April 30th, 2015: Monterey Co: Big Sur: Landells-Hill Big Creek Reserve
Today we took a slow walk to the warm spring along the Baronda Trail. We were met with dancing butterflies, warm mud, and a crisp and icy creek below. The spring was murky and stinky, but also warm and cozy. We had a free afternoon to frolic and study for the plant family quiz. Nature notes were inspiring and full of butterfly trains, insect railroads, and steelhead horse-drawn carriages.
April 29th, 2015: Monterey Co: Big Sur: Landells-Hill Big Creek Reserve
Oohwee! What a day. We left camp around 9 am, heading up the interpretive trail to the overlook on Lower Dolan Ridge. High on the ridge we lost ourselves in good views, ladybugs, and the history of the native peoples who inhabited the area long before we stepped foot on it. When we continued on, thoughts of the past swirled with the present, a curious mixing of mountain time.
We rested again at a low point in the ridge, discussing fire ecology and how our management of fire has evolved over time. By a number of trails, we trekked back to camp, where the best burritos this side of the Santa Lucia’s were handcrafted by the cook crew (long may they reign). We ended the day seated by the fire, sharing what we saw and affirming one another as human beings experiencing the world. On to day three in Big Creek!
April 28th, 2015: CA: Monterey Co: Big Sur: Landells-Hill Big Creek Reserve
Big Creek welcomes us with redwood wide, butterfly flutterin’, hummingbird buzzing arms. Today we hiked from Redwood Camp to Whale Point, then down to the beach – through dense evergreen forest, brushy cliffs, and seal-spotted rocks. The hummingbird feeders behind Feynner the reserve manager’s house attracted dozens of students and even more birds… the mysterious Lazuli call led to a bunting hunting, and finally nutella s’mores brought us home to camp.
We caravanned around Tejon ranch, in the dense fog and rain, for the majority of the day. We observed the changing microhabitats as we climbed the mountain through conifers and black oak forests. After summiting, we descended back down the dry south facing slope. At one point, we stood between a cluster of Joshua trees and twenty foot tall Canyon Live Oaks, an unusual crossroads between two different ecosystems.
With full hearts and a myriad of new information of life in the desert we solemnly packed up and cleaned Norris camp for our departure. Though we had to leave this special place we were still giddy to continue our adventure in Tejon Ranch. Without any delay we jumped into our next learning experience. Before dusk had set, a group went with Fred to put up mist-nets for bat catching as the rest of us dined on burritos. Over the course of two hours we caught four Hoary bats, three California Myotis, one Mexican free-tail, and one Big Brown Bat.
12 April 2015: Ca: San Bern. Co: Mojave National Preserve: Sweeny Granite Mountains Reserve: Norris Camp: Free Day
Today we had a free day proceeding our first field quiz. We all had very different experiences, yet all became one step closer to the natural world. Max finally found a Rosy Boa hidden past a secret route in the rocks. Miro unintentionally teased an eager and confused hummingbird with his red beanie, convincing it that he was a juicy cactus flower. Emma found a flower very dear to her and was able to reconnect with her childhood fascination and love for nature.
Many of us, being set on our own path for the first time got slightly… lost. However, when one is put to the test of find his or her way again it is easy to come to an even greater appreciation for these beautifully desolate surroundings. Alissa and Yasmine found a small haven and sign of perseverance, a pool of water that had collected in the granite. The sign of human footsteps later on surely gave them much more relief. Savannah and Kelsey also had some feelings of being lost. Savannah later reflected that she would always have the desert with her and, after today, the desert would always have a bit of her, having scrapped herself on the granite and bleeding onto the rock. Laurel found peace on one of the ridges, even though it was not her goal of getting to the highest point, and rediscovered that it is not the destination, but what you learn on the journey. Later, she too had doubt in the the route she chose to descend the ridge. While looking out at the basin and the bajada, she pondered, “I am so small, but my heart is so big, because I can fit the world into it.”
11 April 2015: Ca: San Bern. Co: Mojave National Preserve:Sweeney Granite Mountains: Granite Cove
Our adventures continued today starting with checking the small mammal traps. We caught a pocket mouse, kangaroo rat, and a common cactus mouse. We learned about how small mammals like these are adapted to desert life by being nocturnal. After breakfast we learned about Desert Solar and drove to the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. Once there, Jim and Tasha showed us around. Jim talked to us about his work protecting the biodiverse Mojave from desert solar development. Afterward, some of the class stayed at the research center and explored the trails while the rest of the class hiked up Granite Cove. At night we went back to the Kelso Dunes to see the nightlife and saw a Banded Gecko, two sleeping cottontails, a scorpion glow in the blacklight, and a baby Sidewinder Rattlesnake.
10 April 2015: Ca: San Bern. Co: Mojave National Preserve: Bull Canyon
Our adventure took us to Bull Canyon today. Bree and the rest of us were very excited that the elders were still with us and were able to pass down their knowledge. We were especially grateful for the presence of Eric Engles, with all his knowledge of the land, but also his, “…ability to say I don’t know something and still be excited about it,” according to Spencer K. However, the dominating story of today had to be all the different types of fauna we were able to see. Elisha alone was able to catch a Desert Spiny lizard, Zebra Tail Lizard, and a Leopard Lizard all in one day! Aldo was excited to finally catch his own Zebra Tail Lizard, while Avery and Kelsey were able to conquer their fears and catch a Desert Spiny Lizard. Laurel was able to find some moss and recalls how excited she was to add water to it and see it come to life. For those rock lovers out there Ali, Aldo, and Spencer W. were able to enjoy the presence of rhyolite towards the beginning of the canyon. The best part of the day was when the whole class was able to enjoy, observe, and study the majestic Desert Tortoise, which was really something special.
9 April 2015: Ca: San Bern. Co: Mojave National Preserve: 17 Miles West/Northwest of Kelso on Kelbaker Road/Kelso Dunes
Today was a day of lizards, geology, and Kelso Dune music. We went to two places by the Cima Cinder Cones and caught a chuckwalla and a desert iguana. In the afternoon we ventured to the Kelso Dunes. We learned about the threatened Desert Tortoise and their adaptations for desert life. On our walk to the top of the dunes we caught a pale, endemic Fringe-toed Lizard, or French Toast Lizard as Ken deemed it during his studies. Our class hiked up the steep slopes of the dunes and made them sing! In order to make them sing we all lined up on the ridge, dove into the sand head first, and descended the slope as our bodies reverberated with the wondrous “F” note. It was truly magical!
8 April 2015: Ca: San Bern. Co: Mojave National Preserve: Sweeney Granite Mountains: Norris Camp/Cottonwood Basin
Today the group went to Cottonwood Basin. As some of the students hiked up to Silver Peak they saw a pair of Bighorn Sheep. In another part of the basin students spotted a Zone-tailed hawk. It was one of the only known nesting pairs in California. We had the privilege of having the FQ alumni join us for a feast back at Norris camp. The night was filled with music, singing, and laughter, a perfect way to wrap up another awesome day in the desert.