Monday, November 30, 2009

Nevada City walking tour: Pelton wheel at George Allan's Foundry

Nevada City in California, located northwest of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is the home town of the Pelton wheel. Walking through the historical quarters of Nevada City, one can find tools and artifacts, including Pelton wheels, from the time of the mining boom displayed at various sites. One such wheel stands in front of the original brick building of Allan's Machine Shop, which was founded in 1856 and was in continuous usage as a foundry for over 110 years. The famous wheels with the double-cupped buckets, designed by Lester A. Pelton of Camptonville and Nevada City, were first manufactured here. A plaque (placed on May 11, 1994) explains:
The Pelton water wheel, first commercially manufactured here at George Allan's Foundry & Machine Works in 1879, was a major advancement in water power utilization and greatly advanced hard-rock mining. Its unique feature was a series of paired buckets, shaped like bowls of spoons and separated by a splitter, that divided the incoming water jets into two parts. By the late 1800s, Pelton wheels were providing energy to operate industrial machinery throughout the world. In 1888, Lester Pelton moved his business to San Francisco, but granted continuing manufacturing rights to Allan's Foundry, where the wheels were manufactured into the early 1900s, when most local mines shifted to electric power.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Owl watching at Berkeley's waterfront

The ground squirrels and squirrel holes in Berkeley's Cesar Chavez Park—many next to the trails— are hard to miss. Some holes are abandoned by squirrels, but are used by burrowing owls (Speotyto cunicularia) as resting place. These owls are known to dig burrow nest in open fields, but take advantage if they find some ready-made nests. I am not aware of any predator-prey relationship between squirrels and owls and assume that the burrowing owls feel well-protected here. According to a posted information sheet, burrowing owls hunt and eat crickets, beetles, small rodents, lizards, and crayfish. Since burrowing owls are active during night and day they can easily be watched during the day: These small brown birds (8 to 10 inches tall) are spotted with white. There head is rounded and lacks ear tufts. While you are watching them, they probably watch you with their yellow eyes.

Also see Burrowing owls in the northwest corner of Berkeley's Cesar Chavez Park.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Burrowing owls in the northeast corner of Berkeley's Cesar Chavez Park

The Cesar Chavez Park is a recreational area at Berkeley's waterfront. In fact, this site is a former landfill in the San Francisco Bay. Now, green grasslands belong to its main features. The park is a playground for humans, dogs and squirrels. But more surprising, some Western Burrowing Owls (Speotyto cunicularia) selected sections of the park as their habitat, where they stay over winter—from October to April. Burrowing owls typically “play” and hunt by day and you can easily spot them from the trail during a day-walk. So it was in 2004, as The Berkeley Daily Planet reported, and so it happened again the following winter seasons.
In a joint project, The Golden Gate Audubon Society, The Shorebird Park Nature Center, and the Berkeley Marina of the City of Berkeley are monitoring arrival and well-doing of the owls. In the northeast corner of the Park a small, “fenced-off” area along the shoreline trail has been created for their protection.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A hiker's attraction in northern England: Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall was once a frontier of the Roman empire in the northwestern part of Europe, far away from Rome. During that time, Roman soldiers patrolled along the stonework. Now, hikers and history buffs walk stretches of the 84-mile-long National Trail, following the path along the remaining structures of Hadrian's Wall, which winds through a scenic countryside of northern England, south of Scotland. In a recent Smithsonian article with photographies by Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson [1], Andrew Curry writes about his east-to-west hike from Wallsend, a town outside Newcastle at the North Sea coast, across the hills-and-crags-covered English landscape to Bowness-on-Solway, the western wall's end on the Irish Sea side.
If you plan for a Hadrian's Wall hike, plan for a multiple-days hike, since there are so many interesting things to see and to do along the second-century Roman fortification in Britain. And, as always in England, plan for a rainy day or two.

[1] Andrew Curry: Trekking Hadrian's Wall Smithsonian October 2009, Volume 40, Number 7, pp. 40-47.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bicycling ahead

Urban bicycling is going to be safer when marked bike lanes are painted on the road or when lanes are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic. In some European cities, for example, bike lanes are elevated, being on the same level as the pedestrian side-walk next to it. Many cities now have an infrastructure that includes a network of bike paths under- or overpassing streets and highways. Sometimes, bike trails shortcut through parks or neighborhoods giving you an advantage in reaching your destination over others who got stuck in car traffic. Another encouraging sign of city-bicycling awareness is that municipal transportation systems, whether based on bus, light rail, train or subway, provide options to bring on your bike.
The bikeability of cities is typically evaluated with indexes. A recent article [1] explains, why measuring the proportion of female bicyclists might be a more significant indicator of the bicycle-friendliness of urban areas than bikeability indexes. Whereas the ratio of male versus female cycling trips is 2:1 in the U.S., in the Netherlands (with an excellent bicycling infrastructure) 55 percent of all riders are woman. The share of people in the U.S., relying on bikes for transportation, is below 2 percent, while it is 12 percent in Germany and 27 percent in the Netherlands.
Whoever is sitting on the bike deserves a safe urban environment whether bicycling for fun, to work or to his/her favorite destination in town.

