Gary Lester is an explorer. With each day’s journey he refines an understanding of the natural world that has been cultivated from an early age. Because of his keen sense of place he has made a multitude of significant ecological discoveries. Any one of these discoveries, considered alone, would be a lifetime’s achievement for some (like me) but seen together Gary’s findings are regionally paramount and set the bar high for naturalists everywhere. For example, in the fall of 2010, he and his wife Lauren identified a Brown Shike in coastal McKinleyville that created quite a stir for birders nationally (he has show this bird to people from across the North America all winter, including a man from Florida who gave him the slick Tampa Bay Rays hat he is sporting in the picture below). Clearly, Gary has a view of the world where the smallest details build the bigger picture. When a new element does not fit that picture a personal discovery is made.
The Lost Coast presents plant associations (or lack of associates) that have long puzzled botanists. From the perspective of the conifer lover the question is: Why are redwoods, grand fir, and sitka spruce absent in an area which annually receives 100+ inches of rain, has some summer fog, and is nourished by soils from that of the central belt of the Franciscan Complex? These same conditions exist only a few mile north where redwood, grand fir, and Sitka spruce forests thrive. In the heart of this wilderness, over 20+ miles of walking, I found only two conifers. After and mentally and physically taxing journey I was left with a sense of wonder at the fortitude of the species that were present; and not the absence of the conifers unable to reside.
It has been several years since my last visit to Wooley Creek. This was far too long. The Salmon River Country is magical and I was fortunate enough to find some magic this wet northern California weekend when I spent the night along one of my favorite California creeks (Check out Gambolin’ Man’s take on my other favorites). Wooley creek roared as it funneled past the trail and my camp–draining hundreds of square miles of Marble Mountain Wilderness. It would soon enter the Salmon River, briefly, before merging with the mighty Klamath River on its way to the Pacific Ocean. It felt like spring as flowers and bud were popping in the wet (and mildly warm) conditions. The mixed-evergreen forests of the Klamath Mountains are waking up.
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.
Situated on the border of two major rock types, Myrtle Creek Botanical Area is floristically challenging as well as aesthetically arousing due to this unique geological architecture. Along the western slopes of the Myrtle Creek drainage, the North Coast Range meets the Klamath Mountains against an ancient island-arc accretion known as the Josephine Ophiolite. Plant communities are often defined by rock type, and this juncture creates unique plant assemblages. It is a place where complex rock interacts–nutrient rich soils of Coast Range meets the nutrient poor serpentines of the Josephine Ophiolite. It is also a place where ample rain falls, often in the amount of 100 inches per year. Because of these complex abiotic interactions, plants touch roots with plants in associations that almost never occur. For example, redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) grow with pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) and western redcedars (Thuja plicata) with knobcone pines (Pinus attenuata).
Historically, the drainage saw major mining operations transform the landscape when placer mining (panning) in the late 1800’s gave way to the more destructive–and potentially more lucrative–hydraulic mining during the early 1900’s. Eventually, all the accessible gold was removed and as the miners left the landscape, it slowly recovered. Today, all that remains from the operations is a major sluice where the trail begins, a ditch upon which the trail is built as well as several old shafts that are fenced in for protection.
The plants have returned and, with a few exceptions, are flourishing. The wildflowers begin in mid-March and continue into early June. Orchids, trilliums, azaleas, rhododendrons, mustards, buttercups, sorrels, wood roses, huckleberry, and more create a rare botanical legacy of unique associations–ready for exploration and self-discovery. Located within the Smith River National Recreation Area, the trail has interpretive signs to aid your discoveries along the 1+ miles to the creek.
Pictured above is California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica) growing on serpentine, which is not unusual in Del Norte County. What is unusual is that along Myrtle Creek it associates with salal (Gaultheria shallon) which is in the picture and growing just above–casting shade–is a redwood tree.
