Gary Valle's Photography on the Run
Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2014 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
# Tuesday, June 05, 2012

With a solar eclipse, lunar eclipse and transit of Venus all occurring over a 17 day period, my trail running has taken on a definite astronomical bent.

Low clouds prevented local viewing of the lunar eclipse, but the May 20 solar eclipse was fantastic. And as a result of a series of interpretive programs offered by Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, I was able to view the transit of Venus this afternoon, while doing one of my regular trail runs in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch).

Local astronomer & volunteer naturalist Pat McQuaid setup his 11" Celestron telescope on one of the Park's hilltops, a short distance from the trailhead. With proper filtration and a wide field eyepiece, the image of the planet's disk crossing the Sun's face was spectacular! The image seen through his telescope was similar to this NASA - Johnston Space Center photo from the ISS.

The weather was perfect for an afternoon walk (or run), and many people made the half-mile trek.

The transit of Venus across the Sun's face is a rare event, occurring only a couple times a century. So thank you SMMC, MRCA and naturalist Pat for the opportunity see it in the middle of a trail run!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012 8:26:30 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, June 03, 2012

A rabbit waits at the top of Cheeseboro Canyon

I don't think I've ever seen as many rabbits on a run. It seemed that every few strides another rabbit, or two or three rabbits, would pop up on the trail.

Cottontails have a peculiar behavior when people approach. When one sees me running toward it, it will often watch and wait..., watch and wait... It's almost like the rabbit is waiting to see just how close I'll approach. Usually when I'm about 10-12 feet away -- sometimes closer -- it will break for an established escape path. Then just a foot or two into the brush, it will stop again. If you stop and stand very still, many times a rabbit "on pause" will just sit there, 3 to 4 feet away.

Rabbits aren't always so calm. One time I was running down Las Virgenes Canyon and a ground squirrel and rabbit were on the road about 25 yards ahead of me. They must have been preoccupied with each other because when the squirrel finally noticed me, it panicked and bolted toward the rabbit. That caused the rabbit to freak. The rabbit launched like a rocket, just as the squirrel collided with it. The resulting visual was of a rabbit eight feet in the air with a ground squirrel spinning off-kilter below it!

From this morning's Cheeseboro Canyon Loop from the Victory Trailhead of Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve).

Related post: Classic Cheeseboro Canyon

Sunday, June 03, 2012 3:45:42 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 02, 2012

Area near Mt. Islip burned in the 2002 Curve Fire

The photograph above is of an area on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Islip that was burned ten years ago in the 2002 Curve Fire. Here's another photograph of an area along the PCT near Throop Peak that was also burned in the Curve Fire. These are from last weekend's trail run.

The forest conditions are quite a bit different in each case. The Mt. Islip trees are on a cooler northeast-facing slope that was densely forested, and the Throop Peak trees are on a warmer, more open, south-facing slope. But in both cases you can see numerous pines, from small seedlings to young trees two to three feet tall.

Reforestation doesn't happen overnight, but nature is remarkably resilient, and as long as an area is not burned too frequently, many forests are able to recover from fire with minimal intervention.

However, the process of recovery is multi-faceted and complex. It may involve varying degrees of regrowth and succession. In some cases, such as in the blast zone of Mt. St. Helens, the ecosystem has to be effectively bootstrapped, and seemingly restored from scratch.

Ultimately the mature forest that results from these processes will be comprised of an ecosystem -- and vegetation -- suitable for the array of climatic and other factors present at the time.

Attempts to shortcut this process are not often successful -- such as the recent attempt to plant nearly one million seedlings in the Station Fire burn area. An Angeles National Forest official is quoted in an April 7, 2012 Los Angeles Times story as saying, "When we planted seedlings, conditions were ideal in terms of soil composition and temperature, rainfall and weather trends." Beyond the criticisms outlined in the story did anyone in the Forest Service consider that La Nina conditions were present, and there was a good chance La Nina conditions would be present during the 2011-2012 rain season -- along with a likelihood of below normal precipitation?

Saturday, June 02, 2012 3:04:51 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, May 30, 2012

California bluebell (Phacelia minor)

Like Turricula (Poodle-dog bush)*, California bluebell (Phacelia minor) has been shown to cause a contact dermatitis similar to poison oak. The results from one study suggest the "dermatotoxic potential" of California bluebell approaches that of poison ivy/oak and that it is more likely to produce a reaction than Turricula.

Fortunately California bluebell doesn't appear to be as prolific a fire follower as Turricula and is a much smaller plant.

The photograph is from a trail run in May.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), "... molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term "subfamily") that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon." I use "Turricula" and "Poodle-dog bush" interchangeably as a common name.

