Mount Tamalpais (3/27/2023)

Today I visited Mt. Tam for the first time for my monthly day trip. Yeah, I’d been up there for some birthday night for a friend forever ago. It was dark (so I remember nothing visually) and hot (as it was in the Summer) and buggy out (need I say more). I never wanted to go back.

But I am now a different person. And I’ve been itching to see a flower that’s been popping up in my iNat emails lately, the Western Fairy-Slipper. It was recently sighted near the top of Cataract Falls. And a trail I’ve been curious to take to actually see the falls (since the last time Brian and I tried, we failed to make it to the top of the NEVERENDING STAIRCASE) was super close-by.

Since we started from the bottom the last time, it didn’t quite feel like we were really on Mt. Tam. Guess technically we were? Anyhoo, this was going to be a much easier route to the falls. And I had confidence I’d be able to find this flower at some point while there.

ALSO, I had picked up my newly fixed digital camera in the morning (!!), and I was ohsohappy to have it back with me.

That part of the Panoramic Highway was something I don’t recall having been on before. And, IT’S STUNNING.

After parking on the ridge, where I was blown away to so easily see the Farallones (how can they look THAT CLOSE to Stinson Beach??), I found that my Google Map bookmarks were not going to work without service. So I’d need to use The Force to find the Fairy-Slippers somehow… Great.

The long Laurel Dell Fire Road down was a bit disconcerting. I’d have to walk up that dang thing on the way back? With the supercrazychilly sea breeze blowing through me?? And for all the grassy hillsides to start, I only saw one California Buttercup. It was a little nervous-making.

HOWEVER, once I got out of THE BREEZE, it was a whole other story. Ahhh, the comfort of The Woods. California Bays dominated the place. And I soon saw TONS of Star-flowered Lily-Of-The-Valley plants, with no blooms out yet. It’s going to be magical when they all come out.

Was about to arrive to level ground, where Cataract Creek was happily flowing, and THERE IT WAS. Just one delicate and lovely pink flower like I’ve been seeing in photos. Newtome Western Fairy-Slipper! It’s like an orchid or something. The most beautiful enticement or trap I’ve ever seen. Spent a little time with it, but it was quite low to the ground. So it was tough to see it truly well. Took some photos and was so thrilled to have found what I was looking for within ten minutes of starting out!

Made my way along Cataract Creek, spotting two juicy-red Waxcaps immediately. Small streams kept popping up to join Cataract Creek. ANOTHER Western Fairy-Slipper. Milkmaids. Pacific Hound’s Tongue about to bloom.

And then a small orange and black butterfly flitted into my view. Followed by another that looked just like it before it disappeared. Mylitta Crescent! And it was so kind to stop and pose for me for a spell.

I soon had to step INTO Cataract Creek to continue on the fire road, and the grasses ahead contained a handful more Mylitta Crescents and some Bee Flies that would not stop to pose for me.

Passed the picnic area, and I spotted SO MANY California Fetid Adderstongue! No blooms I could see, but this spot must look incredible with them all in bloom. So nice to know such a bountiful spot that is not only not THAT far from the trailhead but also doesn’t require payment (like at Muir Woods!). I checked every single plant I saw. AND THEN, I looked across the trail, where a lot fewer plants were, and THERE IT WAS. One single bloom, missing one petal. But, YAY! Wasn’t expecting to see any this year, so it was an absolute treat to admire that dainty flower today.

On the way to Cataract Falls, Red-flowering Currant was blooming still. And lots of Huckleberry, not blooming. Arrived to the top of the falls, and WOW! It’s really running!! Stood and watched for a bit. Not a waterfall person, but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d maybe never see these particular falls flowing like this ever again in my lifetime?? The whole place seems so pleased.

On my way back, I noticed some Warrior’s Plume and even Checker Lilies that hadn’t opened yet. Still stuff to see soon here!

