27 March 2012

WMSC Nature Trail

Bird Rock
I have hiked this trail a number of times over the last several years, but have never written a blog entry for it. There are plenty of things to see on this short hike (less than a mile). In particular, this hike is special because (1) it has switchbacks, (2) it gives you a great view of Isthmus Cove, the Wrigley Marine Science Center (WMSC), and Empire Landing, and (3) it is an awesome place to see wildflowers in the winter and spring.

Blue dicks
This trail is on the property of the Wrigley Marine Science Center, a campus of the University of Southern California.  You can get to campus by walking along the road out of Two Harbors to the lab (there are signs along the way, it's just over 2 miles) or by hiring a shore boat at the Harbor Department in Two Harbors.   The public is invited to tour the lab on Saturdays from 2-4 PM during the summer months.  If you'd like to visit on another day, please call before you come (310-510-0811) to check that it is OK.

The trailhead is between the lab and the first of the white dorm cottages.  It's marked by a green sign -- simply follow the short trail to the access road at the top of the ridge. The trail switchbacks along the face of the hill, where there are great opportunities for geology (lots of volcanic rocks) and viewing lichens.

Once you reach the top, you can follow the access road to the left to look for birds on the sewage treatment pond -- there are sometimes ducks (usually mallards) and an occasional spotted sandpiper during migration. The road dead-ends at the pond, but you can walk farther down the hill to explore some great tide pools. Be careful -- it is steep in places and at high tide can be washed by waves.

Shooting stars
If you follow the road in the opposite direction (to your right when you reach the ridge), it will take you along the ridge top. All along the hillside you can find mariposa lilies, blue dicks, wild cucumber, Opuntia, and California poppies.  Early in the rainy season, the entire hillside is covered with blooming shooting stars.

There are a number of places with lovely views of the isthmus and the mainland. Just where the access road makes a horseshoe bend, there is also a view of Empire Landing, a small settlement on the island where there was a stone quarry for many years.

Continue along the road and you end up in the a less-than-scenic area of the Wrigley Marine Science Center: the boneyard, where old stuff comes to rust and invasive plants rule. As you exit this area, you'll pass the dormitory and dining hall on your left.  The Boone Conference Center is on your right.  As long as there is not a group using the Center, it's a lovely place to relax and read a book or work on your laptop.

This short hike is one of my favorite leg-stretches during a work day!

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