Keywords: bicycle tracks, urban infrastructure, municipal planning, sustainable transportation, gender bias

[1] Linda Baker: Shifting GearsTo boost urban bicycling, figure out what woman want. Scientific American October 2009, Volume 301, Number 4, pages 28-29.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jobs Peak Ranch Trail near Minden/Gardnerville

The Jobs Peak Ranch Trail in the foothills between the Carson Valley and the Carson Range is a footpath that offers hiking or jogging through an area where the sagebrush and bitterbrush vegetation meets manzanita/pine forest habitats. This trail, crossing through the late-afternoon shadows of Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister, is just 1.4 miles long. It ends at the stateline between Nevada and California, but continues on into the Fay-Luther Trail System.

Getting to the Jobs Peak Ranch Trailhead
From the intersection of the Kingsbury Grade Road (207) with the Foothill Road (208) in Mottsville go south for about 2.5 miles, passing Centerville Lane. Watch for the trailhead sign. The Jobs Peak Ranch Trhd. is to your right. An interpretive panel with a trail map is located at the beginning of the trail. This is a hiking trail. Dogs are allowed on leash. No biking; most parts of the trail are sandy.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Eureka Peak: quartz, lichen and a grand view

While most gold discoveries in California began with a flash in the pan, the one at Eureka Peak—according to the Eureka Peak Loop Trail website of the California State Parks—began with a hike. The hikers (or better climbers) were two members of an exploratory party of miners, who found gold and other metals in quartz outcroppings on the slopes of Eureka Peak in the year 1851. Today, you can still find quartz outcroppings, sometimes hiding under lichen coating, at many rock sites of the Eureka Peak area. The loop trail makes access easy and if you are getting tired of quartz watching you may search for those places on the peak trail from where you can spot the volcanic peak of Mount Lassen by looking in north-northwest direction.

Getting there
Follow the direction to the Plumas-Eureka State Park visitor center and Mohawk Stamp Mill. Instead of leaving the Graeagle-Johnsville Road for the visitor center, continue on through Johnsville and further to the parking lot of the ski area. From there, a dirt road continues uphill to Eureka Lake. On open-gate days you can drive, otherwise you have to walk, up to the Eureka Lake reservoir. The trail starts at the Eureka Lake dam. After about one mile, it is your choice to hike the Eureka Peak Loop Trail clockwise or anti-clockwise. There is also access to Eureka Peak via the Eureka Peak Backway Trail, which is a fire road and starts from outside the park area.

Mohawk Stamp Mill in Plumas-Eureka State Park

A short loop trail through the mining complex, just south of Johnsville, in the Plumas-Eureka State Park in the northern Sierra Nevada invites the visitor to go on a self-guided tour through the historic area that includes various machinery, stables, the Blacksmith Shop, the Assay Office and the Mohawk Stamp Mill. The pictures shows the Mohawk Mill with parts of the Eureka Peak in the background, where quartz outcroppings with gold, silver, and lead were discovered in 1851. An information board informs about this stamp mill:
The Mohawk Mill began operation in 1878, with power to run the mill coming solely from the nearby stream. The mill cost about $50,000 to build. It had 60 stamps, each of which could crush 2 1/2 tons of ore every 24 hours. The stamps were very loud! People grew accustomed to the continuous din of milling.

As one can see from the picture, the stamp mill structure is now unsafe.

Getting there, looking around

From Highway 70 at Blairsden, west of Portola in California, take the Graeagle-Johnsville Road (County Road A-14). Follow the signs to the Plumas-Eureka State Park, pass the trailhead for the Madora Lake Loop Trail and turn left at the historic miners' bunkhouse, which houses the visitor center, ranger station and a museum with natural history exhibits, mining artifacts and a stamp mill model. This stamp mill is working, fortunately without the din the real mill once made—just a little above type-writer loudness.
The loop trail through the mining complex starts across the bunkhouse.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

White-patched blue lupines at the shore of Granite Lake

There exist many species and varieties of blue-flowered lupines of the pea family (Fabaceae). Along the shore of Granite Lake in the Mokelumne Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, short lupine plants with white hairs on stems and leaves were found this August. This top view of one of the lupine flowers shows white patches and hair in some parts of the flower. Comparison with pictures and descriptions of other lupines suggest that this one and the nearby lupine plants with the same characteristics, that were found in the high-elevation Granite Lake area, are most likely Lobb's tidy lupines (Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii).

For comparison, see pictures of various blue and blue-white flowered lupines:
Lupinus breweri - Brewer's lupine
Lupinus gracilentus - Slender lupine
Lupinus grayii - Gray's lupine
Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii
Lupinus polyphyllus - Large-leaved lupine
Lupinus pratensis - Inyo meadow lupine

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rocks and roots

In the granite areas of the Sierra Nevada, trees have to live on rocky grounds. Often, one finds long roots exposed and stretching out into various directions. The roots of the fallen dead tree in the picture still hold on to a rock on which the tree was standing. (Or is the rock holding on to the tree?) This rock-root association was found in the Mokelumne Wilderness along Grouse Lake Trail just west of Granite Lake.

