Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On the sculpture trail: frog in the snow

This frog is sitting on a wall next to the entrance of an elementary school complex. The name of the school can be read in the frog's background: Schule am Baumschulenweg, written in colorful letters by school children.

The Schule am Baumschulenweg is a school of the city of Bremen in northern Germany. Brick walls and concrete floors are often the dominating features of German school buildings and adjacent sites. However, times are changing (or have changed already). This school gets kids actively involved in nature project. The concrete yard is turned into a nature playground, in which kids are introduced to environmental topics and to natural science. After all, Baumschule means tree nursery.

Getting there
From the central station, take the light-rail line number 6 going to the University. Exit at the intersection Emmastrasse/H.-H.-Meier-Allee. Walk along the H.-H.-Meier-Allee in northeast direction past the post office. The frog and school entrance is less than 5 minutes away, depending on fresh-snow accumulation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On the sculpture trail: Heini Holtenbeen in Bremen's medieval Schnoor district

Heini Holtenbeen is walking through the snow looking for a table. This is a bronze sculpture to be found at the corner “Hinter der Holzpforte” in Bremen's Schnoor. The sculptor is Klaus Homfeld (also: Claus Homfeld) [1], who created realistic art work displayed at various locations in northern Germany.

Heini Holtenbeen was a real person. His real name was Jürgen Heinrich Keberle (1835-1909) [2,3]. The story goes that he fell out of a skylight window and, since then, his way of walking was impaired. Hence, his nickname: the Lower German (Plattdeutsch) name Holtenbeen means Holzbein in Standard German (Hochdeutsch)—stiff leg in English. Or does holten relate to halten—to rest or stop? There were other oddities about him strolling through the narrow streets of his Schnoor neighborhood. Around lunch time, he placed himself at the entrance of the cotton exchange building (Baumwollbörse), where he eased the in-going traders from their half-smoked cigarettes. There was no smoking allowed inside the cotton exchange.

An herbal liquer has been named in honor of this original fellow. Good to know that a bitter spirit —and not a brand of cigarettes—is carrying his nickname. Zum Wohl!

References and more to explore
[1] Als K
ünstler immer im Unruhestand. Bildhauer Claus Homfeld.
Die Geschichte von Heini Holtenbeen und dem Kräuterlikör. www.heiniholtenbeen.de/geschichte_krauterlikoer.php.
Jürgen Heinrich Keberle (1835-1909). www.bremer-geschichtenhaus.de/de/ausstellung/heini-holtenbeen.html.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lichen back from space

These lichen samples were shown to the public at the COSPAR 2010 Meeting (www.cospar2010.org) this summer in Bremen, Germany. The lichen has an interesting history of traveling. In June 2005, it was send into space with BIOPAN (‘biological pan’) mounted externally to a Russian re-entry capsule. BIOPAN is a multi-user facility, which can be opened in space by telecommand to expose biological samples to the “local” conditions.

The lichen samples in the picture were exposed to the full spectrum of solar light including UV, cosmic rays, space vacuum, microgravity and extreme temperatures. Their BIOPAN container was closed and hermetically sealed during re-entry and return to Earth.

The lichens survived their exposure to space conditions during a two-week flight and resumed their metabolism on Earth. Although lichens live and thrive in harsh planetary environments such as desert rocks in Nevada, their space survival is a surprise. In the past, some scientist (and science fiction authors) have argued that lichens and other organisms might arrived on Earth via “space flight.” The current findings give more credit to such possibilities. But what natural system achieves the critical protection for organisms to enter the atmosphere from outer space and reach Earth's surface intact?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A silvery whale in Bremen

At a hasty glance, this shiny building may be mistaken for a giant whale. Actually, the silvery construction is housing the Universum Science Center Bremen. It was designed by architect Thomas Klumpp. The Universum features a permanent exhibition and frequently adds special exhibitions. The concept is hands-on experiencing of nature and technology.

The Universum is located near the University of Bremen. This area has been a wetland, and still is. Various narrow trails can be found between buildings, ponds, canals, and beer gardens. Small nature preserves, study areas and the city forest (Bremer Stadtwald) are nearby. Students as well as Bremer (city residents) and visitors come her for jogging, biking, swimming, surfing, paddling, rowing, horse riding, kite flying and live music events. This former, frequently flooded lowland has turned into a multiverse—for real.

More on locatation, exhibits and events
Address: Universum Bremen, Wiener Str. 1 a, 28359 Bremen.
Getting there: From the airport or the central station, take light rail No. 6, exit at the “Naturwissenschaften 2” stop and walk (less than 5 min.) to the Wiener Str./Unversitätsallee intersection.
About the Universum: http://universum-bremen.de/en/home/about-us.html.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On the sculpture trail: “Pair” by Mareike Seegers in Bremen's Teerhof district

Bremen's Teerhof district is just a few steps away from the Schlachte. A walk over the pedestrian bridge (Teerhofbrücke), crossing the Weser river, gets you to the Teerhof “peninsula.” The sculpture “Paar” (meaning pair in English) by Mareike Seegers is located next to the pedestrian alley along the peninsula axis between the modern red-brickstone buildings.

The compositum Teerhof literally means tar court. In the past, ships were here tarred and equipped with what ever it needed to make them sea-going. The historical district got mostly destroyed during World War II. Today's Teerhof, reconstructed with the historic architecture in mind, combines apartment and office buildings—and art. Teerhof's “Neue Museum Weserburg” (The Museum in the River) is a modern art museum, which opened in the year 1991 and is collecting and presenting international and contemporary art.

More about the artist and her work
Paar von Mareike Seegers (1998) - auf dem Teerhof: http://fotos-bilder.de/Bremen/neustadt/page-0009.htm.
[2] Künstler - Mareike Seegers-Herenda: http://www.atelier-brandt-credo.de/seegers_herenda.html.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

River walk in northern Germany: Bremen's Schlachte

The city of Bremen in northern Germany features river walks—promenades as well as bike trails—along the Weser river. The paths and trails pass the downtown area and go beyond the city limits into the state of Lower Saxony. They are typically well-marked with signposts giving directions, location names and distances in kilometers (km).

Allthough Bremen is located about 50 km south from where the Weser meets the North Sea, the river through the city still experiences tides. Until the construction of the new port (the Freihafen) between 1884 and 1888, goods from overseas were shipped to the Schlachte, which is seen in the picture and now is a historical harbour destrict with pubs (Biergärten in summer), businesses and landing sites for theater, restaurant and tourist boats.

