Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tallest Valley Oak: Covelo, CA

Tallest Valley Oak at 153 feet (above, left)
 My friend Kate invited me to go for a hike and scout out a swimming hole            located outside of of the town of Covelo, CA. I have never been to this part of      Mendocino County, and was blown away by the area's beauty. The Eel River runs alongside the highway for much of the drive.
                                               (Round Valley above)
 One of the trips highlights was seeing the country's tallest Valley Oak Tree. Before entering Round Valley, Kate mentioned that the champion oak was growing there. I had remembered seeing a picture of it online back in June but had forgotten about it. As soon as we entered the valley, BAM, there it was! It's a monster of a tree. To see it in person is really something else. You can really get a feel for the magnitude of the tree.
                                                       (Eel River)
 I hope to make a return trip next month or so to see if I can find any salmon spawning in the eel river.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Pines in the Sierra Nevada

 (Ponderosa Pine above: cbh 22 feet, 8 in. This is the largest Ponderosa Pine I have found to date.)

I spent the weekend in the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. My plan was to explore a few sections of forest along highway 50. While driving out here last time, the trees along the highway looked exceptional. The challenge was to pick which sections to explore.
 My original plan was to drive near the town of Myers, and check out the forest there. However, I got off track once I found a hiking trail called the Christmas Valley Trail. As is usually the case, a short hike turned into a long one. I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I couldn't resist checking out what was around the next corner, and the next, and the next.
 Ponderosa or Jeffrey Pine cbh: 19 feet 1 in. (above)

I didn't feel at ease because I didn't have a map with me. However, I had my GPS. There is something really comforting knowing where you are at any given moment. Almost too comforting. Once I was able to pinpoint where I was in relation to the roads nearby, my discomfort ceased. Eventually, I reached an intersection that seemed somewhat familiar. I had a short conversation with a couple that came down the trail and the man suggested that I walk to Round Lake. That also sounded familiar. Once I resumed hiking, I immediately recognized where I was. The Tahoe Rim Trail! I never thought I'd see this particular section of forest again in my lifetime, but here I was. Something strange about being in the wilderness and recognizing old places. After hiking to round lake, I turned around and retraced my steps back to my car. Round trip about 8 miles. I drove into South Lake Tahoe and ate dinner next to the lake. That night, I slept in my car near one of the trail heads. After a pretty good sleep, I resumed the tree hunt. I found where I originally wanted to search, but decided to save it for another trip, maybe next month before the snow sets in.
Ponderosa Pine cbh: 19 feet, 6 in. Near the town of Myers. (above)

Traffic was heavy once again leaving Tahoe. I'd imagine a road widening project may be in the future of highway 50. There were so many sections of forest I wanted to explore on my way home but it was really difficult due to the amount of traffic. I had to settle on a couple spots, because it was near impossible to turn around with all the cars on the road.
 Sugar Pine cbh: 19 feet, 10 in. (above)

I found a spot with some real quality trees growing. Some very large Sugar, Ponderosa, and junipers. The sugar pines are a really nice tree. I'm just starting to recognize them by appearance, but they have enormous pine cones lying underneath.
My favorite tree of the day was this huge Ponderosa Pine. It had a cbh of 20 feet, 5 in (above). Not as large as the Ponderosa from the day before, but a very photogenic tree. Overall, another great trip. I'm looking forward to heading back next month when the fall colors make more of an appearance, and also want to see the spawning salmon at Tayler Creek again...

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Missed Opportunity

This morning I was hiking in Montgomery Woods. For two hours, I did not see another person in the grove. Just as I was hiking out, a fine dressed couple was standing on the lip of the grove taking a picture of a deer not too far away. (In order to reach the grove, a person must hike a quarter of a mile or so uphill. Once a person reaches the lip, there is a slight downhill that leads to the grove and then it completely flattens out. There, on the plane, are the giant redwoods.)

"Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your picture," I said to the couple.
"Oh, that's quite all right, I got the picture I wanted," the man said in an English accent.
"So," the man said, "is there anything else to see here, or is it just more trees?"
"More trees?" I asked somewhat shocked. The couple hadn't even entered the grove yet.
"Oh, I mean they are quite lovely," the man said obviously sensing my shock at his question.

