Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fire & Ice Cream on the Mountain

--- Lockheed Fire, August 12, 2009, as seen from the Dipper Ranch. Erica Simmons was setting up her camera to photograph the Perseid meteor shower and unexpectedly caught this magnificent shot of the glowing skies shortly after ignition. This fire burned 7817 acres in a remote location where firefighting conditions were difficult. Smoke and flames were visible from many locations in the Santa Cruz Mountains for 11 days, and reminded us to review fire clearances and emergency escape routes on our own properties. ---

Saturday was the Skyline Neighborhood Ice Cream Party. Earlier in the summer when I won a party for 100 people from Dreyer's Ice Cream, I quickly realized I couldn't park that many cars at the Dipper Ranch without risking a wildfire. This time of year, the hillsides are so dry, driving or parking a hot engine over tall, brown grass runs the risk of igniting a fire. I mow a safe area around the house and ranch buildings, but not enough to park that many visitors.

--- With temperatures soaring into the upper 90s, everyone was delighted to try Red, White and No More Blues ice cream (Dreyer's new 'taste of recovery') in addition to many other flavors. ---

We held the party at the nearby Skyline Field Office of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. My goal was to give local mountain neighbors, the recreational users of adjoining parks, and the Open Space staff and volunteers a chance to mingle and meet.

--- Palo Alto firefighters and Mary and Bud Bordi, longtime local ranchers. We cheered when the engine from Palo Alto's Fire Station 8 came up the drive on Saturday. The day before, their crew from Foothills Park quickly put out a vehicle fire on Page Mill Road that spread into the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. Some of the same firefighters were working both days and filled us in on the 'Thunderbird' fire. ---

We picked a party theme of high interest in the summer - ice cream and fire. With the recent nearby Lockheed fire and the general drought conditions, everyone is on their toes. Wildfires don't stop at property boundaries, and fire prevention and response are community efforts. We invited some of the local fire stations for ice cream. They were enthusiastic tasters and answered a burning question I've had - how should adult citizens express our enthusiastic appreciation when we see a fire engine going down the road? After all, we don't want to confuse the engine driver that we are waving them down for help. The firefighters suggested the thumbs-up signal.

---Cal Fire staff not only respond to wildfires in rural areas, but also help the Open Space District use prescribed burns to safely reduce the fuel load and manage the ecological conditions of preserves. In the background, an historic chicken coop. ---

Two Cal Fire crews and their engines enjoyed ice cream too. The local FireSafe Council set up an information booth and Open Space District staff explained a new policy to allow adjacent property owners to responsibly manage fuel conditions across property lines.
--- Rangers in uniform and off-duty staff joined in the information sharing and tasting. ---

All Open Space District field staff are trained annually on wildland fire fighting, and rangers carry fire pumpers on their trucks during the fire season. They can be first on the scene of a wildland fire, are able to put out small fires, and immediately call in firefighting support by radio to remote locations. There are also several volunteer fire departments in the Santa Cruz Mountains who donate many hours in training and response.

--- Lisa Bankosh, biologist with the Open Space District, led a volunteer project of over 20 people on Saturday morning to install erosion control materials and native grasses above Horseshoe Lake. Then she brought her hot crew over to the party and served them ice cream. We love our volunteers. ---

We held the party outside next to a historic building, the chicken coop. The coop was built on top of the concrete foundation of the former summer home of California Governor 'Sunny Jim' Rolph. The nearby ranger office provided modern conveniences like plenty of nonflammable parking, bathrooms and a freezer to store the 50 containers of ice cream. Dreyer's provided all the ice cream and party supplies for free.

--- Every year, over 500 volunteers provide thousands of hours of service on Open Space preserves. It's good to see them relaxing at the ice cream party and sharing tips on avoiding poison oak and heat stroke. ---

The land use patterns in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been changing for decades. Not everyone agrees on how to manage across property lines, but it's good to get together and talk, especially around the toppings table.

--- Metalsmith, Bill Sorich, has created many of the artistic gates seen along our country roads. ---

Bill Sorich brought an unusual item to share, an abandoned log that had large holes in it, probably from a pileated woodpecker. Bill has been a vocal advocate for maintaining adequate fire clearances along roads to allow safe escape by residents and access by fire engines during emergencies. Forest snags provide wildlife habitat and are generally not a fire hazard if they are not too close to structures. Bill is observant and respects the natural world that surrounds him, and designs natural elements into many of his gates and sculptures.

To lend an old-fashioned air to this ice cream social, I decided to wear the pink dress my grandma sewed and wore to my parents' wedding over 50 years ago. Grandma Marie was active in her local church and ever-growing family in rural Minnesota. Our lives are very different, but perhaps she still influences me - I made an apple pie for the party.

--- Catching up with a friend, Chris, and her little daughter. Another friend brought his daughter for her first taste of ice cream - she seemed more excited about the people. ---

--- Bud Bordi talking to our local business folks, probably about the weather. ---

Several people asked how I managed to win an ice cream party for 100 people. I wrote an essay in Dreyer's Slow Churned Neighborhood Salute contest:

----- Alpine Road is beautiful, wild, rural park and ranchland south of San Francisco. The hills turn brown in the summer and it gets hot, except when the fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean. As neighbors, we don’t get together very often, but we call when there’s a package waiting at the local market, email wildfire warnings, share photos on websites, take cup-of-tea hikes from one neighbor to the next (2 miles or so), shoo the cattle back in the gates, and help the neighbor who’s afraid of rattlesnakes. An ice cream social would be a great summer get-together on Alpine Road, an activity to get park rangers, hikers and old-time ranchers talking together. Maybe I will meet the neighbors who knew the legendary cowboy who used to live in my house and collect stories for the local history book. ps: my fellow park employees have a rule that when you get your name in the media, you have to bring in ice cream for everyone. It’s a good rule. I owe them for a radio interview last week. ---

The weather cooperated and I think we pulled the party off just right. Thanks to everyone for the help on Saturday and their country friendship year round.

All photos (except the Lockheed fire) by Andy Butcher.


  1. What a fantastic idea! Sounds like it was a great event. Kudos to you!

  2. Hi there. I'm in the process of writing up a history of Pony Tracks Ranch (bounded in part on the west by Alpine Road on the east side of Skyline).

    It is part of Gov. Sunny Jim Rolph's place, according to the land documents I've found.

    Do you have documentation for the Dipper Ranch being part of the Rolph ranch, which was known as the the Alpine Ranch? If you do would you be willing to share?

    I don't think the Alpine Ranch itself extended much west of Skyline road, but I'd be glad to be proved wrong.

    feel free to email me at lizditz at gmail etc.


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