May 02, 2008:
Our neighbors Dave & Gwen, Sarah and I camped at Portola Redwoods State Park for a short weekend getaway, and I was very happy to reintroduce myself to this park, which I camped at often as a child.
Upper Escape Road
After setting up camp we went for a short walk to explore the immediate area around the campground.
Upper Escape Road (a fireroad) ends at the campground, and we walked down it a little ways, above Pescadero Creek, which was flowing gently. It was typical wonderful spring-in-a-redwood-forest terrain, with many, many banana slugs, some rather past-their-prime Western Trilliums, a ton of blooming Redwood Sorrel, and exuberant green all around, courtesy of the trees, moss, ferns, and grasses.
Western Trillium / Trillium ovatum
We walked but a short ways, then retraced our path back to camp, where we relaxed, chatted, and enjoyed food and libations.
Yellow-spotted Millipede / Harpaphe haydeniana
A wiggling caught my eye and further inspection turned up a millipede – cool! Although I shun centipedes due to having been bitten by one years ago, millipedes are altogether another matter. The syncopated pulsing of their leg pairs is positively mesmerizing. It also helps that they do not bite :)
Fascinated by these critters, I did a bit of googling when I got home, and as is often the case, Wikipedia came through. Their article on this insect contains some interesting facts, first among them that:
H. haydeniana has few predators, due to its aposematic coloration and its ability to secrete hydrogen cyanide when threatened. This behaviour gives rise to the common names “cyanide millipede” and “almond-scented millipede” (since almonds smell of cyanide).
After reading this, I was sad that I hadn’t thought to give them a sniff!
We had a tasty dinner, and enjoyed drinks by the fire, then retired.
May 03, 2008:
After a light breakfast we went for a lovely little hike, starting, as our short excursion the previous day did, on Upper Escape Road.
Upper Escape Road
We followed Pescadero Creek for about 3/4 mile, seeing more banana slugs than I’ve ever seen in one place!
Banana slug / Ariolimax columbianus
These neon slugs, the mascot of my alma mater (go slugs!), were everywhere, and we had to watch our step lest we squish one. There were so many that we decided to start a count of how many we saw.
Western Heart’s-ease / Viola ocellata
Along with the banana slugs, we saw a good number of beautiful little white violets, which I’d never seen before. I was a bit surprised to find a new-to-me flower in a redwood forest, as I hike in this area all the time, and have for most of my life, but there they were, hundreds of them. I didn’t think to take a photo of their backside, which is too bad, as the top two petals are a deep magenta color on the reverse.
Pacific Starflower / Trientalis borealis
We soon crossed the park access road and began climbing on the Coyote Ridge Trail. A smattering of Pacific Starflowers, which feature a very pleasing-to-the-ear scientific name (c’mon – say it: “Trientalis borealis, Trientalis borealis, Trientalis borealis.”), were trailside.
Douglas Iris / Iris douglasii
Also scattered in patches along the trail were Douglas Irises, our predominant local native iris. Although I’m sure I’ve seen millions of them by now, their delicate colors and patterns never fail to captivate me.
We were happy for the flower diversions, as the trail climbed fairly steeply, and truth to tell, we were a little green from the previous evening’s festivities ;)
Wood’s Rose / Rosa woodsii
A flash of magenta – Wood’s Rose! Unlike the millipede, I did smell these, and they had a lovely faint rose scent.
After perhaps 3/4 of a mile of steady climbing we came to the top of Coyote Ridge, turned left, and descended back toward the campground. We crossed another access road and apparently took a wrong turn, for we soon found ourselves at a bridge-less crossing of Pescadero Creek!
Bridge-less isn’t quite accurate, as there is a bridge, it just was pulled back and did not span the river (I think they do this so salmon don’t have any barriers when swimming upstream to spawn – the bridges get pulled across come late May).
We crossed the river, staying mostly dry by rock-hopping, then hiked a little farther only to find that we had to cross the creek again, and again, the bridge was pulled back from the water – d’oh!
Pool in Pescadero Creek
Across the creek, our toes less dry than previously, we consulted the park map and figured that we’d gone straight when we should have gone left near the access road. No matter, we were now in a beautiful redwood grove.
Most of the Santa Cruz Mountains, including nearly all of Portola Redwoods State Park, is second-growth after logging in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s stripped the land bare, but looking around, you’d never guess it, unless you’d seen true old growth redwood groves (I have on only a couple of occasions in far-northern California, and believe me, they’re amazing!). Still, these “youngster” trees are very tall and majestic.
The contrast of the reddish duff on the forest floor, the rich bark of the redwoods, and the green of the canopy is a classic California sight, and one of which I never tire. Eventually we got to the Visitor’s Center and took a quick walk-through, having been there the previous day when we checked in. In addition to a gift shop corner, they had a nice display of taxidermy.
Our little hike wound up being about 4 miles with 600′ of climbing – pretty mellow, but quite enjoyable. The final banana slug tally was 92 – wow!
From the visitor’s center it was a brief walk back to camp, and we proceeded to have our piñata. Much fun was had swinging uselessly at the space where the clown had been, until finally we tired of torturing each other and allowed some solid “thwack”s to get through. The clown decapitated, we proceeded to enjoy the candy and some other more adult treats we’d stuffed our sacrificial clown with.
Banana Slug / Ariolimax columbianus
An unsuspecting banana slug crossed my path, and I, macro lens in hand, proceeded to stalk it mercilessly. BSlugs are surprisingly firm to the touch, but I cannot report on their taste, lacking the nerve to take a lick. Back in college, and undoubtedly a ruse to get freshmen to do dumb things, it was said that a lick of a banana slug was akin to taking a hit of acid.
We had another nice camp dinner and huddled around the fire, it being surprisingly cold for the time of day and the time of year.
May 04, 2008:
We woke, coffee’d, and set about breaking camp. Given how not-lightly we car-camp, this took some time, but I managed to sneak away for a few to photograph a lovely Calochortus lily, Oakland Star-tulip, I think:
Last, but not least, our enormous tent had to come down, but not before Sarah & I posed for a photo in front of it, her mother having requested such a photo to prove that we use at least most of the large amound of camping gear that they graciously allow us to store in their garage :)
Sarah & I in front of our abode
This was a very enjoyable weekend, so close to SF, yet worlds away. Although the campground was pretty full during our stay, people were mostly quiet. I look forward to our next visit to this “hidden gem.”