Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Urban Hiking at the Continent's Edge, where Land's End

Date: January 2018
Place: Land's End, San Francisco, California
Address: 680 Point Lobos Ave. San Francisco
Length: about 3 miles
Level: easy

The county of San Francisco is all city. Here and there, however, there was left an undeveloped area with an almost wild feel to it. One such place is Land's End, today a part of the Golden Fate National Recreation Area.
While Land's End isn't on the absolute must see list of SF tourists, it still attracts many people, and often it is difficult to find a parking spot at the main lot by the visitor center.
Up until the date of this hike I, like many other visitors, was satisfied with viewing at the ruins of Sutro Baths, and enjoying the beach below.
View of the Sutra Baths
The green cliff area however, beaconed me, so I added it to my hiking wish list and eventually to the Redwood 4-H Hiking Project schedule. The photos here are from my solo preparation hike and the following 4-H hike.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS

Awareness of the California native nature has increased in recent years, and with it the efforts to preserve and also rehabilitate the native vegetation in many places. A good job of that was done at the Lobos Dunes of the neighboring Presidio of which I posted here before. 

The area near Land's End visitor center has been repopulated with native coastal plants, some of them were even blooming. 
Seaside Fleabane, Erigeron glaucus
A wide path meandered between the coastal bushes and I walked slowly along it, paying attention to the new growth and the beautiful colors. On the day of my solo hike the parking lot was nearly full yet the trail was almost deserted. On the day of the group hike the lot was surprisingly vacant, yet the trail was full with bikers, joggers, and some hikers too. I presume that at no time this place would be found human-free.
Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium 
Above the parking lot the path becomes a trail that stretches northward through a lovely grove of cypress trees. 

I spotted a hawk perched on a brach of one of these trees and pointed it to the group. Both Pappa Quail and my elder chika trained their camera at the bird. It didn't seem to mind one bit.
Cooper's Hawk
In the nearby bushes Pappa Quail had spotted a towhee.
Orange Moon
Further down the trail there is a staircase leading upward, connecting to a higher trail through the park. Between the stairs and that trail there is another parking lot and south of it a memorial to the  USS San Francisco - a battle ship that fought and was damaged during WWII.
The USS San Francisco Memorial
Many sparrows were active all around me. some were hopping on the cement ledges. I saw one sunning itself, looking nonchalantly at the passers by.
White-crowned Sparrow
The view form up there was spectacular. Partially overcast on my solo hike but I could  still see a long way out. 

After admiring the USS San Francisco memorial I found the upper trail at the edge of the parking lot and commenced walking, now east bound. Before long I was engulfed in vegetation. The sound of the crashing waves below drowned the sounds of the city above and like by magic, I felt like I was out in the wilderness, away from society.

But not far enough from al the escaped cultivars that populate this park. Many of the plants I saw there were immigrants, brought from overseas to the yards and gardens of the city. Some just took off and set their roots out in the wild.
Plume Acacia, Albizia lophantha
They were all very pretty. It was easy to see why these plants were introduced into gardens here. Still, in gardens they didn't remain confined. California's climate is very welcoming.
Passiflora tarminiana

While these pretty garden plants do catch the eye, there were plenty of California native plants still to give a wild appearance to Land's End. During my solo hike I had an easy time taking trail photos that didn't include any people. It was easy to forget that the city was just a few yards away.

Wildlife too we encountered on this hike. Birds, mainly.
Anna's Hummingbird, male
But also other creatures.
Banana Slug

Nearing the eastern end of Land's End the trail changes altitude, going up and down with many stairs. I took it slowly, stopping to breath and to admire the fresh, green ferns that were growing on the thin topsoil that covered the rocks.

