Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jug Handle State Natural Reserve: Ecological Staircase Trail

   It would be quite remarkable if one could pass through five separate habitats  on a single five mile round trip trek, yet at Jug Handle State Natural Reserve perched aside the side of the Pacific this is entirely possible.  Made by thousands of years of geologic uplift resulting in terrace building, each elevation level of this preserve offers a differing and unique ecosystem to explore.  Starting the in the coastal headland habitat of grasses and cypress, the trail then passes through riparian area before crossing into a mixed forest of bishop pine and Douglas Fir.  Finally, the trip culminates in a Redwood Grove away from the drying salty winds of the sea, and a pygmy forest of miniature pines, pressed to their small size because of extreme acidic levels in the soil.  In all any hiker interested in geology and environmental adaptation, or anyone in search of natural diversity, would do well to walk the trail.


Category: Easy
Miles: 5
Elevation Gain: 350'
Location: Jug Handle State Natural Reserve, Jackson State Forest

The Trail:  From the parking lot, pick up a trail guide interpreting the various plants and animals found on the trip.  The path begins by swinging westward toward the sea and then back towards the highway into a cypress grove.  After crossing underneath Highway 1, the trail drops on a fine collection of wooden stairs into the stream-side riparian habitat, covered by various mosses, ferns, lichens and canopies of Red Alders.  From here the path climbs up a small hill to the bishop, and then Douglas Fir forests, which also house various other Northwest tree species such as the Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce.  After passing though stands of wild raspberries, the Redwood forest is then reached with its bold under-story of ferns.  Finally after 2.5 miles, the acidic pygmy forest is reached on a small boardwalk to protect the fragile habitat.  After exploring around and thoroughly reading the brochure, return the way you came.        

Hiked 7/14/2017, Mendocino County, CA

Cypress woodland


Jug Handle Creek meets the Pacific

Cypress stands

Staircase down...

Riparian Zone

Douglas Fir Forest

Redwood Ftoest

Pygmy Redwood

Pygmy Forest

Large elk north of Ft. Bragg off HWY 1

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park

     Point Cabrillo Lighthouse stands on a jutting headland cliff overlooking the wilds of the Pacific near the Lost Coast of California.  Dangerous ocean swells and fierce winds coupled with cold water temperatures and a rocky coastline in these parts, made this peninsula an ideal place for a light station over one hundred years ago.  Today, the original design of the light is still in operation and can be seen on the horizon up to 25 miles away.  More importantly to hikers, the walk down to the light house is not only historic, but naturally significant.  Besides boasting a rather fine aquarium near the terminus of the trip, along the way are sights of endemic northern coast vegetation and geology such as grasslands, cypress stands, deep blue lagoons, and an abundance of sea life.  Best of all, this trip is enjoyable for the entire family as it only is a bit over a mile round trip.      


Category: Easy
Miles: 1.2
Elevation Gain: 150'
Location: Point Cabrillo State Historic Park
Directions: HERE

The Trail: From the free parking lot, follow the paved road down 0.5 miles through grasslands and cypress groves to the Light Station, Lightkeeper's House, and Aquarium.  After visiting these interpretive sites, consider a jaunt around the nearby cliffs into some impressive sheltered lagoons usually harboring some kind of life.  If not, keep an eye on the sky for osprey, bald eagles, and various waterfowl.  After enjoying the scenery, return the way you came.    

Hiked 7/13/2017, Mendocino County, CA

Sheltered Lagoon
A resting seal

Harbor Seal
A proud seagull on a nice home

Light Station

Russian Gulch Falls: Russian Gulch State Park

    Cascading some near forty feet from top to bottom surrounded by vines, ferns and regal Coast Redwoods in the temperate rainforests of  California is Russian Gulch Falls.  A bit of a misnomer as no Russian settlements were known to occur in this area, but some fifty miles south at Fort Ross and Bodega Bay, what this canyon lacks in nomenclature in makes up for significantly in natural beauty.  The trail for the most part is a flat saunter through the canyon's bottom alongside Russian Gulch Creek to its elevated drop at the falls into a shallow clear pool.  The shadows and canopies of the high trees above add a special flavor of serenity experienced in few places such as this; consequently, a brief hike up here will be well worth the time.  


