Category Archives: The Ventana Wilderness

Ventana Skies

The absolute highlight of the work in Ventana (aside from the ladybugs, I suppose) were the morning and evening hikes to and from the work site. The head of the trail we were working on was a hair under two miles from our campsite — all uphill — and the hike took us across a set of beautiful ridges, made even more awe-inspiring by the fantastic show the sky and the Pacific Ocean put on for us.

I’d experienced the ocean affect a few times before Ventana, but never from high above it.

I took this photograph the morning of my birthday, the whole trip was something like a gift from my supervisors.

Behind that peak the Pacific is masked with clouds. Far below where this picture was taken (flirting with the fog) is the campsite we stayed in.

Ow, my poor useless eyes.

Most mornings I woke up long before anyone else and stumbled around the campsite trying to make coffee (blind) as quietly as I possibly could.

Another of the numerous snags, backlit.

Ladybugs in Ventana

On the third day of trail-cutting we made an absolutely awesome discovery. As one of the other workers slowly hacked his way through the underbrush he caught sight of movement by his ankles. Upon closer inspection he started screaming for everyone else to come and see what he’d found.

What he’d found was a stand of ferns covered with adult ladybugs. Disturbed by his errant swinging, they exploded out of their hiding places and filled the air. The rest of the crew (myself included) arrived in time to see a veritable cloud of beetles flying every which way. It was amazing, but short lived and we eventually went back to work.

A few hours later I decided to grab my camera and return to the stand of ferns to see if any of the Ladybugs had returned to their homes. (I’m pretty sure theirs a children’s song about that.)

They had and I got a few pictures before I had to get back to work.

There weren’t as many beetles as before, but there were enough for my purposes.

Unfortunately, most of the swarm had left the area when I returned, however there were still a few hundred crawling around on the sunlit ferns.

They were still flying around as well, and didn’t seem too enthusiastic about having their picture taken.

Not all of them were particularly good at hiding, however.

The brighter side of forest fires

Previously I posted an overview of some work I did in the Ventana Wilderness. The photographs in that post were chosen primarily to give a balanced view of the forest after it had been burned to cinders a few years ago. The tallest trees in the forest are all dead, charred and leafless, but they’re largely still standing, leaving a hiker traversing the forest in a blackened mausoleum of creaking snags and ash.

On the other hand, life at the ground level has exploded. With more sun reaching the ground (there’s nothing like a canopy to block its passage) the soil has long since erupted into a thick mass of grasses, saplings, and ferns. Some of the saplings already reach five or six feet off the ground, and stands of regenerating forests were thick enough to warrant simply going around as we re-cut our trail.

Today’s photographs focus more on those instances of positive regeneration than upon the blackened snags. Enjoy.

New growth surrounds dead stems.

On break, it wasn’t as hot as the desert, but nor was it particularly cool. Note how the new growth has almost completely covered the old dead wood.

Luckily, although the fire was intense in the valley we were working in, it didn’t touch much of the rest of the park.

Places where the fire had been less severe regenerated considerably quicker.

In the absence of a shading canopy, new growth explodes from the forest floor.

Trail Work in The Ventana Wilderness: October 2011

When my job in Alpaugh was finally done I was temporarily without work, and was invited to enjoy a few days of RnR in Santa Cruz. My internship with the BLM had been arranged through a company called The American Conservation Experience (ACE), and they had dormitory style housing there where I could stay and wait until my next job (Read: posts about Catalina Island) was to begin.

Santa Cruz is wonderful, it really is, but I decided I’d rather be working than sitting on my hands waiting to head down to Catalina. So after a few days of enjoying mild temperatures and the glorious Pacific I joined an ACE trail crew and was sent down to the Ventana Wilderness.

Trail work is… well it can be a lot of things. For starters, It is among the most basic forms of conservation work. It can range from simply brushing trails, to regrading and tamping paths, to constructing staircases out of rough stone, or replacing water-bars on eroded hillsides. It is incredibly physical work, but at the same time it is (often) quite satisfying. After all, by your hands a trail is made — if that’s something you’re into.

In Ventana, the work was extraordinarily simple, really. A few years prior to our arrival on the scene a “planned” fire event had gotten out of control (it happens) and had fried a huge chunk of the park. Our job was to recut a trail that had been destroyed when the flames moved through. People had reportedly been getting lost in the area, expecting a path that was no longer there.

Fire management is a tricky subject in California, much of the forest within the state could quite happily weather a small burn every few years. Unfortunately, artificially creating a natural-esque patchwork pattern of burns that both invigorate the natural landscape and don’t scare the residents speechless seems to be beyond the abilities of… well anyone alive really. As a result, much of California’s (very) flammable forested regions are not burned as frequently as they could be. In Ventana this meant that the region we were now cutting a new-old trail through had been the site of a disastrously hot fire that had killed hundreds of enormous Ponderosa Pines.

As a result, Ventana today represents an interesting (though hardly unprecedented) juxtiposition between death and regrowth. Yes, all the old trees are dead wood. Yes they creak omnimously in the wind, and YES they fell from the sky frequently enough that we were constantly on the watch for hanging dead-wood. But at the same time there was a staggering amount of life around. The photographs in this first post about the area will make an attempt to balance the two sides of the issue, in the future I’ll take time to focus on each in turn.

The flames that killed those trees were reportedly ~200 feet tall…. and I want to be a wilderness firefighter some day, what is wrong with me…?

The fire top-killed all the larger trees, but the seed bank survived the experience, Only a few years later we had our hands full chopping a new path into the undergrowth.

The still standing dead trees were a worrying hazard. No one wants to be near one when it finally succumbs to gravity…

The trail we were working on, that we “finished,” was incredibly rough. Our assignment was more to give wayward hikers something to latch on to rather than to create something perfect.

It’s obvious enough that the fire left horrific scars in the valley we were working in. To some extent this is a tragedy, it will be a long time before this area returns to what is once was. However this is not entirely a bad thing. Land Management (and with it Fire Management) is far from an exact science, and areas like this do hold potential for wonderful surprises.

In the coming days, as I tell more about my time in Ventana, I’ll attempt to show what I mean by that.

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