Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Hiking the Bayside Trail at California's First Port of European Entry

Date: November 20, 2018
Place: Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego, California
Coordinates: 32.669819, -117.241215
Length: about 2 miles in and out.
Level: moderate

477 years ago a young explorer landed his boat ashore and climbed the high place that overlooked a large, beautiful Bay. This man was Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo* (João Rodrigues Cabrilho**), the first European to have set foot on the shores of North America's West Coast. The hill he had climbed is now Cabrillo National Monument, with Cabrillo's memorial statue overlooking the San Diego Bay.
Cabrillo National Monument was the first site on our quickly thrown together vacation plan for Thanksgiving week of 2018. We arrived there after a long day's drive and a restful night at Chulla Vista. Our intention was to check out his historic place, hike an easy trail, then go to the bird preserves near the border. When we arrived at the visitor center however, we are informed of the nice Point Lome tide pools within the Monument area, and that low tide time was due just about when we thought we'd be done with our hike. And so we stayed at Cabrillo National Monument most of that day.
* The name as it appears in the park's brochure
** The name as it appears in Wikipedia
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo looking over the San Diego Bay
At the start of November 2018 we still had no plan for our Thanksgiving Break. After some debate we decided to go south instead of north, and by chance that was the best choice because during the three weeks that passed between our planning and our trip the devastating Camp Fire was crippling most of Northern California.
Southern California had its own devastating wildfires going on at that time, burning through the coastal communities of Thousand Oaks and of Malibu. By the time we arrived at San Diego the southern fires were mostly contained but not yet put out. The smoke was heavy in the air all the way to the Mexican border and clouded all of my wide view shots.
From the deck outside the visitor center there's a spectacular view of the San Diego Bay. We were there in perfect timing to see the USS Zumwalt going for a cruise. This is s stealth ship - designed to show up on the radar as a small boat. Very nifty!
Pappa Quail added the anecdote that it's former captain's name was James Kirk, which makes it all too precious :-)
USS Zumwalt
Views aside, we were there to hike. At the visitor center we got a map and directions and headed down to the Bayside trailhead. To get to the trailhead we had to go by the old Point Loma Lighthouse. I wanted to go inside to take a look but Pappa Quail wanted to get on with the hike.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
 A red-tailed hawk circled overhead, checking out the scenery below.
Red-tailed Hawk (western, light, juvenile)
Late in November, I did not expect to see anything blooming. In fact, there was very little that was green there at all. Whatever was seen - the chaparral bushes -were seeding.
Desert Broom Baccharis, Baccharis sarothroides
But even much of the chaparral was dry, and appeared dead. It could be the prolonged drought that the area has experiences. Below a certain elevation the chaparral was green, however. Maybe there was less of a water shortage there?
Chaparral by the Bay
The apparently lifeless bushes made an excellent perch for a Say's Phoebe on the lookout for bugs.
Say's Phoebe
From the old Point Loma lighthouse we went down the road to the trailhead. The Bayside Trail is a wide and comfortable gravel road cut into the sandstone from which the hill is made and through the chaparral that covers it.

In places were the stone is exposed the rock layers can be seen. Layers of minerals and metal oxides paint the exposed layers with bright colors.

From further distance the intricate erosion effects can be seen in the bright, exposed sandstone.

We walked downhill at the quick pace. There were very few other people on that trail and we nodded each other while passing one another on our way down to the water.

Pappa Quail and the chikas spotted a while bee hive and hurried down the trail. I stopped and looked. The bees were quiet and content and didn't mind me watching them fro a few long minutes as they were going in and out of a small hole in the sandstone.
Wild bee hive
Pappa Quail wasn't interested in the small flying creatures. He was admiring the pelicans that kept passing above us in small formations.
Pacific Brown Pelicans
When we hike as family Ii usually let Pappa Quail and the elder chika to do all the bird photographing but I happened to chance on a cute brown bird in the bushes while they were already further down the trail so I snapped a few shots.
California Towhee
The trail was curving around the hillside and we were going north now, looking right into the mouth of the Bay. From that spot I could see that the trail will not lead us all the way down to the water and I was a bit bummed about it. I wanted to get my feet wet.