Related post: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi - Poodle-dog Bush and these additional posts.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 3:04:11 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, May 28, 2012

Glistening in the morning sun, this 1.5" high piece of melting rime caught my eye as I was running along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins. Fortunately no PCTers came bounding down the trail while I was sprawled across it taking this photograph!

The linear structure of the accreted ice can still be seen. Rime builds on the windward side of an object as wind-driven supercooled water droplets come in contact with a surface whose temperature is below freezing. This piece of rime had fallen from a tree.

From Sunday's run on the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell.

Monday, May 28, 2012 7:27:27 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, May 27, 2012

Fallen rime around a white fir

As I ran across the ice my footfalls made a loud crunch, crunch, crunch. Nearby a barrage of rime cascaded from a white fir. Friday's cold system had rimed the trees along the crest, and now the ice was thawing, shedding from the branches and creating a patchwork of white beneath the trees. The ice wasn't dense but I still didn't want a large chunk falling on my head!

The cutoff upper level low that moved into Southern California Friday really cooled things down. The Big Pines RAWS (6917') recorded an overnight low of 26°F Friday night. It was even colder in the Sierra. A snow sensor at 11,400' in the Kern River headwaters recorded an overnight low of 12°F. Most of yesterday the temperature at Big Pines was in the 40s.

I was running on one of the most scenic segments of trail in the mountains of Southern California -- the Pacific Crest Trail between Mt. Hawkins and Mt. Baden-Powell. There are three trail runs I like to do that include this stretch: Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle on the PCT, the Islip Saddle - South Fork - Baden-Powell Loop, and the route I was doing today, the Out and Back to Mt. Baden-Powell from Islip Saddle.

Warmer weather was forecast today, but this morning it had been cool and blustery at Islip Saddle. The temperature in the sun-warmed -- but windy -- parking lot had been around 43°F. In the shade of Mt. Islip at the start of the run the temperature felt like it was in the 30s. It had taken a while to warm up chugging up the first long hill.

It was the first time this season I'd been on this stretch of trail and I wondered if any well-shaded patches of snow had managed to survive on the north side of the crest near Mt. Baden-Powell. I doubted it. The Mt. Waterman ski area never opened this year, and there had already been several periods of warm weather. There would probably be some remnants of snow on the north side of Mt. Baldy.

It was PCT season. Islip Saddle is at about the 386 mile mark on the Pacific Crest Trail and PCTers hiking the trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border usually do this section of trail sometime in May. There were a number of PCTers on the trail, including a couple of guys that appeared to be fast-packing the PCT. Their packs looked light, and they were really booking on the downhill west of Mt. Hawkins. (For well done, downloadable PDF maps of the PCT -- with notes -- check out Halfmile's Pacific Crest Trail Maps and GPS Information.)

Although chilly at the start, the weather was near perfect for running and I had expected to see at least a couple of groups of runners training for the AC100. There were only about six or seven long run weekends remaining before this hundred miler. I did see one AC100 runner -- twice. He was on day two of a three day Memorial Day training stint that would total some 90 miles. Now that is serious training!

Sunday, May 27, 2012 3:27:18 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, May 20, 2012

Narrative about 2012 solar eclipse

Some things in nature are supposed to be constant. The ground shouldn't move; a mountain that is here today should be here tomorrow; and if skies are clear and blue, the sun shouldn't grow mysteriously dim.

Imagine the consternation of our early ancestors, keenly attune to nature, feeling the sun dim and then looking for a cloud they could not find. There is still much of them in us. When the earth shakes or the sun fades, even moderately, we can't help but react at the most visceral level.

While ee still can't predict an earthquake with any certainty, we can predict eclipses. Fred Espenak's NASA Eclipse Web Site includes maps and tables for several millennia of solar and lunar eclipses. Using the web site's JavaScript Solar Eclipse Explorer you can find the solar eclipses that will be (or have been) visible at a particular location, as well as the type of eclipse, it's magnitude, and when it will start, end, and reach its maximum. In 2002 I used the Eclipse Web site to plan a trail run to coincide with the June 10 solar eclipse. This afternoon I was doing another eclipse run -- the north side loop on Boney Mountain.

Perched on rocky ledge on the western ridge of Boney Mountain, I watched as the light on the landscape became increasingly muted. At the eclipse's maximum almost 80% of the sun's area would be obscured and about 85% of its width. The descending veil was tangible. I could not only see it, I could feel it. Even though I understood what was occurring, and that it would not last, ancestral fears were welling up and whispering, "Something is wrong..."

As the time of maximum eclipse approached, bird songs increased as if it was dusk. The wind, which had been blowing in fits and starts began to blow steadily from the west. The temperature dropped another degree or two.

