Friday, October 28, 2016

Shorebird Loop Trail in Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Board walk: beginning of the Shorebird Loop Trail
Beginning of the Shorebird Loop Trail at the visitor center
The 1.75-mile-long Shorebird Loop Trail in the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one of many short trails that can easily be reached for a nature stroll in coastal northern California [1]. It is a level lasso-loop trail: it includes an out-and back section to Long Pond and a loop section (the lasso nose) that surrounds the pond and brings you close to Hookton Slough and Teal Island in the South Humboldt Bay. November through April are the best months to watch the impressive variety of waterbirds, including migratory shorebirds. The best day hours for wildlife watching are when dawn or dusk coincidences with the one to two hour window before or after high tide [2]. 

The visitor center and trailhead is at YOU ARE HERE

The trail begins as a board walk at the visitor center. I recently walked the trail one afternoon in summer, not the recommended season for bird-watching. Various interpretive panels along the trail are dedicated to the natural history and the human history of the marshlands. For example, one panel features northern harriers, formerly called marsh hawks, which hover low over marshes and sloughs in search of prey. Then there are peregrine falcons who dive down on their prey at speeds of up to 200 mph (322 km/h).

Marsh lotus, an invasive species from Europe
From the loop trail, I saw strips of yellow pillows, which I was informed at the visitor center are mats of marsh lotus (Lotus pedunculatus). This freshwater-marsh flower from Europe is on the list of invasive species [3].

The Humboldt Bay is a stopover for fuel and energy—not only for tourists, but for migratory birds as well. The latter typically fly north to breed during the Arctic summer and return to warmer wintering regions far south from Humboldt Bay.

Eroding bucket of the Jupiter dredge, once used to dig through marshes and mudflats

The marshlands of Humboldt Bay were changed by dredging. The eroded metal bucket next to the trail along the slough south of Teal Island is a left-over from the marshes-to-pastures days:

This piece of metal is a bucket from the Jupiter dredge [built in 1926 by the Stockton Iron Works in California's Central Valley]. From the 1930s through 1970s, it was used to dig through salt marshes and mudflats to create a system of dikes in the South Bay, transforming wetlands into pasture. This practice reduced the bay's estuary by 40 percent.

Since 1971, when the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex was established, the agricultural development trend has been reversed to habitat restoration “to conserve precious habitat for the great diversity of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, invertebrates, and plants that occur in the Humboldt Bay area” [4]. The Shorebird Loop is a relaxing trail, along which to catch a first glimpse of both the restoration efforts and the estuary biodiversity.

Long Pond

Getting to the Shorebird Loop Trailhead
From Highway 101 south of Eureka, take exit 695. Go north on Refuge Entrance Road, parallel to Hwy 101, for about two miles, to where the roads bends west. After another mile, you will see the visitor center to your left. Walk through the open passage onto the board walk and begin your hike on Shorebird Loop Trail.

References and more to explore
[1] Jim Hight: Seven Trails In Your Backyard [].
[2] Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge [].
[3] U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Humboldt Bay: Invasive Species Management [].
[4] See the section Refuge History at

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Beach-combing near the North Jetty at the Humboldt Bay Entrance west of Eureka, California

Ocean wave spectacle at the Humboldt Bay Entrance at the south tip of the Samoa Peninsula
A sandy strip of land extends west of Eureka between the Pacific Ocean and Humboldt Bay—the only deep water bay between Coos Bay in Oregon and San Francisco Bay. At the tip (south end) of the north strip—the Samoa Peninsula—is the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area with the North Jetty. Once US military property, this is now a multi-use land run by the Bureau of Land Management. Beach-combing, bird-watching and wave-watching are just a few low-key activities visitors enjoy to do here.

Waves crash over the North Jetty

In case you are walking or picnicking on the beach between the jetty shore line along the bay entrance and the sand dunes, you want to watch the incoming waves for your own safety and pleasure. Usually, they make quite some splash. As with the Crescent City harbor jetty, this jetty line should never be considered completely safe. Often, it is a dangerous place to hang out at. Approach a jetty at low tide and only if no water is spraying over its top. An informative board recommends to “Be swept Away By the Beauty Not By the Sea” and continues:

People have died while walking on the jetties. Beware of sleeper sneaker or rogue waves. They can appear without warning often coming up on the rocks with deadly force. Never turn your back on the ocean!

