Mad River

Spring Recap

MR 965

Hard to find blogging time as of late, so I thought I catch up and post a few of my last good pictures from this spring.

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Last time Lassic caught a dusting of snow. Sadly it is apparently an inferno now, as the Lassic fire continues to burn. I plan on taking a photographic adventure up there this winter to document the fire.

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And a few more from the same day. This little bit of snow was just not enough to have any measurable impact on ground water recharge. Normally, where I took these pictures, snow drifts would be in spots like this until at least June – generally preventing access. This year all the snow was gone by early May – and it was a pathetic showing. What will El Nino bring? Warm rain? We need a snow pack bad, so hopefully we get good rains but more importantly snow.

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Houdini the Owl

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Meet the elusive Houdini. I have been monitoring this owl for about 5 years now. Normally we find the birds, offer them prey and if they are nesting will fly to their nest, or young, or mate… This is how you define a spotted owls territory and thus are able to protect it from nearby logging. Every so often a owl pair will not play along. Like this one, who has never shown me a nest. In fact they always disappear in the prime nesting weeks. The male here, is not shy however. As long as I bring gifts…

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Fractured Earth

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While exploring a rock outcrop, I found that it had a crack that more or less went through the whole formation. Caves are rare in our area, so I was curious if I could [safely] find one in this sandstone rock complex. While fractured rock is the name of the game in the Fransican sandstone make up of most of Humboldt County, its neat when you can explore a large, intact chunk of solid rock.

From the top of the rock I could see down in some places into a deep crevasse. This fracture went down as far as I could see, at least one hundred feet. I followed the crack to the edge of the cliff, and did my best to memorize a few trees that were growing at the base of the rock, in hopes I could find them on the other side. In this way I could try to find this fissure from the bottom and see if there were any caves.

From the bottom, I note that shadows create the illusion of potential caves, but closer inspection revels that this outcrop is solid. And massive, at least relative to other rocks near it. The cliffs here are 100-200 feet. I find the trees I remember, but dont see any openings. But there is a large talus slope, broken up rock the accumulates on the base of cliffs, that leads up to a small ‘valley’ in the rock face.

And…lo and behold there is a cave, of sorts. Right off the bat, this place is dicey. A cave has formed by large pieces of rock becoming wedged into the large crack. It looks precarious for sure, but its not moving. Well, unless there was an earthquake…. Still I work up the courage to go in…I didnt sweat all the way up here for nothing!

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I work my way in about 50 feet before I start to have second thoughts. Infact the thought of an earthquake is really hard to shake from my mind. I know as a fact that this rock outcrop sits right on a local fault known as the Gordon Fault.

Then I get to this spot where the ‘floor’ just disappears into darkness. I realize I am standing on large rock fragments wedged into the crack, much like the ‘ceiling’ above me. As I look down, I cant see anything that resembles a bottom. I attempted to use my camera flash to capture this depth, but the perspective was hard to shoot – at least with my phone camera.

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Well, no long lost treasure or hundreds of bats. But I was pretty satisfied with my adventure. For Humboldt County, this is a pretty unique rock formation. One for books for sure.

Old Growth Trip

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When I have the opportunity, I love to explore old growth forests. These are plentiful in Six Rivers National Forest, as well as Shasta-Trinity and Mendocino National Forests. Here some pictures from a recent adventure. This forest is almost what would be called “California Mixed Conifer” but has some coastal nuances. Less pine and the presence of tanoak, alder and certain willow. These forests are also what we call “primary” forests, never been logged. Many thousands of acres of forest along South Fork Mountain transitioned from oak woodlands and savannah in the past several hundred years. Here is another example of transition – in an extreme sense – from oak to conifer forest.

Return to the Hidden Canyon

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I was able to crawl up into my secret canyon again. This place in one of the coolest places I stumbled on, and despite its impressive scale, it is very well hidden. The canyon is about 400-500 feet long and has sheer cliff walls that are close to 80 feet. Too bad I only have a phone to take pictures with. This spot certainly deserves better, and as with last time, I am a little disappointed in the pictures. The light was not the best for me and well lets face it, Im just a forester with a camera phone. LOL Someday I will get a real camera, or take a real photographer here.

Hidden Spring

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Here is one of those magical nooks and crannies I love to find. No relation to the ‘real’ hidden springs, if one exists. However if you were not right on top of this one you might not find it. This unique spot has a fairly large Douglas-fir whoes roots create a Tolkienesque’ cave from which a mountain spring emerges. This ends up being one of the headwaters of Deer Creek in the Mad River.

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Obsidian

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Obsidian flake from a archaeological site above the Mad River near Pilot Ridge. A flake is a piece of rock or obsidian that ‘flakes’ off from a larger piece during the manufacture of stone tools. Think spearheads, arrowheads, an knifes. You also produce flakes when sharpening your stone tool. While chert flakes are very common in Humboldt County, I do not come across obsidian very often. It had to travel a long way to get up into the Mad River. The aboriginal people of California traded extensively and that could be how this ended up here. I think the nearest obsidian sources from here are in Lake County. You can date a site if you find a few points, as the type of arrow or spearhead technology is diagnostic of time periods of human habitation, some going back as far as 8,000 years. Its becoming increasingly rare to find a point at a site however, mainly due to a century of people picking up arrowheads.

Old Growth *Black* Oak

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This ancient hulk of a black* oak tree appears unstoppable. As parts of it die, new growth emerges. In this way, trees that produce sprouts can persist indefinitely, until site conditions change. Who knows how old this tree is. Technically, white oaks are thought to have a life span of up to 300 or so years. But I always have wondered if that takes into account new growth that eventually replaces the dying stem. Could some of these trees be thousands of years old? Regardless, trees like this contribute to the biodiversity of the landscape and have practically all flavors of the food web…

*I first thought this was a white oak, but a fellow forester pointed out that it is really a black oak. Thanks!

Maple Spring

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Maple Spring was a known watering hole for pack trains from the later 1800s through the early 1900s. A series of important pack trails crossed the rugged coastal mountains of Humboldt County to get from what is now Eureka area to Weaverville in Trinity County and beyond. There were a few important crossings on the Mad River near Pilot Creek, and this spring would have been the first stop to gather water before heading out of the canyon and up to Pilot Ridge.

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The old pack trail is almost lost to entropy. There are still blazes that can found on some older trees, and occasionally you can see evidence of the trail, mostly in the form of “U” shaped depressions were millions of sheep once walked.

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Here are the remnants of the very trees that gave this place its namesake over 150 years ago. Its neat that these old gnarly maple trees are still here. It even looks like they are doing a good job of re-sprouting into new trees as their previous trucks continue to break up from old age.

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Widowmaker

Watch out! This right here is no joke. A “widowmaker” is any freely hanging branch, limb or tree, that can fall on you. Trees store a ton of water and even a little 6″ limb can weigh hundreds of pounds. Widowmaker accidents make up 10% of deaths related to logging in the US.

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The tree in the picture once had a forked top and the another stem was laying on the ground to the left. This is why foresters like to mark forked top trees in selection logging, as they are very vulnerable to wind-throw and rot. And as shown here, somewhat dramatically, they can cause havoc for neighboring trees and obviously cause a safety threat. Not sure of the trusty old hardhat will help when that thing goes…