Monday, March 11, 2019

BIG SULPHUR CREEK’S BIG LESSON

Hydrology always wins

The atmospheric river having abated, several roads and trails in the area are closed as high-water damage is assessed.  The bad news is that some nice paths along the river, while being checked out, are not open to the public.  The good news is that some gnarly, windy area roads, while closed to vehicular traffic, are open for walkers.  It being the first sunny day in recent memory, Edward and I decided to explore.  


Big Sulphur Creek drains a deep canyon of clay and shale and limestone. Its confluence with the Russian is on the side opposite town.  Tracing the creek’s south-facing slope, Geysers Road winds and rumbles through stretches paved and stretches gravel to the site of one of California’s largest geothermal power facilities.  (I’ve driven Geysers Road only to discover that access to the power sites – rightfully – is restricted.)


We parked at the road closure only a few hundred yards up from the Alexander Valley.  The barricade was passable for residents and workers of the area.  A few steps on, I came to one of those photo-ops that I find irresistible: a shot of a road disappearing at a vanishing point or over a hill or around a bend – the quintessential Church of the Open Road image – at least to me.


Also enticing: The early wildflowers invited me to practice close ups.  I call these blossoms “yellow flowers…”


…And this cluster “white ones.”  (I’ll bet these are asters.)


I’m always amazed at the places folks feel the need to “mark.”  I took this shot shortly after hiking companion Edward left his.


The road had certainly suffered some damage over the past month or so. There proved to be ample evidence of saturated clay and shale slumping onto the thoroughfare.


The ravage is understandable, however when one checks out the detritus carried by a raging Sulphur Creek that is hung up in this snag about sixteen feet above the current level of the stream.  There was a lot of water – both in the sky and in the stream course – coming down for that forty-eight-hour period.


How high’s the water Mama? Five feet high and risin’
– Johnny Cash

Go back to the first picture in this post and enlarge it by clicking on it.  Note the patch-o-heaven residence with the green swath of lawn at the crook in the canyon. Now, compare to the shot of the snag. How high’s the water, indeed, Johnny?

The creek’s bank took its share of hits. Some small…


Some not so small.  Check out the boulder stuck in the middle of this slide. Imagine that, sodden, it broke free from the top of the clay, shale and limestone dike that courses from the center right to the upper center of this frame.  If no one was there when it came down, did it make a sound?


Another angle.  


Scenes like like what Edward and I were walking through happened throughout Sonoma County and neighboring environs last week.  Homes were flooded or knocked off their foundations.  Trees felled.  Roads blocked that may remain blocked for months.  That which happened on Geysers Road is small potatoes compared to occurrences forty miles down the Russian.  Still, it was exhilarating to place a few temporary footsteps and paw prints on a rearranged topography this day.

o0o

Mayor Bagby and I spoke in passing the other day.  She told about the water over-topping the levee on the town-side of the Russian River, swamping two fresh water wells and raising concerns at our water treatment plant.  Here’s what happened:

The Russian River was flowing mightily through its established channel as it approached the confluence with Big Sulphur Creek. Big Sulphur Creek, running high and mighty itself – remember the snag? – undercut and washed down large volumes of clay, limestone and gravel.  When the creek’s burden ran into the rushing Russian, much of it was deposited in an alluvial arc that spanned the river’s normal channel.  The path of least resistance for the Russian was to edge the flow to the west side of the channel and its associated bank.  There, the churning waters easily ate away at the human-conceived embankment inundating the water facilities and, downstream, our little airport.

Hydrology always wins.

o0o



© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

EXPLORING TOMALES BAY, PENINSULA AND THE POINT REYES SEASHORE

Part 2 of 2


To recap: The Church of the Open Road has been kicked out of the house while Mrs. Church of the Open Road enjoys an annual reunion with former teaching colleagues.  The following recounts day two of exile.

The dawn, this morning, came up like thunder.


Last night, I did a little research using this source: https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2005/1127/chapter9.pdf?fbclid=IwAR05HiP_9y3bDp80H7g_LhM-tUsS0tvk_cD76PuPDsLHJy-BSdQr3iWeQQE and was eager to get started.

I’d learned that evidence to the conflict between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate could be seen opposite the run-aground fishing vessel behind the Inverness Store.


The black wedge on the opposite Tomales Bay shoreline to the left of the boat is an uplifted marine terrace near the trace of the San Andreas fault.  Eureka!

I also learned that the Salinian Granite found near Tomales Point is unlike any rock found on the other side of the bay; but it is geo-genetically (my word, not that of a geologist of any repute) geo-genetically identical to the granite found on the eastern side of the fault down in the Salinas Valley some 140 miles away.  At movement the speed of fingernail growth, how long did that take? And – some food for future thought – how long before Los Angeles, California on the Pacific Plate will pull alongside San Francisco which is on the North American?  And will the two rival cities be able to work out their differences before that happens?


The Tomales Point Trail is groomed for three miles.  The 1.7 mile to the actual point is not maintained. 


