Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Central Coast is Awesome

Warning: actual nature and running in this post.

UCSD spring break came and went all too fast, but at least I got to spend some time on the Central Coast. The draw to the north wasn't as strong as before since the furthest I got was the very corner of Monterey County (i.e. not to San Francisco), but look at these pictures and I bet you'll agree that it was a fine choice.

One day I went to Ventana Wilderness in Los Padres National Forest. I went for an awesome run in the southern section up toward Ventana Cone (not all the way) but next time I go think I'll have myself a little jaunt from Kirk Creek Camp up San Vicente Trail to the Cone. That should be a fun one. I wrote about the shrinking range of the redwoods in Western North America during the Holocene before, often resulting from fires. Consequently it's nice to see that the redwoods are recovering - post-fire, needles sprout everywhere, even on the main trunks, so they look fuzzy:

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

I brought some cones back to my buddy's place in Santa Barbara and sprinkled them in his yard. He just bought the place and he knows better than to plant a redwood next to his house so I told him if any of them come up to let me know and I'll move them. (So far none of mine have.)

The greenest green I have ever seen was the thousands of vertical feet of spring-grass covered ocean-facing slope descending toward the ocean. My poor iPhone couldn't capture the full sublime radiance of chlorophyll.

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

On the same trip I visited two old missions that I'd always wanted to see, San Antonio and San Miguel. The Spanish built missions a day's ride apart and most of them grew into decent-sized or even huge towns (I'm sitting in one of them now, San Diego). Somehow, it never happened for San Miguel and San Antonio de Padua. San Miguel is a town of about 1,500 on I-5 north of Paso Robles; the church is still used and still has its original interior, despite damage from the 2003 Central Coast quake. San Antonio de Padua has noxxx town around it; it was part of the land that Hearst used for their private hunting reserve, and the old presidio was the "lodge" on the eastern side of the Santa Lucias that he took guests to. When William Randolph was broke and in tax-arrears in the 30s, he made a tax forgiveness deal with the Feds, and today the area around the mission is the Hunter Liggett military base. If you visit, make sure you have government-issued photo ID, and car insurance and registration, or they won't let you on the base.

San Antonio de Padua:

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

This is what a 160-year-old grape vine looks like.

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

San Miguel:

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

I also got a nice long run in back in the Santa Ynez Valley in Los Padres above Santa Barbara, where I stayed during my little visit. I'm thankful that all this land is preserved, so close to population centers. The water you see is actually the crossing (there's a concrete slab so it's not too deep to drive across).

From Central Coast Spring Break 2010

Last word: I saw what looked like a single Scotch broom plant as I was leaving Ventana, although a local naturalist tells me it was probably French broom. Either one is bad news. They're non-native plants that take over everything, destroying the local plant life. In the space of ten years, despite constant eradication efforts, I watched them take over large parts of Redwood Preserve in the East Bay Hills - so I was scared to see even one growing along Ferguson-Nacimiento Road a mile east of Highway 1, a few miles from literally the southernmost stand of redwoods on the coast that just barely made it through the Big Sur fires. I reported it by email to Los Padres online, and the naturalist I mentioned strongly encouraged me to just stop and pull the stuff out. Seriously, they're like triffids. So you can spot it and pull it out, here are pictures.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Finish Chelsea's Run

You have to be living under a rock if you're a runner and you haven't heard about the effort to honor Chelsea King's memory. If you can make it, be there. In the meantime, read up on safety advice for women runners.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More Open Space Protected in Bay Area

Good news. Notice that this is in Walnut Creek, which is kind of the Orange County of the Bay Area; no communes there, but plenty of attorneys and business owners. The city (and its neighbors) want property values to stay high and they know which side their bread is buttered on, so they spend the money to preserve the space. The John Muir Land Trust contributed as well.

One of the valuable things this does is preserve a large stretch of contiguous space. You can see this better in the East Bay Ridge below, which stretches (almost) uninterrupted from Richmond to Fremont. Around here we have unintentional preserves in the form of the parks and canyons abutting Miramar MCAS (like Mission Trails); military bases are often accidental wildlife refuges.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Reason to Keep San Diego's Beaches Clean

I really didn't start this blog as an environmental blog. It's really an outdoors blog, which means I write about running, cool places I visit, and beer, in roughly that order. But it seems that the conservation-posts have been growing, and in retrospect the impetus is an easy one to guess: no conservation = no cool places to run or do anything else in. It really wasn't a planned development. I just wanted to use the space I take up on the web yammering about what I love to make a positive difference.

In that spirit: we live along the Pacific Coast. Have you heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch? If not, go watch this video (or if you're somewhere you can't watch videos, see this article about a group from the Scripps Institute that has been exploring the Patch.)

