Category Archives: Fall 2014

Devil’s Gulch with Michael – 1 December 2014

You wonder just how things get named after hiking along a beautiful, rippling brook in a quiet canyon only to realize that it is called Devil’s Gulch. How do names get attached to places, to people?

We’ve a number of names like this in the Bay Area. You’ll recall Devil’s Slide along a precipitous Route # 1 in San Mateo County which used to hear about this time of year because of rock slides and closures. Alcatraz was referred to as Uncle Sam’s Devil’s Island by one writer and the Miwoks kept their distance calling it “Island of the Evil Spirits”. Perhaps the most famous is Mt. Diablo, “Monte del Diablo” or thicket of the devil. There are exotic accounts about a feathered evil spirit (puy) appearing at different times on the mountain. At one time it was a consideration to name Conta Costa County, Diablo County, but the city fathers (why not the city mothers?) decided it might not be good for business.

But for naming the origins of Devil’s Gulch, not so much. Was it the difficult and precipitous trail and road from the upper Nicasio Valley area as some suggest. Devil’s Gulch is in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Taylor a very successful 19th Century worthy who came out to California in the 1850’s and established the first paper mill on the west coast. He married Sarah Washington Irving who was either a niece or namesake of the great writer and diplomat, Washington Irving. He of “The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow” fame, the horseman said to vanish after his hair raising ride in a “flash of fire and brimstone”. Perhaps Sarah and Samuel transferred some memories of the story to Devil’s Gulch and gave it the name. Or perhaps the great numbers of spawning bright red & black Coho Salmon writhing and dying in the stream gave passers by images of the sights, sounds and smells of an imagined hell. As T.S. Eliot writes, “The naming of Cats is a difficult matter, it isn’t just one of your holiday games.”

Our memories were sweet of an earlier hike we took here with Armando heightened by Armando himself joining us for this hike as well. On the previous hike he read us some of the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth who lived here in an abandoned cabin “especially during the gas-rationed World War II years”.

“The green spring that comes in November
With the first rains has restored the hills.”

Here’s a friendly Vimeo video of the hike set in part to the music of Morton Gould, his 1938 American Symphonette # 2, Pavanne along with Armando & Michael talking about this unique ecosystem and the song of the water in Lagunitas Creek.

Just below the parking area Lagunitas Creek runs close singing with the new rains. Sir Francis Drake, our longest Marin roadway, follows the creek closely though this part of the San Geronimo Valley. This was taken on 12-1-2014 @ 9:53:13 AM.

The group gathered and gathering on a misty morning.

Michael found a California Nutmeg (Torreya Californica) with its distinctive broad, sharp needles and while not the source of our spice is “strongly aromatic”. 03 project/Nutmeg.html

Michael spotted these Coral Fungi peeking up amid the leaf litter.

Harriet shares a marvelous ancient Redwood that escaped the felling so many others had to endure. Do you think Taylor or his wife protected this rare
old growth tree in the San Geronimo Valley?

John, Sue M and others share the moment as Michael illustrates with his trademark hand gestures. Michael found a Slender Salamander to show us and carefully held it so we all could see its long body with tiny legs and not interrupt its respiration through the skin.

Visiting from his home under a log is another lungless salamander, Ensatina eschscholtzi, found all the way from British Columbia to Baja California. We found him quite endearing with fetching eyes and colors.

Some slime mold on a log along the trail which Michael detailed for us as well as in his Perspectives Series on KQED.

Slime Mold: Perspectives | KQED Public Media for Northern CA

Definitely has the group’s attention, what was it?

Fog and rain mingle over the San Geronimo Valley in this view from the Barnabe Peak Trail.

Asked what might have dug this straight hole, Karen wowed us coming up with Mustelidae ( and we all guessed what creature would have been looking for some honey from a yellow jacket nest: badgers, weasels, fishers until we finally got to skunk which it turns out was conveniently located now in their own new family digs (order) found by Nancy F, thanks:
Here a survivor of getting “skunked” defends what is left of his turf.

Michael told us about his recent group trip to southern Bhutan and its newest national park. They were the first western tourists to visit the park.

He told about not being able to go across at a nearby border crossing from India (Assam) necessitating a long narrow mountain road trip in order to approach a different way. After a protracted reading of their passports at the new entry post, they were on their way.

On this life-on-the-edge mountain highway a tanker truck had taken a turn too fast and turned over blocking traffic in both directions. Michael suggested getting another van to meet them on the other side so they could continue on. Fortunately, they were able to move the truck enough to gain one lane for passing.

They were able to continue on their adventure arriving at Royal Manas park toward the end of day. They were able then to raft down a wild river in the twilight and gathering darkness for a breathtaking passage and amazing memory.

Lunch on the veranda.

The mix of weather as we looked over to Black Mountain showing its pyramidal side.

Rain prompts a short lunch.

Umbrellas sprout in the soft chaparral.

As with our current series of rains, the mood shifts and we get to walk into a different day.

Playing catch-up

Barnabe was Samuel P. Taylor’s Mule

The Taylor graves on Mt. Barnabe

Samuel P. Taylor’s original marker perhaps. Some interesting background on their lives not found on other sites.

