There are many things
I’ve thought to be:
A squirrel, a duck,
a graceful tree.
But gazing down
On Anacapa’s teal blue,
I know at last…
A lioness of the sea.
Barbara L. Steinberg
July 16, 2006
Channel Islands National Park
There are many things
I’ve thought to be:
A squirrel, a duck,
a graceful tree.
But gazing down
On Anacapa’s teal blue,
I know at last…
A lioness of the sea.
Barbara L. Steinberg
July 16, 2006
Channel Islands National Park
Springtime can be missed in a blink, however those with open eyes won’t miss the orchestra of colors that carpet California hillsides, meadows and landscapes with wildflowers. With thousands of varieties and numerous habitats, climates and terrain, the blooms are as varied and unique as California itself.
With most of the state experiencing an unusually wet winter, these “uncultivated flowering plants” should be bountiful in coming months. Early spring (February–April) is the opportune time to view desert blooms. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a juxtaposition of rock formations with vivid blossoms amidst beaver tail cactus and white blooming Joshua trees and yuccas. Early spring trekkers will be treated to desert candles, lilies and asters, wooly sunflowers and Indian paintbrush. The Coachella Valley Nature Preserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley National Park also showcase their share of seasonal color and are already flourishing.
Wildflowers generally peak March through early June, however an abundant snow pack will extend the Sierra Nevada wildflower season into the summer months. San Mateo’s Edgewood County Park and Natural Preserve in the San Francisco Bay Area flourishes with blue larkspurs and lupines, pink shooting stars, white fairy lanterns and red paintbrush. Marin’s Chimney Rock at Point Reyes National Seashore showcases yellow goldfields, blue irises, poppies and Point Reyes chocolate lilies. Other popular locations in the Bay Area include the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve near Novato and Napa’s Missimer Snell Valley Wildflower Preserve, where onlookers can appreciate the vibrant hues from the road. To be immersed true California color, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster in Los Angeles County consists of seven miles of trails through 1,745 acres of golden petals.
For late spring through summer viewing, head to higher elevations. Fish Slough and Lake Sabrina in Bishop are popular viewing areas in the Eastern Sierra. North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Butte County transforms into an endless sea of color and is one of the region’s premier viewing areas. The paths that lead you there (Highway 70, Cherokee Road), are equally spectacular.
Discover more great wildflower adventures at California State Parks
and Jepson Prairie Preserve in Solano County.
If my Subaru can't get me there,
that's a good reason not to go!I
Wildflower season is here, and Solano Land Trust’s Jepson Prairie docents are ready to share the first wave of vernal pool flowers. Weather permitting, there will be two-hour guided walks starting at 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, March 9 through May 12
A vernal pool is a world of exceptional diversity and an ecological system of great complexity, and Jepson Prairie Preserve is one of the best remaining examples of vernal pools in all of California. Enjoy an easy, meandering walk under wide-open skies with knowledgeable docents while exploring the bunchgrass prairie and walking alongside the claypan vernal pools. The prairie is transformed by winter rains into fields of stunning wildflowers including white meadowfoam, yellow carpet, and miniature lupine. Docents will also introduce you to the rare aquatic animals, all on the Endangered Species list, that live in the ephemeral pools, including vernal pool fairy shrimp, Conservancy fairy shrimp, and the larvae of the California tiger salamander.
Jepson Prairie Preserve, a designated National Natural Landmark, is located on Cook Lane, off Highway 113, about ten miles south of Dixon and eight miles north of Highway 12. For groups of 5 or fewer, no RSVP is necessary to join a tour. A minimum $5 donation per person is encouraged. For groups of 6 or more, RSVP to Kate Mawdsley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-758-5093. Participants should bring a backpack with plenty of water, and snacks or a picnic lunch. They should wear boots or sturdy closed-toe shoes, layered clothes, and protection from the elements. It is often windy at Jepson Prairie, and they should be prepared for wet trails and the chance of fog. Rain may cancel. Visitors should bring drinking water and may also want to bring a hand lens, binoculars and a camera. For directions and additional details, visit solanolandtrust.org.