Once the eclipse's maximum had passed, I continued to work up the ridge, enjoying the extraordinary light. I hoped my wife was getting some good shots of the eclipse in our backyard. Many eclipse viewers are so focused on the sky, they don't notice the spectacular lensed images projected on the ground and elsewhere by sunlight filtering through trees. The gaps between the leaves of a tree work like a giant pinhole lens, with a focal length of many feet. In the case of the trees in our backyard this produced images of the eclipsed sun 10 inches or more in diameter. Lensed eclipse images were also projected by  sunlight filtering through the chaparral on Boney Mountain.

I topped out on the western ridge around 7:10 and jogged up to the high point between the western and eastern ridges. Across the way three fellow eclipse watchers were on Tri-Peaks, and it sounded like there was a party over on Sandstone Peak. Even with the sun low on the western horizon, you could feel its intensity returning. Only about one-third of the sun was now obscured, and minutes before sunset -- about 7:43 -- the eclipse would end.

Marine layer haze and long shadows were filling the valleys as I began the second half of my eclipse adventure -- running down the eastern ridge and trying to reach the trailhead before it was pitch black. Much of the route was illuminated by the setting sun, and I was able to get past most of the technical running and down to the Danielson cabin site before it became difficult to see. Once on Danielson road the bright western sky provided enough light to run. I made good time down to the creek in Upper Sycamore Canyon and then pushed up the road to Satwiwa. Just enough light remained to run the connecting single track back to the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Sunday, May 20, 2012 3:07:39 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, May 18, 2012

Sculpted rock at vernal pool on Rocky Peak

Sculpted rock at vernal pool on Rocky Peak.

From a run in April.

Friday, May 18, 2012 3:54:28 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch killed by 2005 Topanga Fire

The collapsed tree above is number 75 of 80 dead oaks counted on a 7.5 mile loop encompassing much of Ahmanson Ranch. The trees were burned in the 2005 Topanga Fire. Most of the trees were valley oaks, but some coast live oaks were also burned.

Most of the oaks in the Ahmanson Ranch area survived the fire, but perhaps as many as one in 20 trees were killed or severely injured. Of those that were severely burned, a small number, such as the valley oak above, attempted to replace its foliage through the process of epicormic sprouting.

Oaks that lost all of their foliage generally survived in proportion to the number of epicormic sprouts they were able to produce. Those that produced only a few epicormic sprouts generally succumbed after 3-4 years. Oaks with numerous epicormic sprouts generally survived.

Although Tree 75 didn't make it, most of the surrounding trees survived the fire. And if you look next to Tree 75 you'll see that its progeny, a young valley oak, appears to be doing well.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012 9:48:04 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, May 07, 2012

The photograph above is of an example of a bizarre malformation in plants known as stem fasciation -- in this case in Turricula/Eriodictyon parryi (Poodle-dog bush). The normally round stem of the plant has been transformed into a thick ribbon-like structure, many times the size of a normal stem. The photo is from a recent trail run in an area burned by the 2009 Station Fire.

This is the second time I've found a plant with a fasciated stem in a burn area. The first was at Sage Ranch following the 2005 Topanga Fire. In this case the fasciated stem of a wreath plant (Stephanomeria) was a contorted spiral several feet tall.

There are many mechanisms which are reported to cause fasciation; among them a bacterium, stress, chemical or mechanical damage, and inheritance. It may or may not be coincidence that both of these examples were found in burn areas -- about two and a half years into recovery in the case of the Turricula, and a year in the case of the wreath plant.

Monday, May 07, 2012 10:58:19 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, April 27, 2012

Clearing rainstorm at Ahmanson Ranch

Usually April isn't a particularly wet month in Southern California. Normal April rainfall at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) runs less than one inch --  0.91 inch by 1981-2010 standards.

Wednesday night into Thursday the third rainstorm of the month produced 0.49 inch of rain at Downtown Los Angeles. This increased April's rainfall total to 1.71 inches and the Los Angeles water year total to 8.68 inches. That puts us at about 60% of normal rainfall for the water year.

The photograph is from a spectacular trail run yesterday afternoon at Ahmanson Ranch, about 25 miles WNW of Downtown.

Friday, April 27, 2012 4:11:20 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, April 13, 2012

Brassica nigra in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

The problem with mustard is that it is prolific. It out-competes native annuals, and native and non-native grasses. In oak grasslands this can produce brush conditions that should a fire occur, it is likely to kill more trees.

A heavy growth of mustard was probably a factor in the death of the valley oak pictured above. It was burned in the 2005 Topanga Fire.

From this afternoon's run at Ahmanson Ranch.

Friday, April 13, 2012 8:25:26 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #