Monday, July 9, 2012


A sleeping Sea Lion lay on the beach at Jug Handle State Nature Reserve, taking a break from his annual swim from Mexico to Alaska. Small signs with small print asked beach-goers to keep a res-pectable distance. I didn't see the first sign, and couldn't read the second one. Mr. Seal had camouflaged himself pretty well with sand, and had Patty not pointed him out, I may have never noticed him. Note to self: Pay more atten-tion to the signs.

I was excited to visit Jug Handle. Not only was I inter-ested in the beach, the geo-logy and the forest, but I was curious to see this park that California Naturalist John Olmsted had fought so hard for back in 1972 when a motel tried to build on the bluff.

I had seen the film My Father Who Art in Nature, made by John's son Alden in honor of his recently deceased Dad. The movie included footage of the battle to save Jug Handle and I wanted to see what all the shouting was about.

Jug Handle features a two and a half mile self-guided nature trail called The Ecological Staircase which explores five wave-cut terraces formed by glacier, sea and tectonic activity that built the coast range. Each of the terraces was uplifted from sea level about 100,000 years before the one below it.

Plants on each terrace represent a more advanced stage in succession, indica-ting what the previous, next lower terrace may look like in 100,000 years. The lowest terrace consists of prairie; the second is covered with pines; the third supports a unique pigmy forest with knee-high trees possibly several dec-ades old. Few places on earth display a more com-plete record of ecological succession, making Jug Handle a very unique and special place.

We began the hike around the top of the bluff, enjoying the coastal plants and wild-flowers, as well as a the gorgeous view of the beach below.

Once on the beach, I joined the sea lion (at a respectable distance of course - thank goodness for a long lens) by plopping down onto the sand and sitting quietly for twenty minutes or so while Canadian Geese played in the water, and rough waves came pounding into the horseshoe shaped cove.

We crossed an elevated wooden walkway that went under the bridge to officially begin our hike. The trail through the forest was very busy on this midweek day in May. Not only is Jug Handle one of the few remaining parks with no fee, but it is highly utilized by school children.

We ran into quite a few groups of students, always well behaved, and in the company of both chaperones and naturalists explaining the forest to them. One group was learning to do a "solo hike." With a guide at each end of a small portion of the trail - probably not longer than fifty yards - students were sent one at a time to make their way through the woods.

I thought this was terrific! As someone who has taken to solo hiking with increasing frequency, I was pleased to see the kids learning to be only with themselves for a few moments, and gaining the confidence to find their way down the trail.

It should have been easy to follow the path at Jug Handle. Twenty-eight markers on the two and a half mile trail alongside beautiful rows of Hostas (!) should have kept any hiker honest. So Patty and I walked at our own paces.

I was ahead of Patty, so when I got to where the trail washed out, I sat and once again enjoyed some quiet time while I waited for her to catch up with me. I played with a dog belonging to some local hikers. Then I followed the signs down a rutted, golden road lined with wild rhododendrons. It looked more like a 4WD service road than the hiking paths.

Within a few minutes I knew I had taken a wrong turn. I retraced my steps and got back on track. But between my quiet time and my wrong turn, Patty and I had completely missed each other, and she ended up back at the park headquarters way before me.

As it turns out, there are in fact a couple of signs at the end of the trail that point in the wrong direction. The ranger, local residents and a couple of hiking websites confirm that many folks end up walking half way back to Fort Bragg by following these erroneous signs. Seriously, would it be that hard to fix?

Well, all's well that ends well. And indeed it is ending well - at least for the moment - for Jug Handle SNR. Alden Olmsted's spare-change fundraising drive contributed $9,500 for the reserve established by his father.

The California State Parks Foundation put up another $9,500. The donations will allow maintenance of basic services, such as restroom and trail upkeep and trash removal. There is a ton of scientific info to be gleaned at Jug Handle. I'm glad we'll still be able to access it for at least one more year.

I'm going to go back to my habit of taking written information with a grain of salt and mixing it with instinct.

And should I stumble upon a sleeping sea lion because I didn't see a poorly placed sign - well - I'm sure he'll let me know his boundaries and I'll behave accordingly!

I hope to see you at the state parks.


This blog is dedicated to the memory of my Father, who loved reading maps, exploring alternate routes, and taking the road less traveled.

Alvin David Dick, April 28, 1926 - May 20, 2012

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