The Maine Woods

This was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve had since we visited Hawai’i several years ago. There was no work to be done, no agenda to maintain–just time to swim, rest, and of course botanize and bird the Maine woods (click HERE for my bird list). I had one target plant to find in Maine–Kinnikinnick. I wanted to see a manzanita on the East Coast. This might have been the most difficult part of the vacation, being as it took me nearly 10 days to find the species! But on the second-to-last day, in Acadia National Park on the summit of Cadillac Mountain, we found it under a layer of fog. What follows are some images from the trip. Happy Plant Exploring.

Kinnickinick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in Maine.

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in Maine.

Continue reading

Yolla Bolly Permutations


The action of changing the arrangement, especially the linear order, of a set of items (what came first, the conifer or the cone?)

Wandering Devil’s Hole Ridge, miles from anything human, the landscape shifts as quickly as the juncos dancing across the trail. Walkabouts bring a level of focus not found in civilization. Walking offers time to hypothesize about the world at a slower pace…How recently did the vegetation patterns I see come to be? When did the Ash-throated flycatcher arrive from its tropical winter-land? How did I find myself in this desolate, isolated place–seven years after I last visited–and so far from my family? Like the undulating contours on the ridgeline, I ponder my place in this dynamic world. Walking further I realize, while out of place, I am fortunate to be here with time to think.

Along the Bigfoot Trail in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness

Along the Bigfoot Trail in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness

Seeing the trees through the forests, the birds in those trees, and then this vast landscape through my astigmatized-wide-angle glasses; thoughts swirl through my mind. The first few hours allow time to come to terms with my isolation and my body’s age (I’m moving slower than when I was here in my 30’s). Slowly my mind settles into place, in the wilderness. I ponder plant migrations and vegetation patterns as a student of biogeography. A few miles later my mind drifts towards systems of order (and disorder) that are established out here. This is where true place-based interpretations begin to solidify: my understanding of wilderness and how I’ll never truly fit in among it. Then comes the delineation of rarity. I am a rare human here–among the trees, sky and soil–but this fanciful journey is for the rare plants of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel.

Continue reading

San Bruno Mountain Manzanitas

Manzanitas of San Bruno Mountain County Park – An island of Artctostaphylos endemism

This region is the epicenter for “localized endemism” in manzanitas. Two manzanita species are found on this mountain and nowhere else (A. pacifica and imbricata) and both share space and time with a distinct form of bear-berry (A. uva-ursi), the equally rare Montara Mountain manzanita (A. montaraensis) and the more common brittleleaf manzanita (A. crustacea). The San Francisco Bay area is at the center of the range of biodiversity for the genus Arctostaphylos–which extends from just north of the Oregon-California border southward to northern Baja California, Mexico. Other nearby Bay Area rarities include the Franciscan manzanita (A. franciscana), Presidio manzanita (A. montana ssp. ravenii), and Marin manzanita (A. virgata) to name a few.

Downtown San Francisco, seen from San Bruno Mountain County Park.

Downtown San Francisco, seen from San Bruno Mountain County Park.

Continue reading

Manzanitas of San Luis Obispo County

SLO down and botanize

Excerpts below from Field Guide to Manzanitas

In the California Floristic Province, the genus Arctostaphylos is a particularly fine illustration of how long-term dispersal events lead to colonization and consequent adaptive radiation in a group of plants. Fossil records show that this genus has been migrating and adapting to climatic shifts for at least 15 million years. However, only in the past few million years has Arctostaphylos, commonly called manzanita for its berries’ resemblance to small apples, found its promised land. The California Floristic Province’s exceptionally diverse range of habitats, particularly of ones that provide a taste of the suboptimal, is perfect for manzanitas. A synergistic mix of climate stability, soil variability, topographic volatility, and fire frequency provides the perfect alignment of biotic and abiotic factors. Like many other California evergreens (including my beloved conifers!) these hardy plants have benefited from inhospitable environments wherein competition from many plants is reduced and their own adaptability to poorer growing sites allows them to thrive. This, somewhat ironically, has made the unassuming “little apple” the most species-rich shrub genus in the California Floristic Province.

Arctostaphylos pilosula

Arctostaphylos pilosula – an endemic species to the San Luis Obispo region.

