Thursday, October 23, 2008

Desert bighorn sheep

Around Tucson in Arizona, desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) can be seen in the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains or, easier accessible, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where the above picture was taken (also see terragalleria). As a panel explains, desert bighorn live in rough and rocky, low desert mountains. The precipitous mountain ridges provide refuge from coyotes and pumas. Rocky drainages contain rare water catchments in this arid environment. The gradual lower slopes and dry washes furnish the sheep with a sparse forage of jojoba, palo verde and mesquite.

More on desert bighorn sheep at Wikipedia, in Wildlife Water Water Developments and Desert Bighorn Sheep in the Southwesetern United States, and in The Southwestern Naturalist: Barrel Cacti Consumption by Desert Bighorn Sheep by Greg D. Warrick and Paul R. Krausman, 34(4):483-486, December 1989.

Pusch Ridge Wilderness

The Pusch Ridge Wilderness north of Tuscon in Arizona was established in 1978. Various trails such as the Pima Canyon Trail offer access to this rugged and steep area of the western Santa Catalina Mountains. One of the last remaining populations of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) occurs in this area, but the numbers are dwindling. The Wilderness, as a trailhead panel explains, also hosts a diversity of vegetation communities from Sonoran desert at 3,000 feet elevation to semi-desert grasslands, oak woodlands, chaparral, ponderosa pine forests, and mixed-conifer forests at 9,000 feet. Precipitation varies from less than 12 inches at the base of the mountain to nearly 30 inches at the summit. Nearly half of the precipitation falls during the summer monsoon season. In winter, snow is common at higher elevations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Touch the rattlesnake's rattle

Touch the rattlesnake's rattle—not the rattle of a snake you encounter on your hiking trail, but the enlarged model shown here as it is displayed in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The cross-section clearly demonstrates the segments of the rattle. Rattlesnakes add a new segment every time they shed their skin. As a panel next to the model explains, the rattle [of a real rattlesnake] is hollow, dry and feels something like heavy parchment. It is made of keratin, a fibrous protein that, in other animals, makes feathers, hair, horns, and nails. Segments loosely interlock; when vibrated their clashing creates the sound. The vibration increases with air temperature. At any temperature, you should be alarmed if you hear the rattling from somewhere next to your trail.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a nature park, located west of Tuscon. The park includes various short trails, gardens, exhibits and sculptures such as this coyote sculpture. While you tour the loop trails, you may want to side-step into the earth science limestone cave with mineral displays, the underwater beaver and otter viewing tunnel in the riparian corridor, or the walk-in aviary. To study succulents and other plants, visit the cactus garden, the agave garden, the pollination gardens, and the desert grassland area. The park offers a rare opportunity to explore underground life of snakes, prairie dogs, owls, scorpions and tarantulas, safely tucked behind glass. Other wildlife in the park includes white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, a mountain lion, Mexican wolves and real coyotes not far from where the coyote sculpture is.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Zebra agave

The zebra agave (Agave zebra) is a highly sun-tolerant plant. In full sunshine, the name-giving cross-banding of the green-silvery agave is easily recognized. Zebra agaves make nice potted or landscape specimens. The shown specimen is found in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which features an agave garden, just off the main loop trail between the cactus garden and the desert grassland, and a digital library that includes zebra agaves.

Does a saguaro have a brain?

This one at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum looks like it does. The prickly brain, however, is just a result of distorted growth. This “monstrose growth” is caused by damage to the meristem, the plant tissue of undifferentiated cells where division into differentiated plant cells occurs. A panel in the Desert Museum explains this odd Carnegiea gigantea shape as follows:
This unusual young saguaro is just beginning to form a crest, which may eventually grow to more than six feet wide. A crest can develop when the growing point or meristem (which produces new stems and spines or leaves), elongates into a line. In time the growing line may become greatly convoluted, like a brain. This phenomenon has been observed in nearly all plant species; its cause is generally not known.
For example, a giant cardon cactus (Pachycereus pringlei) has been found with monstrose growth.

