2 peaks, 5 posts = 2015

I opened my WordPress end-of-year review. Five posts—FIVE! were all I managed this year. (Five, counting this one)

With the much anticipated onset of snow in the coastal mountains, we bounded up to Horse Mountain after I finished my last assignments for the semester (so I thought! I had one more due.). Apparently, everyone else had the same idea that Saturday. DSC_7106

See all those people??! You’ll have to take my word for it, they were hollering, shrieking (I would too if I tried to sled there…trees much?), and their dogs were barking. It was a ruckus.


We’re ruckusing, too.

Horse Mountain is one of those areas where you love and hate to go there at once. Aside from all the bizarro stuff that has happened to us there, we do keep returning. It’s a unique botanical area on top of a peak that receives tons of moisture, but pretends it’s a semi-arid ecosystem due to toxic rocks that limit the species that can actually grow here. This ‘mountain,’ like much of the Coastal Range, has fairly low relief compared to its distance from the sea (20 miles inland, less than a mile in elevation), but it is one of the closer snow spots during the winter, able to resist the ocean’s regulating influence.


Schoolhouse Peak, one the other hand, is Horse Mountain’s opposite. It takes twice as long to get there, but it is only 12 miles as the crow flies from the coast. While Horse Mountain has seen a fair share of landscape-shaping human activities (mining, logging, etc), Schoolhouse and the surrounding Bald Hills are starkly deforested from centuries of burning, hunting, gathering, and eventually ranching and logging. It is managed as a cultural landscape within Redwood National Park, part of the Yurok, Chilula, and, later sheep herding settlers’ heritage.


The fire tower that sits atop Schoolhouse Peak.


The view into the Coyote Creek drainage.



Oak woodlands and open prairies were maintained by the tribes through the use of fire to attract bears, elk, and deer.


Following the old road down to Lyons Ranch. It would have been quite the trek to hunt or leave the ranch for supplies.


And it would be hard to leave that view.


Ending, Starting, and Stars

Whew. My graduate class in fundraising just ended. It was an eight week course (with luckily one textbook, not four like the previous class) that felt like it lasted forever.

But now, now comes starting my fifth season with the Park. Since I used most of my hours over the winter, I have to miss the first week of training with all the new folks. I get to make up what I missed by conducting a short training session on Monday, and two on Wednesday! DOH!

I have managed to sneak in some recreation in the last couple of weeks. I conducted a star talk/full moon hike, found some lovely flowers, and climbed a rock, making my atrophied upper body ache the next day. See photos.


Looking south. Orion’s Belt is above the light on the right. Look for three evenly spaced stars.

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find!

Even on a nearly full moon night, constellations are hard to find! How did the constellation-makers do it when ALL the stars are visible??

Calochortus elegans?

Calochortus elegans?


Arnica sp?


Lupinus albifrons




Hey! That's an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

Hey! That’s an elephant seal molting. At Trinidad State Beach

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

View off Strawberry Rock, looking towards Trinidad Head (big mound right of center), McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka

The Lonely Stars

Seeing as I haven’t blogged since January, it seems prime time to write something. This is the first weekend since that last post in which I didn’t feel buried by projects and class. It’s kinda tough finding precisely where to draw that “line in the sand” between personal time and work time when it’s all at home. Especially when you have a really driven husband who says “You just keep working ’til you’re done. That’s when you can stop.”  Gee…thanks! ;)

Anyway, enough about me. There are sea stars feeling LONELY out therein the Pacific!

High and Dry

High and Dry

Joking aside, they are indeed sparsely dispersed. Yesterday, I saw around 7. None of which were touching a neighbor. They were all separated by tens of feet. Maybe they are now avoiding contact with each other for fear of spreading cooties. (Can’t you tell I’ve been inside way too much?! We now return you to your regularly scheduled seriousness. Because, this is actually serious.)

The ochre sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) are suffering from what has been labeled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. ‘Syndrome’ because for a long time, scientists couldn’t figure out what was causing the disintegration of living sea stars. For some gruesome photos of the chronology of symptoms, click over to the University of California, Santa Cruz’s page.

Just last summer, they pinned down a likely culprit, a densovirus in the large Parvoviridae family, that has been present since 1942. Now, the elusive details are the variables that allow this virus to run rampant through various sea star and sea urchin populations.

While it’s tempting to shrug and say they are just sea stars, just like us, they are keystone species. They are capable of influencing the population sizes of other animals, of who lives where. Mussels serve as their primary prey. Keeping those numbers in check, other, more squishy-bodied animals, like the colonial anemones present in both the below photos, can have a chance at clinging to prime rocky real estate.

Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Sea Stars with their Mussel Prey

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

Ochre Stars between Mussels and Anemones

While scientists know the population crash is going to have rippling effects, what is unknown is what’s in store for the future. What else will ride in on the tides of change? Here’s likely a sneak peak of things to come: warm water this winter brought us these wandering beauties.

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 1

Lonely Sea Star 2

Lonely Sea Star 2

New Year, New Comet

If you’ve been vaguely catching any astronomy news, you’ve noticed that a comet called ‘Lovejoy’ keeps popping up. While not the same comet as the previous visitor to our solar system, the factor that is the same is the fellow who keeps discovering these comets with his eight inch telescope [read: not an astoundingly sophisticated piece of equipment]!

The current comet is brightening, making it visible to the naked eye in non-light polluted skies and visible with regular binoculars. Its proximity to Orion makes it a little easier to find. The moon is getting later, too, so the skies should be dark enough after sunset.

This comet will return in 8,000 years [the influence of our solar system amended it from 11,000 years], so might want to get a glimpse of it sooner than later!

I don’t have photography equipment fancy enough to catch the tail in any detail, but the photos below give you some idea of what you’d see through binoculars. You can follow this link from Sky and Telescope for more information and great photos.

Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 [Green]

Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 [Green]

The Belt and Sword of Orion

The Belt and Sword of Orion

The Pleiades

The Pleiades

Puppy: The Cute Productivity Killer

Puppy: The Cute Productivity Killer

They are really cute, but you can’t get anything done with a puppy around. If you somehow manage to DO something, they’ve done something in equivalent effort with their teeth. Or with excrement. Puppies seem to have a knack for passing out at the drop of hat and waking up as soon as you step foot in another room.

This guy is Kepler. He loves to eat snails and chase his tail. He also is a pro at falling asleep at the vet.

Luckily, he’s only ten weeks old, so he’s still sleeping a lot. During the day, of course, not so much at night. Good thing he’s cute.

I promise this won’t turn into a puppy blog, but I just hit 80,000 views a bit ago, so some canine cuteness was appropriate, I thought.