Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Marin Waterfall Hike - Arroyo de San Jose Falls - 3/30/11

Arroyo de San Jose Falls a.k.a Fairway Falls

          The past week or two I seem to have been on a waterfall tip so I decided to continue the trend and check out a waterfall I’ve never visited before in Novato called Arroyo De San Jose. Arroyo De San Jose is a seasonal creek with a series of four waterfalls and several magnificent cascades. The canyon is quite a contrast from the rest of the topography in Novato.
          To get there take Ignacio Blvd exit in Novato and head west. Then take a left on Fairway Dr. and follow it a ways to its terminus at a large iron gate. Plenty of street parking is available.
          After parking my car I proceeded past the iron gate and soon crossed the creek on a provided wooden plank. The trail leads into an open clearing with a trail junction and I took the left fork heading towards the falls. Protruding from the tall grass were an abundance of deep purple irises.

Wild Iris

          I passed a rock alongside the trail with a couple of Western Fence Lizards sunbathing. The blue bellies contrasted well with the bright orange lichen on the rock.

Western Fence Lizard a.k.a. Blue Belly

Western Fence Lizard

          Some folks might not realize it, but these lizards provide a nominal service by helping protect us from Lyme disease. The western black-legged tick is what transmits Lyme disease to a human being. The same ticks also like to feed on Fence Lizards whose blood contains something that eliminates Lyme disease from the tick resulting in very few cases of Lyme disease.
          The trail leads back along the creek and into forest cover. Milk Maids were plentiful and the occasional Hounds Tongue could be seen. Pale white Irises were scattered about. The trail crosses the creek which is easily forded and starts to gain elevation slightly. The trail seemed to be pretty popular. It was around 5PM and there were quite a few people out and about. The first waterfall and most peoples final destination was not far up the trail. When I arrived I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the creek. It was still hot out and even in the canyon it proved to be fairly warm.

Arroyo de San Jose Falls

          The falls drop in two tiers, with a pool below the shorter top tier. You can access the pool fairly easily and it is a great place to soak the feet as well. Moss and ferns surround the pool and cover portions of the rock face of the falls really giving the place a good feeling.

The Top Tier

          To the right of the falls is a use trail that continues up Arroyo de San Jose to more waterfalls and cascades. Right from the get go the trail gets very steep. There is a reason a lot of people stop at the first waterfall! The narrow eroding trail splits into many use paths that all seem to intersect, none of which could be considered a real trail. Nevertheless for a surefooted hiker it’s not that big of a deal. The second waterfall is just up the path but is difficult to get a good vantage of for photos. Scrambling down to the creek proved to be difficult but was doable. The waterfall was under heavy tree cover and was shady and dark.

Second Waterfall

          I climbed my way back up to the trail and continued onward and upward. I soon entered grassland habitat and more wildflowers made an appearance. Along the way I saw Death Camas, Red and Blue Larkspur, Shooting Stars, Blue Dicks, Lupine, Irises, Buttercups and more.

Henderson Shooting Stars

Blue Dick

Woodland Star

Death Camas a.k.a. Star Lily

          Not far up the trail is the third waterfall which has a few large Buckeye trees at its base. The water falls in a horsetail pattern and drop quite a distance. I believe it is the tallest of the four waterfalls. I scrambled down to the bottom of the falls but again the terrain made it difficult to find a good vantage.

Third Waterfall

          As I was climbing back up the rugged hillside I noticed a good view of the falls from a different angle. There happen to be several red larkspur in the area which provided a nice addition to scene.

Third Waterfall with Red Larkspur

          The trail wraps around the rocky face of the falls and then climbs right along a steep cliffs edge to the top. A group of young adults were hanging out at the top so I continued up creek to explore the cascades and pools.


          Standing there in this lush creekbed and watching the whitewater cascade over the mossy rocks got me wondering about how I’d never been here before. I’d heard about it many times and even talked about going in the past, but now I know I’ve been missing out!
          I followed the creek back to the trail and continued upward toward the fourth waterfall. The sun was setting and I knew I had to pick up my pace. I tend to stop and admire the littlest of things so it is a hard thing for me to do sometimes. Undulating a bit, the trail leads me further uphill when I’m startled by a Red Tailed Hawk taking flight from the creek just ahead of me. It was an exhilarating experience because I almost felt it’s presence before I even saw it. I trekked up the trail for another minute or two before reaching the fourth waterfall.
          There is a beautiful cascade leading up to the waterfall itself with bright earthy moss blanketing the surrounding rocks.

