Friday, December 31, 2010

go wild in the country

Cambria and Los Osos 12/23 and 12/26

No snakes (at least not this time of year) in the grass but the mushroom show is absolutely free.Are you a nut for fruiting bodies? Do you subscribe to the Cornell University Mushroom blog? (I highly recommend it by the way. Even if you are not a fungus kook the writing is really good.) Does Mycology ring your bell? Then the California central coast after a good rain will make you swoon. Fungi is a ubiquitous presence all over the world, and a true aficionado will know where and when to find the little caps poking up, but the show near Cambria, CA is like seeing the lights in Times Square... any fool can stumble on to it and stand and gawk.A cool windy clear day arrived after a week of soaking rain so we took the opportunity to get out and visit Moonstone Beach. The beach part of our day was detailed in the previous post and I hinted at our mushroom surprise later that day. Though we have made excursions following previous a wet spells specifically to see fungi, we had not been thinking about mushrooms that morning so the show surprised us.All around the public restrooms at one end of Moonstone Beach is a small area wooded with a variety of trees and a thick mat of fallen needles and leaves. The wild colors and assortment of sizes in the mushroom show in this small area kept us busy for at least an hour of gawking.Another favorite mushroom gawking zone near Cambria is the Fiscalini Ranch. It has much more than mushrooms to offer but in the right season apparently the place goes nuts with fruiting bodies. We have not visited yet so I can't give my personal review but Fiscalini Ranch is at the top of our list.When the mushrooms show their heads lots of critters come out to dine including the local mycophagists. Now, I'm too much of a beginner to have any confidence about eating wild mushrooms and I don't recommend you eat 'em without some heavy research and maybe a knowledgeable friend, but there are those who come out after a good rain to find their dinner. So, for the sake of critter and people alike please be kind to the mushrooms you see. Check that itch to kick the white rubbery thing or to mash that orange trumpet. There are critters big and small who would prefer to have some of them on their plate without your footprints on the caps.On our walks we have often seen the telltale trowel marks of the foraging mycophage that arrived before we could rouse ourselves for the morning.A few days (and a bit more rain) after our surprise in Cambria we took a walk specifically for the fungus. This time we visited Los Osos Oaks Park. This ramble through oak trees big and small offered lots of mushroom variety too, and we had a good two hours of muddy shoes to prove it.
The trails in Los Osos Oaks can be confusing and unmarked tracks lead off into the bushes. If you go pay attention, wear a whistle in case you wander off, and maybe bring a compass to help point the direction to the parking area (take note that Los Osos Valley Road is the North edge of the park area).Some of the best stuff comes out of rot, and by the way some of 'em smell good too. There are a few that smell like maple syrup, no foolin'. So go wild and stick yer nose in for a whiff.

oh yeah, and for some nifty time lapse viewing of mushrooms click here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

the search for nephrite and jadeite

Moonstone Beach 12/23

A solid week of rain dashed our hopes of seeing the lunar eclipse on the 20th but a break in the heavy rain on the 23rd gave us a chance to get outside. We decided it was time for a visit to Cambria, California and Moonstone Beach. Here are some reviews of the beach and other folks' impressions. Now, if you live in a place that is having cold nasty weather this time of year and are feeling envy just hold on a second. Yes, there are fantastically beautiful days like the one pictured above that come along in winter but you have to take note that those are the only days everyone runs outside to take pictures. The recent wet is nothing compared to freezing rain and snow but don't get the idea that everyday looks so blue. And if you come to visit in the summer, HA! the central coast will likely be socked in with a thick cold fog. These fantastic clear (but chilly with wind) days are often in the middle of winter when the marine layer has been blown away by a storm, and indeed the next day was gray and drizzly again.
So, we took our shot at the pebbles while the getting was good. If you want to go pebble hunting or tide pool gazing be sure to check the tide forecast. Arriving at the beach and finding no beach can be disappointing and tides here can be high enough to completely obscure the pebbly sand and tide pool rocks. I took a look and found that high tide was to occur at 11:40ish in the am and would crest at +6 feet. Gads! good thing I checked. Arriving in the morning we'd be out of luck. Instead we waited until after lunch and had an ever expanding beach to play on, but we'd miss out on the very wide low tide beach that makes for the best pebbling and tide pool gazing.
So, what's all this business about pebbles? you say. Well, Moonstone beach is so called for the jumble of marvelous hard bits of stone tumbled on the shore. The majority are chert, a fine grained sedimentary silica rich stone that is hard enough to resist being pulverised right away in the surf. It comes in an array of colors and makes for dazzling pebble picking. Just a few minutes spent looking near your toes will turn up treasure.
According to the name of the beach there are moonstones to be found. I'm not enough of a geologist or gemologist to know if I have ever seen a moonstone but I hear tell that tossed in with all the chert there are many bits of quartz, nephrite, and rare bits of jadeite. These last two are the source of jade gemstones. Beware, you may be bitten by the jade bug and go ape for the green bits, however I think the melange of colors in the chert (much of which is green too) is more interesting. The pretty green stones are very abundant here but few have the translucent quality that most expect of gemstones. I know that true nephrite is harder than chert and jadeite is harder still so a simple beginners' test if you insist on finding jade is to try scratching the stone with steel. A dull pocket knife will do (it'll be dull soon enough grinding it on hard stones). Bring a loop or other magnifying glass and look at your scratches. If that green stone you've got is cold on your cheek, has some nice sparkly translucence, and when you look close the scratch is actually bits of steel ground off onto the stone then there's a good chance you have some jade. To be absolutely certain you have to get technical and measure the stones specific gravity. Not hard to do if you have a good graduated cylinder and a chemist's balance scale, but all that is beyond me.
I just like lookin' at 'em, and if I end up taking one home it's usually one with wild mottled colors. I'm just not ready to catch the jade bug.

What's the source of all these pretty rocks? Well, the polishing in the surf helps, but all the hard bits of stone come from the Franciscan Assemblage. A geological leftover, predating the San Andreas fault, that is mashed up all along the California central coast. Another favorite pebble spot is Jade Cove in Big Sur. I have not visited this one so I can't vouch for it but I suppose the name is promising. Geologists think that much of this coastal stuff is sedimentary material from the Pacific Ocean floor that was scraped up and packed onto a coast that was at that time riding over a subduction zone. For more on this and other Southern and Central California geology tidbits I highly recommend Geology Underfoot in Southern California.The same day we had another surprise payoff from the week long drenching, a wild mushroom show, but that will have to wait for the next post.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

copper moon

For all you moon gazers out there, be alert, the full moon will turn a deep copper color Monday night as it passes into the Earth's shadow for a total lunar eclipse visible in North America. We're not much as astronomy photographers so forgive the little Pic Shaws cartoon above. There are gobs of pictures of the freaky red moon all over the internet. Just do an image search for "lunar eclipse".

This total eclipse will occur the night of the 20th and the early morning of the 21st. The particular time will depend on your location and I am uncertain of all the places where the show will be visible so do some research. For the west coast of North America the moon will be in shadow from about 10:30pm to about 1:30am with total eclipse beginning about 11:40pm. You'll have to do some research and find your local time for the event. Unfortunately it looks like we in Central California will be out of luck. We are in the middle of a long steady rain and the cloud cover is likely to be total Monday night. Piffle. I'll still go out to take a look. Maybe we'll get lucky and there will be a break in the clouds. The forecasts have been wrong before.

Do go out and take a look if you have never seen a lunar eclipse. The red brown color of the moon in Earth's shadow is weird enough to make me understand how people used to take it as an omen of terrible things afoot. The peculiar color of Earth's shadow on the moon is caused by a small bit of sunlight refracted through Earth's atmosphere and scattered into the Umbra, as astronomers call the shadow area. The Griffith Observatory web page has a good short explanation of the phenomenon.

If you live in North America and you have the luck of a clear sky on the evening of the 20th don't miss the show. It'll take just a few minutes of your time to peek outside before you go to bed and you'll remember the sight for the rest of your life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

gifts under paper garlands

Olvera Street and El Pueblo de los Angeles

Still looking for gifts in Los Angeles? Just a few walkable blocks from Chinatown is Olvera Street, the crowded market of El Pueblo de los Angeles.
my favorite thing about olvera st
This pedestrian street crowded with shops, restaurants, and merchant stalls loaded with wild bursts of color and hung with paper (and plastic) garlands is all that Los Angeles has of its old town center. It may be touristy and pricier that finding this stuff in Mexico but we still love it.
skellie rainbow
The festivals for Dia de los Muertos get crazy crowded and all the kids get their faces painted with a skull's grimace.
lucha libre scary
There's never a shortage of Luchador masks in every design imaginable.
busy altar
The shops overflow with colorful stuff from inexpensive trinkets to elaborately embroidered dresses. From December 16th to the 24th Olvera Street hosts Las Posadas, with processions beginning in the evening at the Avila Adobe and piñata bashings for the kids. Details and directions can be found at the links above. Don't miss Olvera Street. Even if you aren't looking to shop, the colors and swirls of people will give you a holiday kick in the pants.

Friday, December 10, 2010

gifts under red lanterns

11/21 Chinatown, Los Angeles

If you live in the Los Angeles area and are still on the hunt for gifts, don't forget about Chinatown. During a short visit to LA just before Thanksgiving and in need of a few more little-somethings we took a turn under the red lanterns.The range of possible gifts in the tightly packed shops include the cheesy/fun and the special/expensive. Take the time to visit the markets that at first glance appears to offer only food items. Often these markets have the best unusual gifts hiding in the back.If you see this Lady Fish Paste sign turn around and go up the escalator past the mirrored wall. This will take you to a swell market filled with some marvelous ceramics and a wall of glass apothecary jars full of the most pricey loose teas I have ever witnessed.It was a bright cold morning but the clouds put up a good backdrop for the lanterns and the wild ornate buildings.

If you are unfamiliar with Chinatown in Los Angeles the main drag is along N. Broadway and N. Hill Street just a bit Northeast of downtown. If you are driving South on the 110 freeway take the Hill Street exit. It will drop you right into the thick of it. Finding free parking can be a bear on any day of the week but there are many lots that typically charge $5 or less for the day. Even better, skip the parking and take the Gold Line train to the Chinatown stop. It's a short walk to the shops. And by the way, Phillipe's is in the same neighborhood in case you haven't tried their horseradish mustard.If you don't make it for holiday shopping, don't fret, you can still make the 112th Annual Golden Dragon Parade for Chinese New Year on February 5th, 2011.

**If you are up for some bipedal adventuring, historic Olvera Street can be traveled to on foot in a little less than ten minutes. Stay tuned for an a-go-go take on the pueblo. If you can, make plans to visit next week in time for Las Posadas

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

li'l trees and estuary views

10/24 The Elfin Forest

A little before Halloween we took time to explore a short boardwalk hike through the Elfin Forest near Los Osos, California. This part of Moro Bay State Park is named for the stands of Pygmy Oaks that make it such an unusual place. Moro Bay and Los Osos are often bathed in fog and the damp encourages shaggy drapes of moss on the branches of the small trees adding to the fairy tale appearance.
To find the Elfin Forest take Los Osos Valley Road West from Highway 101 just south of San Luis Obispo. Just as the road enters the town of Los Osos make a right on South Bay Boulevard. At the intersection you'll start seeing signs directing the way to the trail head. Follow S. Bay Blvd. about 1.4 miles and turn left on Santa Ysabel Avenue. The first right is 17th street and at the end of the block is the trail head. A short path through the dunes will take you to the board walk, a less than 1 mile loop with short side paths to overlooks on the bay and estuary.
The board walk winds down through coast scrub brush where you'll see and hear lots of bird action if you make the hike in morning or late afternoon. We heard more birds than we could see and the sun was already high enough to end the morning bird party. The lower part of the board walk on the bay side of the dune (everything is growing on sand here) gets into the thick of the mini oaks. Somewhere in the middle of the loop there is a side path into Rose's Grove, a good place to sit under the little trees with benches provided.
If you are after a longer walk, the area around Los Osos, Moro Bay, and Montaña do Oro State Park offer a whole mess of hiking trails. If you bring a canine pal, don't forget the leash, they are required in the state parks. From the overlooks on the board walk there are good views of the bay and the estuary, a popular stopover for all sorts of migrating shore birds, so bring your binoculars if it's that avian-travel-time of year. As I mentioned the area is often socked in with fog particularly in the mornings and much of the summer, so the view of the bay may not be this clear.
The board walk is considered to be wheelchair friendly (though the first bit through the sand could be a challenge) so this is a good choice for anyone with less mobility or stamina, but if you're a 20 mile a day walker don't pass this up just because it's short. The Elfin Forest and the bay offers anyone a pleasant walk.

