Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Finding Gold in the Mother Lode (but not that kind): A bit of color in drought-stricken California

Our search for gold in the Mother Lode of the Sierra Nevada foothills was successful, but we weren't looking for that kind of gold. Yes, these gentle hills once hosted one of the greatest gold rushes in history, but the mines have been silent for many decades. Today, the Mother Lode is a tourist destination, and one of the attractions is the spring wildflower show. In the last post, we saw how a few endemics are showing up this week on the serpentine soils in the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Serpentine occurs in bands associated with the Melones Fault Zone which divides two major terranes, the Calaveras Complex and the Foothills Terranes. The Mother Lode gold-bearing quartz veins occur along this same boundary.
Highway 49 winds for 150 miles or so along the Mother Lode, and as we saw in the last post, the early flower shows are patchy, and are helped in places by runoff from the asphalt. The hills are green for the moment, but the green will not last long. In most normal years, 90% of the rain has fallen by now, and we have received maybe 25% of the rain we usually expect. It's the worst drought ever recorded. The green grass in these pictures will start turning brown in a few short weeks, and we can look forward to a hot, dry and fiery summer season.
So the early wildflowers are out, and if the expected storm arrives tomorrow, they might receive enough water to last a few more weeks. One thing I know from years of exploring southwest deserts, flowers in a dry place are precious to behold. So enjoy some of the color we discovered last weekend.
 There were occasional patches of Foothills Poppies.
The Redbuds were in bloom, adding bright splotches of purple or pink to the hillsides.
 Lupines seem to do well in lots of environments along the Mother Lode.
These pleasing-looking leaves are not good for touching or picking; this is the ever-present Poison Oak. The leaves are colorful and eye-catching throughout much of the summer season and into the fall.
We reached the Moccasin Creek area and saw where the Marshes Flat Road diverges from Highway 49 and heads west through the metavolcanics and metasedimentary rocks of the Foothills Terranes. These Jurassic rocks were deposited on the sea floor and scraped off into the vast subduction zone complex that once extended from Canada to Mexico and beyond. Today the rocks are tilted to an almost vertical attitude. On the meadowlands around Marshes Flat the rocks are rarely seen, as they are covered with fairly deep soils.
The road is a pleasant backcountry avenue that serves as access for several ranches. It's usually an uncrowded drive.
The metavolcanic rocks show up when the road starts down the steep slopes towards Don Pedro Reservoir. Although there was almost no water in the creeks, some of the slopes had pockets of blooming flowers, including these Shooting Stars.
 If these are Shooting Stars, are the two flowers below star-crossed lovers?
 Near a creek we found some wild onion blooming.
 And a moving rock. Seriously, why is there a track here, and what moved the rock?

We saw that the sun was getting low in the sky, and I had a lot of grading to attend to, so we headed home. I hope the blooms last long enough for another trip before summer sets in!


Silver Fox said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you! Posted on our Facebook page for all to enjoy: facebook.com/cserc

Randy A. said...

For what moved the rock: did you see any footprints around to suggest humans or bovines gave gravity an assist?

Garry Hayes said...

I didn't notice any, but then I didn't leave any when I walked past it either. I thought maybe a vehicle stuck in the mud somehow, but no tire tracks were seen either.