Water, Water Everywhere

Many of our recent updates were focused on the drought. This issue will talk about the opposite side of the coin, lots of water and what that means to More Mesa.

Vernal Pool: More Mesa boasts six major habitats. One of the most interesting and varied areas are Wetlands. And while there are several types of Wetland areas on More Mesa, the most remarkable of these is the unassuming Vernal Pool on the southeast corner. Vernal Pools, very special and fast disappearing wetlands, are seasonal pools that fill with winter rainwater, and then dry out gradually thru the Spring and early Summer. These wetlands are a special kind of ecosystem. They form as a result of a distinctive climate, topography, and soil, and are distinguished by the organisms within them. The climate must have mild winter temperatures and a summer drought, a “Mediterranean climate”; such as is found in Southern California. In addition, the pool must be a shallow depression that will catch water from winter rains and have soil with an impermeable layer (think clay), to ensure that the water will remain in the pool.

Actually, the physical conditions in a vernal pool provide a particular habitat for some plant and animal species that can survive nowhere else. This annual cycle of flooding and drying creates an environment where few species can survive. However, these unassuming pools manage to support a variety of rare water plants and other organisms. When the pool is full in winter, many animals flourish – aquatic insects, zooplankton, frogs and water birds.
(Can you find the three ducks in the photo?)

Our own Vernal Pool was studied extensively the last time it partially filled, in Spring of 2019, and was subsequently identified as the most prolific Vernal Pool in all of the Goleta Valley. This year’s pool is now more like a lake than a pool, and the rainy season does not appear to be over yet. THANK GOODNESS!

To learn more about Vernal Pools, and why the rare ones that remain are so very important, read about these unusual and special wetlands here on our website.

More About Water Beyond the Channel Islands: Almost all visitors to More Mesa enter from the North (see map) and proceed south to the coast for magnificent views of our beautiful Channel Islands. On clear days you can see all four of the Northern Channel Islands and some, or all, of Santa Cruz is almost always visible. Ever wonder what, exactly, is the next land mass you would encounter if you continued south on same line of longitude?

Finished guessing? The answer is that the first land you would encounter is Antarctica!

The Pacific is a LARGE and open ocean, and we here in Santa Barbara, get to live on a tiny southward-facing piece of land in the North Pacific. It is called the California Bight. Living in the California Bight means that signs reading “Highway 101 North”, or “Highway 101 South” are completely wrong … at least when you are traveling through Santa Barbara. I became acutely aware of the consequences of the California Bight when I was once explaining how Gray Whales travel through our channel. At that point, a visitor in the audience blurted out “That’s why the sun was setting in the wrong place last night!” Happily, he left the lecture assured that the sun always sets in the right place.

The next landfall after the Channel Islands is Antarctica!

What happening with the Coastal Bloom? In years when “normal” rainfall and temperatures occur, a fantastic wildflower show happens on the eastern coast of More Mesa in mid to late January. This is the bloom of the native California Brittlebrush, a member of another More Mesa habitat, the Coastal Sage plant community. In the daisy family, the Brittlebrush’s solitary flower head has 15 to 25 bright yellow ray florets around a center of protruding yellowish to purplish brown disc florets.

While this species is drought tolerant, it definitely does not like cold and frost … and this has been a very cold, very wet, winter. One can easily understand that the combination of many years of drought followed by a cold winter has been extremely hard on them. Buds have remained stubbornly closed and flowers were definitely reluctant to appear. However, this last week they have made an appearance, and are well into their fabulous show as I write this post. Although they are about 2 months late, better late than never! Enjoy the bloom along with the butterflies, bees and other insects who live off the pollen of this very special plant. They are even more grateful than we are that the blossoms have finally arrived!

Please Cherish More Mesa! The pandemic, and its associated lockdown, has brought some good things to More Mesa and some not-so-good, things. Because many gathering places … gyms, theatres, airports, planes, restaurants, bars etc. were closed or unavailable, unhappy people discovered More Mesa. Many of them became enthralled with the beauty and diversity of this place and have acted accordingly to keep it that way.

But on the Flip Side, these new folks included many, many bicyclists … some with motorized bikes (not allowed on More Mesa), walkers and people who were just plain bored. Many of these folks were not familiar with how to cherish a beautiful open space, so they decided to change it to suit their own particular needs. Bicylists and walkers cut new trails just a few feet from old trails; trails that go to exactly the same place! These thoughtless decisions have created several times as many trails as there were in 2020. PLEASE DON’T CUT NEW TRAILS! More Mesa’s birds and animals don’t need any more trails. (Note that the aerial photo in a previous section above, was taken 20 years ago. We now have at least three times as many trails … almost all of which are unnecessary!)

And Even Worse: For example, the main trail on the east side is easily three times as wide as it was previously. So is the main east-west trail near the coast. Further, if you walk these uneven and bumpy trails now, you will also discover some extremely deep and wide ruts in a dozen or more places. These ruts were not made by joy riders who like to slop around in the mud, but by large fire trucks summoned to More Mesa the day after the most horrific rain storm we have had in decades.

Was there a fire on More Mesa? No, there wasn’t. The fire department was summoned to More Mesa to rescue a dog that had gone over the cliff. Because there was so much rain the day before, the trails were extremely muddy and had even created ponds in several places. As a result, two heavy fire trucks became stuck in the mud, and in several places. Further, because there were so many emergencies to take care of the day after the storm, all other fire trucks that could have helped rescue the two stuck vehicles, were already occupied. It took the fireman many, many hours to get the trucks out and the whole episode left a real mess on two main trails. (Needless to say, those trucks were also not available to take care of other emergencies that whole afternoon.)

You might say that it is terrible that the dog went over the cliff. And it is. But that happens all too frequently. And it happens because a surprisingly large number of dog owners refuse to keep their pets on a leash, and very often let them run wild on the coast.

Be Careful: Finally, another cautionary tale about the coast. The two types of shales that make up the coastline of More Mesa are extremely unstable. (The giant sinkhole on this photo opened in 2017 and will not be with us for long.) Rough estimates are that the coastline recedes back toward the mountains at about a foot a year. That means that the coastal trail is very dangerous, especially after a rain storm. Use the next trail over to the north. Unhappily, it’s only about 3 feet away.
Love this magical place. Please don’t destroy it.
Many thanks to Chris Brems and Erik Olson for the beautiful photos in this post.