Yesterday morning I was fortunate enough to get out in Marian Bear and Rose Canyon and walk the trails with veteran volunteer John, who's been keeping our canyons in excellent shape for years. By happenstance, we also happened to run into Matt the bridge-maker. We picked up a little trash and trimmed back some brush; that fallen tree in west Marian Bear is now off the trail. If you use these canyons, you benefit from the efforts of both these guys, and I'm glad to meet them and to help out!
Look familiar? Foxtails are the bane of many a trail runner, and they're an even bigger hazard for dogs. The topic came up because when I was volunteering in Marian Bear yesterday, the veteran I was following wondered if foxtails were native; I'd always understood they were not, so I resolved to look it up. Like many grasses, the a species can be hard to identify among many for amateurs like your blogger, but it seems obvious that our California foxtails are Hordeum murinum. These look just like the ones I find in my socks and shoes and sometimes elsewhere in my house, and it's listed as a state-wide invasive on CA flora, which come in to disturbed grasslands, especially those disturbed by drought.
To answer the question, they are indeed invasives (from the Mediterranean), not that this makes them any more annoying or dangerous to animals. (Poison oak is native and somehow I don't like it one whit better because of that.) Some of the native grasses include bunchgrass (below), which is discussed here at the California Native Plant Society; you can often see it planted at public buildings in California (there's some around UCSD) and also in my experience, at higher altitudes where the invasive European grasses can't survive, above nine or ten thousand feet. (If you really want to know about California native grasses, here's a whole book on it!)
The existence of black (melanistic) has been a controversial topic for decades. They have never been documented; it's a misconception that Florida's panthers are black, but this is not the case. But there are black great cats in the Americas - jaguars. And reputable people have claimed to see them in California for many years. An unnamed source told me that in the 1960s there were credible reports from multiple sources of one living in Tecolote Canyon in San Diego in the 1960s; Point Reyes near San Francisco produces regular reports today. Despite this no one has produced a single good photograph of a black mountain lion, and the longer they go undocumented, the stronger the evidence should be to make us believe it. To make my point: it's up to the reader to decide if this black feline is a mountain lion or a house cat (scale is difficult) and this was the most viable photo that can be found on Google.
But here's a trick. It turns out humans are the outgroup in terms of fur coloration. That is to say, in us, black is a phenotypically dominant trait. This is not the case in most mammals, where it's actually recessive - you have to get a gene from both parents to have black fur. This possibly explains why it's a relatively rare trait, but certainly not why it's never been clearly documented. A quick search does not reveal that the mountain lion genome has been completely sequenced; however we do have extensive samples, and coat color genes should not be difficult to pick out based on our knowledge of other cats. So, now we can see if among our samples there are variants, especially ones similar to the melanistic gene in jaguars. Those melanistic genes, if they exist and dark coat color is recessive, must also be hiding in the genomes of tawny heterozygous cats. In fact, given population genetics, you should expect MORE tawny cats to have those genes than black ones! (Unless your claimed mechanism of melanism is that all black mountain lions have fallen Pepe Le Pew-style into black paint, and much to their chagrin have to constantly refuse the unwanted advances of hot-to-trot melanistic jaguars.)
Here's a mom jaguar and her cub. To really illustrate the recessiveness of melanism I should have posted two spotted jaguars with a black cub, but this is damn cute, so look at it anyway.
The strength of this approach is that once you detect a variant or especially a similar gene to the melanistic jaguar gene, you can put together male and female heterozygotes in captivity and wait for 25% of their offspring to be black, and there's your proof. On the other hand, if no such variant exists, based on the number of animals you've analyzed, we'll be able to say "If melanism exists, it's less than 1 in x cats". (Probably some people wouldn't be satisfied until every mountain lion is sequenced, and after that they'll find another reason to keep believing.) I expect we must have hundreds or even thousands of cats' DNA at this point. My suspicion is that there are no black mountain lions, but of course it would be more interesting if I were wrong.
