Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chiget Update

First, let me say thanks to Howard for adding me as a poster to this blog. All of us hikers have appreciated what you've made possible for us. Thanks heaps.

On a smaller scale some of us will try to keep 'hike Tinian' alive, though it may become even more difficult than we'd anticipated. Below is how Chiget looked with Howard on the beach in January.
Disturbed by reports that Chiget area was being fenced off some of us visited there on Monday, Mar 24. It is a sad view. Howard not only are we losing you, our hike leader - a sad enough prospect in itself - but it seems we are losing hike area access. There is indeed a huge fence.

A thin person can still squeeze through to get to the beach. I imagine even that will be changed eventually.

For the rest the view is pretty dismal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

West Field - March 22, 2008

On this hike we set off to explore the area just north of the current airport on Tinian. During World War II, this area was called West Field. It was a fighter airbase, which protected the U.S. bombers on their raids over Japan. I knew we would find an old Japanese Shinto Shrine in this area. According to Mitch, the name of the shrine is the Tachibana Shinto Shrine.

There were ten hikers on this hike. Most of them are pictured below, getting ready to start the hike. It took two trucks to get to the starting point for this hike, but I was willing to put everyone in my truck; I have had up to fourteen people in it before. But, everyone decided it was best to take two trucks. In the picture below are Dan, me, Judy, Kimberly, Joe, Erica and Gary. Not pictured are Pete, Masa and Mitch, who took the picture.

After a short walk through some short grass and pass some down trees, we came to a bamboo grove. In the bamboo grove was the shrine. Below are me, Dan, Erica and Mitch looking at the shrine in the grove.

We entered from the backside of the shrine and had to follow a cement fence, which surrounded the most sacred area of the shrine. The base for the gods' house can been seen through the fence in the picture below.

Dan had to clean the top of the foundation for the shrine's house. The steps to the foundation's top are clearly visible in the picture below. Where Dan is standing is where a small wooden house would have been located.

Masa is pictured below leaving an offering at the Shinto Shrine.

After visiting the main part of the Shinto Shrine, we decided to try to find the torii gate for the shrine. As we looked for it, we noticed large foundations for buildings on both sides of the path we were following. These foundations were most likely for buildings that serviced the shrine, maybe where priests or monks lived. In the picture below, one of the foundations is visible behind the trees and vines. By the way, we didn't find the torii gate.

Below is a closeup of the foundation in the picture above. Erica is just barely visible in the picture below.

Once you are on top of the foundations, it is fairly easy to walk because there are very few trees and vines growing there. Below are Kimberly and me standing on one of the building foundations. You can see how clear it is on the foundations, which are really just large cement slabs.

There were a few artifacts near these foundations and on them. Below, Masa is looking at one of these artifacts. It looked like some type of large electrical motor or switch.

Because of the shallow soil found in limestone forest areas, trees have developed ways to help keep upright. Some of these ways are using prop roots, which are common on nunu and pandanus trees, or using buttress roots, which are common on flame and ironwood trees. Pictured below is a flame tree, Delonix regia, which got knocked over maybe in a typhoon. Another adaptation many tropical trees have is that when they get knocked over, they grow advantageous roots from where ever their trunk touches the ground. The flame tree does this.

The picture below shows a great example of a buttress root on a flame tree.

After leaving the shrine, we headed south towards the current airport. We found a few more foundations. These most likely were part of the Seabee base that was in this area, or could have been air operation buildings. We even followed a few old roadways which could have been taxi ways for the fighters at West Field.

It was fairly hard walking with all of the vines in the jungle. Being the leader, I usually had vines wrapping around me until I either cut them or they broke. We also had to watch out for boonie bee nests. There were not that many, but there were enough to keep us alert.

One other nest that we did find was a bird nest. It had baby birds in it. I am fairly certain they are Tinian Monarch young, since this was the most common bird that we saw on the hike. I did see one or two Rufous Fantails, but we saw many many more Monarchs.

We travelled from one kamachili tree to an ironwood tree to another tree, and not finding much. I finally got tried and decided to head west towards 8th Avenue. As we walked towards 8th Avenue, we found more kamachili and ironwood trees. Ironwood trees, Casuarina equisetifolia, also have large buttress roots, as can be seen in the picture below. In the picture, Mitch is climbing over one of the large buttress roots, while Gary and Joe are looking on. Gary was visiting Tinian for a few days, and Joe is the father of Don Farrell, a well-known local historian. Joe is also a World War II veteran, who had just visited Iwo Jima, where he fought during its invasion. (Just a side note, if you want to learn more about Tinian, I highly recommend purchasing some of the history books that Don has written.)

As we headed west, we came upon an old roadway. I can remember about 3 or 4 years ago this road had been cleared and could be driven on. Now it was overgrown, and with trees on the side of it leaning out on to the road. Also, some small trees have started to grow on it. The jungle does cover things very quickly here in the tropics. We followed the road a little ways to the south, but it was difficult to get through some areas because of the trees leaning out into the road.