North Coast CNPS Page for Myrtle Creek Botanical Area
—– COMMENT: AUTHOR: Sue DATE: 4/24/2014 4:18:08 PM You said: “… a ditch upon which the trail is built…” This was no ditch, but a carefully constructed Chinese Footpath – the kind a person would see in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or other Asian rainforest areas. In addition to a mining camp was a Chinese labor camp. They built the footpath – which used to extend from near the falls to what is now hwy 199. I have taken several Vietnam Veterans on this trail, and they are all amazed at the similarity between this “ditch” (as you call it) and trails they saw while in Vietnam. These Chinese trails are noted by drainage area on the ‘mountain’ side of the trail, and a berm on the “creek” side of the trail. This construction helps keep the trail intact despite wet weather. Unfortunately, after over 150 years, there have been some serious mudslides along the creek that covered portions of the footpath – making it very difficult to get to the falls. There are still gold mining claims along the creek, and in the past, these mining claims have been protected with rifles. But not any more. I love this creek, have hiked it for 40 years, and treasure the botanical life. But a well-maintained trail would be nice. I would love to be able to hike to the falls again on a real trail.
Sue- Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have a great understanding and appreciation for this wonderful creek canyon. I am sorry if I offended you by calling it a ditch, I know better now! -Michael
Late in the summer of 2009 I re-visited an isolated population of junipers in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. The visit was inspired by Robert Adams after he read a blog post of my first visit to the trees. At the time, the population was believed to be Juniperus grandis based on habitat type and other morphological characteristics. After collecting the specimens and sending them to Baylor University for study Dr. Adams published two papers last month on these populations and their relationship to other junipers of the west. He graciously named me as a co-author for my collecting and final editing skills–otherwise the work was all his.
While the DNA and essential oil comparisons verified the Yolla Bolly junipers are Juniper occidentalis they did not clarify the relationship of Juniperus occidentalis to Juniperus grandis. Unusual similarities were found between occidentalis populations of Oregon and Northern California and grandis populations of the San Bernardino Mountains. As Dr. Adams states in his conclusions, some questions were answered with the research but more questions remain–further study is needed.
AUTHOR: Jeffrey Kane
DATE: 9/6/2010 12:36:05 AM
yo dude. congrats on the pub(s).
AUTHOR: Dewey Robbins
DATE: 5/24/2014 5:10:10 PM
This population extends from Low Gap southwesterly along Jones Ridge nearly to Hayden Roughs as isolated individual. Most of the trees my forestry crew and I found were young regeneration; however, there are a few gnarled fire-scarred relics that are more like shrubs than trees.
AUTHOR: Michael E Kauffmann
DATE: 5/26/2014 2:58:05 PM
Dewey– thanks for the note. I’ve never been to that area of the Yolla-Bolly, but want to get there. It looks like they extend even further west to the Eaton Roughs. It is private property, but I’d love to get there too.
Botanists and ecologists familiar with the Klamath Mountains are inevitably familiar with the similarities the area has with the southern Appalachian Mountains. It is understood that both regions harbor exceptional plant diversity due to the complex interaction of several factors. They are each ancient mountain ranges that have sustained a similar flora since at least the Cenozoic. These mountainous regions have served as monadnocks–ultimately refuges for plants as populations of species have been eliminated by glaciation and climatic dessication1. Arriving in Virginia in a warm, dry November spell the Blue Ridge Mountains were beckoning me to visit as I peered toward them from the Shenandoah Valley.
I decided to research a mountain top hike that would provide both views and of course–if possible–relict conifers. After finding a publication from 1966 about the conifers of Shenandoah National Park2 mom, dad, and I settled on Stony Man Mountain–the second highest peak in the park at 4010 feet. The Appalachians have an ancient history, being one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Stony Man’s summit is composed of greenstones–which were formed 800 million years ago (Ma) by lava flow. With time the rocks changed and were ultimately uplifted 200 Ma and have eroded back to their current height over millenia. The botanical interests–while dependant on the mountain for safe harbor–are a more recent circumstance.
In addition to the wide array of flowering trees, shrubs and annuals that can be found in the Appalachians, several relict conifers survive on this particular mountain top and sporadically elsewhere across the rolling landscape. The conifers are harbingers for the microsites fostered by complex climate and geology which ultimately mimic conditions of a colder time. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), red spruce (Picea rubens), and balsam fir (Abies balsamea) are found at their southern range extensions in and around the southern Appalachians of Virginia. These trees thrived in the colder climate of the Pleistocene but are now restricted to the highest mountain tops and coolest glades.