Cascade Above Fourth Falls

          The fourth fall reminds me of a giant half cylinder, with the water pouring into it. I climbed below which offers an awesome view of the falls and some great mossy rocks in the foreground. The sun was setting behind Big Rock Ridge and cast a nice glow on the crest of the falls.

Fourth Waterfall

          With daylight running out and wanting to get home to see my wife I decided to head back down the trail. I was distracted many times along the decent by wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfall watching.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day Hike - Cataract Calypsos - 3/29/11

Calypso Orchid (Calypso Bulbosa) a.k.a. Fairy Slipper Orchid

          The Cataract Trail in Marin County possibly takes the cake for most popular trail on Mt. Tamalpais. Almost every weekend the Rock Springs parking lot fills up with cars and hordes of intrepid travelers set off to hike the Cataract Trail. Sure Cataract Creek cascading down the rocky moss filled canyon is gorgeous in itself; however, a majority of the hikers amble along not realizing the natural wonders that they are missing.
          The days are now long enough that after work I was able to make it up on the mountain to take a stroll along the Upper Cataract Trail. I parked my car at the Rock Springs parking lot, grabbed my gear, and set off through the meadow. Early springtime is a great time to hike the Cataract because there is normally significant water flow in the creek and the native Calypso Orchids are in bloom. The Calypso Orchids also known as Fairy Slipper Orchids seem to prefer a shady environment beneath Douglas Fir Trees and do particularly well on the western ridges and ravines of Mt. Tamalpais.
          As I left the meadow and entered the forest cover, I came across my first Calypso Orchid of the day. As the trail progressed there was an abundance of the flowers strewn about the forest floor.

Calypso Orchid

One of Many Calypso Orchids

          Being that it was evening, the trail was not as crowded as usual and it seemed as though most folks I encountered were on their way back to the cars. Paralleling the trail is Cataract Creek cascading over mossy rocks into small pools, eventually draining into Alpine Lake several hundred feet below.

Cataract Creek

Cascades on Upper Cataract Creek

          The trail continues downhill at a very moderate grade with milkmaids and the occasional iris dotting the trailside. I passed by some Western Rattlesnake Plantain Orchids that I believe don’t bloom until around August. Further down the trail near the footbridge to Laurel Dell Fire Road was a slew of Fetid Adder’s Tongue gone to seed. I especially enjoyed admiring several Calypso Orchids jutting out of a moss carpet before the junction with the Mickey O’brien Trail.

Two of a Kind

          I had plans to meet Sarah at the Ridge to watch sunset so I turned around shortly after the junction. While heading back I noticed a bird perched in a dead tree up the hill a distance. I trekked up slowly to see what type of bird it was. As it turned out I would find three American Kestrels perched at the top of three dead trees.

American Kestrel

          To help discourage predators, Kestrels have two black spots on the back of their head that resemble eyes.

False Eyes of an American Kestrel

          With sunset soon approaching I hiked back to the car in solitude.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Marin Waterfalls Hike - Cascade Falls in Mill Valley - 3/26/11

Cascade Falls in Mill Valley

          Cascade Falls is another display of Marin’s natural beauty. It is located deep within Cascade Canyon in Mill Valley. The falls and surrounding area including the Three Wells and Cascade Dam hold a special place in my heart for I grew up just blocks away and spent a lot of my childhood exploring the terrain at great depths. I hold fond memories of swimming at all three locations on hot summer days. Even sometimes on colder days a dip could be refreshing after a long hike. I used to jump in just to rinse off all the poison oak I tromped through. Although Cascade Falls flows year round it is best seen after a heavy rain. I timed my visit just right as the previous weeks rain had the falls flowing pretty good.
          To get there take Cascade Dr. in Mill Valley just past the last intersection with Throckmorton Ave. to a small dirt parking lot with a wooden sign saying: Cascade Falls.
          The parking lot was nearly full which told me it might be crowded at the falls so I opted to first check out The Three wells which are located a short ways down a trail in the opposite direction. I crossed the street from the dirt lot and onto a path that leads along Cascade Creek heading back in the direction I drove in. The trail crosses a couple of wooden bridges before coming to The Three Wells. The creek was full enough that the Three Wells weren’t wells at all, but one strong torrent cascading into the pool below. The area known as Three Wells actually used to be and old rock quarry and although overgrown with moss ferns and ivy, signs of an unnatural hillside and pool can still be detected. In summer months the Three Wells is a popular spot with locals to cool off and can sometimes get quite crowded.

