Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for August, 2011

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

Last week I went to Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, a new reserve in the former salt ponds you see as you get on the San Mateo Bridge heading west. It’s part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, the biggest wetlands project in California. Strange place, and very different from my mental images of the bay area. I still can’t quite wrap my brain around the idea of the Bay Area as one of the world’s major salt producers. Actually, though, it’s a natural result of the topography (south of Hayward, the bay averages only 1-3 feet in depth) and the dry-summer climate. Salt forms naturally in the shallow areas of the bay and has been harvested since the times of the Ohlone. The first salt ponds were built in the 1850’s and were developed like other forms of agriculture, small plots consolidating into larger and larger ones. Nowadays, Cargill, the giant corporation that’s currently recalling ground up turkey, is the last one still producing salt, 650,000 tons per year according to their website. In 2003, they consolidated their production and sold/donated-for-tax-write-offs over 15,000 acres (25 square miles) which are slowly being turned into nature reserves.

NASA aerial photo of the salt ponds, Eden Landing is towards the upper left

Eden Landing is only recently opened to the public and is still a work in progress. There are levee roads to walk on, former ponds in various stages of restoration, lots of birdlife, weedy pioneer plants with a few new native plantings at the margins, and the ruins of one of the salt production facilities. It’s the kind of landscape that is rather bleak in full sunlight, but beautiful in the first and last hours of the day.

The main focus of the restoration project has been to open the dikes and return the landscape to tidal wetlands and create habit for endangered wildlife such as snowy plover, clapper rail, black rail, and salt marsh harvest mouse. I only saw the more common species of wetland birds, but lots of those. The ruins of the salt works and about 10% of the salt ponds are going to be kept as a remnant of the site’s history and as photographer bait.

The ponds are most striking when you look down on them from the sky and see the colors of the micro-organisms living in the water. Different colors form depending on the salinity of the water: green, rust brown, orange, milky pink, and at the highest salinity a shocking purple. I could see rust in one pool and pink in another when I leaned out over them and looked downward. The NASA aerial photo below is completely untouched; those are the natural colors of the ponds.

NASA Aerial View of the Cargill ponds

QUEST did a segment on the project, focusing on the southernmost of the three sites, Alviso:

One of the areas that I saw on my visit (but didn’t photograph) was opened to Alameda Creek this week and will soon be opened to the bay.

— Addendum 1/7/12 — Chuck B. at My Back 40 Feet has a collection of posts on the Bay Area salt ponds and photos from a visit to Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge a little bit further south, worth a look.

August Bloom Day — Last of the Lilies

Black Beauty Lily

Tomorrow is bloom day. I missed last month’s, though there were some interesting plants in bloom: Monardella villosa, Monardella micrantha, Calylophus hartegii, Lilium regale, Lobelia ‘Queen Victoria,’ one or two others that we don’t always have blooming. This month has fewer things of interest. The geraniums are blooming (‘Bill Wallis’ reblooming, ‘Mavis Simpson’ hanging on since June), the last of our lilies , an ornamental oregano that brings large numbers of honey bees into the garden for the only time of the year, and a lot of the more ever-blooming plants like the orange Canna, the Blessed Calendulas, the Galvezias which seem to always have flowers but rarely in significant quantities.

Lobelia speciosa

Calendula and Calandrinia

Oenothera and Pennisetum

Sedum and Rubus pentalobus

Overall, not much else is worth photographing at the moment. Partly because August is the tail end of our bloom season, but mostly because we just began several projects and the garden is in that state of chaos that happens before everything begins to get put back together again. Bamboo leaves are strewn everywhere. Though actually I finished the first of the projects this weekend, and just need to tidy it up and then it will be bloggable. We’ve had this garden exactly five years now, and it is getting some upgrades that should make us want to stay here another five.

My thanks to Carol at MayDreamsGardens for hosting bloom day. Click through to see what’s blooming in lots of other garden blogs. The list of everything in bloom in our garden is below. (more…)

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

‘…a trail which was almost like a symphony, stopping, moving, looking, listening, and so on. I wanted to make this… but not to make it clear that there was a designer here… I wanted to leave it to the point that people would assume that it had always been that way.’ Lawrence Halprin

Along with the north coast, I went to Yosemite several times in the last couple months. Absolutely amazing place, as the millions of people who visit annually can all attest. I used to be bothered by the crowds, but I’ve learned to navigate the park and appreciate it without feeling bothered by them. Bringing my bicycle with me has helped immeasurably. The Valley’s a beautiful, flat place to ride around in, and a bicycle is the key to avoiding the daily traffic jams. (The park service really needs to figure out a way to get people parking outside the valley and just using bikes and shuttle buses inside. I’m skeptical it will ever happen, but I can dream, right?) Climbing has also helped me love the valley. Obviously because the climbing is so incredible, but also because I’ve ended up spending long periods of time sitting and staring at the views. And not just on the climbs. Most days I would meet up with my climbing partner at the bicycle parking at Lower Yosemite Falls, and while I waited for him, I started to really appreciate the effect that the view of the falls has for people.

Yosemite Falls

It’s the tallest falls in North America, 2,425 feet, and probably the single most viewed and photographed in the world. Lawrence Halprin redesigned the approach trail and picnic area a few years ago, and there is a lot of stonework done by the same company that did all of the stonework at Stern Grove. I don’t really remember what the approach was like before the redesign and the only ‘before photo I’ve seen is a glimpse in the video I linked above, but I remember a parking lot and a lot of crumbling asphalt. I’m pretty sure the framed view of the falls was already cleared, but possibly with the trees starting to grow back in and obscure the view again, and with a bathroom in the foreground instead of the dramatic allée. The redesign took out the parking area, made the trail into a loop, and rehabbed a lot of degraded habitat areas. It upgraded the materials and it channeled people’s movement so they would hit the key viewpoints without trampling on the vegetation or eroding the banks of the creek. And the work was done with enough subtlety and transparency that, as Halprin was hoping, most people probably don’t realize that their experience was crafted by a designer.

Yosemite Falls Approach

There’s a summary of the project here.

Yosemite Falls Approach Trail

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