I’d originally had other plans last Sunday, but various circumstances found Sarah & I heading north toward our favorite stomping grounds of Mt. Tamalpais in nearby Marin County. We had a few hours, and decided to hike the Cataract Trail, high on Mt. Tam’s shoulder.
Rock Springs Trailhead
We started down the Cataract Trail, which follows Cataract Creek as it empties into the Marin watershed. Since it hadn’t rained recently, the creek was a gentle burble as it tumbled down the rocks.
After admiring the many blooming Milkmaids, Sarah’s sharp eyes found first one, then a great many blooming Calypso Orchids.
Calypso Orchids are quite possibly my favorite among the many beautiful native California wildflowers, and we were stoked to see many hundreds of them along the trail on this hike! As I scanned the hillside for more orchids, I spotted a few gone-to-seed Striped Coralroot Orchids, a very early bloomer that we arrived several weeks too late to enjoy.
After a mile and a half or so of downhill hiking, we arrived at Laurel Dell, a nice picnic area set next to a meadow, and turned right on the Laurel Dell Fireroad.
Baby Blue Eyes
Along the meadow a patch of lovely Baby Blue Eyes was in bloom, the only flower in bloom in the grasses. The usual grassland flower denizens are a few weeks still.
Fetid Adder’s Tongue
On a hillside next to the trail we saw many leaves of Fetid Adder’s Tongue, a very early bloomer in these parts, and some inspection turned up exactly one, perfectly formed, bloom.
View from our lunch spot
Western Scrub-Jay eyeing our lunch
A bit of uphill hiking on the Laurel Dell Fireroad brought us to a lovely vista, and we declared a lunch break. Two sandwiches, two miniature bottles of wine, and a bag of chips later, we continued on our merry way after leaving some crumbs for a nearby hopeful Western Scrub-Jay.
We soon came to the junction with the Ben Stein Trail, which we took to complete our little loop. This trail climbed up through medium-density chapparal, with some Indian Warrior peeking crimson through the underbrush.
Although we’d seen some small patches of Shooting Stars earlier, I finally found a nice specimen. This wonderful flower is delicate and gets damaged at the first hint of a storm. I also find it to be a difficult flower to photograph due to its habitat (boggy shady grassy areas), stature (short), and shape (elongated).
Some lovely madrone trees distracted me with their textured and colorful bark, and we soon made our way down back toward the trailhead.
Serpentine, California’s state rock
Back at the car we deposited some extraneous clothing, then headed out towards Dad O’Rourke’s Bench, one of Sarah & my favorite places. A large vein of serpentine cut a blue-green swath across our path as we hiked the quarter mile or so to the bench, which surprisingly, was not occupied, although several groups of people were nearby enjoying the great views.
Words to live by!
Dad O’Rourke’s Bench is cut into a rock outcrop with a phenomenal view south to San Francisco and the greater bay area, and west to the open Pacific Ocean. On this clear day we could see the Farallone Islands, 30 miles to our west, as if they were just a couple of miles out.
View from Dad O’Rourke’s Bench (note distant downtown SF on the left)
It was somewhat hazy to the south, and our SF views were limited, but the sheer breadth of the vista never fails to take my breath away. The purpose for this side-trip was to scatter the ashes of our recently-departed kitty Jasper, who had advanced FIP disease and had to be put down a few weeks ago.
Our goodbyes said, we retraced our steps back to the car and headed homeward. This was a lovely hike, with the earlier spring wildflowers in full bloom. We didn’t see very many birds, but at midday, we didn’t expect to.
Distance: 4.8 miles
Moving time: 2h 8m
Stopped time: 1h 5m
Elevation gain: 980 feet
|Birds seen:||Wildflowers seen:|
|– Acorn Woodpecker (heard)
– Chestnut-backed Chickadee (heard)
– Cooper’s Hawk
– Dark-eyed Junco
– Turkey Vulture
– Western Scrub-Jay
– Winter Wren (heard)
|– Aster sp.
– Baby Blue Eyes
– Calypso Orchid
– Fetid Adder’s Tongue
– Lupine sp.
– Shooting Stars
– Striped Coralroot Orchid