The Three Wells

          The trail continues past the Three Wells along the creek for a short distance before rejoining Cascade Drive. I meandered down and back admiring the fern framed creek at my side.

Fern Framed Cascade Creek

          I continued back to the parking lot and started off toward the falls. Again, the path follows the creek with a pretty inlet stream entering not far from the lot.

Mossy Rock Near Inlet Stream

          The trail soon splits with the left fork ascending toward the top of the falls and beyond that to Lovell Ave. I proceeded on the right fork which crosses a footbridge and brings you to the base of Cascade Falls. My plan of visiting the Three Wells first ended up paying off as I now had the place to myself.

Cascade Falls

          It was a cloudy evening and it was definitely starting to get dark in the canyon so I continued on along a use trail that climbs the right side of the falls. There are a couple more “wells” above the falls but again, the heavy runoff had filled them in completely with white water. A spur trail leads to the creek for views of the cascades and pools above the fals.

Cascading Cascade Creek

The trail continues upstream a short ways before crossing another footbridge that I’ve always known as “the love bridge”. Once across the stream the trail leads up to intersect with the trail leading to Lovell Ave. Where the two trails intersect is a great place to see Fetid Adder’s Tongue, however, being late March there were no flowers left in bloom. There were an abundance of Milk Maids and several Trilliums still in bloom. I climbed down on a perch above the falls and relaxed for a while before heading back to the car. It feels good to revisit places of the past!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Marin Waterfalls Hike - Dawn Falls - 3/22/11

Dawn Falls in Baltimore Canyon

          In the heart of Baltimore Canyon on the border of Corte Madera and Larkspur lie Dawn Falls. This plunge waterfall drops roughly 15’ with a picturesque backdrop of ferns and California Bay Laurel. As with most of Marin’s falls it is best seen after a heavy rainfall.
          There are two ways to approach the falls, the quickest and easiest being from above. Near College of Marin take Woodland Rd. then left on Evergreen Dr. to the top of the hill where you take a left and park along Ridgecrest Road. Continue past the gate on foot and hike along the Southern Marin Line Fire Road until you reach a trail on the left signed Dawn Falls. A connector trail for Hoo-Koo-E-Koo ascends the ridge on the opposite side of the fire road and is also signed. Once you leave the Southern Marin Line the trail enters a shady young redwood forest and begins to descend along a series of switchbacks. Near one of the first couple of turns was a vast crop of Fetid Adder’s Tongue, however, being a little late in the season there were no blooms left. Several switchbacks later led me to the brink of Dawn Falls.

Dawn Falls

Looking Over the Brink of the Falls

          There is a nice viewing perch just off of the main trail. After taking some photos I went down the trail a little further and scrambled to the creek so I could get a vantage point from below. The rocks were wet and slippery but the view was worth it.

Dawn Falls from Below

          I then went back up top and spent some time relaxing at the edge of the falls. The sun was setting and it was getting even darker beneath the tree canopy. A light rain began to fall yet the tree cover blocked all but a fine mist. I pondered at how lucky we are to have access to such great places. Places that can relieve you of the day’s stresses and strains. Places for people like you and I to rejuvenate ourselves and connect with the wild. Without such places we face a certain disconnect from the cycle of nature and the environment is more vulnerable to the nuances of man.

Another Vantage Point

          As the sky grew darker I decided it was time to head back. I hiked back up the switchbacks enjoying the sound of the rushing creek nearby. I exited the tree cover into heavy rain and hiked the short distance back to my parked car.
          Dawn Falls can also be accessed from below. A little more hiking is involved but isn’t that what it is all about? Take the Baltimore Canyon Trail at the end of Madrone Ave. in Larkspur. There is very limited parking at the end of the road. The shaded trail follows the creek to Dawn Falls. There are spur options along the way that could be used to do a loop hike including: Barbara Springs Trail leading up to Southern Marin Line Fire Rd, and the Ladybug Trail leading up to King Mountain. For access to a trail map of the area click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Palm Desert - Desert Walk - 3/20/11

          A work event brought me south to Palm Desert for a few days to attend a trade show. Despite the extremely poor use of water and all of the golf courses Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley is a beautiful area with dramatic landscapes. Coachella Valley lies between Joshua Tree National Monument to the east and the Santa Rosa / San Jacinto Mountains to the west.