I wouldn’t make it that far this day.  Cool temperatures – 45 degrees, according to the Subaru, high winds – 35 to 40 mph sayeth the weatherman on channel 5, intermittent rain and slicing hail along with a gimpy knee would curtail my expedition at about mile 2.5.

For moments the air was clear and sunny, but the distant clouds were foreboding and racing this way.


I wanted to get as far as the Tule Elk Reserve…


…and I did.


Then I wanted to get as far as a view of the mouth of Tomales Bay.


Did that, too.  Across the opening a sand spit led to the little community of Dillon Beach, a place I would later visit to catch a view back this way.

Back-tracking, the wind picked up and birdshot sized hail pelted.  The circumstance didn’t seem to bother one young bull.


And, as quickly as the squall roared in, it passed. The view to north looked almost the same as it had two hours before.



The trailhead parking area is shared by the historic Pierce Ranch complex.  The lush pasturelands of the Point Reyes Seashore have long been held by ranching and dairy interests.

From a distance it’s all quite bucolic.


Pierce Ranch no longer operates, but the National Park Service has maintained the site in a state of arrested decay.


Barns and bunks, implements and even a school house are there to wander by and imagine what life might have been like before so much pavement and progress.

A raven stands guard as I tour the grounds. Hitchcock’s Bodega, I remind myself, is only ten or twelve miles distant the way the crow flies; and this was a pretty good-sized crow.


A primitive hinge caught my attention – simply a two-by-eight (or so) bored through with a hole large enough to accept the whittle stub of a gate swing.  The bottom of the gate swing would be stuck in the ground to rot and then be replaced.


Soon it became economically feasible to build a blacksmith shop for this and other ranching necessities.


Tomales Bay State Park (fee required, unlike the rest of the area) shares a small portion of the region.  Sections are on both sides of the bay, therefore both sides of the rift zone.


The peninsular portion includes a nice beach where kayaks can be rented, and a well-appointed nature trail recalling the living arrangements of the Coastal Miwok.


The half-mile path leads under this rather gangly looking coastal life oak…


…and out to a semi-remote beach…


…where replica Miwok bark huts which appear quite similar to those found in the Sierra around Pinecrest Lake (Tuolumne County).


A Great Egret (yellow bill, black legs – as opposed to a Snowy Egret: black bill, yellow/black legs) poses in the creek.



The morning of the third day, I was called to return from exile. Along the way, I wheel into the coast village Dillon Beach to get a view or two of Tomales Point from the North American plate.


From a bit greater distance, the spring grasses catching the mid-morning sun show the graceful lay of the land across the inlet.


And from Bodega Head, perhaps a dozen miles further north, I stand on the “furthest north existence of Salinian Granite” and snap a farewell photo of the San Andreas Rift Zone as it is found in Marin County.



The adventure has been a good one.  If not actually experiencing – but, at least, imagining – the dynamics of a continually evolving landscape helps place me in time. I come away with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of our coastal environment and the science that helps us to understand.

And I look forward to Mrs. C.O.T.O.R’s next “girl’s weekend.”

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Monday, February 18, 2019

SEARCHING FOR THE SAN ANDREAS RIFT

Part 1 of 2



Annually, the Church of the Open Road gets kicked out of the house while Mrs. Church of the Open Road hosts a “girl’s weekend” for her former teaching buddies. The Church welcomes the opportunity to go “on assignment.”  This year, that assignment took us to a portion of the San Andreas Rift Zone and the Point Reyes National Seashore.


Snow seldom crusts the Maycamas near my house, but on the February morning of my departure, the hills were blanketed in white.  Fifteen minutes down the road, hail would be bouncing off the hood of the Subaru, and while I enjoy a good motorcycle trip, I was happy to have left Enrico, the Yamaha in the garage.

Our earth is a dynamic planet, always changing. Tectonic forces raise mountains and shorelines and rain, ice and wave action wear them away. I wondered about the impact of the snow on the Coast Range this day.

The Russian River was doing its job, carrying burden washed down from the mountains out to sea.


More subtle – and more violent – is the movement of plates atop the earth’s mantle.


This is what I hoped to investigate.


I headed out to the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes is of the continent while not actually being of the continent.  This chunk of land rides atop the Pacific Plate which is sliding north-northwesterly at a cumulative speed equal to that of fingernail growth.  Imagine how long your fingernail would grow if left untrimmed for a year.  That’s how far, northwesterly, the Pacific Plate is moving relative to the North American. Big deal, huh?

A fence line along the Earthquake Trail reminds us that the movement isn’t gradual…


…rather it occurs in massive fits and spurts. The sixteen-foot gap here occurred on April 18, 1906.

The guide book I was using to help me identify where the fault lies talked about contrasting rock on one side from the other. But my rocks and mineral book was safely tucked on a shelf at home.  It didn’t matter.  The foliage and fungi pretty much covered up the geology, and I couldn’t tell the difference between Salinian Granite and a granite counter top, so I contented myself with a walk through the forest.


