Monday, November 11, 2019

Spring Gold at Heron Point of Tuttletown Recreation Area

New Melones Reservoir, March

Date: March 28 and April 7, 2019
Place: Tuttletown Recreation Area, New Melones Reservoir, California
Coordinates:  37.988048, -120.516181
Length: 3 miles
Level: easy

Last April I went with my chikas on a camping trip with friends to California's Gold Country. We camped at Tuttletown Recreation Area. On our first day there we hiked the beautiful Dragoon Gulch and the Red Hills trails. The next morning we broke camp, moved our cars less than a mile down the road to the Heron Point Trailhead and went for a hike right there at the Tuttletown Recreation Area.
I have scouted this trail with another friend a month before this trip. Then we started at a different point and hiked it in the opposite direction. The lake level was lower, the wildflowers fewer and different, and the deciduous trees still bare.

Tuttletown Recreation Area is at the shores of New Melones Lake, which is the latest major reservoir constructed for the Central Valley Project. It was nice to see it full. 
New Melones Reservoir, March
The trails are well maintained and are in regular use by hikers, anglers, and gold seekers (yes, still). I was surprised therefore, to find out that the oddly shaped young pine I saw near the trail was tied like that as likely to be a trail marker. Or perhaps it was just some kind of a silly joke on the tree's expense.
Tied Pine, March
The Heron Point Trail follows the contour of the lake and through intermittent groves of trees. The deciduous trees were already budding in March and by April they had full foliage, casting a pleasant, cooling shade on the trail.
Heron Point Trail, March
As always, I enjoy seeing the manzanita bushes, standing out against other vegetation with their smooth, deep red bark.
Manzanita, March
The more exposed parts of the trail cut through open grassland and low shrubs (some of which is poison oak), where many wildflowers were blooming.
April, Trailhead near Acorn Campground
On my March hike these were the early spring flowers I saw, like the buttercups.
Buttercup, Ranunculus sp. and poison oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum, March 
The Miner's Lettuce was also at the onset of its blooming. I couldn't resist the urge to nibble a little on this freshly tasting native herb.
Miner's Lettuce, Clayton parviflora, March
By April it was large patches of Nemophila everywhere. Relatives of the purple fiesta flower, this small, delicate wildflower covered much ground near the trail and close to the lakeshore.
Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophyla, April
The trail undulated up and down at a mild grade, bringing us higher or closer to the lake's surface. One of the things I was looking for on my April scouting hike was a place with convenient access to the water. I made mental notes of these places, comparing them in my mind.
Heron Point Trail, March
A picnic area on our way presented a good opportunity for a snack break. Near the picnic table I saw the large, white inflorescences of death camas - also an early spring bloomer. 
Giant death Camas, Toxicoscordion exaltatum, March
Oak trees take many shapes and each oak older than a couple of decades has already a unique form, or 'personality'. Many of the oaks I've seen around Lake New Melones are of deciduous species and were just beginning to bud in early April. The large green balls hanging on their otherwise bare branches are the parasitic mistletoe.
Other deciduous trees were further along in growing there new spring foliage. Together with evergreen pines the spring combination of greens was rich and complex, and very beautiful.
Being early spring the wildflowers scene was still developing. The ephemerals however, were already setting fruit.
Padre's Shootingstar, Primula clevelandii, April
These were the flowers that I saw at their peak on my March hike but in April they were developing their fruit.
Houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande, April
New Melones Lake is a man-made reservoir, and a recently created one. As such, its shoreline is the contour of the hills as they were before the dam was built, not showing the streamlined appearance of an old, natural lake.
Down between the gentle hill arches I found and easy shore access where I took our group on our April hike. The sharp-edged red rock slivers she through the clear water. In time they'll round up and become pebbles.  
New Melones Lake, April

We sat at the exposed soil between the high water mark and current water level. This strip of earth that surrounds the lake like a fanciful red belt. Just inches above the grass grew lush and numerous wildflowers dotted the green carpet. 
Pretty Face, Triteleia ixioides, April
Some of these wildflowers were tiny and visible only when we sat right by them, careful not to trample any. 

Dwarf Woodsorrel, Oxalis radicosa (non-native), April
The trail was still moist from recent rains and evidence of recent storms were visible on my March hike. By April the trail was clear and easy to hike. 

Fallen Tree on the trail, March
Vultures circled the sky' looking for some recently deceased animals. One of them landed on a nearby pine tree. I love observing these magnificent birds, so ominous-looking yet gentle and graceful. And of course- very useful sanitary of Nature.
Turkey Vulture, March
On both hikes we took our time enjoying this pretty trail and the wonderful weather, switching from tree groves and open grasslands. It is a very family-friendly hike for spring time, and I was glad to have brought my chikas along on the April hike. 

Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum, April

On March we saw some people panning for gold at a small creek that flowed to the lake. Given the idea I brought along a few plastic gold pans for the April hike and the kids had a blast panning at the lakeshore. Needless to say, we found no gold. Nt that I seriously thought they would. The real gold awaited us along the trail in the form of the golden fiddleneck flowers. 

Fiddleneck, Amsinckia sp. April
The Heron Point Trail is a nice loop trail, easily accessed by car. When I did the prep hike with my friend in March however,  we hiked an extended loop that included the group campsite and added about a mile and a half to the Heron Point loop. It also added some blooming ceanothus bushes that filed the air with their sweet aroma.
Buck Brush, Ceanothus cuneatus, March
As it turned out we did not use the group campground at all on our April visit but it remained on my list of places I'd like to bring more people to in the future.
Near Group Campground, March


  1. This seems to be a very nice trail, even though there are no herons to be seen... The tied pine is very strange.

    1. You're right! We've seen no herons at Heron pPoint! Thanks for pointing hat out :-)

  2. Nice trail - I'm proud to say I identified all the plants before reading their names, and met most of them... (still need to see the Triteleia ixioides)

    1. A very nice trail! And of course the plants would be familiar to you - they're the same we've seen on our trips together!