At that part of the hike the trail is a bit more inland and not right over the cliffs. But I did get occasional glimpses of the ocean. And then I had a peep of the Golden Gate Bridge, making sure I would not forget where I was :-)  

There too were areas of native vegetation rehabilitation. The blood currant was in bloom, just as pretty as any of the imported garden plants. Indeed, it is now used to beautify many a California yard, including my own.
Blood Currant, Ribes sanguineum
Eventually I emerged at the north side of the park, where the trail once again goes right over the coastal cliffs and a nicely landscaped vista point with an observation platform and benches, and a terrific view of San Francisco's iconic landmark.

There was also a view of the neighborhood that's between the Presidio and Land's End, and beyond it in the background sticks up the new monster skyscraper in downtown San Francisco.

While I was admiring the geographical features Pappa Quail was looking for birds. And he found many of them, ocean side.
Glaucus-winged Gull
And right over the water, gliding through the spray.
Western Gull
This place is truly a birder's heaven. On my solo hike I've met a few near the Sutro Baths. For the group hike I brought two of my own :-)
Surf Scotter, male
Pappa Quail also aimed his camera at the Golden Gate Bridge, but as it turned out, it was the bird he was looking at. A beautiful red-tailed hawk was suspended in mid-air, balanced on the wind without flapping a wing.
Red-tailed Hawk
Pappa Quail also captured some niece close ups of the cormorants on the rock, but I liked this image of the boats cruising to the Golden Gate.

From the north end of Land's End we took the sidewalk up along El Camino Del Mar, the road that will eventually bring us back to the upper trail. It was a bit unusual to have our hike turn into a city walk but that was the quickest way up and back on our planned loop trail. And it too provided some interesting sights. Like this bump I thought was a bird on the lower branch of this tree below. (A close up revealed it to be the stump of a branch.)
Yes, I fell for it. 
San Francisco is a city of monuments. Sure enough there were plenty of monuments to see along the way. I liked this one - a monument for peace inscribed in Japanese with translation to English on the side. During the group hike all the children gathered around the inscribed stone, admiring its smooth and graceful appearance.
Monument for Peace
We moved quickly on the sidewalk until we reached the Legion of Honor where we reconnected with our park trail. At first, however, we had to cross the park's golf course.
It's nice to see green in winter. It would hurt in summer. Either way, this isn't public grass to run and roll on. 
We crossed the golf course, found the trail connector, and went right away to the lower trail. Turned west and found the steep, multi-steps path to Mile Rock Beach.

On my solo hike I didn't go all the way down to the beach itself, but enjoyed the nice coastal sight from above. There were very few people there and the sound of the sound of the waves drowned all other sounds.
On the group hike I had to exercise my will to get the children to the labyrinth first but after that we all went down and enjoyed a good time at the beach among a gazillion other people. The waves were higher and stronger but the dominant sound was that of humans talking, shouting, and laughing.
Mile Rock Beach
Just above the beach, at the end of a little side trail, was another monument - an unofficial one - the Labyrinth of Land's End.
The first time I encountered a labyrinth of this type was during my hike at Sibley Volcanic Regional Park. Later I have found the one at the top of Mori Point, along with its numerous (and still multiplying) little 'offsprings'. When I learned that Land's End has one I had to include it in my hike plan, and I wasn't disappointed.
Built by the artist Eduardo Aguilera, this labyrinth is much more interesting and complex than the simple spirals laid out in other places. It has become a well loved landmark and its location is prime, no doubt. It was almost impossible for me to get a people-free photo of this monument.

I prompted all the 4H hikers to go through the labyrinth. Meanwhile I scouted the horizon. I didn't see any whales that day, but it was impossible to ignore the huge liner that was making its way slowly to the mouth of the Golden Gate.
What goods do you bring from far away?
We had a good time at the beach and I wish we could have stayed more, but eventually it was time to move on. With some effort I managed to gather everyone and urge them up the stairs and back on the trail.
We continued west on the lower trail. For some time we were once again walking in an almost wild setting but soon the path widened and became paved. We reached the cemented vista point just below the stairs leading to the USS San Francisco Memorial. Below, just off shore were the remains of an old shipwreck, sticking out of the water.

