Chimney Rocking with Michael – 28 April 2014

Tipping our hats to Maurice Sendak, we arrived at the Chimney Rock promontory of Pt. Reyes last Monday to find “Where the Wildflowers Are.” This area has always been challenging for our hikes because it can be frigid in the prevailing Pacific winds and fogs that blow across the point of Pt. Reyes. But last Monday was notable for its sunshine and light breezes, ideal for spotting the wildflowers which were spread out in their vivid, colorful arrays. It was also prime time for enjoying views of the beaches still filled with Northern Elephant Seals. The huge males had returned to their anonymous sojourns in the sea as have most of the females but still in raucous evidence remain the weaner/weiner “babies” now substantial since their spring births – are they already teenagers?

The prevailing winds and fogs around Pt. Reyes have made navigation a challenge for centuries . The shipwrecks around the peninsula from 1849 – 1940 are an amazing collection of tragedy and loss.
The National Parks Service website linked some remarkable footage from British Pathe films of the 1931 wreck of the Munleon which could have been seen from the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse. “Another fine ship piles up on Point Reyes – America’s ship’s graveyard.” The crew seems to have taken all in stride, stout fellows that they are. The captain coming off last with the ship’s cat was particularly endearing.

The Pt. Reyes Lifeboat Station was built in 1927 in response to these continuing coastal collisions replacing another station built in 1888. The first station was built on an overlook of the woolly waters of Pt. Reyes Great Beach, the new station was built on Chimney Rock in the protected waters of Drake’s Bay. On an earlier hike with Armando, we visited the Life Saving Service Cemetery at G Ranch located on a knoll overlooking Drake’s Estero.
Armando also shared with us that there had been an air crash off of Chimney Rock in November of 1938 when a United DC-3 lost its way to Oakland coming in from Portland and Medford, Oregon running out of gas and crashing in the rugged surf on the ocean side of Chimney Rock. Here’s some excellent coverage complete with pictures of perhaps the beaches where we enjoyed observing the elephant seals.

Seep-spring Monkey Flowers, Mimulus guttatus, just below the parking area in a small spring bog. The Mimulus name may come from the Greek ‘mimo’, an ape, finding a resemblance on the markings to the face of a monkey, or from the Latin ‘mimus’, “an actor or mimic because the flower is like a mouthpiece of one of the grinning masks worn by classical actors”.
McHoul points out that the guttatus part is a reference to the reddish spots on the lower lobes.

The path out to the Northern Elephant Seal overlook to the still crowded beach. Almost exterminated in the early twentieth century, they were hunted for their blubber which was then used for lamp oil (thank you Thomas Alva Edison) and lubricants. A small group was found on Guadalupe Island off of Baja California in late 1800’s. “In 1892, 9 seals were found there of which 7 were harvested for the collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Against all odds, the last remaining (and very small) colony on Guadalupe continued to grow, but was repeatedly exploited by hunters and museum collectors until 1922, when the Mexican Government finally put an end to elephant seal hunting by making Guadalupe Island a biological preserve and conferring protection on the seals.” The United States followed suit when they began reappearing in Southern California. The first breeding pair was discovered at Chimney Rock in 1981.

Mellow day in the sunshine, Michael is finishing a brief introduction to angiosperms and their pollinators. His visual aid flower has done yeoman service, you can see the a petal, pistils and stamens on the ground with the stalk bravely hoping for renewal – nature “tooth and claw”. Earth was a very different place before the angiosperms. You’ll recall Loren Eisley’s imaginative description of looking at earth from space seeing the first splashes of color on the “green hills of earth” as the angiosperms make their colorful entrance on the stage.

Part of the group is at an overlook that provides a great view of Elephant Seals on another beach, perhaps the other group has been distracted by the wildflowers and Mari has been negotiating to bring the groups back together. Sir Francis Drake dropped anchor in the bay to the right while on his round the world tour of 1579 claiming the area for Queen Elizabeth I and calling it Nova Albion. After R & R for 36 days, he continued his voyage. It is said that the exposed hillsides you see reminded him of the White Cliffs of Dover. Drake’s Bay and Beach retain his name while Nova Albion has faded although was used as the name of a successful craft brewer in Sonoma, CA in the 1970’s.

The view down to the beach with a quick review from last week, what is the plant in the foreground? Beaches along this side of Chimney Rock are more exposed to the Pacific Ocean and so during winter storms they are no safe haven for the elephant seals. The seals tried to establish their colony on another ocean facing beach further south for about ten years, each time the weiners were swept out to sea. They finally moved around the point to the protected Drake’s Beach area and the colony thrived after that.

All together now, a successful negotiation! The Pacific Ocean is on the left and Drake’s Bay on the right. We looked for owls resting in the Monterey Cypresses in the middle of the photo as we walked by. Not this time but we’ve seen them on a number of hikes. Was Michael talking about Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) at this point? Plants on Chimney Rock tend to be low growing and ground hugging adapting to the challenging climate. Non-native Sheep Sorrel has naturalized across North America. While enjoyed for its nutritional and medicinal benefits, Sorrel contains high amounts of oxalic acid, the main component of kidney ston

Harriet observed this clover blooming on the hillside next to the overlook. I think it is called by various names – cows clover, coast clover, spring bank clover, Trifolium wormskioldii, perhaps. has 88 clovers to choose from and checking out their photos is amazing: While diminutive, it definitely is not bashful.

