07 October 2010

Getting Around

One of the challenges to hiking on Catalina is getting to the trails.  We are lucky that we have a vehicle to get around, but visitors and many residents don't.  There are a number of ways to get to trailheads even if you don't have your own transportation.

Gear Hauls

One option for campers is to hike to their campsite (e.g. Little Harbor or Black Jack Campgrounds) and have their gear taken to their campsite by truck.  Two Harbors Enterprises offer a gear haul to West End campgrounds (call Visitor Services at 310-510-4205) and Catalina Transportation Services offers gear hauls from Avalon (see below for contact information).  This is a useful option to consider as many trailheads are relatively close to both campgrounds.

I often see folks hiking on the road between Two Harbors and Little Harbor.  Why????  The Trans-Catalina Trail goes between the two and provides you with lovely views and NO traffic!  I strongly recommend that you seek out trails between sites rather than rely on the roads.

Bring your bike

You could use a bike to get around the island.  Only mountain bikes are allowed -- and given the condition of the roads, you wouldn't want to bring a road bike.  You can bring it on the ferry, but you need to make a special reservation for it (bike information is available from the Catalina Express or Catalina Flyer websites).  There is a nominal fee.  You should obtain a bicycle permit once you reach the island, either at Visitor Services in Two Harbors, at the Airport-in-the-Sky, or at the Catalina Conservancy office in Avalon.  Bike riding on the island is its own special challenge, given that the roads are rough and very hilly, but it will help you get from place to place in less time!

Hire a Taxi

Catalina Transportation Services (310-510-0342) has taxis that can take you from Avalon to anywhere you'd like to go on the island.  It's not cheap, but you can go directly to your desired trailhead! They also provide a gear haul for hikers hiking the Trans-Catalina Trail -- you can hike with only your day pack!

Ride a bus

There is limited public transportation on the island.  It is best to make a reservation in advance; the buses might not run if nobody has made reservations for that particular trip.  You need to be at the bus stop at least 15 minutes in advance of your departure time.

The Wildlands Express runs between Avalon and the Airport-in-the-Sky.  You can buy tickets after you arrive or in advance by calling 310-510-0143.  Ticket kiosks are at the tour plaza or at the ferry terminal. The Express departs from the tour plaza on Catalina Avenue; be sure to let the driver know if you want to be dropped off at the trailhead for Black Jack Campground.

On the West End of the island, the Catalina Safari Bus runs between Two Harbors and the Airport.  The bus will stop in Little Harbor on the way to the Airport.  You should check in at Visitor Services and pick up the bus at the edge of "downtown" near the public bathrooms.

You can combine travel on both to get between Two Harbors and Avalon via the Airport.  Unfortunately, that means that you cannot get to the Middle Ranch area on public transportation.

Use a shoreboat

In Avalon, you can call for a shoreboat at 310-510-0409.  They provide transportation between Avalon Harbor and nearby coves, with service to White's Landing in the summer.  Most trailheads on the East End of the island depart from the city of Avalon, so most hikers wouldn't need a shoreboat at this end of the island.

On the West End, shoreboats can help you get to a distant trailhead quickly.  Shoreboats operate between Isthmus Cove and nearby coves, including year-round service to Fourth of July Cove and Cherry Cove.  In summer, they also provide service to Howland's Landing and Emerald Bay.  You can call the Harbor Department (310-510-4253) or stop by their office on the pier to ask about shoreboat availability.

Shoreboats have room for gear, though you should try to pack fairly lightly.  I've seen campers who appear to have brought everything they own with them.  Not enough room in a shoreboat for all of that!

Important contact information:

Two Harbors Visitor Services:  310-510-4205
Catalina Conservancy Visitor Services: 310-510-2595 x100

30 August 2010

All the hikes

Map of Catalina with All the Hikes included...

Next hikes?  Probably Silver Peak area (on West End of island) and some hikes on East End (Lone Tree?)

Bullrush Canyon

Date:  28 August 2010
Who hiked:  Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Where:  Middle Ranch - Bullrush Canyon - Salta Verde and back
When: 1005 - 1630
Distance:  10.7 miles (measured on GPS)
Weather:  sunny and clear

The bison is sad because he can't fit on the swing
This was a heck of a hike!  I've had my eye on it for some time now, and decided that this was the weekend.  We camped at Little Harbor on Friday night, ate breakfast (pancakes) in our little camper, and then drove to Middle Ranch, and parked our car near the horse stables.  We eyed a bison who was lounging near the play area.  Daniel and Zachary re-introduced us to all the horses (they do this every time we go to Middle Ranch) and we walked up past Thompson's Reservoir (see hike to Hacking Tower Ridge Road from last month!).

View of Thompson Reservoir
We climbed the hill to the crest behind the Reservoir in about 15 minutes and took the fork to the left (Bullrush Canyon Road) rather than to the right (Hacking Tower Ridge Road).  The trail took us down a steep hill into Bullrush Canyon.  The hike from the bottom was lovely -- flat and shaded here and there by oak trees. 

Shortly (about 50 minutes after starting down into the Canyon) we reached the Salta Verde Cut-off and turned to head up to the top of the adjacent ridge.  The trail was steep in places, but never for very long -- so while I was tired by the time I reached the top, I never experienced the desperation that I feel on other inclines on Catalina (see Godhilla entry).  

Thing 2 on the other hand was incensed that he was being asked to endure said climb, which he made abundantly clear by (1) complaining, (2) whining, (3) sitting and refusing to continue, and (4) throwing his backpack. As a result of the last antic, his can of Squirt soda (a treat for his lunch) was pierced and spewed soda inside his backpack.  Thus, throwing his backpack served only to make him angrier, soak his hat and his bag of goldfish crackers, and irritate his mother, whose patience was growing thin.  By then we were nearly to the top, however, and we decided to stop and eat lunch.

