This post, originally published on Dec. 31, 2010, has been moved to The Nature of Berkeley blog.
To view the original post, click here:
Last Friday the rain gods were busy, so instead of tramping the mud on the fire trails, I decided to take a walk up Centennial Drive to the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) in the Berkeley Hills above UCB campus.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the desert, but I love walking and hiking in the rain. The colors of the plants and earth seem more vivid, and the gray skies somehow make the green hills seem even more green. I’ve also noticed that I usually see more wildlife on a rainy day than a sunny one. Maybe it’s because there are fewer humans out, or maybe some animals like foraging in the rain.
So, I expected to see some animals on the hike, but was happily surprised to come upon this on Stadium Rim Way just above the California Memorial Stadium:
Wild Turkeys—not your typical Thanksgiving gobbler!
Wild turkeys! I am a huge fan of this native American bird. I consider it the American peacock:
But I didn’t always appreciate what amazing birds turkeys really are. Like a lot of people, my early impressions of turkeys were from the standpoint of Thanksgiving. I remember being told as a kid that turkeys were so dumb, they’d look up in the sky during rain and drown, and other nonsense. (See the debunking Snopes site: http://www.snopes.com/critters/wild/turkey.asp)
The problem is, as the Snopes article points out: “Domesticated turkeys are not necessarily ‘stupid,’ but because they have been bred in captivity for so many generations, they lack the survival skills of their wild cousins: They’re weak, they’re fat, they’re not agile, they can’t run very fast, and they can’t fly.”
[Update 2010-02-04 - There's a fascinating article on the domestication of wild turkeys at ScienceNOW called the Turkeys: So Good People Tamed Them Twice. It explains what molecular anthropologists have been able to figure out about who first domesticated turkeys and when it occured.]
The turkey—one remarkable bird
The wild turkey is the very antithesis of our domesticated Thanksgiving bird. It’s wicked smart (“cunning” is a term hunters often use), illusive, and agile. And it’s a big, powerful bird.
An adult wild tom turkey typically weighs between 10 and 25 lbs and can be over 4 feet tall. That’s one big bird! Females typically weigh half as much and can be up to three feet tall. The wingspan of turkeys range from four to nearly five feet. The record-sized adult male wild turkey, according to the National Wildlife Turkey Federation, was 38 lb!
Despite its size, a wild turkey can run over 20 mph and uses that five-foot wingspan to hits speeds of 55 mph in flight. The wild turkey can defend itself, too. The spurs on a 20 lb. tom turkey make it a formidable foe, as many a hapless dog has found out when cornering one.
The turkeys one encounters in the Berkeley Hills are fairly used to humans, and it’s amazing how close you can get to them. This rafter (flock) of turkeys seemed to be all the same size and age —they seemed to be from the same brood. They walked up Stadium Rim Way for several hundred feet and then nonchalantly moved up the hill away from the Stadium, feeding as they went.
Centennial Road—beautiful lichen and black-tailed deer
As you head up Centennial Road up Strawberry Canyon, you’ll see some wonderful examples of lichens on most of the trees. I plan on doing an in-depth post about lichens later. They are fascinating plants, but identifying lichens is much more difficult than identifying vascular plants. Each lichen is a complete microscopic world with unique characteristics, and they can be very hard to tell apart.
The rain made the vivid green and yellow of two species of lichen quite striking:
About a quarter of a mile from the Berkeley Botanical Garden, I spotted two black-tailed deer grazing on the new grass that’s been springing up with our late fall rains:
Late Fall storm from Lawrence Hall of Science
It’s a pretty steep hike up to the Lawrence Hall of Science, but the view is always worth it. Even on a stormy day, unless you’re fogged in, the vistas can be wonderful, especially if you’re a fan of dramatic clouds. In these shots, you can see Sather Tower just coming out of the low clouds, with the distant San Francisco Bay mostly hidden:
Compare these views to this one from midsummer:
And here’s a view looking over to Oakland:
That golden stream in the distance is Highway 24, the Grove Shafter Freeway, curving through Oakland. This picture doesn’t do it justice; It looked like a river of molten gold—magical!
Going home—caressing clouds and a talisman
On the way back down Centennial Drive from LHS, the rain lifted some, and there were beautiful views of Strawberry Canyon. I alway love to watch the interplay between low clouds, fogs, and the Berkeley Hills.
