Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Table is Set: A Boom Bloom at the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

Date: April 14, 2018
Place: North Table Mountain Ecological reserve, Oroville, California
Coordinates:  39.59555, -121.54164
Length: 1.5 miles in and out
Level: easy

Last spring was a super bloom year in California. This year the rains came late and I already resigned to the thought that this spring will be just nice, not mind blowing. For some of the places of last year's boom bloom that is true, but thankfully other places more than compensate for it. After seeing the online posts with photos from Oroville's North Table Mountain Ecological reserve I looked for an opportunity to go there. That came last weekend when my mother came to visit me with her friend and I convinced them (with ease) that Oroville was the place to see.
We left home just before noon on Saturday and took our time, including a lunch stop, to get to Oroville. As we made our way along the narrow, winding road leading from the town to the reserve I got a strange feeling that we might not be alone there, as in our last visit. Many cars were parked along the road, indicating that the small parking area is probably full. People were walking up and down the narrow, shoulders road, slowing down our drive. Already I could see colorful carpets of wildflowers behind the cattle fences on either side of the road.
Perhaps it was because we arrived relatively late that we found parking fairly close to the trailhead, just outside the parking lot. It took us some extra moments to clear all the cars and people that were between ourselves and the reserve but when we finally made it through the (new) gate we stopped and stood there, gaping.
The sky below: A field dominated by Lupinus nanus and Cryptantha intermedia 
I have been at the North Table Mountain Reserve before and it was beautiful, but nowhere close to the colorful display of this spring. 
California Goldfield and Stonecrop, Sedelle pumila (yellow), and Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus (blue)  
The two most dominant colors there however where the backdrop colors - the dark basalt rocks and the intense winter green. This background made the perfect contrast for the wide carpets and patches of wildflower colors. 
The main yellow came from the tiny inflorescences of the California goldfield. Between the rocks and in the shallow depressions was another yellow bloom - the delicate stonecrop. 
Stonecrop, Sedelle pumila
Between the dominant flowers that made the unicolored patches hid many other wildflowers, in singles or in small groups. I tried finding as many as possible but only few made it here to this post. 
 Pretty Face, Triteleia ixiodes
There were also areas that were not dominated by any single species but a mix of several. Many were 'belly flowers'. The soil was muddy so I didn't go down to my belly for any of them. All of my photos were taken from above. 
Variable Linanthus, Leptosiphon parviflorus, and California Goldfield, Lasthenia californica
There is one trail that stretches along the creek that cuts through the meadow but people were meandering through the fields among the wildflowers. I remembered that last time we were there there was cattle on those fields. I was glad to see that the people were f`orly careful - not much seemed trampled. The exposed piles of basalt rocks helped - they made great stepping stones. 

The first meadow we walked through was also the highest. Water was oozing from the ground all over the place, muddying the soil and collecting into little puddles and tiny brooks, flooding the narrow trail. 

Wetter soil flowers bloom in theses flooded basins - the indian clover and the yellow monkeyflower made a wonderful purple-yellow color combination.  
Yellow Monkeyflower, Mimulus gutattus, and White-tipped Clover, Trifolium variegatum

It took a while but eventually we stopped meandering and started down the trail. It was already left in the afternoon and I knew we wouldn't get very far but I wanted to get at least to the first waterfall which wasn't far away. 
The trail followed the path of the creek and the creek banks were marked with beautiful white bouquets of snow-white meadowfoam. 
Snow-white Meadowfoam, Limnanthes douglasii ssp. nivea
While our progress remained slow, at least now we had direction. Even so I kept hopping from one side of the creek to the other to take a closer look at one flower or another. 
Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii
It was hard to remain focused on the trail with all the pretty wildflowers around. 
Bird's-eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor
The creek, which was almost level at the upper meadow was now flowing faster, dropping in places in little cascade falls. 

At the place where the trail remained above the mildly descending creek I had a nice view of the colorful slopes above the narrow glistening strip of water. 

No longer flat, the Table Mountain features were more apparent and impressive - the dark, dry basalt surrounded by stonecrop and goldfields, and then the wetter soil flowers, lupine, cryptantha, and the green grasses. Each plant species in its own patch of soil mix perfection. 
Color Patterns
Whether by soil, precipitation, or weather, only few trees were growing up at the top of the Table Mountain. Wind-beat they looked graceful and venerable. Nearly all of them were oaks. 

