Wednesday, 2/23/11, was the NPS Interpretation winter training day. The focus was birding and John Muir. Probably not very surprising, eh? The birding was awesome and the John Muir Twenty Hill Hollow experience was absolutely ineffable.
There were about 30 or so of us and we caravaned out of Yosemite towards Snelling, CA. After meeting up at Ranger Erik’s for homemade scones and coffee and introductions, we were on our way. We stopped off in Hornitos to check out the ruins of one of the original Ghirardelli stores. Originally, there were small general stores that followed the gold-rush towns around (at some point they started making their own chocolate). Some people credit the store in Hornitos with being the original, but they actually started in San Francisco and then branched out to follow the gold mining. It’s unknown if this location was just a general store or if they also produced chocolate (like most history, it depends on who you ask). Pretty neat. While there was got some nice close views of a couple of red-tailed hawks. And we also saw an undecorated titmouse (probably an oak titmouse). I love how I work with naturalists and they all get so excited about the birds and trees and history. My new binoculars got a lot of use and are pretty awesome.
Continuing on from there, we stopped somewhere along the Merced River to watch some ospreys. A couple of people brought their spotting scopes and since the birds were pretty chill, set them up on a few. I got to watch an osprey eat a fish through one of those. There were about three ospreys we were observing there. There were also cormorants, some geese, golden finches, a shrike, and more red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks. As we were heading further down the road we saw the osprey nest up on a electric pole and watched as an osprey flew into it carrying a fish.
We ended up at the Snelling IOOF building for a slideshow presentation by the man who rediscovered the Smokey Jack sheep camp and John Muir’s Twenty Hill Hollow. Local history hidden away on private property. Neat guy and fascinating story.
After the presentation and lunch, we headed out to see the sights. All that’s left of the sheep camp is a patch of land that’s a little bit of a lighter shade of green than the surrounding land. While checking that out, we also took some time to check out some burrowing owls. Adorably cute little guys. Observed a few with both the spotting scope and with my binoculars. There were about 3 or 4 of them hanging around with the cattle and California ground squirrels and I could’ve spent all afternoon watching them. But there was still more to see.
We were fortunate to have some pretty generous connections in getting around the area. We had permission to drive out onto private land and walk through the rolling foothills to where John Muir used to drive the sheep and sit almost exactly where he sat 140 years ago to sketch his Twenty Hill Hollow and Hollow Creek. I observed a soaring bald eagle for a little while as well as a red-tailed hawk and some black vultures. Given my personal history with vultures, I wasn’t as excited about those, but still cool. Standing on the hill, you could see the Sierra Nevada to the east and the encroaching almond orchards to the west. The people around here call them ‘amond’ trees (apparently this is because you have to shake the ‘ell’ out of them to get the almonds down). The owner of this piece of land and history said he’ll be preserving this land as it should be as long as he’s alive – no razing the hills and planting orchards here. Hopefully so. This is a wonderful piece of history and beautiful landscape that should be preserved for all time. So gorgeous.
My favorite part was when we all found a place to sit and spent a few minutes in quiet reflection to get a real ‘John Muir’ feel of the place. I picked a spot facing the distant mountains. In the quiet, the solitude and rolling green was mesmerizing.
On the way back to the park, we passed some wild turkeys (three toms) sauntering down the side of the road and saw a couple of coyotes and lots of cattle and green, green hills. We also passed some possible mimo mounds and tombstone rock outcroppings.
Awesome day. I added a lot of birds to my ‘lifetime list’. It’s hard to pick a favorite of the day, but the bald eagle might win by a hair.
Pictures will be forthcoming, depending on WordPress… And here they are: