Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rubicon River - April 2015

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It was time to visit one of our special places. After our last attempt, the roads were now open into the burn area.

A small storm came through Friday afternoon into Saturday. We got around an inch of rain here at home. Sunday was clear. We headed over to the Rubicon River Canyon to see the damage inflicted by the King Fire last fall. We walked down an old road cut to intersect the Hunters Trail that runs along the north side of the river, up on the canyon side.

Various areas have straw mulch spread by helicopter during the initial fire restoration project. The Rubicon River is a designated wild and native trout stream. The angler survey box still sits at the start of the trail.

Although the sign on the outside melted in the heat, the contents survived.

Some vegetation is returning on the lower canyon walls.

This elevation is right around the upper limit for poison oak, a very hardy plant.

In our fourth year of drought, we were initially quite surprised to see water flowing in several of the small side drainages.

After giving it some thought, we realized that the ground is bare above promoting fast run off from the small storm. Also all the forest vegetation is gone so there is no plant life drinking up any of the moisture.

We continued up canyon on the trail.

One small burned meadow area has lupine blooming.

And in less fire-seared areas, ground cover is coming back.

Life is returning to other areas as well.

Birds are returning. We saw and heard Stellar Jays and Robins. We did notice there were no small critters such as squirrels and rodents. Also, we saw no reptiles such as lizards and snakes. We were quite surprised to see a bear. The Lady was ahead and quietly called out, "Bear!" I trotted up to her and asked where. She explained it was moving below her and she didn't think it had seen her. She kept an eye out for another sighting.

I doubled back to see if it had turned around. I stopped when I heard movement below me and a small bear popped up on a small rock outcrop, about 15 feet away. It was a small bear, probably last year's cub. It would have only gone about 40 lbs. It still had its winter coat, light cinnamon in color, and was wet from yesterday's rain or maybe from crossing the river. It was a beautiful pose with all four paws together on the top of the rock. I lifted the camera up. It saw the movement and was instantly gone. This was a great surprise to see a large mammal, but with the new growth coming up and lack of other bears, this is a good territory for a young bear to move into.

Up ahead was one of our favorite viewpoints into the canyon.

We were happy to see the riparian vegetation - alders and willows - had been spared in places on the canyon bottom.

We worked our way down to the river. The Lady loves broad expanses of bare rock on the river's edge. Searching out a place, a perch, along flowing water always feels like coming home. 

We were in for a bit of a surprise. The water, usually crystal clear, was almost opaque with a blackish brown color from ash.

We could see signs that the water level had recently risen with an inflow of ash and silt as shown by these leaves now underwater with silt on top.

And, when we looked close we could see ash and bits of charcoal on the rocks in the river.

We sat quietly. A pair of swallows worked the air above. Two mergansers flew up river. It still had a feeling of home. We felt like we still belonged but so much had changed.

It was time to climb back up to the trail.

We turned back toward the trailhead and worked our way back.

There is a lot of debris across the trail. But, around us were signs of new life - bright signs - giving hope that this place will be a good home to the small bear and recovery will continue.

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