Returning to the bridge overcrossing

Almost some pixilation or pointillism with the leaves, flowing into the scene.

Debriefing is great fun

Let’s see how the rock has changed, it’s over 3 hours later – 12-1-2014 @ 1:19:39

We revisit the rock to see how it has changed since this morning – 12-1-2014 @1:19:39 PM

Taylor Mountain with Michael – 24 November 2014

The trail beckons as Michael reviews the troops. He just returned from leading a Footloose Forays’ trip to Bhutan and is handling the jet lag with aplomb. We last hiked here on March 15, 2010 when Sonoma LandPaths was beginning to steward this land and establish the area for park use. “LandPaths’ Mission is to foster a love of the land in Sonoma County”. Since our previous visit, Michael has joined the LandPaths’ Board of Directors.

Come, take the hike.

The music is “Fireflies” played by Michael Silver.

Those long autumn shadows keep joining our hikes sometimes going to great lengths.

This fenced area is dedicated to oak trees, rocks and an 18-hole Frisbee disc golf course. One hole is visible at the left middle edge of the picture. As Barb commented, it’s fenced so the rocks don’t escape.

An early morning hot air balloon flight settles back to earth behind a live oak.

One of the upsides of the drought is the slowing of sudden oak death – sudden oak death takes a holiday. We hope it will be extended.

Michael talked about the oak savanna that we were walking though and said that this is like the land in which our ancestors grew up, that it feels like “home” with all of its familiarity and comforts. He also shares some “sound” observations!

A spray of mistletoe in some oak branches. Here’s an article by one of our hiking leader alums, David Lukas.

As we climb, we begin to have a view of Santa Rosa. The large green spot is the race track at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds. Having walking, hiking and other recreation nearby and in a city can make all the difference. We’ve also hiked a number of times at Annadel State Park in another area with easy access from many neighborhoods in Santa Rosa.

Our group on the March 2010 hike which we took with Michael and some LandPaths leaders. Note the color of the grass. We fondly hope that the current rains will help this scene come alive again.

There were many birds along the way initially welcomed by the carousing Acorn Woodpeckers with their “Woody Woodpecker” calls, Blue Birds flitting amid the basalt rocks and fence posts, Black and Say’s Phoebes together on a fence wire and a wonderful American Kestrel who seemed as interested in us as we were of him. We kept hoping for a Golden Eagle and even thought we’d seen one circling in the distance but as it came closer by Michael identified it as a Ferruginous Hawk. I guess the arrow points where to look.

Taylor Mountain (1404’) “is named after a California Gold Rush pioneer, John Shackleford Taylor, who settled the mountain slopes in 1853 to raise dairy cows and plant a vineyard.” Michael has found his grave in a historic cemetery in Santa Rosa and an oak branch is beginning to obscure his name. But with Taylor Mountain Park, his memory is up in lights, well daylights.,_California)

Walking through a field of some Sonoma Volcanics debris. Basalt is a very functional rock that shears well and was utilized extensively to make paving and building stones in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Here’s discussion of Bay Area Volcanoes talking of their origins in subducting plates. Toward the end mentions it the Sonoma Volcanics.

This remarkable geology is the very underpinning of the remarkable wine growing regions of the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. Here is a Wine Institute link which gives some helpful and salient background.

Still another wrinkle in the Sonoma Volcanics story are the Geysers just north of Santa Rosa with the largest geothermal energy production facilities in the world. Here’s a commercial site with an interesting video that gives some good explanations: The views of Mt. St. Helena are from the other side.

Sounds from below getting fainter and fainter as we climb toward the top.

Jeannie, Scott and Michael stop for a view of the dominant mountain profile on our horizon, Mt. St. Helena (4327’).

Lunch on the rocks. Michael spotted a trio of ravens stunt flying together. One time on the Pierce Point Trail I saw a raven chugging along in flight when for no seeming reason, he turned upside down and continued flying quite lyrically that way for quite awhile.

You can just make out the suggestion of a tower on the top. Here are some close-ups of the detail.

You could spot the distinctive east peak of Mt. Tamalpais (2571’) when looking south at our mountain sentinel in Marin.

A passing Sheltie or rather, passing a Sheltie.

Gathering some downward momentum on a clear path

The same area from a distance with a profusion of Star Lilies in at the foreground enjoying a boggy area along the trail.

Closer up, closer in:

Sharing and shadows

Two great contrails celebrate the hike winding down:

How they dissipate:

Michael saves a description of the communal life of the acorn woodpecker for the finale: Web Pages/Koenig Web Pages/AWIntroPoster/AWposter.html

We often talk about loss of habitat due to human expansion. In 2009 Rossmoor, a senior adult community in Walnut Creek, California, expanded into a wooded area that was prime habitat for the acorn woodpecker.

This week’s quiz. What are these symmetrical hollows about?

Frisbee golf in action, can you spot the Frisbee in mid-air? (hint: not that shiny roof beyond the trees)

Sarah and Michael bid adieu as do we all until next time. P.S. Find Armand in the picture, he’s handling the quality control.