A sag pond turns to marsh in the Olema Valley. I am tracing the scarp of the San Andreas fault, but I couldn’t tell where it was.


Finding the fault would be a bust this day, so I headed for higher ground:


Mount Vision Road would take me to the peninsula’s most lofty point.

The clouds that continued to drop snow and hail here and back home afforded a dramatic view of both Point Reyes, Drake’s Bay and Estero.


Even as a new storm was arriving in sheets from the Pacific, the previous cloudburst left a rainbow arcing over Tomales Bay.


High points and thunderstorms do not mix... 


...so I retreated to the pastureland below catching a glimpse of this fellow and two of his buddies.


Having secured lodging…


…and after enjoying a meal of local fare…


…I snapped a reflected sunset… 


…and retired to my modest room to read up about what I might experience tomorrow.

o0o

Next: Tomales Point and the Tule Elk Reserve; Old Pierce Ranch; a coastal Miwok village…

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

Sunday, February 10, 2019

THEY SAY THE NEON LIGHTS ARE BRIGHT

The Church of the Open Road gets some culture

It could be reasonably suggested that more culture exists in the average Petri dish or unattended vegetable drawer than exists within me.  That said, on rare occasion, I’ve made it to New York just to get a dose.


They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway.  And whoever they are, they’re right.


Our plan was to see Jeff Daniels in Aaron Sorkin’s new stage version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  And we did.  


Sorkin and Daniels teamed up to provide a 21st Century take on a 1930s circumstance that, sadly, is still all too prominent.  Had seeing “Mockingbird” been all we'd do in the city; the trip would have been a huge success.

But “Chicago” was continuing its decades-long run and Cuba Gooding Jr. would be featured for just a few more performances.  


The songs, the story, the choreography all made it unsurprising that – even on a cold Thursday evening in February – the show would again be a sellout.

The wild card Broadway show was “The Band’s Visit,” a lesser-known musical about an Egyptian “Police Band” visiting Israel to perform for some official opening but finds themselves stranded in a small Israeli village for the night after having boarded the wrong bus.  


A soulful café owner, a heart-broken kid waiting by the phone, a timid, self-conscious teen are matched with the uniformed Egyptians (all of whom play their instruments during the show) as both comic stories and painful relationships develop. 

 Of the three shows, it’s the one I’d want to see again.  (For Candi, it’d be “Mockingbird,” and I’ll gladly go with her.)

As a child of the west, I enjoy a good canyon.  A narrow one with limited, winding access.  One where history took place that most people fly over.


But canyons in New York City are quite a bit different.


They are straight-edge straight paved routes where the winter sun might make it to the bottom for twenty minutes on a clear day.


Were it not for the sirens wafting up from below, the traffic’s roar from atop the Empire State Building sounds surprisingly like the rushing current of a spring time, snow-melt filled Feather River back in northern California.  Almost soothing.


The City does a good job of setting aside some very pricy real estate for open space.  Central Park is grand as long as you don’t try to compare it to the Tetons.  And city blocks, here and there as set aside for sitting and chatting and having a cigar.  Very pleasant.


In this urban environment, I was delighted to catch glimpse of something natural going on in a rather unnatural place.


A few shout outs:  The Park Terrace Hotel on 40th Street is a four-years new construct walking distance to Times Square and the theater district.  https://parkterracehotel.com The staff is more than accommodating and delight in hearing about our day.  Across 40th is Bryant Park and the New York City public library – an architectural masterpiece that deserved our visit.

Astro Restaurant at 6th Avenue and 55th Street is a place I’ve stumbled into twice now. http://www.astrorestaurant.com/index.html   I’ll go back next time for another pastrami on rye and some fries.

Fine & Rare https://www.fineandrare.nyc offers enough choices in Bourbon and whiskey to make me more pro-choice than I already am.  Menu, presentation, preparation and service are outstanding – more than the average country boy might expect.  And the every-night live jazz featured this night a melodious songstress offering her take on the Great American Songbook – sometimes in French [pause for heart palpitations] – and a bass player who made me wish I’d practiced more as a kid.


The first time I’d visited the World Trade Center, several years ago, I must admit I shed tears at the two pools built on the footprints of the once-mighty twin towers.


This time, we took the additional step of visiting the profoundly moving museum assembled beneath where those towers stood.

Remnants of the foundation’s structure tell us something about the fallacy of foreverness…


… and the hulk of Ladder 3 reminds me not everyone who wears a badge or dons a uniform is a hero. Circumstance will determine who’s who.  New York City’s Fire Department(s) lost 343 souls in one day. Each a hero.  


More tears.

New York is a fabulous collection of contrasts: rich people and the down and out; soaring high rises and tiny historic chapels in their shadows; rushing traffic sounding like a wild river... 


...and from a distance, a still life of humanity’s greatest triumphs and greatest failures.

As we fly west, I wonder if I’ll ever be called back…


…and I revel at the open space beneath me.  From 36,000 feet, it feels more like home.

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press