Other than flowers there were also lots of weeds. Non-native, invasive weeds. The monarch butterfly that fluttered by didn't seem to mind though.
Monarch Butterfly
My mother's friend drew my attention to a pink spot on the slope. A clump of owl's clover in between the sky lupine. These were the first owl's clover I've seen this season and I got very excited.
Sky Lupine, Lupinus nanus, and Owl's Clover, Castilleja exserta
As we progressed down the trail I saw large patches of that very same owl's clover on the dry basalt slopes. There were many of them all over the place.

We reached the top of the waterfall. The trail narrowed and became steeper. My mother and her friends decided to stay up but I moved a little further, trying to get a good view of the waterfall.

On my way I found out what those elongated buds I have seen near the rocks were. They were buds of clarkia. I found the first one that was open. All the rest of them were still maturing.
Kellogg's Clarkia, Clarkia arcuata
I also found another surprising wildflower there - one I didn't expect to see on such an exposed terrain. I usually see the woodland star in forests, but there it was - in full sunlight, under a mass of basalt rock.
Woodland Star, Lithophragma heterophyllum
I slowly paced down the trailand stopped at the corner of the first switchback. It was far enough to get a glimpse of the waterfall without getting too far away from my companions. There was more water falling there than the last time I was at that place, which was in April too.
Hollow Falls
 I didn't go all the way down. Turning around I walked back up to join my mother and friend. On the way I found another pretty face :-)
Lilac Pretty Face, Triteleia lilacina
And also other purple flowers that somehow I had missed on my way down.
Kellogg's Monkeyflower, Mimulus kelloggii
I rejoined my companions and we started back along the creek. There seemed to be fewer people now, but new ones were making their way down, crossing our path. I now focused less on finding new wildflower species and more on the beauty of the landscape.

It was getting late and the sun was hanging ow in the western sky, making the flowers shine and more difficult to photograph.

Well above the waterfall I resumed hopping back and forth both sides of the creek, trying to take it all in. I am well aware of how fleeting all this beauty is. A single heat wave can end it all. Even with no hear wave, this boom bloom will be over as spring turns into summer.
Allocarya, Plagiobothrys stipitatus, and White-tipped Clover, Trifolium variegatum
With the exception of the clarkia, nearly all the flowers I've seen there were at their peak bloom. I plan to return to this place in May but I doubt the display would be as vibrant. I hope it will still be spectacular though. Maybe other species will take over.
Tupftet Eschscholzia, Eschscholzia caespitosa , and Caterpillar Phacelia, Phacelia cicutaria
There were certainly fewer people in the reserve as we made our way back. At last I could take people-free photos of some nice creek nooks.

I aslo noticed some plants that might be part of the next wave of bloom. I'll check on this one next month.
California Pipevine
My companions were impressed by the bright green algae growing at the bottom of the creek. The water was very shallow and the algae glistened in the almost direct sunlight.
Algae at the bottom of the creek
There was a small grove of trees right at the place where the creek leveled off again. At the time we were going downstream there were many people sitting or walking between them but on our way back they were alone. The few people that were still there were, like us, making a slow progress up the trail.

Nearly all the trees we saw there were oaks but there were some willows, and they too were blooming. Willow bloom isn't a colorful display but is very delicate and pretty.
Red Willow, Salix laevigata
Slowly we came back to the top meadow. Now there were many spots available in the parking lot. Cars were pulling out and heading back toward Oroville. We were heading in the opposite direction toward Redding. I felt very fortunate for having the chance to see this wonderful super bloom at the North Table Mountain Reserve. I don't think my spring would have been complete without it. 