As I thought, the trail ended well above the water at a locked gate with a 'End of Trail, No Trespassing' sign. I few yards before that gate there was a bench and we all sat there and gazed longingly at the emerald water below us.

We hanged around the trail end for a while, not very eager to start going uphill again. There was no particular landmark there, just a nice view and some cute nature gems, like this pretty agave plant that was growing right at the edge of the trail near the bench.
Coast Agave, Agave shawii
Another Say's Phoebe (or perhaps the same one we saw near the trailhead? landed nearby and got Pappa Quail's attention.They are pretty bold for such small birds, perching out in the open where not only us but also raptors can see them. But they are quite agile fliers and as long as they aren't caught by surprise they can outmaneuver most any bird of pray. At least for the short distance it would take them to dive into the chaparral.
Say's Phoebe
The sand documented bird activities from earlier moments. Possibly that of a towhee.
Bird tracks
While we were taking our time at the end pf the trail a small armada of boats that looked as if escorting a larger ship made its way into the bay and I paused to look at them, a part of me wishing i was on one of these boats.

Closer to us were a few fishing boats followed by the signature gull envoy that were trying to get some of the booty. I could almost hear the "Mine! Mine! Mine!" of these birds.

Eventually we did get going again, clambering uphill on the same trail we came down on. It was an opportunity to take a second look at some of the interesting sights we had missed going down.
Sandstone layer coloration
We came across a few more hikers who were on their way downhill. Among them were three Hare Krishna guys dressed in bright orange and wearing sun protection over their shaven scalps. They were young and vigorous, and made it all the way down and back up, meeting us again as we stood panting at the top of the trail. At that point the elder chika asked them why they were dressed the way they were and we all listened politely to a short lecture about the Hare Krishna and their philosophy.

I lost interest in the religious discussion fairly early on and walked aside, where I discovered the only flower that I've seen that entire hike: a single inflorescence of a bush sunflower!
Bush Sunflower, Encelia californica 
When we got near the old Point Loma lighthouse again Pappa Quail took the chikas to the visitor center to give them snacks while I made a quick visit to the old lighthouse and crammed myself in the narrow circular stairway with a few other visitors to take a look at the beacon through the grate that blocked our way from going all the way up.
The Beacon of Old Point Loma Lighthouse 
When I rejoined my family I found that the elder chika had admired a cute California Towhee that seemed to have been admiring her too. I also found that a small Hare Krishna booklet had somehow appeared in our car. I suppose maybe I'll read it some time for the heck of it.
California Towhee
Now it was time to hurry everyone into the car and drive downhill to the west shoreline of Cabrillo National Monument to catch the low tide at the Point Loma Tide Pools.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Around Lambert Dome with A Dog Lake Bonus at Yosemite

Date: August 18, 2018
Place: Yosemite National Park, California
Coordinates: 37.877938, -119.353312
Length: about 3 miles including Dog Lake and excluding the dome's summit
Level: moderate

All of my visits to Yosemite in the last few years have been with people of have never been there before. That is, for me it was going back again and again to the same 'must see' places for the first timers. Not that I mind that; any place in Yosemite I'd be happy so visit again and again. I was therefore very happy when the first time visitors whom I was showing around in Yosemite last August asked to go hiking on a less beaten trail.
Tenaya Lake, 4 miles east of Tuolumne Meadows
That day of our trip we had scheduled the sightseeing drive along hwy 120, across Tioga Pass, all the way through the park and down to Mono Lake. This route involves much driving with many stops a and short walks. When we got to Tuolumne Meadows the visitors (and me too) were all in desire of a more serious walk, so I suggested hiking around Lambert Dome.
Lambert Dome
Tuolumne Meadows is a long and fairly wide flat area where the Tuolumne River flower slowly and splits into a number of channels, and where melting snow floods and irrigates the soil each year to support a large variety of grasses and other meadow vegetation. Crowning Tuolumne Meadows are huge granite domes, some of which are forested and others remain mostly bald. Lambert Dome is located on the northeastern edge of Tuolumne Meadows and is accessible to day hikers by a nice, well maintained trail.
Tuolumne Meadows
When hiking in Yosemite the first challenge is always finding parking. After a few minutes of ambush   at the little lot by the trailhead we got lucky and one of the spots was vacated. We stashed all food items in the bear box and headed out on the trail, going clockwise.
Lambert Dome/Dog Lake Trail
Mid-August, especially in a fairly dry year, isn't the season to go looking for wildflowers. I did see a few, however.
Western Aster, Symphyotrichum ascendens

