Alpine Chaparral

This is explicitly not a blog about running. It attempts to be a blog about a limited spectrum of my interests and interactions that are summed up on the mast-head. But sometimes the interests that I have explicitly excluded come crashing into the Landscape Shelter and Community part. Nothing too exciting here, but this morning is an example of my running opening up some thoughts and observations that seem to fit here - and that require some mention of the context. The truth is I spend more time running through chaparral - or alongside of it than I do walking, but since the runs tend to be repetitive not a lot of new stuff comes up.

This particular run came about because of a walk. Will, who is staying with us briefly en-route to New York, decided Friday after lunch to walk up to the top of the Topa Topas. He took Sisar up to the Red Reef Trail and then turned right towards the peak at 6250 feet. He got within a couple of hundred yards of the summit before the snow and the gathering dark turned him around. He arrived home at about 6:30. Talking to him persuaded me that a Sunday run up to the White Ledge camp site at about 4000 feet would be very do-able since the steeper parts of the trail all occurred beyond this point. In the event it was an easy run but one enlivened by the changing flora at the slighly higher elevations.

My more usual higher elevation run is up Bear Canyon and the trail terminates at Bear Creek at around 3250'; the scree slopes here are sparsely vegetated save a few scabrous firs - almost certainly bigcone Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga macrocarpus). I remember talking to Peter Jump - our resident entomologist and he corrected me when I spoke of pines up in Bear Canyon - no he said, they're firs. I'm not sure the difference really resonated at the time. I now know from Quinn and Keeley's excellent handbook, Introduction to California Chaparral, U.C. Press Berkeley, 2006 that the bigcone Douglas fir is part of what is called a relict distribution - in other words they are the last and few of a species that previously extended right through Southern California and beyond to Baja. Right around 3000' they showed up off of Red Reef Trail and continued on up.

Once I'd left the fire road and was on the single track trail I also began to notice the Manzanita. It is a beautiful tree, multi-trunked with almost red-vines licorice colored bark and sometimes with the same twisting form. The pale celadon leaves are almond shaped and, at this time of the year, the branches are heavy with clusters of creamy pink urn-shaped blossoms. I shoved a little evidence in my running shorts and when I got home referred to Milt McAuley's Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, Canyon Publishing, Canoga Park, 1998.

Milt died last year but his book lives on as the best guide to the local chaparral plants - it grew beyond its wild flower title and is now available as an i-phone app. I was surprised that there are only two local manzanitas and the one along the trail is Arctostaphylos glauca - bigberry manzanita. it is a large genus that likes the cold so most varieties are further north. (Every 100 miles north is equivalent to 1000' feet in elevation). However, on a Ojai Nature Conservancy walk we saw a manzanita growing wild along the Ventura River just north of Meiners Oaks - the seed had presumably washed down the river. So, they will grow here at lower elevations (there are many dwarfish varieties at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden) but do not usually flourish. Walking or running up to 3000' or so is a small price to pay, particularly for those of us in Upper Ojai, to enjoy this signature plant of the alpine chaparral.

A few scrub oaks (Quercus dumosa) along the way and masses of mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides); along the banks the pretty chaparral sweet pea (Lathyrus vestitus), yerba santa (Eriodictylon crassifolium) and all those wild flowers that even with Milt's tutelage I barely know the names of - but mimulus would have featured and perhaps other Phacelia (yerba santa is the lone shrub variety of this huge genus).

California bay (Umbrellularia californica) thrives all the way up Sisar and at the White Ledge turn-around camp it was dominant, with just a couple of oak and sycamore interlopers. Interestingly, it is the California bay which is the most aggressive re-colonizer at the fire stricken Botanical Gardens.