Many thanks to the members of the California Native Plants Society for the reports and the beautiful photos from the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, without which I probably would have not go there this year.
And many thanks to the members of the California Native Plants Society for all the help in identifying plants!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Dessert Hike: To Bald Mountain and Back

Up to the Bald

Date: February 19, 2018
Place: Bald Mountain, Mount Umunhum Open Space, San Jose, California
Coordinates: 37.159630, -121.875483
Length: 1.4 miles round trip
Level: easy

At the end of our hike down Mount Umunhum I pulled my family from the parking lot, urging them to go on one additional hike: a short in and out trail to the nearby Balt Mountain.
Our additional hike to Bald Mountain and back as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The chikas made some faces but Pappa Quail urged them on after me. Before long they were running ahead. This trail was nearly flat up until the short ascend at the end. Up until that point it was also considerably warmer than the trail we hiked earlier.
Bald Mountain Trail
Trees were scarce along that trail and the mountainside was covered with thick chaparral. Most of the shrubs were still in their winter slumber but some were already waking to an early spring.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp. 
In fact, there were some lovely blooms along that trail that I haven't seen earlier on the Mount Umunhum trail.
Blue Witch, Solanum umbelliferum
The entire Bald Mountain trail is exposed and as such, the views from the way are wide and sweeping. It gave as a nice, different angle of some of the sights we've seen from the summit of Mount Umunhum.
Loma Prieta
As I mentioned above, we didn't see many trees along that path. Occasionally however, some chaparral members pretended to be trees, growing to a good tree height.
At the far end of the trail the chaparral is replaced by open grass savannah. The winds blow strong there. Or at least on the day we were there it was blowing very strong. So strong that we had to take off our hats. The elder chika rebelled and started to walk back. I called after her and she found a protected corner to sit down and wait for us.
We didn't linger mush on the Bald Mountain summit. The views were terrific, but the wind was intolerable.
South Bay

The younger chika turned around too and run down the trail to join her sister. Papa Quail looked around then started down as well. I tried to give the views more than a few seconds of appreciation but it wasn't long before I couldn't feel my nose anymore.
Imaden Reservoir
I headed back down the trail and joined m family on the bay back to the parking area. In the backdrop loomed Mount Umunhum, looking down on us, reminding me that I didn't really summit it. Driving u and hiking down doesn't count.
We came down all the way from up there ...
We walked quickly. The chikas were already discussing where we should stop for dinner but I chose to linger behind and enjoy the last few minutes in this newly opened Open Space.
Sticky Monkeyflower, Mimulus aurantiacus

Just before reaching the parking lot the hillside is cut and the soil exposed. There I saw some very yellow poison oak plants. I've seen them in every shade of red and green but the yellow is new to me.. I wonder if that's lack of iron or the effects of the cold spell that the area was experiencing. Or ma be it's a mutation ... who knows?
Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
Hiking to Bald Mountain was a nice dessert after hiking down the Mount Umunhum trail. But it can be a nice stand-alone trail for people who don't wish or don't have the time to hike Mount Umunhum, but still want to enjoy the views and the interesting vegetation of the area. Just hold on to your hats!

Monday, March 26, 2018

A New Trail of the Old Sacred Grounds: Hiking Down Mount Umunhum

Date: February 19, 2018
Place: Mount Umunhum, San Jose, California
Coordinates: 37.160017, -121.900401
Length: 3.5 miles one way
Level: strenuous (but we cheated)

Some time ago I joined the mailing list of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District. Then, I received a message that the Mount Umunhum trail is now open to the public. The chance to hike there came on Presidents Day after other plans we had for that day got cancelled.
It stands out, that mountain with the large cube-like structure at its top. Every time I drove down to San Jose I wondered what that place was. Each time I came to hike at Almaden Quick Silver I thought I'd check out the place.
It was very cold on the day of our hike. We took out time and when we finally got out of the house it was already noon. I wanted to go u and down but the chikas resisted and Pappa Quail observed that we might not have the time to walk in both directions. Reluctantly I agreed to go in two cars. We parked one at the last parking space we found in the Bald Mountain lot, gathered in the other car and drove up to the top parking area. From there it is a short walk up a flight of stairs to the actual summit.
Down below spread the entire Silicon Valley, framed by the East Bay hills topped by Mount Diablo.
View Northeast. The big peak is Mount Diablo

The view from the mountain top was spectacular. The sky was clear and the visibility good. All around was beautiful view but it was to the east that I had my eyes and camera trained on. There, in full view, was Mount Hamilton, the tallest peak in the Bay Area and home to the Lick Observatory.
View East. The big peak is Mount Hamilton