Addendum: Hikers have gone this way before and we appreciated their artistry on Taylor Mountain. A great Wiki which I think I shared a while back.

And a couple of additional views from March 2010:

Five Brooks with Jim – 10 November 2014

Five Brooks is the equestrian area of Pt. Reyes National Seashore and we often share the trail here with riders and their mounts. The morning sunshine highlights our many choices. But for now we’ll pick up our packs and poles and head out on the trail, was it called “Shank’s mare”?

The Vimeo video is a quick eleven minute view of our hike with some added photos and, drum roll please, an opportunity to hear Jim on three occasions describing the amazing life of a dead stump, what goes on in some old Douglas Firs and the remarkable history of a woodrat midden.

The music at the start is Scott Joplin playing “The Palm Leaf Rag” (1903) from the record, “The Entertainer, Classic Ragtime from Rare Piano Rolls”. Toward the end we have Ferde Grofe playing his arrangement (in part) of “The Limehouse Blues” (1922) on an Ampico recording.

The school bus at the beginning was a happy circumstance. A class from Bolinas-Stinson School was in the middle of a natural history class in the middle of the parking lot. Pat taught a variety of grades at Bolinas-Stinson (mostly Kindergarten) for twenty five years.

We started out on the Stewart Trail for 2.6 steady uphill miles, we’ve gone up and back on the Stewart a couple of times. This time Jim suggested a circle route and everyone was enthusiastic. This was the way that Jeannie pioneered on one of the earlier hikes. We continued on the Ridge Trail for .08 of a mile and then went across on the Bolema Trail (Bolinas/Olema) coming back to our start on the Olema Valley Trail (1.2) miles at the Five Brooks Trailhead.

Hike leader for the day was John Muir or as he is called by Jim and his daughter, Lucy, “Gramps”. Part of the qualification for Footloose hike leader, I think, is loving Halloween, dressing up in costumes and donning new personas. This was the first time we’d seen this side of Jim. You’ll recall Michael’s legendary Halloween costumes, parades and celebrations at his house on McDonald Avenue in days of yore.

Lucy was able to join us for the hike since it was Veteran’s Day, a day off from school. Note the way cool boots and sparkling backpack.

Before heading up the hill we check into the old mill pond and see the steady as you go American Coots, American Wigeons, and Harriet spotted a wood duck in all of its glory on her last hike here. A different trail but initially the same as ours and Jules Evans is remarkable., – This is a site by David Leahy that I just discovered, fabulous bird photography of a number of western areas.

Jim is talking about the Big Leaf Maple and suggests that it could be a source for maple syrup, noted at the end of this Wiki article:

Some late morning fog in Olema Valley looking over at Bolinas Ridge

Some huge Douglas Fir trees adorned our trails which were originally logging roads. We wonder why these trees were spared. You’ll recall that one of the reasons for saving Muir Woods was its inaccessibility. Jim spoke about the ancient trees being prime habitat for Spotted owls, Ospreys and others.

A large branch makes a 90 degree turn toward the sun.

A 1999 scientific paper on fire history in the Point Reyes area talks of hills without forests in earlier eras. “Von Kotzebue during an expedition in the 1810’s described the Point Reyes area as ‘barren with few scattered trees on the higher elevations and patches of dwarf shrubs in the valleys’.
cf. p. 213

Jim said shrews were very ancient animals that occupy a distinct niche.

We got into a short discussion of “shrewish” and wondered if the adjective was ever used to describe men? New site for me, quite engaging.

Jim spotted some great pack rat (woodrat) middens along the Ridge Trail. He recalled a wonderful cut-away display of a nest like this showing tunnels and rooms, a veritable woodrat condominium that could be centuries old. Nancy mentioned that there is a display of such a nest at the Oakland Museum. Showing the dioramas and an intrepid pack rat builder with twig at the ready at the entry to her midden. Engagingly written article with many photos though some are the “specimens in collections” type which makes me kind of sad. It’s a part of science perhaps necessary but I was recalling Michael’s description of scientists making an ambitious “collection” of some of the last remaining Elephant Seals on earth. In May of 1892 two men found 9 elephant seals on Isla de Guadalupe of the Baja Mexican Coast. (The species had been considered extinct in 1883.) The men proceeded to kill 7 of the 9 and took them to the Smithsonian’s museum collection. Ok, we’re talking wood rats here but still I like the attitude of the next link a bit better.

Lunch on the trail with no galloping horses or zinging mountain bikes, what’s that sound?

Oak gall in a golden cup oak (canyon live Oak):

“The life cycle of gall wasps hinges on a near miracle of timing. Since adult gall wasps live only about a week and don’t eat during that time, their most important task is to find the proper host organ (a bud, leaf, or new stem) and lay eggs in it. This means that the adults’ emergence must coincide with the proper stage in the development of the host tree species. The tree’s development varies with the weather, so wasps’ must as well. When the time is right, a female deposits an egg and also injects a chemical into the tree that clauses it to form a nutritive shell around each egg.” More on this in the link which focuses on the Blue Oak but bears enough similarities:

As an added pleasure Jim shook seedlings from a female Coyote Bush in full blush. Airborne they flew to land on the leaves of this golden cup oak. You can see their feathery presence landed on the leaves in three or four places. Perhaps we have a small reprise of Rosetta’s lander Philae alighting on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko or maybe vice-versa.

