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North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve 4/8
North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve 4/9

2018 Trip Chronicles:  Page 2

North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

With storms moving through every few days with good Tahoe snow conditions, I continued to ski frequently through March and into early April that was increasingly just looping Little Dipper moguls at Heavenly. With forecasts showing a day or two of light winds, I considered a visit to North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve on Tuesday April 2. But upon receiving some information from the CNPS group for that region, decided to wait a bit more. Later that week saw some images of fine conditions posted from a March 30 visit and regretted doing so. An especially warm wet storm occurred Friday Saturday that forecasts expected to be followed by a sunny breezy day Sunday and calmest day Monday with another smaller storm to follow. However by sunrise Saturday it was apparent the storm had moved through faster pushing east with following mostly sunny cold breezy conditions likely to accomplish drying out soggy flowers I had expected to occur Sunday. Thus drove north Saturday evening, sleeping overnight inside my Forester near my brother's Vacaville home. Then Sunday April 8, 2018 at dawn drove off towards Oroville, arriving about 8:30am and by 9:40am was out on the preserve with about a couple dozen vehicles already at the parking lot and spilling onto little Cherokee Road.

North Table Mountain is a generally level plateau of hard black volcanic basalt rock where erosion has cut ravines into. From late February through April there is a succession of wildflower species with flower landscapes changing quickly week to week. Thus timing a visit is key. The most showy species are poppies, purple owls clover, goldfields, gilia, and lupine all of which tend to peak together between the last week of March and first week of April. Many visitors come to view the several waterfalls that have small drainage basins and accordingly should be visited within a few days of storms. However one that also wishes to view wildflowers will not want to visit during or immediately after a storm because plants and especially flowers take a day or so to straighten up after being pounded by rain. Also there are numerous mushy areas in the impervious basalt landscape where surface water is slow to drain off after rains and are often difficult to avoid walking through. Additionally of concern to any photographers that wish to capture static subjects not moving about, the open exposed plateau sticks out at the edge of the Sacramento Valley so is quite subject to wind thus visiting on days when breezes are manageable is important. A day without any breezes at all would be rare during March.

The following is the official DF&G reserve web site:
California DF&G North Table Mtn ER web page

The Chico Hiking Organization link below has an excellent map of the reserve: Select the pdf Hike Map that I would highly recommend printing out and carrying during visits as there are few recognizable objects in some areas to orient with given the somewhat level topography.

This Sunday was obviously going to be the biggest visitor day at the reserve this spring with nice sunny skies, light breezes, and peak conditions many regional weekend free wildflower enthusiasts on local news grapevines had now heard about. A DF&G person was seated at a table near the entrance gate answering questions and informing people about the new $5 fee policy that will be required for future visits. As someone with a pricy $48 California fishing license, I was already valid. With 2 trail miles downhill to hike, I set out with a fast walking pace passing other groups heading down on the soggy sometimes muddy wide track to the most popular waterfall and flower area of the park at Hollow Falls. Wildflowers in this initial zone appeared given the late rains, less advanced with less color variety than I'd seen in the past. Some of the late succession species like Kellogg's monkeyflower were still absent. Beyond the spectacular 45 foot waterfall the trail within the riparian canyon became increasingly soggy as I often chose to walk to the side of the trail where there were fewer deep water filled mucky cattle hoof holes. It appeared I was the first person venturing beyond the falls this day though it was obvious numbers had done so on Saturday. At the familiar flower slopes I had last worked in 2016, color conditions appeared optimal and peaking so I was relieved to have made the decision not going the previous week. Purple owls clover was the best I'd ever seen while foothill poppies less prominent and late succession species fewer. I waisted about 45 minutes trying to work the canyon live oak subject at page top but gave up due to the slight though consistent breeze.


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I would need to work subjects below the rim of the ravine where breezes flowing from the south and southwest were more variable. Thus my first subject at 11:20am was the above south westerly view about one third of the way below the rim with a dense patch of vibrant purple owl's clover, castelleja exserta, bird's-eye gilia, gilia tricolor, and sky lupine, lupinus nanus, with a few solitary oaks rising in the distance among lush green slopes and patches of yellow, blue, and white flowers across the ravine.


