View Full Version : North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

14-Apr-2014, 21:01
In order to provide some interesting input to this board's location forum, will offer the below I've posted on a couple other sites. A very worthwhile place to visit during limited periods each spring for those exposing large format color film.


On Saturday April 5, I visited one of the crown jewels of California wildflower locations in the Sacramento Valley, North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, that is near the minor town of Oroville. A community most well known for adjacent Lake Oroville, the state's second largest water storage reservoir and hydro power project that dams our Feather River. It is a location I'd visited a couple times in the past, missing peak blooms. Many peak spring low elevation wildflower blooms in the state occur all within the mid March through April period and one can only be in one place at a time. This is different than most of the Eastern US where the saying my Mom used to love chiming "April showers bring May flowers" is true. Here in California it is more correctly "February and March showers bring April flowers". And the same is true in Texas, our other state with spectacular spring flowers. Good summary news feature on the reserve:


For most people in the state who seek scenic flowery places, much less out of state folks, timing a visit to coincide with our blooms is rather difficult because peaks blooms are brief from a couple weeks to just days and it varies from year to year depending on precipitation and weather. Most of the best world class areas are in arid and or desert areas of Southern California where there may only be worthwhile blooms once every 3 to 5 years. Worse many of the most well known places can often be notoriously unpleasantly windy and the Antelope Valley Poppy State Reserve would certainly be on the top of that list. Before this Internet World Wide Web era, many of the best places were only known to a small number of people, often either in botany groups or serious photographers. With the advent of web communities and the explosion of this digitial camera era, that has all changed so today there are wildflower hotlines, local web communities, and many people in the southern part of the state, especially DSLR toting photographers, driving around much like is the situation during the fall for those seeking fall leaf color.

In Northern California most of the better wildflower display are not as spectacular as those in the south but there are 3 that can hold their own. One is along the lower Merced River below Yosemite, for example the Hite Cove Trail. Another is an area I won't explicitly devulge on Northern California seacoast bluffs. And the best is North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve though not particularly well known outside it's local region. This was the first time my visit was at the peak though this was a relatively dry year despite late rains. Best displays have been during some wet El Nino winters.

The reserve that only recently passed into the public domain in 1990, is at the edge of the great valley sticking up like a sore thumb. It is about 5 square miles atop a several dozen million year old basalt lava flow. Actually the plateau is maybe 3 times as large as the public lands since most is still private cattle grazing land. Old decaying barbed wire fences in the reserve are mostly fallen down so cattle from private lands readily enter and graze in the public lands. In fact in my opinion, maybe several times as many cattle as at a minimum I'd prefer to see though it works both ways since people venture aka trespass into some of the private lands especially where there are waterfalls. In any case these are public lands sorely in need of expansion by buying up grazing lands and adding more of the below plateau surrounding oak woodlands. The present infrastructure is primitive consisting of a small crude parking lot and a row of Port-a Potties. During my visit about 150 vehicles jammed the parking lot overflowing down the sides of a small paved country road. The cattle issue is somewhat controversial with ranchers promoting a position on many state public park lands that grazing catttle reduce rival alien European grasses. Although that is quite true in some of our California parks where such grasses are thick, that is not the case on these rocky thin soil volcanic table lands. Mid day cattle congregate beneath the shade of the few trees in plateau areas making bare soil disgusting cowpie styes. And hooves from the massive beasts plus juicy cowpies make a foul mess of the delicate tiny stream channels and vernal pools. Thus the state needs to wake up and spend money constructing modern barbed wire fences on this precious place.

The dark igneous rock on the somewhat gently sloping rocky plateau is generally impervious to water so everywhere it pools and or slowly drains off leaving many small streams and vernal pools. The edges of the basalt flow tend to be vertical cliffs up to 200 feet high and as a result are numbers of small seasonal waterfalls. Although there is one short trail, which 90% of visitors restrict their visit's too, over the rest of the lands one simply strikes off across the mostly treeless landscape. The landscape is not actually level but rather has continuous small undulating water courses and hollows plus sizeable deep ravines that divide up the walkable zones. Wherever one crosses rocky areas, there are small baseball to grapefruit sized irregularly shaped cobbles that are a wee awkward to walk on and tend to roll around. Thus one reason the majority stick to the one trail. The ravine bottoms where rains drain into tend to have dense oak woodlands often with poison oak that keeps people away.

From my April 5 visit, 9 each 4x5 transparencies have returned from my Colorado film development lab and have crudely flatbed scanned and Photoshop CS6 processed 4 downsized images onto my Gallery_B website page. See bottom of that page, that is gallery row 31 then mouse select any image.



The image at top is one of the 4 on my noted gallery page. With Provia 100F in my filmholder, I used a 210mm Caltar on my Wisner 4x5 Expedition and recall setting the aperture to about F29 at 1/30 second for EV14.7. Might title it eventually something like "River of Wildflowers" since it was bounded on each side by rock bands, is inclined in an even downward plane that tends to mentally suggest a gravity flow, and the blue hued flowers mentally associate with water. Inclined slopes of wildflowers like this tend to be better subjects than the usual situation of a dense patch of wildflowers on a level plane because one can see more frontal views of flowers at each level. Otherwise one would need to raise a tripod high aiming down that never looks as natural. The even plane here allowed me to tilt getting the whole frame in good focus. Something I kept an eye out for as I walked about on the plateau over several hours. Primary flowers are sky lupine, frying pan poppies, birds-eye gilia, purple owls clover, with some blue dicks sticking out at the skyline. The other three images were all with my 150mm Nikor that as a normal lens tends to dominate my landscape work.

Drew Wiley
16-Apr-2014, 08:47
Thanks for sharing this. The basaltic fields west of Caliornia's Central Valley do indeed give some of the most spectacular March blooms anywhere. Most of these
particular spots are either hard to get to, or out of reach on private property. Typically there are vernal pools in mid-spring. "Table" formations occurred when lava
flows went down ancient low-angle riverbeds, prior to the major Sierra uplift (mostly during the Pliocene). These flows sometimes diverted the course of the rivers
elsewhere; but eventually, everything else adjacent eroded away, and these basalt tables remained standing. There are a few of them below Jamestown and Sonora, and the largest are on the lower San Joaquin River, nearly all off-limits or otherwise rather strenuous to access, though the Nature Conservancy does manage part of the most accessible one, and offers group tours during the bloom.

16-Apr-2014, 09:16
FYI: Sierra Foothill Conservancy (http://awww.sierrafoothill.org) – This "Nature Conservancy" approach unfortunately postdates my residences there. Although most of the reserves appear to be only legally accessible through "guided" tours, I applaud the effort. Of course, there's also the state's publicly accessible Big Table Mountain Reserve on the lower San Joaquin River above Millerton Lake.

Drew Wiley
16-Apr-2014, 09:55
I predate all that stuff, myself... back when everything was "open range". In fact, during my geology days I mapped all of 'em up there. Most of em are lost worlds
with zero people and almost unbelievable blooms, but well guarded. Crossing a river, then hauling an 8x10 up a very steep 2500 ft, then encountering a vertical crumbly 200 ft cliff was something I have done many many times; but most sane people would think twice. Some of the remoter ones required more like 9000 ft of
steep vertical in and out. I could could count on one hand the number of people who might have been there in the last hundred years. The Millerton Lk table is only partially accessible. Just a small patch until the private property fence. But it is pretty, popular with skydivers, and gives a tiny taste of the real deal. Not so many flowers there, however. A lot of eagles - both bald and golden hang out around those cliffs.