Since its founding in 1986, Solano Land Trust has permanently protected more than 20,000 acres of working farms and natural areas in Solano County. Learn more, see a full list of outdoor adventures, and become a member at www.SolanoLandTrust.org.
What: Docent-led tours of the Jepson Prairie Preserve
Who: Solano Land Trust & Jepson Prairie Docents
When: Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to noon, through the month of April and May 13th.
Where: Jepson Prairie Preserve, Intersection of Highway 113 and Cook Lane, 13 miles south of Dixon. Go straight at flashing light onto Cook Lane, gravel road.
Why: See the wondrous wildflowers and amazing aquatic invertebrates of Jepson Prairie.
The sun was barely breaking through when fog began rolling in across the mouth of the Smith River. Where river and ocean unite feels holy. Harbor seals – almost ghostly – gaze out across the shallow. A community of cormorants Zen(ly) attempt drying their wings. Brown pelicans and gulls share the sandspit. A lone angler casts again and again. He confides it’s been rumored salmon are running better on the Rogue and Klamath rivers. Still, he’s content. I watch with quiet respect and retreat once my camera is satiated.
Some 30 miles away, we strolled a considerable spit separating the Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean. One more peaceful world, the lone inhabitants walking or sitting quietly we reverently contemplate this sacred space. The tide is returning and waves crash to the shore. A swift undertow – the cold water just licks my naked feet as I scramble away. The Klamath has journeyed far – 263 miles from Southern Oregon – to wed itself to the churning ocean.
These are the reasons why along the Wild Rivers Coast.
Eyes closed. The stillness beats in your ears. The hammering Mendocino ocean surf is replaced by giggling streams and fern grotto waterfalls. Blue skies and sunshine swallowed by towering redwoods, ferns and moss – kept lush by the dark, dank, and cold of this rainforest environment. Walking more than five miles in this tranquil woodland, you are alone on the planet. The silence broken mostly by small bird voices and a lone tree frog far and away. Other hikers occasionally cross your path with a nod and a smile.
The magic and spirit of Fern Canyon Trail at Russian Gulch State Park is ancient. Life here began long before humans breathed on this Earth. Despite human intervention, its mystical soul survives. Worth the ascent, the north trail (2.6 miles) is up and over and gets heart and lungs pumping for the Fern Canyon waterfall trail (another .7 miles). Loop back along the flat bike trail.
Slowly come to your senses as you leave this dreamscape behind.
Not far from the confluence of the Sacramento, Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers and the California Delta, Explore Elk Grove’s welcome mat greets millions of migratory birds each fall and winter.
Along the Pacific Flyway, winged visitors make their way to nature preserves, parks and refuges. Breathtaking fly-ins of ducks, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, snow geese and tundra swans are the showstoppers, but wildlife viewing is a year-round attraction. Throughout the region, a wide array of feathered friends, mammals and fish are full-time residents. Parks, neighborhoods and rivers are habitat for red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, falcons, river otters, raccoons, owls, and, yes, Mexican free-tailed bats! Whether you walk, paddle or observe from your car, it’s easy to get up close and personal with nature.
Keep your binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras close. Much of Elk Grove’s wildside is easily accessible just along Franklin Boulevard. Within its borders, there are 90-plus city parks in excess of 700 acres and more than 28 miles of hiking, biking and walking trails. Get out and Explore Elk Grove!
Bufferlands – Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District
In the 1970s, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District looked deep into their crystal ball and saw that communities needed a “buffer” from the wastewater treatment plant. To safeguard growing populations and preserve much needed open space, they purchased 2,150 acres to minimize the potential for odor and other nuisances that could impact the surrounding neighborhoods. The results were nothing short of remarkable. Hidden away along Franklin Boulevard, this important nature area provides hundreds of acres of high-quality wildlife habitat, farmland and open space in a rapidly urbanizing area of California.