View from my Balcony

          I stayed at a typical Golf Resort, with all expenses paid which I really couldn't complain about, however, I wanted to go explore the desert and enjoy the early spring wildflowers. As we drove through town I found myself eying the nearby mountains and spotting trails leading up rough and rugged terrain. Work took up the majority of the time but I was lucky enough to get out for one brief walk in the desert.
Black Tailed Jack Rabbit

Anna's Hummingbird

Desert Wildflowers

Desert Mushroom

          With just under an hour of free time I wasn’t even able to scratch the surface of what the area has to offer. Near by are great locations such as Joshua Tree, The Salton Sea, Anza Borrego and more. It is such a different environment from Northern California with lots of interesting new things to learn and experience. I can't wait to revisit the area on my own time.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Day Hike - Devil's Gulch , Stairstep Falls - Samuel P. Taylor State Park - 3/12/11

Stairstep Falls in Devil's Gulch, Samuel P. Taylor State Park

          Just a stones throw away from civilization in Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a quiet canyon getaway called Devil's Gulch. It lies on the western flanks of Mt. Barnabe and offers tranquil shaded hiking paths along a salmon filled stream with an added bonus of a waterfall. In the winter, if your lucky, you can watch spawning Coho Salmon as they make there way up the narrow corridors of the creek. Just be sure to remain quiet and do not let the salmon see you as this disturbs their habitat. For a trail map of the park click here.
          Sarah and I drove out Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where we parked the car in the dirt lot across the street from the Devil's Gulch trail head. A small set of stairs lead down from the parking area to a sunny stretch of Lagunitas Creek. This is a great destination in itself for relaxing, although traffic noise from Sir Francis Drake can still be quite prevalent. We set off across the street and up a service road starting at the sign that says Devil's Gulch. The road parallels Devil's Gulch Creek and a short ways uphill a signed trail starts on the right. We took the creekside trail which has an interpretive panel on Coho Salmon as well as several signs posted reminding people "Shhh! Keep Quiet!". We did not have any luck seeing any salmon.
          The trail snakes along the creek gaining elevation slightly as it heads up the gulch. We soon came to a junction with a wooden bridge at the same time a camping area comes into view on the hill above to the left. There is a trail that parallels the creek on the left side but our hike led us across the Bridge to a T junction. The trail to the right "Gravesite Fireroad" was closed for maintenance and there was a sign posted telling about the efforts to reduce silt and erosion into the precious creek where important salmon spawning occurs. We took the trail to the left named "Bill's Trail" leading toward Stairstep Falls and Barnabe Peak. The sign said 1.2 miles to Stairstep Falls. This time of year the ground remained moist and wildflowers were abundant along the trail. Interspersed amongst the dense cover of ferns were Milkmaids, Trillium, and Hounds Tongue.



          The edges of the path were scattered with baby blue Forgetmenots along with several species of mushrooms and a cool coral looking fungi. The occasional butterfly could be seen fluttering around in the few sunny patches.

Satyr Anglewing

          Very gradually the trail makes its way up the canyon leaving the creek below. The occasional break in tree cover gives way to glimpses of the golden bald knolls on the adjacent ridge. We approached some non native Eucalyptus Trees and beneath them was a scattered patch of Fetid Adder's Tongue. Most of the flowers had already start to slink over and die off but there were still a few left in good standing.

Fetid Adder's Tongue

Fetid Adder's Tongue

          A short distance further we came across several Calypso Orchids tucked inconspicuously among the other flora.

Calypso Orchid

          We soon came to a signed junction with the right fork leading up Bill's Trail toward Barnabe Peak and the left fork we took to Stairstep Falls. From the junction the trail traverses slightly downhill where it soon dead ends at Stairstep Falls. In the rainy season these falls can be quite impressive, whereas in the dry season there might not even be a trickle.

Stairstep Falls

          As we arrived at the falls a couple was just leaving and we got to marvel at the surging water in solitude for about 15 minutes before the next set of hikers arrived.

Stairstep Falls

Stairstep Falls

          We then retraced our steps back to the car, looking for wildflowers and salmon along the way.