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.