Getting to the Grouse Lake and Granite Lake Trailhead
From Highway 88 in California, about two miles southwest of the intersection with Highway 89 coming from South Lake Tahoe, take the Blue Lakes Road and go all the way south to the Lower Blue Lake Reservoir. Then, leave the paved road and go north along the east shore of Lower Blue Lake toward Upper Blue Lake. Be careful: this section goes through camping areas and people often cross the bumpy dirt road. Pass the Middle Creek Campground. Then, turn left into the parking area next to the dam of Upper Blue Lake. As soon as you walk over the metal bridge crossing the overflow run, you will see the trail sign. After a short time, you'll cross a creek and will then start hiking uphill to Granite Lake and, if you got enough time and energy (and food and water), much further to Grouse Lake. Watch your steps and don't fall over tree roots!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Insects attacking forest trees

Insects are part of forest ecosystems. Under certain local conditions, an insect population may erupt and result in mortality of trees in large numbers. Currently, an outbreak of pinyon needle scale and pinyon sawfly, threatening forests in eastern and central Nevada, is reported. The bark beetle is another insect that may harm forests, especially in areas of dense tree growth. To learn more about bark beetles and healthy forests in the Sierra Nevada, walk the Bark Beetle Discovery Trail at Spooner Lake of the Nevada Division of State Parks, east of Lake Tahoe. This short trail is located in the picnic area and features various interpretive sites. An information board introduces the bark beetle as follows:
Bark beetles are always living in forests. They kill clusters of trees, providing dead snags for wildlife habitat, and helping to recycle nutrients from dying trees. They are also food for other insects and woodpeckers. Periodically, bark beetle populations boom when environmental conditions favor the beetles.
Jeff DeLong: Pair of bugs threatens Nevada forests. Reno Gazette-Journal, August 10, 2009
USDA Forest Service: Sustaining Alpine and Forest Ecosystems. Forest Insects.

Trail loop around Long Lake reservoir

Long Lake in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area of the northern Sierra Nevada in California is surrounded by smaller lakes, pine and fir forest and various trails connecting the lakes and other scenic sites. Once the summer home of Maidu Indians, now seekers of granite scenery and solitude are visiting this area. You'll find more solitude, the further you hike away from the trailheads along Gold Lake Highway.
As a starting point for a hike around Long Lake, you may want to select the junction of the Round Lake and Bear Lake Trail at Silver Lake. From there, a trail climbs up to the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. After less than 1/2 mile, turn right on Mud Lake Trail. This trail passes Helgramite Lake (elevation 7040 feet) and Mud Lake (elevation 6560 feet). The second half of this trail offers various views on the Long Lake reservoir and Mt. Elwell (elevation 7812 feet). Where Mud Lake Trail meets Long Lake Trail you can turn left and climb to the top of Mt. Elwell or continue the loop hike to the right. This is the most challenging part. This section of Long Lake Trail passes over steep, treeless rock slide areas. Watch out for loose rocks. It's getting easier as you approach the dam. Scattered trees on the slope to your left are standing tall and their structure tells you from where the wind is blowing most of the time (see picture with north-northwest view from the northern shore of Long Lake). After crossing the dam, the Long Lake trail takes you south and back to where you started.

The given elevations are from the Lakes Basin Recreation Area map (Greagle Land & Water CO.) and from signs posted by Plumas National Forest at the lake shores.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Silver Lake in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area

Silver Lake is located between the Long Lake Reservoir and Round Lake in Plumas County, California. As with Big Bear Lake and other lakes of this area, Silver Lake's shape and existence is related to activities during the ice age. A board posted along a trail at Silver Lake informs:

Silver Lake is one of many cirque lakes in the Lakes Basin Area. It was formed as a glacier scooped out an area shaped like a bowl. The debris you see in the area (called a recessional moraine) was deposited as the glacier retreated and is responsible for retaining the waters of the lake. The lake has no inlet but is fed by snow melt and springs.

Getting there and more about Silver Lake
Silver Lake can be accessed via Bear Lake Trail, passing the sequence of Big Bear, Little Bear and Cub Lake, or via Round Lake. The Round Lake Trail and the connector to Bear Lake Trail are both starting at the parking lot near the Gold Lake Lodge. Also see the description of getting to Big Bear Lake.
More about Silver Lake from the posted information board: Elevation 6640 feet, surface area 11 acres, maximum depth 35 feet. Brook Trout is the predominate fish species.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Big Bear Lake in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area

Big Bear Lake is one of many lakes in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area. Big Bear Lake gets its water from Little Bear Lake nearby. Rainbow trout has been planted in the lake. On hot summer days, people like to jump in and swim in the lake. The Lakes Basin has its ice age history. Big Bear Lake and its surroundings still display signs of ice age activities, as an information board at the lake along the trail from the Gold Lake Lodge to Little Bear Lake and Cub Lake (you are in bear country after all) is pointing out:
The rocks in the background of the lake [in the picture] show striated surfaces caused by glacier movement. Fragments of rocks enclosed in the ice grind away at the bedrock and leave smoothed, grooved, or scratched surfaces.

