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.

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