Small, tall and branched saguaros

Even giants start small. A small saguaro cactus starts with healthy growth while surrounded by nursing shrubs that protect the saguaro from browsing animals. Growing tall, up to about 40 feet, a giant saguaro may reach an age of 200 years. Nobody will mistake it for a barrel cactus anymore. It takes about a quarter of a saguaro's life-span to get productive and also to develop ascending branches, as seen in the image taken in Pima Canyon near Tucson, Arizona.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Carnegiea is a monotypic genus containing as its single species Carnegiea gigantea, commonly known as giant saguaro or saguaro cactus, which was originally named Cereus giganteus by botanist George Engelmann in the mid-19th century. Saguaros are found in the southwestern part of the United States (predominantly in Arizona and a limited number in California's Whipple Mountains) and in northwestern Mexico. If you don't live near a desert trail that takes you into cactopia, you may want to approach the prickly columns by saguaro surfing. (Ouch!)
Here are some links: Infos and references for your study tour and for your visual tour, I suggest the saguaro site of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh (no, the pictures were not taken in Scotland) and the George & Audrey Lange page.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Giant saguaros in Pima Canyon near Tuscon

Who hasn't seen saguaro cacti in a Hollywood Western? If you think you have, you probably haven't seen real ones. Like so many things in Hollywood movies, the saguaros typically are fake. An easily accessible place to get close to living saguaros of all shapes and sizes is the Pima Canyon Trail. The trailhead is located in the northern part of Tuscon, Arizona, at the eastern end of Magee Road. The trail leads deep into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, but it takes only modest climbing and less than a mile to pass various saguaros and other cacti.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Between the saguaros with Maynard Dixon

Saguaros are fascinating plants and so are the landscapes in which these and other cacti dominate. Saguaros throw their shadows during sunrise or sunset. Seen from a different perspective, they appear dwarfed within the endless desert and towering rocks of the Southwest. Nobody has captured those impressions as colorful as the American artist Lafayette Maynard Dixon (1875-1946). Over 100 of his works are displayed in Arizona at the Tuscon Museum of Art. The exhibition with the title A Place of Refuge: Maynard Dixon's Arizona runs from Oct. 11 to Feb. 15, 2009.
Dixon's drawings and paintings document nature as well as people and their ways of live in the arid Southwest. The desert landscapes were an artistic and personal refuge for Dixon and today's visitors will feel and appreciate the landscape therapy. Dixon's art connects us with the past. Not just the recent past. The landscapes invoke the past on a geological scale. And they inspire us to enter and explore their dimensions—with or without an easel.

Walking unsuspiciously with a poodle

If your hike or leisurely stroll goes through a neighborhood that you don't know, are you afraid to pass through or do you bother whether the neighborhood could be afraid of you? I hope not.
Nature always welcomes us, neighborhoods occasionally don't; at least not until we adjust our “locomotional behavior” by, for example, coming along with a poodle. Lucius Beebe tells us an illustrating story from a time when security cameras were still unknown, but neighborhood watch was installed nevertheless:

As is true in Beverly Hills, a closely parallel enclave of privilege, there are no sidewalks in Hillsborough [in San Mateo county south of San Francisco]. A car, preferably Rolls-Royce or Bentley, is the only thinkable means of locomotion and pedestrians, unless walking dogs, are automatically suspect, and usually questioned by the police. Lord Kinross, the literary peer of Punch, was only a few years ago a house guest who, in all innocence, undertook a brisk after-dinner constitutional on Hayne Road. Before he had gone a block, he was apprehended and questioned by the occupants of a squad car. Thereafter, when inclined to exercise, he borrowed a standard poodle from his host and was immune to suspicion.

Lucius Beebe: The Big Spenders, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 630 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10020, 1967; page 73.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A wooden bench halfway between Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade

This wooden bench can be found on the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) about halfway between Spooner Summit and Kingsbury Grade on South Camp Peak. You can get there by either hiking about six miles north from the Kingsbury North Trailhead or about the same distance south from the Spooner Summit South Trailhead. Either way you need to go upwards, but switchbacks and the shade of pine trees make it a relatively easy hike. Mountain bikers enjoy this section of the TRT, which also is open for equestrians. Depending on the time of day and year you are doing this trip, you may see more deer along the trail than people. However, don't be surprised if the bench is already occupied. This is a place where people meet and stay for some time. On a clear day the view of Lake Tahoe and distant Sierra peaks is magnificent. Try to spot Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake and Fallen Leaf Lake. If blue is not your color, study the greenish yellow patterns of lichens on the rock outcrops in front of you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bluegrass Trailhead