Continue reading

Cone Peak Conifers

Los Padres National Forest – Ventana Wilderness

The Santa Lucia Mountains offer a magical landscape. Uplifted dramatically above the Pacific Ocean, sculpted by frequent fire return intervals throughout the Holocene, and decorated with interesting plants–the landscape tells stories reflected in deep time. Plants both evolutionarily new and old can be found across a variety of vegetation types. Steep north-facing mountainsides offer a rarity here: the absence of high-intensity fire. This happens because the steepness inhibits fuel loading in the understory. These cool microsites nurture two relict conifers–the Santa Lucia fir being one of the rarest firs in the world.

Cone Peak is in the Los Padres National Forest on the edge of the Ventana Wilderness

The Los Padres National Forest on the edge of the Ventana Wilderness.

Continue reading

Bigfoot Trail Map Set – V2.2015

I first created a map set for the trail in the winter of 2009 after hiking the trail the previous summer. It was a fun, first attempt for me to create something like this. I offered the digital map set & route description for free the past 6 years (find original map set here). During that time, hundreds of folks downloaded the file. Some of those even hiked the trail, providing me feedback on the original description. With the launch of my grand plan to establish the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, I decided it was time to revamp and update the previous document.

Bigfoot Trail map set V2.2015 cover pages.

Bigfoot Trail map set V2.2015 cover pages.

That original file got a major overhaul this spring with the help of a terrific cartographer, Jason Barnes. He and I worked out a template for the route and then created 23 brand new maps. At a scale of 1:60,000, where one inch is a mile. The description has a new, more user-friendly look and Jason’s map layers are second to none for both beauty and navigability.

Here are the details from the cover page of the new map set:

All photos and text by Michael Kauffmann
Book layout and map details by Backcountry Press
Cartography by Jason Barnes
Consulting and GIS work by Justin Rohde
Editing and trail notes by Sage Clegg and Melissa Spencer
GPX Coordinates by Sage Clegg
Published by Backcountry Press | Kneeland, California

ISBN 978-1-941624-04-3

Take the maps for a walk (long or short) and enjoy one of the most biodiverse temperate coniferous forest on Earth.


Bigfoot Trail section 1 – V2.2015 map set.

Bigfoot Trail section 23 - V2.2015 map set.

Bigfoot Trail section 23 – V2.2015 map set.


Jason Barnes (left) and Michael Kauffmann (right)

Bigfoot Trail Presentation

I’ll be sharing a Bigfoot Trail Presentation exploring the hike and the natural wonders along the way for this month’s meeting of the California Native Plant Society, North Coast Chapter. I hope you can join me!

BFT Route

BFT Route

“The Bigfoot Trail: A Celebration of Klamath Mountain Flora.” 

May 13, Wed. 7:30 p.m. At the Six Rivers Masonic Lodge, 251 Bayside Rd., Arcata.

The Bigfoot Trail travels 360 miles across the Klamath Mountains from the subalpine slopes of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness to the temperate rainforest in Crescent City. Michael Kauffmann, the trail’s originator, will take you on a photographic journey along the route to celebrate the region with both the common and rare plants along the way, including 32 species of conifers. Visit to preview the route. To get ready for summer hiking, an updated map set and write-up for the route will be available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds going to North Coast CNPS. Michael’s new book, A Field Guide to Manzanitas, will also be available with all proceed going to North Coast CNPS.

The Bigfoot Trail is a journey to discover the natural history of the Klamath Mountains.

The Bigfoot Trail is a journey to discover the natural history of the Klamath Mountains.

Also, coming soon…

Manzanita Country

Smokey Creek and South Fork Trinity River Along the Bigfoot Trail

Spring break offered the opportunity for a brief trip into the southern Klamath Mountains. The Bigfoot Trail was calling, and as I am working on a new map set for the trail, my goal was to check some of the route descriptions and enjoy the wilds of Trinity County. Our first significant snowfall of the rainy season locked me out of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness with over a foot  above 4000′. So the lower elevations of the South Fork Trinity River became my destination. Here I would re-explore the Smokey Creek Trail and enjoy some quality time with my new friend, the manzanita.


Jeffrey pine and common manzanita (A. manzanita) on a serpentine outcrop above the South Fork Trinity River.

Continue reading

Sound Ecology – Klamath Mountain Conifers

I was recently asked by KHSU, here in Humboldt County, to write a two minute script for their Sound Ecology series. I chose to write about the conifers of the Klamath Mountains. I hope you enjoy this piece and are planning your next adventure into this botanical wonderland.

Here are the activities I will be a part of in the coming months, please join me!

May 11th, 2015 Backcountry Press presents:

A Field Guide to Manzanitas:
California, North America, and Mexico

Michael Kauffmann, Tom Parker, and Michael Vasey
Photographs by Jeff Bisbee

Stay Tuned!