South Fork Eel River Wilderness | Red Mountain Unit

Original Publication DATE: 11/7/2010

“We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go to go crazy in peace.  Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in.  Even the maddest murderer of the sweetest wife should get a chance for a run to the sanctuary of the hills.  If only for the sport of it.  For the  terror, freedom, and delirium…” – Edward Abbey,from The Journey Home

With the passing of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act in 2006 over 150,000 acres of new wilderness areas were added to the wilderness preservation system. Those new areas are: Yuki, Sanhedrin, Mount Lassic, King Range, Cedar Roughs, Cache Creek , and South Fork of the Eel River. Most of these areas are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there is not much information out there about these places–including how to access our public lands. In many ways this is exciting–the journey to go “crazy in peace” is an ominous and difficult one–in many ways what wilderness should be. With new wilderness on my mind I drove the 70 miles south of Eureka, just into Mendocino County, in an attempt to see this new wilderness and the rare plant communities fostered in the edaphic sky island found there. Though interested in all plants, I must admit the driving force behind this trip was to see the northern range extension of Sargent cypress. Continue reading

Foxtail Pines of Mount Linn

Original Publication DATE: 8/10/2009

Mount Linn–also called South Yolla Bolly Mountain–is the highest point in the Coast Range of northern California. It is located to the west of Corning but the area might as well be a world away from the population centers of the state; it is rarely noticed by travelers as they drive Interstate 5. Once off the interstate, scenic forest service roads still take nearly 2 hours to wind to the trailhead. Although this place has always been on my list of places to visit–the impetus for this visit was to collect some samples of the rare Sierra juniper (Juniperus grandis) for Robert Adams of Baylor University so that, through DNA testing, he might find out if these trees truly are what we think they are (see previous blog). After a 25 mile sojourn deep into the wilderness to collect those specimens it was time to search for the southern most stand of foxtail pine in northwest California–on Mount Linn.


The distinct cones and “bottle-brush tassle” branches help to identify Pinus Balfouriana.

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Lanphere Dunes ~ Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge


When I visit the Lanphere Dunes I always feel like I have taken a trip to another part of the world. Hidden and relatively unknown, the redwood forest — as a local destination — can overshadow this unique ecosystem. The dune complex is surrounded by temperate coniferous rainforest, the Pacific Ocean, and Humboldt Bay — ecologically trapping and therefore fostering, for millenia, isolation of space and time. Species that survive here define their own vegetation type; from the common to the unexpected, to the seemingly out of place there is always something new to appreciate on a trip to the dunes. Although a visit requires a guide or written letter of permission, hikes are offered monthly — check the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge  webpage for information regarding access.

Dune Forest

In between dune complexes, forests thrive where they are sheltered — out of the wind.

Today, we were lucky to have a guide. Allison and I joined Dr. John Sawyer and his wife Jane on a walk through the dunes. John was a key member of a group of conservationist with a vision — that originally secured preservation for this area nearly 40 years ago. Since the establishment of the preserve, it has changed hands from the original steward, the Nature Conservancy, to the Fish and Wildlife Service who manages it today — with a mostly hands off approach, except toward the removal of non-native species, the place has maintained a primordial feel.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Kinnikinnick (Arcotstaphylos uva-ursi) and reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) carpet the forest floor.

Lanphere Dunes

As the sand shifts south the vegetation soon follows. Here, John Sawyer and I observe young beach pines sprouting where the sand has recently (over the past 25 years) blown away — creating a more stable soil medium.

Lanphere dunes foster an amazing range of biota. From rare plants to common plants to plants that are far from their more common range — expect the unexpected when venturing into the dunes. Besides some terrific conifer specimens, including a subspecies of lodgepole pine called beach pine (Pinus contorta spp. contorta), the most intriguing inhabitants in the dunes are reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) and bear berry manzanita (Arcotstaphylos uva-ursi). The lichen is a common component of northern boreal forest floors where it grows circumpolar in the northern hemisphere — the Lanphere Dune population is a relict from a much colder time. Bear berry, or kinnikinnick, is a beautiful, prostrate manzanita that is found elsewhere in California in a few drainages on the east side of the High Sierra Nevada — dunes and high mountains, quite a contrast in habitats. One species that caught Allison’s eye was a population of twin flower (Linnea borealis); a plant we have grown to love on our summer forays into the Klamath Mountain high country. Dr. Sawyer informed us that the population Allison spotted was the only one discovered one in the dune complex — another relict of an epoch gone by.

John O. Sawyer and Allison Poklemba

Allison and John passionately discuss the seed dispersal of the Humboldt Bay wallflower (Erysimum menziesii)

The dynamic ecosystems of Lanphere Dunes makes for an exceptional hike. This is a place that embraces change, while at the same time offers refuge to species that were once common in the region during climatically different times. It is surely one of the best examples of a coastal dune ecosystem on the Pacific Coast.

Walking through the encroaching dunes.

With ocean winds come shifting sand. When sand encroaches upon the forest trees die leaving “skeleton forests” — reminding the temporal visitor that the dune ecosystem is a dynamic one.

AUTHOR: J Loomis
DATE: 5/2/2009 3:38:42 AM
Just returned from CA last Sunday. I was unable to tour the Lamphere Dunes not knowing it required a permit. Went to the nearby “Friends of the Dunes” Stamp D. area and was fortunate to find a single Wallflower….or what I thought was one. Anyone have any pictures?