Where can you hike between bluegrass sessions? At Anderson Marsh State Historic Park south of Clearlake in California! This year's Old Time Bluegrass Festival took place there over the last weekend. It was sunny and hot. Bands such as The Mighty Crows had to play under the sun (left picture), but the audience could enjoy the music from under a parachute roof (upper right picture). Workshops for flatpicking guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle were scheduled at the old ranch house. During your self-planned intermission, you could hike on some of the trails of this park, where the Cache Creek meets the lower end of Clear Lake. Trails lead through riparian habitat, hills with blue oaks and grasslands. And during the festival, faint bluegrass sounds passed over the hills and trails.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hiking through prickly habitat

Stephen Ingram introduced his new book about cacti, agaves and yuccas yesterday at the Sundance Bookstore in Reno. In addition to the amazing color photographs and botanical watercolors, the book contains range maps for most of the spiny and sometimes hairy plants. These maps help you to anticipate which succulent species you are likely to see on your next hike through some arid habitat in California or Nevada. You may not want to touch any of the plants, but many animals do. They interact with them in various ways. Ingram's book provides plenty of examples including ants feeding inside a prickly-pear fruit, orioles perching on a Shaw agave and a ground-nesting cactus bee visiting the flower of a Whipple cholla. I am wondering about the wildlife I'll experience along the next trail through the prickly world?

The Book
Stephen Ingram: Cacti, Agaves and Yuccas of California and Nevada. Cachuma Press, Los Olivos, California, 2008.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cathedral Rock Trail in the Spring Mountains

Cathedral Rock Trail in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area west of Las Vegas is a short (1.4 miles one way) trail through a forest of ponderosa pines and white firs and a stand of quaking aspen. Halfway up is a waterfall of three falls that may dry up during summer, but still had enough refreshing water trickling down at the end of June this year. The trail offers spectacular views of Echo Cliffs (see picture), an eroding uplifted limestone formation. Crinoids, brachiopods, horn corals and other fossils from an ancient, warm shallow sea, which existed here over 100 million years ago, have been found in the area. In case you are searching for fossils in the rocks, be careful and stay away from the vertical cliffs. Enjoy the view from the Cathedral Rock summit into Kyle Canyon and onto the surrounding mountains.

Trailheads: Cathedral Rock Trail Parking right off State Route 157 or Cathedral Rock Picnic Area.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pupfish in Ash Meadows warm water springs

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge has 30 warm water seeps and springs that are home to endemic fish species. The picture shows a pupfish of the Point of Rocks Springs. The various springs are connected by trails and dirt roads. The refuge protects endemic animals including two pupfish species and endemic plants. The endangered fish rely upon algae, which you can see at the bottom of the springs and streams, as a food source and as a place to lay their eggs. Entering the springs is strictly forbidden, since it would destroy the fragile algae. However, you may lay down at some edge and closely watch the unique life in the water.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Yerba mansa at Peterson Reservoir in Ash Meadows

The Peterson Reservoir in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a wildlife viewing area. The sand dunes are a good place for viewing birds. Interesting plants can be found in that area along the trail, in the sand and near the water, such as the medicinal plant Yerba mansa of the Saururaceae family. The picture, taken on June 21, shows a maturing plant developing yellowish orange stains at some of their white, petal-like bracts. Yerba mansa plants are useful in many ways [1]:
Tea made of the leaves was used for purifying blood; a poultice for cuts and bruises; and bruised leaves reduced swellings, dysentery, asthma. The tea was also used for colds and to help movement of urine in kidney ailments. An infusion of the rootstocks was used for various skin troubles. The leaves boiled in a quantity of water were used as a bath for muscular pains and for sore feet. Dried roots, roasted and browned, were made into a decoction used for colds and for stomach ache.
[1] Muriel Sweet: “Common Edible and useful Plants of the West.” Naturegraph, Happy Camp, California, 2005 printing; page 61.