Category: Easy
Miles: 5.4
Elevation Gain: 250'
Location: Russian Gulch State Park
Directions: HERE  

The Trail:  From the parking lot near the locked gate, take the path eastward up the Russian Gulch.  Immediately, you enter into a riparian ecosystem replete with deciduous trees and water-loving ferns.  After passing by a large boulder, the trail becomes more shaded under the impressive stands of Redwoods here, and while none are of overly grandiose proportions, there are still unique and wonderful specimens nonetheless.  The rest of the trip will be alongside these quiet giants and along their diverse understories.  In about 2 miles, you hit a main trail junction.  Take the route 0.7 miles further to the waterfalls, as the path becomes a bit steeper and the trail significantly rougher.  After some cliff-side experiences, the thundering fall of the water is audibly heard, and a few yards down it plummets into a shallow pool near a quaint wooden bridge.  Watch for Banana Slugs here, the largest terrestrial slugs in the world, endemic to the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Coast, a few locations in the Sierra Nevada, and most interestingly, the Palomar Mountains in Southern California.   Many options for the return are available, as a network of trails are accessible from the canyon.  Check the map to create your own route, or return the way to you back the the parking lot. 

Hiked 7/13/2017, Mendocino County, CA      


Riparian Zone

A dead Raccoon preserved quite well

Fern Canyon

Redwood Stands and Ferns

A squished Banana Slug

Trail Split

Bridge on spur trail to Falls

A rougher section

Beautiful Ferns

First Glimpse of Falls
Redwood Canopy

Russian Gulch Falls

Great specimen of a Banana Slug near falls

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Van Damme State Park: Fern Canyon

     Fern Canyon, the main attraction of Van Damme State Park along the Mendocino Coast, offers hikers terrific opportunities for arboreal adventure.  A pleasant stroll through these coast forests seem almost from a time from eras gone by.  The quiet roll of the stream and the occasional call of a woodpecker seem to be the only semblance of noise in this prehistoric journey through aloof and solemn Coast Redwoods.  This trail leads from the end of the park's paved street onto an old lumber road, long since abandoned, yet now offering a verdant canyon trail-side experience, culminating in a small grove flat.  The traveler in seek of a dose of natural splendor would do well to saunter this ageless vale.             


Category: Easy
Miles: 5
Elevation Gain: 150'
Location: Van Damme State Park
Directions: HERE

The Trail:  From the gate at the parking lot, walk straight up onto the trail through some state park buildings and weather data equipment.  Soon, the laughing brook comes into view with its riparian habitat consisting mainly of Red Alders, the indicator species of freshwater ecosystems in these parts.  There are a series of ten brides spanning the length of this canyon from the trailhead to the flats, and the first of these arrives abruptly.  As you wind the path and forage across the many wooden bridges, notice the ever-presence of the Coast Redwood, dark and foreboding, stately and noble.  Most of these trees are of second-growth, due to logging, and are not nearly as large as their counterparts in more northerly parts of the state.  Nonetheless, the official state tree grows well here along this vale, receiving up to 40% of its water intake from the typical summer fogs, caused by condensation of cool seawater meeting with warm air current, which roll through the region nearly daily.  Species of fish can be seen in the creek, most interesting are the Coho Salmon and varied communities of trout.  After walking the shaded 2.5 miles to the flats and trail splits, take a break and return the way you came, or chose the extend your adventure by talking one of the several extension trails offered.         

Hiked 7/12/2017, Mendocino County, CA


Riparian Habitat


Dense greenery

What is this?  Fish eggs?

A fish in the river (probably trout)