierra Nevada range, standing alone and aloof in the middle if the otherwise completely flat California Central Valley. These are the Sutter Buttes.
They look very enticing and I wanted to hike them from the first time I saw them. When I looked at the map, however, I saw that their location wasn't adorned with any park-marking green. On one of my stays in the area I asked about them and was told flatly that all the Sutter Buttes were private property and off limits to the general public. Driving around the buttes confirmed this as all the possible access ways were clearly marked as such.
I was disheartened. Every time I drove by I looked at the buttes wistfully. After several years if yearning I decided to find a way to hike there, even if that meant striking some sort of a deal with the property owners.
As it turned out, this was already done before me. I was happy to find out about the Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes (MMIH) organization, that lead guided group hikes in the Sutter Buttes. Four of the land owners have generously opened up their land to these hikes. By signing in advance and paying a fee (all easement fees, the guides are volunteers) one can actually hike the Sutter Buttes! Now it was just a matter of taking the right opportunity.
The Sutter Buttes, viewed from Gray Lodge Wildlife Area (looking southeast)
I signed our family for a hike back in 2016 and had to cancel because of an unforeseen conflict. The next opportunity came last November, and I signed us up for a fall hike up the buttes. Alas, a few days before the hike date the horrific Camp Fire broke out, decimating the town of Paradise and neighboring communities, and rendering the air unbreathable not only in Yuba City but many miles south and west, including the Bay Area. Once again the hike was cancelled. We had a lovely weekend in South Lake Tahoe where the air was clean and the town unseasonably peaked with others who escaped the smoke, and hiked Emerald Bay and a nice mountain loop trail in Desolation Wilderness.
I was determined not to let two more years pass before booking again a hike at the Sutter Buttes so I left an open weekend in my quick-filling schedule and as soon as the MMIH spring hikes were posted I booked us a hike and crossed my fingers, and my toes.
On the morning of March 16, despite concerns over the elder chika's foot which was bothering her, we came to the Sutter Memorial Museum in Yuba City to meet our guides and the group we were to hike with. Following the check-in and a short introduction we got in the cars and drove in a convoy to the trailhead.
At the Brockman Canyon Trailhead
Our hike was the easier choice of the two offered that day, and was to be in a single property area - the Brockman property. The lead guide let us through the property gate to a gravel parking area, and once we were all ready to begin she beaconed us to assemble by the large rocks that dotted the greenery near the dirt road we were on.
It didn't look like there were any wildflowers at first, but as we stepped on the grass I could see there plenty of little popcorn flowers.
Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus 
Pappa Quail and the elder chika immediately found their subjects of interest - a pair of killdeer calling on the rocks.
It took me a few moments to realize that our guide was talking. I rose up from kneeling by the flowers and listened. She gave a more in-depth introduction for the hike and also told us about the Native Californians who used this place for acorn processing and for spiritual awareness. She showed us the acorn grinding mortars that were curved in the rocks and told us there were many of them scattered around the buttes.
That area's Native people are of the Maidu Nation, the southern neighbors of the Yana, whose tragic history I first became aware of through the personal story of Ishi, the last of the wild California native people. The Maidu believe that the spirits of their dead are taken by wildlife up the buttes to their resting place. The Sutter Buttes are therefore a sacred place for them. Common folks, said our guide, are not supposed to go up there, only highly spiritual people. I don't consider myself a very spiritual person but I could certainly feel the majestic air of this place.
Indian Grinding Rock
The guide led us back to the dirt road and after a short distance she pointed out to us a small, brown cabin, where naturalist Walt Anderson used to live when he worked on his book Inland Island, about the Sutter Buttes. The cabin used to be higher up the canyon, she told us, but was moved down some time ago.
Walt Anderson's Cabin

We passed the farm structures and equipment and soon we were walking alongside the creek. The creek was running nicely, fed by seasonal springs. Above-ground water is seasonal there, we were told. In two-three months everything would dry up.

For now, though, the happy sound of running water filed the air and the sparkling  flow dazzled the eyes.

Other sounds filled the air as well: birds were everywhere, sounding their spring songs. Pappa Quail and the elder chika found a bluebird high above them sitting in a mistletoe-burdened oak.
Western Bluebird
We crossed the creek a few times, hopping on strategically-placed rocks. As we progressed up the creek the slopes drew nearer and we were heading deeper into Brockman Canyon.

Now that we left the farmed area behind I started seeing more wildflowers. One common sight was the bloom of the blue dicks.
Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
Another familiar early bloomer was the man-root, a low-spreading vine covered with delicate white flowers.
California Man-root, Marah fabacea 

We paused a little after the last creek crossing to drink and take a breather before the real ascend begun. The elder chika used the time to sight and photograph a kinglet.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
I, on the other hand, was attracted by the brilliant color of a large, berry-laden toyon.
Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia 

Besides, the vegetation there resembled much that of the East Bay Hills, all the way from oak to poison oak. I felt right at home.
Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
After the final creek crossing we started ascending for real. The trail all the way was a dirt road passable by motor vehicles so the grade wasn't very steep. Still, it was a steady ascent with quite a few switch-backs. As we got higher, the view opened up.