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For the next hour walked about surveying possible subjects while the breeze slowly waned. The creek flow volume was greater than I'd seen in the past with denser flower patches close its waters than I'd seen in the past. Thus next at 12:25pm worked this 3 column stitch blend subject of a vibrant patch of purple owl's clover and sky lupine with the stream flowing through the dark angular basalt rock at middle ground. With the light breeze making foregrounds tedious to capture focus stack frame, I would be using my wider 30mm lens most of this day taking a quarter fewer shots versus my 60mm lens.


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A half hour later worked the above 2 column stitch of another flower plus stream subject though with foothill poppy, eschscholzia caespitosa, in the lower right foreground. Note the tall digger pine with branches up into the sky frame upper mid right. The needles are brown and trunk blackened. A wildfire the previous October had raced across most of the preserve and its ravines charring minor numbers of trees, burning dried moss, dried grasses, and in the oak woodland ravines undergrowth. In the open wildflower areas, the only elements visually apparent were scattered darker black erosion debris between basalt rocks and flower patches. In the woodland areas was considerable charred undergrowth while most trees were just a wee charred indicating the fire had crept across landscapes at low intensities. The released ash nutrient minerals were a reason some species like owl's clover were stronger than I'd seen in past years. So this visit was an opportunity to capture best conditions that would not occur again for years even after ideally wet winters.


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This next subject, a 3 column stitch blend, above shot at 1:10pm had the best mix of species at a location that had never looked close to as good in the past. With all the recent rains the background woodland of canyon live oak, valley oak, and blue oak was particularly lush green. Note some of the oaks with a yellow green canopy. Those are canyon live oaks with catkins appearing later than other trees already leafed out. In all these images, green leaves and stems of plants between flowers contains much alien filaree plants. Most had bloomed weeks earlier probably in February, lost their small pink flowers, and gone to seed with their unique spiral seed spears. Usually at this stage such filaree have lost much chlorophyll drying to an unaesthetic yellow green. However given the 10 to 15 inches of rain the plateau received in March, all those plants had remained quite green adding a better lush aesthetic to subjects.


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Per above image 4 column stitch blend, further out from the ravine rim, wildflowers expanded out across the level plateau. The yellow patch frame center are goldfields that are usually well past peak by April 8.


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With breezes again increasing making focus stack work tedious, at 2pm worked this landscape at a stream junction. On the far side of the main stream is a California buckeye with dense green foliage. The patch of yellow above left are common monkeyflower as that slope was quite wet with seeping water. The white patch of flower across the stream from the buckeye, are popcorn flowers. Somewhat camouflaged by flowers, the foreground flat was actually very bumpy with small basalt rocks thus a reason flowers are a bit sparse. Within the stream areas are a more lush green water plant that blooms late spring.


With the modest breeze difficult, I removed my boots then waded across the shallow stream, then climbed up to the far ravine rim where with plants shaking took the above single shot information image with a birds-eye gilia foreground across the receding landscapes. A few more clouds were now forming over these Sierra Nevada foothills.


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Moving down from the ravine rim at 2:50pm worked the above with a dense foreground patch of California goldfields, lasthenia californica, birds-eye gilia, popcorn flower, plagiobothrys nothofolvus, and sky lupine. Mid ground atop basalt rock are yellow hued dwarf stonecrop, parvisedum pumilum. Across the ravine offers a broader view of the extensive ravine flower slopes. Few owl's clover or poppies grow on these shadier slopes. During this Sunday I had seen many more groups of people at these more distant from the parking lot slopes than in the past, no doubt the result of social media and people reporting to others along the trail to popular Hollow Falls where they had gone.

The rest of the afternoon I explored some areas I had never ventured into and with the breeze stronger did not take any more images this Sunday while hoping Monday would be better. Before leaving for the return hike to the parking lot, I did a refreshing torso dunk in the creek as I had decided to sleep in the Subaru overnight versus getting a motel. At the parking lot, were more people and cars than I'd ever seen at the reserve, with most backed up south along Cherokee Road for over half a mile.