I looked back east. There was the Golden Gate, and the magnificent bridge in full view. I took yet another photo of this iconic sight (heading this post). Then I turned my attention to the place we just left - the rock ledge over Mile Rock Beach, and the labyrinth. A fitting landmark for San Francisco, more moving than any of its official monuments. 

From there, it was a matter of five minutes walk back to the visitor center and the parking lot. Any thoughts I had of going down to the beach by the Sutro Baths were dismissed - the children had already their beach time and were ready to go home. None of us had any thoughts of remaining in the City for further exploration that day.
This loop trail is fairly short and can be walked quickly if fitness is the only thing on one's mind. Taking the time, however, is very rewarding because a large art of this trail still has a very wild feel to it, and provides wonderful opportunities to immerse in Nature. In an urban block such as San Francisco, that is priceless.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Around the Round Hills of Round Valley Regional Preserve

Dates: February 5 and 10, 2018
Place: Round Valley Regional Preserve, Clayton, California
Coordinates: 37.867574, -121.751491
Length: 4.5 miles
Level: moderate

A couple of years ago a fellow member of the California Native Plants Society posted online photos from Round Valley Regional Preserve. Those photos were taken early in the morning and featured oak trees in the mist and dew drips hanging from leaves. I promptly added Round Valley to my hiking wish list.
This year I realized that to make this wish happen I needed some sort of commitment. I therefore added Round Valley to the list of hikes I planned for the Redwood 4-H Hiking Project that I lead. Comes February, and I dedicated a morning for a solo prep hike. Five days later I was there with the group. Most photos here are from my solo hike on February 5. The others were taken on February 10 during the group hike. Pappa Quail did not join us this time, but my elder chika is now a full-blown birder and is becoming better at taking wildlife photos with every hike. I included here some of her photos too.
Below is a mockingbird that my elder chika photographed by the parking lot.
Northern Mockingbird

A wide cement bridge across Marsh Creek leads to the main trailhead. There it's a dilemma: left or right? I turned left and started along the creek.

There are many oak trees at the Round Valley preserve, and nearly all of them deciduous. I was walking by completely naked trees. The buckeye trees however, were budding their leaves already.
California Buckeye, Aesculus californica 
The trail I was walking on leads away from Round Valley itself. Going on - it leads to what looked like a small farm area.
Marsh Creek
Not too far from the farm boundary the trail shifts westward and starts a mild ascend on the hill. The bottom part of the hill is holed through by ground squirrels. On the 4H hike my chika captured a photo of their wary sentinel.
California Ground Squirrel
The slope of the trail was mild and almost without noticing I was high enough to have a nice view of the low hills to the east and the farm below.

I continued on and before long I was walking into and up the narrow canyon of High Creek.
High Creek
A fellow hiked who was coming down the trail told me that there were buttercups blooming - spring was coming! I found them a bit further up the trail.
California Buttercup, Ranunculus californicus
I have lived long enough in the East Bay to know their chameleon-like colors change with the season. But it never ceases to amaze me. The intense green all over was was wonderful to see.
A dried pond behind a little dam. 
At that point I haven't yet seen the Round Valley itself but the hills were round enough - round and soft-contoured. Here and there though, the rocky bones of the hike were exposed by the curving creek.

I would have loved to see the creek running with water but the rains up to that day were not sufficient. Perhaps next time I could see the cascades of High Creek.
High Creek
The hike from Marsh Creek to the highest point of Hardy Canyon Trail is nearly two miles long. The grade isn't very high but the constant ascend can be tiring. On my solo hike I kept a steady and continuous pace but with the 4H group we stopped about two thirds of the way up for a short break.

While the youths snacked and chatted I found a pretty buckeye sprout to appreciate.
California Buckeye sprout
Rested, I prompted the children back to their feet and we moved on upward. At its higher part the trail became somewhat steeper. It also left the wooded canyon. All of a sudden I had view :-)
Looking back: Brentwood below 
Th trail leveled again. The green scene was broken with red algae covered rocks in the field.