Restoration of historic properties and preservation of riparian habitat make the Bufferlands a must-see for locals and visitors. The Bufferlands supports more than 230 species of birds, 25 species of native mammals and several native fish, amphibians, and reptiles. The Bufferlands is also home to more than 20 species of rare plants and animals, including several threatened and endangered species such as Swainson’s hawk, vernal pool fairy shrimp and giant garter snakes. Opportunities to see this wildlife and nature tourism gem are available through public tours and events, including the annual Walk on the Wildside festival.
Laguna Creek Trail – City of Elk Grove
With numerous access points and ample parking, this popular trail features two miles of paved, off-street trails for biking, hiking, walking, running and horseback riding. Traversing the lengths of Laguna Creek, treetops and waterways are home to song- and shorebirds. Locals and visitors share the right-of-way with feathered friends and mammals including river otters, raccoons and beaver.
Cosumnes River Preserve – California Department of Fish & Wildlife
A one-mile universally accessible trail and three-mile round-trip levee trail and boardwalk provide up-close views of sandhill cranes, shorebirds, riparian forests and wetlands. Bring your own boat for guided kayak and canoeing trips on the last free-flowing river from the Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley. Cosumnes River Preserve Visitor Center includes interpretive displays and covered deck great for picnicking. All ages will love the weekly “Ducks in Scopes”, where preserve docents provide free scopes and binoculars and expert wildlife identification. Scopes are also set for children. Check the website for dates and times.
Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge – US Fish & Wildlife Service Pacific Region
The refuge is home to more than 200 wildlife and fish species. Seasonal Pacific Flyway migrations of Greater Sandhill Cranes, shorebirds and wading birds rest and feed on mudflats, wetlands and lakes. The recently restored Blue Heron Trails is located at the Hood-Franklin Road headquarters. Open from sunrise to sunset, free of charge, the accessible paved trail includes a mile of loops around managed wetlands hosting various migrants such as hawks, shorebirds and interpretive panels. Best viewing is during the migratory season October-May. School groups are welcome. Check online for dates and details about docent-led tours.
Woodbridge Ecological Reserve – California Department of Fish & Wildlife
The wildlife international airport – squadrons of Greater Sandhill Cranes descend during nightly fly-ins September to March. More than 30 other species of birds including ducks, geese, hawks, owls, swans, avocets, coots and stilts join the evening revelry. Managed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, parking and viewing mound are located on Woodbridge Road. The north site of the reserve, which includes the crane viewing shelter, can only be visited on a docent-led tour. Be sure to check online for dates and times as tours fill quickly.
Galt Winter Bird Festival
Festival headquarters is the starting point for free educational presentations, wildlife shows, hands-on activities and art displays. Fees vary for group tours to Cosumnes River Preserve, Heritage Oak Winery, and Staten Island. Keynote speakers are world-renown birders and authors. Wonderfully kid-friendly!
Walk on the Wildside
This one-day festival features hands-on activities, live animal shows, entertainment and guided tours of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the 2,150-acre Bufferlands a unique opportunity to see a rare heron and egret rookery—one of only four in Sacramento County. Special twilight tours are offered during the summer and fall.
Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival
For more than 20 years, this three-day festival has celebrated the return of the Greater Sandhill Cranes to the Central Valley. Listed as endangered, the cranes are one the largest migrating North American cranes. Sometimes called B52s, their wingspan can reach almost seven feet wide and they can be up to four feet tall. Leaping with wings extended, their mating dance is marvelous! Guest speakers, art show, entertainment, guided tours and dozens of exhibitors!
Remember to Leave No Trace – pack it in and pack it out. Follow the brown and white binocular signs to wildlife viewing sites and festivals and online at www.CAWatchableWildlife.org
Five friends spent a leisurely afternoon on the Sacramento River. With lots of chatter and laughter we cruised into a beautiful California Delta sunset.
After months of planning and securing just the right vessel, Sacramento River Cruise officially launched (pun intended) in September 2018 abroad the 24-foot Sisu (Fishman East) boat. Sisu is a Finnish word that means stamina, fortitude, and guts which is what new owner Captain Emil Gagliardi had when he towed the Roccus earlier this year across country from Connecticut. Built in New Hampshire, the one-time lobster boat that fished out of Boston Harbor is now relishing the California life.