We had lunch under the shade of an oak tree and thirty minutes later both Things were fortified and cheered by the food and the sugar (remember the sodas); our next section of hiking was almost complaint-free.

But, you see, we had purposefully NOT told either Thing how long this hike was for fear of a preemptive mutiny.  Soon, the questions started...  "How long is this hike?"  "How much farther do we have to go?"  "When will we get back to our campsite?"  We deflected the questions with vague assessments of our progress, when the truth was that we had no idea how much longer we would be hiking...

Things 1 and 2 on the Salta Verde Ridge Road
Five minutes after our lunch break has ended, we reached the intersection of the Salta Verde Cut-off and the Salta Verde Ridge Road, which follows a ridge top along the windward side of the island.  The views from here were stunning, but the trail (as trails on Catalina do) wound up and down along the ridge, with some really steep uphill portions and some equally steep downhill portions.  The road had recently been "groomed" by a bulldozer, which meant that there was more than the usual supply of loose rocks on the trail.  Places that lacked rock had thick layers of powdery dirt, which billowed up from our feet to coat our legs.  Slipping hazards, to be sure, and nearly all of us had close-calls with stumbles, trips, and slides.

By now we were all tired.  Really tired.  Thing 2 was hanging by a thread.  Several times we left him sitting in the middle of the road, refusing to hike any more, only to have him catch up to us as we waited for him around the next bend (or over the next hill).  He kept insisting that he wished to be "teleported" back to the truck, which didn't happen as we were not living the Star Trek dream.  Thing 1 is a better hiker than Thing 2, mainly because he's older and stronger, but he occasionally lapsed into self-pity and whining.  He managed to pull himself out of it though when we pointed out that (a) we were tired too and (b) the only way to get back to the car was to walk there.

Bison rolling and scratching at the bulldozer
We ran into a herd of bison -- about 15 of them, rolling in the dust and scratching themselves on the parked bulldozer.  Thing 2 is very unwilling to get near to a bison, which is a good thing in the larger scheme of things.  But it can make it difficult when we have to actually go around one.  He screwed up the courage to hold Hubby's hand and skirted the herd on the far side of the road.  They were completely uninterested in us, other than to have us get out of their way -- they wanted to go up the road that we were coming down.

Boys at Valley of the Moons
Soon, we saw where we were to re-enter Bullrush Canyon.  It's called Valley of the Moons, I assume because it looks like a moonscape:  eroded earth, little vegetation.  I think it looks more like the desert scenes from "Planet of the Apes".  We finally reached it (4.5 hours after we started the hike) and both Things took to racing across the moonscape, laughing and chasing each other.  So much for severe fatigue, sore legs, and no energy, eh?

Thing 2 takes a break.  Can he get any dirtier?
Now we were back in Bullrush Canyon -- mostly flat, mostly shady, and a much more pleasant walk.  But by this time, we've hiked farther than we ever have before -- probably about 7 miles.  The most either Thing had ever done before was about 6 miles.  Now Hubby and I resorted to the brutal truth:  we have about two more hours to hike.  I must say that both Things took the news well.

But now I was hurting:  my thighs, my knees, and my feet.  Hubby was hurting, especially his knee.  Thing 1 complained about his feet hurting and Thing 2 was sure that his ankles were going to fall off.

Before we knew it (an hour later in real time), we were back to where the Salta Verde Cut-off trail snakes up the hill, then back to the steep hill up to the crest above the Reservoir, and then hobbling our way down the hill to the Reservoir.  Thing 2 has hit his fourth(?) wind by then and was running ahead to the gate that separates the Reservoir from the paddocks at Middle Ranch.  By 4:30 PM we were back in our car.

Hubby and I spent the rest of the evening feeling really old and creaky.  We have got to get out and do this more often -- but maybe not 11 miles at a time.  At least for now.

Birds seen:  Loggerhead shrike, Northern flicker, California quail, Mourning dove, Barn swallow, American coot, Acorn woodpecker, Northern mockingbird, American kestrel, Northern raven, Spotted towhee, Allen's hummingbird, Song sparrow, Bewick's wren, Horned lark, House finch

 Bullrush Canyon/Salta Verde Ridge Road hike
Zoom view of hike route

16 July 2010

Other web sources about hiking Catalina

I've been looking for other web info about hiking on Catalina.  There's not a lot out there, but I did find some reviews of the Trans-Catalina Trail on yelp...  And here's a picture of Shark Harbor from the Shark Harbor Overlook.  ENJOY.

13 July 2010

Hacking Tower Ridge Road

Date:  10 July 2010
Who hiked:  Me, Hubby, Thing2
Where:  Middle Ranch - Hacking Tower Ridge Road - Camp Cactus Road
When: 0950-1225
Distance:  4.2 miles (measured on GPS)
Weather:  sunny and clear (!)

No photos for this posting -- we forgot the camera!

We camped at Little Harbor again in our trusty tent camper, this time without Thing1 who is away at summer camp.  It has been a gloomy June and July thus far and today started out no differently.  We woke up on Saturday morning to the scoldings of a Northern shrike outside our door, ate pancakes, then piled in the truck for the trip to Middle Ranch.