Finally, in the grass along the road, I found one this lone feather, a final reminder of the rafter of turkeys I’d seen earlier. For me, it was a talisman of a remarkable bird that makes the Berkeley Hills such a wonderful place to explore.
Instant Karma—winter arrives with a howl!
In some sort of “instant karma,” just days after posting about how bad New England winters are and how great the weather is here in the Bay area, even in winter, we got our first real cold snap. And maybe even some snow showers in the Berkeley Hills! (More on that in moment.)
Last Sunday, a very cold and powerful low pressure system dropped down out of the Gulf of Alaska—our winter storm-making center—and plunged south into the Northwest and then central California.
The low’s powerful counter-clockwise rotations sucked down some seriously cold air out of Canada, and snow levels dropped to 1,500 to 2,000 feet around the Bay Area and the Berkeley Hills. My wife and I were walking around San Francisco Sunday evening, and we experienced very cold winds, some heavy sleet, and even some snowflakes.
Cyclotron Road Snowman!
Near the upper end of Cyclotron Road (how cool is it for a science buff to live at a place with a road named after a cyclotron?) I laughed out loud when I came upon this:
Apparently built earlier in the morning, or the night before, this whimsical snowman seems to suggest that the snow level was considerable lower than 1,500 feet on Sunday. As cold as it was, I’m not surprised that even Cyclotron Road had enough elevation to receive snowman-making amounts of snow.
Of course, it could have been a prank, but upon examination, it seemed to be made from real snow, and it had twigs and leaves embedded in it from the ground. The fact that someone took to the time to build it and put it on the memorial is just another reason I love this area.
UPDATE 02-24-10: I now know that the snowman is in fact the work of the doughty Berkeley Lab’s Anonymous Snowman Building Team. Kudos to BLASBT, and I hope to see more of their work in future cold snaps!
A Trail to Some Great Bay Views
At the parking lot below the entrance gate on Cyclotron, you can cross the road and catch some trails over to the canyon that leads up the The Big C.
You get some very nice views of the University of California, Berkeley, campus and The Campanile, or Sather Tower, from here:
The sky was beautiful. The big low pressure had moved west to create blizzard condition and below zero weather in Nevada, Colorado, and the Midwest. But here, the sky was blue with some puffy winter cumulus sailing through the sky. The views of the Bay, Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco were spectacular:
Hello Black-tailed Deer!
One of the reasons I like to go on these improvised trails, instead of up the fire road up The Big C, is that you often see Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) here in the little valley below The Big C. And sure enough, as I hiked up, I came upon several deer resting under the trees:
The Black-tailed (or Blacktail) deer is a subspecies of the Mule deer family. It is common in the western United States and here in the Berkeley Hills. In fact, the Berkeley Hills are ideal for Black-tailed deer, because their natural place in the ecosystem is on the edge of forests. Deep in a forest, there are not enough grasses and underbrush for the deer to eat. But on open grasslands, they deer have no place to hide or take shelter from severe weather. The Berkeley Hills give the deer the mix of grasses and hiding places they prefer.
If you want to see Black-tailed deer grazing or on the move, the best time it at dawn or dusk. During the day, you’re mostly likely to come upon them resting in secluded places under trees. Here’s a nice close-up of a Black-tailed deer from Wikimedia. I don’t have a telephoto lens and can never get close enough to the shy deer to get a shot like this.
The Big C and back again
If you go straight up the hill to the Big C, it’s quite a workout, but as I said, it’s the best way to see some deer. The Big C is a great place to sit and rest and enjoy some vistas of the San Francisco Bay.
If you take the fire trail back down, you also get some very nice views of Strawberry Canyon:
On my way back, I ran into the same group of Black-tailed deer, who had moved down the small valley from where I first saw them. They move fast, but I did catch one of them crossing the fire trail in front of me:
Soon, I was out of my beloved hills, walking down Hurst Avenue to my home and some hot chocolate.
Winter—A Tale of Two Coasts
Last night it was in the low thirties here in the Bay Area, and as the GEOS satellite image below shows, there’s another winter storm heading our way. Old man winter really is here.
But my dear East Coast friends (who I love to tease in good fun about their weather) shouldn’t smirk too much. I happen to know that this morning they are “enjoying” a powerful wind and rainstorm that’s bringing driving rain, low 40s, and local flooding to the area.
Oh, and the big low pressure that blasted us? That’s now winding up big time in the Midwest, with near blizzard conditions and wind chills of minus 25 to minus 40 °F below zero!