Mount Umunhum is sacred to the Amah Mutzun tribe of Native Californians. For two centuries they were barred from going up there. For many decades the general public was barred from going up there as well because the mountain top was used as a radar station, monitoring movements of Soviet aircrafts during the cold war. It wasn't just the radar building there at the time but an entire base with an active military community. When the place was turned into a park of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District all the buildings were removed save for the radar building which was left as a memorial and historical site. Great care was taken and still is to restore as much as possible the natural state of the mountain top. The Amah Mutzun tribe elders were consulted and their vision was incorporated into the plan and implemented. A spiritual circle was constructed at the summit next to the radar building, where the tribespeople can now gather at will.
The old radar building

There is a trail in construction that circumvents the building and connect to the main trail down below the summit. This was not yet finished when we were there so we backtracked our steps and went down the stairs again to the parking lot from where we got on the trail downhill. 

Our hike down mount Umunhum as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
The trail starts descending from the southeastern side. Before us was the view of the Coyote Creek valley all the way down to Gilroy, and the mountain range south of Mount Hamilton where Henry W. Coe State Park is located. A month later I spotted Mount Umunhum from Henry Coe, the other end of the direct line of sight across the valley. 
View Southeast

It was all downhill from there.
This trail is new, part of the park's making project. As we were going down we kept running into hikers that were making their way up. I started running about taking the easier way so Pappa Quail and the chikas hurried ahead, leaving me to sulk in the rear. 

Soon we plunged into the forest, which in places was just a high chaparral. The chikas started complaining about the cold and I couldn't stop myself from saying that we would've been warm had we been going uphill. 
Manzanita Trail
Although we were going downhill and at a quick pace, I found myself lingering behind and stopping to appreciate the beauty around me. 
I got to admit  that I too found it easier to pull my hands from my sleeves and operate the camera when I was out of the shade.  
There weren't any annual wildflowers blooming yet but the shrubs were having their spring already. This one has a particularly lovely scent. 
Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus
We found a sunny corner of a switchback and sat for a short break. Pappa Quail detected movement in the bushes and identified a cute little wrentit in the branches. 
We were descending quickly, as expected on a downhill hike. Still reasonably high up the trail we could see a pretty looking observation deck. The chikas wondered if the trail goes there. I promised them it was. 

Lower down the mountain side the vegetation was denser and taller. The manzanita was replaced by its relative the Madrone. 
Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
In almost no time we arrived at the observation deck and stopped there for a little while. From there we had a clear view of the next peak to the south - the Loma Prieta. 
Loma Prieta Peak
We also had a lower view of Mount Hamilton, and could be duly impressed by its enormity.
Mount Hamilton
Now there were taller trees on our way down, and more shade. Every time it seemed that the day was warming up a bit we were back under the canopies, shivering. And it was getting later in the afternoon.

Under the trees however, I did find another blooming plant - the California man-root vine with its white, delicate flowers.
California Man-root, Marah fabacea
A bit further down -another early spring flowers: the baby blue eyes. A fitting name indeed.
Baby Blue Eyes, Nemoophilia menziesii

Near the end of our trail I turned around and looked up at the mountain top with its signature man-made ornament. I prompted the chikas to turn around and look as well.
Pappa Quail suggested that I would walk back up to the summit and get the car we've left there while he drive away with the chikas. That was a sound suggestion but I passed on it. Instead I wanted to go on and hike the trail to Bald Mountain too.
Mount Umunhum
On the last few yards of the trail I collected some red sights to post online. A fresh growth of California Laurel, dedicated and tender,
New growth of California Laurel, Umbellularia californica
... the red, shod back of a Madrone tree,

... and the new spring growth of the lovely and dreaded Poison Oak.
Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum 
We made is back to the Balt Mountain parking lot where I refused to open the car for the chikas, stressing that we were going to go on for another 1.5 miles to Balt Mountain and back. The chikas grumbled but Pappa Quail backed me and so we went on for the second part of our days hike, of which I'll post separately.
And yes, I do plan to go back there and hike Mount Umunhum properly - up and down.