I recently started a citizen science project with 5 classes of high school biology students from Fortuna, California. The plan is to combine their observation skills with the technology offered by iNaturalist. Each month they will visit Rohner Park and record data on a chosen spot in the forest–looking for plants and animals as well as changes in canopy and ground cover. As they become more proficient in species ID, students will also upload observations to our iNatural Project ultimately creating a field guide to their local forest. We all know how much I like field guides…
My plan, over future visits to wilderness areas, is to start similar citizen science projects. The first attempt at this wide-ranging project began this week on a visit to the Bear Peak Botanical Area on the Klamath National Forest. I originally wrote about this area in my book Conifer Country because it is unique in many ways, including the populations of yellow-cedar found here. This species in common further north, but quite rare in California.
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.
San Gabriel River National Monument
Blackrock-High Rock Desert National Conservation Area
Protected in 1984 and expanded in 2006, the Siskiyou Wilderness now preserves 182,802 acres of some of the most species-rich temperate coniferous forests in North America. This film is a collection of images from years of hiking and exploring this diverse landscape – dedicated to my son, Sylas Siskiyou Kauffmann.
On average, air temperatures decrease 500 times faster over altitudinal gradients than latitudinal gradients in North America (MacAuthor 1972). So, for example, traveling 150 miles north in North America approximates a decrease in temperature comparable to gaining 1600 feet of altitude. (O’Donnell 2003). This also means that altitudinal vegetation zones in the mountains of North America are 500 times narrower than latitudinal zones–what is created in this climatic scenario are the quentessential microsites. But there are other factors at play in the temperate coastal environments of the Klamath Mountains. Altitudinal generalizations are often exaggerated to the untrained eye because as one climbs skyward a stark landscape appears as ancient ultramafic and mafic rocks become more common, and restrict plant growth. This nurtures the feeling of subalpine–even below 7,000′ at a latitude of 42o N.
Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), serpentine ridgeline, and sunset…
The northern portion of the Siskiyou Wilderness represents an area of great botanical diversity resulting from its unique geographic position (proximity to the coast and extreme vertical relief) and complex and diverse geologic composition. Chester A. Ground (1972) identified 343 species of plants in 3 square miles around the mountain my college buddies and I decided to climb in late July 2012. Just like my childhood fictional hero Sam Gribley, we escaped to a place near and dear to my heart, and–though not for an entire winter–for enough time to share space and time with the unique and diverse biota of the Klamath Mountans. We were in for a treat as the weather was cool and clear, plants were in bloom, and wildlife was active.
“Wilderness has a deceptive concreteness at first glance. The difficulty is that while the word is a noun it acts like an adjective. There is no specific material object that is wilderness. The term designates a quality ( as the ‘-ness’ suggests) that produces a certain mood or feeling in a given individual and, as a consequence, may be assigned by that person to specific place. Because of this subjectivity a universally acceptable definition of wilderness is elusive. One man’s wilderness may be another’s roadside picnic… Wilderness, in short, is so heavily freighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind as to resist easy definition.” —Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash, third edition; pub. Yale Univ. Press, 1967.
Siskiyou Wilderness | fall 2012
My expectations for wilderness wavers too. As I sit at home with my creature comforts I hope that others are out enjoying the majesty of the wilds–connecting with the natural world and progressing as stewards. When my turn comes to plan a wilderness adventure, destinations are chosen based on where I will find solitude. This was the original, anthropocentric idea behind wilderness–a place that would retain primeval character and guarantee solitude. I am a proponent for more people visiting wilderness (walking in under their own power) so that they might have more authentic experiences in nature, care more, and develop a closer connection to the Earth.
