This year's spring and summer natural history trips were truly exceptional. Our Death Valley trip took place right at the height of the super-bloom and the once bare and desolate floor of the valley was carpeted with desert gold and pocketed with dozens of other native desert wildflowers. This past El Niño brought torrential amounts of water to many parts of California that desperately needed it (while also inexplicably missing others) and over the course of the winter Death Valley received a full 2.7 inches of rain. This amount may seem insignificant, but the Valley normally receives no more than 2 inches of rain in an entire year. This small, yet concentrated amount of rain, was enough to germinate millions of dormant desert wildflower seeds that all shot up to form a massive super-bloom - the likes of which the valley has not seen since 2005.
While the super bloom was spectacular and novel, it was unable to dwarf Death Valley's usual splendor of barren rocks, braided badlands, and the bed of a long-dead lake - the story of which Dr. Tanya Atwater unfolded over the course of the trip. Meanwhile, Steve Junak told stories of present day life in Death Valley and how the native plants and wildlife are able to carve out a niche in one of the harshest and most desolate regions of the world.
A few months later during the hot summer months, we ventured high into the White Mountains to walk in the cool mountain air among the oldest trees in the world. At first glance, the high peaks of the White Mountains reveal little more than ancient trees among the barren rock, but the land came alive through interpretation from Tanya Atwater, Steve Junak, and Santiago Escruceria. Concentrated beauty could be found all around in the low-lying flowers that lay hidden within the rocky crevices which gave shelter to the biting wind. This tiny and hidden beauty lay in contrast to their home atop the massive mountains that were left from the collision of two massive continental plates.
The Central Coast trip will focus on the area surrounding the San Andreas Fault. It will form a loop that begins at Morro Bay, and from there we'll travel north to the volcanic formations at Pinnacles National Park, then west to Hollister, south through the coast of Big Sur, and we will end with a tour of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse.
And finally, we'd like to welcome all aboard on an amazing excursion led by the extraordinary geologist Tanya Atwater, and Steve Junak, botanist, storyteller, and CIR Board Member. This exciting trip will offer rare glimpses of some of the last original native coastal landscapes in Southern California. Beginning at the Santa Barbara train depot, you will ride in style aboard a beautifully restored Vista Dome Lounge-Dining Car built in 1956. You will be treated to a narrated scenic journey along a spectacular part of the coast, and through several ranchos that cannot be seen from Highway 101. We will travel through Gaviota, the Hollister Ranch, the Cojo Ranch (including Point Conception), Vandenberg Air Force Base (including the Sudden Ranch), and the Guadalupe / Oceano Dunes region. Learn about the area's rich human and natural history before stopping in San Luis Obispo. Enjoy a catered buffet lunch on board, including beer, wine and soft drinks. Passengers are free to change levels and sides in the car for a new and different view on the way back. This is a fantastic opportunity to see parts of the coast by rail that are otherwise inaccessible.