Moving up the hill toward Chimney Rock itself we stop before a familiar Yellow-flowered Bush Lupine so prolific on the Pt. Reyes peninsula.
Lupinus arboreus is in the pea family, yeah Lisa, and according to McHoul can grow up to nine feet tall but probably not out here. Michael is reading from a quotation by John Thomas Howell on the California Poppy. By researching this information and adding to his iPhone archive on Apple’s Evernote, Michael is able to share remarkable quotations on site and in the moment without a cell phone connection.

“No poet has yet sung the full beauty of our poppy, no painter has successfully portrayed the satiny sheen of its lustrous petals, no scientist has satisfactorily diagnosed the vagaries of its variations and adaptability. In its abundance, this colorful plant should not be slighted: cherish it and be ever thankful that so rare a plant is common.” John Thomas Howell (1937)
Quoted in the beginning of: “California’s Fading Wildflowers” by Richard A. Minnich, University of California Press, 2008.
The California Coastal Poppy is distinctive for it yellow petals and orange center, Eschscholzia california maritima.

A Pelagic Cormorant on her/his “turf” above the waves. David Lukas who has led some of our hikes in the past writes in his fine BAY AREA BIRDS, “They nest exclusively on sheer cliffs directly over and facing the ocean, where they take advantage of their (small) size to nest on narrow ledges that few other birds use. . . From these precarious colonies Pelagics undertake short foraging expeditions into nearby waters over rocky reefs where they dive up to 400 ft in search of various fish. . . Chicks grow so fast that they reach adult size in about eight weeks, and due to their perilous nest locations chicks do not gather into creches as other cormorants do. . . A significant percentage of the total California population nest on the Farallon Islands and along the coast immediately north of San Francisco Bay.” Pp. 52-53

Narrow-leaved Mule Ears (Wyethia angustifolia) hugging the hillside accompanied by a blaze of Blue-eyed Grass, which as Michael pointed out isn’t either blue or a grass! Reny Parker writes in her “Wildflowers of Northern California’s Wine Country . .” “The playful name evokes images of beasts of burden used in this area before mechanization. Captain Wyeth (1802-1856) who discovered this many petaled yellow perennial, was probably quite familiar with mules. The leaf is long, linear and tapering.” P. 80
Blue-Eyed Grass is a bulb in the Iris Family, Sisyrinchium bellum, the first relating to Iris and the second meaning beautiful.

For extra-credit Michael pointed out these linear wave patterns known as Langmuir Circulation. Winds blowing steadily and the waves that they make “can induce long sets of counter-rotating vortices (or cells) in the surface water . . . These slowly twisting vortices align in the direction of the wind. It usually takes an hour for a particle in a vortex to complete one revolution. Streaks of foam (or seaweed or debris) called windrows, collect in areas where adjacent vortices converge, while regions of divergence remain relatively clear. Langmuir circulation rarely disturbs the ocean below a depth of about 20 meters (66 feet).”–LangmuirCirculation.pdf
I grew up in Schenectady where my father was an electrical engineer at the then large General Electric “plant” of the time in the 1930’s & 1940’s. He talked of Langmuir, an all around genius, on a number of occasions.

The Seaside Daisy (Erigeron glaucus) like the narrow leaved Mule Ears is in the Sunflower Family. “From the Greek eri, early, and heron, old man , the ancient name of an early flowering plant with a hoary appearance. Glaucus means whitish. . . The flowers bear numerous blue rays. The disk flowers in the center are yellow.” Found on coastal bluffs, sandy places, and beaches. P. 94 Lilian McHoul’s “Wildflowers of Marin”.

Closing in on the “Chimney” we look down on the fateful beach where the Northern Elephant Seals first tried to set up housekeeping.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja franciscana) popped up like beacons along the trail. Named for a Spanish botanist, D. Castillejo, it is in the Figwort Family. The foliage is gray-green and bracts are red. The hairy flower is yellow with reddish margins. “It’s easy to see how the Castilleja gets its common name Paintbrush. A cluster of straight stems with showy flower bracts at the top resemble a paintbrush just dipped in paint. Known for bright reds, the colors actually vary from orange to scarlet to purple, even yellow and white. . . Growing in varied habitats, this plant is a favorite food for the larvae of butterfly species.” P.113 Reny Martin “Wildflowers”

We have the coolest picnic spots.

Just above the chimney of Chimney Rock with an amazingly tall person in the middle of the group, never a problem for them being able to see but not someone you’d want to sit behind. We were really lucky with a veritable Parade of the Pinnipeds on the hike. The views of the Northern Elephant seals were amazing, Scott spotted a California or Stellar Sea Lion while we were finishing lunch. Confirmed by Barbara. Then just as we moved around the point we saw two Pacific harbor seals dervishing in the water, one finally “bottling” – a vertical position seeming to look up at us far up on the cliff. Though no longer Pinnipeding, the finale was spotting a female Gray Whale and her baby perhaps nursing in the quieter waters of Drakes Bay.

Wallflower, Erysimum continuum, in the Mustard Family. “The Greek eryomai, help or save, is a reference to supposed medicinal effects. The specific name mean elegant. White flowers grow in terminal clusters. Behind 10 Mile Beach and near Point Reyes Lighthouse.” McHoul

This is Flax with a gorgeous blue flower and cerulean blue Pistil. Linum angustfolium is a successful visitor to our shores used in the production of linen. Is that a Hairy Pussy Ears behind it?

Weiners with various birthdays gather on a warm beach by the old Lifeboat Station in a multicolored collage.

P.S. We were seeing this flower along the way and got wondering about the book and its author.

P.P.S. Looking down on the west end of Pt. Reyes Beach

P.P.P.S. Why you might want to check your gardening shoes before using them:

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