Castle Crags State Park & Mt. Shasta

When we returned from our holiday in Southern California (Disneyland, Legoland, & Long Beach), we were in dire need of some outdoor time.  Solitude and peace that only nature could provide.  The weather Sunday morning was perfect – sunny and relatively cool so we ventured out for long hike to Castle Crags State Park.

Castle Crags State Park features 28 miles of hiking trails, including a 2.7 mile access trail to Castle Crags Wilderness, part of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  The Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the park.  The park is named for the 6,000-feet tall glacier-polished crags.  The solitude you experience as you explore the forest or traverse part of the Pacific Crest Trail cannot be matched.

The spectacular mountains you see in these pictures represent vastly different geologic stories and processes that have been shaping the land for more than 500 million years.  The persistent forces of day-to-day erosion, together with slow earth movements, keep this mountain landscape in dynamic flux.

The Gray Rocks are mainly greenstone and are a detached portion of the Copley Formation, related to the ancient and complex geologic history of the Klamath Range.  The spectacular Castle Crags are made of granite that cooled slowly deep within the earth.  Over time, this granite was uplifted and the rock above it worn away.  Once the granite was exposed to the elements, water and ice have taken over as the main sculpting forces, breaking fractures in the rock, creating the castle-like features.

Mt. Shasta reaches the impressive height of 14,179 feet and is by far, the youngest geologic feature in the area. Mt Shasta is volcanic, forming in episodes beginning 530,000 years ago and last erupting in 1786.  Considered dormant now, it will undoubtedly become active again in the future.

It was an awesome day.  We planned ahead and managed to bring along snacks and plenty of water to drink. It was an arduous hike, however, so we rewarded ourselves with dinner in Dunsmuir – where we discovered a little brewery.  The food was delicious and though our bodies were tired, our spirits were rejuvenated.

Oregon’s Coastal Ecology

A week ago, we had an opportunity to spend a few days with my dad in Bandon.  Though my childhood home was rented for many years, my father now resides here once again.  We visit as often as we can and try to stay for a few nights at least once a year.  It is always a special time.

Coastal Ecology – 4 Distinct Habitats

On Saturday morning after breakfast, we ventured out onto the mudflats across the street from the house.  We were careful this time around to don old tennis shoes for the occasion.  We headed out at the peak of low tide, but had neglected to check the tidal height.


We thereby discovered, once we were underway, that the tide wasn’t particularly low.  We wouldn’t thereby have as much time for agate collecting as we had anticipated.   

The rock in the mudflats where my brothers and I spent many hours role-playing our favorite stories.

Crossing the mudflats, we observed many signs that wildlife had been here prior to us.  At least two are visible here: one mammal species and one bird.

While I was distracted with my camera … everyone kept moving along.  Anxious to get to the sandy beach where the agates collected and due to the location, rarely seen by human eyes.

Upon crossing the creek, we were then able to step up onto the salt marsh.

Salt Marsh

We observed an abundance of driftwood, pickle weed (Salicornia), and sea lettuce (Ulva).  We didn’t spend much time here this time as the tides were against us, however, we did manage to see evidence that a meal had been enjoyed here – at least by one resident.As we came up over the berm, sadly there is some European beach grass (Ammophila arenaria) here too. We discovered that the beach was amass with Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) basking in the sun. We tried not to disturb them, but with a 6 year old rambunctious boy, that is near impossible.  The seals thereby made a mad dash for the water as soon as they realized we were there.

Sandy Beach

Harbor Seals sunbathing on the beach … at least until we arrived.

We walked along the sandy beach in search of agates … collecting our favorites and investigating other objects of interest.  All the while, the seals observed us from afar, likely wondering when we were planning to leave.  A small group of seals, even followed us along the shoreline for some distance, snorting on occasion, clearly disgusted with our presence.

Agate hunting on the sandy beach

We observed numerous tracks along the sandy beach as well .. though different than those we’d seen on the mudflats.

It was a beautiful morning with very little wind.  We would have liked to have stayed longer, but we knew the tide threatened to trap us on the island or force us to swim so we headed back after about 40 minutes.  We walked back the same way we had come and thereby came to the section of the beach where the three seals I had photographed had been relaxing.

We quickly crossed the mudflats and then continued to trudge across the mudflats.  We observed the remnants of another Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) meal, now becoming a little jealous.  We would have liked to go crabbing too, but we just didn’t have the time.

