Wind Wolves Preserve
Camping | Hiking | Native Plant Stewardship
Our second CLAWS trip of the fall kicked off at our normal meeting point Bette Davis Park. Folks were excited to get things going, so after an opening circle, with introductions, a gear check, and the plan for the evening we officially started our trip. Our first stop of the day included visiting a beautiful Coast Live Oak just down the street.
We drove down the street and circled up. We chatted about our current habitat, and how we should take in the sights, smells, and sounds of this habitat because where we’re going is going to look and feel very different.
To begin our weekend of connection, we briefed our crew on Biocitizen’s goal of collecting 3,000 acorns for germination and reforesting our oak woodlands this fall. Biocitizens teamed up with a new friend, and as a group, we collected over 500 acorns off the ground. Before departing, we gave thanks to the gorgeous grandmother oak, and then masked up and buckled our seatbelts for the 90-minute drive north to Bakersfield, and then to the Wind Wolves Preserve.
Our journey took us through Tejon Pass, and the high-desert of North Los Angeles county. When we stopped for gas, our empowered teens got to test their squeegee skills on the van windows, as was customary on my multi-adventure trips as a teen!
We continued to drive through the Grapevine and Hwy 5, soon passing Tejon Ranch. Our group was treated to views of the setting sun and a change in landscape. We started in the San Fernando Valley and had crossed the mountains and now dropped into the San Joaquin Valley.
Soon we exited the freeway and down the dirt road, where we arrived at the gates of the Wind Wolves Preserve! However, to our dismay, the gates were closed. Apparently, our Program Director failed to review the informational email which clearly stated the gates close at 5 pm for the evening, and re-open at 8 am.
Making the most of our situation, we quickly headed to a nearby campground, only twenty-five minutes away. So we headed back to the Bakersfield area and snagged a great campsite for our crew. Although not what many would call a completely natural location, we had plenty of space to cook, set up a sleeping area, as well as to toss around our light-up frisbee, and enjoy a delicious dinner.
As the dark of night saturated the sky, the twinkling stars came out and provided a sight to behold. Under the stars, we drank hot cocoa and roasted marshmallows over the stove. Right before bed, some of us got to see a fantastically bright shooting star rip across the sky.
Burrito Bowls, Roasted Marshmallow, and Hot Cocoa’ nightcap our first evening!
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Our morning together started with some sleepy faces chatting very early from the coziness of their sleeping bags. Folks began to stir while our breakfast crew got things cooking, everyone soon began packing up their gear. While a giant orange sun rose to our east, thousands of blackbirds flew overhead.
Sunrise from our campsite in Bakersfield
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Motivated by the glory of the new day, we wolfed down breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, granola, and yogurt and finished packing all our stuff. With a slam of the passenger doors and the turning of our key, we motored away to the Wind Wolves Preserve.
During our drive, Benny led a discussion about our surroundings. All around us was flat land, converted into monoculture and factory farming as far as the eye could see. We openly shared our observations of this alien landscape, as most of our biocitizens had not experienced much of California’s Central Valley. We shared what some of the limitations are to industrialized agriculture, and the price the environment pays. However, things haven’t always been this way. In fact, the Central Valley was once a verdant, thriving hotspot of biodiversity, arguably as rich with life as the Savannas of Africa.
Clearly demonstrated in the following excerpts from Tending the Wild by M. Kat Wilson, a comprehensive anthology that chronicles California’s Indigenous history and the uniqueness of the state:
“Early European explorers and settlers were universally impressed not just
by California’s diversity but also by the sheer abundance of its wildlife… The immense numbers of tule elk in the Central Valley, for example, rivaled ungulate numbers in Africa’s Serengeti.