Still more about Yerba mansa:
Yerba mansa is also known as Anemopsis californica and under the common name lizard tail. The Spanish name,
Yerba mansa, means “domesticated herb.” Indigenous people of the Southwest and Mexico used the plant as medicine.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tonopah Historic Mining Park

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park in Tonopah is not a nature park. Here, everything looks like it has been turned around many times. The park tells the history of what happened to this place in Nye County in Nevada after silver was discovered in 1900. Trails are connecting the rich collection of artifacts and sites including various mines, hoists, holes and shafts, a dynamite house and a warehouse. The visitor center provides detailed information and has an excellent mineral collection. A Bell Signal Code in the Mitzpah Mine & Hoist House is still in place: 7 bells means accident. To avoid any accidents, stay on the trails. Look for the ball mill and the stamp mill. Find the wrench you are seeing in the picture or some artifact that fits the octagonal star of the wrench.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unveiling of Pah Rah Trail informational panels

What looks like a Burning Man happening, is a trail opening ceremony performed as part of the PAH RAH INTERPRETIVE CENTER PROJECT. On June 19, the informational panels for the future Pah Rah Interpretive Trail of the Golden Eagle Regional Park in Spanish Springs in Nevada were unveiled. This wheelchair-accessible 3/4-mile trail loops through sagebrush in the Spanish Springs Canyon providing views of the Pah Rah mountain range. Restrooms, a drinking fountain, bike rack and an outdoor class room will be built.
Spanish Springs Canyon is part of a high desert ecosystem in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. The panels inform visitors about the geology, ecology, and history including the tradition of Paiute and Washoe people living in Washoe county. Various Spanish Springs Canyon wildflowers were explained during a ranger-guided hike after the unveiling ceremony. Go and explore by yourself: there are other trails leading into the canyon and on to the mountain ranges.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

No trails, no maps, but some breakfast, please!

It has happened to many of us that we found ourselves off the trail we had planned to go. Lost! Then we have a story to tell how we eventually made it home. Explorers in the past were often adventuring into new territory with no trails and no trail map. And they typically enjoyed to tell their story—often with a good portion of sensationalism. Clarence King, for example, who was surveying parts of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada in the 1860s, included such stories in his book Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (1872). Aaron Sachs says about King's description of his ascent of Mount Tyndall in the Southern Sierra Nevada [1]:
The danger [which King illuminates] was probably real for the survey climbers of 1863 and 1864, who had no maps or trails, who had not read anyone else's descriptions of the area, who could never tell when the next abyss would cleave the earth.

John Muir, arriving in California a few years later, joked about King's description and said that he himself run up and down Mount Tyndall before breakfast. Anyway, I enjoy climbing up and down mountain peaks, but I like to have my breakfast first.

[1] Aaron Sachs The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism, Penguin Books, London (England), 2006; page 200 and page 307.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Fluctuating water level at Church's Pond

While hiking from Galena Creek Park into the Mt. Rose Wilderness up to Church's Pond, it is always interesting to guess what the water level will be this time. I have seen it about three feet higher (up to the center of the snow patch) two years ago. I was surprised to find it relatively low this year after all the snowing last winter. Church's Pond is a nice place to reflect on microclimates. How much does a microclimate depend on the macroclimate and global climate change?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trail closed in Galena Creek Park on weekdays

Since the end of May, some areas of the Galena Creek Park southwest of Reno are closed on weekdays since fuels reduction activities are underway. This sign announces weekdays closure of the part of the Jones-White Creek Loop Trail that connects Galena Creek Park with the Whites Creek Trailhead. The Jones Creek Trail into the Mt. Rose Wilderness and to Church's Pond remains open for all days.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Apricot Mallow in Hidden Valley Park

A few Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua, Malvaceae) plants can be found on the western slopes of Hidden Valley Park east of Reno. Their orange- or apricot-colored flowers beautifully contrast their gray-green leaves and the dry brown-gray soil.

Oxbow Nature Study Area trails remain closed

A human-caused brush fire in April 2008 made its impact to the Oxbow Nature Study Area, located along the Truckee River west of downtown Reno. Although parts of the park, including the overlooks to the Beaver Pond, are now again open to the public, most of the system of short trails through the cottonwood and brush forest remains closed for restoration. The scorched trees can be seen from within the park and from the bike trail on the other side of the Truckee River.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Incline Lake Near Mount Rose Highway Summit Goes Public

Incline Lake, a scenic alpine lake near the Mount Rose Highway Summit between Reno and Incline Village at Lake Tahoe, is becoming public land. The lake and surrounding forest areas are expected to be accessible to the public by June 2009, offering space for recreational activities such as hiking, cross-country skiing and wildlife viewing. The area is located on a deer migration route. It includes riparian vegetation and lodgepole pines. Lake Tahoe water quality will directly benefit from the preservation of the Incline Lake environment. And Tahoe Rim Trail hikers will get another off-rim destination.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dry Pond Is Still Wet

