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2016 Trip Chronicles:    Contents
Wadell Creek, Big Basin State Park 10/29
East Wadell Creek, Big Basin State Park 11/6

2016 Trip Chronicles:  Page 16

Wadell Creek Big Basin State Park

After the Dusy Basin backpack I made 5 local day trips on weekends in September and October down to our Pacific coast shores continuing to work on my rock, stones, and sand close-up project. Very little of that work over several years has been made public and within these chronicles will not report on that large body of work. During October I had hoped to do some fall leaf work in the state however weather despite several mid week stormy periods, over each weekend was sunny and or breezy thus opted for these local trips. Then on the last weekend of the month, the forecast for Saturday was what I had been waiting for. Friday had seen a storm, moisture sourced by a tropical typhoon, the rainiest day of the month while Sunday was forecast to be breezy with a minor storm. Thus Friday evening as the short notice forecast sky cover and wind conditions became more certain, decided to work the lower Waddel Creek area of Big Basin State Park that has areas of bigleaf maple, the leaves of which turn bright yellow at this time of fall. Waddel Beach is the western terminus of the well known Skyline to Sea Trail. The beach with a large dirt parking lot is popular with surfers and the many urban people just enjoying a weekend scenic drive between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. The lower several miles where I would be hiking is also a very popular mountain bike trail because it is relatively level and even during summer temperatures are moderated due to considerable tree shade and the nearby cool ocean.


Saturday morning October 29, took a last look at weather conditions that showed cloudy, light breezes, and light showers during the morning over the lower mountain areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains and northern Santa Cruz County coastline. I pulled a pair of lightweight nylon rain pants over an old pair of Levi 501 jeans. On top wore a long sleeve cotton t-shirt with a breathable waterproof rain shell on top. Thus a bit after 9am headed out on the 45 mile drive over SR17 to Santa Cruz and then north on California Highway 1 to Waddel Beach. Upon reaching the beach at 10:15am, a light sprinkle was falling.

Given the weather, there were just a few vehicles in the lot as I locked up my Forester then set out north along the gravel road beyond a blocked gate that ends with a small visitor center. All day I would be hand carrying my A6000 camera atop a Nodal Ninja MK3 II panoramic head atop my tripod with that was safely beneath a large clear 3 mil plastic bag. The considerable rains left puddles everywhere and vegetation soggy dripping water. Vegetation including tree species within the first mile of the broad south to north trending creek canyon is rather different than what one finds further inland that is a cool lush coast redwood forest with annual precipitation 40 to 60 inches. Here near the immediate coast, coast redwoods don't grow well due to salt in the air and frequent summer fog. The bottomland is dense with boxelder, willows, and riparian undergrowth. The canyon slopes are a brushy zone of several species with considerable poison oak. Here near the immediate coast, coast redwoods don't grow due to salt in the air and frequent summer fog and the bottomland is dense with boxelder and riparian undergrowth. The canyon slopes are a brushy zone of several species with considerable poison oak. Many trees are covered with lace lichen per image right. The gravel road passes through a small area of organic farming private lands before reaching redwoods at about 1.25 miles including Alder Camp, the last of a series of reservable designated overnight backpacking camp spots.

Online topo map:,-118.96120&z=13&t=T

Road map tab:,-118.96120&z=13&t=T

From the Pacific Ocean, it is 3.0 miles to the confluence of East and West Waddel Creek where a bridge crosses the stream that is still only 100 feet above the ocean. The gravel road extends to about 2.5 miles after which it narrows to a foot trail. With mist or light rain falling, my camera remained unused while just noting areas I might work on the return leg. The forecast showed light showers would wane by midday followed by some breaks in clouds. I might have worked some subjects but even with the plastic bag and an umbrella, water and mist has a way of getting on everything. Two young college age gals in yoga pants jogged past me up the trail. Along the way several long yellow banana slugs were enjoying the uncommonly wet October and I even saw a few bright orange California newts slowly crawling across the trail.


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Beyond the bridge, the trail continues along the east side of the West Wadell Creek. Another half mile and I reached the area of bigleaf maple, acer macrophyllum, I hoped would offer subjects. Anywhere maples grew, their bright yellow leaves could be seen through the often dense forest. Thus at one point climbed down off the trail into a soft surface of redwood forest debris, redwood sorrel, and ferns, making my way about 100 feet to the creek edge. There I found an aesthetic subject I worked from two different spots using my Sigma 19mm DN lens including the image above. The still live tree had apparently toppled over years ago when young and thin, bridging the stream channel. It then commenced to grow with its crown on the west bank near ground level. The main trunk itself now about now 18 inches in diameter on this east bank, gradually over years grew widening and due to gravity curved in a sagging arc downward. Bright green moss, tiny ferns, fungi, and a few fallen maple leaves covered its trunk and branches. On the west side of the stream several live branches bore bright yellow leaves. Here and there sword ferns covered the slopes interspersed by green leaves of small redwoods. Below the main trunk maple leaves spotted the water and dim wet rocks plus a few coastal wood ferns including one at frame lower left. The 4 silhouetted thin trunks frame left are young redwoods. By time I completed the two images, showers stopped for good.