And guess what? All that cold weather heading toward the Northeast, drawn inexorable by New England’s winter nemesis, the Icelandic Low. I’ll always love you, New England, but now that I’m done writing this, I think I’ll go take a walk in my beloved Hills—in the bright California sun. (And yes, I admit it; I will wear a jacket and cap!)
Holiday greetings to all! May you and your loved ones be safe and happy. Steve
Just like last year, we had some powerful October rains, though nothing like record breaker on October 14th of 2009, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported:
“It was the worst October storm the Bay Area has experienced since 1962, when terrible weather famously disrupted the World Series between the Giants and the New York Yankees.
San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Livermore all set rainfall records for a single day in October. Nearly 4 inches fell in downtown Oakland, almost 20 percent of what the city usually gets during an entire year.
And just like last year, after the record storm, I found a number of very large ladybug masses in Strawberry Canyon along the fire trail: (Note, you can click on any of the images below to see a desktop-sized image.)
Compared to last year’s massing, however, this was a rather modest gathering, maybe several thousand. But in October of 2009, the gathering was monumental! The swarm thickly covered plants for at least 20 yards, compared to about 4 feet this time. As I wrote in that post:
I read that a gallon jar will hold from 72,000 to 80,000 ladybugs. If that’s the case, then the number alongside the fire trail had to be way, way over a hundred thousand, maybe two or three hundred thousand! It was astonishing, and somehow touching, to see so many little creatures in a brief moment of community.
Perhaps this gathering will grow in the days ahead. I’m very curious to see if the numbers build, and I still wonder, as with the 2009 storm, if the big rains had anything to do with the gathering, or whether the ladybugs always head up into the canyons in late October.
By the way, last year’s post includes a ton of fascinating information and folklore on ladybugs that I think you’ll really enjoy if you haven’t read it yet:
One of the best things about the rain, especially the first big rain after nearly half a year of typical summer drought, is how wonderful it smells in the Hills and how vibrant the colors are! The mosses and lichen, especially, almost seem to glow in deep greens and yellows:
Looking at the moss and lichen, I also found discovered I was being eye-balled by one of the many Fox Squirrels in the Canyon:
This orb spider web was especially beautiful in the sun:
Another beastie you will usually see after a good rain are the beautiful—and often, huge!—banana slugs:
A lot of people go, “Ugh, slimy slugs!” and I know that banana slugs can be a pest, but I you get down on the slugs level, and watch it move, it’s an incredibly graceful animal. It’s very responsive to its environment and is far from stupid, a term I’m reluctant to use looking at any marvel of nature, no matter how humble.
When I find slugs in the middle of the fire trail, I always move them to the side of the trial they were heading for, because, sadly, I’ve seen way too many smooshed slugs by runners and walkers who didn’t see these little wonders.
This particular day, after the rains, I noticed hundreds and hundreds of small, fluttering creatures in the air. Clearly, flying was not their forte, and yet, the air was filled with them. On closer examination, I discovered that they were some kind of termite. My camera doesn’t have a close-up lens, but they looked very much like this:
At first, I wondered if they might not be flying ants, but I did a little research and was able to confirm from their body shape and wing structure that they were in fact termites:
I also learned that in areas like ours, which have a distinct dry season, the winged (or “alate”) caste members of termite nests leave in large swarms after the first good soaking rain. The alates are the reproductive caste. They fly off to find a new nesting sight, shed their fragile wings, mate, and start a new colony. I noticed alates all through Strawberry Canyon and over into the Claremont Canyon as well. There must have been tens of thousands of them, fluttering precariously in the air.
I was not the only one noticing this mass exodus. When I came to the sunnier parts of the Canyon, I started seeing lots of Western Fence lizards, running from cover to snap up some hapless alate that landed too close:
There must have been a lot of stuffed Western Fence Lizards that evening, because the alates seemed endless in numbers—natures way of making sure that enough termites survived to carry forward the species.
On my way down Claremont Canyon, I came across this lovely, but rather faded and battered butterfly:
I believe this is a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), one of the many lovely butterflies you will often see in the Canyons. (Kudos to Kay Loughman’s wonderful Wild Life in the North Hills website, which has some great images and information to help nature lovers identify plants and animals of our area.)