We were indeed fortunate to have headed back when we did.  On the way out, the creek depth had reached only to my knees.  On the return, however, it was up to my waist.  My dad helped the two little ones cross at the deepest point.  My little guy was quite concerned with the incoming tide.  Though he is a strong swimmer for his age, I actually began to worry he might not be able to swim if the need arose, due to panic.

Upland Forest

Each evening, at dusk, we also trekked across the road to take a peak at the beaver (Castor canadensis) who has recently taken up residence in a culvert on Dad’s property. Sadly, he was always too quick for us and we never observed him in person … only evidence of his presence.  Dad has seen him frequently, so we know he’s there.  Each time we tried to sneak up on him .. he’d duck away and into the culvert under the road.  The water would undulate back and forth in smooth waves as proof he had been there only a moment before.

The picture above shows the trail that he has formed as he travels back and forth through the forest to the mudflats just on the other side of these trees.

It was a great excursion and one we look forward to repeating again. Buddy has a different opinion, however.

Estuary Ecology

Immerse yourselves in a field study of the estuary and its distinct habitats with my Estuary Ecology curriculum available in my store.

The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds

The Weaverville Joss House, a Taoist temple, is the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California. On display are art objects, pictures, mining tools, and weapons used in the 1854 Tong War. This Taoist temple is still a place of worship and a fascinating look into the role played by Chinese immigrants in early California history. The Joss House was built in 1874 as a replacement for another that had burned.

In an effort to preserve this important part of California’s Chinese tradition, the temple became a part of the California State Park System in 1956. Many of the historical objects have been restored and the structure itself stabilized. In addition to the temple equipment, park visitors will see Chinese art objects, pictures, mining tools, and wrought iron weapons used in the 1854 Tong War.

We visited the Joss House for the first time during the annual Moon Festival.  We first explored the exhibits inside the museum and then ventured out into the garden area for a few activities targeted for children.  Sweetie and Buddy most enjoyed the calligraphy … learning a new word and character … (Yuè or moon).  The other activity in which they took part was decorating paper lanterns .. both choosing to practice writing a few other characters they knew.  

We then walked across the bridge and up to the temple. Unfortunately, we had arrived too late to enjoy the lion dance that took place on the lawn in front of the temple.  
Just beyond the two large doors, the entrance to the temple proper, are two more high wooden doors, “spirit screens” to keep out evil spirits.  According to traditional Chinese belief such spirits can go only in straight lines, not around corners.
Inside, we marveled at the intricate details of the carvings, sculptures and of course the Chinese calligraphy.  We listened to a docent describe how the artifacts were transported from China, first by ship and lastly on foot 80+ miles from Red Bluff.   There are three ornately carved wooden canopies containing images of gods along the back wall opposite the spirit screens and in front of them is an altar holding candles, incense sticks, oracle fortune sticks and an oracle book, wine cups, and pictures of immortals painted on glass.  Before this altar is a small wooden table on which food offerings are placed and a stone urn used to offer alcoholic beverages, usually whiskey.    
The temple has been in continuous use as a place of worship since its construction.  The family of Moon Lee, whose grandfather contributed toward its building, are know to worship here, along with other Chinese from all over California.  Worshippers visit the temple alone, with their families, or with a small group of close friends to pray and to place some incense, candles and other offerings such as food and paper money before the images of the gods Health, Decision, or Mercy.  The docent explained that the Chinese would bring offerings to the spirits of their ancestors … generally the foods or beverages that their loved one had most enjoyed in life.  Worshippers are forbidden to pray for such things as wealth or revenge on an enemy, and the temple attendant would punish those who made such requests with fines.

Prior to our departure, we were also able to glimpse the caretaker’s quarters adjacent to the temple room as well as the conference room which sometimes served as a courtroom.  Each were much more demure and lacked the adornments so prevalent in the temple room.  
We enjoyed the excursion but were sad that the schedule of activities hadn’t been advertised better.  Sadly, 2011 may be the last year that the Joss House celebrates the annual Moon Festival.  The state has decided to close the doors of the museum and close it to the public.  
For more information about The Temple of the Forest Beneath the Clouds and how you can help keep the doors open, visit the Weaverville Joss House Association.