I had heard of it but images have a way of motivating you that dry text does not.
Take a look at these pictures of birds from the mid-Pacific with stomachs full of plastic. Here's just the first:

More photos here. This single set of photos has done more in the past year to make me self conscious of my consumption and recycling habits. Without doing something there's no reason to think that this Patch won't keep expanding, and soon we'll be looking at dead birds like these on San Diego's beaches. More information here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Government Penalizes Family For Using Native Plants

" officials told the Has they were violating several city laws that require that 40% of residential yards to be landscaped predominantly with live plants." This was up in the City of Orange.

Here's a news flash to the government of the City of Orange: we live in a desert.

See all that orange? Along the coast we get less than 10 inches a year (maybe this year we'll beat that). The inland areas before you hit the mountains in earnest gets up to 15. Simplistically, 10" of rain a year was the traditional definition, but now we take into account evaporation driven by sun, which we have a lot of. But no need for quibbling. You know how when you drive up I-5 to Orange County and you go through Camp Pendleton? That's what your neighborhood looked like before huge numbers of people showed up (actually, it's wetter than coastal San Diego). We might like the way our neighborhood looks, but if you consider the growth Southern California is expected to have in the next few decades, you have to ask seriously where the water for all those rosebushes is going to come from.

So why don't people xeriscape more? Cultural inertia. The U.S. was settled from its east coast, a largely temperate part of the world with plenty of rainfall, similiar to the places that European immigrants were leaving. So, having a lawn is a status symbol, and it's what your grandparents were used to anyway. But familiarity can make us accept strange things. Think about it this way: if people in Maine started planting palm trees and putting heaters around them to help them survive the winter, wouldn't that seem a little strange? Now look again at those green grass lawns all over Southern California.

Granted, xeriscaping won't be everybody's thing, but we at least shouldn't have local governments forbidding us from doing it. And anyway, don't you ever wonder how much your water bill at home goes up because of all the lush green landscaping around shopping centers and corporations? Check out the Theodore Payne Foundation, a Southern California group with information about using native flowers and plants.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Looked Over Jordan and What Do I See

One of many reasons I enjoy distance running is that I imagine it's an activity that humans are made for, that's all tied into culture and intelligence and that helped separate us from other primates. There's a bit of romance to the hunter-gatherer ideal, and I often ponder this while running, though I have yet to eat a deer while on trail (although I did once catch a rabbit with my bare hands; I didn't hurt it, and surprisingly I didn't catch hantavirus). Hence, my impassioned polemics against the "distance running is bad for you because it runs afoul of our evolution" school of fitness might not be so surprising.

It's poignant that East Africans - the people who never left the cradle of the species, the evolutionary Holy Land in which I will soon fulfill my dreams of going for a run - are notoriously over-represented among elite distance runners. Given the small sample size and the movement of human beings around Africa for the past hundred thousand years or so, to suggest a meaningful association would be profoundly unscientific. Still - take a look at this picture from a New York Times article about how culture has helped direct evolution - yes, it's from a Kenyan highland pasture:

I've never wanted to go running in a photograph so much. No wonder this countryside produces great endurance athletes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Plumas National Forest

Plumas is a remote, beautiful and fascinating forest in the transition zone between the Sierras and the Cascades.

Image credit Charles Soper.

Image credit MGW Biological Surveys.

In 2007 there was a big forest fire, and they need our help to reforest it. Looking for ways to offset your carbon footprint? This is a great way to do it, and now you have a special connection to a fantastic part of California.

Monday, March 8, 2010

San Diego Preservation Resources

Interested in preservation? There's a great article at the San Diego Hiker blog with links to a lot of the local foundations working hard to protect parks and open space. They can always use our help.

Just in the last few weeks I've seen an uptick in conservation discussions in the online San Diego community, which is great (here's a current article from the San Diego Outdoor examiner). One of the best ways to get individual people interested in conservation, whether they're outdoor enthusiasts or not, is to emphasize the connection between enhancement of private land and home ownership and preserving open space. Hopefully that means now is not the time for SDG&E to succeed with their shenanigans.

SDGE Begins Eminent Domain Proceedings

Think your property rights mean diddly squat to the power company? Think again. SDG&E has started eminent domain proceedings to force existing land holders to sell their land so SDG&E can build powerlines. Message - if you don't sell, we'll make you sell anyway. This has been on for a while; for more details, read this great article. Property owners and open-space advocates need to stick together to keep these actions from succeeding, and to keep courts from allowing them to.

Preservation of open space around San Diego enhances property values and property rights.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Last Mountain Lion Pennsylvania, at least - was killed in my home county of Berks in 1874, right off what is now the Appalachian Trail, maybe 10 miles east of where the picture shown in this post were taken in November of last year.

It would be interesting to see how this barely-preserved animal compares genetically to the closest remnant populations in the Black Hills and the Ozarks, if we could get any decent sized DNA fragments out of the tissue (anything but a done deal).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Safety Tips for Women Runners

There's not much to be said after the sad news from Lake Hodges today, except for the community to continue supporting Chelsea King's family, which by all appearances has already been happening. Meanwhile, we can do our best to keep this from happening again and read up on safety tips for women runners.