A plume of pale dust had tailgated us ever since we turned off the asphalt.
It overtook us everytime I stopped to open another gate or waited for cattle to cross the road.
Not a problem.
We were off the beaten track, and wild country always lifts my spirits.
Annual grassland habitat with blue oak woodland in the distance.
Finally we arrived at the gate with the lock etched with the word ELK.
We had arrived at the Chimineas Ranch.
That was back in early June, our inaugural visit at the invitation of Bob Stafford, who directs the 31,000 acre spread for the California Department of Fish & Game.
I had written to Bob at the suggestion of Craig Fiehler, an enthusiastic young wildlife biologist who took my camera trapping workshop last year requesting permission
Bob responded favorably to my request to camera trap on the ranch and suggested that his staff biologist Craig and I do a comprehensive and scientific camera trap survey covering all habitats.
"Send me your CV, and we'll get you on board as a volunteer", which I did.
The ranch lies between the lower San Joaquin Valley and the inner coast range, spitting distance from the San Andreas Fault.
So yes, the area is geologically active.
It's been tossing and turning since the Miocene when tectonic compression started to crumple the landscape.
Biogeographically speaking its a borderland between the San Joaquin valley, the Mohave Desert, and the Coast Range.
The flora and fauna is a mixture of species from each region, but they sort out by habitat.
Since June we have been developing methodology, drafting proposals for additional camera traps, and gathering preliminary data.
Annual grassland with sparse juniper, and clumps of buckwheat.
Our work is cut out for us, and it is going to be fun.