Seasonal rogue runoff crossing the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail.
Whether it is related to global warming or not, California seems to go from one extreme to another. Years of punishing drought have given way to one of the wettest winters we’ve seen in a long time. The drought is officially over for northern California, but in so doing it is making amphibians of us all. The average annual rainfall for Sonoma is 31.49 inches. As of today we are at 37.71 inches with more on the way.
The trails take a beating from this much wet. Water often courses down sections of trail, eroding soil needed to make a smooth trail. Puddles create mud that hikers walk through which can also tear up the trail. This year on the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail on the Montini Preserve a new seasonal runoff channel has cut directly across the trail with pools beside it (see picture). Clearly we will need to address this next summer.
Having said all that, we needed to have a year that well and truly broke our multi-year drought, and we certainly got it. It would just be nice if it didn’t also mean mudslides, road closures, and un-hikable sections of trail.
Ripening Toyon berries in the rain.
Today was my first hike in the rain for the season and I was reminded what a joy it is. Hiking in the rain is a joy, you ask? Yes, it is to me, and for these reasons:
- You tend to see fewer people and more wildlife.
- Colors are more vibrant.
- When runoff starts, it’s more exciting.
And if you have the right gear, you don’t get soaked. I have rain pants, waterproof hiking shoes, and a rain shell. But if it is raining only lightly I will often pull my rain shell through a caribiner and clip it to my belt, since if the storm is warm I can get more wet from sweat than a light rain. A ball cap helps keep rain off my glasses. So it’s really quite simple and even if you get a little wet, it’s just water. And the hiking is well worth it.
Given this, and the drought that we are still experiencing, I welcome the rain and wish for much more to come our way this winter. If you’re on the trail when it’s raining, look for me.
Our recent and ongoing rains have had their desired effect in at least one significant way — the mushrooms are out! Wikipedia describes mushrooms as:
“…the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.”
That clinical description belies the charm of these organisms that pop up from the forest floor when the right conditions (dampness being key) are present. The varieties are endless, and some are edible, but identifying them properly is a sticky business best left to experts. If you eat the wrong one, you can get sick or even die.
Of course mushrooms are but on type of fungus. Another type that is easily spotted on the trails is a bracket fungus (see picture). These grow on trees, like this one which is growing on a dead and downed tree alongside the trail on the Overlook side of Rattlesnake cutoff. Look for it in what I call “Fern Glen” which is where the seasonal creek is now running across the trail.
This specimen I found near the 4th Street entrance to the Montini Preserve, and I love it’s delicate stem. I had to get quite close to get this shot of what is one of the smaller varieties. On the same day I found nearly the opposite, one with a six-inch cap that had only recently popped up above the dead leaves of the forest floor.
For help in identifying a particular variety, there are a number of strategies:
Whether you are trying to identify a particular variety or simply enjoying seeing them pop up in the season of the fungi, it’s yet another reason to get out on the trails and enjoy what they have to offer. See you on the trail!
Seasonal creeks are by definition creeks that only have water during the rainy season. In California, the rainy season can potentially stretch from early Fall into late Spring, although variations in weather patterns can of course add nuance to that schedule. However, for truly seasonal creeks it usually takes a fair bit of rain to form the runoff required to start them up.
So although we’ve had rain just about every week for the last month or so, it was only with the latest storm that we began to see the seasonal creeks on the Overlook Trail and the Montini Preserve begin to run. Specifically, the creek that runs through what I call “Fern Glen” and across the Overlook part of the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail, has begun to run (see pic).
This is good news, as it means that our storage reservoirs will also begin to fill. And having been in a multi-year drought, this is definitely good news. However, runoff by itself isn’t necessarily good. We should trap as much of that as we can into the aquifer, where those who draw from water wells can take advantage of it. To a large degree, this means slowing down the runoff and making it soak into the ground instead of running directly to the bay.
Personally, I think we have a ways to go before we can say that we are doing the best we can at water capture in this valley. Until we figure out how best to harness our seasonal creeks to maximize underground water storage, we perhaps deserve the droughts that we will likely increasingly get.
We’ve been lucky so far this Fall, with rain coming almost on a weekly basis. It has been enough to both finally end one of the worst fire seasons on record as well as foster the eager growth of new grass.
I love hiking the trails in the rain. There tends to be fewer people and more animals. One day in the pouring rain I saw a large flock of wild turkeys — the most I had ever seen.
Out on the trail today although I didn’t see many wild creatures I saw a few hardy people and water beginning to pool and start to run off the trail. After returning home, it poured even harder. If it keeps up we my have water running in the creeks by this evening.
We certainly need this moisture, but we need so much more to escape this period of drought that it’s hard to imagine getting enough in one rainy season. So let’s all hope that the rain doesn’t go away and that it soaks the ground, fills our reservoirs, and ends our latest drought.