Dry Pond southwest of Reno was still found to be wet this year in the middle of May. Lots of water is gushing down Whites Creek. Taking Dry Pond Trail while coming from the Whites Creek Trailhead (about a mile off Timberline Drive north of Mount Rose Highway), one needs to cross Whites Creek. Some rocks are in place to hop, rock by rock, over the speedy water. Hikers and bikers alike are doing it. Various spring flowers can be seen on both sides of the trail leading up to the pond. Currently, Dry Pond looks like a shallow little lake. When I was up there, I saw a couple of ducks swimming between the horsetails. If the weather stays as dry and hot as over the last week-end, Dry Pond will be dry again in a few weeks. Whether wet or dry, this location is always a beautiful place with—from between the pines— secret views of Mount Rose, Slide Mountain and parts of Washoe Lake.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Conservation of High Mountain Ecosystems: The Snow Leopard as a Role Model

Like with any ecosystem, the best conservation effort is no effort at all—at least no human effort as long as a system is healthy and has not significantly been changed by human interference. Key to the “healthy maintenance” of ecosystems are keystone species. The snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is an excellent example of a high mountain keystone species [1]:

As the top carnivore of the alpine and subalpine zones [of Central Asia], the snow leopard strongly influences the numbers and whereabouts of hoofed herds [for example of animals such as sheep, ibex, argali, tahr, goral, serrow, Tibetan antelope or wild yak] over time. That in turn affects plant communities and thus shapes the niches of many a smaller organism down the food chain. The leopard's presence—or absence—affects competing hunters and scavengers too, namely wolves, wild dogs, jackals, foxes, bears, and lynx. This cascade of consequences makes Uncia uncia a governing force in the ecosystem, what scientists term a keystone species.

Which species is functioning as a keystone species, for example, in the European Alps or the Sierra Nevada in the western part of the United States? Is homo sapiens a keystone species?

[1] “Out of the Shadows. The elusive Central Asian snow leopard steps into a risk-filled future.” by Douglas H. Chadwick and Steve Winter in National Geographic, Vol. 213, No.6, pages 106-129, June 2008.

Snow leopard dictionary
Ladakhi: shan
Mongolian: irbis
Urdu: barfani chita
German: Schneeleopard (only found in zoos in German-speaking areas)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trail Search: From the Alps to the Stonehenge Area

Which path did the neolithitic “Amesbury Archer”, who was unearthed in 2002 near Stonehenge in England, follow when he migrated from the foothills of the Alps to the area now called the Salisbury Plain? The archer's origin has been deduced from isotopic analysis of his tooth enamel. What made him move that far away from the Alps and how did he acquire wealth and status, as indicated by the rich goods found at his burial site near the River Avon two and a half miles southeast of Stonehenge? While the trail, the archer took, remains a mystery, a falcon's-eye view nicely illustrates his new homeland [1] showing recent understanding of a neolithic area and the relation between sites including Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and Cursus, one of the cryptic trenches numerous in Britain.

[1] Illustration by Kazuhiko Sano on pages 40 and 41 in the article with the title “If the Stones Could Speak” by Caroline Alexander and Ken Geiger in National Geographic, Vol. 213, No.6, June 2008.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Keep Every Place Beautiful!

We all have seen the sticker “Keep Lake Tahoe Beautiful.” Other places should be kept beautiful as well. On May 10, volunteers took part in the Great Truckee Meadows Community Cleanup event sponsored by Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. During this effort, trash was removed from public lands. Also cars and tires. One always wonders how cars get to places like the one in the picture showing a car wreck next to to the Arrowcreek Trail in southern Reno. Let's thank all the volunteers for their tremendous engagement.

Maggie O'Neill: Massive cleanup effort removes tons of trash from open spaces. Reno-Gazette-Journal, May 17, 2008, page E1.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Weser River Walk in Bremen-Vegesack

Vegesack, a district of the city of Bremen in northwest Germany, is located north of where the river Lesum flows into the Weser. The Weser River Walk is easily accessed by walking or biking less than a mile westwards from the train station Bremen-Vegesack.
A good starting point for the river walk is the “Gray Donkey” (Grauer Esel, a donkey sculpture in front of the cafe-garden pub of the same name). Going north, you'll reach the sculpture of the lower jaw of a blue whale (upper picture). This bronze sculpture replaces the originally exhibited jaw—a gift made to Vegesack in 1961 by the Norwegian shipping trader Anders Jahre—of a 26-meter-long whale.
Continuing along the river, you'll pass an information board at the signal station telling you about the history of commercial activities in the area including ship building, whaling, and aircraft services. Some data on the local size of the Weser are also provided. Watching the river for some time, you may notice the tide-related changes that occur along this stretch of the Weser. Further north, you reach a propeller that makes a nice bench (lower picture above). If you don't like to sit on a propeller, don't worry, there are many benches and also park greens on the way.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Beckwith Violet in the Huffaker Hills

