In a continuing effort to squeeze out some last drops of Northern California while we're still in the area, Paul and I drove about an hour eastward on Sunday morning, up into the nearest mountains (~4,000 ft or so). Despite a lack of maps and marked trails, we were able to explore a bit of the Horse Mountain Botanical area, and we really liked what we saw. We had sunny skies, pointy conifers, and snow-capped Trinity Alps in the distance; what's not to like?
I find upper-elevation trees so weird and interesting. This small stretch of woods was nice and shaggy:
And a nearby ridge made a very pretty backdrop for our walk:
One especially cool thing about this place -- and a reason why it's protected as a botanical area -- is that the ground contains a large amount of serpentine (California's state rock), and so the plants here tend to be rare and specialized for growing in these harsh soil conditions. (Click here for some more information about plants' adaptations for serpentine soils.) Serpentine rocks are, incidentally, quite pretty, and I kept getting distracted by the green/black stones on the road where we were walking. Here's a lovely hunk of serpentine rock that found its way home with me (I wet it with water to make the colors clearer):
In any case, we saw a lot of flowers on Horse Mountain, and some of them were indeed serpentine specialists. Evergreen Everlasting (Antennaria suffrutescens), for example, only grows in serpentine soil, and this little clump was providing quite a banquet for the local pollinators:
I haven't been able to definitively identify this tiny hairstreak butterfly, but it and several of its jewel-like fellows were making good use of these flowers:
This Wedgeleaf Violet (Viola cuneata) apparently also likes serpentine soils, although it can be found in other environments as well (the pretty leaf in the background is a lily whose flowers were already spent):
And I'm not sure what species of wallflower this is, but its bright orange blooms really stood out, and this (I think) Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) certainly seemed to like them:
Several small lizards dashed across our path at various points during our walk. We watched this pair of Common Sagebrush Lizards doing lizard-couple things in the shade; the male on the left was doing pushups to impress the female on the right, and she watched for a while, then she led him on a bit of a chase and out of sight:
While driving through the area, we even caught a glimpse of a Mountain Quail scurrying across the road -- it was surprisingly big, compared to a California Quail -- and we later heard another of these birds calling in the distance.
What an amazing and interesting place!