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Seasonal Milkweed – Autumn Observations

Our our recent camping trip to Yosemite National Park, we made a special effort to really observe the milkweed. This was made lots easier by the fact that there was lots of milkweed in the meadow near the campground.

The real story of the Showy milkweed in the autumn is the way the pods burst open to expose all of the seeds with their silky white hairs. The brown part is the seed and the white part helps the seeds fly away from the plant.

Milkweed pods open to expose seeds

They remind me of dandelions because when you blow on the seeds they scatter to the wind. There are lots and lots of seeds in each pod. The information I read online said that the seeds are very viable and will grow in dry habitats including fields and road sides.

I think the milkweed silky haired seeds are very beautiful…look at them shimmer in the sunshine.

Original Challenge: Year Long Milkweed Study plus free printable notebook page
Our Spring Entry: Milkweed Nature Study  
Summer 2013 – Milkweed Observations

We have one more season to observe before we have seen the complete cycle of this wonderful butterfly attractive plant. I am looking forward to seeing what winter brings.


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Yosemite Autumn Trip!

Our much anticipated trip to Yosemite for our autumn visit was a huge success. We didn’t plan it but we were leaving the day the park was closed because of the government shutdown. I was very grateful that we were able to get in our visit and hikes before the trails and campground were closed indefinitely.

The image above shows a glimpse of the devastation from the Rim Fire. This is along Hwy 120 above Groveland, CA. It was an awesome sight to see and you could see signs of the fire as we continued into the national park itself and up along the Tioga Road. Much of the area along the road had been cleared before the fire so my husband thinks that many of the trees, although scortched, will revive. We shall be anxious to see if he is right.

We had reserved a campsite along the Merced River in the Lower Pines Campground…perfect! We enjoyed our two nights in our tent with a show of stars at night that was unbelievable. The camping was a little quiet for us with no children along for this trip but it was fun to just be a couple again.We sat in chairs and watched squirrels and birds. We huddled around the campfire and enjoyed the peaceful cracking and snapping of the flames on the oak wood. The air was crisp in the mornings but not so cold we couldn’t break from the cocoon of the sleeping bag.

One afternoon we took a long walk along the valley floor. This time of year there are no big crowds around so you see lots of wildlife. In the image above, you can spy a bobcat! He was wandering along the trail and then he went down to the river. We also so numerous deer…adults and babies too. One time we saw a herd of 20+ deer grazing in the meadow.

Yosemite Falls is bone dry right now. I felt sorry for all the travelers who came from all over the world to visit Yosemite when the falls are dry…just not the same. Autumn is not a time for huge waterfalls in Yosemite but their are other reasons to come at this time of year. The story of Yosemite in the autumn is the change of season with colors and the quiet awesomeness of viewing the granite that also change in color with the light.

Our campsite was visited by many, many squirrels. They were busy collecting seeds of some sort and having a feast. The Stellar’s jays and Common ravens also came to visit and first thing in the morning they were very noisy. The seemed to say, “Wake up! Wake up! You are missing the sunrise!”

Our second day we hiked the complete Panorama Trail. This is an eight mile hike that includes three waterfalls…that actually have water. The image above is the very top of Nevada Falls and although it is not running with much water, it is still a fabulous waterfall. (see below)

Here I am after hiking down from the top with Nevada Falls in the background. Isn’t it an awesome sight? It is hard to describe the sound of a big waterfall, especially this one back in the corner of the valley. The sound cracks and echoes all around you. About this time in the hike, I am getting tired and the downhill climb is harder than climbing up.

Here is a portion of the trail that is a little easier and the views are phenomenal. I love the sky in this image. When I’m hiking, I always watch the sky for signs of storms but this day it was perfect with partial cloud cover a lot of the time. Breezes would cool us off as we hiked. Autumn really is a terrific time to hike at Yosemite.

This is also about the point where we observed a mama Black Bear and her cub…off in the distance but we still became hyper-aware of our surroundings. There were several other hikers, some in front and some in back of us, so we alerted them to our sighting and shared bear stories before we all spread out again.

I was in the mood for looking for fall colors. The maples and oaks were starting to turn color and I found this large leaf along the trail. My husband thinks I’m nuts sometime but he cooperated and took my picture so I could share it with you. This is a good place to point out that hiking in Yosemite is a bit of a rock scramble at times (that is the trail behind me). These are not smooth, easy trails that you can hike along without paying attention. You are always looking down for your next step…not many flat trails here. This is why I started using a walking stick…it makes my hiking so much more pleasurable.