Getting there and more about Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake can easily be reached from the Gold Lake Lodge or the Elwell Lakes Lodge, just off Gold Lake Highway in the Plumas National Forest, connecting Bassetts Station and Blairsden in the Northern Sierra Nevada in California. The lake is located at an elevation of 6475 feet and has a surface area of 24 acres and a maximum deepth of 50 feet, according to an information board at the lake shore. During and after a hot and dry summer, the latter two parameters can be expected to decrease.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Kelley's Tiger Lily at Horse Lake

Lilies can be found in various habitats of California between the coast and the high Sierra Nevada. The yellow to yellow-orange flowers of this lily were gently nodding in the warm summer winds on a July day at Horse Lake, east of the Pacific Crest. Some lily plants around this small lake were five feet high. Characteristic features are the nodding regular flowers with recurved, purple-spotted petals and dark magenta anthers at long downward-pointing stamens. Some flowers are pendant on undulating pedicels, as can be seen in a previously published picture. These observed features fit best with those given for the Sierra Lily, also called Tiger Lily or Kelley's Tiger Lily (Lilium kelleyanum).

For comparison of some yellow-flowered plants including lilies such as Alpine Lily (Lilium parvum), Sierra Lily (Lilium kelleyanum), and Leopard Lily or Panther Lily (Lilium pardalinum) see Yellowish Flowers and the Falcon Guide “Tahoe Wildflowers” by Laird R. Blackwell.
According to the respective USDA plant profiles, lilium species of the lily family follow this scientific classification:
Kingdom: Plantae - Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta - Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta - Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
Subclass: Liliidae
Order: Liliales
Family: Liliaceae - Lily family

Horse Lake between Upper Salmon and Deer Lake

Horse Lake is a small lake with surrounding wetland patches in the northern Sierra Nevada, located at an elevation around 7000 feet between Upper Salmon Lake and Deer Lake, California. Tiger lilies, as the one seen in front of the water, like the damp shores of this lake, which otherwise is surrounded by pine forest.

Getting there
See directions for Upper Salmon Lake Trail. Alternately, the Horse Lake can be reached via Deer Lake Trail, starting at Packer Lake Road (off Gold Lake Road), just before the northeastern end of Packer Lake.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Upper Salmon Lake Trail to Salmon Lake Lodge

Upper Salmon Lake is a reservoir in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area in Sierra County, California. This is a scenic place for picnicking, swimming, kayaking, boating and fishing. Hiking around the lake gets tricky at the south side, but is easy on the north side, where the Upper Salmon Lake Trail connects Salmon Lake Road with the Salmon Lake Lodge. In the beginning, the trail takes you well above the lake. To the left of the rock wall in the picture, the trail goes down to lake level and, after passing the Lodge area, continues on to the small Horse Lake and to Deer Lake, from where further trails connect with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Packer Lake Lodge area.

Getting there
From the Bassetts Station (between Sierra City and Sattley) on Hwy 49 along the North Fork of the Yuba River, take Gold Lake Highway. Go past Packer Lake Road and turn left on Salmon Lake Road. As soon as you can see the reservoir in front and to the left, look out for the Upper Salmon Lake Trailhead on the right side of the road. The hiking distance to the Salmon Lake Lodge area is a little more than one mile and from there to Horse Lake is 1/8 mile. Horse Lake to Deer Lake adds another mile.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Future Rim-to-Reno trail connecting Reno with Mt. Rose Summit and Tahoe Rim Trail

On July 6, 2009, the Reno Gazette-Journal featured a front page article reporting about plans to link Reno with the Mt. Rose Summit and Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT). The Reno-to-Rim or Rim-to-Reno Trail, which either way may be abbreviated as RRT or RtRT, could start at the Hunter Creek Trailhead in northwest Reno. Alternately (or additionally), TRT could be reached from Reno's Ballardini Ranch via a connector trail through Thomas Creek Canyon. In either case, the hiking distance from Reno to the Tahoe Rim Trail over the Mt. Rose or Mt. Houghton Summit will be almost 20 miles. To warm up for the long and steep climb into the Mt. Rose Wilderness, a year-round 10-mile loop trail in the Belli Ranch area (Belli Front Trail System) south of Mogul is also proposed. Comments are accepted until July 26 and can be submitted electronically via email to as simple message or as file in txt, rtf, or doc format (rim-reno-scoping).
The planned system of trails will not just offer new access to the backcountry, but will shape an interstate trail system, linking Nevada and California and its diverse habitats together for recreational and sustainable human activities.