Two information boards, one in English and one in German, explain that the original structure of die Schlachte did not survive World War II. Major renewal work has been done at the end of the last century and the Schlachte was reopened in 2000. For over six hundred years this was the harbour of the Hanseatic League port Bremen. Beginning in the eighteenth century, however, sea-going ships couldn't access the Schlachte due to natural silting processes in the Weser. This didn't stop commercial activity and trading. Barges were carrying goods along the final river stretch to town.

Getting there
The Schlachte is located between the Wilhelm-Kaisen-Brücke and the Bürgermeister-Smidt Brücke (two bridges). From the city hall (Rathaus), stroll across the market place and through the narrow Böttcherstraße. At the end of this lovely alley you'll find an underground passage leading to the boat tour terminal (Martini Anleger, next to the church, Martinikirche, in the picture). The Schlachte is to the north. You can walk on different levels. The lower level is occasionally flooded when high tides and winter storms converge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the sculpture trail: curved horns, flutings and spirals

This sheep head with beautifully curved horns, flutings and engravings belongs to a bronze sculpture located at the entrance of the McKinley Park School in Reno, Nevada. A floor panel informs:
Artist: Brad Rude
Sheep Name: Mountaintop
Sponsor: SBC Nevada Bell
Donated to: The City of Reno

As the spiral on the neck of the nude sheep indicates, this creation is more than a sculpture. Mountaintop's surface is enamel painted with abstract motifs as well as real ones such as a mountain lion head (I think it is) and a man in a boat. Brad Rude incorporates other animals (dogs, horses, cows, rhinos and lion), wildlife and nature in his sculptural fantasies and paintings.

Getting to the McKinley Arts & Culture Center
From I-80, take the Keystone exit, drive south on Keystone Avenue and go past its intersection with Fourth Street. You'll see the Center to your left, just before Keystone continues on over the Truckee River. Address: 925 Riverside Drive. The Center and its parking lots occupy a city block bounded by Riverside Drive, Vine Street, Jones Street and Keystone Avenue. The sculpture stands in the entrance/courtyard facing south towards the Truckee River.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Off the trail, through the air … ouch!

Truckee in California is getting ready for Halloween. Wizards and witches keep flying in. But flying into Truckee can be tricky. This witch took an unexpected path and got stuck. By looking at her boots, you can tell that hiking wasn't her thing. At least, she found a nice look-out spot—but, my guess is, her glasses are broken, if nothing else.

Where else does one want to get stuck, if not in Truckee?

Getting there, finding her
Go to the intersection of Donner Pass Rd and Bridge St in central Truckee. Look around for the party (actually a line) of white ghosts. That's where the pole dance on a broomstick is happening. You might discover other curiosities as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

At the edge of the Truckee River canyon along the Sawtooth Trail

The Sawtooth Trail is located in the Tahoe National Forest south of Truckee in California. I am not sure if the trail is named after the many U-curves along its path or after some of the tooth-shaped rocks at the edge of the Truckee River canyon. Anyway, there are nice views from the canyon edge of the trail. Other sections of the trail loop through Jeffrey pine and white fir forest and manzanita areas. Mountain bikers love the curvy nature of the trail.

Getting to the trailheads
From the intersection of Donner Pass Road and Bridge Street in downtown Truckee, drive south on Bridge, cross the railroad track and continue until the road bends eastward and continues as Brockway Road. Turn right at Palisades Drive, which continues as Ponderosa Drive by making a slight left turn. Pass Pine Cove Road to your right and then take Silverfir Drive. Go west for less than half a mile and turn left at Thelin Drive. After 0.1 mile take 06 Fire Road on the right, pass the steel gate and drive to the beginning of the dirt road, where you'll see the first parking area and trailhead. There are other Sawtooth Trail access points further south, which you can reach by car if you follow the dirt road. The trail itself is a well-marked single-track trail.

Maps and trail review
[1] Map with Truckee dirt trails: http://www.truckeetrails.org/trails.php?TrailID=11&type=Dirt.
[2] Sawtooth trail: http://www.yelp.com/biz/sawtooth-trail-truckee.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thornburg Canyon Trail southwest of Markleeville, California

The Thornburg Canyon Trail connects Markleeville with the Pacific Crest Trail and the Upper and Lower Blue Lake area in the Mokelumne Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. For an out-and-back day trip, the trail section between the trailhead east of Markleeville (see below) and a scenic saddle about five miles to the west is a good selection. This hike has been classified as moderate [1]. But you may find yourself as the only lonely hiker or group for the day on this not so frequently visited trail. It is easy to get lost, since the trail is nowhere marked and rows of fallen trees can make it difficult to keep track.

Along the trail, you'll find magnificent views down into Pleasant Valley and up towards rock pinnacles and walls with caves. From the saddle, you'll see the characteristic volcanic-plug column of Jeff Davis Peak. With the exception of the saddle area, most sections of the trail go through pine and hemlock forest and a small part cuts through manzanita-covered slopes.

Getting to the Thornburg Canyon trailhead from Markleeville
Drive west on Hot Springs Road and, after about one mile, turn left to follow Pleasant Valley Road to Sawmill Road. Drive to the end of Sawmill Road, take the dirt road FS 071 and follow Spratt Creek. The unpaved road crosses the Creek a few times. Depending on the clearance of your vehicle and the time of the year, you may chose to find a parking spot and continue by walking or to drive all the way to the closed steel gate and the Thornburg Canyon Trail board, where the trail begins for non-motorized traffic and where you'll find a booklet to sign in for a visitor permit.

[1] “Thornburg Canyon” on pages 290 and 291 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trails of climate change: bristlecone pine trees

Bristlecone pines can live for thousands of years. Some Great Basin bristlecone pines (Pinus longaeva) are around for over 4,000 years [1]; the record holder is about 4,840 years old [2]. By hiking in areas with stands of bristlecone pines, one easily gets the Methuselah impression by simply looking at the trees, such as the ancient pine shown and photographed a few years ago in the Patriarch Grove of the White Mountains northeast of Owens Valley in California.

Pinus longaeva is found in high-mountains regions from eastern California through south and southeast Nevada to Utah (map on page 3 in [1]). Getting that old, these pines have experienced climate changes long before humans took notes. But the trees keep record—indirectly, at least. The wider an annual growth ring, the faster the growth in that year. Dendrochronologists can thus relate speed of tree growth with time and dates. Further, a significant correlation between tree-ring width and mean air temperature has been found for pines at the tree line [2]. Interestingly, pines at the tree line in California and Nevada developed wider rings during the second half of the 20th century than during any other fifty-year period of the past 3,700 years. Since only pines at the tree line show this pattern, it is difficult to disentangle various factors such as temperature (milder climate), humidity (wetter weather), and carbon dioxide content of the air, which may all contribute to the reported faster growth of the otherwise slow-growing trees. Overall, bristlecone trees seem to benefit from global warming effects and may outlive humans. But the trees are good survivors without global or local warming as well!

