Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Drive Down the Coast and Through the Redwoods

Yesterday was sunny and hot, a perfect day to go to the beach and drive down the coast! We packed some lunch, and the Olympus camera that we found, and went over the bay towards Half Moon Bay, which is just south of San Francisco and on the ocean. But before we could get close, there was a major traffic jam, so we ended up getting onto I-280 and driving south until Route 7 to Woodside. There we took Route 84, aka La Honda Rd to the small city of La Honda, which is situated in the redwoods. This was the start of our ride through the redwoods.

There are many small winding roads (which aren't shown on the Google Map above) through the mountains between the San Jose area and Santa Cruz through the Santa Cruz Mountains. The mountains aren't so high, at most ~2,000 ft, but they are covered with old and second growth redwoods. Its fun to drive past the many state parks and open space reserves that are in the area.

Beach Near Davenport
The beach we had lunch at near the city of Davenport.

We headed to the beach as our first destination, where we had a picnic. We stopped at a beach just past the Ano Nuevo State Reserve, where the elephant seals live, and had lunch. It was so warm, we didn't need a wind-coat. Next we drove back into the redwoods to go hiking in Butano State Park. We hiked through oaks and berry patches, and finally into a pine forest and further through a redwood forest deep in a canyon with a small stream running through it. There was a campground we passed through with lots of camper making fires. Then we drove out of the park and down more winding roads, Bonny Doon Rd and Route 236, which were neat! Route 236 went right through Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where we stopped at the visitor center. They had huge blown-up maps of the area made for hiking, and we discovered that there was a trail which went in and between many of the state parks, such as Portola, Butano, Big Basin, and Castle Rock. There are also back-country campsites for through hikers. One day we will do the multi-day hike!

Castle Rock State Park at Sunset
Castle Rock State Park at Sunset

As it was getting dark, we drove back towards home, driving past Castle Rock State Park of Route 9 and then continued down Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35) back to Hwy 92 and over the bay. The picture above is looking over the park. All of the darker mountains in the background are forested with redwoods.

Since we bought our digital SLR Canon camera, we haven't been able to take short videos because the camera doesn't have that feature. The Olympus camera which we found kinda sucks (photo quality and zoom) but it was free and it takes videos, so we tried making one at the beach. This is the first time I am posting a video clip on the blog, so here it goes:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Corpse Flower Blooms!

Corpse Flower
The colorful and odor-ful corpse flower at the UC Botanical Garden.

At the UC Botanical Garden, we heard news that Trudy, the garden's "Corpse Flower," Amorphophallus titanum, aka Titan Arum, was about to bloom. The corpse flower is the largest flowering structure in the plant world, and was discovered in 1878 by an Italian botanist in Sumatra, Indonesia. When we went to the garden to see Trudy flower, she was 66 inches high, or 5 ft 6 inches tall. That's taller than me! It lives in tropical conditions, and only flowers at certain times. It typically takes at least seven years before the plant first flowers after it sprouts from its seed. The garden employees said that the tuber, which is the large bulb-like part of the plant which lives underground, has to grow to be at least 30 lbs before the plant is ready to flower. Trudy's tuber weighed about 60 lbs.

Corpse Flower
Trudy, the UC Botanical Garden's corpse flower.

The flower will only stay open for a day or two before it begins to close. We went to go see it the morning after it opened. The plant heats up and produces an odor of rotting flesh while it blooms to attract flies to pollinate it. It really smelled bad! And there were a ton of flies hovering in and around the bloom.

Corpse Flower 's Sister
Trudy's sister, which looks a lot smaller, is actually not that much younger than Trudy.

During years that the plant doesn't bloom (the last time Trudy bloomed was in 2005) it grows a gigantic single leaf which doesn't look like a leaf at all. It looks like a tall stalk that gets leafy at the top, growing 10-15 ft tall. But it actually only is one leaf which splits up at the top. After about 16 months the leaf goes dormant, and the next time something sprouts up from the tuber, it might be another leaf or a corpse flower!

Single Leaf
The stalk/tree in this picture is actually a single enormous leaf of the Titan Arum plant when it it not in the stage of flowering.

Corpse Flower in front of Single Leaf
The corpse flower in the foreground with another single enormous leaf of a Titan Arum in the background.

The UC Botanical Garden kept a blog up of Trudy's bloom here. It is also where I got all of the information about the corpse flower.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Volunteering to Build the Bay Area Ridge Trail

This past weekend I decided to volunteer to help build a new section of the Bay Area Ridge (BAR) Trail which, when finished, will be a continuous trail encircling the entire Bay Area. The section I worked on, along with over 100 other volunteers, was in Hercules, CA, in the north east bay area.

The current map of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. There are still many sections which need to be completed, as shown by the dotted line.

Not all of the land that the BAR Trail crosses was public. There are many private ranches around the bay area which are still privately owned. This isn't really a bad thing, since the ranches are usually hundreds of acres large and are not developed. It adds a open and wild feel to much of the hills around the bay. But since the ranches are privately owned, trails aren't allowed to be built across their land. Luckily, certain public land trusts raise money to try to buy these ranches, which the owning family usually ends up selling for millions of dollars to the land trusts. The land trusts then donate or pass on the property to the government, such as the East Bay Regional Park District, or keep the land open for public use. The Muir Heritage Land Trust bought the Fernandez Ranch in Hercules and is now beginning to open the land for public use. Thats how I ended up helping out to build a new connecting section of the BAR Trail there.

I volunteered with V-O-Cal, Volunteers for Outdoor California. They specialize in organizing large groups of volunteers for mobilization for projects around Northern California, such as building new trails, making new campgrounds, habitat restoration, and trail maintenance. They provide free camping spots at the project site, free meals and beer, and free showers. I could only stay for one day since I planned to go last minute, but it was still a lot of fun (and a lot of hard work)! Here are some pictures I took with my cell phone:

This is a typical view of the rolling hills of Fernandez Ranch where the trail was cut. Most of it was routed through the forested parts.

The breakfast/lunch/beer tent for volunteers.

My group's section of the trail to be cut was on a slope.

The first step in cutting out our section of the trail was to clear the grass and plants off the surface.

Next, we started digging into the earth to cut a wedge out of the side of the hill. We aimed at making the trail 4 feet wide.

The trail finished after the first day of work. The day after I left, the rest of my group finished it off by smoothing out bumps and removing loose dirt that was thrown down the slope.