More information and comment options
Jeff Delong: Trail proposal links Reno, Tahoe areas NationalForest Trail would Connect Reno, Tahoe National Forest Trail would Connect Reno, Tahoe Forest Service has plans for Rim to Reno Trail

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hunter Creek Trailhead currently under construction

The Hunter Creek Trailhead in southwest Reno will eventually be an access point to the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Currently, a dirt road into the area above the Steamboat Ditch is accessible from here. A board at the trailhead construction site, entitled The Ridges at Hunter Creek, informs:
Thank you for your patience and cooperation. The Ridges at Hunter Creek is hard at work constructing your trailhead. We share your enthusiasm for hiking in this beautiful wilderness and have dedicated a permanent trailhead that will serve as access into the Toiyabe National Forest and Steamboat Ditch Trail. Working with Washoe County Commissioner Jim Galloway, Washoe County Parks and Recreation, along with many interested citizen's groups for the past several years, we expect the first phase to be ready for use in the summer of 2008. There will also be a system of trails through the Ridges at Hunter Creek that links the trailhead to Caughlin Ranch so you can either hike or drive to the trailhead. In the meantime, your cooperation with Campbell Construction is appreciated. This will be a busy place with heavy equipment traffic and other hazards that could be dangerous so please avoid this area while the construction is proceeding. You will be pleased with the results.

Whenever the “meantime” will be over, this will be a busy place with hikers and bikers ready for the wilderness.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bruneau Sand Dune Hiking Trail

The Bruneau Dunes Trail is a five-mile-loop trail in Bruneau Dunes State Park, located in the Snake River Valley in Southern Idaho. The hike includes steep sand dune climbing. The dune began forming about 12,000 years ago, accumulating to a height of nearly 500 feet. It is now the highest sand dune in North America. From its crest you will have a peek into the 300-feet-bowl of the “Vortex Crater” as well as views of small surrounding lakes, rolling hills and patches of Russian Olive trees.
The trail starts at the visitor center and is indicated by white marker posts (numbered from 1 to 15). If not already in the dune area, you are able to see the dunes from almost everywhere on the trail. The visitor center can be seen from the dunes crest. Orientational guidance by view is excellent. However, sand hiking and climbing requires some more effort than walking other trails and many sections of the trail don't offer any shade. Expect intense sunshine and blowing sand. There are shortcuts to a park road, lake beaches, and rest areas. You may want to “design” your one loop or just hang out and watch other people struggling updune.

Locomotives at the Boise Depot in Idaho

You may not see it the first time while you are walking around Boise's Depot and the adjacent Platt Gardens, but watching your steps and looking at the pavement in front of the old Union Pacific Depot, you will discover a mosaic of name tiles and locomotive tiles. A real locomotive, Big Mike—a Mikado-type steam locomotive built in 1920—stands not far away. An information board shows and explains other types of locomotives, the earliest from 1860. It is interesting to notice the gap between 1950's Portland Rose and the What's Ahead labeled future train. The last Amtrak passenger train rolled out of Boise on May 10, 1997. Now, the Boise Depot is a museum and background for weddings and receptions. When will it be that we can get around and away by train again? Until then, we hike and bike!

Wilcox's Penstemon

Wilcox's Penstemon (Penstemon wilcoxii) of the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae) is a plant of the American Northwest, found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Lewis & Clark expedition collected Wilcox's Penstemon on May 20, 1806, near Camp Chopunnish, Idaho. The photography shows flowers from plants in the Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden in Boise, Idaho.

More on Wilcox's Penstemon
USDA plant profile: Penstemon wilcoxii Rydb. (Symbol: PEWI)
Canadian Rockies/Penstemon wilcoxii

Friday, May 29, 2009

Long-tailed Ginger leaves

Long-tailed ginger (Asarum caudatum) of the Birthwort Family (Aristolochiaceae) has been planted in the Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden of Boise's Idaho Botanical Garden, displaying plants described or collected by the Lewis & Clark expedition. Long-tailed ginger was described by Lewis on June 16, 1806, near Hungery Creek in present-day Idaho:

"Pott's legg which has been much swolen and inflamed for several days is much better this evening and gives him but little pain. We applied the pounded roots and leaves of the wild ginger, from which we found great relief."
Tea made from the roots was sipped for stomach pains by some Native Americans.

Long-tailed Ginger in Detail
Asarum caudatum: distribution, occurrence, fire ecology and more
USDA plant profile: Asarum caudatum Lindl.

Cascara Buckthorn leaves

The Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden of the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise features a collection of Cascara buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana) plants of the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). A specimen was collected by the Lewis & Clark expedition on May 29, 1806, near Camp Chopunnish along the Clearwater River in Idaho. An information board gives the fiollowing details:
Lewis noted: "A shrub apparently a species of Rhamnnus. About 12 feet high in clumps; fruit a 5-valved purple berry, which the natives eat and esteem highly..."
The bark was boiled and the tea (or syrup) was used by Native Americans tribes as a strong laxative. The bark was harvested in the fall. It was allowed to age before use because the fresh bark was considered to be nauseating.

More on Cascara Buckthorn

Habitat, range, description, usage of Rhamnus purshiana DC.
USDA Plants Profile, Frangula purshiana (DC.) Cooper (Cascara buckthorn)
VirginiaTech on Cascara buckthorn (symbol: FRPU7): Leaf, flower, fruit, twig, bark, form

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Munro's Globemallow

Munro's globemallow (Sphaeralcea munroano, Malvaceae) is a plant of the desert plains and the lower mountain areas of western North America (British Columbia to California). The Idaho Botanical Garden, where this picture was taken, has a nice display of globemallows within the Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden.

More about globemallows
USDA Plant's Profile/Munro's globemallow
Munro's (Orange) Globemallow at Moses Coulee
Plant Pollination Strategies: Globe mallow bee foraging for pollen on Munro's globemallow

Trails around and above the Old Penitentiary in Boise, Idaho

The picture shows the Old Penitentiary in Boise, seen from the botanical garden trail in the Lewis & Clark Nature Plant Garden. The construction of the prison began in 1870, seven years after Idaho became a new Territory of the United States. The first prisoners “helped” to construct some of the Penitentiary buildings. These and the enclosure walls were built from sandstone. You can walk through the quarries, where the sandstone was excavated. You'll find a network of trails, including the Old Stone Quarry Trail and Table Rock Trail, in the hills to the north and east of the Old Penitentiary and the Idaho Botanical Garden.

Pamphlet 3-2005, entitled Table Rock Trails. This and other pamphlets informing about Idaho's dinosaurs, trilobites, and shale deposits are available at the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology, 2455 Old Penitentiary Road, located at the right side of the Penitentiary in the picture (also see: .

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On the SculptureTrail: Sacajawea

A short uphill walk in the Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden of the Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho, takes you to a sculpture of the Native American woman Sacajawea, surrounded by plants of the American Northwest. Sacajawea's role in the Lewis & Clark expedition is explained on an interpretive board next to the sculpture:
Lewis and Clark met Sacajawea and her French Husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, at Fort Mandan when she was about sixteen years old. An Agaidika (Shoshone of the Lemhi Band or “salmon-eater”), she had been captured by Hidatsa several years before near present-day Three Forks, Montana. On February 11, 1805, she gave birth to her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Sacajawea left with her family on the expedition on April 7 as an “interpretess” for her people. The Shoshone owned the horses the expedition needed to cross the mountains between the end of the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. Sacajawea translated for the expedition not only to acquire horses from her own tribe, but also at the Flathead, Nez Perce, and Walla Walla villages.

Whether you walk back the way you came or take the “wilderness trail” down to the garden of “fire-resistant” plants, you may want to spend some time reflecting on all the plants (about 200), described by the Lewis & Clark expedition and new to western science, but well known and used by Native Americans long before.

Pillars of Rome in Southeast Oregon

The Pillars of Rome are fascinating grayish-brown-looking white bluffs in Malheur County in Oregon. These rock formations cover a roughly 5 miles long and 2 miles wide area near the Owyhee river. There are no marked trails. The pillars can be approached from various sides. Their clay-based structures, however, are brittle, like those of Roman ruins, and rocks may fall down at ant time. Fallen rocks, now covered with yellow-golden lichen, are laying around at the base. Caves and bird nests can be spotted at different altitudes of the pillar walls.

Getting there
Already a landmark for early pioneers of the Oregon Trail, crossing the Owyhee river nearby, today one still needs to rely on visual identification of this imposing structure: There are no obvious signposts guiding potential visitors. No via colonna. Once arrived in Rome
on route 95 between Burns Junction and Jordan Valley, take the well-maintained dirt road across the Rome store. Follow this road in northwest direction for about 2 miles, turn right, and then turn left. At this point you already should see the towering formation. Continue on to the west and park your car in a respectful distance from the pillars.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tompkins Memorial Trail around Northstar

Tompkins Memorial Trail (TMT) is a High-Sierra pine forest trail, easily accessible from the Village at Northstar. The trail is surrounding Northstar. Although the trail is never far away from Northstar condominiums, you still get the impression of hiking through forest. There are trail sections with views to the Northstar downhill skiing slopes or into Martis Valley. TMT is part of a trail network, connecting, for example, to Martis Creek Trail.

Getting there. From route 267 in California between Truckee and Kings Beach, take the Northstar exit and follow Northstar Drive to Northstar Village. The parking area is to your left before passing or getting into the village.
The trailhead is nearby at the corner of Northstar Drive and Big Springs Drive. Benches and trail map postings can be found at various TMT sites.

Further Information: Northstar Community Services District/Trails

Monday, April 6, 2009

A whale-watching iguana

The rocky coast at the tip of Baja California offers good places for whale watching. Obviously, not only humans are monitoring the blue surface of the sea. From the landscaped terrace of the Hilton resort between Cabos San Lucas and San José, this iguana enjoys the view as much as hotel visitors and guests.
Iguanas are not shy. They may hang out with you for a long time and even watch your belongings, while you are going for a hike along the beach.