And lastly, we got talking about “galling” the word. Wordnik coming in handy again:

Kit spotted a young California California garter snake, here Jim holds it for a moment while Kit and Lucy look on.

Fallen Douglas Fir becoming a home for generations of life and a diagonal contrast along the trail. Interesting how many net references to fallen trees are concerned with their danger to passing humans’ lives and property, hard to find the “nursery of life” theme I was after.

Even though there have been just a few light suggestions of rain here in Northern California, this trail had numbers of mushrooms and other fungi, the rushing sound if not the sight of some of the “brooks” of Five Brooks and some glorious mud holes.

Larry and Jim are between the shadows and casting some of their own as the Olema Valley Trail descends.

On our return, the California Quail were very busy in the brambles near the mill pond, so was a darting red shouldered hawk. Some color variations in this site from southern California but many continuities with fine videos of quail in the snow, quail babies called walnuts, and distinctive quail voices are heard.

At the parking area looking over toward Bolinas Ridge with a full view of Lucy’s sparkling backpack. . .

Big leaf maple leaf in pumpkin colors on the grass, big leaf maple syrup? The quest continues.

Muir Beach with Michael – 27 October 2014

TW 3 – “That was the week that was.”

Calling the meeting to order, additions and corrections to the minutes are always welcome.

Big Bon Voyage Bhutan to Michael! Lew et al

This past Monday at Muir Beach was a Goldilocks kind of day, not too hot, not too cold, just right. We found the turn to the beach at the classic line of mail boxes and the now iconic Pelican Inn. This traces from the first name of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon “The Pelican” later renamed “The Golden Hinde” by Drake mid-voyage in 1578. This was a “compliment to his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose armorial crest was a golden ‘hind’ (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake’s world voyage.” But why did Drake wait until he was on the high seas to make this change?

Close by is the famed Muir Woods which has taken the place of the “Crookedest Railway” as a touring destination which so attracted visitors to the San Francisco area from 1896 to 1930. The railway in fact featured Muir Woods with its famous “gravity cars” which swooped visitors down to the Woods, at the brakes was only the “gravity man”. Muir’s name can be found on a mountain, a glacier, as founder of the Sierra Club, a famous Sierra trail, scientific names for a mineral, plants and animals, a multiplicity of schools, a hospital and even a minor planet (2006). In his time, he was most pleased with the honor of Muir Woods Monument. Redwood is one of the few vegetatively reproducing conifers readily regenerating from stump sprouts along with seed cones. Because of its vigor, longevity and its phenomenal history, Muir embraced the Redwood as a particularly robust memorial. They are perhaps closer to eternal than glaciers that melt and mountains that erode away. “The genus has a rich fossil record in western North America represented by Eocene and Oligocene fossils . . .”

Muir Beach was named more as an afterthought than as a part of this dedication. Originally it was called Bello Beach after a Portuguese settler, Antonio Nunez Bello, who supposedly bought the entire hillside for a $10 gold piece in the early 20th Century.

Sarah Smith writing in her brief history of Muir Beach in 1970 says that the Bello Beach name was changed to Muir Beach in 1940. One writer indicated that the locals wanted to capitalize on the popularity of nearby Muir Woods.

We can imagine that John Muir and perhaps his fellow Scot and frequent hiking companion, William Keith (the famous western painter) could have come down to the beach when they went to Muir Woods together in 1908.

Looking a little greener in November of 2010 on our Diaz Ridge Hike with Armando.

A fine selection of hats ready for the hike. Michael points out the lay of the land on a topographical landscape sculpture in the new, redesigned parking area.
Behind us are the new restrooms, a sheer delight especially once you recall our last visit and the “rustic” porta-potties.

Some have enjoyed Doug McConnell on the Bay Area Back Roads program in the past. Here he has an informative video that succinctly describes the remarkable restoration process in the Muir Beach area that has been going on a number of years.

I’d forgotten that he’d suffered a small stroke in June of 2013:

The new bridge (all the way from Florida) leading to Muir Beach over wetlands and flood plain recently reclaimed. Various accounts disagree about its length 440 or 450’ with one measure at 235’ but I surmise that was the old bridge length. Wouldn’t more dates be a boon on the internet? We’ll have to measure it next visit. The bridge adds a sense of drama to both the walk to the beach and to a number of hiking trails available at the other end. It has striking tile displays along its railings that whet the appetite for the natural scene into which you are walking.

Here’s one of the tiles that is aimed at younger visitors.

Diana has steadily worked as a volunteer on the restoration. She shared some of her experiences most engagingly with the group. She’s been involved with removal of non-native plants like Harding grass and replanting with natives of the area. She also related how tiny transponders were placed in Coho salmon fry so that they could be monitored in their life cycles and welcomed back from the Pacific in their hoped for return.

