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The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 2

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This is the second of a two-part series I’m calling “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills. You can see Part 1 here:

The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 1

As I said in Rethinking Berkeley, Naturally! I’m going to try to post more often and have less of a “hard science” aspect to these posts, unlike my Extreme Science blog.

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.

Eastern Fox Squirrel (left) vs. Western Gray Squirrel (right)

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:

Gray Fox in Strawberry Canyon and a Mother Fox’s Wisdom

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:

They are the Lady(bugs) of the Canyon

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!

♥♥♥

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The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 1

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Berkeley Hills (red box) – Part of the Pacific Coast Ranges

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:

Looking into Claremont Canyon

Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:

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:

The Road Goes Ever On-Tolkien and the Berkeley Hill Trails

If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.

Enjoy!

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.

Summer Grasses and Eucalyptus in Claremont Canyon

This is the near the beginning of the fire trail that runs up the north side of Claremont Canyon.

Fire Trail above Claremont Canyon

Here is a view of the historic UC Berkeley Cyclotron from one of the fire trails in Strawberry Canyon.

Looking Across Strawberry Canyon at the Historic Cyclotron

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.

Sunset over the Berkeley through Eucalyptus

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.

Spring Flowers and Grasses in Claremont Canyon

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.

Lichen and Moss in Strawberry Canyon

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.

California Wild Poppies and Grasses in Claremont Canyon

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!

Beautiful Cirrus Clouds above Trees near the Life Sciences Building

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.)

Towering Sequoia near the top of Strawberry Canyon

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!

Spring in Claremont Canyon

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.

Red Fungus after Late Spring Rain

I loved how the moss was growing into the cracks of this rock—one of the more beautiful forms of erosion.

Moss & Small Ferns

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.

California Poppies above Strawberry Canyon

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.

Trail Near the top of Panoramic Way

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.

Escape from New England-a weather nut’s confession

Winter Storm Clouds from Lawrence Hall of Science

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:

Berkeley Hills Landslide

Landslide on Upper Panoramic Way, Berkeley

Here’s one of the beautiful little waterfalls in Strawberry Canyon.  I often stop here and just listen and watch.

Small Waterfall in Strawberry Canyon

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.

Coming down Panoramic Way During Rainstorm – the Lights of Oakland in Distance

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.

Fiery November Sunset Over San Francisco Bay

May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!

♥♥♥