Interesting Iguana Links
West Coast Iguana Research
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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pineapple face at fair in San José Del Cabo

Each year on March 19, San José del Cabo celebrates the feast of its patron saint. This festival features a fair, music, and dancing. This year's festival started just before sunset on March 18, with a band playing in front of the mission and a clown entertaining children from the main stage. The pineapple face shown here was just one curiosity to be found at the fair stands on Mijares Boulevard.

Centro Historico San José Del Cabo

The historical downtown of San José del Cabo in Baja California is a pedestrian friendly neighborhood.

Downtown San José has a main square with shaded benches and narrow streets lined with flowering trees. Artsy and colorful buildings, sculptures, wall paintings, interestingly placed tiles and mosaics are waiting to be discovered. The tile composition over the mission portal (lower right picture), however, is less joyful. It illustrates the killing of Father Nicolás Tamaral during a rebellion of the native people in 1734—about four years after Jesuit missionaries, including him, founded the mission in April 1730 to establish a haven for commercial ships in the Cabos region.

Gastropod shells from the Estero San José beach

The Estero San José and the Sea of Cortez are in some places separated by only a thin bar of sand. One can find shells on both sides of the sand bar. At one of the last winter days, this hand full of mollusk shells was taken from the many shells laying all the way along the lagoon next to the water line. The elongated spires of the shell sculpture show both spiral and axial lines. All shells were found to be dextral: when facing the observer, they have their aperture (the opening through which the mollusk's foot and head protrudes in living animals) on the right side of the axis around which the spiral lines are winding anti-clockwise towards the apex.
Since the lagoon receives freshwater from the Rio San José, the shells should belong to some gastropod species that do well in a habitat with fresh or less salty water. I wonder how much salt water they can tolerate after big waves will have flooded the lagoon with a large amount of sea water?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Estero San José

Paseo San José, the boulevard with the beach hotels at the Bahía San José del Cabo, ends—east of town—after passing this fountain (left picture) and turns into a path leading to beaches and the Estero San José (right picture). This is a natural freshwater estuary. The Perícúe Indians were settling here in the past. The estuary, with over 250 species of birds, is a protected ecological reserve.

Find out more:
San Jose Estuary by Bob Chamlee
A walk in the Estuary

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pelicans and vultures in Baja California

In March of this year, we saw a large number of brown pelicans at the beach between the Pacific Ocean and the lagoon of the bird sanctuary in Todos Santos, Mexico. Pelicans are not the only birds in this area. Over 70 bird species are said to live here or come (like us) as seasonal visitors. Looking upward to the sky, we saw many other birds flying around and surveying the area: vultures. In fact, on the trail between the lagoon and the rocky slope, we passed a few spots covered with several dead pelicans. So, the vultures shouldn't be such a surprise.
Why were there so many dead pelicans. Natural Death? Pollution? Or domoic acid from toxic diatom blooms? In the literature, I found an article reporting and analyzing the massive death of Pelecanus occidentalis in January 1996, at the tip of the Baja California peninsula [1]. This study relates the described event of sea bird death to the fact that pelicans were feeding on mackerel contaminated by domoic acid-producing diatoms. Domoic acid, a neurotoxin, can bioaccumulate in marine organisms that feed on phytoplankton. Thus, sea food can become harmful for sea birds. But I don't know if this explains what we see in Todos Todos.
Fortunately, the blanket of healthy looking pelicans at the beach seemed much larger than the spots of dead ones.

[1] A. S. Beltrán, M. Palafox-Uribe, J. Grajales-Montiel, A. Cruz-Villacorta and J. L. Ochoa: Sea bird mortality at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: Evidence that toxic diatom blooms are spreading. Toxicon 1997, 35 (3), pp. 447-453. DOI: 10.1016/S0041-0101(96)00140-7

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brown pelican at beach of Todos Santos

This brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is standing at the beach of Todos Santos in Baja California, Mexico. It has its neck and head folded back, relaxing in a bill-on-body posture. This is the same head position with which pelicans can be seen during their flights. They keep their necks and heads folded back on their shoulders while cruising the coast or sailing over the water.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pelican colony at beach in Todos Santos

The oasis and old mission town of Todos Santos at the Pacific Coast in Baja California was off-the-beaten-path for a long time until a paved road was built in the 1980s to connect Todos Santos with La Paz. While human migration through and presence in the Todos Santos area is relatively recent, whale and bird migration is going on for a long time. The lagoon and bird sanctuary of Todos Santos is a resting and nesting stop for migrating birds. The picture shows a colony of brown pelicans at the beach between the lagoon and the ocean. Although this coastal bird species is named brown pelican, it often looks more grayish-brown. Two-weeks-old pelicans are covered with white down, turning darker while they get older.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Brown pelicans and brown noddies feeding on fish together

The brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is the only pelican species known to catch fish by divebombing. Upon emerging from a dive, a pelican shakes the water from its plumage and drains the water from its pouch to be able to swallow the fish. Brown pelicans of the Galápagos Islands are often followed by brown or common noddies (Anous stolidus), tropical seabirds of the tern family. The behavioral scientist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt reports the following from his Galápagos expedition:
After a pelican caught fish, a brown noddy was landing on his head and tried to get a piece of the pelican's catch. With each catch, a pelican picks up many litres [over a gallon] of water into his flexible pouch. It releases this water by slightly opening its bill, while pointing the bill downward. Only thereafter, a pelican can swallow the remaining fish. During this procedure, the brown noddy is waiting for the pelican to open its bill, hoping to prey on some pieces while the pelican is tossing and swallowing its catch.
Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt: Galápagos. Die Arche Noah im Pazifik. 2. Auflage, Piper Verlag GmbH, München, Mai 2001; pages 369-371. Cited text freely translated from German by Axel Drefahl.

Keywords: brown noddy, brown pelican, pouch, divebombing, fish catch
Stichwörter: Braune Seeschwalbe, braune Pelikan, Kehlsack, Stoßtauchen, Fischbeute

Watching pelicans and sea lions

Pelicans and sea lions can be watched from both sides of the surf. Hiking a coastal trail or beach in California will give you a good chance to find a neighborhood with both species. John Steinbeck reports his observation of pelicans and a sea lion from a boat off-shore:
The Western Flyer [...] rolled heavily and straightened. The north wind drove down on our tail, and we headed south [from Monterey] with the big swells growing under us and passing, so that we seemed to be standing still. A squadron of pelicans crossed our bow, flying low to the waves and acting like a train of pelicans tied together, activated by one nervous system. For they flapped their powerful wings in unison, coasted in unison. It seemed that they tipped a wavetop with their wings now and then, and certainly they flew in the troughs of the waves to save themselves from the wind. They did not olok around or change direction. Pelicans seem always to know exactly where they are going. A curious sea-lion came out to look us over, a tawny, crusty old fellow with rakish mustaches and the scars of battle on his shoulders. He crossed our bow too and turned and paralleled our course, trod water, and looked at us. Then, satisfied, he snorted and cut for shore and some sea-lion appointment. They always have them, it's just a matter of getting around to keeping them.

John Steinbeck: The Log From the Sea of Cortez. Penguin Books, New York, 1995 (originally published by The Viking Press in the United States of America in 1941); page 26.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Good-bye whales!

Like almost every place along the coast of the Californias, Todos Santos in Baja California is a town with an eye on migrating whales. In spring, humpback and gray whales are on their way north. The children of Todos Santos celebrate the seasonal departure of the whales with colorful paintings. The painting above shows just two of the beautifully illustrated whales—as a child sees or imagines them— exhibited at the Casa de la Cultura. The exhibit, that includes further educational information on whale biology, is introduced with the following words (in Spanish):
Festival de despedida de temporada de Ballena de Gris Y Jorobada en Todos Santos

A brown painting of a pelican

Brown pelicans are part of the life at beaches and in coastal towns of Baja California. This pelican has been painted on a wall in the entryway of the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) in el centro (downtown) San José del Cabo, Mexico.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On the sculpture trail: Giraffes in San José del Cabo

Giraffes at an unexpected location: These two long-necked animals are standing at a corner of the Plaza Mijares in downtown San José del Cabo, Baja California, Mexico. The plaza and its neighborhood is a pedestrian-friendly (and obviously giraffe-friendly) part of town.

On the sculpture trail: commemoration sculpture

This sculpture stands in front of the de Young Museum in the Golden Gate Park of San Francisco at the spot, according to its placard, where the “first shovel full of earth was turned with ceremonies on August 24-th, 1893.” The sculpture has been placed in commemoration of the Inauguration of the CALIFORNIA MIDWINTER INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION.
The copper- and-brass sheathed building of the de Young Museum and its tower with the observation platform can be seen in the background.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the sculpture trail: without fear near the sphere

A sphere is not a sphere. Not, if you inspect spheres sculptured by the Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro (born in 1926 in Morciano in Italy, now living and working in Milan). Pomodoro's spheres open up and show a fascinating inner life. They can be found in various places. The Sfera (the Italian word for sphere), shown here, is located next to the de Young Museum in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. There, this Sfera #2 bronze sculpture from 1963 joins other sculptures in an inspiring outdoor setting. Walk around the sphere and let your eyes walk around and inside the sphere. Imagine being an ant, crawling all over and inside the sphere and experiencing an infinite number of trails!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On the sculpture trail: Joggers in Davis

Joggers can be seen alone or in groups. In downtown Davis, California, you can find a pair—a man and a woman jogging in opposite directions without moving away from each other. They are The Joggers, a sculpture by Anthony Natsoulas. These two life-sized bronze figures were commissioned by the City of Davis in 1986 as part of the Art in Public Places Program.
I wonder, where the female jogger is pointing at?