Michael found a vagrant teasel plant relaying that it is one of the top ten invasive plants in California.

Michael lived here at Muir Beach when he was starting out in California after a long road a-winding on a motorcycle ride west. Was that the 70’s? He roomed with Sam Keen, the author, who later wrote “Fire in the Belly” and who lived here at the time.

The point (land’s end) was owned by the Borden family (of Elsie the Cow fame) at one time

The water at the top of the beach is where the Redwood Creek breakout to the sea occurs with the hoped for rains and tides of autumn/winter – the Coho salmon hoping a lot harder than we are. The rocky promontory in the middle of the skyline is the Muir Beach Overlook accessed just north on Highway # 1 and well worth a visit.

Just above here and quite far away from the water, Scott spotted a river otter on the trail. Michael thought that it was probably a wandering male checking out the possibilities. Some of you may recall that we saw a sea otter just off Chimney Rock at Pt. Reyes on an earlier hike with Armando.

We were watching the ship now out in the shipping lane disembark her San Francisco Bar Pilot. Calm today but on a rope ladder it can be very demanding and dangerous on a stormy sea.

The hikers are standing just above the saddle area where peregrine falcons were raised in the wild by researchers, students and volunteers in the 1970’s after the population had been decimated by DDT and habitat loss.

Michael told the story of “Bob the Peregrine Falcon” who had been carefully wild raised and was now at the point of leaving the nest albeit with the same reluctance true of some kids in Marin. Bob seemed to disappear and they scrambled desperately to find him until his radio signal started coming in loud & clear over a monitor. They eagerly found their way to the spot where the signal was coming from only to sadly realize that the fastest bird on earth had to rest in a tree. That was when a great horned owl saw his chance. Bob’s beeper continued bravely on in the midst of his remains.

We were mostly walking through soft chaparral but here at the bridge Michael pointed out a Pacific Wax Myrtle tree rising above the surrounding coyote bushes, a native which grows well in a variety of environments and which requires very little attention once established.

Sharply defined line and change of color in the water: change in water depth? current patterns? We could even write to “Ask the Naturalist” at Bay Nature Magazine.

A binocular moment

Picnic at Pirate’s Cove or at least near Pirate’s Cove. Wikipedia calls it “an embayment” between Muir Beach and Tennessee Cove. Weekend Sherpa calls it a “quintessential Northern California pocket beach’. David Middlecamp writes in The San Luis Obispo Tribune about a Pirate’s Cove and Sir Francis Drake.
While he seems to be talking about a place on the San Luis coast, his writing is so engaging and descriptions so apt that they could describe our Pirate’s Cove. (And we must be aware of their threat to our Sir Francis Drake landing sites.)

The cove with an orange shoelace for spice.

Michael identified this as a Fallstreak Hole, his email linked to The Cloud Appreciation Society, a fun group with a terrific website that you can join if you wish.–-a-new-understanding/

Probably the oldest kind of plant along the trail.

Amid the soft chaparral

Heading back with some downhill momentum

Looking as fresh as at the start of the hike, three of our musketeers show some “true colors shining through”. We return to go, collect our memories and await our next tour around the board, I think I want the shoe.

Muir Beach and the mouth of Redwood Creek muted in the afternoon sun

New Footloose Hiker waiting in the wings but in the meantime she waves good-bye with her pail and shovel.

P.S. Quick stop at Muir Beach Overlook:

Just a snatch of Muir Beach below but a nice view of our Coastal Trail heading to Pirates Cove

The overlook not to be overlooked

Looking upcoast toward Slide Ranch (cognoscenti will spot a white yurt at the edge of the pine trees). Bolinas Ridge is peeking up in burnished gold upper right and the longer Bolinas Point and Duxbury Reef are stretching into the Pacific.

Two of the base end stations, so called “gopher holes” from WW 2, installations at the top of the stairs

The duty personnel ordered heavy winter gear from the army – boots, parkas, and winter hats to handle the cold of the summer fogs in which they found themselves shivering. The army was bewildered having just filled an order for Hamilton Air Base (also in Marin) with shorts and light summer clothing.

P.P.S A few photos of the 29 Nov. 2010 Hike on Diaz Ridge with Armando. The hike showed us some of the earlier work on the Muir Beach complex stabilizing the hillside with new planting & contouring above the beach, repairing the previous erosion and degradation.

It was a little cooler day than the one we enjoyed last Monday.

The new path follows the contour of the land, the old one not so much.

Chris with his staff checks the progress in Redwood Creek reclamation. (The staff is successfully keeping the cougars at a safe distance.)

Mail incoming and outgoing! Viva USPS!

Jack London State Historic Park with Michael – 6 October 2014

Welcome to the Valley of the Moon, our destination last Monday and the name of one of Jack London’s many books. It’s a description that perhaps goes back to the original Miwok tribes that lived in the valley. “Miwok legends say that the moon seemingly rose from this valley, or was “nestled” in the valley, or may have even sprung up multiple times in one night.” This can still be experienced if the moon is low and temporarily obscured by the various hills of Sonoma Mountain. It seems to rise again and again as you drive up toward Glen Ellen and Jack London State Park.

