We made it the whole way, all in daylight! (:-)

Walt Fidler, Jim Roberts, and I hiked from the Fages Monument just above Lake Cuyamaca at 4700 feet, down the California Riding and Hiking Trail, which mostly is the Mason Valley Truck Trail, to the junction of S2 and Hornblende Canyon at 2400 feet elevation.  Our total hiking distance was 9.1 miles, with ~500 feet of total elevation gain and ~2800 feet of total elevation loss.  And we did it all in daylight, starting our hike at 11:45 a.m.  (;-)

This was pretty mind-boggling to me, to hike from the mountain crest in this area down to the desert floor.  I've always wanted to do a hike like this here!

Walt and I averaged 1.6 mph, finishing at 5:45 p.m., taking six hours to do the hike.

Per the original plan, we all hiked together until the halfway point at 3:00 p.m., at which point Jim went ahead at a faster pace so that he wouldn't have so much night-time driving to do.  Jim really hustled downhill after we parted, averaging 2.7 mph and got to Hornblende at 4:35 p.m.  I looked at his footprints on the ground as we hiked and was amazed at his stride length.

Here are some Google Earth views showing our route:

Our path on the satellite view, with the elevation profile and our ~instantaneous hiking speed vs. distance:


The main reason for the slower sections is due to the steepness of the dirt road in those places and tricky footing (see pix linked below).  Over most of the middle of our hike, this was not a high-speed road.  Even the flatter sections there had lots of cobblestones slowing us down.

The view from 7900 feet elevation, above a point to the south of our route, looking mostly north, showing the uppermost part of our route in profile view:


The same view with a number of nearby locations labeled:


Now a view looking south from 10,000 feet elevation somewhere above the Banner area, giving better visibility into lower Oriflamme Canyon:


A view of our entire route, from 9000 feet elevation above Blair Valley, looking mostly west:


It was a good time of year to do this hike, since we weren't slowed down by a lot of plants in bloom.  Jim and I were quite surprised at how few blooms (just 5 to 10 species) there were in the first section near Fages, especially compared to the 44 species we saw in bloom at the same elevations in the uppermost Mason Valley Truck Trail a few weeks earlier.

The lower part of our hike did have a lot of plants in nice bloom, but the species diversity of the blooming plants was not high.

Our main botanical goal on this trip was to record the first location of desert species on the way down, which gives both the westernmost occurrence of those species in this area, as well as their highest elevations.  That hardly slowed us down much, since it just involved taking a photograph or two.

It turns out that the highest elevation of those species was spread out all along our route, once again showing that our desert species are a mixture of species with very different tolerances for higher elevation.  Here are all those "highest elevation" points for desert species, one point per species, plotted on the topo map of the portion of our route in which they were found, as well as on the elevation profile of our route:


There is no doubt that some points are clustered together when we encountered a different habitat that was favored by multiple species, and that some areas with a very uniform habitat (mostly chamise chaparral) had no or few "highest elevation" occurrences.  But it is pretty amazing that points were found throughout the descent part of our route.

This is quite consistent with the elevation analysis of the Borrego Desert plants that I did back in 2014:

Preliminary Analysis of Elevations of the Species in the Flora


and Tom posted 32 obs of 29 species:


Those numbers include a baby horned lizard spotted by Walt, which has an obscured location.  If you can't see it at the link above, here it is:


I haven't posted any obs, since I spent my time in the last two days doing the elevation analysis mentioned above, processing my view pix, and writing this report.

Plants looked pretty much the same bloom-wise on my drive in as they did last Monday 10/17/22.

I got to Hornblende at about 10:45 a.m.  Jim and Walt were already there.  We left there around 11:00 a.m. to do the car shuttle.

It took about 40 minutes to do the car shuttle, and we started hiking at 11:45 a.m., giving us a 15 minute head-start over the planned start at noon.

The temperature was 70 deg at Fages, which matched two of the three different NWS predictions (made for today on different days) for the temp there.  (:-)  The temp when we entered Mason Valley at about 4:30 p.m. was 82 deg, exactly that predicted by NWS.

We were shocked at the low stature of the plants along the first part of the CA R&H trail; it was like they had been mowed, or eaten down by cows, but we saw no evidence of either.  I didn't even recognize the Grindelia hallii at first, since the flowers were almost at ground level, with very little of the plant showing.

Also, as mentioned above, the number of species in bloom was almost an order of magnitude less than at the upper end of the Mason Valley Truck Trail (MVTT).  This was due to a corresponding lack of diversity in the species there.  This lack of diversity was probably due to several factors, including:

- the habitat here was a very uniform grassland, in very flattish terrain.  The habitat at the upper end of the MVTT was oak woodland, with more topographical relief, and more varied hydrology.

- past historical use by people and animals.

We essentially stopped only for plants in bloom at first.  Since there were so few, we made very good time in the first part, averaging 2.0 mph up to mile 3.6.  At that point, the MVTT descends sharply, with poor footing, dropping our average speed to close to 1.0 mph up to mile 4.6.

At about that point, we also started recording the first occurrence of desert species, and our speed averaged 1.7 mph from mile 4.6 to mile 6.5.

Our speed kept increasing past that point as we found fewer species to photograph, and the road got better to walk on, from 2.2 mph (2.0 to 2.5 mph) to mile 7.7, and then 3.0 mph (2.5 to 3.5 mph) to mile 8.3.

In Mason Valley, just before the CA R&H Trail left the Oriflamme Road to go to Box Canyon, there were quite a few Funastrum heterophyllum (= F. cynanchoides hartwegii) seeds scooting along the ground at a fairly good pace with just a very gentle wind, with one seed sailing above my head.  Jim has a nice pix of a seed pod showing some of the seeds with their fluff:


Some view pix by me unless stated otherwise:

View of upper Mason Valley TT and surrounding area at 12:39 p.m.:

View of the flat part in the middle of our hike, with Oriflamme Canyon at right of middle, at 12:41 p.m.:

View looking back at the upper mason valley TT, from the flat part in the middle of our hike, at 1:46 p.m.:

View of lower Oriflamme Canyon from the flat part at 1:49 p.m.:

The beginning of the very steep part beginning the descent into Oriflamme Canyon, at 2:03 p.m.:

The walls above our path get taller as we continue the descent. Pix by Jim at 2:15 p.m.:

Entering the bank of Oriflamme Canyon, at 2:22 p.m.:

View of lower Oriflamme Canyon, at 2:41 p.m.:

Near the bottom of Oriflamme Canyon, near the camping area where there is year-round water, at 3:48 p.m.:

Finally, the road allows high-speed walking as we enter Mason Valley, at 4:36 p.m.:

A not very good photo looking back at the Laguna crest, at 5:56 p.m., from Hornblende:

tom chester