Yes, the fire trails in the Berkeley Hills can be muddy after a big rain, but there are many rewards for braving the mud. As I said, the fresh smell of the wet earth and vegetation is simply wonderful. The washed and soaked plants and lichen are so vibrant. I’ve also noticed that, for some reason, one tends to see more wild animals out right after a rain than at other times.
I hope enjoyed this post and that you will take find time to explore for yourself the amazing and beautiful ecosystem, that is the Berkely Hills. Hope to see meet you on the trails some day!
Today’s post features some of my favorite summer things in Strawberry and Claremont Canyons:
Now that summer is finally here, after a very rainy winter and cool spring, you’re likely to see lots of these in the canyons and Hills in the months ahead.
Blackberries are not hard to find along almost any of the fire trails in either Strawberry or Claremont Canyons. So far, however, I’ve found the best picking and eating to be along Centennial Road and the fire trail that leads off of it into Strawberry Canyon.
In many places along the trail, and along Centennial Drive the blackberry bushes are really thick. You have to be careful, though, because most of these plant are growing right on the edge of very steep drop offs. Trying to reach ripe berries that are tantalizingly out of reach, you can easily step off a cliff. Be very careful!
Earlier this spring, you could see hundreds of blackberry flowers, foretelling the bounty to come:
The berries all start out a bright green and then get darker and darker purple as they ripen. Of course, the darkest colored berries, the ones that look black, are the sweetest and most delectable. This last hike I had all the berries I could eat, and it’s still early in the season.
In researching this post, I discovered, to my surprise, that I’m probably seeing two species of blackberry plants in the canyons: the California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) and the Himalayan or Armenian blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). The Himalayan blackberry is actually considered an invasive species.
Since its introduction in the 1880′s, the plant has spread widely and become naturalised. But because of its tasty fruit, it usually isn’t considered a pest. It seems to be the dominant blackberry in Strawberry Canyon.
There are two easy ways to tell the difference between the two species.
First: the flowers of the California blackberry (left) are much more slender than that of the Himalayan (right):
Second, as is explained at Kay Loughman’s most excellent Wild Life in the North Hills website, the Californian has a three leaves and the Himalayan typically has five leaves. (The stems of the Himalayan are red and very thorny.)
As I was walking up the lower Strawberry Canyon fire trail, I soon encountered hundreds and hundreds of flying ladybugs. They seemed to congregate in the warmest, sunniest parts of the of the trail, like this:
I found very few ladybugs on the plants along the trail; most seemed to be flying about. It was such a scene of intense activity, compared to the very quiet but huge swarms I found on the blackberry plants last fall after the record October rainstorm:
I tried to catch the beautiful insects on camera, but they moved too fast and my humble camera just wasn’t up to the task, even though the air was thick with them. Here’s a close-up image of a ladybug flying that I collected some years ago doing research. Like all beetles, to fly, the ladybug has to lift her beautiful wing covers in order to free her wings for flight:
If you want to learn a lot more about ladybugs and see beautiful images of other species, be sure to check out my earlier post They are the Lady(bugs)of the Canyon.
On my way out of Strawberry Canyon, I took this shot across the Canyon to UC Berkeley’s historic Cyclotron:
Once summer arrives, you can find the Western Fence lizard most places in the Berkeley Hills, but you rarely find them in the cooler, deeper parts of the canyons. They love the warmth and sun of the upper canyon, and you will often find them sunning themselves on canyon trails and roads.
The Western fence lizard enjoys a variety of habitats from grassland to broken chaparral to woodland and coniferous forests, although they avoid harsh deserts. I came across this one on the paved road near the top of Panoramic Way, above Claremont Canyon.
Western Fence lizards are also known as Blue-bellies, but unless you catch one or are in a vantage point where a displaying male shows off his underside, you might not know they have blue bellies. I’ve never been able to get close enough to a displaying male with my camera to catch his underside, but here’s a fine image from Wikimedia that shows it:
The Western fence lizard can be a long as 21 cm (8 inches), though I’ve only seen one that big to date. Here’s a juvenile I saw on my last hike. He had just squirmed around because an ant had tickled him:
And here is a larger Blue-belly with very unusual head markings. It looked like it had dipped its head into ink!
I hiked out of Strawberry Canyon and crossed over to the trails of Claremont Canyon. From there, I usually head down Panoramic Way or Dwight Way and back through the UC Berkeley campus. The vistas from the tops of the Hills are different every hike and always so wonderful:
May all beings be happy. May all beings find the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow. And may we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!
