Thursday, September 27, 2012

Exploring Baskett Slough

I am beginning to understand why my friends are usually busy when I invite them to go hiking. "Sounds like fun, Linda, too bad I'm busy that day." And so it was today when I decided to turn my forgetfulness into another trip to Baskett Slough. (Actually, one friend had said she would go but she came up sick and had to cancel. Two other friends were "busy". So I went alone.)

Johnny and I were just at Morgan Lake on Monday, after getting goat and dog feed in Dallas. But I forgot to buy horse and chicken feed. So back I went today with the intention of hiking from Baskett Butte parking lot to Morgan Lake, hopefully getting closer to the waterfowl and shorebirds we had spotted on Monday from the Smithfield/Livermore roads end of the lake. I planned to carry a scope.That area closes to the public on October 1st (to protect wintering waterfowl) so this was my last chance.

All started out well with a lovely snake I didn't recognize sunning itself just a few yards up the path from the parking lot (pink square in middle of map). I am waiting for identification from the experts. My guess is baby Pacific Gopher Snake.

Walking through the shaded oak woodland of Baskett Butte was pleasant. I assumed when I came out on the far side a path would go right, like the map showed, to Morgan Lake. But if it did, I missed it. I ended up at a lake, but it wasn't Morgan Lake.

 I finally figured out, from my memory of the map, that this was Moffitti Marsh, although it looked like a lake, not a marsh. In the distance, I could see a white building that became, when zoomed up with my camera, the barn at the corner of Smithfield and Livermore Roads. That barn is right across the road from the Morgan Lake parking lot where Johnny and I had hiked from last Monday. Morgan Lake had to be somewhere off to the right.

By now I was on a gravel road that bordered the west (I think) end of Moffitti Marsh lake. On my left was a true marsh, apparently Parvipes Marsh.

My choice was to retrace my steps and try to find the trail to Morgan Lake, or continue on the gravel road that would take me to Smithfield Road, then to the Morgan Lake parking area where I could hike back, eventually, to the Baskett Butte parking lot. By hiking to the end of the lake, I would get closer, or so I thought, to the waterfowl and shorebirds, as was my original intention.

I elected to forge onward, following the gravel road through plowed and dusty farm fields. When I arrived at Smithfield Road, I found myself behind a closed gate and barbed wire fence. A well-worn foot path at one side of the gate went through the wire that had been spread to allow passage. It did not seem very "foot traffic" friendly, in spite of the sign on the opposite side.

At least now I knew where I was. And by now I was thanking my lucky stars, or sensible friends, that no one had elected to come with me on this long, hot, dusty adventure.

Once I started up the path from the Morgan Lake parking area (pink dot at end of Livermore Road on above map), I looked for Moffitti Marsh lake. A thin ribbon of water was visible at the high spots on the trail. In all the times I've hiked to Morgan Lake, I never dreamed there was another lake on the other side of all those cattails.

At last I approached the end of Morgan Lake where we had seen so many distant waterfowl on Monday. And shorebirds. Today, the shorebirds were off to the east on a finger of the lake too far for good viewing. I didn't bother to take the scope off my back. By now I was hot, tired, and a bit worried about finding the trail going back up Baskett Butte and down the other side. It turned out to be a legitimate worry.

I took a photo of the waterfowl that were fast leaving my side of the lake. A Ruddy Duck was kind enough to look like himself, although blurry. This was not the close-up view of waterfowl I had envisioned.

To add insult to injury, the mud flats at the end of the lake where shorebirds had been on Monday were deserted.

So I continued on around the farmer's field, looking for a recognizable trail. I had no idea which way to go. I went the wrong way. Apparently, I should have gone right, back toward the trail I'd come down on to get to Moffitti Marsh. Instead, I elected to follow the plowed field edge (all the fields had plowed edges) through the lowest point between two hills. Looking at the map after I returned home, I see I went basically south instead of west, which is the direction I should have gone. I was following some large footprints and figured that person must know where he was going. But maybe he was lost, too.

Eventually, after what seemed like forever in the hot sun high overhead in the middle of the day, I came to a vista where I could see the dusty trail of a truck on Coville Road, and knew that was the general direction I should head. That's good because that's where the plowed edge of the field was going, more or less.

But nowhere could I see the parking lot with my truck in it. Finally, with the help of my binoculars, I spotted a school bus parked where the parking lot must be, way off to my right (west). Here it is. I'll zoom it up so you can see the bus. My truck, and the other vehicles parked there, were hidden behind shrubbery. Without the bus, I would not have been able to locate the parking lot.

Hallelujah! I was not doomed to wander the wilds of  Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge for the rest of my life. A dirt road between fields took me to Coville Road which took me to the parking lot and my truck.

I have now seen much more of the refuge than I ever planned to see and I now know why my friends are usually busy when I invite them to go hiking with me.

But it was a cool snake.