Looking back we were able to appreciate how high we climbed so quickly. the valley appeared quite a distance below. We were in a different world now.

Whenever I managed to tear my gaze away from the magnificent view of the butte peaks it was to look down at the little, colorful wildflowers.
Bird's Eyes, Gilia tricolor 
The Sutter Buttes are considered to be the smallest mountain range in the world. This means that it was completely separate and very local forces that drove the andesite up to create the rise of the mountains. Simultaneous with the rise, erosion forces took effect in shaping the buttes, giving them the sharp, toothy appearance.
Everywhere around us the hard, angular rocks contrasted with the rounded slopes of grass-covered topsoil. It was a beautiful, wild scene.

The sheer rocks are home to white-throated swift and Pappa Quail managed to get one on camera, which is quite an achievement, considering how swift are the swift in flight.
White-throated Swift
I settled for less speedy subjects to appreciate. At higher elevations there was much more bloom and of many more species. While there were no 'carpets' like those seen in places like the Carrizo Plain National Monument, there was still an abundance of colorful wildflowers. I particularly liked the magnificent baby blue eyes that lined our trail in light , newborn blue.
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menziesii
Another flower that attracted my attention was the  California saxifrage, a plant I might not have noticed if not for the special attention my botanist friend had given it on her visit in California last spring.
California Saxifrage, Micranthes californica

Then our guide stopped and pointed at the northern horizon. Mount Shasta, she said.
The air was dirty and visibility awful. Straining my eyes I could barely see the outline of a ghostly white bump on the horizon.
View north 
I asked Pappa Quail to photograph that spot with high zoom. At home, after manipulating the levels and color balance the magnificent snow-white top of Mount Shasta popped through the dirty air.
Mount Shasta
We continued ascending up the trail. Looking further east a smaller white bump on the horizon became visible - Lassen Peak came into view. Our guide pointed out to us a stock pond below us, nestled between the eastern slopes. The pond, one of three, was in the largest single property in the buttes. The property owner, said our guide, is one of the four who opened his land to the interpretive hikes and sometimes he guides them as well. She said that going with him is an exciting experience and I made a note to sign up for one of these hikes next time.

As with Shasta, I prompted Pappa Quail to get a zoomed image of the snowy peak and later cleared up the image to reveal that beautiful volcanic complex. 
Lassen Volcanic National Park
In fact, Pappa Quail used his powerful birding zoom on many other things besides birds, such as this beautifully balanced rock on the ridge to our south. A far gliding vulture was caught in the photo just before disappearing behind the rock.

Eventually the guides took us off the trail and into a pretty oak knoll where we sat down for lunch and a restful break. 
It was a nice warm day and our guides suggested to check the rocks for snakes before sitting down. I did so, and after I was satisfied there were no snakes nearby I sat by a cluster of rocks. Pappa Quail looked over me and spotted a lizard in the crack just behind where I was sitting. The lizard seemed curious, but not brave enough to climb out of its rock crack.

Although I didn't notice them at the time, acorn woodpecker were present and Pappa Quail and the elder chika took notice. They weren't too close but I love the photos that show the woodpecker's bright red crown gleaming in the sunlight.
Acorn Woodpecker
After a good restful break the guides presented us withe a choice to extend our ridge exploration to the nearby western butte. Two of the back up guides were to stay at the knoll and the elder chika, whose foot was bothering her, chose to stay behind. The younger chika immediately decided she would stay too and so Pappa Quail volunteered to stay with them while I joined the rest of the group to explore more of the Brockman Ridge area.
West Butte
A few decades ago one of the Sutter Buttes property owners thought it would be a good idea to release wild pigs in the area for hunting purposes. The pigs became very successful settlers there, and cause significant damage to the local ecology. All the plowed earth seen at the bottom of the below photo is pig diggings. And there were vast areas of that kind of damage. Pig hunting is done in the buttes, but it looks like that population is there to stay.
View Northwest from Brockman Ridge
At the valley floor below I saw a simmering strip of water.That, I was told, was the Sacramento River Bypass. The river itself is the thin line of water, barely visible behind the wide bypass.
The Sacramento River Bypass

This winter California is officially out of the drought period. The reservoirs are full and the bypass is overflowing. The Sierra Nevada has the thickest snow pack seen in many years and there's more precipitation in the forecast. South Cal is experiencing an amazing superbloom which I am thoroughly missing this year. I can only hope that the wildflower show will be as magnificent here in North Cal when it peaks next month.
The Sacramento River Bypass
As we progressed westward along the ridge we got a wider view of the South Butte with the double antennae on its top. The north facing slopes of the butte were covered by a thick oak forest. Our guide said that although the buttes appear arid when viewed from afar, some of the interior butte hikes are almost completely shaded.
South Butte

We walked at a leisurely pace and had ample time to imbibe in the beautiful sights. The rugged rocks had lives of their own - many of them were covered in colorful lichen. 