I’ve decided to include a journal of some of my walks and share my observations and thoughts about my hikes in the Hills here on Berkeley, Naturally!
This is the first entry, appropriately enough, on the first day of July. (I’ll date these by my post date, not by the day of my walk.) May all my readers have a great 4th of July weekend!
July 1, 2010
Wonders on this hike:
Amazing blue skies. Golden, shimmering summer grasses dancing in the warm wind caressing the Hills. The warmth of the sun coming through my T-shirt and making me wonderfully hot as I labored up the slopes. The cool breeze from the Bay evaporating my sweat.
Plum trees are already dropping their sweet fruit—yummy treats on some of the streets and trails. Also, the first ripe blackberries are starting to show up among their green brethren. I picked and ate a handful. There will be many, many more to enjoy throughout the summer and into the fall.
Spent 10 minutes watching a Western Fence lizard defend its territory against another male. Much head-bobbing, rapid body push-ups, and posturing; no violence.
Saw a very young red-tailed hawk crying plaintively in a tree—for its mother?
Came upon a black beetle on the trail just as a runner was coming; stood between the beetle and the runner so the little hunter wouldn’t be crushed. Waited until beetle moved off the trail, foraging for food.
Hiked into a huge stand of wild rosemary. Made some cuttings to bring home to Sarah and for spices for our cooking.
Coming down Panoramic Way, met a wonderful tortoise-shell cat who demanded that she be stroked and petted until she’d had enough—and then plopped over in the sun as if to say, “OK, your job is done. I won’t be needing you until the next time we meet.”
Then met a wonderful old woman who saw me loving the cat. She said she’d loved her earlier and that the cat lived in the area. But, she didn’t know her name. I showed her the cut rosemary; she drew a big, long breath of it, and said, “Wonderful!” I told her where she could find it and she beamed. She ambled very, very slowly up the hill. I thought she was a miracle of beauty and grace.
May all beings be happy. May all beings find the supreme joy that is beyond all sorrow. And may we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!
This is the second of a two-part series I’m calling “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills. You can see Part 1 here:
In this second part, I’ve included some of the animals you can run into in the Hills—some you see all the time, and others, like the gray fox, are quite illusive. There are also some amazing skies in this series of photos. As a self-confessed weather nut, I never get tired to seeing the play of clouds over the San Francisco Bay and the Hills.
And so, let’s kick off Part 2 with some images of magnificent Bay Area clouds!
If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.
These clouds, of course, are cirrus, which in this area so often are the heralds of distance storms marching in from the North Pacific for Gulf of Alaska. Cirrus clouds typically form above 23,000 feet (about 7,000m), in the cold region of the troposphere and are typically composed of ice crystals. In the view looking at the North Bay, you can see both the sweeping cirrus unicus and the denser cirrus fibratus.
This sunset was really dramatic and foreboding. I was in the Hills directly above the UCB Campus, looking across the Bay, past the Campanile (lower right) and toward the Golden Gate Bridge. A big Pacific storm was approaching, as the rapidly lowering sky foretold. The clouds in this picture are mostly altostratus and altocumulus, which are medium-level clouds.
This is perhaps my all-time favorite summer picture that I’ve taken in Strawberry Canyon. To me, it captures just about everything I love about the Berkeley Hills—the Eucalyptus and Oak trees, the beautiful golden hills, and a sky with gorgeous, puffy cumulus. It was hot, it was summer, and I was on my way up Centennial Drive to my beloved fire trails!
The color of the lichen on the trees in Strawberry Canyon are especially deep and brilliant after a rainstorm. I love how this yellow species contrasts with the moss.
I’m always amazed at the different moods of the Bay throughout the day. This grey sunset marked the end of yet another heavy late spring rain storm.
California poppies! Just seeing them makes me smile. Did you know Native Americans used poppy leaves medicinally? They also ate their seeds. Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked, although apparently the effect is much milder than that of opium, which contains a much more powerful class of alkaloids.
If you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen one of these little critters. The Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus nigris) is actually a non-native species, probably introduced to California around the beginning of the 20th century. You can see them throughout the Berkeley Hills, and there’s quite a population of them on the Berkeley campus. I’ve yet to see a native Western Gray Squirrel on my hikes, but I keep looking for them.