The text goes on to elaborate on the plethora of life here:
“Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, a white man who came to live with the
Choynumni Yokuts in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1850s when just a boy,
vividly described this overflowing abundance of wildlife: “Thousands of
bandtail pigeons” came “in flights that would sometimes shut out the sun
like a cloud. They piled into the nearest trees until there was not a single
place for another pigeon to sit…
James Carson, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, wrote of the biological wealth
of the Tulare Plains in the Great Central Valley between 1846 and 1852:
“[S]wan, geese, brant, and over twenty different descriptions of ducks…
cover the plains and waters in countless myriads from the first of October
until the first of April, besides millions of grocus [sandhill cranes], plover,
snipe and quail. The rivers are filled with fish of the largest and most delicious
varieties, and the sportsman and epicurean can find on the Tulares
everything their hearts can desire.”
The historical richness of the Central Valley is unbeknownst to most modern people, as its modern reputation is notorious for vast swathes of water-intensive monoculture, record-breakingly poor air quality, and odors that could make even a strong stomached person almost lose their lunch.
How did we get to this level of degradation? How has this happened? What can we do to make a positive impact? These are all questions, we pondered as we moved across this severely modified landscape.
With answers swirling around the van, we soon sighted golden hills to our west and the iconic entry gate to the Wind Wolves Preserve. Excited to get back to nature, we set up camp, made lunch, packed our packs, and drove over to our trailhead for the day. Along the way, we observed a Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus), and a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) going about their business.
Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) one of the first animals we observed at the preserve
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) is a carnivorous songbird bird, that impales its victims on sharp plant spines like Acacia or Cactus which it returns to for a jerky meal, and doubles as a signal to would-be females that he has got all she needs and more!
At our trailhead, we talked about our plan, and got our legs going! Along the way, everyone was in rapture with the otherworldly views of this hidden gem. This 90,000-acre preserve is owned and operated by the Wildlands Conservancy. Their dual mission “to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of the earth and to provide programs so that children may know the wonder and joy of nature” aligns very closely with Biocititzen, so it was a no-brainer for us to visit Wind Wolves!
Our day continued to be absolutely epic, we hike through San Emigdio Canyon, traipsing through a riparian habitat canopy provided by the large mature Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and Arroyo Willow (Salix lasiolepis). We lunched on a small overlook on the valley floor, which featured plentiful views.
The group enjoyed the beautiful trail and canopy of Cottonwood and Willow
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As we continued through the canyon we heard Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) calling from the rocky outcrops, California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum) singing from an exposed bush, coyote scat filled with Bladderpod (Cleome isomeris) seeds, Woolypod Milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa) seed pods, and ginormous Buckeye (Aesculus californica) nuts at the base of these special trees.
Nora and Benny checking out the Woolypod Milkweed (Asclepias eriocarpa) seed pods growing along the San Emigdio Trail.
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We then hiked uphill along the Tule Elk trail, as we climbed in elevation, our feet brought us through some absolutely gorgeous scenes.
Obligatory photo shoot, with some amazing lighting and background to boot!
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Hundreds of Lark Sparrows (Chondestes grammacus), Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) kept us company as we walked along with a large group of cows grazing. Our group even spotted our first Coyote (Canis latrans) of the trip, likely stalking the low-grasses for unsuspecting mammals like the California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi), whose populations appeared quite healthy and numerous.
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) perched on a barb-wired fence along the trail.
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Our elevation rose again as we made it to the upper mesa, overlooking the gorgeous rolling hills, the San Emigdio Valley below, and the 6,000 conifer-laden peaks to our south.
Infinity pool ledge on a grassland mesa, gives way to views of rolling hills, peaking at 6,000 ft.
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Just beyond our gaze stands the Los Padres National Forest. As the sun hung lower and lower in the sky, the low-angle light provided some of the most incredible conditions. With golden hour upon us, our eyes were saturated yet again, with the orange hues of the setting sun.
Golden light flooding our view in all directions!
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With a few miles still left for our hike, we kept up our pace, as to not arrive back at camp too late. Soon we arrived at the Tule Elk overlook, where we didn’t see any Tule Elk, but did get to see five coyotes and a group of Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) scampering about the overlook beneath us.