Keywords: botany, forests, tree line, longevity, survivability, Pinaceae

References and further reading
[1] Ronald M. Lanner:
The Bristlecone BookA Natural History of the World's Oldest Trees. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana, 2007.
[2] S.R.:
Fine Times for Pines. Natural History October 2010, 119 (1), page 12.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Go gulling and check out your gullability

A gull is a gull—but what kind? About fifty gull species (Larus spp.) are recognized worldwide and around twenty species visit or live in places in California such as the San Francisco Bay Area [1]. The current Bay Nature issue features an instructively illustrated table of nine seagull species [2], providing an excellent source for comparing gull species as adults as well as in their first, second and third year. During the first years the plumage typically changes from brown to the gray or white color that gull feathers show in maturity. Successful gulling depends on the description of shape, color and patterns of the bills. Differences are nicely illustrated in the “gull-ability table.”

The Western gull and the California gull nest in the Bay area, where they are seen year-round [1]. Others are seasonal residents such as Heermann's gull (Larus heermanni), which mostly stays in S. F. Bay habitats during summer and fall months. This bird species is named after physician and naturalist Adolphus Lewis Heermann (1827-1865) [3], who also is remembered in the name Dipodomys heermanni for the Morro Bay kangaroo rat. Names of other gull species indicate size (Bonaparte's gull), bill features (ring-billed gull) and diet (Herring gull). Some species interbreed, challenging our gullability even further.

Keywords: ornithology, avian species, migratory birds, birding

References and further gulling
[1] Joe Eaton:
A Squabble of GullsGrudging Respect for Hardy Survivors. Bay Nature October-December 2010, pp. 30-35.
http: baynature.org/articles/oct-dec-2010/a-squabble-of-gulls
[2] John Muir Laws:
Test Your Gull Ability. Bay Nature October-December 2010, page 36.
[3] Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins and Michael Grayson: The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2009; page 183.

Friday, October 1, 2010

September brush fire leaving Huffacker hillsides blackened

In the middle of September in 2010 a brush fire swept through parts of the Huffacker Hills in Reno, Nevada. These hills are in close neighborhood to residential and business districts of southeast Reno, just south of the Rattlesnake Mountain, and provide popular spots (benches and picnic tables) and short trails for a lunch-time break. During spring time wildflowers such as the Beckwith Violet are abundant.

During and after the fire the trailhead parking lot at Alexander Lake Road was closed for the public and reserved for fire fighting crews. No causes have been reported and the trailhead area and all trails are open again. The currently blackened hillsides will temporarily be covered by snow during the coming winter month. Thereafter, lack or appearance of next spring's wildflowers should indicate, if the fire has caused long-term damage or some soil regeneration effect.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Boca Cemetery Loop Trail

The Boca Cemetry Trail is a short interpretive trail, located south of the Boca Reservoir at the mouth of the Truckee River and the Little Truckee River in the Sierra Nevada in California. The name Boca (Spanish for mouth) is derived from this junction feature. Here, the town of Boca was established during the Comstock mining days.

Photographs on the display boards along the trail show the Boca Hotel, Boca Brewery and a residential area of the former town. Very few remains are left. The trail loops around some head stones of Boca's graveyard. Odd relics are hiding between rabbit brushes. On my last visit, one rusty and compressed bucket gave off strange noises, indicating that something was active inside. Maybe a lizard? I didn't want to find out.

Whereas other ghost town cemeteries of the west, such as the Rose Hill Cemetery between the Nortonville and Somersville townsites north of Mount Diablo, are accessible and visible all year round, the old Boca cemetery is covered by snow for a variable number of month each winter and spring. There is always a good chance that the first snow storm of the winter season will arrive on an October day before Halloween.

Getting there, getting around
Between Truckee and Reno on Highway I-80, take the Hirschdale/Boca-Stampede exit. Drive north in Boca Reservoir direction. Cross the Truckee river and continue between river and railroad tracks. After crossing the railroad tracks, you'll see the trailhead sign and parking area to your right. The trail is paved and wheel chair accessible. There are two benches and various interpretive boards along the trail.

Reference and more on Boca's history
Boca Cemetery Resoration Project, May 29, 2004. http://www.k9forensic.org/boca.html.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels on and around Mount Tallac

Chipmunks are a common sight along trails in the Lake Tahoe and Mt. Tallac area, including the trail from Cathedral Lake to the top of Mt. Tallac. Since nearby D. L. Bliss State Park on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe is considered “the chipmunk capital of the world ”[1]—a moniker which only chipmunks understand—, it should come as no surprise that one encounters so many representatives of the squirrel family in these places during a summer hike. Chipmunks and squirrels are very similar. Especially the golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis) resembles an oversize chipmunk [2] and is often mistaken for one. All the squirrel species like to eat seeds, nuts, berries and insects as well as trail mix or cookie crumbles that hikers drop or leave behind. The golden-mantled ground squirrel differs from a chipmunk in not having facial stripes. It has one white stripe on each body side, which is bordered by an upper and lower black stripe. The curious little mammal in the picture, one of so many recently seen jumping the rocks and cracks of the Mt. Tallac peakscape, should be a golden-mantled ground squirrel, based on stripe counting. Whether chipmunk or squirrel, they were all cute and attracted the attention of hikers, who foremost climbed to this spot for the vistas of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe.

References and further reading
[1] Tom Stienstra:
California WildlifeA Practical Guide. Avalon Travel Publishing, Inc., Eneryville, California, USA, 2000.
[2] Peter Alden and Fred Heath:
Field Guide to California. Chanticleer Press, Inc., New York, 1998.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

View of Desolation Valley and Crystal Range from Mount Tallac

Mt. Tallac, with an elevation of above 9,700 feet, is a dominant Sierra Nevada mountain peak and part of the magnificent scenery that surrounds Lake Tahoe. It is located on the Californian side of the lake, south of Emerald Bay. From the Mt. Tallac Trailhead the mountaintop is about 5 hiking miles away. After some initial climbing, the trail first follows the crest of a morainal ridge with views of Fallen Leaf Lake and continues on to Floating Island Lake and Cathedral Lake. From there, it takes another 2.5 miles of hiking and climbing to the top. The trail goes through open forest, shrub-covered terrain and over rocky slopes. Watch your steps over the rough rocks near the top before you start taking in the 360° panorama view including Lake Tahoe and the peaks of the Carson Range. The view to the west (see picture) crosses Desolation Valley with its many lakes towards the Crystal Range.

Reference and further reading
Mt. Tallac” on pages 166 and 167 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.