I met this young female Fox Squirrel on the North Campus near the Life Science Building. If you stop and make a “tchi tchi” noise, you can almost always make a Fox Squirrel stop and see if you have some goodie for them. Having raised a squirrel from the age of a blind pup, I know lots of squirrel communication sounds, and she seemed amazed at my vocabulary!
This fat and muscular male lives in Strawberry Canyon. He too was intrigued by my squirrel talk, and stopped to observe me, although the squirrels in the Canyon are much more wary of humans than the ones on campus.
A gray fox! I wrote about this encounter at this post:
I made a lot of noise to get the fox to turn lift its sleepy head and turn toward me. No doubt he wondered what the crazy human was doing! But I was so excited to see a gray fox that I didn’t want my picture to be nothing but a gray lump on that fallen tree. I wish I had had a telephoto lens to see more of this magnificent creature, which apparently, is one of the few foxes that can climbs trees. This one was sleeping at least 20 feet off the ground. (Be sure to click image for close-up!)
Here is a small cluster of ladybugs I saw this spring. In October of 2009, after our record rainstorm, I came upon an astonishing gathering of what had to have been hundreds of thousands of ladybugs along the fire trail off Centennial Drive. I wrote about this amazing ladybug gathering here:
Here is an amazing insect you are apt to run across in the Berkeley Hills, especially after a rain, the aptly named banana slug. This one was nearly 10 inches long and as big around as a small banana. Many people find them “gross,” and I know it can be what we humans call a “pest,” but I think it’s a beautiful animal. I watched this one for about 10 minutes as it gracefully moved about 3 feet from the pavement into some vegetation.
Down on its level, laying on my stomach to watch how its muscles propelled it along on a layer of mucous, I was reminded of a majestic (albeit, miniature) ocean liner as it glided along the pavement.
I came across this small (maybe 10 inch) snake walking down from the North Gate of the UCB campus. I’m not sure what species it might be, but my best guess is some species of Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)—maybe a Forest Sharp-tailed snake. If some herpetologist wants to weight in, that would be great! It was moving very fast to try to take cover, and I barely caught it on camera before it disappeared into the foliage.
Here’s another view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge near sunset. A Pacific storm was heading our way, and the high cirrus and cirrostratus clouds that appeared in the West at the beginning of the day were beginning to give way to lower level altocumulus and stratocumulus.
The height of some of the redwoods in Strawberry Canyon is astounding. I estimated that most of the trees in this grove were well over 110-120 feet tall. Now that I live in Northern California, I hope some day soon to see the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest trees on earth, at Redwood National and State Parks.
I loved how these California poppies found a way to grow out of near solid rock along the upper fire trail at Strawberry Canyon.
When spring arrives in the Berkeley Hills, you really should climb up into them and see for yourself how deep, rich, and varied the greens are. After being brown all summer and through much of the winter, the hills are transformed by the winter and spring rains into an emerald wonderland.
One of the delights of walking up the streets that head up into the Berkeley Hills above the City of Berkeley are the little paths and well-kept lanes and walks that connect the lower and higher levels of the hills. Here’s one of my favorite paths (for privacy, I won’t say where.) If you don’t have a copy, I highly recommend getting the Map of Berkeley Pathways which is put out by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.
More spring green near the top of Claremont Canyon.
I’ll end this post with a photo of a glorious sunset taken from the hills right above the UCB campus. (You can see the Campanile behind one of the Eucalyptus.) I hope this two-part series, “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills” will inspire you to explore the Hills yourself and with loved ones and to always be alert for ways to preserve and protect this amazing natural treasure right at our doorsteps.
May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!
Having taken the pressure off myself to write a second “science” blog (one of my two other blogs is Goodheart’s Extreme Science) I hope to get out more regular posts about my beloved Berkeley Hills.
But first, a word about that term, “Berkeley Hills.” When I use that term, I mean the geological formation that is part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, not just the hills immediately above the City of Berkeley.
So, peace, dear friends in Oakland, and other beautiful cities abutting these lovely hills! I know how beautiful the hills are above you as well, because I often hike there:
The Berkeley Hills are a range of the Pacific Coast Ranges that overlook the northeast side of the valley that surrounds San Francisco Bay. They were previously called the “Contra Costa Range/Hills”, but with the establishment of Berkeley and the University of California, the current usage was applied by geographers and gazetteers.