Walking past the vineyards on our way up Sonoma Mountain – they’re just beyond the Coyote bushes and the rambling fence.

Vineyards straight ahead, Oaks, Madrone and Eucalyptus framing them on this side with Redwoods topside.
Michael spoke about the narrow coastal strip where Redwoods grow extending from a small section in southern Oregon and down the California coast to as far as Big Sur. They need water to thrive and so follow stream beds and are significantly laved by the Pacific coastal fog.

Michael talked about Redwoods outside of their range in England and elsewhere. Ann mentioned that she has 150 year old Redwoods on her property in Wales brought there by a sea captain in her family. They enjoy the Welsh climate.

Equestrians coming down from the mountain breaking into the sunlight from the Redwood shaded trail. They “warned” us about mountain lions ahead up the hill and we cautioned them about rattlesnakes out there in the sunshine.

Jack London dammed this area as a source for irrigation on his Beauty Ranch. Sometimes we’ve seen ducks swimming here and dragonflies flitting about but all was dry, missing on Monday. But the break in the shade was welcome on a hot day.

California Spice bush along the way:

Friendly mountain biker pushing up the trail passing us in a blur, my blur.

Pipevine was another uncommon plant that we enjoyed along the way. We spotted some on our last Angel Island hike so that’s awhile back.

Hanging a left onto the newly opened Sonoma Ridge Trail:

Some Elk Clover in berry, Michael asked what it reminded us of and we all failed miserably to remember English Ivy. (Just scroll down.)

Moving up the Ridge in a tangle of Oaks.

California native bunch grass flows down the hillside gray on brown or maybe more precisely on Raw Umber (?) or Khaki (?) or Brown-nose, seems to be actually a shade of brown (?) or perhaps a solid Beaver Brown. Cf.

Michael identified it as our classic Festuca Californica.

Just off the trail though some deep duff some Madrones provide convenient backrests for a picnic lunch.

The vineyard is still quite green for an autumn afternoon.

Just add the drumroll. Michael was talking about the diametric change of an agrarian United States at the time of Jack London’s Beauty Ranch to the urban America that we know today.

Two barns the lighter illustrating the Chinese technique of flat wall with flush rocks and the darker buildings showing the Italian pattern of exposed surfaces of the rocks on their walls. The largest building was the Sherry Barn built for Kohler and Frohling Winery in 1884.

The cactus corral, Michael said, kept those little dogies from wandering away. The spineless cactus was a joint project with the famed plant geneticist, Luther Burbank to develop cactus for cheap and nutritious cattle feed. The cactus grew too slowly, the cows ate too fast. The second generation of cacti grew their spines back so not a complete success.

View of the Mayacamas Mountains from the lower parking lot with some noticeable serrations on the Madrone leaves in the foreground. In September of 1964 a large fire swept down this valley destroying a number of homes, barns and property along with devastation of thousands of acres of open space. People evacuated and drove in shock around the Sonoma Plaza, displaced persons. When a friend’s home was spared by the galloping fire, he used some burning fence posts to fix the evening meal and to make an affirmation.

The end of the tale.

Presidio of San Francisco Footloose Hike with Michael – 29 September 2014

There are lots of sword makers in our world today so it is refreshing to hike around a classic army base that has been repurposed and renewed as a national park.
In fact, we celebrate twenty years ago today, 1st October 1994, that the Presidio of San Francisco became a national park. It has been a location here in San Francisco since 1776 with its first building first in the city, the Presidio Officer’s Club. Echoes of its military history go back through the pages of the 20th and 19th Centuries to its founding as the most northerly outpost of the Spanish Empire in the same year as the American Revolution.

Why so late? The Manila Galleons had been sailing by in the Pacific Ocean since 1565. They had discovered that the Pacific trade winds moved “in a gyre as the Atlantic winds did, they had to sail north to 38 or 40 degrees North latitude (off the east coast of Japan) before catching the the eastward-blowing winds (“westerlies”) that would take them back across the Pacific.” – Recalling “gyre” in Louis Carroll’s wonderful “Jabberwocky”

Why didn’t they discover the huge San Francisco Bay until 1769? Michael told us it was not the often blamed fog obscuring the bay but nautical practices of the Galleon Captains and perhaps the Royal Spanish Navy. Upon reaching Cape Mendocino they purposely sailed out about 20 or 30 miles into the Pacific in order to avoid the rocky California coast and and catching a southbound current along the California coast to smooth their trip back to Acapulco. It was not until 1769 when the Portola Expedition got that first view of the San Francisco Bay and when Juan de Ayala sailed into the bay on August 5, 1775. Ayala struggled to gain entrance to the bay because of the tremendous currents. Michael told us that the water flowing through the Golden Gate is enormous with twice a day tides dwarfing the flow of the Mississippi at its delta. This quantity of water is known as the tidal prism and is equal to one-fourth of the Bay’s total volume. Ayala finally made a safe port in what later became Racoon Strait in what is known today as, appropriately, Ayala Cove. He picturesquely named the island he’d found Isla de los Angeles or Angel Island honoring a Catholic religious feast.

