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2019 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

Pacheco Pass State Park 1/26

2019 Trip Chronicles:  Page 1

Pacheco Pass State Park

By the third week of January 2019, I was back home on a Wednesday after returning from my 12th day of skiing this winter. After spending Friday "hiking" the downtown hilly streets of San Francisco, on Saturday decided to make an early visit to Pacheco Pass State Park, a 61 mile drive south. Rainfall this rainy season in that area was moderately above average with recent rains certain to have made landscapes very green and moist. With early wildflower species about to rise, I was interested in verifying that as well as work some blue oak subjects before they began sprouting new leaves that was just a couple weeks away.

Arriving at the state park gravel parking lot about 10:30am was surprised a few other cars were already there. Although it was Saturday when working people are more likely to visit the park, during winter people tend to arrive late. I never saw any of them and suspect they were hiking the popular Spikes Peak Trail. I filled out the fee envelope containing a $10 bill, pushed it into the iron cylinder slot, then drove off 1/4 mile to the nearby San Luis Reservoir Wildlife area parking lot across from the park road entrance. To access the Dinosaur Lake Trail from there, one enters an unsigned gate in the fence.

High clouds and heavy marine air muted the blue skies while temperatures here a bit below 2000 feet were cool in the 50F's that had me wearing a light windshell atop a couple cotton t-shirts. Within a half hour I had reached a familiar area of windswept blue oaks and then spent another half hour making a few 1080p videos. The better light on these ridge line oaks is in the afternoon as the wind direction during summer that shapes these trees is from west to east where heavy cool marine air flows over the Coast Range displacing lighter hot Central Valley air. And that is why there is a wind farm in the eastern area of the park.

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This first image above is a partial side view of a tree looking north showing the intricate twisting branching of such blue oak, quercus douglassi. Instead of a vertical trunk, these trees quickly loop in a bend away from the wind direction until the trunk reaches down to the ground where it will then rise again, thus a sine wave shaped trunk form. In that way trees have extra support against the ground. The second most common tree in this windy grassland savanna are coast live oak that has a similar trunk sine wave form. In a month, most of these deciduous blue oaks will be covered with new light yellow-green leaves that will hide branches and decrease their most interesting aesthetic. By April the leaf color with increasing chlorophyll will be a darker green slightly blue. Within a couple weeks dense patches of padres shooting stars will rise in these same areas adding to a brief aesthetic period when branches are bare amid wildflowers. Many of the blue oak also have evergreen mistletoe. Evergreen coast live oak and especially deciduous California buckeyes in this area have more impressive displays of lichen. Note a few still attached brown leaves that have not yet fallen. The grasses on my visit had just begun rising within the month and will have grown much taller by mid March that is usually the peak of several wildflower species while the shooting stars peak in late February.

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Above image of another blue oak shows it full windswept crown shape. Note how this tree does not however have the sine wave trunk to ground form. Most of the newly rising grasses are still below height of last winter's blond dried crop. A small herd of elk along with deer, graze this eastern section of the park that has a barbed wire fence to keep out cattle that are allowed to graze western fenced sections of the park. During this day, numbers of cattle were in the fenced section beside the park entrance road and I did see the elk in the distance reclining on a sunny hill side.

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And yet another blue oak showing its full windswept crown shape. This tree does have the sine wave trunk form. Note the smooth curve of the canopy that when leafed out forms an efficient form to deflect strong summer winds.

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Above worked at 1:45pm is another partial side view of a blue oak and this tree has two trunks bending down to the ground. Note the considerable light cyan lichen on the branch at frame right that tend to grow on sunny exposures of branches. As a single digit aged kid living northeast of Sacramento, we kids endlessly climbed 3 species of oaks and this specimen would have been tons of fun. And as an adult photographer, what a fine spot for a group to sit leaning up against the trunk and branches for lunch.

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By 2pm I was on my return hike and in a stream ravine below a California buckeye, found a couple of its large brown seeds that have germanated amid a damp dewy matrix of grasses and rising herbs. Upon rains, the large 2 to 3 inch diameter capsule containing the seed, splits in half opening and a whitish yellow root bends down into the ground to become a new tree root. Part of a capsule shows here behind the left seed.

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Where the trail routes to the west above the Dinosaur Point Road beside modest sandstone cliffs, is a most interesting section of plants. Above is a canyon gooseberry, ribes menziesii, with its dainty flowers dangling below branches though only a few have fully escaped their buds. Many of our perennial shrubs bloom as soon as rains occur.

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Sections of the sandstone cliffs are covered by lichens, especially colorful orange hued lichen, and on ledges dense miner's lettuce, claytonia perfoliata, and mosses. The juicy wet leaves and stems of miner's lettuce are delicious plus a good source of vitamin C and I ate several handfuls this day. The plant grows densely in shades, especially under all trees in the park. In a couple weeks its small white flowers will appear.

My next image of these cliffs showcasing the most orange rock surface, a 3 column stitch blended image, is at page top. Be sure to look at the enlarged vertical slice view link showing the fine detail in this 9400 by 6000 pixel image.

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At about 3pm I worked my final image above on this easy day. An old decaying buckeye tree stump surrounded by wet dewy miner's lettuce. Lichen, colorful fungi, and moss grow on the damp wood plus at wood center, a few sprouting leaves of miner's lettuce that have yet to expand their leaves.

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2019 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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