Gateway to Mt. Tallac: Cathedral Lake

Cathedral Lake is a small lake between Fallen Leaf Lake and Mt. Tallac in the Desolation Wilderness of the Sierra Nevada in California. Cathedral Lake is located about half a mile south of Floating Island Lake. If your hiking route to the top of Mt. Tallac starts near Fallen Leaf Lake, either at the Mt. Tallac Trailhead parking lot (see Between Mount Tallac and Fallen Leaf Lake) or at the Fallen Leaf Tract of summer homes, Cathedral Lake is on your way and will make a nice resting place before you leave the dense forest and begin the ascend over shrub-covered and rocky slopes.

Reference and further reading
Floating Island & Cathedral Lakes” on pages 165 and 166 in Mike White's hiking guide Afoot & Afield • Reno-Tahoe • A comprehensive hiking guide. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd printing November 2008.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Floating Island Lake west of Fallen Leaf Lake

Floating Island Lake is a small lake between Mount Tallac and Fallen Leaf Lake. Mt. Tallac can be seen towering in the lake background as well as a reflection on the surface of the lake, which is surrounded by fir forest. Floating Island Lake is about 1.25 miles south from the Mt. Tallac Trailhead northwest of the Fallen Leaf Lake.
The Floating Island Lake Trail goes along the east-side shoreline of the lake. It connects the Mt. Tallac Trailhead with the intersection at which another trail arrives from the southern end of Fallen Leaf Lake. From this intersection, Cathedral Lake is only a few hiking minutes away.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rubicon Point's Lighthouse at Lake Tahoe

Lighthouses typically are tall structures that can be seen from far away during times of day light—although their modus operandi is to be recognized at night by lantern light. In contrast, Rubicon Point's Light House is a small building, which is difficult to spot from land or lake. It is hiding between trees on a steep, rocky slope at the coast along the southwest corner of Lake Tahoe between Emerald Bay and Rubicon Bay. The current structure of the Rubicon Point Lighthouse was stabilized and preserved in 2001, after the elegant old structure, acquired by the State of California in 1929, was vandalized and nearly destroyed.
Read more about the lighthouse history of Lake Tahoe at the interpretive boards at the light house or trailhead. Excerpts are given here:
In 1916 the U.S. Congress appropriated funds to construct navigational lamps at Lake Tahoe. The decision followed three years of requests by the Lake Tahoe Protective Association. Construction of the Rubicon Point Lighthouse took place in 1919 under the direction of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Lighthouse Service.

Rubicon Point was originally one of four navigational lamps on Lake Tahoe. The light was built at a cost of $900.00. A flashing 70 candle power light was visible for seven miles.

Getting there, hiking around
From Highway 89 between South Tahoe and Tahoe City, a few miles north of Emerald Bay, enter the D. L. Bliss State Park. From the Visitor Center, drive north and park to the right at the Lighthouse trailhead (quick access) or continue on, all the way through the camp ground, until you reach the parking area for Lester Beach, the Rubicon Trail and the Lighthouse Trail. From there, take the o.3 mile trail that ascends to the light house. Instead of returning the same way, continue on in southward direction until you meet the Rubicon Trail, on which you may return or hike further above and along the lake shore for about four miles to get to Emerald Point and Vikingsholm at the head of Emerald Bay.

Balancing Rock Nature Trail in Bliss State Park at Lake Tahoe

The Balancing Rock Nature Trail, a half-mile loop trail, is located in D. L. Bliss State Park at Lake Tahoe in California. While driving north on Highway 89 from Emerald Bay to Tahoe City, you'll pass by along Bliss SP before getting to Rubicon Bay, but probably will not see the Balancing Rock from the highway, although it is very close by. However, the hiking trail inside the park, named after this natural rock sculpture, loops around the weathering granite structure. In fact, the overlying rock is not balancing, it is fixed to the underlying granite. As the erosion process continues, the upper rock will “loose its balance” at some point in the future, maybe during a Tahoe Area earthquake, and will fall downhill. Following the loop trail downward into the small creek, you are able to see the place, where the rock and its split-offs might come to rest. The loop trail offers various views of the rock from above and below and from all different angles. There are also views of Lake Tahoe and Rubicon Peak. The biosphere of the trail includes pine trees, manzanitas and ferns.

Getting there
From Highway 89 enter the D.L. Bliss State Park at the Visitor Center and drive to the camp ground in the north part of the park until you arrive at a signpost directing you to the trailhead. The trailhead parking lot is also used as an overflow parking area for the camp ground. If you are staying at the camp ground, you may consider walking or biking to the trailhead.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tomales Bay Trail to Giacomini Wetland and Lagunitas Creek

The Tomales Bay Trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers access to the southern end of Tomales Bay. From the trailhead, it is about a mile, slightly downhill, to the wetland and saltwater areas. The photography shows the view along Lagunitas Creek, meeting Tomales Bay. Fog is moving inland from the west over the Point Reyes National Seashore and over the bay. The trail splits into two dead-end trails. One is going north between Lagunitas Creek and old oak trees. The other is going southeast to the Giacomini Wetland, which is named after dairy-man Waldo Giacomini, who build dikes and levees here in the 1940s to convert parts of the marshland into pasture. Today, this is the land of white egrets, river otters, naturalists, hikers and kayaking enthusiasts—then and now, always right on top of the San Andreas fault.

Getting to the Tomales Bay Trailhead
The Tomales Bay Trailhead is about two miles away from A Street in Point Reyes Station, north of Stinson Beach in California. From A Street, take the Shoreline Hwy (Highway 1) and drive northeast for about half a mile. At the intersection with the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, turn left and continue on the Shoreline Hwy until you see the trailhead parking lot on the left side.

Read more on Tomales Bay's restoration, wildlife and paddling:
[1] Carolyn Longstreth: A Marsh is born at Point Reyes: Just Add Water. Bay Nature October-December 2009, pp. 12-15.
[2] Physical characteristics of Tomales Bay.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

White heather at the shore of Twin Lakes

White heather is an evergreen with upward-angled, needle-like leaves. Plants, which grow in masses, typically start flowering in July. The plants in the picture (July 2) were found at the shore of Twin Lakes in the Sierra Nevada in California. Wet, rocky areas on open slopes near and above the timberline are their usual habitat. White heather mats have been located and described in places from Alaska to northern Nevada and central California.

White heather (Cassiope mertensiana), also named alpine heather or western moss heather, belongs—big surprise—to the heath family (Ericaceae). Flowering plants are easily identified by their white bells, hanging from tips of slender stalks and “hold” by reddish pink, finger-like sepals.