**hi there, mrs. a-go-go here, i just wanted to point out that mr. a-go-go forgot the part about the harmonica playing serenade. if yer lucky, when you pull up you may catch an awesome visual of a man in an orange hat accompanying a singing seagull with his harmonica. for reals yo!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

not goin' far at all

With the continuing struggle to find some reliable income there just hasn't been much time to explore lately. However, I have to say if you're in the San Luis Obispo neighborhood on a Thursday don't miss the downtown framers market. We attended for the Halloween costume contest on October 28th but the farmers market happens on Thursday evenings nearly year round. It includes free live music and lots of dining options, not to mention the produce stands and all the regular shops are open too.

Sorry I don't have more fabulous travel tales this week folks, but we'll be a-go-goin' soon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

hard monsters

Monster Park in San Gabriel, California
One of the peculiar places filled with concrete critters in Southern California that we have returned to visit nearly as often as the Cabazon Dinosaurs is Monster Park in San Gabriel. The place's official name is Vincent Lugo Park but that shouldn't stop you calling it what you like after seeing the menagerie.
There's a big octopus, an undulating sea monster, a pink whale, a huge (sea?) snail, a sinking ship, and more. The snail and the whale have steel slides built in but the others are concrete painted with what is intended to be a slick surface. The dragon slide, for instance, has a slope that wiggles from side to side. Super cool, but the slickness is a little lacking and one must work a bit to get down the slide. That's all well and good as all the rough surfaces make these play structures a bit lacking in the eyes of safety watchdogs and a fast ride down the serpent's back could make for some ugly rash.
I suppose that lack of safety features is part of why this nifty little artwork was threatened with demolition until fairly recently. Fortunately a group of San Gabriel residents fought hard to save the work of Benjamin Dominguez, the man who's vision and hands built the monsters in the 1960s. Volunteers have been working to keep the monsters brightly painted and to clean up the occasional graffiti.
mrs. a-go-go did a little color selection on this one. The rocks and lighthouse actually have more color detail than what is shown.

The park is close to the San Gabriel Mission if you are looking for a tidbit of history, or just packing a picnic and having lunch with the critters makes a nice afternoon. Bring some well worn pants if you wish to ride the serpents, and get ready to scoot!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

