Saturday, February 4, 2012

Roys Redwoods Loop - 2/4/12

San Geronimo Hills from Roys Redwood Loop Trail

          My mom and I set off toward Samuel P. Taylor State Park originally planning on hiking in Devils Gulch. But as we neared the San Geronimo Golf Course we changed the plan and decided to explore Roy’s Redwoods instead.
          Located off of Nicasio Valley Road, Roy's Redwoods is a relatively small Open Space Preserve that managed to encompass a few large old growth redwood trees. Previously part of the Roy' Brothers Ranch the cathedral-style groves were once home to a commune back in the 60's. If you think the terrain is picturesque, you're not the only one. Roy's Redwoods was also used in the filming of George Lucas’ TV Film "The Ewok Adventure" from the 1980's. There are only a couple of hiking options at the preserve and the Roy's Redwoods Loop seems to be the best way to get in some mileage. If you are there only to check out the big trees you can proceed directly to the meadow which is to the left once you enter the preserve.
          We started off on the loop in a counter clockwise direction which parallels Nicasio Valley Rd. for a few minutes before heading south on a singletrack above Sir Francis Drake Blvd and the San Geronimo Valley Golf Club House. Although the terrain is gorgeous with steep grassy hillsides leading up to the top of the ridge, the traffic noise from Sir Francis Drake is a bit overpowering and detracts greatly from the natural feeling.
          As we walked further we wondered if we had dressed warm enough because it was icy cold out. I noticed a tuft of hair sticking up out of the frosty grass and when we went in for a closer look we found a dead Gray Fox. We were surprised that the Vultures did not mutilate the corpse more than it had been. It was pretty well in tact and the skin was almost naturally tanned in parts by the sun. I didn't think that my first photo of a fox would be of a dead one.


          The trail continues traversing the hillside parallel to Sir Francis Drake. We stopped to admire a male Annas Hummingbird doing aerial dives, showing off for a potential mate.
          Eventually the trail veers uphill into a notch valley leading away from the traffic noises of Sir Francis Drake. Entering a mixed forest of young Redwoods, California Bay Laurel, Madrone and Douglas Fir the trail switchbacks gradually up the hillside. The song of a nearby Wren made us stop for a few minutes until we could finally locate the little feller on a branch just several feet away. The way they can throw their voice also makes it difficult to pinpoint their location. It's amazing that such a strong song comes from such a tiny bird.
          While observing the Wren we also heard the distinct repetitive thud of a woodpecker. As it kept pounding away we made our way further up trail keeping our eyes out for dead trees where we might catch a glimpse of our red headed friend. Sure enough, a few switchbacks later, we spotted the Palliated Woodpecker not far off trail. After a few minutes we were lucky enough to hear its notorious call: ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaa-ah, ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaa-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. The same call that you might remember from the Woody Woodpecker the cartoon.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

          The loop trail soon topped out in elevation at the junction with the David Hansen Nature Trail. We opted to avoid the nature trail as the views are obstructed by tree cover and instead climbed up a non-official short but steep spur trail to a bald grassy knoll. The San Geronimo Hills, still brown from lack of rain, stretched out from west to east. I’m always jealous of the ranches and homesteads on the top of the ridge; so close to civilization, yet worlds away at the same time.

At the High Point

          We followed the rest of the loop trail through a densely wooded section where the seasons first Hounds Tongue were emerging among some other wildflowers such as Milk Maids and Forgetmeknots. We passed the Meadow Trail on our left which leads through the meadow and near the big trees back to the car. The loop trail continues relatively flat before starting the descent near the Dixon Ridge Fire Road. Short spur trails lead down to the larger redwood trees along the trail. Once at the bottom of the canyon the Meadow Trail then rejoins the route. There we saw several butterflies fluttering around the lower meadow.


American Lady

Mourning Cloak

          A short distance further and we were back at the car and the end of the loop. Being that the hike was a few miles less than what we had originally planned for, we decided to take a drive to the Leo T. Cronin Fish-Viewing Area near Shafters Bridge and the Inkwells in hopes of seeing some Coho.
          I knew that we were a bit late for the main run and there had been no significant rain fall in the previous week or more. So our our chances of seeing salmon were going to be slim. To top it off, you have a parking lot full of people who don't seem to be able to read or understand the countless signs saying "Quiet on the Creek". I guess that's a foreign concept to some.
          We walked slowly up the trail toward Kent Lake with our eyes on the outlet stream on the lookout for Coho Salmon. The trail has been newly renovated to prevent sediment runoff and although visually unappealing, I admit it seems to be a vast improvement.

Small Stream

          About halfway along the trail we saw a dead Coho submerged near the stream bank. This is one of those rare instances where a dead animal means success. After the Coho spawn out they die and become an easy meal for a racoon. I tried taking a picture of the fish but the glare on the water was too intense. I then remembered about my polarizing filter back in the car, so I went back and got it and was able to get a clear shot.

Successful Salmon Spawning

          It has always fascinated me how these fish go to such great lengths to find their way back to their spawning grounds. By the time they reach where there going, there faces have been battered apart and deteriorated by the constant abrasion from stones and debris. One of the great things about hiking with my Mom is that she is an avid nature lover and a Terwilliger Nature Guide, so I end up learning a lot when we go out on the trail together. Allegedly one of the key elements in guiding these fish is the Redwood Tree. Redwood Trees have little cones and when they fall off the tree into a creek they emit a certain tannin essence into the water current. Redwoods typically grow in family groves, with each grove containing its individual DNA traits. The tannin essence released from the cones also contains this specific DNA information. So for example, picture a Coho Salmon swimming up Lagunitas Creek towards it's spawning ground on a small tributary stream. The "DNA tannin essence" from a specific Redwood Tree above the fish's spawning area will act like a street sign to it when it approaches that tributary. It will follow the essence off of the main creek and up the tributary stream to where the essence originates at its spawning ground. As far as how the fish know which creek to follow out of the ocean; I'm stumped.
          We saw one more dead Coho further upstream before turning back for the day. It seems like we saw more dead animals today than live ones!

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