More about white heather:
[1] Cassiope mertensiana (Bong.) G. Don.
[2] White Mountain-heather.
[3] Cassiope mertensiana var. mertensiana. Western Moss Heather.
[4] Calflora: Cassiope mertensiana (Bong.) Don.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Twin Lakes in the Crystal Range of the Sierra Nevada

The Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada southwest of Lake Tahoe in California is an area of small and not so small lakes, hidden in forests or openly placed in granite bowls. This “forest” includes the Desolation Wilderness, a part of the High Sierra with boulders, rocks, and walls; yet featuring various wildflowers and here and there a tall tree. The best time to see the colorful display of wildflowers such as blue lupines or white and red heather is late spring and early summer, when the meltwater is rushing downhill and builds its own streams, not to be found on any map. On July 2, this year, the Twin Lakes Trail still served in parts as a path for running water.
The Twin Lakes hike—on trail sections with up to forty percent grade—is a scenic experience. The eastward view at the lake goes across the lake, small rock islands to a waterfall and patches of snow in the Crystal Range.

Getting to the Twin Lakes Trailhead
From Highway 50 between Strawberry and Freds Place take Wright Lake Road (Highway 4). Drive uphill to the Chimney Flat area. Cross Lyons Creek and South Fork Silver Creek. Continue on Wright Lake Road all the way to the Visitor Center at Wright Lake. Turn right, drive slowly through the camp ground and find the parking lot at the end of the road. This point is close to the eastern end of Wrights Lake and provides trail access to Maud Lake, Gertrude Lake, Tyler Lake, Twin Lakes, Island Lake, Grouse Lake, Smith Lake and Hemlock Lake as well as other lakes, ponds, wetlands (in spring) and waterfalls.

[1] Eldorado National Forest, Recreational Activities: Hiking, Biking, and Horses. Wrights Lake Area.
[2] Desolation Wilderness at summitpost.org.
[3] Adam Paul: Nature & Travel Photography and Narratives. Hiking from Wright's Lake to Twin Lake (Desolation Wilderness, California).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jones Whites Loop Trail

The Jones Whites Loop Trail (JWLT) is a 9.2 miles loop trail accessing the Mount Rose Wilderness, the Upper Whites Creek and the Galena Forest area southwest of Reno, Nevada. If you are going to hike the loop clockwise, you'll start with a steep climb that takes about an hour until you reach scenic vista points and the junction to Church's Pond (see Fluctuating water level at Church's Pond). From here, the loop hike continues on in downhill mode, mostly through pine forest—with patches of aspen stands. The trail goes along steep slopes or through creeks and a few times you need to make it across downhill-rushing water. About a quarter of the loop trail follows the Upper Whites Creek. After passing the junction to Dry Pond (see Dry Pond is still wet), it is less than a mile to get to the junction at which you want to turn right to get back to from where you started. This final stretch, again, offers nice views and is always worth to be hiked back and forth by itself when you are not prepared for the whole loop or snowpacks at higher elevation are preventing you from doing the loop.

Hiking JWLT in late spring or early summer gives a good chance of seeing wildflowers such as squaw carpets, pussypaws, and snowplants.

Getting there from the picnic facilities in Galena Creek Regional Park
From the trailhead parking area at the northwestern part of the picnic area follow the trail signs, pass by the Bitterbrush Trail and the service road junctions until you reach the first “running water” point, across which you'll enter the loop.

Getting there from the Upper Whites Creek Trailhead
From the Upper Whites Creek Trailhead, which is located about one mile west of Timberlane Road, follow the trail along the creek, leisurely walking uphill until you reach the junction, from where you may want to turn left to do the clockwise tour or walk ahead to loop anti-clockwise.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) around Mount Davidson

This bitterroot plant was found on Ophir Hill near where the trail from Virginia City, Nevada, passes through on its way to the top of Mount Davidson. Some nearby bitterroots could be seen with masses of overlapping flowers, whereas this plant has a single flower, but is surrounded by various other flowers. A bitterroot flower has up to 18 white or pinkish-white petals. The flower stem itself is short and leafless. Here, the background of the white leaves of the flower makes it easy to spot the pink anthers.

The bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) belongs to the Purslane Family (Portulacaceae). The scientific name honors Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809), an explorer of the American West and an organizer and participant of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Bitterroot typically occurs on sandy ground or rocky flats and slopes. Its distribution ranges from southern British Columbia, Canada, east to Montana and south to southern California and Arizona [1]. In Nevada, east and northeast of Lake Tahoe, small bitterroot assemblies are commonly found at mid elevations of Mount Peavine and in the Virginia Range, for example east of Hidden Valley, at Older Geiger Grade and Mount Davidson, but also at higher elevation in dry areas of the Mount Rose Wilderness.

References and more
[1] Species: Lewisia rediviva.
[2] Bitterroot illustration.
[3] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007 ; page 57.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Above Virginia City: climbing Mount Davidson, the highest peak in Storey County

Mount Davidson is the the highest peak in Storey county, Nevada. Atop Mt. Davidson (over 7,600 feet high) you'll find yourself overlooking Virginia City. On a clear-sky day you can enjoy great views of other peaks of the Virginia Range (northeast), the Pine Nut Mountains and Desert Mountains (south-southeast, across the Carson Plains) and the Carson Range and Sierra Nevada (west).

The hike to the top is a two-phase experience. The first phase includes a strenuous climb: a slip-rock walk uphill the dirt road until you reach the Microwave Relay Station at Ophir Peak. Beyond Ophir Hill, you'll enter the second, pleasant phase offering a scenic, rim-trail-like hike to the destination. Both parts of the hike get you near rocks, spotted with yellow and orange lichen surrounded by similarly colored paintbrushes. In spring, other wild flowers are abundant, including lupines, phlox, dwarf onions, and bitterroot. Expect a nice—sometimes strong—breeze along the rim section.

Getting there
From C Street in “downtown” Virginia City (which is part of Highway 341 going through town) turn into Taylor Street and walk uphill. Pass by Howard Street and turn right into Stewart Street and then left into the Spanish Ravine. There is no trailhead sign. You'll soon leave the paved road and walk on a dirt road. If you see the V and the water tower in front of you to the left, you are on the right track. The V in the pictures points downhill to the center of Virginia City. The Spanish Ravine, if taking a cross section, is also V-shaped. Instead of following the trail (which ends somewhere) at the bottom of the ravine, you want to take the right-turning dirt road, going north for a while, before it turns left and goes west and uphill to the relay tower.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Between Mount Tallac and Fallen Leaf Lake

There are different starting points to hike and climb Mount Tallac in the Sierra Nevada, California. To get a nice view of surrounding lakes and beaches, one does not need to climb all the way to the top. On the trail from the “official” Mt. Tallac trailhead south of the Tallac Historic Site one reaches a vista point after about one mile. First, the trail follows a forested trough and then continues on a local ridge. Halfway between the trailhead and Floating Island Lake is an area through which a fire was burning some years ago. Charcoal-colored tree trunks can still be seen, but manzanitas are as green as you expect them to be. These places along the trail offer nice views of the deep steel-blue surface of Fallen Leaf Lake and beyond to Lake Tahoe and the Carson Range. Turn around, and the steep mountain side of Mt. Tallac is right in front of you. Most parts of the mountain are still covered with snow in early June—not uncommon this high up in the Sierra.