As a reminder, I have a wager offer to anyone that wants to take it about my home state of Pennsylvania, where mountain lions were extirpated by the 1870s. To be blunt, most of the claims of mountain lions in PA are urban-myth-type photos which have been circulating for years and can be found on Snopes, or excitable people not used to seeing wildlife. That said, because there are no lions there now, does not mean there won't be lions there again soon, since the PA Appalachians offer outstanding mountain lion habitat. My prediction is that by 2025, lions will be re-established in the state, as documented by physical evidence of *TWO* separate non-sibling or parent-offspring-related animals. Physical evidence can be DNA-verified tissue, spoor or fur, or of course the animal itself. (This helps keep smartasses from bringing their own.) In the last few years, lions are verified in Indiana and now Connecticut.
Today I had the privilege of volunteering for the morning to patrol the Tri-Canyon parks with Ranger Andrew Quinn of San Diego Parks and Recreation. We spent the morning in the San Diego River/Mission Valley Area, as well as Tecolote, Marian Bear and Rose Canyons. I use these great resources all the time for running and general sanity-maintenance so I want to do whatever I can to help maintain these great open spaces.
What I learned (and saw) was not what I expected. In fact, in the time Quinn has been a ranger, he doesn't recall a single call for a rattlesnake bite or other wildlife related injury - despite the coyotes in Tecolote and elsewhere, despite years-ago reports of a melanistic mountain lion in Tecolote, and current reports of a mountain lion at the east end of Marian Bear near the 805. It's not the wildlife that's the problem.
What the rangers do deal with, all the time every day, are people living in the canyons who litter, particularly in Mission Valley. The staff told me they would love to spend more time doing interpretive programs, or trail maintenance and pulling out invasive flora. But unfortunately, most of the day is taken up dealing with transients. What complicates the issue is that very often, the people who are most concerned with preserving natural resources (which includes me, and most likely you if you're reading this blog post) sometimes don't understand the direct connection between transients living in the canyons, and the resulting degradation of the resource. The staff estimates that 90% of the trash results from this. (Trash which is collected on a daily basis, not just during the canyon cleanups, helpful though they are.) In general the canyons are quite safe, but what safety issues there are come (again) from the transient population. Many of the people who live in the canyons have stay-away orders for various reasons.
The San Diego River in Mission Valley. From KPBS
But things are definitely looking better in the canyons over the last few years, in part due to the efforts of the rangers and in part due to us citizens who care about our parks. So how can we help? Easy. Be the parks' eyes and ears - they only have a limited staff and they can't be everywhere and see everything! So if you see trash or tagging or an obvious place where someone was sleeping, make that call to (858)581-9961; this number is on signs in the parks too. Let your councilperson and the mayor know the parks matter to you (if they don't hear from you, they assume they don't!) Best of all you can volunteer - to patrol with the rangers, or to maintain trails.
A Danish study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine investigated the received wisdom that under- or over-pronating runners are more subject to injury than "neutral" runners. They found that this was not the case. (The study is well-summarized in the New York Times.)
Study design: 927 male and female runners from 18 to 65, prospectively evaluated as under- or over-pronator or neutral, given light-weight NON-motion-controlling shoes, and left alone to run as they please for a year.
From 5k Fashionista.
So what happened? There was no difference between the under/over-pronators and the neutral runners overall; but in fact among higher-mileage runners the over-pronators had a slightly but significantly lower chance of injury than neutral runners. Higher-mileage here is >600 miles a year, which isn't even 12 miles a week, so not very high mileage; "injuries" here were any medically-confirmed back or leg complaint that caused the subject to stop running for at least a week.
The lead author concluded that runners are better off paying attention to "things like body mass, training, behavior, age and previous injury in order to prevent running-related injuries." Admittedly, I'm posting this because what I don't want to hear from the super-paleo "all shoes are bad" crowd is that this study supports their conclusion; it just leans us further toward "follow your natural stride type". And to that end, some of us, your blogger included, are obligate 21st century runners whose build, foot shape and size, stride length, and running habits requires us to wear a well-cushioned (if not motion-controlling) shoe. And I've never had a use injury in 22 years of running with no warm-ups, or stretching, or proper build-ups to big events. And this paper is telling us all that our natural stride/strike is a-okay!
