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Jun 18

Big Sur Trail to Mocho & Rainbow RSI

View from the North Coast Ridge Road

View from the North Coast Ridge Road

El Pais Grande del Sur

Trailhead at Cold Spring

Trailhead at Cold Spring

Embarking on the Big Sur Trail, the question became unavoidable, just where did this name "Big Sur" come from?  A fusion of Spanish and English, the term originates from the Spanish explorers, lead by Gaspar de Portolà, who first settled around the Monterey peninsula in 1770 and referred to the rugged coast and mountains to the south as, "el pais grande del sur"-- the big country to the south.  In 1821 the Big Sur region along with the rest of California became part of Mexico when it gained its independence from Spain.  A few decades later California came under control of the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War in 1848.  Over time as the American influence grew in the area, especially after the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, the name Big Sur prevailed and remains as anomalous and attractive as ever.  The Big Sur Trail derives its name from the fact that it traverses both the North and South Fork of the Big Sur River, eventually meeting up with the Pine Ridge Trail.
Sam and I observe the terrain

Sam and I observe the terrain from Logwood Ridge

The Big Sur trailhead is a difficult one to access, being many miles south of Big Sur Valley on the severely restricted North Coast Ridge Road.   On this particular outing Sam and I were accompanied by VWA executive director Mike Splain, who had also been helping with Rec Site Inventory work, as well as members of the California Native Plant Society who were conducting a rare and invasive plant survey.  Mike went much further south on Coast Ridge Road to descend to Upper Bee and Indian Valley Camps.
Our Lord's Candle, Yucca whipplei

Our Lord's Candle, Yucca whipplei

This striking species is a favorite to be seen in bloom, with its grandiose display of flowers and unique desert presence, it serves as a reminder that while in the Santa Lucia's, you are in the midst of many overlapping plant communities.  (Just beyond the flowers in the background you can see redwood trees).  Check out this excellent eco-ode to the Yucca whipplei and the unique relationship it has with a small species of moth,Tegeticula maculata, the only species that pollinates its creamy white flowers.
Fower of the Yucca

Fower of the Yucca, mesmerizing

Leaving the ridge and striking down the trail we traveled the switchback filled area known since the 1900's as the   ''Devil's Staircase'', named for the steep, exposed climb it can be on the hike up.  Here's an article, also from the Double Cone Quarterly, about that place name.  This section of the Big Sur trail is currently overgrown heavily with ceanothus, blue blossom and wart-leaf, which can get rather sticky to hike through.  After the hot, brushy hike down we made it to this grove of redwoods along the first creek crossing of the trail, where we filled our bottles and ate lunch.  Notice the burns on these trees, they extend some 60 to 100 feet up trunks and are described in the classic Natural History of Big Sur book that was printed in 1993, but that's not to say they haven't seen fire since, probably numerous times in their long life.
Fire-scarred Redwoods

Fire-scarred redwoods

Redwoods of the un-named creek

Redwoods along the tributary creek down from Logwood Ridge

Sam fills his bottle from the un-named creek

Sam fills his bottle

On maps this creek is unnamed, but apparently it goes by Cisco Creek.
Yellow brodiaea, Triteleia crocea

Yellow brodiaea, Triteleia crocea

Conglomerate boulder

Conglomerate boulder

About a mile above Mocho camp alongside the trail sits this massive Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) conglomerate boulder, it appears like a heap of cobblestone was cemented together.  These rocks were probably once sitting on the ocean floor or riverbed and were uplifted to their present location on the mountainside.  Other similar conglomerates can be found in the area and are a testament to the awesome and complicated geologic forces at play in this region.  The geology of Big Sur is said to be the most complex of anywhere in California.
Fire ring stack

Fire ring stack

Another heap of stone, this is actually the fire ring at Mocho Camp.  This is a classic example of old fire rings that get built up and sloppy over time.  The VWA's dedicated group of Volunteer Wilderness Ranger's often disassemble these behemoth fire rings and reconstruct them to a more appropriate size and functionality.
A view of Double Cone

A view of Double Cone

Getting closer to the South Fork of the Big Sur river, a break in the trees offered this peak at Double Cone with numerous Santa Lucia firs standing strong in the river valley.
Monardella macrantha ssp. macrantha

Monardella macrantha ssp. macrantha, Hummingbird Monardella

Fast escape

Fast escape

This snake was quick to leave, but we were able to snap this photo and id'd it as the Monterey Ring-Necked Snake, Diadophis punctatus vandenburghi.  Sam was familiar with this species and explained that when disturbed, it coils its tail like a corkscrew, exposing the bright red underside.  Rather than give us such a show this snake slithered off in a hurry.
Rainbow Camp

Rainbow Camp

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

Just downstream of Rainbow camp is a delightful swimming hole and this gorgeous waterfall.  While filling my bottle in the morning from the falls, I looked down to see a small double rainbow glittering in the early sunshine over my bottle.  Excited I rocked hopped to another angle and saw an even bigger rainbow shimmering in the morning sun.  Perhaps this is where the name Rainbow came from I wondered.  However, a look into the Monterey County Place Name book reveals that, according to Jeff Norman (famous Big Sur historian), the camp was named such because it was a great place for catching rainbow trout.  We did see several trout in the river near camp, at one time I counted as many as 7 fish lingering around a pool.  
Serpent's Hiss

Serpent's Hiss

This lively snake had the audacity to stick its tongue out at the camera.  I believe it to be the western terrestrial garter snake, Thamnophis elegans.  In a wilderness such as the Ventana, many of these creatures are unaccustomed to human presence and can be easily startled, especially in a remote area such as the South Fork of the Big Sur river.
Wild and Scenic River

Wild and Scenic River

Exploring the river, both upstream and downstream from Rainbow camp, was a truly memorable experience.  Immersed in the natural wonder, very few photos were taken of the travels taken along this special area.  Of particular delight was the discovery of a large Calocedrus decurrens, incense cedar tree, a quarter mile or so up from Rainbow camp, a rare presence in the Ventana.
Devil's Staircase

Devil's Staircase, moment of pause

The gates of hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies.  (poem from the Double Cone Quarterly article)
Coulter Pine

Coulter Pine, Pinus coulteri

Pinus coulteri is a common species in the Ventana and renowned for its large cone, the largest of any pine species, reaching lengths of 8-16 inches and weighing 4-10 pounds.  The sugar pine does produce a longer cone, but coulter wins out in sheer mass.
Cold Spring

Cold Spring Camp

With this mission the Rec Site Inventory project was winding to a close.  A few more cursory expeditions were made to tag some remaining sites before our May 31st deadline to finish.  It was an incredible project to contribute to and an amazing opportunity to experience so much of the lovely Ventana and Silver Peak Wildernesses.  We hope the data collected will be used to assist US Forest Service personnel and VWA's Volunteer Wilderness Rangers in making "visitor use management" decisions.  I look forward to continuing my travels in the Santa Lucia's and Big Sur coast and will continue to write about other adventures and give updates on our Youth in Wilderness program.  Happy trails!
Coastal View

Coastal View

         

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