I was so inspired by the Bigleaf maples that back at the campsite I created a nature journal page with some of the information I found interesting. My leaf sketch was a bit of a fail..I think I was hung up on trying to get it to fit in the box I had created on the page and so it looks sort of squished. Oh well, you get the idea of a maple leaf.

The last day of our trip we took the long way home and drove out Tioga Pass, along Hwy 395, and then across on Hwy 89 and 88 to get home. This took us through the high country where the aspens were ablaze with color. We stopped several times to enjoy the views. Now this is what autumn should look like!

It was a fun trip and I am looking forward to the winter season and visiting Yosemite National Park to really see the full circle in this amazing place. We are aiming to hike in the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees whether there is snow or not. Not sure where we will stay yet…hoping that the government closure is over by then.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

This post is part of my Nature Study Goals for 2013 – to visit Yosemite National Park in each season.

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Shrub #3 Chinquapin in Yosemite National Park

On our July visit to Yosemite National Park, we found an interesting bush along the Panorama Trail. I decided to take some images and then research it when we returned home. There were lots of unique characteristics to this shrub and to my delight it was not very hard to identify.

This is Chinquapin and is found on dry, rocky slopes. There is a famous intersection where Glacier Point Road and the road to Wawona intersect that is named for this prevalent shrub.
Castanopsis sempervirens

We observed growing in-mass along the Panorama Trail, below Glacier Point in elevation.

Here another view of a large patch of Chinquapin. This shrub is an evergreen and has flowers and then an amber colored burr that develops later in the summer and ripens in September and October.

Here is a close-up of the burr. The burr will turn into a golden brown chestnut like burr with thorny spikes. Eventually they will hold several round nuts.

This plant is in the beech family and forms long cream-colored fluffy catkins in the summer. I wish this image wasn’t so blurry but it is the best one I have.

So if you are following along in my progress, this is the third of five shrubs that I intend to observe and identify during 2013 as part of my nature study goals.

Here are the other two shrubs:
Western Redbud

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Seasonal Milkweed: Summer Observations

We started a Year Long Milkweed study back in the spring while on our trip to Yosemite.

Original Challenge: Year Long Milkweed Study plus free printable notebook page
Our Spring Entry: Milkweed Nature Study 

We returned to our milkweed observation spot at Yosemite Valley….and it was full of maturing milkweed! I have included lots of photos below so enjoy our summertime observations, complete with Monarch butterflies!

Depending on where the milkweed was, it would have blossoms or pods and blossoms. Above you can see the growing seed pods with a few old flower blossoms.

Here is some Showy Milkweed in blossom. I can even see some buds still waiting to bloom near the top.

We saw many Monarchs over the few days we were there but this one was willing to pose for us right on the milkweed. What fun to watch these beautiful insects doing there thing!

This plant had the leaf broken off and you can see the milky sap dripping down the plant. You can also see if you look closely a Cobalt Milkweed Beetle, a shiny blue metallic insect that is common on the milkweed.

We found this sign out in the meadow where our milkweed is growing which shows the complete life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. What a great sign…hope more people stop and read it and learn how fascinating the life of a Monarch is and what part the milkweed plays even there at Yosemite Valley.

We will be updating our study in the autumn and of course I will share.

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Rock Study #5: Rhyolite

During our last trip to Yosemite National Park, we made a stop on the way there at Mono Lake. There at the Visitor Center they have a display of local rocks right out in front of the building. There were three large specimens to really look at closely and two of them are on my list of rocks from my nature study goals.

As a side note: This is an awesome Visitor Center and it does a lot of things right in my opinion. There is an interesting display of natural as well as cultural items. They have a video that they play that gives you a great sense of just how special a place Mono Lake is in so many way. It is also a fantastic birding spot! If you happen to find yourself on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, don’t miss this stop at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Rhyolite is a volcanic rock that can be pale gray, pink, or yellow. The chunk they had at the Visitor Center was reddish with gray and black.