the bluffs in Fall

10/15 Montaña de Oro State Park

Just south of Morro Bay and Los Osos on the central coast is Montaña de Oro State Park with lots of hiking and mountain biking options. Rain was in the forecast for Sunday so we took our opportunity to get out for a hike on Saturday morning knowing that we'd be in for cool and gray skies. Pecho Valley Road, shown above winding between Monterrey Pines and eucalyptus trees, took us all the way to the south end of the park where the road ends at a locked gate. From here we could hike inland on a trail following Coon Creek or out to the bluffs. We chose the later.Our whole hike was probably less than 3 miles out and back but we spent alot of time tracing the deep cuts in the shore line. The bluffs pretty thoroughly exclude anyone making their way to the water's edge here. A thick layer of jumbled and upended sedimentary rock makes a cliff of at least 30 feet along the bluffs. This is topped with a more recent layer of rather loose crumbly erosion debris from the hills above the bluffs. That crumbly layer would daunt any adventurous bluff scrambler, and it's good to have some small beaches that people don't frequent. It keeps the local sea birds and aquatic mammals happy. I highly recommend heeding the posted warnings and keeping a little distance from the edge, and don't attempt to find your way down to the tempting small coves.
Still, there are many places to get a good look over the edge. We spent at least an hour watching the waves wash up the inlets to scramble the small rocks and heaps of kelp. The hard sedimentary rock juts out from under the soft top layer in many places forming shelves with tide pools. We spotted several Black Oystercatchers, sea birds with bright red beaks, poking around in the exposed puddles looking for lunch.
mrs. a go-go didn't have her long lens on the camera so we are short on zoom pictures of the action. There are lots of small sea cliff caves and funky small arches of rock. All good places for pirates to wash up.In spite of the gray day Montaña de Oro was having a smidge of Spring in the Fall.The poppies were making a show here and there among all the olive green coast scrub. Montaña de Oro is covered by gobs of trails headed in every direction and Morro Bay offers even more to the North. It will take lots of visits for us to explore them all.

If you go and are up for a burger lunch after your walk, don't miss Sylvester's in Los Osos. They make 'em sloppy with all sorts of tasty toppings. An excellent no nonsense lunch.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

sandhill surprise

October 2007, Whitewater Draw, Southeast Arizona

Speaking of migrations, seeing all those tarantulas on the move last week reminded me of another epic journey we were lucky to witness several years ago. After visiting Bisbee, Arizona we wandered in the Sulfur Springs Valley just a bit further East. There we stumbled upon Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and its seasonal wetland.
The wetland is a stopover point for many migrating birds making their way along the dry valleys. Among the most spectacular mass visitors are the Sandhill Cranes. We found our selves at Whitewater Draw a bit late in the morning and we didn't expect to see a bonanza of birds as most activity typically happens in the cool mornings and evenings. Boy, were we surpised when shortly after making our way to the short boardwalk the Cranes started to arrive from the North in wave after noisy wave. Here's mrs. a-go-go's short sound bite of the squadrons arriving:

Crazy luck! The short fuzzy video doesn't do it justice. The sky was quite clear and we could see far to the north the narrow bands of more birds following in the wakes of those already partying in the shallow water. Surprisingly a few groups of birds decided to start the next leg of the journey within the hour or so that we were there. More were still arriving from the North while small groups began to wade away from the mob and take off for the South, chattering and squawking the whole way.

In addition we had a fleeting glimpse of the Vermilion Flycatcher. Now I'm no birdwatching expert, but I hear tell that the little fellow is rather elusive on most birders lists.
The photo really didn't catch the color. When he flew it really was a vermilion flash.

If you're a bird nut and you are traveling this part of Arizona in the Fall or Spring, don't miss Whitewater Draw. It may take a bit of dead reckoning to find it. Some of the lonely straight roads in the valley are poorly signed and we took a route requiring some dirt road. So, do a bit of map research before you go, and bring plenty of water.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

get out of the road!

Tarantulas make their move in Santa Barbara County
WARNING, if you're an arachnophobe you should look away and close your browser now. This post contains photos and video of some of the largest spiders in North America out looking for love. We think they are adorable and harmless, but we're keenly aware that we are weirdos that way and some folks will be revolted by what follows. So, if spiders make your skin crawl stop here, look away, and go get some ice cream or something soothing. For the rest of you critter loving dorks, read on...