The next image at page top was shot from a perspective near the trunk base. From there the small ferns starting to grow out of the trunk are more apparent. On the far side, mossy dead branches spread out with an impactful graphic like spider legs.


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I continued a modest distance further up the trail before turning around. It was now midday 1pm PDT and increasing numbers of other hikers and mountain bikers were now making an appearance. I stopped at a nice slightly curving leafy trail section surrounded by bigleaf maple making the above image that includes a somewhat dim section of West Waddel Creek at frame right. It well captures the wet saturated forest one experiences on a wet cloudy day when the bright yellow maple leaves add colorful beauty to what one might otherwise expect is a hopelessly dim soggy day.


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Continuing back down the trail, I ventured over to the work a fourth last image of the stream bridging maple. Above is a 2 row 2 column stitch blend image with bright mossy roots of the maple in the right lower foreground. Such streamside roots were once below ground level but stream erosion during flooding decades ago washed away band side soil leaving exposed roots. Many riparian tree species have adapted well to such difficult conditions. At frame mid right, notice the 4 branches rising perpendicular at the trunk base that obviously began growing sometime after the tree toppled? Above the visible image those live branches have leaves. Also notice how the large stump frame mid right, laying in the water on its side and covered by fallen maple leaves of another redwood, apparently lodged in the roots against the bank such that its large mass has apparently helped stabilize the bridge tree protecting it from high stream flows that might otherwise have eroded the bank further then washed the tree downstream. It only takes a few days for freshly fallen bright yellow leaves to change to brown. In the otherwise dim wet stream channel, even those brown leaves add a bright aesthetic element to this wet landscape.


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Back beyond the bridge I continued on to a section I once again had to climb down a steep drop off the trail to access. By time I sauntered through soggy wet ferns and over several fallen boxelder trunks reaching the creek, it was obvious the effort was well worth it. A clogged mat of floating fallen maple leaves would form my near foreground while I maximized bright yellow leafy areas of the maple to fill the top of my horizontal frame. I positioned the main branch of the maple to the top left corner. A nice bonus nearly hidden top frame left are two coast redwoods of which their trunks are dim though visible through an opening. The needle leaves of the redwood have a distinctive bluish green hue that contrasts with the yellow green of still green maple leaves. And below the redwood, fallen leaf needles that would normally be a drab brown, here due to being soggy wet, are a more saturated reddish brown. Beyond the maple branches frame right are sword ferns on the steep slope. And last I set my frame to include just a little of the lush green streamside plants frame lower right.


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After managing to claw my way up the steep slope back up to the trail, I rambled on south to my last location I would work this fine day. By now mid afternoon, many more groups were only now hiking up the trail. A dense brush and tree zone with poison oak, toxicodendron diversilobum, made venturing off the trail treacherously limited. I was intent in working one particularly tree covered by climbing poison oak branches I had admired during past hikes up this creek. It was only now I had optimal diffuse light conditions and fall leaf color to work the subject. With my patience waning on this day, I declined pulling out my 30mm lens for a multi row column stitch and instead kept the 19mm on I'd been content with all day in order to take a single focus stack frame. The poison oak leaves in fall turn pale yellow to deep red and all shades between. I avoid touching any part of the plants live or dead as am one to readily develop a rash and its unpleasant week plus annoying itch. It was a mere 2 days from Halloween evening and the frame above captures the scary bramble brew in spades. The dark redwood trunk encased in the climbing poison oak vines conjures up an evil presence. I had to limit the height of the frame because just above areas of much lighter sky shown through branches that the camera sensor would blow out with.


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Not done with the poison oak on this trail section, I next carefully stepped off the trail and around to work the subject above that is also a subject fit for Halloween. The bizarre twisting mossy branches of some dormant leafless tree is surrounded by areas of poison oak with their nicely colorful leaves. The wet day with diffuse cloud light also made this the perfect time to set down my tripod. For this I did remove the 19mm and put on the Sigma 30mm DN and captured a 3 column single row stitch. Focus stacking using manual focus for this much like the previous image is absolutely essential because of the considerable branching that would make spot auto focus useless. A skill on intimate landscapes like this is learning to choose all the focus points. At frame right one can see areas of red beyond the branches that is a large patch of poison oak where the trail goes through. Nicely there are a lot of fallen red leaves lower frame right that mix with the green herbs that likely just arose a few weeks before given the early rains this very wet October.