Up at dawn, Monday April 9, 2018, I was out at the reserve much earlier this weekday with only a couple other vehicles in the parking lot. Sunny skies were clearer with a slight early morning breeze. Thus was out on the route reaching the same flower zone about 10am. The slight breeze was increasing slowing my work yet again. This morning was able to capture the image shown at page top though did not process those image since I nailed a better set later in the afternoon.


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Above at 11am shows dense patch of sky lupine in front of an aesthetic basalt outcrop with dense flowers. The well hidden by lupine plants use trail runs across this frame from about 60% height frame edge left to 40% frame edge right. Note the barbed wire fence frame edge right. Old decaying cattle fences are common across the reserve and would best be removed. Although cattle are beneficial to the wildflower ecology of the reserve, I do think there are too many about during the spring bloom period of March through mid April when soils are so soft and wet.


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With the breeze threatening to repeat shooting difficulties, I chose to work subjects lower down in more protected areas of the ravine, out of the wind flow that was stronger on top of the plateau. The above at 11:45am is a nice mix of features looking up the stream. The orientation is rather backlit with sun above left that enhances color saturation of flowers but also reflects a light blue on the stream waters. Notice how the foothill poppies tend to colonize areas at edges of bare basalt rock piles. Frame lower left are a few blue dicks, dichelostemma capitatum.


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This next image above is similar to the previous image at another location looking up the stream ravine.


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With increasing breezes and hazy clouds increasing spent the next 3 hours at one of the least visited areas of the reserve due to blocking ravine topography. By about 2:30pm the wind was dying down while skies cleared up to more saturated blues. I thus headed back hoping for a chance to shoot a few important subjects. This image above at 3pm was from beside a small side stream on an area of bare basalt looking up at the colorful flower covered basalt outcrops. With calmer air that is necessary for focus stacking, I might have worked many excellent close-up and intimate subjects.

At a late 3:40pm was able to optimally capture the image at page top of a small canyon live oak, quercus chrysolepis, amid a riot of dense wildflowers. I had worked this same subject area on previous trips including 4x5 film a decade earlier, but today the subject, especially the dazzling peaking purple owl's clover, castelleja exserta was better than I'd ever witnessed. Although the processed image is impressive, actually standing at the scene was simply mesmerizing to this person that has seen so much.


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At 4pm added this single frame image of aesthetic geometry with some dwarf stonecrop, parvisedum pumilum, in the foreground. Less showy among grasses is another owls clover, the white hued valley tassels, castilleja attenuata, that blooms late season. This year with the late rains, there were several times more of these plants than during my past visits.


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It was now 4:15pm with poppies starting to close up. I wanted one more photo of the by now well defined use trail through a flowery landscape. So chose this above section above. Each year such a foot pounded trail will occur at different locations. I began my return hike choosing a more difficult crosscountry route in order to view some obscure locations I'd explored in past years.


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The plateau has a modest number of small vernal pools plus several smaller pools that drain off within a few days of heavy rains. The above 2 wide horizontal stitch image using my Sigma 19mm wide angle lens is of one of the latter. Note the recently drowned filaree plants. Cattle tend to feed at such places and over time have left many flat depressions covered by almost pure filaree. The more lasting vernal pools and seep areas contain white hued meadowfoam, white-tipped clover, yellow hued seep monkeyflower, and buttercups.


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The plateau areas have numbers of rockier basalt flats dominated by yellow hued species, here at 5:30pm with a mid foreground of California goldfields, lasthenia californica, and mid frame dwarf stonecrop.


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It was just before 6pm when I reached another important ravine above where I always find best foothill poppy displays. Poppies were all closed up or nearly so. The breeze had increased again as I captured this last shot with difficulty. It gave me a good reason to return in about a week however that turned out to be futile so this was one landscape with beautiful combinations of color I came up short on. At the trailhead were a few vehicles of remaining visitors while some cars were still parked a few hundred yards up the road indicating an impressive number of visitors had still shown up on this workday Monday.

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   David Senesac
   email: info@davidsenesac.com

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