Reconnoitering with Michael: Carol did a great job planning our expedition across this remarkable landscape. She added a new tactic to our strategy allowing a longer hike by adding a shuttle bus return to the mix. Thanks much Carol! Here with the Monterey Cypress background we catch up and get things together. The U.S. Army upon its acquisition of the Presidio planted Monterey Cypress, Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus along with eastern dune grass to stabilize the dunes. These were densely planted as windbreaks and to separate the Presidio physically from the rest of San Francisco. This was a military base and separation was the order of the day.
One of the ongoing debates relates to replanting some of these questionable landscape choices such as Monterey Pine and on the building side of the equation rehabbing construction that might better be torn down. What do you save and cherish, what do you plant, what do you happily put in the rear view mirror?

You can just make out one of the many tunnel openings from earlier fortifications and imagine the excitement of small boys or girls building magical domains on a summer’s day.

Some morning fog on the Marin hills with traffic on an incoming configuration of 4 SB to 2 NB. The National Parks and the Presidio Trust have been extensively adding and improving paths and walkways all over the Presidio with many like this one wheelchair accessible.

A Michael meditation on Atropa belladonna, Devil’s cherries: Who would have guessed that the Forest Service would have this kind of artful as well as scientific entry.

Stabilizing a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate with California native plants, some Lizard Tail (Eriophyllum staechadifolium) bushes are blooming yellow.

Some Brown Pelicans fly across of our view looking out the Golden Gate.

We visited the Pt. Bonita Lighthouse on that point to the right of the picture during our Rodeo Lagoon Hike, September 15, 2014.

The small dark spot on the left was a lighthouse at Mile Rocks located just off San Francisco’s Point Lobos. It was built in 1901 after a fatal shipwreck.
Essentially a “cylinder on tip of a rock, families could not live on the station because it was so small, the noise of the fog signal was deafening . . . automated and then closed in the 1960’s, . . . the base is used as a helicopter landing.”

In the visitor view area there was a fascinating description of the fog horns on the Golden Gate Bridge, some base and some soprano and how they help shipping incoming and outgoing the Gate.

How do you spell relief? Relief map with a view, Angel Island and Alcatraz (sheltered by Sarah’s hand) both named by Ayala except by Alcatraz he was referring to Yerba Buena Island, previous site of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command and footing for the Bay Bridge. There were many pelicans there so the name Isla de Alcatraces, “Island of the Pelicans” was fitting. In 1926 in a lateral transfer, the name moved across the Bay (perhaps by ferry?) and landed on the Alcatraz that we all know and love.

In a salute to the season, Michael dove in a melange of native Blackberries and Lizard Tail and found a lovely lady Pumpkin Spider in her autumnal plumage. She was a Four-spot orb-weaver (Araneus quadratus). As he talked, she spun – you can see the thread stringing from her abdomen and on his fingertip. After sharing and enjoying her time on stage, Michael put her carefully back on the berry leaf from which she came.

We remembered and saluted Charlotte from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web”.

Pumpkin Spider

We hiked down past Fort Point, past the Warming Hut now in rehab, and along the trail by Crissy Field. Along the way the former Coast Guard Station was looking like a transplant from the Carribean. It now has a small museum about the Farralones Marine Sanctuary.

The ongoing replacement of the seismically incorrect, old Doyle Drive with the new Presidio Parkway. You can just spot the cavalry stables beyond. On the other side we are walking by the old Presidio Pet Cemetery.

A thoughtful Michael is showing us the two differing leaves of the Blue Gum Eucalyptus. “The broad juvenile leaves are borne in opposite pairs on square stems. They are . . . covered with a blue-grey, waxy bloom, which is the origin of the name “blue gum”. The mature leaves are narrow, sickle-shaped and dark shining green. They are arranged alternately on rounded stems . . .”

Along our way some rehabilitation going on at the National Cemetery. Scott and I were noticing the curious rendering of U. S. on the sides of the gate.

We are in the historic Powder Magazine on the Main Post and Sarah, a Presidio Trust intern, is telling us about Andy Goldworthy’s TREE FALL. The Magazine was constructed in the Civil War, she pointed out that some housing was nearby, but the officers quarters were at quite a distance. This sculpture illustrates what happens underground in a tree’s growth. Sarah said that the cracking is intentionally part of the natural process, something that Goldsworthy has developed on other projects. The clay from the Presidio is mixed with human hair from the area and was there another ingredient? The two day process was very demanding for Goldsworthy and his team of volunteers requiring two 12 hour + days in order to have the process blend into a unified whole. A new Goldsworthy sculpture will be presented at the opening of the rehabilitated Presidio Officer’s Club this weekend.

The magazine is in the former parade ground area, we head to lunch.

The Presidio Officer’s Club looking spiffy will have its grand reopening this weekend. We anticipate the celebration by a picnic near a relic cannon whose vintage is?