This two-hour cruise for 2-6 passengers is just what the river and the Roccus needed. Enjoy flights of local wine and beer and delicious charcuterie of cheeses, prosciutto, fruit, olives, breads and more. A quiet afternoon or sunset sail is the ideal way to spend time with family and friends. Captain Emil welcomes you aboard with a broad smile to relax at the padded and intimate seating area and table. Located at the Clarksburg Marina, Sacramento River Cruise is waiting to greet you. Be sure to bring your sunglasses and a warm sweater as river weather is changeable from warm, sunny days to cool Delta evenings.
Make this a day trip. Stop by Husicks Taphouse in Clarksburg. Take a quiet drive down the River Road to historic Walnut Grove before or after your cruise. Other nearby options to dine and wine include the Freeport Wine Country and Freeport Bar & Grill. The Old Sugar Mill offers a variety of wine and olive oil tasting options, too.
Keep your eyes on the sky as local and migratory wildlife make their way up and down the river. Part of the Pacific Flyway, during winter months the California Delta is home to thousands of migratory birds. For more information visit California Watchable Wildlife.
Gardens grow everything from edibles and flowers to botanical history and strange works of art. Use leisure time to explore nearby secret gardens – conventional and not. Slow down. Enjoy the landscapes. Getting there is half the fun. To unearth these secrets use GPS, Google Maps, road maps, and age-old technology of calling ahead for directions.
Go Discover! Lotus Valley Nursery & Gardens
Petersen Lane, Lotus, CA
A quick retreat up Highway 50 east to Ponderosa Road, left across the highway and right on North Shingle. Wind your way and stay left at the ‘Y’ onto Lotus Road, left at the Bassi Road stop sign and stay straight onto Petersen Lane. Views of the American River are on your right before turning into Lotus Valley Nursery & Gardens’ secreted entrance.
Owners, Joe and Bob, turned a three-acre old homestead into a heaven of ornamental grasses and demonstration gardens. They invite you to come and discover. Bob’s handcrafted sculptures and water features are cleverly displayed in the “Tin Room Gallery” and throughout the garden. You can spend quiet hours strolling, picnicking, and contemplating. A variety of serene sitting areas beckon. Clearly, they want you to stay. Plenty of other nearby distractions keep you close, including local wineries. Open Wed-Sun 9am to 5pm through November. Open in the winter by appointment. Lotus Valley is magical.
Continue down Lotus Road to Highway 49 north to the Dave Moore Nature Area along the south fork of the American River; half the trails are wheelchair accessible. If you skipped the picnic, there are plenty of breakfast, lunch and dinner options at Lotus and Coloma. You can loop back to Sacramento along Highway 49 to Interstate 80 – enjoy the scenic route which is about 100 miles round-trip.
Go Explore! Oakwilde Ranch & Sculpture
South Burson Road, Valley Springs, CA
Take Highway 99 south to Highway 26 east towards Valley Springs. Ready yourself for scenic vistas. Two-lane country roads framed by orchards, vineyards, and small towns are visually soothing. On 52 acres, owners Denise and Kresimir are cultivating art and relationships along groomed trails and undulating hillsides. The winding road delivers sculptures, hospitality, wine tasting, spring wildflowers, and beautiful views. Ranch hikes are an adventure in search of sometimes elusive art installations and views of Calaveras County foothills from the “Top of the World.” Call ahead for an appointment and directions.
If you still have time on your return, Lodi wineries are plentiful and freeway-close.
Go Seek! Regional Parks Botanic Garden
Intersection of Wildcat Canyon Road & South Park Drive, Berkeley, CA
It’s a straight shot down Interstate 80 to urbane and sometimes eccentric Berkeley. Day-trippers overlook that East Bay Regional Park District protects
secret gardens and thousands of acres of open space in the Berkeley hills. The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is a charming destination and less than 90 miles from downtown Sacramento. Ten acres of California native plants are organized by geographic regions of the state. The garden was established by James Roof in the 1940s and contains rare and endangered species such as Presidio Manzanita and Small-leaved Rose. Built along meandering trails and bridges the garden feels primordial. Grassy areas are perfect for running; children are welcome to do so.
