Sunday, 26 July 2009
Who hiked: me, Bill, Thing1, Thing2
Hike route: Trailhead on Middle Ranch Road to Ben Weston Beach and back
Time: 2-5:20, with time to play on the beach
Estimated distance: 3.6 miles round-trip
Temp: mid 70s, mostly cloudy, light wind
So Thing2's birthday is coming up and he has been requesting a trip to Ben Weston Beach. Today we decided to make this wish come true...
This hike is a great one for folks who like flat routes -- and not many of these exist on Catalina! The trailhead is at a pull-out on the road to Middle Ranch; there is a sign for the trail. It is 1.8 miles to the beach (according to the sign) and the trail follows a dry streambed for much of its distance. You descend very briefly from the road to the floor of Ben Weston Canyon and hike along the valley floor until you reach the beach. You cross two or three intermittent streams and one permanent stream in the first half-mile and all are easy to cross. I've hiked this trail several times in both wet and dry seasons and the permanent stream has always held water. There were Pacific treefrog tadpoles (Pseudacris regilla) in the water and interesting plants alongside the streams -- horsetails (aka scouring rushes, genus Equisetum -- see the photo), monkey flower (Mimulus sp.), cottonwoods... I think that Equisetum is one of the coolest plants ever. They are an ancient group, arising in the Paleozoic, and are common in coal deposits from the Carboniferous -- only 350 million years ago! Any group of organisms that survived the Permian extinction and the extinction of the dinosaurs must be doing something right. We saw a spotted towhee here too. There were a lot of lizards (Uta stansburiana) along the trail, including small ones about an inch long.
We were probably about 75% of the way to the beach when suddenly we came upon a bison. It was dust-bathing along the trail. The bison really like Ben Weston Canyon as evidenced by the number of dust-bathing sites along the trail and the amount of bison dung strewn along the path. Check under dried bison patties for organisms -- we found an endemic Catalina Jerusalem cricket under one earlier this year. But back to the bison at hand... All four of us stepped off the trail about 10 feet onto a game trail that led to the dry streambed adjacent to the trail. The hubby walked down the creek bed (no mean feat, given the brush overgrowing it) a bit until he was behind the bison where he made lots of noise in the bushes. The bison proceeded to walk up the trail (toward us), stopped to look at us through the brush, then meandered further up the trail away from our location. Thing2 nearly had a cow he was so scared. But while bison are really freakin' huge, they generally want to get on with the business of eating, pooping, and making baby bison. As we weren't stopping the big guy from doing any of these three things, he just moseyed on by us. Actually he wasn't a particularly large bison, so he probably was a young male who wasn't getting much action in the making baby bison department.
Ben Weston Beach is probably my favorite beach on the island. Usually we are the only people there, the beach is wide, the surf is good, and the area is quiet. We hung around the beach with the Things playing "Sanderling" -- they run down the beach as a wave recedes, then race back up the beach as a new wave comes in. Just like a sanderling. Unlike a sanderling, they often misjudge the wave and end up getting walloped. Especially at Ben Weston where the waves can be big. And so they were today. It was fairly brutal, actually as the waves carried sand with them that scoured your legs and feet as they washed over you. We also had some fun digging mole crabs out of the sand. You find them in the swash zone -- the area of the beach that the waves wash over, but up from where waves initially crash against the beach. Patches of sand with mole crabs are easy to identify by the "V" shapes of their antennae that are visible for a few seconds as the wave recedes. You have to be quick -- the crabs are exposed by the wave, then furiously dig deeper in the sand so they aren't pulled out to sea. They feed on particles in the water as the waves pass over them and move up and down the beach in synchronization with the tides. Pretty cool, eh?
It was not low tide, so no good intertidal organisms to see on the rocks at either end of the beach. There are offshore rocks at the west end of the beach where I saw about ten sleeping sea lions. Another rock had at least a dozen brown pelicans perched on it. While at the beach I saw double-crested cormorants, western gulls, brown pelicans, and house wrens.
After about 1.5 hours, we headed back to the truck. I had forgotten, but hubby had not, that the US v. Mexico soccer match (Gold Cup final) was being re-broadcast at 5 PM. So he wanted to get home for a hot date with Fox Soccer Channel (no reason to hurry -- it was a very frustrating game that the US lost 0-5). Anyway, we brushed the sand off our feet, put our hiking shoes back on, and headed back up the trail to our vehicle.
The trip back was uneventful except that Thing2 (hungry, tired, and chafed) complained almost incessantly and Thing1 stopped a number of times to pick lemonadeberry fruits. They taste like (yes) lemonade. You suck on them for a few seconds, then spit the fruit out. They are sour, but tasty! We were nearly back to the truck when we ran across our bison friend again. This time he was tougher to budge from the trail. Encouraging bison to move out of your way is a fairly delicate process but Bill crashed about in the thicket next to the trail while the Things and I waited several yards off the trail. Soon enough the bison moved far enough away that we could comfortably walk past him. We sent each Thing in turn with instructions to run until they got to the road as the bison was still looking at us, a touchy situation.
We were on the road to home by 5:20, another successful hike under our belts. We don't see many birds when on hikes with the Things, but singing hiking songs, discussing bison poop, and having Thing1 pretend to be an Tongva guide make it worth it!