My Favorite Fall Hikes

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) in the Blackrock-High Rock Desert.

Fall is coming.

For me it is a time of rejuvenation and also my favorite season. With the shift of the California Current, rains begin to fall in California after a summer of drought. The high country along the Pacific Slope finds snow returning. While we retreat inside our homes, native plants and animals must adjust to the changes. Some birds migrate, mammals might hibernate, and some plants shed their leaves and “hibernate” for winter in their own way.

What follows is a journey across the Pacific Slope to four favorite fall hikes–excellent for colorful foliage. I’ve also included some of the plant species that will be found.
  1. Siskiyou Wilderness
  2. Pasayten Wilderness
  3. San Gabriel River National Monument
  4. Blackrock-High Rock Desert National Conservation Area

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San Gabriel Mountains Presentation

Plant Exploring in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Wednesday, May 11, 2016 @7:30 p.m. at the Arcata Masonic Lodge

From the California Native Plant Society North Coast Chapter:

Explorer, writer, and educator Michael Kauffmann will lead us on a journey into the Transverse Ranges of southern California to explore the world of what John Muir called the steepest mountains in which he ever hiked. Michael’s explorations began because of a Bigcone Douglas-fir mapping and monitoring project he is leading in conjunction with California Native Plant Society, but these studies have allowed him to make more discoveries–from one of the world’s largest oaks to the most isolated grove of Sierra junipers in the world. Michael will take us on a photographic journey from the mountain tops to the river canyons across one of the nation’s newest national monuments.

San Gabriel Mountains

San Gabriel Mountains – A Photo Tour

Celebrating the Bigcone Douglas-fir of the San Gabriel Mountains

After nearly a month of travel through one of the gems of Southern California, I’ve had enough time to reflect on all aspects of the journey–including the wonders of the wilderness and forest, as well as the state of the region. The San Gabriel Mountains remain wild, in large part, because of isolation due to slope. John Muir called them the steepest mountains he ever hiked in! It seems to me that the forests here are doing as well as they are, while our climate is rapidly changing, because of this isolation in slope. Forest pathogens travel much slower through heterogeneous landscapes with mixed stands of trees. Many of the Bigcone Douglas-fir stands we visited were in isolated on slopes of greater than 50º. Isolation sculpts the ecology of the mountain’s biota  in many ways, and makes life for Pseudostuga both easier and more difficult. That balance defines the ecological amplitude of many of the species on the California Floristic Province.

I’m still working on the full report for our findings, but in general it can be said that within region 1 of the map below, Bigcone Douglas-fir are not doing well. Elsewhere, they seem to be doing fine at the moment–especially if the species has been able to avoid high intensity fires. Reproduction is occurring at variable rates but they seem to like disturbed areas, like landslides, which the San Gabriels have no problem offering.
map-PSMA

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Manzanitas of the San Gabriel Mountains

Botanical Wonders of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Manzanitas are most commonly found across the Angeles National Forest on south-facing slopes where they are restricted to various mineral soils (most often granites). A. glandulosa appears in the front range from ~2,000-5,000 feet, A. patula in the higher elevations above ~7,000, A. parryana on the north slopes toward the Mojave from ~5,000-7,500, and A. glauca is common across the range but mostly on the north slopes adjacent to the Mojave from ~4,000-6,000. I never found Arctostaphylos pungens but it is within the range according to various sources.

What follows is a photographic journey through the San Gabriel Mountains to enjoy the spectacular places manzanitas grow.

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Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. gabrielensis decorate the beginning of the Devil’s Canyon trail near Chilao Flat.

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Record Bigcone Douglas-firs

Exploring the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

In my search to understand Bigcone Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) within the Angeles National Forest, I found myself in secret canyons and along steep hillsides that few people have ever explored. I thus took it upon myself to document more than just our selected data plots for Bigcone. In previous posts, I’ve shared some of the large angiosperms I’ve run across. Here is the documentation of the second largest Pseudotsuga macrocarpa yet measured — a record Bigcone Douglas-fir.