Well I have a new favorite summit in Angeles National Forest, namely Baden-Powell. It's in that cluster of a few summits north and east of (and above) Crystal Lake, accessible from the eastern half of Angeles Crest Highway; they also include Throop and Dawson. The PCT runs right along these peaks. Pine forests up there, amazing. Views of the desert and the rest of the range, amazing. And then the little ridge at the very end beats Devil's Backbone on Baldy hands-down. Words can't possibly do it justice so here are a few images:
From localhikes.com From highsierratopix.com
I've never been so bummed I didn't bring a camera, but I'll be back. (For great info about the hike, check out the Nobody Hikes in LA entry.) The elevation goes from 6800' at the trailhead to 9400' at the summit. At that elevation there's no turricula (an irritating poisonous plant) but the fire-damaged areas to the west of this part of the Forest are overrun with it, as expected in a recovery community. Much to my pleasant surprise I did see two snow plants right along the trail, which I've never observed in the Angeles before (mostly in Sequoia):
This stunning forest also made me wonder - why do we allow fire of any kind in this forest, ever? Okay fine, prescribed burns if ever indicated by the appropriate agency, but I mine, why do we need to allow people to cook things, ever? I think the need to protect the forest and the lives of the people who defend it overrides our need to make s'mores or warm up our coffee for one night if we're camping. Just eat power bars for 18 hours, you'll live, I promise.
So I made the drive up the Palomar Divide Truck Trail a few days ago from Warner Springs, and ran down Barker Valley Spur. A nice trail, which gets down into the valley in the southern part of Palomar.
Some nice folks have posted Jerry Schad's hike directions along with a map and pics here, and a map here. According to one commenter less than a year ago, a ranger said you can't get to the falls anymore (?); not sure since I didn't try.
My question is: is there a way to get across the valley and up to the telescope or Mendenhall Road? Or is the only way to go around the top (northwest end) of the valley, where the Palomar Divide Ridge joins with the west-facing ridge?
This trail also made me wonder why SoCal national forests don't just say "no fires, period" during the high fire-danger times, like right now. Seriously, do we really have to make an allowance for grills? It seems pretty clear that we can resist the need to build a fire for a certain period for safety. People's desire for s'mores is outweighed by preserving the forest and protecting the lives and property of fire fighters and nearby residents.
From time to time, I get this anxiety that various American mountain ranges might suddenly become not awesome. So from time to time, I go there to make sure they still are. Good news! They still are!
The trip was from San Diego, up 395, to the John Muir/Ansel Adams Wilderness near Mammoth, side trip to Mono Lake, through Yosemite, then the barest skimming of The Bay Area(tm) on the way to Big Sur, and finally to Santa Barbara and home. What a terrible, no good state we live in, with no natural beauty, and nothing to do or see. Awful!
First we headed up 395 and watched the Sierras grow to our left, stopping in Lone Pine for a steak and a beer in the shadow of Mt. Whitney as it blocked the setting sun behind it. Sorry to subject you to the inside joke in this picture, but the next day was Mother's Day, so I had to order MGD, her favorite beer. She is if nothing else a classy broad.
Lone Pine and Mt. Whitney, from Tripadvisor. No I didn't take this awesome picture, I was too busy drinking beer dummy!
Manzanar internment camp is still nearby, maintained by the National Park Service just north of Lone Pine, and the grave sites for the people who died in the camp are a bit lonely at night:
It's good that they preserve this but for my money, a visit to the ruins of the Tule Lake facility up at the Oregon border is somehow more sobering, because there's no intervening veneer of restoration as a resort. It's just you standing in front of jumbled concrete blocks and barbed wire and iron frames that once held Americans prisoner for years.
That night we camped at the edge of John Muir wilderness, then hit Mono Pass the next morning. It was a pretty light snow year so on a normal year, we wouldn't have gone very far on this hike at this date, and as it was there was solid snow from about 11,500' up. Since it was warm enough to be up there in T-shirt and shorts I got a nice ankle and calf sunburn from all the UV coming back up at me from every direction. Certain other non-north-European-descended members of this expedition did not have the same problems.
Above: I'm too lazy to figure out the html to put this in some kind of panaroma sliding frame, so just click on it will ya. If it's relatively easy and this annoys you enough, don't hesitate to leave a comment.
