Jug Handle State Natural Reserve

2.50 Miles
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In some cases, a few feet can make all the difference. One can get some appreciation for the variety of plants found along the California Coast at Jug Handle's Ecological Staircase. The trail's interpretive guide points out about five distinct play communities along it's 2.5 mile length.

See a pine tree branch on the ground and want to know whether it comes from a Bishop or Monterrey Pine? The interpretive guide provides that answer and others.

The trail is packed dirt and can be quite muddy during rainy periods.

The name Ecological Staircase refers to different plant communities that inhabit each segment of land as the trail ascends uphill from the Pacific Coast. What starts off a grasses and low shrubs on the windy coastal prairie and turns into medium sized pine and fur forests before transitioning to Redwood giants.

Perhaps the most striking transition is that from the Redwood Forest to the Pygmy Forest at the trails apex. The switch is rather abrupt and one seems to go from towering giants to diminutive shrubs in a just a few paces. The reason for the change in the forest is a change in the soil composition. The soil in the pygmy forest is 1000 times more acidic than that found amongst the Redwoods downhill. Many of the nutrients of the soil have been leached out, providing little sustenance for the plants here. Even Redwoods that have tried to grow here end up stunted, mere shadows of their nearby relatives.

The Ecological Staircase trail circles around the pygmy forest and the return trip is via a the same path used to arrive at this point.

Jug Handle Beach
On the way back to the trailhead we stopped by Jug Handle Beach at the mouth of Jug Handle Creek. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Interpretive trail marker
The passes under Bishop Pines. The marker on the right indicates the entry in the interpretive trail guide that will tell us about.... the Bishop Pine. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
The boardwalk through the Pygmy Forest protects the delicate crust of the nutrient poor soils here. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Pygmy Forest
At the turnaround point in the hike stands the Pygmy Forest. As the soil conditions change, tall Redwoods give way to trees in miniature. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Trail View
A pleasant, and dry, portion of the trail passing through Redwoods. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Muddy Mess
Many sections of the trail were just beginning to dry out from recent rains. These sections are actually more manageable than others. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
A little farther inland and uphill and Redwoods begin to dominate the plant community. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
What now?
Coppertone ponders her next move given the obstacle in our way. Heavy winds prior to our visit knocked down many trees in the area, including this one. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Pacific Coast Highway
The famous Highway 1 as it crosses Jug Handle Creek. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Tree Cover
A little bit of tree cover closer to the shore provided from relief from the winds. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Pacific Ocean
Coppertone stands on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the first plant community among many that we'd see on the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
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