At this point, I tried to convince the couple to head in and walk around the trees for a little while. I also tried to give a few facts about redwoods but quickly realized that my point of view was quite lacking in persuasion. I am no salesman that's for sure. Facts in my brain are like water through a spaghetti strainer. Unless I practice regularly, facts eventually drain out of my mind, and all I'm left with is a few drops of knowledge here and there. I realized it was a missed opportunity. In order to show folks that these can be more than "just trees," I will have to work on solidifying a presentation, to give folks a reason to go in, get a little dirty, and hopefully allow the trees to teach them a thing or two. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Garmin Etrex 30

The Continental Divide just became a little more real last week when my Garmin Etrex 30 arrived in the mail last week. Now I need to practice with this GPS unit as much as possible before the hike starts in June.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

 I drove up to Humboldt Redwoods State Park Friday night to do some more redwood exploring. By the time I reached the park, it was already dark. I hoisted up my backpack, put on my headlamp, and hiked towards my secret spot to camp. I quickly realized that I better not make any navigational mistakes or else I was going to have to pick a random spot and wait until morning to figure out where I was. Thankfully, I found my spot without too much trouble and decided to cowboy camp for the night, since no rain was in the forecast.

 Navigating through the redwoods becomes easier the more you do it and the more familiar you become with certain sections of forest. Certain trees stand out like prominent landmarks. You can travel from one landmark to the next. After laying out my ground pad and sleeping bag, I walked out to the creek. The water is low this time of year. It was really cool to look up at the stars from the creek. The giant redwoods block most of the sky on both sides, so basically there is a narrow ally to view the stars from. The Milky Way was running perpendicular to the ally. Something strange to be able to watch satellites float across the night sky and then disappear behind the redwood canopy. It's like the modern and the ancient existing at once.

 After walking back to my camp, I tried to go to sleep. So far, the theme has been that I don't sleep particularly well in the redwoods. I don't know if its the forest per se, or it's just the first night sleeping outside that's difficult. This night was no different. It was dead quiet in the forest. The frogs that have kept me company all summer were silent. The creek that adds background noise was just a trickle. I heard crickets for a little while, but they too eventually fell silent. There was no moon for most of the night so it was pitch black once again. Every few seconds, some small debris would fall down from the trees above. Also, the sound of small animals could be heard running around on the forest floor from time to time. I remember drifting into sleep and then having a muscle spasm in my legs. As soon as I twitched, some nearby animal dashed through the woods.

 The strangest part of the night was a dream that I had. It was almost as if I was half awake, and half asleep. In the dream, I was laying exactly where I was camping. As hard as I tried, I couldn't move or wake up. I was clawing at the earth, trying to sit up, and it was like I was being dragged towards the creek. Then I heard the distinct sound of horses galloping through the forest. I looked up and saw probably four riders heading down the trail just above my camp. There was a young kid who had a camera and was taking my picture as he galloped past. Then there were horses stomping all around me where I lay. They were braying in my ears. Again I tried to get up, but I couldn't move. I was afraid they were going to stomp on me. Then a couple of women walked into my camp. One of them turned to the other and said, "I wonder if the professor knows how many rings this redwood has? Oh my God, there is someone laying there..." She was pointing at me laying on the ground. I couldn't move or say anything. Then all of a sudden, a large prehistoric mammal walked into camp and began running around my sleeping bag, stomping and snarling. He was cream colored with orange spots, four legged, with a flat nose. As I lay there, he began sniffing into my ears. Then I heard a deafening bray from a horse and finally woke up startled. I thought for sure I was going to see a horse in my camp because the noise was so loud. However, there was nothing to see. I lay there quietly and spooked for a little while, and eventually fell back to sleep, and had a dreamless slumber the rest of the night.

 I woke up to one of my favorite sounds in the redwood forest. The whistle of the Varied Thrush. I've described it in previous posts as  sounding like a whistle one would hear at a ball game. It sounds like a referee blowing the whistle. I don't know why I like it so much. I quickly packed up my gear, hiked back to my car and threw my stuff in the back seat. I returned to a section of forest to explore where I left off last time. My goal was to find the exceptional giants lurking in the forest yet again. Of course, it's like an ant looking at the foot of an elephant. These trees may not be the tallest, just the largest from our perspective. There were plenty of great trees to see.