Arriving at Mono Pass.
Looking west through the pass to the divide. Note to self - future trip from here to Tuolumne Meadows.
Back down at the lake.
Next day I went back to the ranger in Mammoth to close the loop about snow conditions up at Mono Pass, then it was a hike from Convict Lake up to Dorothy Lake. Or so we thought. The start was much lower than the day before, I think around 6,500', so we didn't expect to run into snow. But high enough up (where the old bridge is out) the trail either ended or disappeared under snow and rockfall, and the creek was a little steep and fast and spooky, so we just had lunch and then turned around. Still a pretty good day.
Above: here it turned into a scramble, the creek was kind of spooky (in places, slips would have consequences) and the snow wasn't all melted out, so this is about as high as we got that day. Crossing below:
Above: you can see the White Mountains on the other side of the valley. That's where some 4,000 year old trees are. And a UCSD altitude research station.
Above: relaxing in canvas chairs with our feet in the lake, we watched a bald eagle, and ate salted seaweed. Fermi problem: a bit of salt fell off the seaweed into the lake. How much did we change the sodium concentration of the water? We estimated by about 2.75 picomolar. Before you get too excited: that's about the same as a deer peeing.
After that we went out to the hot springs dotting the high desert between the Sierras and White Mountains, which had stood guard to the east the whole time. You know that whole thing is a big caldera right? (Look at it.)
Above: There are multiple springs out there in the caldera, with pipes running between them that the locals have set up to make sure none of them are intolerably hot. As you can see it wasn't crowded that day. You can also see a dead spot in the grasses where the roots are probably cooking underneath.
After that we hit Mono Lake, which is gradually refilling, but still nowhere near the levels it was at before the poisonous writhing evil serpent water-stealing octopus that is Los Angeles, shrieking with darkness, tried to suck it dry, after having already turned Owens Lake into America's own Aral Sea. (Note: I don't like Los Angeles.) But Mono Lake is cool.
Same applies as above for this panorama, just click, or tell me how to fix it. :)
The rock formations are kind of like...reverse stalactites? They're created by mineral deposits as gas bubbles up through the bizarre alkaline water of this endorrheic lake. (This was where the supposed arsenic life was from. It turned out to be a false alarm but if it would be anywhere on Earth, it would be here.) When the lake recedes as the water is taken, the formations collapse. That is, you should never see them out on dry land like that - the top is where the lake level used to be. And even if you don't care about rocks, the lake is also a massively important migration stop for California seagulls and other birds. And finally, help me convince myself I'm not seeing things and tell me that Mono Lake isn't the place Max Ernst was always trying to paint (below). (Still don't believe me? Please view Napoleon in the Wilderness and Forest and Dove.(I admit an unhealthy obsession with Ernst. But some parts of the world really do look like they were designed by certain artists.)
I just totally went off on a tangent hard dude.
Then when you're seeing crystal clear lakes and granite monoliths, you can only be in...Yosemite! That night we stayed in Tuolumne Meadows. The road had just opened a few days ago and I expected the road through Tioga pass to be a deep snow-canyon but there were occasional piles of snow 2-3 feet high along side the road. At sunset the meadows were beautiful and the bugs not so bad. Pitching a tent I heard a snap and turned the headlamp to see two eyes in the forest, which blinked - twice - and then it turned and I saw it was a deer. The bears were up early this year, in some places a couple months ahead of their normal schedule.
In the morning we went to the sequoia grove (as you can see above) and then despite ourselves down into Yosemite Valley. Still not overrun with tourists. From there it was out the park by an unfamiliar (to me) southern route on Route 41, and through Merced. We were curious about the UC there. There is a hospital quite nearby. Future medical school? One wonders. From there it was a blast across the Central Valley with the requisite stop for fresh fruit (cherries) until the central valley farms gave way to the ranch and scrub forest of coastal hills. We stopped in the beautiful and little-known San Juan Bautista.
