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.
- Siskiyou Wilderness
- Pasayten Wilderness
- San Gabriel River National Monument
- Blackrock-High Rock Desert National Conservation Area
Northern California’s Coast Range
A view from Mount Linn toward the Pacific Ocean and the distant King Range.
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. I revisited this fine mountain in July of 2016 to set up a photo-monitoring plot along the Bigfoot Trail and took the time to also map the vegetation on the mountain–particularly the grove of foxtail pines near the summit. This is one of the smallest (12 acres) and most isolated groves for the entire species and one that I am very much concerned about due to climate change. Shasta firs are encroaching upon the trees as snowpack declines and temperatures warm. I was happy to see the trees doing well and many young foxtails sprouting up–just not as many as there are young firs.
Map adapted from William J. Wolfe, “Hydrology and Tree-Distribution Patterns of Karst Wetlands at Arnold engineering Development Center,” USGS
Edaphic islands have long-fascinated me–especially having grown to understand the serpentine barrens of the Klamath Mountains. So when we found ourselves visiting the Central Basin Region of middle Tennessee I discovered, through the help of the Tennessee Native Plant Society, that this area is botanically special for its limestone prairies, often called glades. While numerous state designated natural areas were recommended, I chose to learn about the Middle Tennessee Cedar Glades at Flat Rock Glades and Barrens State Natural Area.
How do you go about choosing a hike?
I have used various approaches which always involve careful map study, perusing the pages of hiking guides, and most importantly for me—studying field guides. As I get older, choosing a hiking destination is becoming more critical, with so much to see and even more to learn.
King Range hiking.
Over time, I have gone about choosing a hike based more as a destination for discovery before any other factor. I think I first caught the hiking-for-natural-discovery bug while selecting a backpacking route exclusively to see condors in the Sespe Wilderness of southern California. When I moved to Humboldt in 2002, I graduated from bird destinations to plant exploring as I began searching out rare and unusual conifer species in our local mountains. This regular wilderness sideline blossomed into a Master’s Degree from Humboldt State University when I published my first book Conifer Country: A natural history and hiking guide to the conifers of northwest California in 2012. For 10 years I hiked to find and understand trees. These trees, and the places they grow, helped me develop a deeper passion for place and an understanding of the unique natural history of northwest California.
Circumference of Humboldt County’s record Pinus radiata
I have known about this Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) for years.
Pines in a redwood forest? Yep!
In 2004, I first took my 7th graders from Fortuna Middle School to make observations in their science journals in the forest surrounding this beauty. I always knew it was big, but did not know it could be the largest of its species.
Champion Pinus radiata
The history of the forest at Rohner Park is not well documented, but as luck would have it I found a few answers while measuring the tree. With laser rangefinder in hand, an old-timer from Fortuna was coincidentally walking past me and asked what I was doing. His understanding was that Boy Scouts had planted a handful of pines in the area after the old-growth redwood forest was logged by cross-cut saw–in the years just before the invention of the chain saw in the 1920s. That would mean that these trees were, most likely, planted between 1900-1920. This makes the Monterey pines here, and the mature second-growth redwood forest, nearly 100 years old.
It is an impressive tree, competing with the forest giants of the North Coast like redwoods, Douglas-firs, and grand firs. Conditions must be right for this pine to survive among these other shade-tolerant trees. Pines, remember, are usually not shade-tolerant. That being said, if this tree was planted before the redwoods re-grew after logging in the early 1920s, then it got a head start and grew tall, in a race for light, against the other species in the park. Amazing stuff, to see a 160′ pine eking out an existence in the rainforest!
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.
Pondering the 2016 hiking season…
I have tracked how Klamath Mountain snowpack is correlated with the beginning of summer hiking season since 2003. In 2009 I started the Bigfoot Trail on the summer solstice, and it worked out perfectly—I found the perfect mix of snow, open trail, and manageable river crossings. 2010 was a late snow year and June was only open for hiking in the Southern Siskiyous. In 2011 I began a section hike from the Trinity Alps to the Siskiyous on June 29th in a snowstorm and we trekked across snow for nearly two weeks while in the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains. Our time also included numerous, often stressful, fords of raging rivers in the low-country. What follows is an analysis of the El Niño winter we are emerging from and what snowpack trends seem to be saying about the 2016 hiking season.
2011 section hike — crossing Stuarts Fork in the Trinity Alps and snowfields in the Marble Mountains
A PICTORIAL VIEW OF THE STATE’S VEGETATION
By Michael G. Barbour, Julie M. Evens, Todd Keeler-Wolf, John O. Sawyer
I am very fortunate to have been a part of the book project now in print titled CALIFORNIA’S BOTANICAL LANDSCAPES: A PICTORIAL VIEW OF THE STATE’S VEGETATION (CNPS Press 2016, $39.95). Over the past 5+ years this book has evolved through volunteer efforts as a service to those passionate about California’s flora. The book is dedicated to Humboldt State University botany professor and North Coast CNPS founder John O. Sawyer. I am honored to have contributed time to the project with photographs for many of the ecoregions as well as coauthoring the Klamath Mountain chapter with Sawyer. This new book surveys our state’s native vegetation with photos and text exploring each of 14 ecoregions across the state. It includes a wide array of photographs of broad-scale vegetation patterns paired with in-depth, interpretive descriptions written by California’s top plant ecologists.
California’s Botanical Landscapes
Or…Why Star Wars fans should love conifers–especially redwoods
Return of the Jedi had a major influence on my experiences as a youth. I wanted to be able to use the force like Luke Skywalker, as do many children again in 2016. The Star Wars phenomenon has trickled down to our 3 year-old son from his Kindergarten classmates at Montessori as well, so we decided to seize the day and go for a hike that combined the legend of the force with the power of the redwoods, and explore where science fiction meets natural history.
Redwoods might just be the grandest species in the plant world—from top to bottom they are the epitome of grandeur. The tallest redwood is 379’ (and still growing), while one of the most massive redwoods is a mere 320’ but has a basal diameter of nearly twenty-six feet. Those are some impressive beings! The largest redwoods grow in northwest California, where they favor mountain slopes and river terraces close to the ocean while also being situated in the summer fog belt. Across the coastal landscape redwoods domineer a highly specific range—when soil, water, and exposure are optimal. The Owen Cheatham Redwood Grove is a great place to visit these giants.
In search of redwoods and film history in the Owen Cheatham Grove.
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.