“Particularly how a carpet of yellow Ben Lomond spineflowers in the spring changes to a rust color in the fall.”
According to Baxter, she found her passion for botany in the open spaces of Santa Cruz as a student at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she wrote her thesis on the robust spineflower at Sunset State Beach in Watsonville.
The rare habitat on the preserve supports seven species of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth.
Like islands, the sandhills rose up millions of years ago when the Santa Cruz Mountains were uplifted from an ancient seabed. Scientists still find sand dollars, shell fossils and the bones of extinct sea mammals.
Saved from becoming the home of propane companies and housing developments a few years ago by the Land Trust, the former Geyer Quarry had been the site of sand mining, which stripped the Ponderosa pine-clad hills.
Today, the land is home to the rare Mount Hermon June beetle, Zayante band-winged grasshopper, Ben Lomond spineflower, Santa Cruz wallflower, silverleaf manzanita and Ben Lomond buckwheat.
Although the preserve is off limits to the public, I have organized a walk this Saturday, April 28, with an environmental education grant from the SLV Water District and permission from the Land Trust.
Sandhills expert Dr. Jodi McGraw will lead us through the chaparral and woodlands, which are under restoration. If you were lucky enough to go with us on the Olympic Watershed walk with Jodi last year, I don't have to say more. If you didn't, don't miss this one.
Zack Deutsch-Gross Randall, as sandhills coordinator for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, will guide us through segments of a program that’s usually delivered to the San Lorenzo Valley Nature Academy and other school groups. You will be invited to find parts of the skeleton of a sea cow, which once lived in the ancient seabed, as a simulated paleontology dig. Let's get that wonder back in us that we had as kids.
As writer and scientist Rachel Carson said, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
The Land Trust chose to name the preserve after legendary naturalist Randall Morgan for his “tireless efforts to create awareness of the sandhills habitat by documenting the area's plants and insects and spreading the word throughout the region.”
Morgan said in a 2011 article by UCSC student Keith Rozendal, “In California, things tend to be narrowly endemic. They don't grow anywhere else, because they live on such specialized little micro-environments. In Scotts Valley, I discovered a few new plants. One was so rare you could wad up the entire world population to the size of a softball.”
- Carol Carson is a writer, naturalist, and educator. Contact her at email@example.com.