I decided to head west again towards 8th Avenue. I knew we where close to it. As we left the road, it dropped into a deep wide ditch. In the picture below Masa, Joe and Gary are working their way down the steep slope into the ditch. Of course, when I first went down the slope, I couldn't see where I was placing my feet because of the thick vines. There were also a lot of rotten branches on this slope, because of clearing the road a few years ago, which made the walking even more interesting. After a few people had followed me, it was a lot easier to see your footing, but you still had to be careful because it was easy to slip.

On the other side of the ditch, we had to climb up another slope. After a short distance in the secondary forest, we hit grass. I hate grass. I started to crawl through the grass to push it down and to make a trail for the rest of the hikers to follow. As I was doing this, I suddenly dropped down. There was another steep slope that was hidden by the grass. A few of the hikers slide down this slope instead of trying to walk down it. After the slope, I still had more grass to make a path in. In the picture below, I am finally got out of the grass and I am standing on 8th Avenue. I think it is Mitch and Erica that are still in the grass in the picture below.

The picture below shows Joe about ready to get out of the grass. I think that is Pete standing at the top of the slope thinking about how to get down it.

After a short walk down 8th Avenue, we stopped at the SeaBee's Monument. Below are Masa, Pete, and me look at the map of Tinian as it appeared after the U.S. buildup during World War II.

Below is a closeup of map on the SeaBee's Monument showing the area we were hiking in as it appeared during World War II. It doesn't look that way now!

After visiting the monument, we headed down 86th Street toward our trucks. They were about a quarter mile down the road.

I was fairly tried after this hike. I think fighting all of those vines and the grass got to me. This was not the best hike we have been on, but it was different, as almost all of the hikes are. I was glad to get home and to take a hot shower.

As for the boonie bee count, it was one again. I bet you all can guess who got stung. Yes, it was me, right on the stomach.

I would like to thank Judy and Mitch for providing all of the pictures in this posting. My camera was with my wife in Bali and Java.

The next hike will be to the Japanese canon above Turtle Cove. We will follow the cliff that the canon is on to the north. I have done this once before, about 12 years ago, and have found some interesting caves and tunnels, so bring a flashlight. This will be the last Saturday hike I will be leading on Tinian, since I will be leaving in early April. We will meet at 8 AM, Saturday, March 29, at Grace Christian School.

Please join us on my last hike. I hope that others will continue these hikes on Tinian even after I am gone.

Everyone is Welcome.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lion's Head - March 15, 2008

On March 15th, eight hikers set out to climb up to Lion's Head, a rocky outcropping above Marpo Valley on Tinian. This is my third hike to Lion's Head with the Saturday hikers since we started hiking last September. I wanted to do this hike one last time before leaving Tinian in April.

After meeting at 8 AM, at Grace Christian School, we drove to the island's public well in Marpo Valley. I usually park a little closer to the end of the road than I did this time. This time, I parked next to the bend in the road that was just pass the entrance to the well. As we got ready for the hike, another truck pulled in behind mine. It had Mony in it, and he was going to join us on this hike.

As we set off on the hike, I was surprised that we were next to a cliff, which came to within a few feet of the road. I don't remember this cliff coming this close to the road from my previous visits to this area. As we hiked along this cliff, there were a lot of shelters used by the Japanese during World War II. Below is a picture of one of these shelters, with two bottles in the bottom of it.

There were about 4 or 5 of these caves or rock shelters along this little cliff which we were following. Below is another shelter that is made up of several large rocks that are at the base of the cliff. In the picture, you can see another bottle on the floor of the shelter.

Mr. Sakurai, or Uncle Pedro as he likes to be called, who is pictured below in one of the caves, left offerings at many of the Japanese sites on this hike, as he is doing here. His father died here on Tinian during World War II.

Next to the cave pictured above was an old sledge hammer, which is pictured below. The dead leaves in the picture, with the sledge hammer, are from the bamboo grove that is very near this cave.

In the picture below is a cache of bottles that was near a Japanese shelter. Most of these bottles are beer bottles, but most likely they were used by the Japanese to catch rainwater, during the U.S. invasion of Tinian.

As I rounded some small trees near the cliff, which we were following, I saw the land crab, Cardisoma carnifex, pictured below.

About a quarter mile along the cliff, we came upon the old water pipe that ran from the old Japanese water well in Marpo Valley to the top of the Carolinas Plateau, pictured below. This pipe is about 18 inches in diameter. When I first started to hike in this area, trying to find a way to the top of Lion's Head, we used to follow this pipeline to the cliff. I had not seen this pipe for about 10 years. It was nice to see that it still existed as I remembered it.

In the picture below is the tree called paipai in Chamorro, Guamia mariannae. It is an common endemic understory tree in the limestone forest.

This tree is very similar in appearance to gulos, Cynometra ramiflora, and they are found in similar habitats. The way to tell them apart is to look at the leaves. Gulos has compound leaves made up of two large lower leaves and two smaller upper leaves. Paipai has a single lance like leave, as shown in the picture below.

As I was leading the group, I noticed a Tinian Monarch fly off the nest pictured below.

