Monarch the Grizzly Returns

See California's Last Grizzly Bear at California Academy of Sciences

The California State Senate recently passed a resolution officially declaring 2024 the “Year of the California Grizzly Bear.” It marks the 100th anniversary of the extirpation of California’s official state animal. The last known sighting of a grizzly bear in this state was at Sequoia National Park in 1924. Just in time for all of this, Monarch “California’s last grizzly bear” is back in public view as part of California: State of Nature, the outstanding new exhibition at California Academy of Sciences. The mounted specimen represents a significant story in California’s history and lessons in mass extinction.

Monarch tells a story of loss, but also symbolizes hope for a future where we apply these lessons to avoid similar pitfalls. California Academy of Sciences’ exhibition California: State of Nature provides a rare opportunity to understand how ecosystems were affected by the mass extinction of grizzlies and about the bear’s significance to Indigenous populations.

See the New Exhibit, California: State of Nature

Now Take It Outside

The last California grizzly bear was seen in California’s first national park, Sequoia, 100 years ago. While you won’t see a grizzly there today, other bears and animals thankfully still roam our mountains, valleys, and coasts.

Mineral King is a remote subalpine valley in Sequoia National Park’s southern end, with high-alpine lakes and dramatic serrated peaks. Day hikes here are astoundingly beautiful, though not short! Many are 7 to 10 miles round-trip, and with altitude gains of 1,700 to 2,200 feet.

The 3.4-mile (one-way) hiking trail to Eagle Lake rewards richly, with huge views of granite peaks coming up from timberline. For a gentler hike, try the Farewell Gap Trail amid alpine wildflowers in the Mineral King Valley. Or simply hang out by Mineral King Stream and read a book. However you experience this national park, you’ll appreciate imagining how grizzlies roamed this vast, enriching landscape. Keep an eye out for black bears here—thankfully they’re still roaming.

TIP: Want to take action to help protect California’s flora and fauna? Check out the Coexist with Wildlife, California campaign to learn about 24 iconic California species and learn how you can take action to preserve and regenerate our habitats and species. A few easy ways include “leave no trace” practices when hiking and camping, as well as planting a pollinator garden.

See the New Exhibit, California: State of Nature

Wingspan

You can learn a lot about the endangered California condor at California Academy of Sciences’ new exhibition California: State of Nature. Witness a 9-foot graphic of a condor and spread out your arms to compare your “wingspan” to that of this magnificent apex scavenger. Learn about the condors’ cultural importance to Yurok and other tribes in the state.

Watch the heartwarming story of California condor reintroduction, and use your phone to bring condors to life within the museum through augmented reality.

Now Take It Outside

Pinnacles National Park is a good place to potentially see the magnificent—and endangered—California condor. They may indeed be soaring overhead as you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail on a 5.75-mile (loop) hike starting from the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

An ideal place to try to spy California condors is when you reach the steep and narrow section of the High Peaks Trail, where railings provide stability through passageways beside massive round pinnacles. From the ledges overlooking the park and former fire lookout on North Chalone Peak, see if you can spot the white flashes on the underside of the wings of a condor.

See the New Exhibit, California: State of Nature

Scents and Sensibility

Indulge in some atypical aromatherapy. From pungent to piney, the natural fragrances of California forests are yours to inhale when you step up to the forest scent station in California: State of Nature. Smell aromas arising from Douglas firs, California bay laurel, as well as other signature forest species like yerba santa and fetid adder’s tongue.

Now Take It Outside

Take in some forest therapy amid the giant Douglas firs, redwoods, and madrones while hiking at Sanborn County Park in the Bay Area. A 5.6-mile loop goes up into airy, forested ravines and to the beautiful Todd Creek Redwoods Grove.

On the hike take in the ethereal beauty and fresh scents from the redwoods in Peterson Grove, and enjoy the sprawling lawn with picnic tables and sycamore trees. Cross Aubry Creek and continue under a canopy of live oak, California bay laurel, and big-leaf maple on your way to Todd Creek Redwoods. This beautiful grove of second-growth coast redwoods is an example of resilience in nature; the trees are interspersed with giant stumps from their ancient parents.

See the New Exhibit, California: State of Nature

Fire Lessons

The California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of biodiversity research and exploration. And its new exhibition, California: State of Nature, delves into their timely wildfire research in the Sierra. A short video in the exhibition shares the ways in which intentional fire can support healthy ecosystems when managed properly, and emphasizes the importance of Indigenous cultural burning, shared through stories from tribal members.

Activate the sounds of the forest in an audioscape experience using bronze bird casts.

Hear the calls of the red-breasted sap sucker, brown creeper, and olive-sided flycatcher birds. Check out real scientific specimens of a northern pygmy-owl and western tanager, manzanita berries, and pinecones, and see how each appears in the Academy’s extensive research on fire and climate change.

Now Take It Outside

Fire lookouts are like the lighthouses of mountains—perched at vantages providing the best panoramas of the surrounding area. And the Sierra Buttes Lookout, set at the top of the Sierra Buttes, is worth the 5-mile (round-trip) hike. From the trailhead it’s a moderate ascent on a wide dirt trail, winding up through high mountain terrain and big views of the Lakes Basin.

When you reach the stairway to the lookout, you’ll need a head for heights. Slow and steady leads the way up to the balcony and the massive views.

Vistas expand all the way out to Mount Lassen on clear days, with the Yuba River Canyon and Sacramento Valley in the west, and southern views of Bowman Lakes and Tahoe’s peaks! Upper Sardine Lake shines and Lower Sardine Lake appears heart-shaped, a lovely metaphor for the care we can give to our precious natural surroundings.

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