This violet (Viola beckwithii, Violaceae Family) was seen in the Huffaker Hills in the middle of March this year, just after the snow was gone. Beckwith violets grow on dry, sandy soil. The picture shows the typical color pattern of the flower: the upper two petals are darker colored (here deep purple) than the lower (here blue-purple) ones. The fan-shaped leaves and some dry soil can be seen in the back.

Further Information:
Other species of the Violet Family can be found in the Lake Tahoe Area and the Great Basin. To find out when and where, see, for example, the FALCON GUIDE Tahoe Wildflowers by Laird R. Blackwell (2007).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cliffs, Sea Caves, Stacks, and Natural Bridges

Coastal hikes are always a pleasure. The configuration of coastlines and shorelines are changing from day to day. Hiking along beaches or on cliff trails brings you in touch with the sculptural power of wind and waves. One of my favorite descriptions of this scenery and how it forms is by Rachel Carson [1]:

... we owe some of the most beautiful and interesting shoreline scenery to the sculpturing effect of moving water. Sea caves are almost literally blasted out of the cliffs by waves, which pour into crevices in the rocks and force them apart by hydraulic pressure. Over the years the widening of fissures and the steady removal of fine rock particles in infinite number result in the excavation
of a cave. Within such a cavern the weight of incoming water and the strange suctions and pressures caused by the movements of water in an enclosed space may continue the excavation upward. The roofs of such caves (and of overhanging cliffs) are subjected to blows like those from a battering ram as the water from a breaking wave is hurled upward, most of the energy of the wave passing into this smaller mass of water. Eventually a hole is torn through the roof of the cave, to form a spouting horn. Or, on a narrow promontory, what began as a cave may be cut through from side to side, so that a natural bridge is formed. Later, after years of erosion, the arch may fall, leaving the seaward mass of rock to stand alone—one of the strange, chimneylike formations known as a stack.

[1] Rachel L. Carson: The Sea Around Us. Special Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1989; page 124. The Sea Around Us was originally written in 1951, bringing together, in flowing style, the state of the knowledge of the ocean world at that time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Exploring San Mateo Coast Beaches

Little Lukas is exploring barnacles on a rock at the harbor beach just south of Princeton-by-the-Sea. Outside the harbor is where the annual surfing competition Mavericks takes place. From Princeton you can start southwards for a Half Moon Bay beach hike or a bike tour along the trail next to the beaches. Just 20 miles south of San Francisco, this area gets busy on week-ends. Other visitors of the area include pelagic birds. My favorite viewing point for birds and sea life is the beach west of Princeton and Pillar Point Harbor, where various rocks break the waves. And big they can get on stormy days. Mavericks surfers may enjoy them, but the beach can turn into a dangerous place. Barnacles will survive, but humans (little and big) may not.

On the Sculpture Trail: Saffron Tower Reflection

Next to the building of the de Young Museum just off the
Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park stands the Saffron Tower. You can't climb it. The tower consists of blown glass and neon, on an island protected by a sculptured mountain lion and at least one video monitor. Goethe and Schiller, standing across the Music Concourse, also are constantly watching. You will immediately recognize this glass sculpture as a Dale Chihuly design, if you have seen his other glass art. The picture shows the mirror image of the Saffron Tower in the surrounding pond. What a place to experience the merger of illusion and reality!