Getting to the Mt. Tallac Trailhead
From the intersection of Highway 89 and 50 in South Lake Tahoe, drive north on 89. Pass by Camp Richardson, Fallen Leaf Road and Cathedral Road. Then turn left at the Mt. Talloc Trailhead sign and follow the direction as posted by further signs. Trailhead parking is limited. Notice that the BlueGO Nifty 50 Trolley drives and stops nearby and can connect you with many other Lake Tahoe sites and parking spots.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Upper Truckee Marsh of South Lake Tahoe

The Upper Truckee Marsh of South Lake Tahoe, California, is a small wetland area, located where Trout Creek and the Upper Truckee River flow into Lake Tahoe. The Truckee River continues from the northwest shore of the lake in Tahoe City via the Californian town of Truckee to Reno/Sparks and finally flows into Pyramid Lake, Nevada.

There are no designated trails, but narrow trails can be found in parts of the wetland and the surrounding forest belt.

The Upper Truckee Marsh ecosystem is managed by the California Tahoe Conservancy. Unique populations of plant and animal life in this fragile environment deserve to be protected by and for local residents and visitors.

Walking there, biking there
The Upper Truckee Marsh is located north of Lake-Tahoe Boulevard between Al Tahoe and Tahoe Keys. It is surrounded by patches of pine forest, a harbor and residential areas from where it can be accessed at different points such as the corner at which Macinaw Road, Springwood Drive and Rubicon Trail intersect. The South Lake Tahoe Bike Trail is passing by here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lam Watah Trail

The Lam Watah Trail is a short trail between Highway 50 in Stateline, Nevada, to the southeastern shores of Lake Tahoe. Starting at the trailhead on Kahle Drive, the trail crosses wetlands, continues along patches of pine forest, which contain interesting assemblies of boulders, and ends at the Nevada Beach Campground.

Next to the beach is a small enclosed area with the purpose of providing habitat for the bald eagle. Wintering eagles are feeding along the shoreline. Further, an endemic plant that only grows in the sand of Lake Tahoe's shoreline is protected here: the Tahoe yellow cress (Rorippa subumbellata), a plant of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). The CalPhotos Database has a nice collection of Rorippa subumbellata photos.

Getting there
The trailhead is located next to the intersection of Highway 50 and Kahle Drive, near the intersection of Highway 50 and the Kingsbury Grade Road 207. The trailhead is only a short walk away (towards the east) from the casino area in Stateline.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Jumping the sandbars in the Carson River at Kirman Field

More and more ranch land is turning into land for multiple uses. Washoe Valley and Carson Valley features various historic ranches differing in attractions, uses, and trail miles. The Bently-Kirman Ranch Trail (also Bently-Kirman Tract Trail) opened at the end of April this year. It makes Kirman Field accessible to the public with the goal of coexistence of recreational use, habitat protection and cattle ranching. This trail includes two separate loop trails, crisscrossing floodplain lands next to the Carson River. Each loop trail provides access to the river and its sandbars. Once you jump the sandbars and hit a muddy spot, you may decide to leave these little islands for the birds and enjoy the view of the Carson Range with Jobs Peak, Jobs Sister and Freel Peak. Up there, the Tahoe Rim Trail is still hidden under snow, but should be hikable without snowshoes in a few weeks, when the Kirman Field is blistering in the heat.

Getting there
From Highway 395 between Carson City and Minden take Stephanie Lane, exiting left if you are diriving south and exiting right otherwise. After one mile turn left into Heybourne Road and turn left again after about half a mile. Now you are in a short dirt road that ends at the trailhead, which is easy to be recognized by the standing interpretive board. There is parking on both sides of the dirt road. The board announces trail use: no dogs, no bicycles, no equestrians, no motorvehicles. Hello hikers and sandbar jumpers!

[1] Carson Valley Trails Association: Bently-Kirman Ranch Trail.
[2] More to see at MikeOnTheTrail: Bently-Kirman Trail.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tufted Evening-Primrose on the slopes east of Hidden Valley

Last weekend I took one of the trails that are meandering uphill from the basement of Hidden Valley Regional Park east of Reno, Nevada. I thought I saw a collection of handkerchiefs spread over some area not very far from the trail. Close-up inspection revealed that, instead, they were flowers. It did not take very long to identify them as the Tufted Evening-Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) of the Evening-Primrose Family (Onagraceae) [1-3].

There are many species of Oenothera [4], but this one distinguishes itself from others by its large white flowers that turn pink or rose-purple after blooming (see aged flower on left side of picture). The large flowers occur on short stems. The four petals, eight stamens and four-lobed stigma of this bisexual plant are easily recognized. The radial symmetry is less obvious as the white petals often flap and wrinkle like a tissue. Indeed, the name handkerchief plant is in use [5]. Not a nice name for a plant.

Another name, dwarf evening-primrose, seems odd for a plant that signalizes its presence by large flowers. Then, there is the name morning-lily, which, in my mind, contradicts with the name evening primrose for this plant that usually opens its flowers in late afternoon. Whatever the name, while hiking by, it gives some comfort to know that the trail side is not littered by handkerchiefs, but an interesting plant.

[1] Laird R. Blackwell: Tahoe WildflowersA Month-by-Month Guide to Wildflowers in the Tahoe Basin and Surrounding Areas. A Falcon Guide, Morris Book Publishing, LLC, 2007 ; page 56.
[2] Oenothera caespitosa Nutt. ssp. caespitosa.
[3] The Free Dictionary: Oenothera caespitosa.
[4] Various species of the Oenothera genus at CalFlora.
[5] Arches National Park: Dwarf Evening-Primrose.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Eyelashweed on the slopes east of Hidden Valley

Eyelashweed (Blepharipappus scaber) is a plant of the Aster family (Asteraceae). Sometimes called rough eyelashweed, it is native to the western states of the USA, including Nevada. The shown flower was found on the slopes east of Hidden Valley (east of Reno and south of Sparks), Washoe County, Nevada. These dry slopes are facing west. Juniper and pine trees are growing there in some areas. But eyelashweed is not seeking their shade. The plants are small, blooming with white flowers that feature five or more three-lobed rays.

