Walt Fidler, Don Rideout and I really enjoyed seeing flowers, flowers, flowers on this hike.  We are so lucky to have such a good show of flowers in the desert in October!

We marveled throughout our hike about the carpets of Pectis, many of which were still in peak bloom.  Don's pix of one of the many, many, fields of Pectis:


The sandy areas had a number of Abronia villosa in full bloom.  My pix of one patch:


Don's post of one Abronia plant:


And we really enjoyed the unicorn plant = devils claw = Proboscidea althaeifolia, seen in flower, fruit, and in a few cases, the dried split-open fruit that IS the devils claw!

My only regret is that I didn't take a picture of my ankle with the devils claw wrapped around it on a live plant.  (:-)

Walt captured in words one of the beautiful things about this plant, that it could be easily identified in all stages.  Even as a baby, its shiny deep green leaves are distinctive.  Its flowers are amazing, so big and beautiful.  And to top it all off, the fruit looks a bit like a giant okra pod while fresh, and then splits open to form the devils claw that was said to hook around the legs of big animals we used to have in this area before humans arrived!

No one discusses and shows great photographs of our plants better than Wayne Armstrong; here's his page on our species and related species:

Devil's Claws: Hitchhikers On Big Animals

Note especially the great drawing by Elaine Armstrong of two devils claws hooked on the back leg of a giant ground sloth (20 feet long from head to tail):


Illustration of the giant ground sloth's relative size to a human:

Don's posts of devils claw from our trip:


My non-iNat pix showing Abronia, Pectis, and Devil's Claw together (the pix was only for the Devil's Claw, but the others were so abundant they snuck into this pix):


My pix of the Devil's Claw on my hand:


See below for more pic of the stunning Pectis displays.

The flowers from those three species were the highlight of our trip.


Don and I posted a whopping 108 observations of 87 species (click on "grid" if that is not the default view you get):


Don did the heavy lifting, and posted 74 observations of 70 species, of which he counted 30 species in bloom (oddly, iNat gives 70 species if I just search for his obs, but lists only 68 species if I search for both his and my obs).  I posted 34 obs of 28 species, concentrating mainly on posting species Don didn't post, or posting in areas where Don didn't post.

We had 92 observations in an area that only had 14 observations prior to our posts:

All 96 obs:


The 14 obs near our surveyed area prior to our posts:


Walt did an utterly fantastic job of taking hundreds of GPS points for good maps for some of these species.

Don and I arrived at the west end of the Vallecito Stage Station County Park at about 11:05 a.m.

Walt Fidler's car was already there, with Walt doing his usual great job of exploring the area before we arrived to optimize our trip.  In this case, his plan was to scout the area south of S2, since we only wanted to explore there if that area had gotten good monsoonal rain, and had happy plants.  If not, he was going to leave a note on the gate to tell us to go north of S2.

We found no note, so headed south.  We met Walt along the main road within a mile from the car.

But first I photographed all the Desert Shaggy Mane Mushrooms along the road, which I had photographed eight days previously. Much to my surprise, they all looked exactly the same as they did eight days earlier, including the one that was just emerging from the ground.  My take is that the just-emerging one ran out of water and couldn't expand further.  My post from this trip:


Another interesting thing about them is that we saw not a single other Shaggy Mane on our hike, and I hadn't seen any on my hike north of S2 eight days previously.  Was there only enough rain for them to come up along the road?  That seems very hard to believe.

This location is the westernmost outpost of this species in iNat obs of this area, which might have something to do with that, too.

Heading south, amidst the huge weedpit of Sisymbrium irio along the road with the mesquite bosque beyond on both sides, there were scattered Pectis plants, at least one Datura wrightii, and a number of Datura discolor.  I was quite surprised at the amount of D. discolor, since we were essentially at the highest elevation known for these plants in this area.

We quickly found the reason why D. discolor isn't found at higher elevation; some of the plants were severely damaged by frost! Walt reported that the temperature in Blair Valley was 34 degrees earlier this morning, so this frost damage probably occurred just hours before we arrived.

My pix of the frost damage:


We were pleased to see a few desert lilies with leaves, the first ones we've seen for a very long time.  Don's post of the one with the most leaves:


After getting through the mesquite bosque, we wanted to head east, where there were no iNat obs. The only slight problem was a barbed wire fence that was in pretty good shape, which may have had something to do with the lack of previous iNat obs here.  (:-)

We REALLY wanted to go east when we saw big fields of Pectis on the other side of the fence.  My pix from our side of the fence at the time:


Fortunately, we soon found a spot where we could crawl under the fence at 1.2 miles from the car, and Don took this pix:


We then headed east to the bottom of the hills a short distance away, arriving there at 12:30 p.m.  Those hills are shown in my pix above of the Pectis fields.

We had a snack there and recorded all the species at the base of the hills.  Don and Walt climbed up to the top of the ridge there, and found a number of other species, while I walked around the north side of the ridge.  We spent a full hour there!

My pix of Don and Walt in those hills:

heading up:

coming down:

Don's pix looking up the Potrero from the top of that hill:


Don's pix of Walt taking GPS points on the hill:


There were a good number of Perityle plants where we first arrived at the hill, but the poor things were plagued with leaf miners, as well as something much bigger, probably the abundant grasshoppers here, taking big chunks out of the leaves.  My post:


We then took off to the south to get around the hills, and went up the main drainage that comes from a saddle above Agua Caliente County Park.  There was a nice field of Pectis and Datura at the junction of that drainage and the one from the south.  Don's pix:


The diversity was pretty low on that route above the junction, and the Pectis and other happy plants petered out to lower densities as we got near the base of those hills, even though the ocotillos were still lush and green.  There apparently was enough rain there to make the shrubs happy, but not enough to germinate hordes of monsoonal annuals.  My pix looking ahead to the saddle:


So we turned around, and then headed south for a while to round those hills.  All too soon our time was up, so we headed cross-country following a route about 1/4 mile south roughly paralleling our route up the drainage.  We explored two smallish hills on the way back, looking for Abutilon, but found none.  I did spot an annual Astragalus there:


We spotted a young plant that might be a baby sandpaper plant (thanks to Fred and Carla's identification):

Don's obs:

And another that is probably a baby Bebbia (thanks again to Fred and Carla):

My obs:

One extremely-unusual observation was that there were zillions and zillions of E. micromera all along our route, and not a single plant of E. setiloba. There were only two plants of E. polycarpa, which qualifies as front page news for its absence here.

We ended up getting back to our cars an hour before sunset.

tom chester