Thanks for thinking of the shuttle Carol, a neat way to hike back in just 9 minutes!


Blithedale Canyon Loop with Michael & Jeannie – 22 September 2014

It was the first hike in this area for us Footloosers. We were looking forward to some new adventures on the flanks of Mt. Tamalpias. It did not disappoint. Jeannie’s thorough and careful scouting opened up these new trails for us beautifully. Many thanks for all that preparation. Michael led us along the trails with his usual savvy, gusto, and good humor combined to make some memorable moments on the mountain.

Part of our trail followed the path taken by the Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway whose heyday around the turn of the twentieth century is still fondly remembered in Marin. It became known as “The Crookedest Railway in the World” and was as much of a destination for travelers to San Francisco as the city itself.
It took tourists to the summit of Mt. Tam with an additional option of Muir Woods. The downhill to Muir Woods and Mill Valley was done in Gravity Cars,”four-wheel coasters that took advantage of the steep, relentless grade, .. first introduced in 1902. Gravity cars had an operator known as a gravityman who sat in the right front seat (on most cars) and operated two brake levers that pressed heavy duty brake shoes against the car’s wheels.” Imagine that on your resume or c.v. – Gravityman, Gravitywoman.

Here’s whole trip on Vimeo with music “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen by Edvard Grieg:

Another part of our hike involved “The Mystery of the Missing Earring”. Roz starts out with two hoops at the start of the hike. Note the circle on her right ear.

Michael is pointing out the pattern of the drainage that leads down this canyon. Protected by the State of California and the Marin Municipal Water District, Mt. Tam provides an amazing number of drainages and reservoirs in its watershed (s?). Michael corresponds with the Director of the Water Institute at OAEC, Brock Dolman, who signs his letters, “I’m mostly water,” OAEC (Occidental Arts and Ecology Center) is where our other esteemed hike leader, Jim Coleman, works.

For Latitudinarians, named latitudes include the Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle and Longitudinarians. Some who read
“Longitude” by Dava Sobel highly recommended her book.

Michael pointed out a curious mottled pattern on a Big Leaf Maple leaf. The blight seems to have maintained a green moat to protect itself even after the leaf has lost most of its chlorophyll to autumn.

Madrone tree shedding its orange-red bark, as the tree matures this outer bark “naturally peels away in thin sheets leaving a greenish, silvery appearance with a satin sheen and smoothness. The exposed wood sometimes feels cool to the touch.”

Steady drumming sounds caught our attention

Did Michael ID this as a Hairy Woodpecker?

An empty spray can becomes a prop for Michael illustrating what NOT to do. Jeannie snaps the shot.

Jeannie makes a point, she has done this trail numerous times.

Giant Chinquapin nut in its “spiny outer casing” looks like it could be dropped successfully on Mars.
Is that a high contrail top center?

These are popular trails for dog walkers as well.

Carol captures our first big view of San Paablo Bay showing the San Quentin Peninsula and the line of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge beyond.

Close up of the Golden Gate Catamaran (Catamarin?) passing San Quentin heading for Larkspur Landing. The Richmond San Rafael Bridge is in the background.

This is the Native American name for the particular tribe of Miwoks (Miwuks) of this area. Here is a remarkable discussion of the language varieties of this group of California Native Indians written in 1907 by C. Hart Mirriam, note page 341 for the family tree:

Heading up the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo

Madrone berries against the sky

Lunch along the trail with some precious shade amid the Madrones

This is a popular mountain bike trail, keep listening for the singing wheels. They are the Gravitywomen and Gravitymen of today!

Close-up of the Sleeping Maiden’s profile with the just barely showing the fire lookout on top of the East Peak. She appears altogether from a distance.

And in more detail

Fortunately some observant hiker found Roz’s earring and put it on the Watershed Cycle of Life – reminiscent of Michael getting his iPhone back at Burning Man. It gave the hike a swell, full circle finale.

That terrific feeling when something lost is looked for and . . . found! Bravo!

Sweet sounds of water round out the day as well, the sound of flowing water is more and more precious as the drought continues.

P.S. At the beginning (and end) of the trail was this terrific idea:

Rodeo Lagoon with Michael 9-15-14

We met by the Lagoon, our take-off point for a variety of hikes in the Headlands. With the remains of various military buildings and defense constructions, you have a keen sense of tenacious military history here with strata going back from the Cold War, to WW 2 and earlier into the 19th Century.

One of the remarkable references that Michael made along the way was to the catastrophic floods in Sacramento and the Central Valley in 1861 and 1862 that also inundated the San Francisco Bay turning it into fresh water. This megaflood is a cautionary tale for our drought of today, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Here’s the whole hike with a little Aaron Copeland surround:

The Nike Missile Site –

Early history & geology of San Francisco Bay –

The famous navigational nemesis of the “Potato Patch” –

How the Golden Gate Bridge got its color –

Not quite the Golden Gate but a new suspension bridge leading to Pt. Bonita Lighthouse, at the entry to San Francisco Bay.

Picnic on a promontory

Very patient Great Blue Heron in the ripples of Rodeo Lagoon