I’m sitting here at home, watching the snow fall and the temperature drop. Currently the snow is almost 10 inches deep registering a balmy 1° and forecast to hit -24° overnight. Taking a rest from shoveling, which is best done in 3-4 inch increments, let’s reminisce about a delightful day hike in California’s beautiful Henry Coe State Park this past November. With the unusually high, and desperately needed, rainfall levels in October, the greens have sprung back to springtime shades. Henry Coe is California’s second largest state park (largest in Northern CA) encompassing 89,164 acres. It is a sprawling wilderness of ridges and steep canyons in the Diablo Range. Today we will wander a bit and see what we can see, so grab your gear and let’s go.
It dropped to -22° last night, but with the crystal-clear blue sky this morning, the sun is warming up the landscape. At -12° and not a breath of wind, it’s time for a winter wayfaring experience near home. It is just so beautiful. The sparkling snow clings to everything it fell on over the last 24 hours. Be sure to dress warm though, it is still very cold outside and we don’t want any frostbite on fingers, toes, or nose. It is so nice to still have farmland within our city limits. Wintertime aspens, long piles of hay, and the Bridger Mountains that define our eastern edge, all covered in sparkling white.
There is one thing I can always count on when I make my biannual visit to California, and that’s another great hike with my good friend. This time we head to Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch, a 4,595-acre regional recreation area off U.S. Highway 101 in the hills east of Gilroy. We are at the southern end of the park entering through the Mendoza Ranch Entrance. It is early afternoon on an overcast day, but the Bay Area has had so much rain in the last month the bright green grasses look more like spring rather than mid-November. Let’s see what other surprises await us as we climb Mummy Mountain.
What an absolutely gorgeous day in the Old Faithful area. The sky is so blue it looks like God Photoshopped it! There is no wind making 50° feel much warmer. Most everything except the Visitor’s Center is closed for the season which translates into very few people and bring your own lunch. I want to check if the rangers are still noting eruption times for the most predictable geysers at the Information Desk in the VC. I’ve yet to see Castle Geyser erupt and I’m hoping today is the day. WOW, we are in luck. Old Faithful is due to erupt in two minutes. Well, that’s give or take ten minutes, but Castle Geyser is expected to erupt 45 minutes later. A beautiful day and very few people making for a quiet, relaxing stroll around Upper Geyser Basin. Thar she blows!
The three-mile loop road known as Firehole Lake Drive is amazing in the autumn. At sunrise we see the warmth of the sun battling the cold air, low clouds, massive amounts of thermal steam, and fog. It can take hours for the sun to finally break through. During that process, we meander through an eerie, cloaked landscape that envelops us. Welcome to a Firehole sunrise.
Along the Gibbon River, between Norris and Madison Junctions in Yellowstone, is the often ignored Gibbon Geyser Basin. Unless there are bison, elk, other ungulates (hoofed animals), or the occasional coyote feeding in Gibbon Meadows, people pass by this area on the way to Old Faithful or Norris Geyser Basin. The most popular and most beautiful collection of thermal features in the Gibbon Geyser Basin are found along the 1.1 mile loop trail called Artist Paintpots. We walk about 1/3 of a mile through a young lodgepole pine forest which is reestablishing itself after the 1988 fires. So let’s head out and take our time in this colorful collection of thermal features.
It seemed like a pleasant, simple task. Drive through Yellowstone, spend some time enjoying the thermal features and great views on the road from Madison to West Thumb, then head to Jackson, Wyoming, to spend a few days in the autumn splendor of Grand Teton National Park. Its about a four-hour trip, but with stops it will be a bit longer. The weather is a bit iffy today. We have some snow falling, rain, even sleet, but the roads are clear. We’ll hope for the best as we begin our journey driving through the Gallatin River Canyon to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Besides, you never know, so many times the journey is the adventure!
Schwabacher Landing is an area along the Snake River that lets us wander through the Snake’s floodplain and along the braided meanderings of the river. This area can change dramatically depending on the time of year primarily due to the amount of precipitation and snow melt. Sagebrush dominates the view along the dirt road that leads us down to the Landing, but once there, the landscape is a wonder of plant and animal life, marshes and wetlands, all indicative of a rich floodplain. Best of all, it is autumn. Today we are walking below the Teton Range not long after sunrise on a sparkling blue-sky day (I have not modified that blue sky, in case you were wondering). The beauty just takes my breath away! Let’s explore.
The remote northwest corner of Glacier National Park is a seldom visited, sparsely populated area with beautiful vistas and finger lakes that take your breath away. Today we are driving to Bowman Lake, the third largest lake in Glacier behind Lake McDonald and
St. Mary Lake respectively. We’ll be taking a walk along the northern shore. I have found, however, that the journey to the hike can be just as marvelous as the hike itself. I think you’ll agree today.
After our beautiful drive up the eastern side of Going-to-the-Sun Road, it is time to travel down the western side to Lake McDonald and West Glacier. We begin our journey at Logan Pass, mile 18.1 west of the East Entrance.
Mile 18.4–Oberlin Bend is a sharp turn that will begin our decent almost 3,500 feet to Lake McDonald near the West Entrance of Glacier National Park. Let’s park and walk up to the falls on Oberlin Creek. Well, the falls are just on the other side of the road, but as the clouds drop we can’t even see the falls. Everyone is leaving so let’s head to the car and wait to see if the clouds clear. Great! Five minutes and the clouds disappear. We now have the place to ourselves so let’s walk up and try for this picture again.
After breakfast, with a great mountain view at St. Mary Lodge, it is time to head to Logan Pass for a short hike to Hidden Lake. It is 8am and looks a bit cloudy, but we’ll hope for the best as we drive just over 18 miles up Going-to-the-Sun Road from the eastern side of Glacier National Park. We’ll be climbing over 2,100 feet and the views will be gorgeous!
Mile 2.2–Singleshot Mountain rises above Two Dog Flats, where the prairie meets the mountains offering a rich and diverse ecosystem.
The Whitebark Pine, a foundation species, a keystone species, is dying in great numbers across the mountain west, which includes Yellowstone.
I stand tall, proud, ancient. Overlooking the beautiful valley, the Caldera, and the mountains. Through wind, snow, ice, and rain–I stand tall. My brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles are not doing well. It is getting too hot and we have no defense against the diseases and insects that thrive in warmth. We love frigid weather, standing high above the tree line, loving the windswept mountainsides; some of us only 16 feet tall, others 66 feet tall, and our seasoned relatives are over a 1,000 years old. Regardless of size or age, we all stand guard on the mountainsides, using our shade to keep snow hard and in place until it can gently melt filling your rivers and streams. Stabilizing the soil around us which allows other plants and trees to live in our community. Feeding and giving protection to many animal and bird friends, as well as being nurseries for Lodgepole pines, Englemann spruce, and Subalpine firs. It is becoming too warm and staying warm for too long each season–I’m weakening and many of us are dying. I’m very worried–what will happen if we can no longer stand guard?
We do our jobs for humans quietly, consistently, and proudly. Humans must now do their job to save us–the dangers are real and getting worse! In the meantime, I stand tall, proud–and hopeful.
Let’s take a closer look at the amazing importance and struggle of the whitebark pine.