We parked by the stables at Middle Ranch, saw some good birds here (black phoebe, northern raven, California quail, mourning dove, house finch, barn swallows), then walked up the road that leads to Thompson Reservoir.  We followed the path around the Reservoir, where we saw a pair of ruddy ducks and two pairs of coots.  One pair of coots also had a chick, ugly and orange-headed.  If you have never seen a coot chick, you have to click on this link.  They are remarkably unattractive.  We also saw barn swallows, acorn woodpeckers, northern ravens, European starlings, and northern mockingbirds here.

We had one pair of binoculars between the three of us and Thing2 finally figured out how to use them properly.  He was so excited about them that he carried them for extended periods of time, stopping to use them whenever he could.  We had to chuckle as he said, "Wow, that cactus looks so close!" and tried to touch it with his fingers while looking through the field glasses.

We walked about 1/3 of the way around the Reservoir to where the trail heads uphill and hit the intersection of the Bulrush Canyon Trail at about 1040.  At this point, the road that we were on was called Hacking Tower Ridge Road.  We were not making good time as we had taken a lot of time to watch coots and to investigate the spillway at the Reservoir, which looks like it might be really exciting on a skateboard or scooter.  Exciting and terrifying...  Anyway, we were really moseying along, not hiking very quickly.

About five minutes past the Bulrush Canyon Trail, we reached the crest of the hill, where we had a lovely view of the windward side of the island.  Here the trail follows the crest.  Although it was sunny where we were, it was still gray and overcast back in Little Harbor!  A red-tailed hawk was riding the thermals over the canyon and an American kestrel was hunting on an adjacent ridge.

Thing2 was entranced by the kestrel hovering and swooping down on its prey, which he watched through the binoculars.

There was a fenced area with enclosures in it on our right as we walked along the ridge and we followed an access road down to it.  There were electric wires along the top of the fence and we thought we heard electricity running through them.  This was odd as there wasn't anything inside the enclosure that needed protecting -- all the pens were empty.  Thing2 really wanted to touch the electric fence and kept asking us what it would feel like if he did.  We told him that it would hurt -- I know this from first-hand experience, having touched electric fences back when I was a curious child.  He finally screwed up his courage and touched it, only to discover that it wasn't electrified.  I think he was disappointed.  The noise that we had heard was humming flags and lines flying in the breeze.

The pens inside the fence had been used to captively breed and foster Catalina Island foxes.  The recovery plan was a rousing success and so there aren't any foxes there now, though the structures still remain.  Today they were being used by a couple of spotted towhees...

Our trail intersected Camp Cactus Road, which we took to the right to head down the ridge to Middle Ranch Road.  It wasn't long before we were back on Middle Ranch Road and walking back toward our truck.  We stopped briefly at Quail Valley, where the Catalina Conservancy has a Catalina Island fox, Tachi, in a naturalized enclosure.  We looked for Tachi -- who made only a brief appearance -- and then ate some goldfish and drank some water.  Soon we convinced Thing2 to hit the road again, and we were back at our truck 15 minutes later.

We saw two hacking stations on this hike.  These hacking stations were used in a bald eagle restoration program completed by the Institute for Wildlife Studies on Catalina.  A hacking station is used to introduce young raptors to new habitats and then to provide them with supplemental food without exposing them to humans.  This supplemental food increases their chances of survival, especially when they are young and inexperienced in hunting.  One hacking station was at the Reservoir and the remains of a second was on the Hacking Tower Ridge Road itself.

Birds seen:  Black phoebe, Northern raven, California quail, Mourning dove, House finch, Barn swallow, Acorn woodpecker, Northern mockingbird, American coot, Ruddy duck, European starling, Orange-crowned warbler, Chipping sparrow, Red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, Pacific slope flycatcher, Spotted towhee, Allen's hummingbird

04 July 2010

Little Harbor to Boskey Dell

Date:  19 June 2010
Who hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Time: 0900 - 1245 (approximate times)
Distance: 6.25 miles (measured on Google Earth)
Weather: cool, with overcast skies turning sunny

We had so much fun on our last camping trip, that I as soon as we got home, I went to Visitor's Services in Two Harbors and made reservations at Little Harbor for an additional three weekends during  the summer.  Our next campout was scheduled for the weekend that I returned from San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, which was also Father's Day weekend.  Interestingly enough, we had the campsite directly opposite our campsite in May.

Hooking up the camper to the truck, setting up the camper, and then doing it all in reverse went better than the first time...  we'll see if we're actually improving or if this was just luck!

The hike we planned for this weekend was through Boskey Dell, because I had heard that it was one of the most beautiful places on the island.  We decided to hike east-bound on the Trans-Catalina Trail, then cut down to Rancho Escondido, cross the Rancho Escondido road, and then hike down into Boskey Dell.  I was not sure that the Things would be up for a hike of this scale, but decided to purposefully mislead them about the length of this hike so as not to have a rebellion from the under-10 crowd at the beginning.

We walked from our campsite, across the Two Harbors Road, and then up the Trans-Catalina Trail (the old Sheep Chute Road -- see picture to right, which I took later in the day).  The first mile or so is all uphill, but the grade is fairly reasonable and so it is not too difficult.  We had some lovely views of Rancho Escondido, the hacienda, the horse rings, and the vineyards.  The Rusacks (Allison Wrigley Rusack and  her husband Geoff) started a vineyard on Catalina, a small-scale affair centered on Rancho Escondido, at about the same time that we arrived on the island.

While most wildflowers are finished blooming by now, the hills were covered in a blanket of golden flowers (see below).  In the morning the skies were gloomy -- June Gloom is a well-kept secret in usually-sunny SoCal -- but the field glowed with a yellow-orange warmth that cheered my heart.  What did not cheer my heart, however, is Mr. Grumpy Pants (aka Thing2).  He was in fine foul form this morning, grumping about everything.  We chose to rely on a guessing game, rather than food, to raise him from his unpleasant attitude and, once again, it worked like a charm.  He became almost human-like for most of the rest of the hike.