Canada Yew | Taxus canadensis
The Canada yew is an understory tree of late successional forests. This is exactly the habitat in which we found it in Shenandoah National Park. This yew of the northeast is ecologically identical to the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) of the Pacific northwest. The small isolated population we found on the summit of Stony Man reminded me of select mountain tops of the Klamath–like Preston Peak. The population here was matted to the earth and often growing beneath and around shrubs on rocky outcrops punished by the elements.
Needless to say, this was an exciting plant to find and learn about...as were those that follow but are discussed in less detail.
Hils, Matthew H. 1993. Taxaceae. Flora of North America Editorial Committee (eds.): Flora of North America North of Mexico, Vol. 2. Oxford University Press.
Potter, K.M. et al. 2010. Evolutionary history of two endemic Appalachian conifers revealed using microsattilite markers. Conversation genetics. 11:1499-1513.
Farjon, Aljos. 1990. Pinaceae: drawings and descriptions of the genera Abies, Cedrus, Pseudolarix, Keteleeria, Nothotsuga, Tsuga, Cathaya, Pseudotsuga, Larix and Picea. Königstein: Koeltz Scientific Books
AUTHOR: David Fix
DATE: 11/24/2010 2:17:02 PM
Thank you, Michael, for the quick look-see. Jude and I were in the park, as well as over in the Alleghenies in May and also enjoyed Red Spruce. It was fun to see you apply your landscape-parsing and plant skills to a different place. Question. What is that abundant and delicate knee-high fern with the pinnae that barely clasp your fingers as you feel it? But I simply enjoyed it in many spots and don’t need the name…
DATE: 11/24/2010 2:43:10 PM
Great trip, beautiful! This also taught me that monadnock is not just a mountain in southern New Hampshire, but rather my favorite mountain is the name sake for the topographical phenomenon.
With the threat of our second significant storm of the season looming, I packed the truck and headed into a mysterious and isolated region of the Siskiyou Mountains to find two rare groves of trees and enjoy the transition toward winter. The roads are long and lonely leading south from Oregon’s Applegate Valley into the high peaks of extreme southern Oregon and northern California. This region drains the headwaters of the Applegate River where nebulous state borders are crisscrossed by wild mountains, rivers, and the occasional road. This is surely the quintessential ancient meeting ground where rare plants have hidden out for millenia–optimal environmental conditions are fostered with a unique balance of sun, soil, and water. In addition to the rare conifers under discussion one might also encounter Pacific silver-fir, subalpine fir , Brewer spruce, and Port Orford-cedar close by–not to mention the other more common species.
This map shows the only region in the world where the northern-most native cypress (C. bakeri) overlaps with Alaska yellow-cedar (C. nootkatensis) in its southern range extension.
One quick side note with respect to the genera I present here (without getting overly detailed)–several classification schemes currently exist for these species. Alaska-cedars have been placed in one of five genera by various sources: Cupressus, Chamaecyparis, Xanthocyparis, Hesperocyparis, and Callitropsis. Needless to say, things are a bit up in the air. While these names have yet to be worked out what has transpired, for now, is one of three scenerios:
“We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go to go crazy in peace. Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in. Even the maddest murderer of the sweetest wife should get a chance for a run to the sanctuary of the hills. If only for the sport of it. For the terror, freedom, and delirium…” – Edward Abbey,from The Journey Home
With the passing of the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Act in 2006 over 150,000 acres of new wilderness areas were added to the wilderness preservation system. Those new areas are: Yuki, Sanhedrin, Mount Lassic, King Range, Cedar Roughs, Cache Creek , and South Fork of the Eel River. Most of these areas are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and there is not much information out there about these places–including how to access our public lands. In many ways this is exciting–the journey to go “crazy in peace” is an ominous and difficult one–in many ways what wilderness should be. With new wilderness on my mind I drove the 70 miles south of Eureka, just into Mendocino County, in an attempt to see this new wilderness and the rare plant communities fostered in the edaphic sky island found there. Though interested in all plants, I must admit the driving force behind this trip was to see the northern range extension of Sargent cypress. Continue reading “South Fork Eel River Wilderness | Red Mountain Unit”
Surely one of the most beautiful rivers in the state of California, this wild and untraveled stretch of the South Fork Trinity River is a special place to visit. South Fork Road ends 11 miles from where it begins at the junction of the South Fork and Main Fork, and for over 10 miles, runs wild and free from human disturbance–upstream to the isolated hamlet of Hyampom. The entire South Fork of the Trinity River is designated as wild and scenic, but the Hell’s Half Acre section is the epitome of this wild and scenic designation.