All through the hike I could see squirrels running around on the rocks. Most of them were too busy or too far for me to get a decent photo but this cutie was kind enough to pose for me.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
The trail begun flat but soon started leading up in a steady, medium-grade slope with hardly any switchbacks. It was a hot day but thankfully, most of the trail was in the forest and shaded.

My company were walking fast and we made excellent time, stopping only briefly here and there to sip some water or to look at an animal or a plant of interest. The cute chipmunks were a fine attraction to look at!
Alpine Chipmunk
I was surprised to see mushrooms so late in season. But these were the only mushrooms I saw the entire hike.

After about three quarters of an hour we arrived at the trail fork to Dog Lake. I didn't plan going there but t wasn't far away and my company expressed a desire to see the lake so we continued on straight.

It was a good decision to go there - Dog Lake was full to the brim and very beautiful!
Dog Lake
Dog Lake was the perfect place for my visitors to sit and rest, and imbibe in Yosemite's majestic air. It was a moment of blessed pause outside of the tourists' busy must-see-it-all schedule. As tired as we were when we got there, this was a rejuvenating moment.
Mount Dana
But time didn't stand still and eventually we did have to get going again, back to the trail and continue around Lambert Dome.
Lambert Dome Trail
It was already late in the afternoon and the shadows were getting long. Since we had planned to continue that day all the way to Mono Lake we were now in a hurry. Rushing down the trail meant I didn't stop for as many photoshoots as I otherwise would have. Sill, some sights were impossible to let slide by.
Pine wood
One of the few still blooming plant species was the little tidy lupine that is common all around the High Sierra, decorating the brown soil with mats of gray foliage and heavenly blue-white flowers.
Tidy Lupine, Lupinus lepidus
We reached the trail fork leading up to Lambert Dome's summit and I raised the option before my visitors. The trail wasn't long but going to the summit would have meant missing Mono Lake. After already two intense hiking days my visitors were also pretty tired. So we skipped going up the dome and continued downhill back to route 120.

Down below Lambert Dome as we crossed route 120 I took a moment of no traffic and looked at the double Tuolumne Peak that's looming over Tenaya Lake to the west, now hazy in the long afternoon sun rays.
Tuolumne Peak

The way back to the trailhead goes parallel to route 120. We walked westward through the lengthening tree shadows cast upon a low, drying High Sierra prairie.

Across the road, high over the tree tops gleamed the bald rock of Lambert Dome, to which we did not make it this time.
Lambert Dome
Back at the trailhead we checked the time: we had done this lovely hike in just about 2 hours and there was still plenty of daylight left. We got into the car and after a brief stop at the Tuolumne Meadows shop for a well deserved cold drink and ice cream we headed eastward past Tioga Pass and down to Mono Lake.
Lambert Dome

Monday, June 17, 2019

Floating Through Nature's Catherdral at Natural Bridges

April 7, 2019

Date: July 7, 2018 and April 7, 2019
Place: Natural Bridges Day Use Area, Vallecito, California
Coordinates: 38.052626, -120.471504
Length: about 2.5 miles in and out
Level: moderate hike to the south opening, challenging if going down to the north opening.  Float/swim through the cavern requires coming down a steep rock face. Flashlights and floaters strongly recommended.

It took a couple of years since I first learned about the Natural Bridges cavern until I had  the chance to visit there with my family last summer. Then I visited there again with the chikas and friends last spring and my impression was just as intense. The photos here are from both these trips.