Continuing towards the trailhead, I increased my pace returning the last couple miles back to the beach. And have to say the bottom of my feet were rather sore from the 7 mile day showing how my fitness had deteriorated over the several lazy weeks since my Dusy Basin backpack. Heck I'm senior citizen now as that is just another small sign that my body isn't as hardy as it used to be.

East Wadell Creek Big Basin State Park

The following Friday night a weaker storm visited with partial cloudy skies lingering into Saturday morning. After working Big Basin State Park the previous weekend with encouraging results, other areas of the park I'd studied rose in interest. I needed cloudy skies but looking at NWS satellite info that morning Saturday November 6, showed partially cloudy skies with most clouds thin. Not very promising however I also needed some exercise with our winter ski season approaching and the drive was only 28 miles thus an easy choice. Arriving at the main park headquarters area late morning, paid the $9 senior parking fee, and set out making a quick tour around the short Nature Loop where several of the park's oldest redwoods rise.


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The 18,000 acre park has the largest remaining stands of old growth coast redwoods, sequoia sempervirens, totaling 10,800 acres, in the region and is the oldest state park in California. The park was established in 1902 after intensive efforts by the Sempervirens Club. Before loggers decimated the forests, redwoods covered much of the Santa Cruz Mountains and also around parts of the east hills of San Francisco Bay. I stopped to work The Father of the Forest, a 251 foot tall 18.47 foot diameter at breast height giant, the widest in the park. Imagine three 6 foot tall prone men stretched across the lower trunk? At right in the background is The Mother of the Forest, a 293 foot tall redwood that used to be the tallest tree in the park until a storm blew its top off. There are another 14 trees now taller in the park with the tallest 328 feet.


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After crossing Opal Creek on the Skyline to Sea Trail, I diverged south onto the Pine Mountain Trail and stopped along the way to photograph the above fungi growing on a recently snapped off tree from its trunk. Given the best October rains in several years, fungi will be abundant this rainy season and are often found on recently fallen tree branches and trunks where bark is missing opening up freshly exposed nutrients like the above. The redwood forest along Opal Creek that is Big Basin proper and where most visitors camp, picnic, and hike, has an understory of dense huckleberry brush and tanbark oak trees with few wildflowers even during spring including a floor without any redwood sorrel that one normally sees in redwood forests. My suspicion is that is the result of decades of human visitation trampling areas below trees and digging up of plants to be brought back to home gardens. If one hikes a mile and one half north along the creek that is beyond roads, facilities and most visitor hiking, redwood sorrel and wildflowers reappear. The Meteor Trail in particular has nice areas of sorrel, starflower and trillium.


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Reaching the confluence of Opal and Bloom Creeks, I followed East Wadell Creek downstream along the Middle Ridge paved road that leads via a spur to the park's sanitation tanks. Past the spur a dirt road continues up towards the ridge. After a minor distance is a junction with a very lightly used or maintained foot trail that then descends down to East Wadell Creek. I been on the trail once before hunting fetid adder's-tongue that I found grow along the stream. And also recalled bigleaf maple that indeed began to show with their bright yellow hued fall color change leaves. Getting down to the creek from the trail is a rather awkward obstacle course but there is one excellent stretch where the stream routes over aesthetic smooth miocene epoch sandstone bedrock. With stream flows already subsided from storm flows, I could walk all over the stream bed including easily crossing the stream. The above image required carefully walking out on wet slimy boulders. A big clump of coastal wood ferns is at foreground left. Beyond the bright yellow maple leaves are several dark trunks of second growth redwoods as this was a logged over zone. The enlarged vertical slice view shows how this shaded image has much more interesting detail than the downsized image allows.


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This next image above shows a shallow bedrock pool with a willow species with bright light yellow leaves at frame left. At frame upper right upstream are yellows of bigleaf maples. A large sandstone boulder covered with moss and ferns is at mid frame right showing the lush temperate nature of this environment.


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Soon afterward clouds thinned even more with sun causing harsh contrasting light. Thus explored a couple more hours downstream before heading back. This final image above shows a pleasant stream pool with two young lichen and fungi covered bigleaf maple trunks left. In front of the trunks at frame bottom right is a sword fern. When I reached the parking lot it was mid afternoon on this Sunday a solid 6 hours of out exploring.

2016 Trip Chronicles:    Contents

   David Senesac

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