The annual April spring plant sale is a rare opportunity to purchase plants propagated from the Garden’s collection. Many of these California native plants are available nowhere else. All proceeds benefit the Garden. Free public tours are held most rain-free weekends and group tours are available by special arrangement.
Just a few miles away, the stunning University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley is 34 acres of formal gardens and glasshouses, with more than 13,000 different kinds of plants from around the world.
Go Sac! Go Yol! Go Sol! Gardens Galore
Sacramento gardens are many. Don’t be surprised, but none more special than those at the Old City Cemetery! The 3-acre Historic Rose Garden gives life to nearly 500 antique and old garden roses many found in abandoned sites, homesteads, cemeteries, and roadsides throughout northern California. The aroma is heavenly. Hamilton Square, named after Alexander Hamilton’s youngest son, contains perennials from all five Mediterranean climates of the world. A California Native Plant Society has created a garden among the headstones. It’s phenomenal in the springtime.
Garden lovers rejoice! The options are many and close-by. In adjacent Yolo County, the 1.5-acre UC Davis Good Life Garden at the Mondavi Center Institute for Wine and Food Science is an edible and ornamental landscape. Learn new gardening concepts and eat healthy, too!
Cross one more county border into Solano. A well-kept secret, Suisun Valley hides the fantastical Phillip Glashoff Sculpture Garden. Williams Road, a country lane off Suisun Valley Road, does not easily give up this secret. Wander the driveway and no farther. Dozens of sculptures along the way and in the field will leave you wide-eyed. Easier to spot is another small collection on Rockville Road.
If my Subaru can't get me there, that's a good reason not to go!
This essay, written by Vern Gersh, appears in the 2018 Mono Lake Calendar.
Forty years ago, in the Eastern Sierra, the tide was running. Like all tides it ran in one direction. Its flow must have seemed inexorable as the waters of life were sucked away.
Shakespeare referred to living in “the tide of times.” The tide that has been running strongest in my life is the stream of change. When I was born in 1955 there were half as many humans on the planet. Nothing human-made orbited the earth. There were fewer than 600 pizza parlors in the entire United States. The majority of Americans shared their phone line with a neighbor. You would dial that phone and were tethered to it with a cord. There was one Mexican restaurant in the city of half a million Americans where I was born.
Forty years ago, when the Mono Lake Committee was born in “the tide of times,” the world was divided by an Iron Curtain with half of Europe in the thrall of the Soviet Union. There was no space shuttle, no cell phones, and computers occupied full rooms. Google was not a verb, email and “text” were unknown concepts. Terms like ecology, environment, and climate change were learned in college, if at all. There were more than twice as many vertebrate animals in the wild. Even now we are still too ignorant to know how many species have been driven to extinction in those forty years.
Nektons can swim against the tide. They have the strength, vigor, and determination to overcome the phenomena brought about by titanic forces beyond their control.
People have changed the face of an entire planet. Our strength, vigor, determination, and intelligence have harnessed titanic forces. The tide we have set in motion has too often been careless of the consequences.
The political and societal forces in my lifetime have ebbed and flowed. Our commitment to the world we leave to future generations has washed to and fro but worldwide the tide seems to be running out.
Even here, in the United States of America, political forces seem to have turned. A nation, whose scientific prowess has led the world, seems hesitant to lead.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “The lowest ebb is the turning of the tide.”
Like the benthos we can cling, hunker down, and hope for better days. Like the plankton, we can paddle within the current. Forty years ago, a dedicated few on the shore of Mono Lake formed a committee and stemmed a tide at that place and time.
The great Nordic king Canute had his throne placed on the shore of the ocean. Resting on his throne, in a monarch’s voice he commanded the tide to turn. It did not.
Forty years ago a few nektons changed things. They did what Canute could not. If we join together no power or earthly king can stop us.