Coyote (Canis latrans) looking for ground-squirrels, the first of many we saw on Saturday
Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) grazing for fresh grasses at the base of last season’s dry stalks.
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We snacked, layered, up, and descended to the parking lot in about 40 minutes. The sun was fully set, and with the light of dusk nearly gone, we clicked on our headlamps, and made our final approach to the vehicle. Although focused on getting back quickly, we had time to revel at a large American Bullfrog trying to wolf-down a massive Jerusalem Cricket. Just before we got into the vans, a chorus of coyote howls echoed through the canyon and filled our ears with the music of the sound dogs, whose yips and barks, welcomed the darkness of night. Back at camp, we enjoyed dinner, talked about biocitizen politics, played Dragon’s Treasure, and then debriefed our epic day. Our 8-mile hike was a fantastic length for everyone, with plenty of energy left for tomorrow’s day of stewardship!
Marysia was our first dragon, while the rest of the crew tested their stalking skills for an evening session of Dragon’s Treasure. Quite high stakes with those yummy prizes!
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Our second day at Wind Wolves kicked off with breakfast, packing up camp, and driving a few minutes to meet Wind Wolves Ranger Matt, who was leading today’s stewardship event. We circled up, shared our names, and then went over the plan for the day.
Wind Wolves Preserve Ranger Matt and the Biocitizens circled up for our morning briefing
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We loaded up into our vehicle and motored out to a part of the preserve we hadn’t explored yet. Along the way, our crew belted some of our favorite 80’s rock tunes and saw large raptors soaring over the warming grasslands. Both Ferruginous (Bueto regalis) and Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) flew overhead, welcoming us to their home.
Ferruginous Hawk (Bueto regalis) soared above the warm grasslands during our drive to the planting site.
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Our short but beautiful drive ended at the restoration site of the day. Not much in the form of native vegetation, however, Matt told us that this was an ideal site for the restoration since it has been grazed down, so it should give the native plants a better chance of survival.
Matt shared with us the overall plan for the day. Which included breaking into three groups, one for planting, one for water filling, and one for digging out the holes. Before which, we created a fireline to efficiently get all the tools and native plants out of the trailer bed. We would be planting around six different species of plants including Bladderpod (Cleome isomeris), Big Saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis), California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), Coloardo Four’O-Clock (Mirabilis multiflora ) all of which will serve as a great start with the goal of re-establishing native plant-pollinator plots.
The digging crew used post-hole diggers to excavate the dry earth below, while the planting crew used a cart to wheel out the plants to their new homes. The watering crew filled up watering pails and placed them adjacent to the holes.
Ranger Matt updating the plant crew on where to bring the pots
The digging crew getting their shoulder workout with the post-hole diggers
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Our crew was cruising, and during our few hours together, we managed to get over 100 individual plants transplanted into the ground! Although some of us would have liked to keep going, we did have a blast getting to put our passion for native plants, and ecological restoration to work.
Camille and Lazare using the cart to move 28 native plants at a time!
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After loading all of our awesome humans and our gear up, we motored back to the preserve headquarters and dropped off all the tools and plants that didn’t get to be placed in their forever homes. With a delightful closing circle with a reflection about our points of learning, we said thank you to Matt, and took a celebratory photo in front of a gorgeous mural featuring spectacular art of the native flora and fauna.
We had an absolute blast at Wind Wolves, and Ranger Matt was a huge part of that. This was Biocitien LA’s inaugural visit, and most certainly not our last.
Group photo in front of Wind Wolves gorgeous mural!
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Our drive home, featured more tunes, singing, and sleepy faces, bumping along the freeway, heading to pick-up. When we arrived at Bette Davis, the sun had set, and our group was released back to the loving care of their families.
Huge thanks to all of our participants, their wonderful families, and of course to Ranger Matt, Wind Wolves Preserve, and the Wildlands Conservancy.
We’ll see you all in the field soon!
With love and gratitude,
Benny & Marysia