An old rural plaza mayor, a couple little beer saloons on the main street, and a neat little trail along the actual San Andreas fault. The plaque you see above with vineyards behind it is on the old Mission grounds and it explains this, with the plaza mayor at your back as you're reading it. Our picture-taking was compromised at this point due to the aforementioned saloons. Already in the time I've lived in California I've seen this town go from a forgotten backwater (in the best sense) to somewhere inside the boundaries of tourist maps, not to mention the plans of Silicon Valley developers. I actually thought about whether I wanted to further advertise this place on my super high readership blog but I think the cat's out of the bag with or without me.
That night we stayed in Gilroy but went up to Cupertino for some Korean buffet at Palace. It wasn't until after I was driving back on 101 that I thought: here I was in the actual Bay Area, and all I did was have dinner and leave. What's happening to me!?!? Ih. Next morning we headed up to the inexplicably little-known Mt. Madonna, and then on over past Elkhorn Slough to Monterey and finally Big Sur. At the beach where the Big Sur River meets the Pacific, my travel buddy commented that I was touching the grass the same way the Gladiator did in the movie as he was dying. I think after the third year of medical school I was surprised to find that I was a) still alive and b) still capable of contentment in nature. The cold Pacific breeze in Big Sur is not far off from the one in San Francisco so I don't know if it was that, or the green, or the ocean. But it was something. The second picture is standing on the beach, looking back up the river. The video shows you how windy it was, but it was a good wind.
Since we were in Big Sur, a visit to the Maiden Public House was in order, as well as the Henry Miller Library. By this point in the trip I was already taking profound greenery as a given. The next day we headed up the Pine Ridge Trail in Ventana Wilderness, one of my favorite in the world, but didn't get all the way to the hot springs. Until next time...but the drive down the central coast afterward is always sublime. See if you can find the waterfall in the second picture - it's not that hard.
That night we stayed in San Luis Obispo but not before stopping at Taco Temple in Morro Bay. Please do be advised of their mesozoic portion sizes. They tried to warn us, but we were enthusiastic to make up for having missed them Christmas 2011 our last time up the Central Coast because they were closed for some reason. Then heading south again the next day, we took a detour on Route 166 (it looks like New Mexico back there on the way to the Carrizo Plain) then stopped for a short hike in the San Rafael Wilderness, the flora of which kind of reminded me of some of the drier East and South Bay preserves, like Henry Coe.
Yeah. That's right Stillman, I've been reading your blog, and now I'm in your hood! What are you gonna do about it? Actually to go on one of the hikes you describe I would've had to start at 4am and go 20 miles off-trail so maybe you're safe for now...
And what visit is complete without stopping for dinner at noted anthropologist and space cadet Michael Gurven's house in Santa Barbara. His lovely lady Lisa recently made the mistake of bearing his issue. Oddly she seems glowingly happy as if she hasn't realized this. And I'll tell you something surprising, the child looked normal. Like, really a healthy normal human baby. It's a medical mystery that can only be explained by the mother's robust genetic constitution.
And after that, straight home to ol' SD. And you know what? I was happy to get back. (Don't tell anyone.)
Possible future plans for further 'sploring:
- Tuolumne Meadows and a nice hike up to Vogelsang Peak
- Or maybe all the way up to and over Mono Pass from Yosemite to Tuolumne Meadows
- White Mountains and the Bristlecones (too much snow up there two weeks ago)
- Heading back for a Saturday night stay at the hot springs in Ventana Wilderness
- I had been obsessed with central Los Padres above Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, since areas of this were only recently (last few decades) properly mapped
- Finally getting out to the Channel Islands
NOTE: people could not do these kinds of trips without the time and efforts of a number of volunteer groups who, out of the goodness of their hearts, pick up where government agencies don't have money or interest to provide information for free online. Two in particular who I couldn't have done this trip without are Ventana Wilderness Alliance and the Southern Los Padres Writers Association blog, both outstanding resources for the massive Los Padres National Forest that stretches from Monterey to Los Angeles and which contains multiple wilderness areas. Their maps and trail descriptions are in many cases the only way I know of to get reliable recent information to plan hikes; not only that, they do a lot to ensure the conservation of the natural and cultural resources in the Wildernesses.
Solvitur ambulando! Note the thick brow-ridge, the idiotic grin, and the death-grip on the beverage. You can email this handsome devil at email@example.com.
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