With the end of the school year in site, my calcifuge tendencies had me running to the hills. Ever since our winter trip to Hawaii I have been pondering the Ericaceae family, gaining a new found love for this diverse group of plants. I also knew that they, like me, had a propensity to ‘flee from chalk’ so to speak. Ericaceous plants generally prefer, if not acidic soil, a harsh medium on which to grow. Could this familial disposition–to thrive in the presence of harsh soil–be due to the extant members of this tribe having evolved from a common ancestor? I thought I must visit one of the oldest members of the family and get to know where they grew and what they knew or could share. Though I have been hearing the call of the Kalmiopsis for many years, I had failed to yet make the trek into this remote country. With snow lingering this spring, keeping me from my typical high Siskiyou destinations, the time was right for Oregon’s second largest wilderness. The lower elevation wilderness is so named after a relict plant Lilla and John Leach discovered here in 1930.
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.
In 1969 Dale Thornburgh and John Sawyer discovered the first subalpine fir in California and also in the Klamath Mountains. This discovery was made in the vicinity of Russian Peak in what is now the Russian Wilderness. Since that time the species has been found in a total of eight locations in California’s Klamath Mountains and twice in Oregon’s Klamath. One of those Oregon locations is near Mt. Ashland and the other was recently discovered by Frank Callahan to the east in the Red Buttes Wilderness. This second location, in an isolated cirque on the north side of Tannen Peak was my destination–with Frank Callahan as my guide.Continue reading “Subalpine Fir in the Red Buttes Wilderness”
Venturing east on Highway 299 from Humboldt Bay, a stark transition–rarely noticed by travelers–occurs at Berry Summit (2900 ft). Leaving the Coast Range and entering the Klamath Mountains the landscape becomes defined by varied, complex rock types. One of these unusual rock types is known as ultramafic rock or more commonly as Serpentine. In North America, serpentine rock appears at the Earth’s surface most frequently in northwest California. The Horse Mountain Botanical Area (HMBA) is a celebration of the rock and climate that interact to create unique high elevation plant communities. In coastal northwest California, spring has arrived. Allison and I did not want winter to pass us by–we were ready for some snow play. Packing our snowshoes and lunch, we drove to the snow of the HMBA in the Klamath Mountains in less than an hour.
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. Although this place has always been on my list of places to visit–the impetus for this visit was to collect some samples of the rare Sierra juniper (Juniperus grandis) for Robert Adams of Baylor University so that, through DNA testing, he might find out if these trees truly are what we think they are (see previous blog). After a 25 mile sojourn deep into the wilderness to collect those specimens it was time to search for the southern most stand of foxtail pine in northwest California–on Mount Linn.
Two days into my 400 mile trek on the Bigfoot Trail I stopped to watch rain clouds clear above the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek–deep in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. As wind whipped the cool electric air past my ears a plant caught my eye–20 yards below the ridge on which I was balanced. This stately specimen had taken purchase many years ago in this rocky, windswept environment. This was a place in which only the heartiest of plants could hope to endure. Its reddish branches stood out in stark contrast to the lime green foliage. As I slowly crawled down the hillside my mind turned over and over with ideas of what species this might be. At first I believed it was cypress–possibly a MacNab or Sargent. But As I got closer I noticed the berry cones which are a diagnostic trait of junipers.