[1] USDA Plants Profile: Blepharipappus scaber Hook.
[2] The University of Texas at Austin, Native Plant Data base: Blepharipappus scaber Hook.
[3] CalPhotos.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Southern Africa section in the University of California Botanical Garden

The internationally known University of California Botanical Garden (UCBG) has a network of paths and narrow trails meandering through plant biodiversity including flowers and trees from many parts of the world. The world is mapped into the hilly garden landscape by featuring separate geographic regions. The Southern Africa region is one of them. The UCBG brochure introduces this section as follows:
This southwest-facing slope contains a stunning collection of plants from one of the most diverse botanical regions of the world. The prominent rocky, karoo habitat is a riot of color in spring with blooming bulbs and annuals such as Cape cowslips (Lachenalia), baboon flowers (Babiana), and Cape marigolds (Dimorphoteca). The chaparral-like fynbos beds feature fine-leaved heaths (Erica), proteas (Protea), and rush-like restios (including Restio, Elegia). Cycads, rare primitive conifer relatives older than the dinosaurs, are featured in a cliff-like simulation of their native Eastern Cape Province.

If you are living in the Bay Area or nearby, a ticket for Berkeley's Botanical Garden is probably the best short-cut to Southern Africa. Simulate an African travel trip within the Botanical Garden, located about a mile east from campus and the football and soccer stadium (California Memorial Stadium). Spring or summer is a great time for a visit. Start your “Hello, South Africa!” tour right here and get to know plants from South Africa's Cape Provinces and other areas: Phylica pubescens, Natal bottlebrush, Aloe saponaria, and blue margarito.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

South Africa in Berkeley: Natal Bottlebrush in the Botanical Garden

The Natal bottlebrush (Greyia radlkoferi), also named woolly bottlebrush, is a small tree native to South Africa, but found in other countries and on other continents in gardens such as the University of California Botanical Garden. Here, a label underneath the shrub puts it into the Greyiaceae family (wild bottlebrush family). Newer classifications include this family within the Melianthaceae family in the order Geraniales. Greyia radlkoferi has two close relatives: Greyia flanaganii and Greyia sutherlandii, also native to South Africa.

Interestingly, there are other “bottlebrush species,” such as the stiff bottlebrush (Callistemon rigidus) and the weeping bottlebrush tree (Callistemon viminalis), which belong to a different family (Myrtaceae) and different order (Myrtales). Callistemon species are endemic to Australia and New Caledonia.

Most of the Greyia and Callistemon species prefer a temperate climate. There flowers occur in dense clusters with cylindrical shapes that often look like brushes.

[1] Paula de la Cruz, Kirstenbosch NBG: Greyia radlkoferi, October, 2004.
[2] Giles Mbambezeli, Kirstenbosch NBG:, Greyia sutherlandii, October, 2006.
[3] Giles Mbambezeli, Kirstenbosch NBG:, Greyia flanaganii Bolus, October, 2002.
[4] Exploring the World of Trees: Bottlebrush tree - Callistemon rigidus, January 2008.

Monday, April 26, 2010

South Africa in Berkeley: Aloe Saponaria in the Botanical Garden

Aloe saponaria is a flowering plant. The peach to coral-red flowers are tubular-shaped and build firework-like clusters. The stalks sometimes reach a height of three feet. The thick fleshy leaves form a rosette similar to the American aloe, known as agave. Both belong to the order Asparagales, wherein they belong to different families: Aloe saponaria to the Asphodelaceae family (formerly Liliaceae family), and the American aloe to the Agavaceae family. The genus aloe (sometimes spelled aloë) within the Asphodelaceae family contains over hundred species of flowering succulent plants that occur in Africa, islands off the African coast and the Arabian peninsula.

Aloe saponaria is native to arid regions in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Other names for this salt- and drought-tolerant species such as African aloe, soap aloe, and zebra aloe indicate geographic location, cultural significance, and leave pattern. Aloe saponaria is also a popular ornamental species planted, for example, in Arizona in the Tuscon area next to agaves and cacti. The plant in the picture is part of the Southern Africa collection in the University of California Botanical Garden. A walk through this and New World sections in the garden invites for a comparison of aloe and agave species.

[1] Aloe saponaria Haworth (syn. Aloe maculata).
[2] Plant of the week: Aloe saponaria.
[3] University of Connecticut: Aloe saponaria (Ait.) Haw.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

South Africa in Berkeley: Phylica Pubescens in the Botanical Garden

Phylica pubescens is a genus of the buckthorn (Rhamnaceae) family in the order Rosales. The common English name is featherhead and it is not difficult to see how this name came about by looking at the hairy leaves of the bush in the picture, taken on a sunny day in early spring in the Southern Africa section of the University of California Botanical Garden. Phylica pubescens is native to the Western Cape Province in South Africa, where it is called veerkoppie.
Specimens were brought to Europe, when the first European ships reached the Cape. Since the 17th century Phylica plants were grown in European garden. There are about 150 Phylica species, native to areas in Southern Africa, Madagascar and to South Atlantic islands such as Tristan da Cuhna, where one species has its home. The Mediterranean-type climate, which these flowering plants are accustomed to, occurs in the southwest-faced hills above Berkeley, where they can easily be spotted just off one of the narrow trails through the diverse Southern African collection.

[1] Jane Forrester and Harold Porter NBG: Phylica pubescens, December 2004.
[2] CalPhotos Photo Database: Phylica pubescens.

Friday, April 23, 2010

South Africa in Berkeley: Blue Margarito in the Botanical Garden

The blue margarito (Felicia fruticosa), also known as blue daisy, marguerite daisy or shrub aster, is a plant of the aster or daisy (Asteraceae) family, endemic to those parts of South Africa with a mediterranean climate such as the Western Cape Province. A similar climate is found in coastal California, including the Bay Area and the University of California Botanical Garden in the Berkeley Hills, where the above picture was taken in the Southern Africa section. This collection of plants is located on a southwest-facing slope featuring plants from one of the most diverse botanical regions of the world. Early spring is an excellent time to walk the short, narrow trails through this geographic section of the garden, enjoy or study the displayed biodiversity and compare Southern African species with their “Californian relatives,” some of which can be found in the California section. The common California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense, formerly Aster chilensis), a low-land brush of coastal plains and bluffs, is in the same family. So is mayweed or stinking chamomile (Anthemis cotula) with its daisy-like flowers (many white rays around a yellow disk), which can be found in California in disturbed areas, but which is native to Europe and North Africa. It has “migrated” to North America and also to Southern Africa. It out-smells the blue margarito, but cannot compete with the margarito's colorful brilliance.

More about the blue margarito: Bush felica (Felica fruticosa).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Botanical Garden of the University of California at Berkeley

A praying mantis is overlooking the Botanical Garden in Berkeley from the roof of a small building. The garden is beautifully situated in the hills between the main University Campus and Tilden Regional Park. Its easy to get lost on the many trails and narrow foot paths that meander through the garden between plants from around the world. The garden features sections with flowers and trees from the Mediterranean, Canary Islands, Southern Africa, Australasia and different parts of the Americas—including Mexico and California! There are also special collections in the Orchid, Fern and Carnivorous Plant House, Arid House, Tropical House, Cycad and Palm Garden, Garden of Old Roses, Crops of the World Garden, Herb Garden, and Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden. Plants are labeled by common name, scientific name, family name and their country or continent of origin. A red dot on a label marks rare or endangered species. The garden has an amazing number of rare, odd, strange, and never-seen-before (for most of us) species—from tiny to giant and from water-loving to desert-proof. Even as a frequent visitor, you are likely making new discoveries when coming at different seasons. If you are a novice and got lost, look for the praying mantis next to the Tour Deck, which is not very far away from the Garden Shop and entrance/exit.

Getting there
From Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley take Stadium Rim Way between the Hearst Greek Theatre and the California Memorial Stadium. Drive half way around the stadium. As you get to the part that offers great views inside the stadium, turn left at Centennial Drive and drive uphill for about half a mile. The Botanical Garden entrance is on the right side; a parking area is on the left side.
Monday through Friday and on California Day there is a shuttle service, the H Line, that connects the botanical garden with the Shattuck Avenue BART station, Evans Hall, Strawberry Canyon Recreational Area, Lawrence Hall of Science, and Space Science Lab/MSRI.

[1] University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
[2] City of Berkeley, CA.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rose Hill Cemetery in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

The Rose Hill Cemetery, here seen from Manhattan Canyon Trail, is a historic cemetery in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. The preserve does not feature any ghost towns. The houses of the coal miner families are gone, and so are the stores, saloons as well as church and school buildings. But their ghosts are still around. You might at least get that feeling while visiting Rose Hill Cemetery. This 19th century cemetery at the south side of Rose Hill, midway between the Nortonville and Somersville townsites, is monument and reminder of the shortness of our lives and material creations. This area is under 24 hour video surveillance by the East Bay Regional Park District. Not to watch out for ghosts, but to protect the remains from vandalism, by which unfortunately most parts of the cemetery were destroyed before the Park District assumed responsibility for the property in 1974. We were getting informed that a project is now in progress to restore this place, search for missing gravestones and getting more information on people who were placed for peace at this Protestant burial ground. The former residents, which are buried here, did typically not die in old age. Women died in childbirth. Children died of infectious diseases. Men died in mining disasters, as miners still do today. The ghosts follow us along the trail through life.

Manhattan Canyon Trail in Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

The Manhattan Canyon Trail is a hiker-only trail in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. The trail leads through mixed forest, chaparral, and across sloped meadows. The trail offers views of the Rose Hill Cemetery and the Greathouse Visitor Center. Many park visitors take the Nortonville Trail to get right to the Rose Hill Cemetry or to the Nortonville Townsite. If you don't want to follow the crowd, take the Manhattan Canyon Trail, which begins about half a mile away from the southern parking lot at the end of Somersville Road, just before you reach the pond. The trail slowly climbs up the hillside from the Nortonville Trail. It connects with the Black Diamond Trail, on which you can either walk back (turn right) to the Nortonville Trail, getting to the Cemetery side, or hike (turn left) to Pioneer Pond, Jim's Place, and to the Nortonville Townsite. The latter loop keeps you hiking for at least five miles, depending on the detours you will make to explore old mining sites.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve between Mt. Diablo and the west delta

The Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve has between 45 and 65 miles of trails, depending on which source you are consulting and how you measure the length of those trails that wind up steep slopes. There are hiking-only trails and horse and bicycle trails. Many trails are also frequented or crossed by cows. The preserve features a dense trail network, well-marked with signposts, inviting hikers to loop around and access the different park features including places and artifacts from the coal mining days between about 1860 and 1900, when this was the Mt. Diablo Coal Field. The mining towns Nortonville, Somersville and Stewartsville were within the current preserve boundaries. Nortonville, founded by Noah Norton in 1861, was the largest. An information board at the Nortonville Townsite, west of the Rose Hill Cemetery, says that more than 1,000 residents were living just in that town at the peak of mining activity. Then, the town boasted a public school, a hotel, stores, churches, fraternal halls, and saloons. The town is gone, but the mining bonanza left some marks between riparian habitats and often steep hills covered by grassland, chaparral, or mixed evergreen forest.

Getting there
From Oakland, California, drive east on Highway 24. In Walnut Creek go north on Interstate 680 and take the connector 242 through Concord to Highway 4. Drive east on Highway 4. Pass Pittsburg and take the Somersville Road exit in Antioch. Go south on Somersville Road. Follow this road through the residential area and drive into the hills until you get to the park entrance. After passing the gate you will find a parking lot on the left side. There are the park office, a small visitor center, and interpretive boards. You can access the trail network here or from another parking and picnic area that is located further south, less than a mile away. This second trailhead is the gateway to the Greathouse Visitor Center (closed during 2009 and 2010) and mining features such as the Hazel Atlas Portal, various shafts, mines and tunnels. From here you can get on the Nortonville Trail, Stewartville Trail, Manhattan Canyon Trail and other trails, paths and loops.

[1] East Bay Regional Park District: Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.
[2] David Weintraub: East Bay Trails. Wilderness Press, Berkeley, 1998.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A salt bush of the southwestern United States: Atriplex lentiformis

Atriplex lentiformis is one of the salt bush species of the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) that is found in California and northern Mexico. The most common names for this plant are quailbush, big saltbrush, or big saltbush. The latter names suggest that it is a plant with a high tolerance for salinity. It also is drought and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) tolerant and loves sunshine. The typical habitats include salt-marshes and coastal areas with saline or alkaline soils. I found the one shown in the picture somewhat away from the coast between the La Brea tar pits in Hancock Park in Los Angeles, where it grows next to arroyo willows (Salix lasiolepis) near the Pleistocene Garden. The highly branched shrub bears scaly gray-green leaves that are slightly rippled along the edges—looking a little bit like green tongues. The leaves are said to be edible, but I brought my own lunch.

[1] USDA Plants Profile: Atriplex lentiformis, big saltbush.
[2] Plants for a future: Atriplex lentiformis, quail bush.