Red stands out really nicely against the green background. Even if there's not much of it over all, it catches the eye immediately.
Fruit-bearing Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia 
The trail I selected for the hike doesn't go into Round Valley itself but circumvents the large hill southeast of the valley. The trail brought me to the highest pass around the hill and I could see ts summit to my right. A few cows were grazing on the green slope. One of them stood apart from the rest, way up the hill.

Over the pass i finally got to see Round Valley itself. I guess that with some loose geometry it can be taken for round. I was quite excited to see the double peaks of Mount Diablo peeking behind the next ridge.
Round Valley and Mt. Diablo. 
It was quiet and empty down below. I saw no people there, only cows. On Saturday of February 8 there were more people in the park but the valley was still fairly vacant of humans.
Round Valley, Murray Meadow
I started downhill. The descent into the valley was much steeper than the way I came up on. There were a few switchbacks to the trail and in the corner of one of these switchbacks a large valley oak was growing. It is a deciduous tree and its buds looked ready to pop. I photographed its budding branch on February 5.
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, buds February 5. 
Three days later the young leaves were out, heralding spring.
Same Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, buds February 10. 
On a similar branch of a nearby oak perched a bluebird. My elder chika documented the pretty bird as we walked by. He didn't seem to mind one bit.
Western Bluebird, male
I walked down quickly. On my decent I passed the exposed rock face of the hill. These rocks were nicely weathered and had many crevices and holes. I was told by another hiker I met along the way that this area used to be a Miwok trading place. He was looking for relics. I just enjoyed the rock formations.
Going down
As I moved down and around the hill the view north opened up. I couldn't see the Sacramento River itself but I could see the area north of it. It was covered with those ugly wind turbines.
Wind turbines north of the Sacramento River
The near view was prettier: beautiful ak trees on a beautiful sky background.

I encountered more cattle on the way down. This time - bulls. Contrary to their reputations bulls are the least likely to be aggressive of all cattle. They didn't experience having their calves taken from them and they didn't experience the pain of castration. Calm and indifferent the bull went on with his lunch as I walked by.
At the bottom of the hill the Hardy Canyon Trail connected with the Round Valley Trail. This path was much wider and it was apparent that every now and then it serves farm vehicles.

There was a small bridge across the creek and a few small rocks near it. A air of wren were jumping and making funny dance moves on top of these rocks. My chika caught one of them on camera.
Rock Wren

On February 5 there was still a thin trickle of wate flowing down Round Valley Creek. By February 8 it was dry. On my solo hike I took a narrow hikers trail that rose somewhat above the creek. i got a nice view of the thin water line from there.
Round Valley Creek

There, vining around the small undergrowth bushes I spotted another early flowering plant - the California man-root.

California Man-root, Marah fabacea

From the upper trail I could see the white limestone layer just above the creek, standing out like a scar.

On the 4H hike three days later we were walking the wide, lower dirt road that followed the creek much more closely.

Nearing the end of the hike the trail curves up the hill and then down again. We took a lower shortcut that run near a fence - possibly the fence of a farm on the other side. There was an agriculture field over below, and beautiful- blossomed almond trees right at the fence. They are invasive plants here but their bloom smells wonderful.
Sweet Almond, Prunus dulcis
The complete loop we hiked is about 4.5 miles long but it feels much shorter than that. Almost without noticing I was back at the trailhead and the bridge over Marsh Creek where I started.

That would have been the end of excitement for the group hike too but my elder chika made a discovery: inside a hole in the ground, very close to the parking lot, was a large toad. We all crouched near the hole to appreciate the amphibian, who didn't even flinch.
California Toad
I got to check Round Valley Regional preserve on my list of wanna do hikes, but there is still much to see there. So this park is now on my list of wanna go back to hikes :-).