Vern Gersh is a former guide and naturalist, now retired. A lover of birds and plants, Vern is leaving his heart in the Mono Basin for the next adventure, retirement on the Colorado Plateau.
Most people run screaming in terror at the site or thought of a bat. Visions of Vincent Price and Count Dracula horror films quickly come to mind. The movies and stories of old have convinced us that bats -- all bats -- are blood-sucking vermin. Nothing could be further from the truth. A recent visit to the Yolo Basin Foundation chased away any fears and squelched the myths and lore of vampire-ish behavior.
Every summer, the Yolo Basin Foundation and NorCalBats, dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of bats throughout Northern California, conduct educational seminars about local bat colonies, their ecological importance, and efforts to conserve California bats. Specifically, Mexican free-tailed bats in the Sacramento region.
Bats are not flying rodents. The truth is, bats are more like humans then you probably realize or care to know. Bats are mammals. They are warm-blooded and have fur. Bat babies are live births and they drink milk. Most bats only have one baby at a time, though occasionally they have multiple births. Sound familiar?
The majority of bats eat bugs. Some eat fruit. And of the 1,100 species worldwide, only THREE species actually "drink" blood! Of those, two species drink the blood of birds and one actually drinks the blood of mammals -- though mostly cattle and not that of beautiful young maidens. Now don't get too nervous. Unless you're traveling to Central or South America, you aren't likely to encounter any of these three blood-hungry creatures.
Another myth eliminated on this trip: Bats are not blind! In fact, they see in black and white and use echolocation to find their prey in the dark. It's a remarkable navigation system. What I'd really like to know is how someone figured out the B/W thing!
The bat presentation was fascinating and lasted about an hour. But then the big excitement and the thing we were all waiting for: the bats! Public tours can be packed and usually sell out, but we were a small group of maybe 7 or 8 being guided by Corky Quirk who is a lover of bats and expert in the field. We piled into a van and bumped along the dirt roads into the Yolo Basin, a flood plain between Davis and Sacramento. The land is farmed during the dry months and flooded in the rainy season. Bodies of water (some natural and some manmade) attract a bevy of wildlife year-round. During drier months, you can actually drive into the basin but for most people it's viewed from Interstate 80/The Yolo Causeway which crosses the basin for almost three miles between Sacramento and Yolo counties.
Little did they know that constructing the "Causeway" created the most perfect of bat habitats in the form of expansion joints under the bridge. How perfect? Well, how about 200,000 - 250,000 bats perfect! This is actually a maternal colony. Females only! (The guys hang-out in another location. Hmmm, not such a bad idea!) When the females give birth in early July the colony will more than double. I don't know about you, but that's a lot a bats!
Along about sundown we traveled approximately three miles into the Basin to the portion of the bridge where the bats colonize. Along the way we saw great egrets, snowy egrets, and night heron. Avocets tip-toed through shallow rice paddies and great blue heron strutted slowly, gracefully across the field. The dots of red on black bird shoulders bounced and bobbed among the tule and rushes. And the flash of one lone yellow-headed black bird elicited a gasp from me. A clutch of baby ducks skittered away as we passed and three young Canada geese ran comically down the road in search of their parents.
We arrived at our destination and waited for the big moment…the bat “fly out!” It comes just around sundown and on this particular evening, somewhere around 8:35 p.m. And just as promised and on cue tens of thousands of female bats poured – in a steady stream – out from under the bridge. Strangely there is one exit point. They fly out over one particular tree. Up into the sky and then begin to disperse into smaller groups, heading off for an evening of bug gorging. There’s one major exodus followed by several smaller groups.
It was out of this world! And just another in a long list of California ’s most amazing natural wonders.
For more information on the Bat Talk & Walk, visit the Yolo Basin Foundation website: www.YoloBasin.org and NorCalBats at www.NorCalBats.org.
NorCalBats is funded through donations and presentations. No money is received from California Department of Fish & Widllife, U.S. Department of Agriculture, any state or federal agency, or major corporation. Tours are $12 each; children 15 and under are free.