After stopping to appreciate the calm of Cataract Creek at top, I crossed to the other side of the creek to head back. More random Western Fairy-Slippers (they don’t like to be too close to each other, huh?) and Henderson’s Shooting Stars. A nice little group of Candy Caps, I think? And I stopped to take note of the bunchgrass I kept seeing. Newtome California Sweet Grass! I only knew of sweetgrass because of that book, but here it was in front of me. And we’ve been learning about native bunchgrasses in my class recently. It is a really neat feeling to have more and more backstory to local flora and fauna because of my class.

Had to stop and look at a formidable community of Oyster Mushroms and one glowing-red Scarlet Cup, I think. And then it was time to head up.

I swear, a Varied Thrush flew across the trail and out of sight. Can’t think of what other bird that blur could have been! While looking for it, and failing, I managed to spot a Sonoma Chipmunk. And thank gawd I had my new camera, or I’d never have gotten IDable photos.

Heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch on the way out. And it reminded me of how many birds I’d heard but didn’t see while there. Two Deer were grazing on the hillside as I got to my car. It was all a nice way to end my very successful visit. But, I had more time…

So I booked it over to nearby Mountain Theater Loop! I’ve been meaning to see a show at their amphitheatre for a long time. It just hasn’t worked out, so this was a way to see the area and get a trail loop that was marked for “Wildflowers,” which is what I’m currently chasing these days.

The place is nice! And that amphitheatre is AMAZING. All that stone seating made out of huge Serpentine rocks?? All done in the ’30s. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

After starting on the actual trail, the stone work continued. Freshish Coyote scat. Pretty Turkey-Tail. Western Fairy-Slipper off the trail. Pacific Hound’s Tongue. And maybe Witches’ Butter?

The trail had a lot of Douglas Fir carnage on it. And it made me wonder if storms are actually helpful for spreading seeds or cones around? Like there’s the destruction aspect, but there’s also a helping hand of branching out maybe?

Cute clusters of newtome Common Stump Brittlestem (I think?) popped up on the hillside. Along with more Western Fairy-Slippers. And A TON more Pacific Hound’s Tongue, most of it blooming (compared to what was along Cataract Creek).

I was suddenly in a clearing and thought I saw the back of a Coyote trotting out of sight and under a tree. And then I looked near there and found TWO BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBITS! Newtome!! I think?? I have a vague memory of seeing one before but not well. And certainly not with PHOTOS. And I realized I’d likely seen A THIRD that ran off as I approached. These two just sat perfectly still while I gleefully took photos. I mean, I might not ever see one again!

They eventually scampered off and out of sight. And it was time to leave them alone. Right on the hillside above them were many Henderson’s Shooting Stars, like the couple that were conveniently in frame of the Jackrabbit on the right. Also near there were some Oak-loving Elfin Saddles.

Passed another Shooting Star meadow, and that’s when it started. THE VIEWS. Even I had to stop and take notice. At one point, I was able to see Mt. Tam and Mt. Diablo and all of SF.

Some Blue Dicks appeared before I was out of the woodland and into open hillsides. Where Rusty Popcornflower popped up. And newtome Mountain Phacelia, though none of it was in bloom.

Made my way through one more bit of woodland before reaching the end. And allofasudden I heard wings flapping above and a bit ahead of me, and then I saw a raptor-sized bird fly out of the trees and far away. WHAT WAS IT???

One flowering Purple Sanicle along the trail, a Lord of the Ringsy tree canopy and large rock spot, and a huge Serpentine explosion on the trail, and I was about back where I started. The same group of Deer that were there at the start had made their way down to a stream. And they were mostly lying on the grass. Looking so serene. Or thankful to be out of that wind!

But, wow. What a day! Highlights were finding a newtome flower I was hoping to see. Many times over! And THOSE FALLS. And just being in new places. And fungi. And JACKRABBITS!

So, yeah. Mt. Tam. I’m now a fan.

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