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