Zaca Ridge Flora and Geology

Field Trip with Larry Ballard and Susy Bartz

Excerpt from Santa Ynez Valley Natural History Society website.

“This driving trip will feature stops with short walks along Zaca Ridge, via Catway Road. We will pass through coniferous forest and chaparral, and visit some small stands of California Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii), a tree that is widespread in California but uncommon in Santa Barbara County. It is just one of seven species of oaks found along the road. One of the special geologic features is the hardened volcanic ash of the Obispo Formation. We’ll enjoy dramatic geologic views throughout, including the spectacular overthrust of the Little Pine Fault and the huge folds that comprise the backbone of Zaca Ridge. At the end of the eight mile road, past the Zaca Lake overlook, we’ll scramble a short distance to the Jurassic summit of Wildhorse Peak.”

 

Our first stop was at the four-oak area, where Susy gave an approximately 10 minute talk on the geology of the area. I recorded it, but do not have time now to listen in detail and digest it – hopefully I can do that later after this post. The good turnout of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people car-pooled along the road and a big thanks to those in whose cars this nervous nellie rode. I think it was easier being a passenger than driving; my nerves are not strong enough for the narrow single lane space often with steep drops on one side. Due to this apprehension, I once walked from the four-oak area to the trailhead (when I photographed Bitter Cherry in 2009), and had to scramble into the vegetation on the side of the road when a couple cars flew past.

Despite a dry year, there were still a good number of species to see – such that my hoped for concentration on the seven oaks did not happen. New species for me on this road were Zigzag Larkspur, White-flowered Currant (past flowering), Wolf Lichen (first lichen), Slender Sunflower, Smith’s Yerba Santa, Dwarf Flax and Mountain Clarkia whose id swift-planthunter Laura found before anyone else. One of the best finds was Cristina Sandoval’s discovery, Timema cristinae, which is detailed in this web page, which I think was created by Callie. There were a good number of butterflies, but I managed to photograph only three species.

The geology of the area is magnificent thanks to the compression, upwelling, stretching and movement caused by plate tectonics, the result of which are lots of nooks and crannies of different habitat types that many plants call home. The coolth of the area where the Black Oaks are growing is appreciated by both humans and plants, where three different types of Clarkia (Forest, Mountain, Winecup) were found within a small radius. The Monterey Folds near Zaca Lake are impressive, and are best appreciated from afar as we did. A photo from the Obispo tuff area to the west shows ridge after ridge of compression fading into the distance, where creases and folds of all sizes can be seen.

Afterwards I drove up to the Ranger Peak gate (photos starting from California Buttercup) after stopping off at a favorite seep area, where I rediscovered Palmer’s Calochortus that has not been recorded on Figueroa Mountain Road area. No Dwarf Brodiaea were seen, but Indian Breadroot in its usual spot looked healthy. Further down Figueroa Mountain Road after the Ranger Station, there were quite a few Club-haired Mariposa Lily, and many places where Cylindrical Clarkia were waving a dark pink farewell to spring.

My next batch of photos is about two weeks away, and after that a three week gap – I have a pile of work to do in the meantime, but I have to take the occasional Vitamin-D break. (Corrections are always welcomed.)

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Oso Flaco Lake

Two of the most interesting wildflower areas this dry, dry spring have been places with large sandy areas — Burton Mesa and Oso Flaco Lake, although not all parts of Oso Flaco Lake dunes have abundant plant growth. But like Burton Mesa, Oso Flaco Lake is  a good place to exercise both mind and body  – three hours of walking through sand is good leg workout, while there are many animals and plants to make it very interesting.

For more details on the great variety of things to see at Oso Flaco Lake, an excerpt from Wikipedia is provided below. Some of the cutest creatures were the recently fledged Tree and Barn Swallows, that were zipping all over the lake – and sometimes walked along the railing of the boardwalk, or rested on the crossbeams or vegetation under the boardwalk out of sight. I leaned way over the side, slowly and carefully, to photograph the Barn Swallows, and waited for the reeds moving back and forth under the walkway to come into view.

Many plants also flower in summer and fall; and many birds visit the lake. Some breed there in spring; others stop off on migration in fall and spring. Oso Flaco Lake is interesting for most of the year.

 

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes were formed by a combination of factors including beach sand which was blown inland by the wind and the Santa Maria River which brought sediment to the coast. Dune-building began 18,000 years ago with the Nipomo and Orcutt Mesas. This Dune System has the highest dunes on the entire western coastline of the United States. Among these, Mussel Rock Dune is the highest, measuring approximately 500 feet (150 m). Another rare geographic treasure is Oso Flaco Lake, a freshwater lake located amid the Dunes.

Even though the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes consist of moving sand with extremely low moisture that is seemingly deprived of nutrients, it is home to a variety of flora and fauna. There are at least 18 endangered species of plants living in the Dunes.

The dunes are separated into uplands and wetlands habitats. Uplands include the fore dunes, back dunes, and sandy beaches. The fore dunes begin at the high tide line, where only low growing plants with deep root systems (such as sand verbena) can live. The strong winds, salt spray, and massive amounts of sand make this area uninhabitable for other types of plants. The back dunes, just behind the fore dunes, are stabilized and covered with plants. The back dunes are dominated by shrub species like mock heather, dune lupine, coastal buckwheat, and blochman’s senecio. The sandy beaches are a harsh environment with no plants able to survive there. The wetlands include the areas that contain water: salt marshes, fresh and brackish-water marshes, swamps, and mudflats. Plants that live there are adapted to dynamic environmental conditions including high salinity concentration and extreme temperatures.

Weeds have been introduced into the Dunes environment both purposefully and accidentally and threaten the native plant life. Various native plants are being choked out by invasive species like European beach grass.

Many species of animals can be found among the dunes. Over 200 species of birds live there, such as the western snowy plover, American peregrine falcon, California brown pelican, and California least tern. Other animals also depend on the dunes such as the california red-legged frog, coast garter snake, deer, black bear, bobcats, and mountain lions. Beetles, butterflies, lizards, saltwater and freshwater fish inhabit the dunes as well.

Oceano Dunes Plant List

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