Explore the Chihulyverse: SlideShow - Galleries - Videos

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ostrich and Oryx Extinction in Saudi Arabia

We usually don't think of ostriches and oryxes when we hear of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, they are or were living there. Wilfred Thesiger reports the following from his second crossing of the Sands in the western part of the Empty Quarter [1]:
... finding some broken ostrich eggs, bin Kabina and Amair [Bedu travel companions] argued whether ostriches were lawful food, a purely academic point since ostriches had been extinct in southern Arabia for more than fifty years, although a few survived until recently in the Wadi Sirham in northern Arabia. When I was in Syria a Bedu told me that the Rualla had shot one there just before the war [World War II]; it may well have been the last of them. My companions stopped to show me what their tracks looked like, saying that their grandfathers had known these birds. I had seen plenty of the tracks of the African ostrich, a larger bird than the Arabian, in the Sudan, and the copies which Amair made in the sand were correct. It is sad to think that the Arabian oryx and rim are also doomed as soon as cars penetrate into the southern desert. Unfortunately oryx prefer the hard, flat sands and gravel plains to the heavy dunes. Since they differ from the four species to be found in Africa, it means that yet another kind of animal will soon be extinct. In Saudi Arabia during the last few years even gazelle have became rare. Hunting-parties scour the plains in cars, returning with lorry-loads of gazelle which they have run down and butchered.

Does anybody still keep track of ostriches and oryxes in Saudi Arabia or is their trail into the future lost?

References and more:

[1] Wilfred Thesiger: Arabian Sands (1959). Reprinted in Penguin Travel Library, 1991; pages 231 and 232.

More on animals in the Sands: Find out what animal circled their camp site or how to revive an exhausted camel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Monument and Monroe Ridge Trail

The Monument Trail and Monroe Ridge Trail are located in the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. The Monument Trail starts from the picnic area near the Gold Discovery Museum. This trail brings you uphill to the James Marshall Monument and to the Catholic Cemetery. From the parking lot at the Monument, the Monroe Ridge Trail provides an easy climb to the ridge. The trail continues along the ridge with some beautiful vista points. The picture (March 24, 2008) shows a view across the South Fork American River. Hiking downhill on Monroe Ridge Trail, you 'll arrive at the Monroe Orchard. Crossing Highway 49 and the parking lot and turning right along the river, the Gold Discovery Loop Trail brings you back to the Gold Discovery Museum. If you continue walking along Back Street you'll get to Brewery Street and the Beer Garden. However, I wasn't able to spot the brewery and found the ruins of the jail house instead.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Point Defiance Loop Trail in Spring

The Point Defiance Loop Trail is located in the South Yuba River State Park in California. Coming from the visitor center, cross the covered bridge over the South Yuba River and turn left at the end of the bridge. The beautiful trail leads you along the river (see picture) for about one mile. Near Point Defiance are beaches and sand banks that can easily be accessed, but may be muddy. Continuing on the trail you reach Englebright Lake. From there the trail goes uphill, with amazing views of the sometimes blue-green lake water. On top of the hill you'll find picnic areas and views down to from where you started. Hiking the trail downhill, you return to the covered bridge, but may want to cross Pleasant Valley Road and hike Buttermilk Bend Trail, again along the river, now in the opposite direction.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Gerlach Weather Station

You'll find the Gerlach Weather Station off Guru Road next to road 34 just a few miles after leaving Gerlach, Nevada, into the Black Rock Desert. The station includes a hanging rock with a laying rock underneath that says: "If Rock Above Is Moving, Winds Blowing, Wet It's Raining, White Snowing." It's not about the grammar, it's about the weather, which certainly will influence your stay in the Black Rock Desert: If Moving, Move Along; If Wet, Put On Your Raincoat Or Nothing; If White, Bring Snowshoes. If Everything Together, It's Burning Man!

Trailing Guru Road

"Never Never Take Advantage It May Cost Your Life." Simple and plain, this wisdom has been written on a rock you'll find on your way from Gerlach into the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada where the Granite Mountain Range slopes into the Desert Playa. Next to this rock stretches a spiritual circle put together with rocks. This and many other rock creations can be found along Guru Road - spiritual and otherwise. Elvis stands there too, built from rocks that don't roll! Not too far away you'll find the Gerlach Weather Station, based on a hanging rock. That's all you need (plus food and drinks) on your Black Rock Desert trip: a good weather forecast, Elvis in your ears and the hope that the desert won't take advantage of you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tree Scours at Tahoe-Donner Cross Country

Over the last week-end in February 2008, another storm hit the Sierra Nevada with strong winds and lots of snow. While I was snowshoeing at Tahoe Donner Cross-Country near Truckee in the Sierra Nevada, the winds were leaving their marks and trails in many ways: On my glasses, on the trail signs and beside the trails. Tree scours of various size and depth around the tree trunks can be found all over the terrain. Some scours are a couple of feet deep. If you go, don't fall in!