56 feet 2 in cbh! (above)
The highlight of the day for me occurred on the way home. As I was driving, I stopped at a random spot on the road to use the bathroom. As I wandered into the forest, I saw a huge lumbering giant lurking in the shadows. As I approached, I was blown away. This tree was enormous, from every angle I looked at it. After a long day of looking at trees, to be awed by one at the end of the day definitely meant that this was a special specimen. As far as I could tell, it had very few visitors. Someone had carved their initials into it, but the base of the tree looked completely undisturbed. I ran back to my car to get a quick measurement of the circumference. The tape measure read 56 feet 2 in! I've read about and seen pictures of larger trees to the north, but for me, this makes it the largest tree I have seen to date. A personal record breaker!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Montgomery Woods: Why Do Some Redwoods Twist?

I spent the morning yesterday with my house mate Michael, his girlfriend Kate, and her friend Carol at Montgomery Woods. Kate is leading nature walk this week in the grove and it was a blast sharing information and talking about these magnificent trees with others.
Upon leaving the grove, Kate asked, "Do you know why some redwoods appear to be twisting while others are not?" I had never really given it much thought, so I posted the question on the NTS web forum. Here's the results...

Lewis and Clark Nat Geo Documentary (9 Month CDT Countdown)

My mind is bouncing everywhere these days. A couple of days ago I was familiarizing myself with the Jim Wolf Continental Divide guidebooks, when it occurred to me that I should also familiarize myself with some history of the Continental Divide itself. Here's a National Geographic documentary on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Around the 19:20 mark scared the crap out of me I must say. If anyone has any suggestions on books to read about the Rockies and it's history, it would be much appreciated!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

One More Excerpt from Joan Dunning's "From the Redwood Forest"

Here's one more excerpt from Joan Dunning's book "From the Redwood Forest" that really resonated with me. Even though the battle for the redwoods may be mostly over for now, Joan's observations remain as relevant as ever. The book was written about the battle for Headwaters in the mid to late 1990's. Joan's response was written after several forest activists had marched into Pacific Lumber Company's Headquarters office after years of clear cutting, sat down on the floor, locked arms into a metal device, and refused to leave. They demanded that all 60,000 acres of Headwaters be preserved. Humboldt County law enforcement officers swabbed concentrated pepper spray directly into the eyes of the demonstrators in response after several warnings,and videotaped it for training purposes. The demonstrators eventually released from the metal device and were arrested. 

     "Is civil disobedience effective? Sometimes. Is it in this instance? I don't know. I am not the kind of person who enters a congressman's office with a tree stump, locks down, and refuses to leave. Yet all the other means of communication-mediation, lawsuits, religious forums, direct one-on-one communication, candlelight vigils, massive rallies-have not stopped the cutting that continues, day after day after day. For twelve years, since the takeover, the citizens of the United States-not "environmentalists," but we, the citizens, people who breathe air and drink water and eat food and are therefore dependent on "the environment"-have tried to effect change within the system. What is an "environmentalist" but simply a citizen who has shed denial, who has opened his or her eyes and said, "It does matter. Nature does not have an infinite capacity to heal herself, himself, itself....I am responsible...." It is only the media, working as a tool of greed, that uses the label "environmentalist" to somehow discredit a person who is simply a citizen.
     My daughter is thirteen. Spring (One of the forest activists), the youngest of the demonstrators (pepper sprayed), was only sixteen at the time of the demonstration. How the cutting of the forests looks to a judge who is fifty or sixty, and has raised his children, or how it looks to an officer who is thirty and has benefits and a retirement fund established through the police force, may be different from how it looks to a young girl with most of her life still ahead of her....It is different from how it looks to a salamander....
     As I sit looking up at the trees, I realize that fog has suddenly erased the stars. So many mornings I wake up with a heaviness in my heart that sneaks in just like this fog. In the morning I attempt to chase it away, just as sunshine disperses the fog from the groves. But the next morning it is back. I have read all the little books that teach the tactics: I reason with myself, "You have so much to be thankful for." I count my blessings. I play through worst case scenarios. But then, when the heaviness appears yet another morning, I finally have to ask my heart, like a child, "What? Why are you sad? This is real, isn't it?" And my heart answers, "Yes." My heart tells me that it would be wrong to simply count my own personal blessings and ignore the political climate around me. This is not a time to cultivate the skills of positive thinking. In this case, those skills would lead to the cultivation of denial. I would be ignoring one of our greatest challenges as adults: determining when to persist in soothing our hearts, and when we are obligated to open our eyes wider and act. One corporation entered this community MAXXAM), took over the reigns, hired more workers than the forest can support, began liquidation, and turned us against ourselves. My heart is sick for the young people who sat in a circle, locked down, heads bowed, and it is sick for the officers who have become so inexcusably brutal.