This Bigcone was found on the edge of a wash called Holcomb Canyon within the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area. The tree is nearly as big around as the record specimen in Baldy Village but just not as tall. I have heard a rumor  that the Baldy tree lost some of its crown — so I wonder if the numbers I have for this tree are still correct. Regardless, the tree in the Punchbowl is much more dramatic, being that it is within the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness and not in the middle of town!

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Alnus rhombifolia

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Record white alder within the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness.

I need to start by clarifying something: in last post about a giant Canyon Oak, I mentioned that I was not a big tree hunter. This post, a few days later, is about a big tree. I think I have become a big tree hunter…

Every day for the better part of the last two weeks, I have been walking through the San Gabriel Mountains getting to know Bigcone Douglas-fir as part of a project with the Angeles National Forest and the California Native Plant Society. I’ll post more about that in the near future. For now, lets look at the white alder (Alnus rhombifolia) I measured in the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness within the San Gabriel Mountain National Monument while working on that project. Stats on the past record tree can be found HERE.

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Canyon Live Oaks of Southern California

The Transverse Ranges hold some of the largest oaks in North America

I fell in love with this Canyon Live Oak (Quercus chrysolepis) in 2002 while training to prepare myself to hike the Continental Divide Trail. One fateful night I inadvertently camped near it along a stream called Prairie Gulch. The tree has lived in my dreams ever since. In November 2015, the opportunity to return, revisit and measure the oak was offered  while doing a botany project in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

The San Gabriel Oak

The San Gabriel Oak

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San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Bigcone Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument — Part two

The 346,177 acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was dedicated in October 2014 by a proclamation by President Obama after nearly 10 years of work to get it established.  It contains the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, the San Gabriel Wilderness, and Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness as well as most of the major peaks including Mount San AntonioMount Baden-Powell, and Throop Peak.

I’ve been contracted by the US Forest Service, in partnership with the California Native Plant Society, to map Bigcone Douglas-fir in the monument as well as write a technical report about our findings. We did initial reconnaissance last week and will return later this year to initiate the project’s data collection phase. What follows are images from our trip across the range to meet the species and the monument.

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Looking deep into the San Gabriel Wilderness.

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San Dimas Experimental Forest

Bigcone Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpa) in the San Gabriel Mountain National Monument — Part one

I have always wanted to visit the San Dimas Experimental Forest and as part of a mapping and monitoring project for bigcone Douglas-fir, I finally had the opportunity. The “forest” descriptor in the area’s title is a bit misleading, as the majority of the vegetation is chaparral–but there are trees and it was our mission to find them (or at least what remains). Six major fires have been documented here since 1914, with the most recent occurring about 10 years ago. These fire events, along with climate change, are rapidly reshaping the remaining stands of trees. What follows is a photographic journey into the front range foothills of the eastern San Gabriel Mountains.

Cucamonga Wilderness from the San Dimas Experimental Forest.

Cucamonga Wilderness from the San Dimas Experimental Forest.

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Baden Powell – San Gabriel Mountains

Original Publication DATE: 5/29/2011

On the way south I decided to revisit some of my favorite hikes from when I lived in the San Gabriel Mountains and taught outdoor education. The top on the list was the summit of Mount Baden Powell. Because the summit is 9,399 feet, it is within close proximity of the Pacific Ocean (on the rare smog-free day it is visible), and on the edge of the Mojave Desert there is astounding plant diversity meeting and mixing on the flanks of the mountain. Day one of my journey I climbed the peak and day two I dropped into the San Gabriel River valley within the Sheep Mountain Wilderness to enjoy the lower elevations of Baden Powell’s mastiff. Both were amazing hikes–pictures follow.

The Ascent – Mount Baden Powell

Mt. Baden Powell

The Pacific Crest Trail skirts the ridge and takes in the dramatic views on Baden Powell–the inverted layer of smog above the Los Angeles basin is also visible.

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