In the nest was the egg. I had thought that this egg, pictuced below, was laid by the Rufous Fantail, Rhipidura rufifrons. I will have to send this picture, and some other pictures, to a friend of mine, who did a study on the Tinian Monarch in the 1990's, to see if this is a Monarch's or Fantail's egg.

For about the first mile of the hike, we walked in a transition zone between tangantangan forest and limestone forest. After this mile we entered pure limestone forest. Below is a picture of Mony walking in the transition zone, just before we entered the limestone forest. The last half mile of the hike, just before Lion's Head, is in secondary tangantangan forest. The hike to Lion's Head is a little under a half mile one way, and with an elevation gain of about 500 feet.

One of the common trees in the limestone forest is the nunu tree, Ficus prolixa. Below are three pictures of an especially large nunu (banyan) tree. As always, it is hard to take a picture of such a large tree, since you can't get far enough away from it in the jungle to get all of it in a single picture.

Because of all the Japanese defensive structures in this area, the fighting must have been very intense during the U.S. invasion of Tinian. This was one of last areas the Japanese were pushed back into before their last stand on the backside of the Carolinas Plateau. So below is another picture of a large 6-inch shell, which are fairly common on Tinian, that we saw on our way to Lion's Head.

Below is a picture of a second nest that we came upon that had an egg in it. It is a little bit different from the first nest in which we found an egg.

The egg was blue, as shown in the picture below. As I said above, I will have to send these egg pictures to a friend of mine, and find out what she can tell me about them.

Another tree that is commonly seen in the forest is the tiger claw tree, Erythrina variegata. This is a fairly large tree. Below is a picture of its flowers, high up in the canopy.

Wild sour orange trees are very common in the forest. They can be found in both the limestone forest and the secondary tangatangan forest. Usually you will notice the fruit on the ground before you see the tree that produced it. Below is a picture of one of the oranges on the ground.

This wild oranges are very sour and locally are called lemons, even if they are much larger than a normal lemon. Below is a picture of the oranges still attached to the tree.

Finally, after the long walk in the jungle and climbing one small cliff, we made it to Lion's Head. Of course, it is easier now to find Lion's Head, since I have it position on my GPS and I have been to it six times since last summer. Below is a 360 degree video of the view from Lion's Head.

For this hike, the weather was perfect for going to Lion's Head. There were only a few clouds and a fairly steady wind. These weather conditions made it easy to see Saipan from Lion's Head, as show in the picture below.

Below is a picture of Mitch and Judy sitting on Lion's Head with Mt. Lasu in the background.

In the picture above, Judy and Mitch are sitting on a fairly flat area that is just below the highest point on Lion's Head. In the picture below are Mitch, Masa, and Mony standing on the highest point on Lion's Head.

To the east of Lion's Head is a second rock promontory. The picture below shows me sitting at the end of this promontory. This second rock outcropping is not visible from the eastern side of the island and is rarely seen. It would only be visible if you were in a boat on the western side of Tinian.

The picture below is toward the top of Carolinas Plateau, towards Suicide Cliff. I always enjoy this view. Suicide Cliff was where the Japanese jumped into the ocean instead of surrendering to the Americans. To the Japanese, it was better to commit suicide than to surrender, because there was no honor in surrender.

Below is Mony standing between Lion's Head and the second rock outcropping. He was trying to get pictures of me standing on the second promontory and of others walking out to it.

After visiting Lion's Head, we headed back to the truck. It was a fairly easy walk back because I could follow the track that my GPS created on the way up. Of course, it is very hard to follow the exact same trail back when traveling cross country. One of the things that we found on the way back was a fairly large stone wall, which is in the picture below.

Behind the wall was a deep hole or cave. In the picture below are Mitch and Mony seeing what is in this cave or hole behind the wall.

We came out of the jungle where I would have normally parked the truck to start this hike. The picture below shows Judy looking back at where Lion's Head is located. The yellow arrow is pointing at Lion's Head.

I wanted to just get in the truck and drive back to the village, but everyone else insisted on taking a group photo. Below is the group photo. In the photo, from left to right, are me, Masa, Kimberly, Judy, Uncle Pedro (in front of Judy), Mony, Mitch and Erica.

This is always a good hike because of the different things you see on the way to Lion's Head. I don't think I have ever walked the same path to Lion's Head and back in all of the times I have been there. Just because I parked in a slightly different place this time, we got to see many more Japanese shelters than are normally find on this hike.

As always, I would like to thank Mitch and Judy for contributing additional photographs for this posting. I will have to rely on them for the photos for the next hike, since my wife has taken my camera to Bali for a week.

The boonie bee count was one on this hike. I got stung on the wrist as we hiked back from Lion's Head. I think this was the only bee nest that we saw on the whole hike.

The next hike will be to the West Field area. This area is just to the north of the current airport on Tinian. We will visit the Shinto Shrine located here and look for the remains of the SeaBee compound that used to be in this area. I have explored a little bit of this area, but I really don't know what we will find, besides the shrine. Most of the hike will be through tangantangan forest. We will meet at 8 AM, on Saturday, March 22, at Grace Christian School.

Everyone Is Welcome On These Hikes.