Friday, November 20, 2015

Snow Mountain Wilderness, our Newest National Monument

Sierra Club photo, The Davis Enterprise
In winter, whenever we traveled back from the Sierras after skiing, we'd look for the sun setting in the Berryessa Gap, and then we'd look to the north, where Snow Mountain stood out like a sentinel, dusted with snow in an otherwise indistinct long, dark ridge of coastal mountains. 

I always longed to visit Snow Mountain, but we never did. Whenever we were headed east to the Sierras from the Bay Area, it was too far out of the way. Returning home, we were too tired from skiing. When we traveled north on Highway 99 (what later became I-5,) in summer, I'd look longingly at the peaks, but farther, more exotic, mountain ranges beckoned. Again, Snow Mountain was too far off the beaten path to be a convenient side trip.

That is not to say we didn't visit many of the dirt roads of the North Coast, driving from Ukiah to WIlber Hot Springs, or Orr's Springs, on isolated forest roads to the coast. (I was sure we were going to die up there one time when we got lost on one long east-west ridge).

Or a hair-raising detour to Humboldt County's Lost Coast, when it truly was lost. And a memorable drive to the southern lip of the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County. But we never made it to Snow Mountain. On my bucket list.

At 7,056 feet, the east peak of Snow Mountain, one of the highest mountains in the Northern California coastal range, supports an astounding array of biodiversity.

Surrounded by deep canyons and a steep elevation gain, several ecological biomes are compressed, resulting in biological sky-islands. Added to that, the geology, with serpentine, greenstone and basalt, as well as an array of sedimentary rocks, creates unique and diverse biomes.

More than 500 species of plants including mountain mahogany, rare Sonoma manzanita, pygmy stands of Sargent's cypress and serpentine willow, as well as 122 species of wildlife, including Tule elk, threatened species, Western pond turtle, and endangered sooty grouse, not to mention nearly half of California’s 108 species of damsel- and "kamakazi" dragon-flies, call Snow Mountain Wilderness area home.

BLM photo (dead link, thanks #45.)
In spring, a dazzling display of wildflowers that rivals that of Lancaster's Antelope Valley's poppy preserve, paint the slopes in impressionist splashes of golden, and lupine hues.

Tuleyome Conservation Group photo, The Davis Enterprise 
Part of the North Coastal Mountain range, the twin summits of Snow Mountain are the result of an ancient upthrust seamount. Sort of like my favorite volcanic plug, Morro Rock, and her 12 (not 7, or 9) Oligocene epoch sisters (23-28 million years old). Both were volcanos born from tectonic faults, but it seems that Snow Mountain was a slightly younger undersea volcano from the Miocene epoch.

Snow Mountain is an interesting melange, both genetically, and geologically speaking, with serpentine; greenstone, basalt and pillow lava—submarine volcanic rocks that commuted from far west of California, courtesy of tectonic uplift, as well as a full compliment of sedimentary rocks from the North American plate. Some, laid down during the Miocene epoch, when the Central Valley was an inland sea.

The Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument —of which the Snow Mountain Wilderness is a part of, includes portions of seven counties; Glenn, Lake, Colusa, Mendocino, Yolo, Napa, and Solano counties.

The Snow Mountain Wilderness, itself, is comprised of parts of Glenn, Colusa and Lake counties. Both Lake and Colusa counties share the remote summits of Snow Mountain. The highest point, the east peak (7,056 ft.) is ithe highest point in Lake County, and the west peak (7,040 ft.) is the highest point in Colusa County. One of the largest swaths of undeveloped public lands in the middle of all this urban density, Berryessa Snow Mountain is truly California’s undiscovered country.

Now that it's our newest (and largest) national monument, there's no excuse not to visit Snow Mountain. Along with Pinnacles National Monument (the closest I've been to The Pinnacles is Cholame, where James Dean died, and yes, that was on my bucket list). Both are located in our proverbial greater back yard. Time to dust off that bucket list.

Created: July 10, 2015
Size: 330,780 acres of public land

(David Pierce/KQED)


Snow Mountain Wilderness  USDA site (Mendocino National Forest) "Snow Mountain was originally formed during the Mesozoic era and are composed of sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, shale, and thin beds of chert....Mountain building forces deformed and faulted the rocks into their present position. The lower flanks of the Snow Mountain area consist of sedimentary rocks, while the upper portions of the mountain consist of greenstone.... small amounts of serpentinite are found, which may be remnants of the original ocean crust or may be later intrusions along the fault plane."

Snow Mountain East A hike

Snow Mountain, California Another hike

The high peaks in Mendocino, Anthony Peak, 6954, and Humboldt's Salmon Mountain at 6956, are close contenders. However, Mount Linn, at 8,098 ft on South Yolla Bolly Mountain is the tallest peak in the North Coast range, at 8094 feet. The Klamath range slams into the North Yolla Bolly Mountain (7865 ft) and South Yolla Bolly Mountain, to form, not only the highest peaks in the North Coast range, but also a continuous crest all the way down to Snow Mountain. There are some incredibly steep canyons north of Snow Mountain. You can't see them on the map below, but St John's Peak has some seriously deep ravines.

The Yolla Bollys were also on my bucket list but I don't think my knees could take the hike in. I'm afraid I'm more of a topo chair traveler these days.

Mt. Tamalpais (where I was literally conceived), is the southernmost ridge of of the North Coast Range.

California Coast Ranges Wiki

Also on my California backroads bucket list is Castle Crags in the Klamath Mountains, and I wouldn't mind revisiting the Trinity Alps again, while we're at it.

In his Geotripper blog, Garry Hayes has a couple of great photos of Castle Crags Stocks and Batholiths

NOTE BENE: Because of the San Andreas Fault, California's coast mountains are geologically complex, and all is not as it seems at first glance. I love rocks, but I'm not a geologist, so any rocky errors are mine alone, I've been piecing together a geological synopsis from many, many sites, some of which, directly contradict each other. (Dinosaurs aside, is it Mesozoic (252 to 66million years ago)? Or Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago)? Or both?) FWIW, I did trot most my rocky horror show (except the epochs) past geologist Gerry Hayes who said it seemed sound. I will update the rocky bits as my understanding deepens.

To give you a glimpse as to how complex the North Coast Range really is, read the geology section in the Wiki article on Sonoma Valley. I would like to think that similar geological patterns would also hold true for Snow Mountain, but until I hear from a reliable, comprehensive geologic source (I'm hoping Garry Hayes will take it on), I'm only speculating, or prospecting.


E Creely said...

I think Lake County is an very interesting county, perhaps one of the most or simply THE most. Volcanoes,7 thousand foot mountains with wildly diverse animal and plant life and diamonds to boot. I know the other counties are involved- and Colusa really interests me too- but Lake County? I want to go there.

Maureen Hurley said...

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment, Liz.

I have some Lake County diamonds, from a ranch near Middletown, where I slept under stars one night, as a guest of the family of two of my young poetry students. A magical night of shooting stars. I found the stars had shed their tears during the course of the evening, in the form of super clear quartz, aka Lake County diamonds.

I did contact the BSM organization and they said my facts were solid. Still waiting on final vetting on geology, but it got a preliminary OK. Now, to actually go there! Take photos. All that stuff. I've done the groundwork. Let us arise, and go now....