In about 1.6 miles, we reached the intersection of the TC trail and the trail to Rancho Escondido.  The trail went downhill to the Rancho Escondido Road and along the way we were overtaken by a Jeep Ecotour and the driver teased Daniel and Zachary about eating up all the ice cream that they had on the truck.  As we walked, we scared up Catalina quail and their babies, which are past the fluff-ball stage and flying now.  There were Hyla regilla tadpoles in the stream at the bottom of the gulch.   We reached the road in about 0.6 miles, crossed it, and walked the rest of the way (about 0.3 miles) to the bottom of the Canyon.  This area is known as Boskey Dell, which I have heard is a bastardization of "Bosque del...", though what it is the bosque (forest) of, I don't know.  There are some big trees here, mostly eucalyptus (introduced), sycamore, and some oaks.  There were trees riddled with sapsucker holes, sapping dripping down the tree boles.  The trail here follows a creekbed for about a quarter of a mile, then cuts back up to a real road/trail.  Lots of poison oak along the waysides!

We reached a lovely shelter with wooden shingles and a huge stone fireplace at about 3.1 miles.  It seemed a bit magical, actually, this pavilion in the middle of nowhere.  It seemed old -- perhaps it was a throw-back to the old Wrigley days, but we welcomed a chance to hang out and relax.  The boys "relaxed" by climbing a huge oak tree next to the shelter.

We set out again after our short break, and another quarter of a mile (3.4 miles from the start), we made a hairpin turn and began to head uphill.  It got quite steep and the roadbed was soft sandy dirt -- very difficult to walk in and not so fun...  Fortunately, the road quickly flattened out and afforded us a nice view of the valley.

The rest of the hike seemed to go by quickly, perhaps because we stop to look at less and less as the hike wears on.  We reached the  Eagle Roost Road and followed it for a short distance before branching off onto the Cottonwood Dam Trail.  The Cottonwood Dam Trail quickly drops off the face of the earth.  Seriously, it goes straight down into Cottonwood Canyon.  Like vertically.  You could slide your way to the bottom but for the sharp pointy rocks in the road.  I do not recommend hiking this trail in the opposite direction if you can avoid it. At 4.75 miles we were back on the Rancho Escondido Road, where we met up with a woman who was running from the Airport to Two Harbors (a distance of about 7.5 miles) and who thought she was on the Trans-Catalina trail.  We helped her with directions and pointed out the TC trail on the ridge rising out of Little Harbor (which we could see from here) and off she went, jogging along.  We turned down the Rancho Escondido Road, hoping to pick up a trail that would take us back over to the TC trail, close to where we started.  Alas, that was not to be...  we never did find a trail, even though one showed up on GoogleEarth.  I suspect that it was a deer trail that was visible from space, but that was hard to find on groundlevel.  So we stuck with the road.  Even though we were still some ways from our campsite, we could at least see it from here!

Thing 2 was total toast at this point and we were still about a mile from our campground (in a best case scenario).  He sat down in the road and insisted that he was not going to walk any more.  There wasn't any other option other than him walking, so the three of us just kept going.  We actually got out of sight, around a corner, before Thing 2 decided that he would take to his feet again.  We reached Shark Harbor Overlook, where the road to the left takes one to Middle Ranch, and the sharp turn to the right takes you down to Shark Harbor and on to Two Harbors.

It was a relief to have our goal so close, especially given Thing2's reluctance to hike and I was even more relieved when Hubby found a shortcut across a horseshoe bend, then a second shortcut from the road down into Shark Harbor.  At about 5.85 miles, we reached the beach at Shark Harbor and now my legs were tired.  I can only imagine how tired the Thing 2 was at this point!  Thing 1, like usual, was still hiking like a champ.  Another 0.4 mile and we were back in our campsite!

I'm posting this from the mainland, so don't have my field notebook with me.  Will post a list of birds seen as a comment.  But I do remember seeing the orange on an orange-crowned warbler!  It really was quite lovely.

Oh!  And we saw frogs!  Newly transformed Hyla regilla

Oh!  And we saw frogs!!

June Gloom Go Away

I am not a fan of the beautiful weather that we get (nearly) all the time on the island, but this June Gloom gets to me.  From about mid-May until July, the skies are gray and cheerless in the morning.  I have wondered how many vacations have been marred by The Gloom.  Yeah, The Gloom usually burns off by the afternoon, but it just doesn't feel like summer while it lasts.  I would welcome this weather in November or December -- it seems the perfect weather for short winter days.  But in the long days of summer, I want summer weather -- sunshine, puffy clouds, and blue skies!

So my advice to all you vacation planners out there:  come to Catalina in September, August, or October.  Glorious late-summer weather and the water is (almost) above 70 degrees.

23 June 2010

Little Harbor to Buffalo Reservoir

Date:  15 May 2010
Who hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Time: 0900 - 1245 (approximate times)
Distance: 5.5 miles (measured on GPS)
Weather: overcast, cool

Having recently purchased a used pop-up tent camper, we decided to take our first family camping trip to Little Harbor.  The pop-up was a purchase from some friends who are retiring and leaving Catalina.  It is in good repair and has been happily used by Mr. and Mrs. Handlebar and their two boys for a number of years.  Hubby and I have reached that auspicious age at which sleeping on the ground is not looked forward to.  Well, perhaps the sleeping part is still looked forward to, but the unfolding and loosening of the back in the morning is not...  Thus, the availability of this camper was most fortuitous and we snapped it up.

Saturday morning began quite early when the Things awoke around 6 AM, with empty tummies and open mouths.  After breakfast and breakfast KP, we loaded up our daypacks with water, snacks, binoculars, and jackets and headed out.  Our goal today was to hike along the Trans-Catalina trail, then head down to the Lower Buffalo Reservoir and pick up an access road that would take us back to Little Harbor.

Straddling Little and Shark Harbors, on the windward side of Catalina, is a finger of rock known as the Whale's Tail.  See the close up GoogleEarth image to see why!  Before embarking on our hike, we headed down to the Whale's Tail, where there were many live-forever plants (Dudleya is the genus) blooming, some of them perched perilously close to the edge of the cliffs.  We also were excited to watch a raven incubating eggs in its nest.  See the picture of Hubby and the Things watching the raven...

We walked through the campground to the west-bound trailhead of the Trans-Catalina Trail.  The TC trail heads straight up the ridge from Little Harbor.  Even when trails are planned on Catalina, they rarely use switch-backs and this trail was no exception.  However steep the uphill portion of the trail is here, it is mercifully short, so after a fairly brief and not very taxing climb, we were on the ridge and on our way toward the reservoir.  It was an overcast and cool day -- one of those days when you feel cool to the touch, but are toasty warm on the inside -- as long as you are moving.

As we walked, Thing2 was most unhappy.  He was tired, he was hungry, he was bored.  This, as you might have surmised from other accounts of hikes with Thing2, is a recurring theme.  We find that the best solutions are to (1) take his mind off of the walking with guessing games and/or (2) feed him.  So at this point, I broke out the bag of goldfish, which he carried and ate throughout the hike.  A whole bag of goldfish...

The Things played detective on the hike.  First, we found shells on the ridge about 800 feet above the ocean.  The Things spent some time thinking about how they might have gotten there.  Thing 2 thought that birds might have carried them up to the ridge from the ocean, while Thing 1 suggested that the ridge had been underwater at one time...  Later we found a tail from an alligator lizard on the trail, but no lizard.  Thing1 guessed correctly that the lizard must have been attacked by a predator and dropped its tail to try to distract the predator.  We suspected that the ploy was unsuccessful, because we figured that if the predator had been distracted by the tail, it would have eaten it.  Since we found the tail, we figured that the predator had eaten the lizard and left the tail.  I like having smart children.

The trail is flat with a number of uphill climbs, especially around the 2 mile mark.  Because it was overcast, we didn't have much of a view, but I am sure that on a clear day this would be a most scenic hike.  After about 2.25 miles, we turned right on a path that went down to the Little Harbor road near the Lower Buffalo Reservoir.  It was clear that we needed to go to the right, but the trail immediately was overgrown with grasses, so the trail disappeared for a bit before reappearing.  The path from here on out was full of seed-bearing grasses, which burrowed their way into our socks and shoes.  There was much complaining from the Things about this and many stops to de-seed our socks.  The hike down to the reservoir from the ridge was easy, not too steep, and very picturesque.  Oaks dotted the hillside, with rock outcrops and flowers blooming.  Bewick's wrens and Western meadowlarks were singing.  We hiked down to the reservoir, then along the road until we got to the access road under a powerline.

We walked up the hill and at the crest, the road petered out to a grass-covered path that was barely discernable.  We bushwhacked along the crest of this ridge, knowing that it would take us most of the way to Little Harbor.  Here and there we had to dodge cactuses and throughout the hike we had to stop to pull seeds out of our socks.  Bill took the lead so that he could knock some of the seeds off the plants before the boys came through and as he's blazing out trail, he hears the heart-stopping buzz of a rattlesnake.  Everyone stopped until he quickly located Mr. Grumpy Snake, which was deep in a bush (*what kind?) directly in front of him.  He backed off and we all watched the snake and i snapped a few pictures from a safe distance.  Then we made a short detour around Mr. Grumpy Snake and continued on our way.  The Things were excited about the snake and talked of little else for the rest of the hike.

Eventually, the "trail" took us back to Little Harbor road, which we followed the rest of the way to the campground.  We walked through the campground and were buzzed by another rattlesnake.  This snake quickly slid away into the tall grass when I stopped to take a few pictures.  This encounter troubled me more than the first:  I expect to find a snake in the scrub, but not in the grass near a campsite!  That was a sobering thought as I often let the Things run amok once we're in the campground -- but not anymore!

While I was dealing with the rattlesnake, the Things and Hubby were preoccupied with a kestrel in a palm tree that had a lizard in its beak.

We saw some cool insects on this hike, including a short-horned grasshopper, a darkling beetle (genus Eleodes), and some bugs (hemipterans) on bladder-pod plants.  It was really interesting to see the hemipterans because there were multiple stages on the same plant:  eggs (as in the picture), juveniles, and adults.  In fact, most of the adults were in the process of making more bugs...  if you know what I mean.  And it was a fun opportunity to mess with my camera and its digital macro setting.

Birds seen: Killdeer, Red-tailed hawk, American kestral, Catalina quail, Western gulls, Northern raven, Barn swallow, European starling, Western meadowlark, Orange-crowned warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping sparrow, House finch

Flowers in bloom:  Opuntia (prickly pear), lupines, Indian paintbrush, Lilac mariposa, Catalina mariposa, Bindweed, Live forevers (Dudleya), Bush sunflowers (Encelia californica), yellow lilies, Yarrow, Mustard, Crystalline ice plant, Rattleweed

13 May 2010

Goat Whiskers Trail

View from the top of Goat Whiskers

Date: 7 May 2010
Who Hiked: Me
Route: West End Road and Goat Whiskers Trail
Time: 1130 - 1445
Estimated Distance: 7 miles
Weather: sunny, low 70s

So I have been remiss in my hiking lately and had intended to hike all last week. By Friday, I was feeling very frustrated with life, so around 11:30 I threw caution to the wind and headed out on a hike. I planned to hike out the West End Road, turn up the Goat Whiskers Trail, intersect the Water Tank Road, and take that over to the Trans-Catalina Trail (Silver Peak Trail) which would bring me down to the road that goes out to Wells Beach at Cat Harbor. My main concern was that the Things get out of school at 2:20, and I wanted to be home around that time. I knew that they would be fine at home for a short while, but they don't really like it if they get home and I'm not there. Not that they want to see me or talk to me, mind you, they just want to know that I'm available...

So I loaded up my daypack with water and snacks, my binoculars, a camera, and started out the West End Road. The island has been lovely this winter -- we've gotten more rain than normal and the vegetation has been lush and beautiful. Most of the flowers are fading now, but we've had a banner year with lupines, lilies, shooting stars, Indian paintbrush, and wild cucumber. The cucumber vines are now bearing spiky fruits (see left) which are not sharp, but leathery. The fruits are eaten by wildlife; I find rinds along the road all the time. Some plants are still blooming: live-forever, shrubs, lilies, monkeyflowers, Mariposa lilies, and Opuntia.

Hiking the West End Road is OK -- sometimes you have no traffic and meet no people, but other days you meet trucks and hikers. The dust is starting to fly again (it has been several weeks since we've had any rain), so meeting vehicles is unpleasant. As much as I dislike meeting vehicles when I am walking, it is not as hair-raising as when you are in your own vehicle. See my description of that from our Parsons Landing hike. Today I met a couple of trucks and several large groups of schoolkids hiking to Two Harbors from the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) at Cherry Valley. Most of the pre-teens were absorbed in their own conversations, but a few greeted me with "Hello hiker!".

I heard orange-crowned warblers, chipping sparrows, Bewick's wrens, and Catalina quail as I walked. One ground squirrel actually walked past me in the opposite direction. He appeared a bit tentative about the maneuver, which I thought was fairly bold, and he seemed to tiptoe past me while hugging the edge of the road.

The West End Road is also an interesting place to encounter some of the human history of the island. There are several abandoned silver mines along the road (see right). Prospectors worked the islands from the 1860s to the 1920s, when it was given up as a lost cause. But remnants of mining operations are still visible on the island.

About 2.5 miles later, I was at the trailhead for the Goat Whisker Trail, which heads up a ridge from Lions Head, the point just past Cherry Valley. The trail goes up (no switchbacks -- this is Catalina!), but the ridge is not as steep as some. So while it is most definitely a climb, one does not feel as if one is climbing a rock face.

The grasses are drying and their seeds get caught in socks, shoes, and other items and then poke you mercilessly. One of our friends had to take her dog to the vet to have one surgically removed from its cheek! They are decidedly unpleasant.
Periodically I would have to stop and pull them out of my socks. Worse that removing actual seeds are the phantom seeds that you could swear are there -- you can feel them -- but that you cannot find! Even though most vegetation is crisping up right now, there are still mariposa lilies blooming along the trail. These are lilac mariposa lilies (I think). There are also Catalina mariposa lilies, which have white petals with dark burgundy markings at their bases. Both are in the genus Calochortus.

I did not have too much trouble with the climb, though I did have to stop a few times to catch my breath and rest my legs. Lizards (Uta stansburiana) were often skittering out of my way as I disturbed their mid-day siesta in the sun. One was so discombobulated by my approach that it actually ran around in circles for about four revolutions before it dashed off under a lemonadeberry bush.

It became clear quite quickly that I was not going to be able to complete my planned hike in the time that I had allotted. I was not yet to the junction of the Goat Whisker Trail and Water Tank Road (1.2 miles) and it was already after 1 PM! I was not breaking any land speed records that day! I decided that I would hike up to the junction and make a decision about the rest of the hike from there.

I arrived at Water Tank Road around 1:45 PM. If I decided to continue up Water Tank Road, I still had some serious uphill hiking to do before I got to the highest point of my hike. If I walked down Water Tank Road, I would come out on the West End Road just before Howland's Landing, which is nearly 4 miles from town. In the end, I decided to retrace my steps down the Goat Whisker Trail and hike back into town along the West End Road. The trip down was quick (~20 minutes) and tough on the old knees. As I made my way back into Two Harbors, my phone rang. Thing 1 was calling from our neighbor's house to ask where I was. Apparently Thing 2 had come home first, seen the note I left for them, and promptly tossed it aside. So Thing 1 wasn't sure where I was and was concerned that I wasn't home yet. By 2:45, I was back at my door!

When I came home, I looked at my planned hike on GoogleEarth and discovered that it would have been shorter to continue on my planned loop rather than turn around at the intersection with Water Tank Road. Ah well, live and learn. Next time I will look more closely at the distances before I start my hike!

Other birds seen: barn swallows, ravens, Northern mockingbirds, Western gulls, terns

08 May 2010

A Little Mainland Action

Oops! Here is a blog entry that I had drafted, but not posted!

Before my surgery in mid-January, Hubby and I decided to do a bit of birding on the mainland. I had heard that the Bolsa Chica Wetlands were great for bird watching, so we headed out there the day before my surgery. The wetlands are managed by the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and are some of the last intertidal wetlands in southern California. See the bottom of this post for a Google Earth image of the wetland and of the birdwatching route that we took.