In the southern Siskiyou Mountains, around the headwaters of Bluff Creek, a discovery was made a few years ago that I was intrigued to see for myself. Kirk Terrill, a Forest Service Botanist, found an unusual flower on an isolated ridgeline of serpentine. In 2010 these plants were determined to be Lewisia kelloggii and, thus far, this is the only documented population in the Klamath Mountains. Elsewhere it grows sparsely in the high country of the Sierra Nevada. In the Siskiyous it grows under and among another regional rarity–lodgepole pine. Driving up the forest service road from Highway 96 toward Cedar Camp I knew these trees would be the key to finding the rare lewisia, which only blooms for a short time in early June. Upon finding the lodgepoles and the serpentine, I unsaddled and walked the stark ridgeline. Within half and hour I had succeeded in my own rare-plant treasure hunt. Read about the one that inspired my journey, written by Carol Ralph of the North Coast Chapter, Califiorina Native Plant Society, HERE. Continue reading →
The winds were blowing across southern California and the skies were clear in the north. This unseasonal weather, cultivated by a high pressure system sitting over most of the West coast, motivated a 24 hour whirlwind into the Siskiyou Wilderness. My goal was to search for an unusual population of Alaska yellow-cedar documented and collected by Overton and Butler in 1979. I had discredited this report for several years because it did not fit within the parameters of my expectations for the species’ regional ecological amplitude–reported at a mere 3115 feet. If true, this would be over 2000 feet lower than any other regional population. In the fall I made it to the HSU Herbarium to look at the specimen and, sure enough, it was properly identified by the duo. I had to find this unusual place. The high pressure was the excuse to escape the stress of the end of 2011, get into the mountains, and attempt to find another outlier in the Siskiyou Wilderness.
During this extended period of phenomenal weather, we packed our weekend bags to rough it on the edge of the Siskiyou Wilderness. Nearly ten years ago to the day, I pursued this route to reach Clear Creek in the wilderness, a new transplant to the Klamath Region. Had I known there was a cabin en-route that I could have rented, on the top of a mountain and in a botanical area no less, I may have never properly understood the hardships that weather in northwest California could offer the winter traveler. On that particular trip I endured snow and rain for four days, alone in Bigfoot country–meeting my first Brewer spruce, Port-Orford cedar, and Darlingtonia. I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form.
However this February 2011 weekend, surrounded by friends, it was mostly sunny with a strong chance of incredible.
Allison braves the cold winds to revel in a sunset over the Pacific Ocean with views to the Siskiyou Wilderness.
I did not embark on a typical backpacking trip in late June–but it wasn’t a typical spring. Snow lingered in the high country and the big miles and long trails I had come to expect in June did not present those hiking opportunities. The landscape was set short and deep for foot travel as snow pack nourished the aquifers of the Klamath Mountains. I knew I needed to start my summer in the Siskiyous because–besides that fact that they are becoming my sacred place–the range is both lower elevation and more temperate that other ranges in the Klamath Mountains to the east. This would surely allow the high country access I was yearning for.
The Preston Peak Botanical and Geological Area is contained within a mountain chain known as the Siskiyou Mountains—a sub-range of the Klamath Mountains. It is an arcing range that begins in California near the junction of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, at Weitchpec. The range continues north and, in most of this initial stretch, the crest is protected within the 200,000 acre Siskiyou Wilderness. These mountains are not the highest or most dramatic in the Klamath but are subtly beautiful, botanically diverse, and the wildest the region has to offer.
Within the Siskiyou Wilderness the highest point is Preston Peak—at 7300 feet its dramatic relief sets it apart from other peaks in the wilderness. Plant diversity abounds because steep escarpments rise from river canyons that can receive over 100 inches of rain and while the peak itself receives high levels of snow. This varied terrain, complex geology, and temperate climate fosters complex plant communities—here species touch roots with other species that rarely, if ever share common ground.
The designation this area has received from the forest service is due to unique serpentine soils, complex geomorphic slope aspect, and high levels of precipitation that in turn have fostered unique botanical diversity. Plants that grow in western slope forests meet plants from the eastern slope where varied mediums are presented on which to grow—here evolution is takeing place virtually before our eyes. On a trip into the Preston Peak Botanical and Geological area, a keen plant lover can identify 15 species of conifers.
AUTHOR: Mike Bartling
DATE: 3/5/2011 5:59:21 AM
It is great to see there is great interest in the botanic uniqueness of Northwestern CA. My wife and I made a few excursions into the Western form Happy Camp in the mid 1970. How delightful and interesting it was and still is I’m sure. I remember entering a pure Brewer Spruce stand north east of Preston Peak and I obtain a Abie’s procera cone due east of Preston Peak. I say it was a noble fir because of the pointed bracts just like you showed in your well done (not cooked) conifer chart. I wanted to always go back and explore the high windward side of the western Siskiyous, other areas too, and perhaps find the type species of Abies procera, not a hybrid. I believe the genetic type may be found there. I applauded the information and the way it is displayed in this site. Keep it up!
Mike- Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your explorations. The Siskiyou Wilderness is a magical place!