We almost didn't go on this hike on our first visit. We arrived on a very hot Saturday, the chikas and their visiting cousin eager to get down to the promised water, Grandma Quail a little less eager to get out of the air-conditioned car and Pappa Quail who left his big camera behind not wanting to get it wet. There is a narrow strip of asphalt near the trailhead and it was already jam-packed with parking vehicles. After a minute or two of debating what's next we got lucky: one of the cars pulled out of its spot. Quickly we slid into the vacated space, got our drinking water and deflated floaters and headed to the trailhead gate. Another family was coming up and their little child was crying bitterly. They were focused on calming her down and said nothing to us as we walked by. Only a few steps down the trail and it was our young chika that started screaming and crying. She had stepped right on a yellowjacket hole in the ground right on the trail. The angry yellowjackets swarmed at us and we run back up to the parking strip. My poor young chika had 3 bites, Grandma Quail had one and the rest of us got lucky and escaped with none. It took a while to calm everybody and by that time Pappa Quail and I were ready to turn around and go somewhere else.

Near the Trailhead, July 7, 2018
It was the chikas and their cousin that insisted on hiking down again. Even the young chika who was still hurting from her bites. The heat was intense and the promise of a dip in the cool water of Coyote Creek was too alluring. So we took our stuff and started down again, this time getting off trail to bypass that hornet's nest.
Below is a photo of that same spot I took last April. There were no yellowjackets waiting for us then, and the difference in the scenery was striking. It was amazing to see the place all green and lush. There were also much fewer cars parked uphill and for most of the time we saw very few people along the trail or down at the creek.
Near the trailhead, April 7, 2019
Our April hike also presented us with a very nice bloom scene. We were rushing downhill and I had only my little pocket camera with me so I didn't photograph most of them, only those that really stood out.
Western Redbud Cercis occidentalis, April 7, 2019
Some of the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, which made it hard for me to identify them. Thankfully I got help at the California Native Plants Society forum :-)
Leather Root, Hoita macrostachya, July 7, 2018

On our previous hike in July we've seen no bloom. Everything annual was already parched dry and even the perennials seemed tired and yellowish under the bright summer sun. Fruit were hanging from shrub and tree branches, and none as pretty as those of the Clematis.  They always remind me of Traffula trees.
Clematis sp.  July 7, 2018
The trail drops down to the creek going south first, then switch-backs to the north. Most of the way is under the trees and whatever shade we got was gratefully welcomed. We couldn't wait getting to the water, and I couldn't avoid the thought that all that slope was waiting for us on the way up.
Natural Bridges Trail, July 7, 2018
About two thirds of the way down the trail emerges from the trees and a nice view of the canyon opens up. The water cannot be seen, hidden well by the tree canopies. Gray pines and reddish manzanita dominated the view, and all looked in suspension, waiting for the rain that wouldn't come for a few good months yet.
July 7, 2018
It was quite stunning to look at this very view nine months later, after the heavy winter California had.
April 7, 2019
The reason why I wanted to hike that trail wasn't just that Coyote Creek is a nice place to take a dip in the summer, but because the creek flows through a beautiful cavern with pretty rock formations. Until that hike I have only seen it in photos and it looked like it would be a very exciting place to visit. Now we were getting very close to the place and needed to find the path down to the water.
Before going down the last drop to the creek the trail follows the edge of a cliff. A bit too close to the edge at one point.
July 7, 2018
Just above Coyote Creek there is a steep trail with a few stairs leading down to the south opening. On our July hike, Grandma Quail had already decided that she won't be floating through the cave with us so she went down to wait at the south opening and we left with her all the stuff that we didn't want to take on the water. On our later, April hike it was our friend's parents that remained to wait there.
View down to the area of south opening of the cave, April 7, 2019

Going down to the north opening is challenging. A number of unofficial trails made it difficult for us on our first hike to find the path to the north (upstream) opening. After we found it we discovered that to get town to the creek we needed to scramble down a fairly steep rock. On our July hike there was a sturdy rope anchored to the top of the rock that aided a great deal in going down. The rope was missing on our second visit so we had to scramble down unaided. It is certainly doable but if coming with little children or people who might have difficulty with rock scrambling I strongly recommend bringing a rope or even a rope ladder to aid with the descend.