When we arrived, the parking lot was packed because they were installing a new pedestrian bridge over an inlet that led to a marina. We walked around the intertidal wetlands that are near to the visitors' center, where we saw lots of killdeer and some great egrets. We then checked out the visitors' center, which is small but has a number of taxidermy specimens. Of course, seeing birds close up never gives one an accurate idea of what the bird will look like through one's binoculars -- take the ring-necked duck as one example. If you see a specimen, you can see the burgundy colored ring around the neck, but as a field mark, it's useless. But it was still worthwhile and interesting. There were species lists for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles available here too.

Hubby and I crossed the inlet via the road (Warner Avenue) and after skirting the heavy machinery and smiling at the construction workers so they wouldn't yell at us, we picked up the trail that takes one along the waterway. To the left were open fields (Canada geese, turkey vulture, sparrows, meadowlarks). The tide was falling and we saw curlew, willets, whimbrels, sandpipers, and snowy egrets. We continued along this path until we got to the bridge that goes across a flood control gate. We did not cross this bridge, but walked along a narrow dike with a channelized waterway to our right and a wetland to our left. More great birds along here!

Altogether, we saw 40 species (and three new lifers: Western sandpiper, Least sandpiper, and California towhee) in two hours of walking -- not bad, even for two fairly mediocre birders. We might have missed some shorebirds, because that's not my strong suit and we didn't have a spotting scope.

Birds seen:
Pied-billed grebe
Western grebe
Double-crested cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Snowy egret
Canada goose
Green-winged teal
Northern pintail
Northern shoveler
American wigeon
Ring-necked duck
Lesser scaup
Ruddy duck
Turkey vulture
Red-tailed hawk
American kestrel
American coot
American avocet
Greater yellowlegs
Long-billed curlew
Marbled godwit
Western sandpiper*
Least sandpiper*
Ring-billed gull
Western gull
Forster's tern
Rock dove
Anna's hummingbird
House wren
European starling
California towheee*
Chipping sparrow
Savannah sparrow
Song sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Western meadowlark

27 February 2010

Posts to this Blog (or lack thereof)

As you've noticed (or not), I haven't been hiking much lately. Mark it up to various modes of self-improvement that have taken most of my time...

In January I had surgery to fix my broken guts. Everything went swimmingly (big relief)... Shortly after I was given the green light from my surgeon to resume physical activity, I began to audit a course on conservation genetics which is now taking up most of my time.

I'm hoping to get back to hiking in late March... I'm hoping that it's not too muddy and that I can get to Bulrush Canyon, Lone Tree, or Starlight Beach sometime soon!

Until then, enjoy this picture of shooting stars, which are now blooming in profusion on the island!

08 January 2010

Hammocks Hike

Date: 29 December 2009
Who hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Weather: sunny and clear

Still on Winter Break, we talked Hubby into taking a long lunch one day and hiking to the hammocks with us.

This hike involved tackling Godhilla, which I’ve covered before. We headed up the hill and I actually found it a bit easier than it’s been before. I was a bit surprised, given that I haven’t really been exercising as regularly as I would like, but welcomed it all the same. We have three stopping points on Godhilla, each at relatively flat sections of the trail and I made each of them without much stress. The recent rains made the trail a bit more treacherous – small pebbles and dirt had run down the trail creating a slippery trail, so you couldn't let your mind wander from your footing!

At the top of the hill, the Things immediately rushed down the cutoff trail to get to the hammocks first. This part of the trail cuts across the hill, just below the crest, to meet up with the portion of the trail that returns downhill from the ridge. You walk down that trail to a trail that cuts back across the hill face to the spur that goes down to the hammocks.

The view from the hammocks is outstanding -- have a look the top picture on this post, which was our view.

There are two hammocks strung up in an oak that clings to the edge of the trail and overhangs the slope. You climb up into the tree a bit to get into the hammock, which means that you’re hanging higher in the air than you’d expect. The Things really like to hang out in the hammocks, though there is always much moving around, climbing in, and climbing out of the hammocks which makes Hubby and me nervous. The drop to the ground below is steep and there’s not much to stop one from rolling down the slope except sharp sticks and pointy prickly pear cactus. Thing 1 was quicker to the destination than Thing 2, so he got the primo hammock. This did not go well with Thing 2, who insisted on being allowed into the best seat.

Soon it was time to go home and we navigated the steep slope back to the road by Cat Harbor. This hill is actually worse than Godhilla -- that's why we almost always go down this way instead of up! The tide was very low – probably a spring low tide as we were right around the full moon. I stopped for a bit to look at birds (killdeer, a willet, and two whimbrels) while the boys continued on to home.

03 January 2010

Parson's Landing

Date: 27 December 2009
Who Hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Route: Emerald Bay to Parson's Landing and back
Estimated Distance: 2.4 miles
Weather: cool, cloudy
A few days after Christmas, when the Things' complaints about the newly-received Wii (when can we play? why won't this work? I can't do this!) had resulted in maximal levels of irritation in both parental units, we packed them into the truck and headed off to the west end of the island.
The West End Road is a trip in and of itself: barely 1.5 cars wide and full of hairpin turns, one edge butts against the rocky face of the island, the other edge drops to the ocean below. When you meet another vehicle on the road, you have either wait at a place that is wide enough for the other car to pass or you back up to a place that is wide enough for the two cars to pass. The alternative to patience and cooperation is scraped paint (if you get to close to the island side of the road) or a tumble into the ocean (if you get too close to the seaward edge). Meeting the Catalina Flying Boat panel truck is particularly terrifying.
Given that this was a Sunday, we had no vehicular traffic, though we ran into a few bikers, hikers, and runners. But no worries there -- plenty of room for a car and single-file people on the road!
We parked at the bar gate that blocks the West End Road just beyond Emerald Bay, where there is a large Boy Scout Camp and an environmental education facility called Mountain Sea Adventures.
We then hiked the length of the road beyond the gate to Parson's Landing, a popular camping locale.
The road is more or less flat and is bordered by lemonadeberry and toyon bushes. The lemonadeberry bushes were just setting fruit and the toyon bushes were thick with red berries. And they were all chock full of yellow-rumped warblers.
A trail branches away from the road and provides a shortcut to the beach, so we took this trail. It was surrounded on all sides by fennel, an invasive introduced plant on the island.

I have included a photograph -- all the gray stalks sticking up are fennel plants. In less than a half-mile, we were at Parson's Landing.
We were the only people on the beach this day, not a surprise given the gray weather.
The waves didn't seem too bad and Thing 1 was having fun running out to large rocks when the waves were out and then standing there as the waves swirled in and surrounded his rock. Thing 2 was a bit more timid about joining him, but finally worked up the nerve and ran out to the rock fortress too. Getting braver, Thing 1 ran out to a farther rock, but just then a large swell came onshore and the waves were bigger than he'd expected. Both Things dashed from their rocks to the safety of higher ground... The waves produced by these larger swells were infrequent (about 15 minute intervals), but impressive.

We walked along the beach and then hiked back along another road. This intersected the Trans-Catalina Trail at a couple of locations. At this point on the trail, we were only about 6.5 miles from the trailhead at Starlight Beach. An industrious fox had climbed to the top of one trail sign to mark its territory.
We hiked back to the truck along the road and then braved the West End Road home... and the boys talked about playing Wii for most of the trip.
Other birds seen/heard: Catalina quail, Northern ravens, Northern mockingbirds, House finches

Herman's Trail

Date: 20 December 2009
Who Hiked: Me, Hubby, Things 1 and 2
Route: Herman's Trail & Middle Ranch Road
Time: 1030 to 1330
Estimated Distance: ~5.3 miles
Weather: sunny, mid 70s

The consequence of waiting three weeks to write a blog post about a hike is that I can't remember much about it. I flunk one of the basic rules that every researcher learns: write it all down because you won't remember it later... even though you're SURE you will...

Anyway, the Things are on Winter Break from school, so we decided to get in a couple of family hikes. We have been eyeing this hike for a while. Herman's trail leaves from and returns to Middle Ranch Road, so we decided to hike it as a loop. We drove to the far trailhead and parked, then walked back on Middle Ranch Road to the trailhead that is nearer to Middle Ranch. The road here is nice and flat and we thought it would be a good warm up for the boys (and for us) before we hit the trail proper -- which in good Catalina fashion, heads straight up the freakin' hill.

I don't know who Herman is. It's not a name I have encountered in my reading about the island. If any of my (three) readers know, please send in a comment!

The walk along the road was quite nice, with lots of animal tracks to see (bison, deer, fox, and squirrel) and some acorn woodpecker granaries along the way. Granaries were in a couple of trees, including a large black locust planted just along Middle Ranch Road. We saw plenty of finches, ravens, some warblers, and heard a blue-gray gnatcatcher. We also were lucky enough to see the first California poppy that I've seen this year. This species is not native to the island, but they are pretty flowers and in years with enough rain, they line Middle Ranch Road through Middle Canyon.

At the trailhead, we stopped and had a snack and a drink, then hiked up the ridge. The trail was steep, but not as bad as some other trails we tackle (e.g. Godhilla -- see Hammocks Hike). The trail winds about the crest of the hill, going up and down as it moves from one end to the other. This was not too bad -- as soon as you got tired of going up, there was a (all too) brief respite of downhill hiking to get your legs back under you.

Thing 2 had announced that he was not going to complain on this hike, which was welcome news to his skeptical parents. But he came through on his promise and hiked the entire 5+ miles without a single whine. We were very pleased and enjoyed the hike much more for his enthusiasm. About half way along the ridge portion of the trail we could see the downhill portion of the hike, but couldn't tell exactly where it connected to our ridge trail. We were fooled at least three times -- thinking that the next peak was the final climb, when in fact there were additional summits to tackle. This wasn't a big deal for Hubby, me, or the non-whining Thing, but Thing 1 struggled with the disappointment. I don't think he was tired, so much as irritated. Reality was definitely not meeting his expectations.

Once at the top of the ridge, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Thompson's Reservoir, with Santa Barbara Island in the distance (about 40 miles away to the northwest). We entertained ourselves on the hike by watching bison on a nearby ridge, betting on the altitude of the next peak (I won! Hit it on the nose!), and talking about Christmas. The Things were very into Christmas, it being only five days away.

We hit the downhill part of the hike and were oh so glad that we had gone the other way -- this sucker was steep steep steep. It went straight downhill, complete with rocks and pebbles that would send you shooting down the hill on your patootie. Thing 2 adopted the strategy of running downhill, which Hubby and I did not deem wise, but he was most of the way downhill before he admitted that he heard us yelling at him to stop.

We all agreed that the hike was a good one -- and hopped in the car to go home. On the way, we encountered a group of about a dozen bison on the Middle Ranch Road. They were walking toward us and stopped when they saw us, annoyed no doubt. There was a bit of a face off, with us looking at them and them looking at us. Hubby would edge forward, and they would stare blankly. I imagine they were thinking, "Hey, get the hell out of the way."
I suggested that we back up, and when we did, the bison began trotting down the road toward us. Turns out they wanted to take a trail that was a bit behind where we had stopped. Soon all twelve bison were up the hill and off of the road and we were on our merry way home.