Tectonically, the Berkeley Hills are bounded by the major Hayward Fault along their western base, and the minor Wildcat Fault on their eastern side. The highest peaks are Vollmer Peak (elevation 1,905 feet/581m), Grizzly Peak (elevation 1,754 feet/535 m) and Round Top (elevation 1,761 feet/537m), an extinct volcano, and William Rust Summit 1,004 feet.
With that clarified, let’s take a look at some of my favorite recent images from the Berkeley Hills. I hope they inspire you to discover the amazing beauty of the Hills for yourself. In 15 or 20 minutes, up a trail, and you are in a place of great wonder and beauty, indeed, even a place of Faerie:
If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.
Although my wife and I have only been here a year and a half, I already look forward to seeing the Hills do their dramatic change from emeralds to golds and browns as the virtually rainless summer begins. This year, because of the very heavy winter and late spring rains, the usual transition was much later than last year.
This is the near the beginning of the fire trail that runs up the north side of Claremont Canyon.
Here is a view of the historic UC Berkeley Cyclotron from one of the fire trails in Strawberry Canyon.
If you hike late in the Hills, you are often treated to the most beautiful sunsets. Here, I was walking back down from Claremont Canyon toward the Campus.
Because of the very heavy winter and spring rains, the Hills were especially lush this year, with explosions of wild flowers everywhere. This shot looks down into Claremont Canyon from Panoramic Way.
Many of the trees in lower parts of Strawberry Canyon are covered in beautiful lichen and moss. I’m always amazed how many species there are and how richly varied the colors can be.
When the California poppies start to pop up in the Claremont and Strawberry Canyons, and I know spring has really arrived. I have a special place in my heart for the poppies, because they are part of my earliest childhood memories when my family still lived in California.
I am a connoisseur of clouds, and I have to say that the Bay Area has some of the best cirrus clouds I’ve ever seen. I wish this photo could show more of the incredible traceries and webbing that these particular cirrus had, but at least you can get a feel for it. I am amazed at how many people don’t really seem to pay attention the sky or clouds. Some days, the sky can take your breath away. Look up!
There are some magnificent Sequoia trees about half-way up the Strawberry fire trail that starts on Centennial Drive. These hundred-foot plus trees are in the Woodbridge Metcalf Grove, which was planted by University of California students in 1926. (The little stone marker for this beautiful stand of trees actually reads “Woodbridge Metoale Grove”—not sure why.)
Spring in Claremont Canyon is just glorious, and the naturalist in me wants to get a good book on the local plants and start learning some names. I would love any suggestions from readers on good books about the flora or fauna of the area!
I was really struck by the color of these mushrooms growing on a log. Again, I wish I could identify species, because I’ve seen so many varieties on my hikes.
I loved how the moss was growing into the cracks of this rock—one of the more beautiful forms of erosion.
More poppies. Again, when I come upon a clump of these lovely ladies (they always seem like dainty ladies to me), they just make me happy. I like how the petals close up for the night, or when it’s too cold for them, or too cloudy. This seems like perfect behavior for the state flower of sunny California.
One of the things I immediately fell in love with about the Bay Area is how many beautiful trails there are to hike, and how accessible they are. A ten-minute hike out of Berkeley Campus or East Oakland and you can be in incredible beauty.
I love the winter storms we have here in the San Francisco Bay area. The mighty storms from the Pacific are really impressive, though most of them can’t match the fury and grandeur of the Nor’easters I enjoyed (yes, enjoyed, as I confess, I’m a weather nut) when I lived in Boston.
One of the interesting geological features of this area, and of Southern California, are landslides. Here’s a small one came across on Panoramic Way after a really heavy rain storm. You can read more about it here:
Here’s one of the beautiful little waterfalls in Strawberry Canyon. I often stop here and just listen and watch.
This shot was taken coming home after a long hike in Claremont Canyon. I was thoroughly wet and muddy and happy as a golden lab after a romp in the hills. As I was coming down Panoramic Way, the storm lifted and I was able to see Oakland and the Bay Bridge, and the City, in the distance. It was a magical moment.
This was without a doubt one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some real beauts growing up in the Southwest desert and in New England. (I’ll share more in a later post.)
Standing on the top of one of the taller hills above Strawberry Canyon, I couldn’t believe my great fortune to be there at that moment, looking at this beautiful Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sky on fire. I hope you see such a sunset one day. It is truly a great, great blessing to be alive on this beautiful planet and see its wonders.
May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!
This post, originally published on June 1, 2010, has been moved to The Nature of Berkeley blog.
You can read it here: