Because so many plants look their best in early spring, before our 100-degree heat and our annual five months without a drop of rainfall kill them off or send them into deciduous dormancy for the summer, I wanted to go see some local nature scenery early in the spring this year. I didn't research very much about where I was going. I read a few websites about different places along the three forks of the upper American River, and I decided I wanted to go to the American River Canyon; then I looked for information about trails I could hike there, but I didn't find very much. I ended up just deciding to go to the Auburn State Recreation Area and pick any random trail I might come across while there, and see what I might find.
The Auburn State Recreation Area is about an hour's drive from where I live. I had some trouble finding it, so the drive actually took me closer to two hours - but once I found it, I realized that I'd actually driven past there once several years ago, and could have found it easily if I'd realized that it was the same place and taken the same route that I took when I passed it before. It is near my parents' house, and when I first visited my parents shortly after they moved to their current house, I took a wrong turn on my way home and passed this place. I'd never been inside before, though.
There was a beach at the entrance that was quite crowded, but I drove past the beach without stopping and proceeded up a winding road that was carved into the edge of a cliff. There were many turnouts along this road, and I took advantage of these turnouts to photograph the beautiful views of the Middle Fork of the American River from the edge of the cliff.
This is one of the less steep drop-offs. The yellow flowers are most likely goldfields, although I didn't look at them up close.
There was also lupine growing by the side of the road. I was very excited about the lupine, because I would like to grow my own lupine when I have a yard, and this was the first time I've identified lupine in person. (The fence behind the lupine was very ugly, though, so I contrived to omit the nearer portions of it from the picture. This produced somewhat odd composition.)
Eventually I decided to stop, fairly randomly, when I saw a sign saying "Upper Lake Clementine Trail." This was one of the trail names I remembered having seen described on the Internet (it's the one under the heading "Applegate") as being not terribly difficult, and I figured that lakes usually have pretty good scenery. So I parked at this trailhead and started walking. The trail was an abandoned dirt road carved into the hillside, now blocked off from cars but still accessible to hikers. The uphill edge of the trail, where the dirt had been sharply carved away to build the road, looked pretty much like this for most of the way.
The downhill edge of the trail changed more throughout the walk, but for quite a while near the beginning, it looked like this. Judging by the sound, there seemed to be a creek flowing along this side of the trail, under the plants you can see here. It was so far down, though, that I never actually saw the water.
The uphill edge of the trail was covered with huge manzanitas spilling down the carved-away slope. I think the large ones were the common species, Arctostaphylos manzanita.
Manzanita trunks are amazing.
This is a closeup of the same manzanita as above. Did I mention amazing?
This is a closeup of the tiny red flowers (along with a few tiny pink and tiny white flowers) under that same manzanita. The pink ones look like something in the pea family, but I have no idea what the other flowers are. Anybody know?
Here is a black butterfly on the pea flowers. I've had no luck trying to find out what kind of butterfly that is, but there were a ton of that species around. [Edit: It's a pipevine swallowtail butterfly.]
At this point, the downhill side of the trail had transformed from a hidden creek too far down to see into a much longer drop-off. Occasionally, through openings in the trees I caught glimpses of the North Fork of the American River (not the Middle Fork, which was the one I'd driven past earlier).
Between these glimpses, the trees and shrubs blocked the view. But I had beautiful views of the trees and shrubs themselves! Including more lupine. There was plenty of it growing on the carved-away slope on the uphill side of trail, but these lupine bushes on the downhill side of the trail were the biggest. (The picture quality is kind of off because it was sharply backlit, but lupines are too pretty for me to throw away pictures of them. Especially when I didn't manage to take any pictures of them that actually turned out well.)
Here's another glimpse of the North Fork. I'm coming closer! I was sort of half-falling the whole way down, because the trail was a fairly steep downhill slope.
Now I'm very, very near to the end of the trail. Confusingly, it has become clear that even though the sign at the trailhead that I followed said "Upper Lake Clementine," where I've actually arrived at is the North Fork of the American River.
I emerged onto a flat expanse of river rocks, bordering the North Fork of the American River. There was no Upper Lake Clementine anywhere in sight, nor was there any further trail to follow. But it didn't really bother me; I was just happy to have successfully arrived any trail end at all. (Later, after I had returned home, I found out that Upper Lake Clementine was just slightly downstream from where I arrived, so the trail I had followed really was the correct way to get there. But there were no signs or paths to indicate that I should walk further downstream from the point that the trail stopped at, so I just accepted the river as being the trail's true destination.)
There was another of those black butterflies crawling around on the river rocks. It had a torn wing and couldn't fly. I don't suppose it lived much longer, but I took a picture of it to commemorate its short life. Then I sat next to it and bandaged my blistered feet, and then stuck my hands in the river. The river was made of snowmelt, so it was freezing.
Upstream, there was virtually no space at all between the riverbank and the encroaching forest, so it was impossible to walk in that direction to see what was there. There was an outcropping of boulders overhanging the river though, so I wandered out onto the boulders in search of beautiful views to photograph. It was only after I had wandered out there that I realized the boulders were covered with poison oak. So here's a view of the beautiful poison oak hanging out over the river. Luckily, I managed not to touch any of it.
More beautiful poison oak!
I left the boulders and walked downstream along the perimeter of the river rocks. Near the shore in some areas, the river rocks transitioned into beach sand. The river itself was a bright, clear emerald green that almost looked as if it were lit from underneath.
The river was also startlingly shallow. According to some websites, it's actually possible to wade across the river at this location during the summer. I don't think it would have been safe to wade across it in early April, but the danger would have been more due to the fact that the water was freezing than due to its depth.
The river, from one shore to the other.
Somewhere back there, downstream, was Upper Clementine Lake. But I turned around and went home.
Going home at this point was for the best, because the return trip was steeply uphill and took quite a while, so it was getting dark by the time I arrived back at my car - and the trail was lined with warning signs saying not to hike alone because I could be attacked by mountain lions. I wasn't really alone during the daytime - there were people within sight or hearing of me most of the time - but people tend to go home when the sun goes down, and that's when the mountain lions tend to come out. (So I went home to my miniature fluffy mountain lion, and bribed her with cat food so she wouldn't try to eat me.)