Sunday, October 11, 2015

From the southern tip of Fallen Leaf Lake to Angora Ridge & Lakes: Angora Lake Trail

View of Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe from upper Angora Lake Trail
Angora Lake Trail
The Angora Lake Trail connects the southern tip of Fallen Leaf Lake with the Angora Ridge between Tahoe Mountain and Angora Peak, south of Lake Tahoe in California. The steep single-track trail ascends through mixed forest. Warm up by climbing the easy-to-follow, but rocky switchbacks. Once you get closer to the ridge, the trail turns into a soft, needle-covered forest path. Take a break without missing the opportunity of  far-reaching views—framed by conifer trunks and branches—across Fallen Leaf Lake and Lake Tahoe towards the northern peaks of the Carson Range.

From the ridge, it is only a short, level hike to the parking area of the Angora Lakes Resort. Your effort to come up here from a public parking lot at Fallen Leaf Lake will save you the $7 parking fee at the resort entrance (and a bumpy ride over the rough Angora Ridge Road). The unpaved resort path leads uphill to the lower Angora Lake, with several cabins to your left. The public path continues alongside the lake. A short incline leads to the upper Angora Lake, which is semicircularly surrounded by rustic cabins, while the opposite lake side is bordered by steep slopes and cliffs.

Lower Angora Lake, early October 2015
The north side of the upper Angora Lake has a public beach, inviting visitors to wade through the shallow waters. If you brought your swimsuit, you may want to swim across the deep blue spots in the lake toward the rock walls. There are no lifeguards on duty. A notice warns about the danger of off-cliff jumping,with injuries and fatalities happening each season. Simply, enjoy the marvelous view of backdropping Echo Peak from the water or the shoreline or—during resort season—from a rented boat or the lemonade stand.  
The shallow water of the upper Angora Lake

Getting to the Angora Lake trailhead west of the Fallen Leaf Lake Marina and Store

The trailhead is located between the Fallen Leaf Chapel and the Fallen Leaf Fire Station next to Fallen Leaf Road. The writing on the trailhead sign is fading and needs some fresh paint to better contrast its background.

To get there, go south on Fallen Leaf Road from its junction with Highway 89, just west of Camp Richardson at the outskirts of South Lake Tahoe. Follow Fallen Leaf Road for about 4.5 miles. Alongside Fallen Leaf Lake, this is a narrow single-lane road through lake-side neighborhoods with turn-outs. At the lake's end, the chapel and fire station is on the left side of the road. If you don't find parking there, consider taking the paved, narrow road—uphill and alongside Glen Alpine Creek—to the public parking area at the Glen Alpine trailhead and walk back the half mile to the Angora Lake trailhead.  

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sticky monkeyflower growing in the shrubland of Rancho Corral de Tierra

Orange bush monkeyflower
A pair of tubular flowers of Mimulus aurantiacus, growing in Rancho Corral de Tierra
Rancho Corral de Tierra is rugged, chaparral-covered land between the upper ridges of the Montara Mountain and the Pacific coast in San Mateo County, California. Easily accessible, but steep trails, including French Trail and Clipper Ridge Trail, invite hikers to explore this open space terrain south of San Francisco. From almost everywhere along the Rancho ridges, the ocean vistas are breathtaking. Endangered and endemic species such as Hickman's cinquefoil and invasive species such as pampas grass from South America occur in Rancho. Also, sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus) with its deep green sticky leaves grows and blooms on the dry soil of the rocky hillsides in Rancho, usually between March and September. Its long blooming season benefits nectar-thirsty hummingbirds for half the year.

Sticky monkeyflower is found throughout California and beyond, with flowers varying in color from pinkish white to brilliant red. The most common corolla color is yellow-orange. This color and the fact that plants grows up into branched shrubs explains the other name: orange bush monkeyflower.

The tubular flowers of the bush monkeyflower typically come in pairs. The picture above shows a pair of yellow-orange flowers of a plant found next to the upper Clipper Ridge Trail in mid-September. The picture also shows the opposite, lanceolate leaves with rolled-under edges.

Note: Depending on which of my field guides I am consulting, I am finding Minumuls aurantiacus, pronounced MIM-yoo-lus aw-ran-TIE-a-kus, grouped within the lopseed family (Phrymaceae) or within the snapdragon family or figworth family (Scrophulariaceae). My understanding is that Mimulus species had traditionally been placed in Scrophulariaceae, but are now classified as Phrymaceae based on DNA studies shining new light on phylogenetic relationships (see, for example, a paper by Beardsley and Olmstead in the American Journal of Botanty 2002, 89(7), pp. 1093-1102: Redefining Phrymaceae: The Placement of Mimulus, Tribe Mimuleae, and Phryma). Not enough, the scientific name has been changed from Mimulus aurantiacus to Diplacus aurantiacus: Welcome to monkeyflower science!

More about Mimulus aurantiacus:
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy: Mimulus aurantiacus (Sticky Monkeyflower) [].
California Phenology Project: Sticky Monkeyflower (Diplacus auratiacus) [].
Michael L. Charters: Mimulus aurantiacus Curtis [].

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A hiking loop in the Rancho Corral de Tierra foothills: French Trail and Clipper Ridge Trail

Clipper Ridge Trail's steep downhill path through chaparral with Princeton and the Pillar Point Peninsula at the bottom
About one mile north of Pillar Point Harbor, several trails crisscross the foothills at the southern end of Rancho Corral de Tierra. A few trails lead uphill, traversing steep slopes and long ridges. They are flanked by tangled shrubs and, in many places, by nonnative pampas grass. The views are spectacular: Montara Mountain further north, Princeton-by-the-Sea just “down the hill” and Half Moon Bay in the south. French Trail and Clipper Ridge Trail are rough dirt-road tracks through the Rancho area between Denniston Creek and Deer Creek. They make the upper Rancho terrain accessible.  

Invasive elegance of pampas grass
For a clockwise loop hike, follow the northwest-bound trail beginning at the end of Coral Reef Avenue. Pass its junction with Flat Top Trail and continue on the uphill trail you are seeing ahead of you. There are some trail markers, but until now I haven't found trail names posted at junctions or intersections. Fortunately, this is open space with an open view, supporting orientational place recognition and trail spotting.

Upper Clipper Ridge Trail
After climbing French Trail for about half a mile, you'll find a sign on your left, saying that there is no access to the “agricultural protection area.” Keep climbing. After about another mile, the French Trail meets the Clipper Ridge Trail. Before turning right and returning downhill, you may want to continue uphill for another mile to reach the level section of Clipper Ridge Trail with trees, shade and magnificent vistas. Further east, Clipper Ridge Trail bends into Deer Creek Trail, which goes downhill into Quarry Park and El Granada neighborhoods.

From the French Trail/Clipper Ridge Trail junction, you passed earlier, Clipper Ridge Trail starts its steep downhill course—shown in the top picture. After about one mile of descend, you will arrive at the junction with Flat Top Trail and Almeira Trail. Hike right on Flat Top Trail and at the next junction turn left and take the trail that takes you straight through a stand of eucalyptus trees to the starting point at Coral Reef Avenue.  

Getting there
Rancho Corral de Tierra is located about ten miles south of San Francisco, California. From Highway 1 (Cabrillo Hwy), about half a mile northwest from the traffic-light intersection between Princeton and El Granada, turn right on Coral Reef Avenue. Follow this road uphill to its end, which is a tsunami evacuation site with a few parking spots.

From Cabrillo Hwy to Rancho trailheads: Coral Reef Avenue
Trailheads and tsunami evacuation site at the upper end of Coral Reef Avenue

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trails north of El Granada in San Mateo County, California: Rancho Corral de Tierra

About ten miles south of San Francisco, Rancho Corral de Tierra, Rancho as it is called by locals, is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a U.S. National Recreation Area that protects ecologically sensitive habitats and historically significant landscapes surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area [1-4]. The Rancho park connects McNee Ranch State Park and San Pedro Valley County Park south of Pacifica with Quarry Park and El Granada north of Half Moon Bay; although, currently there is no assigned trail encouraging an inter-park, north-south (or south-north) hike through Rancho lands.

Rancho has a history of Mexican cowboys stomping its grounds and of booze-smuggling artichoke vendors finding refuge in the rugged tierra. Grandiose development plans for this scenic land were dreamed up; instead, it became public open space [1]:

Despite this history, the land itself hasn't changed much, which has set the stage for Rancho's newest incarnation as the site of the most recent addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The remaining 4,000 acres of Guerrero's parcel [since 1838 grazing land luring ranchers such as Mexican settler Francisco Guerrero y Palomares] will now help to complete one of the largest swaths of open space in San Mateo County.

Several freshwater creeks cut through the former ranch land from northeast to southwest to meet the coastline. Existing trails mostly follow the ridges between the creeks. The trails are flanked by low-growing coastal scrub. Hikers coming up the steep trails are rewarded by spectacular views of Pillar Point Harbor, the peninsula shoreline to Maverick's Beach and the beach sichel of Half Moon Bay.

Princeton and Pillar Point peninsula with harbor side shoreline seen from a Rancho Corral de Tierra foothill
The park vegetation includes nonnatives such as Harding grass and pampas grass, which park staff is trying to take out, while restoring and strengthening natives including purple needlegrass (California's state grass in 2004), blue wild rye and California oat grass. The beautiful, endemic and endangered Hickman's cinquefoil (Potentilla hickmanii)—for over fifty years believed to be gone—is still found today on Rancho soil [1]. 

The list of Rancho trails consists of Deer Creek Trail, Clipper Ridge Trail, French Trail and Flat Top Trail north of El Granada; Farmer's Daughter Trail, San Vicente Trail and Spine Trail east of Moss Beach; and Alta Vista Trail north of Montara. Locals have created a network of informal trails and paths, especially in the lower foothills.

Keywords: San Mateo peninsula, open space, native ecosystem, trail connections.

References and more to explore
[1] Victoria Schlesinger: A Sea-to-summit trek on the San Mateo Coast. Bay Nature January-March 2015, pp. 12-15.
[2] National Park Services: Rancho Corral de Tierra [].
[3] Peninsula Open Space Trust: Rancho Corral de Tierra [].
[4] Rancho Corral de Tierra maps [].

Rancho Corral de Tierra and Montara Mountain
Montara Mountain seen from Clipper Ridge Trail

Monday, October 5, 2015

Pillar Point Harbor's West Shoreline Trail to Maverick's Beach

Harbor-side shoreline of Pillar Point peninsula
The shoreline trail of the Pillar Point Harbor District connects the Pillar Point Marsh west of Princeton-By-The-Sea with Maverick's Beach. This trail allows for a pleasant stroll past harbor tide pools—with backwards views of the Montara Mountain—toward the outer harbor jetty. From there, beach walkers may want to continue westward to the rock assembly off Pillar Point near where the famous Maverick waves are rolling in after a strong winter storm.

The Pillar Point Marsh is a small, but important spot along the Pacific Flyway. Migrating birds rest and feed here. Full-time residents such as the Great Blue Heron find small fish, insects, amphibians and reptiles in the marsh, which they often spear with their long bill.

Rocks and tide pools off the shoreline trail
Between the marsh and the outer harbor jetty are tide pools and flat rocks to explore, accessible depending on the tide. At the beginning of the jetty you'll find a warning sign alerting danger due to deadly waves that may occur at any time. The jetty is considered unsafe for walking. Indeed, climbing rather than walking would be required to manage the rocks and voids of the jetty. Many times when I came by I saw people hanging out on and between the jetty boulders, apparently not afraid of slippery surfaces and waves.

Rocks between Maverick's Beach and Mavericks off Pillar Point
To enjoy the evening sun, the western end of Maverick's Beach is a nice place. This is also a great location for bird watching. Bring your binoculars to focus in on the activities of sea birds on, around and above the off-shore rocks. At high tide, Maverick's Beach becomes a narrow stripe of sand. Expect rushes of whitewater and possible debris falling from the steep cliff of the Pillar Point peninsula. To watch surfers during a Mavericks surf contest, the rock formation blocks the view of the wave-break area further out. The safest places to watch competitors in their heat is at home on an Internet webcast or in a bar or restaurant around Princeton Harbor. 

Getting to the West Shoreline Access parking lot
Get to the intersection of Highway 1 with roads leading to El Granada and Princeton. This intersection southeast of the Half Moon Bay Airport has a traffic light. Turn west on Capistrano Road. Follow this road through the Pillar Point motel & restaurant neighborhood and turn left  on Prospect Way. At the end of this short road, turn left on Broadway. After 150 ft, turn right on Princeton Avenue. At the western end of Princeton Avenue, turn right on West Point Avenue and follow this road all the way around the Pillar Point Marsh until you get to the Tide Pools Parking Lot, which are located on the left side of the road, just before the road starts ascending toward the Pillar Point Air Force Station.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Where do Devil's Slide landslides occur?

Devil's Slide Trail is a paved hiking and bicycling trail through a coastal erosion landscape south of the Pedro Point Headlands in San Mateo County, California. Its scenery is amazing. Its ground and surroundings are unstable and slippery. Along the trail, travelers enjoy the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. With awe, visitors also scan the walls and slopes of crumbling and sliding sedimentary rocks.

Powerful forces are at work at Devil's Slide. The above clip from an interpretive panel along Devil's Slide Trail illustrates the slide area with its cliffs and steep slopes. The panel labels the ongoing activity as “The Big Squeeze” and describes this phenomenom in detail:

Devil's Slide sits between San Pedro Ridge, a rock ridge squeezed upward by the earth's tectonic forces, and Montara Mountain. The slide is about half a mile wide and extends 900 feet from the ridge top to the ocean. Millions of years of upward pressure has broken and weakened the rock of these cliffs. Water trapped underground causes the weakened rock to move. At the same time, the pounding surf washes away the bottom of the slide. Devil's Slide continues to move into the Pacific Ocean, part of the natural process that shapes our ever changing coastline.

Devil's Slide Trail mostly traverses areas of sedimentary rock. A short trail section at the south leads over granitic rock. The geology-focused panel asks readers to notice how different the cliffs at the south end are compared to those at the north end. It continues:

The weathered rock face to the south is the granitic rock of Montara Mountain [about miles southeast from Devil's Slide], the same rock found in the Sierra Nevada Range. In contrast, the rough layers of sedimentary rock at the north end were once ocean floor. Not quite as old as the Montara Mountain rock, these layers of shale and sandstone have been thrust up and folded, over millions of years, by forces deep within the earth.

The panel also answers the questions asked in the title of this post:

The landslides occur where the sedimentary rock has been thrust over the granitic rock, causing broken, weakened ground.

San Pedro Point and sedimentary rock slopes between Devil's Slide Trail and the ocean

Keywords: geology, tectonics, landslides, sedimentary rocks, granitic rocks, Big Squeeze, San Pedro Ridge, Montara Mountain.

Explore the Geology of Devil's Slide:
Devil's Slide (California) ['s_Slide_%28California%29].
The Rocks of Devil's Slide [].
Devil's Slide Tunnels Project [].

Friday, October 2, 2015

A short paved segment of the California Coastal Trail between Oregon and Mexico: Devil's Slide Trail

A paved path through a landscape of coastal erosion: Devil's Slide Trail
After the opening of the Tom Lantos Tunnels, also called Devil's Slide Tunnels—two road tunnels now bypasses a two-lane segment of State Route 1 between Pacifica and Montara in San Mateo County, California—the 1.3-mile-long coastal highway stretch was updated and beautified to become a paved multi-track hiking and bicycling trail with spectacular ocean overlook platforms. It is named Devil's Slide Trail due to the history of rockfalls and landslides that frequently happen along this part of the Californian coast with the San Andreas Fault meeting the Pacific Ocean a few miles further north. A Devil's Slide information panel describes this trail within California's varied and ever-changing landscapes as follows:

The 1.3-mile-long Devil's Slide Trail is built on what was once a treacherous stretch of Highway 1 and the site of frequent landslides, accidents, and closures. When the Tom Lantos Tunnels opened in 2013, the San Mateo County Parks Department began converting this segment of the old highway to this public multi-use, non-motorized trail.
The trail opened in 2014, and offers spectacular ocean views and unparalleled opportunities for viewing birds and marine mammals.
The Devil's Slide Trail is a section of the California Coastal Trail, which will extend 1,200 miles from Oregon to Mexico.

San Pedro Point seen from Devil's Slide Trail
A Devil's Slide vista device with San Pedro Point in the background
Occasional detourings may be required, since Devil's Slide continues to slide into the Pacific Ocean, and the rising ocean keeps attacking the Devil's bottom, accelerating the erosion bottom-up.
A bird's-eye view of birds at the Devil's bottom
While strolling or recreating along the easily accessible, well-maintained Devil's Slide Trail between the Pedro Point Headlands and the west-side slopes of San Pedro Mountain, your escape strategies during a strong earthquake are very limited. High walls and slippery slopes on one side; steep, unsafe cliffs on the other, dropping down to a beach or into the pounding ocean surf. If this would be a mine site or a construction area, hard hats would certainly be required. But the Devil's Slide coast, today, is a preserve-like open space celebrating successful restoration efforts to regrow Common Murre colonies. The natural uniqueness, refreshing sea breezes and amazing views lets one forget potential natural hazards.
North Devil's Slide trailhead

Along the trail you will find many interpreted panels informing about Devil's Slide history, the big squeeze, land protection, environmentalist Ollie Mayer, seabird colonies and much more about the local natural history.

Getting to the Devil's Slide trailheads

Devil's Slide Trail is a San Mateo County Park. There are trailheads at either end of the trail, which can be accessed before entering or after leaving a Tom Lantos Tunnel. Parking lots are limited.

The south trailhead is on the west side of Highway 1, about two miles north of the Montara State Beach parking area.

The north trailhead is to your right, after driving southbound on Highway 1 for about one mile from Pacifica. A trail that will connect the north trailhead with Pacifica is in planning.