The base of these rocks sheltered little flowering plants from the aggressive grazing of cattle and the tilling hooves of pigs. 
Slender tropidocarpum, Tropidocarpum gracile 
Probably the most common wildflower up there that day was the fiddle neck. One (or more) of the numerous species of that genus all of which look the same to me. They bloom in a very pretty orange that is no second in beauty to the California poppy and can too show in carpets of superbloom. 
There was no superbloom display on the buttes that day, however. Still, the lovely wildflowers were plentiful and a pleasing sight. 
Fiddleneck, Amsinckia sp. 
We reached the end of the trail and turned back. One of the guides led the way along the trail while the head guide brought up the rear. I lingered with her for a few minutes, asking questions and being slow of letting go of this beautiful place. It was time to get back, however. I could imagine the chikas and Pappa Quail getting restless where they had remained. 

A snow-capped peak poked the horizon between two of the buttes. That peak belongs to the Sierra Nevada, but I do not know which one it is. 

Much of the buttes area is used for cattle grazing. Black angus cows and calves roamed along the ridge and moots them scattered away as we walked along the trail, seeing us humans as we were: a threat to their safety. 
Near the trail was a shallow pail with a salt rock and two young bulls were licking it eagerly. They too moved away as we returned down the trail, but didn't stray much, just waited for us to move on. 

It was past mid-day now and the high sun illuminated better the coastal range. Although much lower in elevation than the Sierra Nevada, the coastal range does get snow too, and this year it got even more than usual. While the lower elevation snow we've seen earlier this winter had already melted, there was much more still on Snow Mountain, and north of there at the Trinity Alps, across the valley from Mount Shasta. 
The Coastal Range and Snow Mountain 
Our guides led us to another pretty knoll where all the rocks were covered in little cushions of soft, red and green moss. They had us sit there in silence and contemplate Nature while the two guides left behind came down with Pappa Quail and the chikas and rejoined us. 
Our guide spotted a few Barbados sheep grazing on the northern slopes of South Butte. These sheep were also a feral population. They were too distant to get any good image of.
Moss Rock
Apparently Pappa quail and the chikas weren't idle while waiting for us. The elder chika spotted some cedar waxwings.
Cedar Waxwing
They also watched a red-tailed hawk doing aerobatic maneuvers. The rest of the time the chikas simply drove each other crazy.
Red-tailed Hawk
It was time to start downhill on our way back. For my elder chika it wasn't a moment too soon - her foot was hurting a lot. She was using hiking poles and chugged along bravely. The younger chika walked alongside me and informed me that she would like to hike the double transect trail which crosses the entire Sutter Buttes and loops back. I wondered aloud how would that fit with her lack of enthusiasm to go on the extended walk but she simply shrugged. I let the subject drop and focused on less complicated issues, such as the beauty of floral patches along the trail.  

Our hike wasn't a loop - we were coming down the same trail we walked up on. Still, things can look different when seen from a different angler even a different lighting. 

The poppies, which were half closed when we saw them on our way up were fully open now. There weren't carpets of them, but there were enough to uplift the spirit. 
California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
I also had a second chance to photograph one very interesting plant that we saw on our way up - the California Dutchman Pipevine that has a very interesting looking flower. 
California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica
We made it down to the low area fairly quickly and soon we were walking along the creek again, this time downstream. 

Our guides took care to gather the group at every creek crossing or gate, but this time we didn't stop for any break. I had my own short stops to take a closer look at things and photograph them, like this pretty bouquet of miner's lettuce. 
Miner's Lettuce, Clayton perfoliata
The chikas found a bovine skull which reminded me the inspiration of Georgia O'Keeffe. I think she would have liked this place. 

The final mile of the hike went as quickly as a breeze. Once again at the foot of the buttes and the grazing pasture dotted with rocks. There were more birds active now, many of them claiming territory atop one large rock or another.
Brewer's Blackbird
There was still plenty of daylight left so we decided to go and see some more birds at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area (where the first photo of this post was taken). We said goodby to the guides and to everyone else, who were going to drive back to Yuba City, and turned our car in the other direction.
I looked at the Sutter Buttes with satisfaction. Finally we made it there, and we had a lovely hike up these mysterious and almost inaccessible mountains. There is still much more to see there and I sure hope to go hiking there again, on different trails. It is through the collaboration of the Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes and the generous land owners who allow access to their property that make possible to explore this most fascinating landmark. Many thanks to Alison, Joaquin, Julie, and Paul, who led us on this wonderful hike!

Here's the link to Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes website.