Last October driving on a back road near Santa Maria, California mrs. a-go-go noticed what looked like a large spider on the shoulder of the road. Then there was another. The third was making its way down the middle of the lane. I swerved to avoid squashing it, and mrs. a-go-go hollered out, "I was right! they're tarantulas! Stop! Pictures! Aaah!".Camera in hand we chased that one down the center stripe; he was fast and didn't wait around for a photo op. That day we saw a few more on our way (and more than a few singing cows) and it prompted mrs. a-go-go to do a little research on the local tarantula habits. Finding that late September and early October is the season to see the big fuzzy (looking) fellas on the back roads we determined to go out for another look.Now, I am no expert on this subject and can't go into great detail about spider sightings or tarantula behavior but I understand it's the males that are out seeking a mate. We found a few references to this being a tarantula migration to ancestral breading grounds, but after thinking about it I'm not convinced that's what a spider specialist would call it. I'll apply Occam's razor and remain skeptical about there being some special place they migrate to. It's my hunch that in the areas with good tarantula habitat the males are just out looking for love, not all headed in one direction, but it's a swell myth anyhow. I hear tell that the males are out and about this time of year all over Southwestern North America.
Our drive along Foxen Canyon Road between Los Olivos and Santa Maria turned up quite a few sightings and we had to pull over and act like crazy people many times along the way. We'd run out in the road, capture a few portraits, and then encourage the poor victim of wanderlust back into the weeds. Two of the wayfarers were reluctant to leave the road. Maybe they like the warm pavement and the lack of obstacles. I coaxed these lubbers onto branched sticks and airlifted to the roadside brush. If you're into it and are going to try to pick one up on a twig use one that can take the weight. These are some heavy spiders, carry them very low to the ground. If they fall you may just maim the hapless bugger. The ones we coaxed off the pavement may likely find there way back into the road anyhow, but we couldn't watch them waiting for a treaded death.The range of colors was surprising. Some were quite auburn, others were grey, and one was near jet black. Some were sluggish and seemed that they had had enough, others were quick and skittish. One wheeled around so fast when I noodged him with a blade of grass that mrs. a-go-go jumped and caught her breath.

I did my best to get a "Giant Spider! Evacuate the city!"

This red shaded one did his best to look big and tough waving his spinnerets when I brushed with a blade of grass.

The quick and the dead... This resourceful guy was working over the squashed body of a rival near the center of the road as we approached. By the time we were out of the car he had gathered some bits, I suppose for a meal, and was on his way into the brush. You can see what's left of the other spider just off center at the top of the frame.

The increase in auto traffic on this back road due to all the small wineries springing up with their wine tasting rooms must be putting a dent in the tarantula population. We did not see too many squashed fuzzy bodies and the cars and trucks that passed when we were chasing spiders all seemed to be reasonably courteous and steered to avoid unnecessary death. Still, Foxen Canyon Road could use some tarantula crossing signs to encourage people to continue being courteous.

If you want to seek out a first hand big spider encounter now is the season. I don't suggest handling the tarantulas. I understand they are not very dangerous for their bite, but some folks could have a deadly allergic reaction to the venom. In addition their bite is rather painful, and some have special "hairs" (they really don't have hair quite like you and me) that can be really irritating to your skin and eyes. It's even worse if you inhale them. So, keep a little distance and encourage them off the road with a blade of grass. I did lift two off the road with a reasonably thick well branched twig. Again, if you try this, keep it really close to the ground. They are heavy enough to be mashed a bit by falling too far.

I'm certain there are other places beyond the back roads of Santa Barabara County where the fuzzy fellows are on the move, just do a little research on Flickr. Find the big spider pics and look for the location and date. A week ago we drove the same road on a warm afternoon and made no sightings. Our first encounter last year was on a cool overcast day before 11am and we spotted 5 tarantulas. This encounter was on another cool overcast day with some sprinkles of rain and we saw at least 10 big spiders. Don't know enough yet to suggest a particular time of day but cloudy and cool seems to be promising. Do drive slow, these are big spiders but they are still hard to spot unless they are right out on the pavement, and you wouldn't want to add to the casualties. Go! Tarantulas, Go!

For the curious here's more tarantula goodies:
American Tarantula Society
The Corsegold Tarantula Festival North of Fresno on Hwy 41 seems to be happening this year Oct. 30th even though they seem slow to update the web page.
a bit about Tarantulas at Mt. Diablo State Park
Gadzooks! it's the The Tarantula's Burrow
And brief tarantula facts from The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum


Related Posts with Thumbnails