A wave flowing and foaming over the jetty

Getting there
From Euraka, take Highway 255 across the Samoa Bridge and turn left onto New Navy Base Road. Drive south for about four miles to the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area. At the junction with Bunker Road, from which the latter leads to an OHV staging area with historic ammunition bunkers, stay on the main road until you reach its dead-end. There is parking space in a dry and safe distance from the Humboldt Bay Entrance and the North Jetty.

References and resources
[1] BLM: Samoa Duenes Recreation Area [].
[2] Humboldt Bay recreational map: Humboldt Bay Area Beaches and Dunes [].
[3] Surfline: Humbold Harbor Entrance HD Cam & Surf Report [].
[4] Humboldt Bay Entrance, Califirnia Tide Chart [].

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Exploring dolosse: walking on and off the perilous Crescent City jetty

A pair of dolosse reinforcing the harbor jetty of Crescent City, Del Norte County, California
The Crescent City jetty is a long and reinforced breakwater with excellent views of the harbor and the Battery Point Lighthouse islet The latter can be reached on foot at low tide. Low tide and a calm sea is what you are looking for, if you cannot resist the temptation to stroll or jog on the jetty. A danger sign warns about deadly waves at any time. In general, walking out onto the jetty is discouraged. It literally is a walk on the edge—with powerful waves unexpectedly crashing over. Unfortunate visitors have died or were badly injured here. This makes me wonder how safe I was when walking on the nearby isthmus between Battery Point and the lighthouse islet to visit the picturesque lighthouse.

During summer month, waves typically are not so hazardous. Fishermen, recreationists and tourist then take the risk. Go out when the tide is going out and the seawater level drops to its low.

The jetty was built to protect the harbor of Crescent City. The dolosse you will see in great numbers toward the end of the jetty provide further protection by dissipating the energy of strong ocean waves and weakening their erosive force. A paper posted next to a path on the lighthouse islet informs about the dolosse (using a different spelling: doloes): they were put in place on the jetty in 1986 to break up the force of the water during tremendous winter storms (when you definitely do not want to be on the jetty). Each dolos (spelling on post: dolo) consists of concrete with steel rods, weighing 42 tons (84,000 lbs.). 750 dolosse are in place, 20 red ones with transmitters to monitor possible movement. Note that even a dolos with 400 times your weight (or more) may fail to stay in place when hit by a really forceful wave. Therefore, dolosse are individually numbered to track their displacement.

A single dolos: H-shaped concrete block engineered with one side turned through 90 degrees

Invented in South Africa, a dolos roughly has the geometry of a letter H with one side turned through 90 degrees to create the distinctive shape that ensures interlocking with each other when arranged by a crane. Although entangled, a “dolos wall” leaves holes such that wave energy gets dissipated. Depending on position and wave action, it happens that one dolos hammers a neighbor dolos into pieces. 

End of the walkable jetty: turning around at the dolos jungle
Near the end of the jetty you can marvel at the geometric shape of the concrete blocks and their odd-looking assemblies.

References, resources and more to explore
[1] The full story behind the dolos and its SA creator. IOL, August 2016 [].
[2] Gary L. Howell: Measurement of Forces on Dolos Armor Units at Prototype Scale [].
[3] Diana Tolerico: Crescent City. Life on the Open Road, September 2010 [].

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Low-tide walk to Battery Point Lighthouse islet

Battery Point Lighthouse islet at low tide

The Battery Point Lighthouse is located on a rocky islet off Battery Point in Crescent City, California. The islet is connected to Battery Point by an isthmus that becomes visible and crossable at low tide (see picture above). With rising sea level, the daily time window for walking across without getting wet will narrow. When the lighthouse was built in 1856, the islet may have been a peninsula most of the time, only shortly disconnected from the mainland.

A posted flier summarizes the early history of the light station:

Battery Point Lighthouse was built in 1856 at the cost of $15,000. It was the 10th Lighthouse built on the west coast and is one of the 16 Cape Cod style lighthouses that were built in the 1800's. At that time, it was known as the Crescent City Light Station.

The lighthouse played a major role to develop and sustain the coastal economy by sea travel.  For almost one hundred years, the lighthouse was manned:

The first keeper was Theophilus Magruder. He started Christmas Day, 1856. The last keeper was Wayne R. Piland, who served at the time of automation and was transferred in 1953.

The picturesque lighthouse is now a California Registered Historical Landmark. It is well preserved. With donations and Coastal Conservancy funding, the tower was restored in 1987. Further restoration work was done in 2012 as a cooperative project of the County of Del Norte and the Del Norte Historical Society.
Battery Point Lighthouse tower

Around the lighthouse you can find spots to view and explore intertidal and marine life. Plovers, sandpipers and willets feed on invertebrates exposed at low tides. An interpretive panel is getting you focused on tidepools:
Walking along the coast at low tide, you might at first miss the incredible variety of organisms that make their home here. Stop, scan the rock walls and quiet pools, and you will begin to see things move. Formed in rocky depressions, tidepools retain enough water at low tide to shelter an abundance of marine life: snails, urchins, anemones, crabs, sea stars, nudibranches, limpets, and many other.

As you are scanning the ocean from the lighthouse islet, you will see smaller islets, sea stacks and rocks. They support rich marine habitats, but turn the coast into a dangerous environment for navigation—even during daylight with the lighthouse tower and harbor entry in view.  

Offshore rocks near Battery Point

Getting to the Battery Point Lighthouse
From Highway 101 in Crescent City, turn west on Front Street. Turn left on B Street or on Lighthouse Way at the Oceanfront Lodge and find parking. Follow the smell of the sea and check out the wave and tide situation to safely walk to and back from the light house.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cleetwood Cove Trail

Illustration of Cleetwood Cove with trail accessing the dock, where to embark a boat to Wizard Island
All around Oregon's Crater Lake you will find spectacular lookouts to get a bird's eye view of the deep blue lake. At the Sinnott Memorial Overlook at Rim Village the lookout experiences is enhanced by exhibits and ranger talks. The only place to actually access the lake shore is found at Cleetwood Cove located opposite to the village at the northeast corner of the lake. There is a tour boat dock, from where boats connect with Wizard Island and cruise the waters around Phantom Ship
View of Crater Lake from Cleetwood Cove Trail
Lake view from Cleetwood Cove Trail with Mount Scott in the far back
To get to the boat landing, you have to descend along the switchbacks of Cleetwood Cove Trail. The trailhead is next to the Rim Drive. The down-and-up round trip takes 2.2 miles (1.7 km).  A board at the trailhead introduces Cleetwood Cove Trail as follows:

Due to extreme instability of the steep walls of the caldera surrounding Crater Lake, Cleetwood Cove Trail is the only access to the lake shore. The route is strenuous, with a steep grade made even more difficult by the high altitude. Because of the difficulty of this hike, it is recommended only for those in good physical condition. It is not recommended for people with heart, breathing or walking problems. The switchbacks wind through a forest of lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock and Shasta red fir, with lake views along the route.

No pets. No bikes. And no rock throwing. Expect a lot of visitors despite all the warnings of loose soil and falling rocks. Some are hiking down in swimsuits. Other are in a hurry to get to their tour boat in time. Actually, not the route is so challenging, but the way you manage it can make your hike less enjoyable as it should be. The trail is not as strenuous as the above description would have it. William L. Sullivan writes in his book Trails of Crater Lake (Hike 10):

If you are an experienced hiker, you won't find this hike particularly difficult. But people unaccustomed to the rigors of the outdoors often stroll downhill to the lake, only to be surprised that the climb back up to their car seems hot, steep, and difficult indeed. Bring plenty of water, rest often, and take your time. Sunscreen and a hat can be important too.

If you are not embarking a boat to Wizard Island, you may want to look for a spot on the rocks at trail end, test the water temperature and get ready for a dip or swim.

Cliff rocks ready to break and slide down near the end of Cleetwood Cove Trail, where a sign says: FALLING ROCKS - NO STOPPING IN THIS AREA

Getting to the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead
From Crater Lake's Rim Village, the 10.7 mile-distance along West Rim Drive is shorter than the distance via East Rim Drive with its multiple off-rim inland loops. From the park's north entrance, drive south to the North Junction west of Llao Rock. Turn left and follow the Rim Drive for 4.6 miles. Trailhead parking is to your left.