Sunday, July 3, 2011

Blackhawk Creek - An Adventure in Creek Walking

I rediscovered a little creek which flows in the canyon below my favorite hiking trail a few weeks ago. As I huffed up the steeply sloped, redwood-forested trail, I looked down the hillside and spied the rocky channel of Blackhawk Canyon Creek below.


I had one of those AHA!! moments when I realized that it still had really good water flow, uncharacteristic for this time of year. All the late rains this year had prolonged the drainage from the nearby mountains and I could see an inviting brook in the canyon which I had hiked over but never "through."

At that point I knew I'd have to take my kids up the creek on a hot day since it is totally shaded and would provide a great distraction for them and ME when the temperatures soar around here. And that day came only a few days later when the mercury read 101 at my house and I thought it was time to pull out the emergency arsenal.

Obviously my kids thought it was pure torture.


We entered the base of the canyon in single file avoiding the poison oak which liberally grows around the trail head. Both my kids know this itchy plant by heart as it was one of the first plants I taught them as we began to hike when they were a little younger.


A single track foot path occurs on the bank of the creek above the ordinary high water line and where possible we followed it up the trail. I wanted to minimize disturbance to the clear and semi-pristine waters that were flowing down the creek's channel. I had suspicions about what may be living in the shallow creek flows and thought to protect their home.

Right away Wyatt noticed the big leaf maples and saw the samaras which had fallen earlier in the spring. He got the little "winged-fruit" to "helicopter" in the wind and readily recognized the big palm shaped leaves crying out, "Look Mom! Big leaf maple!!" each time he saw another tree along our march.


The Acer macrophyllum were common and beautiful in the filtered sunlight below the dense canopy.


Further along the trail, Wyatt said, "Look Mom! We can see a spider spinning it's web in real nature." Cause apparently the spiders at our house don't live in "real nature." And I keep thinking we need to be more civilized at home....


As we meandered along there were many questions and observations that went outspoken as we walked. The kids burst out with their declarations or questions and I dutifully sounded back.

For example Wyatt would squat and look intently at a pool and say, "Mom! It's a salamander."
And I would return, "Good eye Wyatt."


Ella exclaimed, "Mom! The "Cal-E-forneya" bay smells much better than it looks. (Say California like Arnold does.)"

I would reply, "Goodness, that is a great observation Ella. You are totally right."


"Mom, can we walk in the water?!?"

"No." I'd say, "Walk on the edges of the stream, on the rocks or on the bank. Only walk in the water where we have to cross over."


Then a few feet later.... "Mom? Can we walk through the water now?"


Sticking to my original edict, I told them, "No. Let's take a careful look at the water here kids. It looks deep enough to be home for something. Yep. See that flash of silver-green. Look very closely. They're fast."


And then we spotted the fingerlings. Steelhead babies that were living in the shallow pools of the canyon. With the water being especially plentiful this year there were many to see.

I knew they could be there, but had never tried to find them before. About 8 years ago a small reservoir called Sprig Lake was maintained just below the trail head, but it was decommissioned since it was believed that the impoundment was preventing steelhead spawning upstream. And it was apparently true! I was originally disappointed that the small lake was allowed to drain since there were many western pond turtles using it, but the regulatory agencies deemed the survival of steelhead more important. It's hard to me to weigh the value of one rare native species over another. Hopefully the turtles moved downstream...

Regardless, we had fun looking at all the pools for fish and that occupied us for a good chunk of time.

Then we continued our climb up the creek. In some locations the debris rack across the channel required climbing.


But mostly we stayed to the edges where there was good room for walking without disturbing the creek's critters.


The conversation varied like the dark shadows were were walking beneath.

"Mom! Are we done yet?" said an anxious Ella. "Mom, I'm tired."

"No Ella, keep marching. We're almost to the end of the hike," I said maybe 5 times.

I growled, "Ella! Stop ripping my arm off." As Ella held my hand whilst climbing over big rocks and logs.

Then I demanded, "Ella! Stop using my arm like a rope swing."

I pleaded with my son, "Wyatt! Can you please not cut off your sister?" As the boy's goal was to be first everywhere....

Wyatt shouted, "LOOK! There's a banana slug!!"

Ella exclaimed, "Mom! It's another mushroom!"

Ella spotted, "Mom Stop! It's a SNAKE!"

And it was....


A little racer was quietly sunning its self on a mossy rock next to the creek. Wyatt and I walked right past it, but Ella who is closer to the ground spotted it right away. It sat perfectly still while we all examined it. Three huge beasts staring eye to eye at a snake making its way in the dark bottom of a canyon. Strange indeed. Strange for all four of us.

With such little light reaching the stream channel it was surprising to find the little gray-green reptile, but it was there. And we were there invading or enjoying his world, depending upon how you look at it.

Hopefully, he did not mind, and the fish did not mind, and the salamanders did not mind, and the others not seen did not mind, for we walked carefully and respectfully through their territory, trying our best to minimize our foot print.


As a special present to us and them, we brought a white plastic bag - maybe like a flag of peace - to collect the garbage left behind by other humans in the creek. There was not too much, a few cans and bottles, scraps of paper and plastic wrappers, but enough was gathered in that white bag to show we made a difference out there. And better yet to make a difference in the mind of two impressionable kids is the best of all.