There were quite a few people down at the north opening and my next challenge was to get a people-free photo of the creak upstream of the cave.
Coyote Creek upstream of the cave. July 7, 2018

We took a while to inflate all of our floaters. I made our party wait a bit until most of the people who were there went into the cave and disappeared in the darkness. I couldn't hold back the chikas for a clean shot of the cave mouth. They were hot and too eager to get in the water.
The north opening of the cave, July 7, 2018
I add the matching photo from our later, April visit to show the contrast between the dry and the wet seasons. It is quite a striking difference.
The north opening of the cave, April 7, 2019

The water was very cold. Surprisingly, I thought it felt colder in July than in April. Perhaps it was the contrast with the air temperature, which was very hot in July and much cooler on or April visit.
Once getting into the cave I could see that all the people that went in before us were still hanging there, floating lazily on their tubes with no apparent hurry to get anywhere. (I distorted the faces in the photo to avoid recognition).
Pappa Quail, the chikas and their cousin snaked their way between the others, then settled on their tubes and floated into the darkness.
July 7, 2018
I followed my family and once I cleared the other people I stood up and took photos of the cave. It was an easier task the second time around because I came with better splash protection for my little camera. Still, most of my photos came out blurry for poor lighting, or distorted due to water droplets that landed on my lens. Still, I got a few nice ones to show the magnificence of the cave.
April 7, 2019

There are many karst caves in the Gold Country of California, may of them unknown and unopened to the public. Some of the most beautiful caves are open for guided tours. Two of those are very close to the Natural Bridges cave. The Natural Bridges cave is open to the public year round, no guided tours, and no aiding scaffolds. No stairs or crawling, no boardwalks and while flashlights are recommended (mainly to see the rock features) they are not necessary. There are also no fantastic rock formation like those seen in the other caves. Still, the rock formations of the Natural Bridges cave are very beautiful and interesting.
Rock formation, July 7, 2018
Going through this cave is an excellent way to combine a sightseeing of the geological wonders the area has to offer with a very cool (double meaning intended) passage through this cathedral of Nature.
I do not know how deep is the water throughout the cave because I didn't try to stand there, but it seemed quite deep on parts. Swimming, or a floater are needed to pass through (and swimming there would be a very cold experience and would make photographing much more challenging).
July 7, 2018
The cave's ceiling drips water. All the water that the rock above absorbed during the rainy seasons dripping on us as we passed through. Even on our July visit after the fairly dry 2018 winter.
July 7, 2018
Most of this dripping happens near the south opening of the cave. Those of us who were careful enough to keep our upper bodies dry during most of are passage were now getting soaked as we floated through the ceiling showers that screened the cave's south opening.
April 7, 2019

I tucked my camera under its cover and passed through the cave shower. Outside I turned to take a photo of the raining vegetation at the opening and found that the lens did get some splash after all.
The cave's south opening, April 7, 2019
Outside the cave we rejoined Grandma Quail and sat on the hot rocks to deflate the tubes and to dry off. I wandered a bit downstream to get a people free shot of the creek.
Coyote Creek downstream of the cave, July 7, 2018

Meanwhile the chikas and their cousin got busy exploring. The elder chika found some tadpoles and after taking the photo I had her take it back to the water. I hope it grew into a nice frog.
Tadpole, July 7, 2018
I was amazed at how quickly the cool of the water faded away and we were hot again. Gathering our things we started our hike uphill. I took a final look at the picnic spot just above the south opening area. It was completely deserted because who would be fool enough to bake there in the hot sun when the cook creek is only a few steps down?
July 7, 2018
We hiked up the trail quickly, and remembered to bypass the yellowjackets on our way back. Although we did dry off before setting out on our return hike we were all wet again wen we got to the car, this time with sweat. Our second visit there was much nicer in that sense, and also much less crowded. If we only wanted to pay in the water we could have gone to the nearby New Melones Reservoir. But this hike is definitely worth it because of the cave and the wonderful way to pass through it. I have no doubt that I'll be there again.

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