fallow deer are native to the Mediterranean region of
Europe and Asia Minor. They are a source of great delight
for visitors because of their color variation: individuals
can be black, light brown, chocolate brown, pure white,
or spotted. The sight of a pure white deer, looking for
all the world like that creature of myth, the unicorn
(without the requisite single horn, of course) may be
cause for amazed speculation. On closer inspection youll
see that these deer are built as much like goats as deer.
Their antlers are palmate, similar to a moose antler.
These are not shed until April. Both of these exotic species
were introduced for hunting.
The black-tailed or "mule-deer"
are our native species and recognizable, as the name
tells you, by its black tail which becomes a white flag
when flicked upwards to expose the underside. Bush rabbits,
or "cottontails," are a frequent sight along
the trail as well as pairs of fawns, who all come down
the mountainside to drink from Bear Valley Creek.
As the trail gently ascends toward Divide
Meadow, it is bordered by an oak, bay and Douglas fir
forest with alder trees congregating along the creekside,
as they like to stand with their roots near the water.
In the spring, Bear Valley Trail is trimmed first in
white milkmaids, then blue forget-me-nots, yellow buttercups,
maidenhair fern, chain fern, and five-fingered fern.
Later in the season, pink star flower and pink flowering
currant appear. This trail offers superb opportunities
for close-up study of flora because of the high, vegetated
banks on the west-facing side. Originally cut for the
old wagon road, the banks have become densely populated
with a wide variety of plants and insects at perfect
eye level for wheelchairs and children - a vertical
Just about a quarter-mile up the trail
keep an eye on the creekbed to your left. You will notice
a tall, spindly tree with shaggy red bark. In the fall
it will turn a dead-looking rust brown; in the winter
it will have no needles; and in the spring and summer
it will look very like a redwood tree with bright green
needles. This is the famous dawn redwood, known only
through fossil remains as an extinct species until it
was discovered growing halfway up the Yangtze River
in the Szechwan Province of China in 1941. Thought to
be related to the swamp cypress native to the southern
United States, the dawn redwood is a true conifer (supposedly
evergreen) that loses it needles much as
the deciduous broad-leaved trees shed their leaves.
Botanists brought back seeds from China and the dawn
redwood was celebrated for some time - it was planted
in botanical gardens from England to California.
In April you may be lucky enough to
spot a magnificent pacific coast dogwood in bright bloom
in a clearing across the creek to your left. It is beautiful
specimen, very tall
|and broad, silhouetted
against the cliff. Its large, saucer-shaped white blossoms
virtually glow in the sunshine. When the tree is in full
bloom it looks like it is covered in little white doves
perched on the branches for a rest.
Both of these trees were planted by
the owner of an old summer cabin, Robert Menzies, an
early California botanist after whom a number of our
native species are named. The summer cabin is gone,
and a field of stinging nettle hold sway through most
of the spring and summer, so you would be wise to satisfy
yourself with admiring the dogwood from the trail.
It was just around here on spring that
my Mother and I, on the way back from a hike, noticed
something hanging in pendulous masses from the branches
along the cliffside: thousands of lady bugs, all but
invisible against the reddish brown of dead leaves and
bark on the bank. They must have been camouflaged in
the cold of early morning as we headed up, but now they
were moving in the full rays of warm sunshine just creeping
into the valley. There are several species of lady bug.
The one that gathers here in winter and spring tend
to congregate in large clusters in order to share warmth.
All along Bear Valley Trail there are
sections of gargantuan logs cut roughly to provide benches
for resting. These are great fun for children because
of their scale. They look like custom-built giants
furniture in the woods. Their addition also makes Bear
Valley a good trail for those who like to walk but need
places to rest along the way. You can, of course, turn
around at any point.
If you do reach Divide Meadow there
are more log seats, a picnic table and a lovely mowed
bench of grass beneath giant Douglas firs. If you visit
in late August you will be treated to the unlikely sight
of a double chorus line of pink "naked ladies"
at the far end of the meadow, shining and shocking in
the sun. These are old world amaryllis lilies, probably
planted by the owners of the hunting lodge many years
ago. Because they are not palatable to gophers or other
wildlife and because their large bulbs hold water and
nutrients through the long California dry season, these
lilies will survive with no cultivation at all for decades,
long after their caretakers have gone. They are often
all that remains of nineteenth century farms or old
cemeteries. Traveling up the coast of California in
August, when all around are weathered fence-posts and
golden grass, you will glimpse a stand of these exotic
pink flowers floating alone above the ground on red
stems without benefit of greenery, and know that once
a family lived there or maybe someone was buried there.
Amaryllis are sweetly fragrant, making this spot in
Divided Meadow a wonderful place to lie down for a rest
before continuing on.
From Divide Meadow the trail dips down
a slope to the marshy area below, then
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