Mad River

Houdini the Owl

MR 942

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…

MR 940

Old Growth Trip

MR 881

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

MR 806

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.


MR 763

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.

Maple Spring

MR 746

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.

MR 748

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.

MR 749

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.

MR 745


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.

MR 697

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…

Arrow Tree

MR 641

Here is another road side landmark that gets much less attention. Just above Korbel on the road to Maple Creek, you can see this tree on the left side of the road. Here in the entry from Place Names of Humboldt County:

About a mile east of Camp Bauer on the road to Maple Creek, there is a famous redwood tree called the Arrow Tree. Over the years hundreds of people, when passing the tree, would place a twig, an arrow, a feather or stick in the bark. The origin of the custom is unknown and even the Indians have more than one explanation. One account states that the Indians respected a tall and straight redwood tree and considered it a great warrior. They would shoot arrows into the tree on passing it as a form of salute and respect. Another account says the Indians from the Hoopa and Korbel tribes were at war. At last the Korbel Indians won and the Indians would shoot an arrow into the tree in passing to show that they came in peace. In 1915 this was still practiced by some of the older Indians. Another explanation says that according to Indian legend, a great drought forced the mountain Indians from their home into the lower Mad River where rain was abundant. The Mad River Indians resented the invasion and war broke out. The Great Spirit summoned the two leaders to a certain tree where he directed them to end fighting and return to their homes and there would be plenty of rain. In memory of the peace treaty, each tribe, when passing, must shoot an arrow into it’s bark.

From the Peter E. Palmquist collection, ca, 1930

From the Peter E. Palmquist collection, ca, 1930

The road you see in the picture was also once a major pack trail connecting up to major trails in Snow Camp and Pilot Ridge. No doubt the Indians also traversed these broad ridges. Take a look at that old photograph from the 30s’. Now look at this picture, circa 2014. Notice how much in-growth there has been!

MR 639

Crazy Trees

Look at this crazy Douglas-fir. This tree is in the stand I wrote about last time. Judging by its appearance, Id sat that this gnarly bastard has been around for a while. It is likely one of the parent trees that ultimately led to the widespread encroachment of this previous woodland.

MR 621 MR 618

I also came across this oddity. Well, at least it is unique to this particular stand and is pushing the extreme western portion of its range. Like the Douglas-fir above this tree appears to be a veteran is quite old. Can you tell what it is?

MR 617