In this area there is a large rhyolite dome that we are anxious to go back and see up close. We were unable to collect a rock here so the photos will have to make due for this time around. I did look in the gift shop for a rock to purchase but they didn’t have anything but a small collection of rocks for the Sierra Nevada….which I bought and am enjoying a lot.

Interesting facts 
(which makes sense now that I have done some reading)

  • The glassy rhyolites include obsidian, pitchstone, perlite, and pumice.
  • Obsidian is the pure volcanic glass formed from rhyolite
  • Pumice a volcanic rhyolite glass that has cooled in the form of bubbles.

We are planning on going back to this area again and exploring the differences between rhyolite, obsidian, and pumice. The specimen above is a large hunk of obsidian found at the Visitor Center.

Now that I know the relationship between these three kinds of rocks it makes it much more interesting.

For my reference—
 Photo Credit for this photo: Daniel Mayer

The photo above shows obsidian on the top and rhyolite on the bottom with a very different texture. The photo was taken at Panum Crater which is near Mono Lake.

So even though we didn’t actually collect a samples this time, we feel like we can check this rock off the list. We are continuing to work our way through the Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads book.

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Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hiking, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

Yosemite National Park in the summertime is an outdoor adventureland. There is so much to do! This trip was very different from our usual summer trips because it ended up only being my husband and I that were able to go. It is a far different experience to have just the two of us as opposed to having all six of us hiking around the Sierra. Both of us love this place so spending time together here is a pleasure and a delight.

There was a large wildfire further south from Yosemite but the smoke laid thick all three days of our trip. It was worse in the mornings but afternoon breezes swept some of it away. Yosemite Falls was dry! The park rangers were calling it “Yosemite Wall” instead. I am so glad that we had visited last May and enjoyed the cooling mists of the waterfalls then and for this trip it changed the focus from the valley to the surrounding areas of Tioga Road and Glacier Point.

We came into the park from the Tioga Pass side (east) and stopped just inside the gates to hike up to Gaylor Lake. This new to us hike (part of my nature study goals for 2013) was at a high elevation which always adds an element of breathlessness as you climb the trail. This is the view back down the trail…we listened to thunder and watched the clouds closely to make sure we would not be caught in a thunderstorm.

The landscape was green and there were quite a few wildflowers to enjoy from my resting spot along the trail. There were few other hikers on the trail which makes it seem as if you own the place as you hike along. We did see a man hiking back from the lake with a sack full of fish he had caught.

The trail crests and you look down over a beautiful basin where Gaylor Lakes have formed. I was still a little nervous about the thunderstorm but it seemed to be moving off in another direction.

Here at the top of the trail the trees are growing slanted and I can imagine how the wind must howl over the top of the mountain in the winter.

This is the Middle Gaylor Lake and on this day we didn’t go any farther. We sat for a long time enjoying the view before heading back to the car and on down Tioga Road.

We stopped along the way and took a quick hike over to Lukens Lake to see if there were any wildflowers but the conditions are much like you would find in mid-September and there were no wildflowers at all. It was still a nice hike and we did see lots of Bluet dragonflies along the edge of the lake.

The next day we decided to hike up at Glacier Point, taking the Panorama Trail as far as Illilouette Falls and then back. What were we thinking? We have done this hike before and it is a killer! The sign at the trailhead says two miles one way but both of us registered 3.5 miles on our Fitbits. That wouldn’t be bad but it is a steep, steep hike back up that 3.5 miles and in the hot sun exposed for most of the way. Guess what? It was worth the effort!

Along the trail we saw this wasp nest in a decaying tree. The insects were flying in and out but I got just close enough to take a good photo.

Here is a view of the whole tree and nest. The nest is quite beautiful and amazing to see…we were wondering how long it took to build this work of art.

Here is my victory shot after making it to the top of Illilouette Falls. The bridge behind me is just back from where the falls spill over the edge and down a 340 foot drop. We stayed on the upside of the falls for a long time just enjoying the beauty with our eyes and ears.

I sat on the top of a rock where the water was running down and swirling into the pool below. I was a little sad that my kids weren’t there this time to jump in or dangle bare feet in the cold water. My boys have even slid down the rocks here like a big slide into a deep pool where there are fish swimming in the crystal clear water. Great memories.

That evening we walked through the meadows in Yosemite Valley which is my favorite time of day to view the granite walls. The golden sunlight makes them come alive and the cooling air is filled with the sounds of the twilight creatures like crickets. Later that night we sat and watched the bats dart overhead. There is just so much to take in…

Here is another sunset visitor to Cook’s Meadow.

Early in the morning the smoke was filtering the sunlight and obscuring an otherwise glorious view of Half Dome from Tunnel View Turn Out.

Our last day we rented bikes from Curry Village and took off to explore the bike trails. The path is nearly flat or at least a gentle up and down so going is easy. This is such a wonderful way to explore Yosemite Valley away from the crowds and hustle of the popular areas. We had a nice pedal around the whole loop which includes several bridges over the Merced River where you can stop to take a break.

I of course stop to take a few photos of wildflowers. The goldenrod was so brilliantly yellow pretty.

This was something new to me…yet to be identified so if you have any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated.

So there ends another glorious trip to Yosemite, the second in my goal to visit every season. We have a camping trip planned for late September and I am already looking forward to that time in a season of changes.

These topics I will be adding to my nature journal and hopefully sharing here on the blog as part of my nature study goals:
1. Mountain chickadee
2. Rhyolite
3. Obsidian
4. Chinquapin (shrub)
5. Unidentified shrub with berries the squirrels were eating

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Milkweed Nature Study- Start a Year Long Study

Showy Milkweed May 2013 Yosemite National Park

The beginning of our seasonal milkweed study started actually back in May when we visited Yosemite National Park. This would have been our official spring observation and it was just starting to grow and be recognizable. The soft long leaves of the Showy Milkweed were a grey-green color and we did actually see some flower buds forming.

Showy Milkweed Information on CalFlora.
Showy Milkweed on USDA Plants – pdf

Here is the link to the challenge and printable notebook page: Seasonal Milkweed Study.

Showy Milkweed at Yosemite National Park – Half Dome

I couldn’t resist stopping during our bike ride to capture some milkweed with Half Dome in the background. No better spot to observe milkweed could there be in the entire world.

We didn’t observe any insects on the milkweed yet but I anticipate seeing some Milkweed beetles when we visit in a few weeks. If there are blossoms there may even be some monarch butterflies fluttering by.

In our local area I only know of one spot where there is milkweed naturally. I did attempt to grow some milkweed last year again but the roofers knocked my pot off the deck when they were replacing our roof. I almost cried. I need to get some more seeds and try again!

Milkweed Seeds from – I have purchased from them before and have been very happy with the quality of the seeds.
Live Monarch – Free seeds (pay postage)

I need to start a nature journal page to record my seasonal milkweed study. For now, I have the photos printed and will add them before we complete our summer observations.

Have you found some milkweed in your area?

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Rock Study #4: Granite!

This month we made sure to observe carefully the granite rocks in Yosemite National Park. We didn’t collect any because that isn’t allowed in a national park but we did learn a little more about the granites found there with a trip to the Visitor’s Center. They have a fabulous display of granites, showing the rock cycle and the way this particular granite was formed.

Everywhere you go in the park you are surrounded by granite! Granite of all shapes and sizes lines the trails and creates the majestic valley walls you see all around you. The biggest piece of granite that looms over you in the valley would be El Capitan.It is a rock climber’s heaven and we read in the Visitor’s Center that the granite that makes up El Capitan was cooled slowly which makes it particularly strong and resistant to erosion. We watched the climbers up there on the nearly 3,600 foot granite face…amazing courage to be up there!

The exhibit has many interesting facts about the granites of Yosemite National Park.

There were also samples of the different granites from different areas of the part…each one with a little different combination of elements. Fascinating!

So even though we didn’t actually collect a sample from Yosemite, we have plenty of other granite samples from our travels locally. We are continuing to work our way through the Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads book.

We have high hopes of studying two rocks in June as we travel to Oregon. I know that if we didn’t make this project part of the nature study goals for 2013 we would have let it drop. But, I am determined to get as many done this year as possible.

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Yosemite in Spring- Waterfalls and Biking

 Nature Study Goal – Visit Yosemite in all four seasons.

Our spring trip to Yosemite National Park happened this past weekend…under brilliant blue skies and with warm spring breezes. Our original plans were for my husband and I along with the two younger boys to make the trip. When it came down to it, my nineteen year old and I were the only ones who were able to go. Fire season came early this year so my husband had to work a fire in Southern California. See? I always make plans but then remain flexible.

We were up and out of the house early and hit the road for the four hour drive to Yosemite. The time went by fast and I have to say it is super nice to have children that can drive me places while I enjoy the scenery flash by the window. After an uneventful trip there, we parked at Curry Village and took the shuttle to the trailhead at Happy Isles.

 The trail to the bridge below Vernal Falls is mostly paved and sections are rather steep. The biggest obstacle are all the people! This is a popular day hike and on this particular Saturday….lots and lots people from all over the world. My son commented on how many different languages he heard as we hiked…Yosemite is a world-class destination for sure.

The one thing I really like about this hike is that you can hear and see the river as you hike. This makes it appear cooler and it reminds you that there will be a spectacular view just around every corner. I am always amazed at the power of water.

Here is what the lower trail looks like as you go from Happy Isles up to the bridge below Vernal Falls. Granite boulders and slabs surround you and the river runs along one side.

From the bridge up the trail to the falls the trail turns into slippery wet granite steps. You can tell how steep they are by observing how much the hikers are leaning over as they climb.This part is called the Mist Trail because you get the spray from the waterfall drenching you with water. I didn’t capture it this time but you can see whole rainbows in the misty air coming off the waterfall as you look over and back. Amazing!

Want to see how wet you get? Here is a video: Mist Trail at Yosemite National Park

At last! I am up at the top of Vernal Falls after a last heroic effort of encouragement from my son. He was such a great hiking partner and really cheered me on when I thought I had gone as far as I could up the HUGE granite steps and then inching my way up the last ledge with just a hand railing to keep me from falling off the cliff. See my smile? I was happy to up there and it was so very much worth the effort for this 50+ year old woman to be there. It helps that I have lost 40 pounds in the last three months…not so much weight to haul up the trail.

Here is the video from the top: Vernal Falls.
We had lunch and then hiked further up the trail to the bridge below Nevada Falls which was beautiful this time of year. We took our time going back down the trail and called it a day. Our tent cabin at Curry Village was super clean and comfortable. I think I slept better that night than I have in the last six months. I highly recommend the tent cabins at Curry Village for a camping experience without the fuss of taking your own equipment.
Milkweed with Half Dome in the distance
Our second day was spent biking around Yosemite Valley on the bike trails. This is my favorite way to take in the sights and we made the grand loop from Curry Village to Yosemite Village and then around the Swinging Bridge back to the Lodge and then on back to Curry Village where we had our car parked. There are 12 miles of biking trails around Yosemite Valley and you can rent bikes from Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge.

My son took a panoramic photo of the valley floor with Half Dome in the background and me on my bike. Awesome morning ride and we can hardly wait to go back and do it again this summer.

We are always sad to leave but we made some great memories and I feel great for having accomplished the hike to the top of Vernal Falls.

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Planning a Spring Trip to Yosemite

Spring Trip to Yosemite

Planning a spring trip to Yosemite is always a lot of fun, anticipating the delights waiting inside the national park boundaries. The waterfalls are always at their best in the spring and the valley begins to turn green and lush. On this trip we are staying overnight at Curry Village in the tent cabins...heated and with electricity. We have been to Yosemite in May before and ended up camping in the snow so we opted for a little more comfortable accommodations for our spring trip.

Yosemite Curry Village Tent Cabin

The price is reasonable and we reserved a cabin that includes a buffet breakfast in the room price. I am always hungry at breakfast and with a snack we can make it through to an early dinner (saves money and time). Note the bear locker outside the cabin door. You MUST keep all your food and fragrant items in a bear locker to prevent bear problems within Yosemite National Park.

So what are we planning on doing on this May visit to Yosemite?

Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park

I am hoping there is no snow and we can hike up to the top of Vernal falls. That is the plan anyway. We are going to try a much longer hike in July and this would be a warm up hike…we may even go up further to the base of Nevada Falls or to the top…depending on weather.

Pacific Dogwood22)

The Pacific Dogwood may be blooming too and that will be another subject that I could study while we are there. This trip is hopefully going to be filled with spring things that are abundant in Yosemite. Even though we have been there many times, we always find something new to learn about.

But, plans are easily changed if something better comes along.

Of course we will share our adventures when we get back.

You can read more about our adventures and hikes in Yosemite on my Yosemite For Families page on Squidoo.