Plant Trail Reports, San Bernardino / San Jacinto Mountains

10 April 2004: Devils Slide Trail, Laws Trail, Skunk Cabbage Meadow Trail, Willow Creek Trail (see Devils Slide Trail Plant Guide)

I was alerted by Nick Nixon that the willows were blooming on the lower Devils Slide Trail, so today we botanized the trail together.

The drive from Fallbrook to Idyllwild was wonderful. There were fields of goldfields just south of Anza. On SR74, from SR371 to Lake Hemet, there were hundreds of white Ceanothus in bloom, most likely C. greggii. They appeared more beautiful since they were mostly isolated plants surrounded by grassland. I had driven by them many times before, never suspecting there was so much Ceanothus along that road.

Even more stunning, the pink-bracted manzanita, Arctostaphylos pringlei ssp. drupacea, was in full bloom as I approached Idyllwild. What a beautiful plant! I wasn't expecting anything other than willows to be in bloom.

On the trail, the pink-bracted manzanita was just beginning, with only a handful of flowers open. A few green-leaf manzanita, A. patula, were in almost full bloom, but most were just beginning to swell their buds.

The highlight of my trip was of course the willows. I was quite surprised to find only males blooming, four in the Jolley Spring drainage at mile 0.95 and one in the Powderbox Spring drainage at mile 1.23. The a priori probability of finding only a single sex blooming is 1/16, which makes me suspicious that something else was going on besides random selection for the sex we saw today. (The probability is 1/2 for each of the subsequent four plants to be the same sex as the first one; the net probability is arrived at by multiplying all the probabilities.)

But it isn't clear to me what else could be going on. To my knowledge, these willows are not clonal (three plants were closely-spaced neighbors), and it wouldn't work very well if both sexes weren't in bloom at the same time.

The id for all the specimens was Scouler's willow, Salix scouleriana. Using the JM leaf key, I had previously obtained that id for all the plants on the trail except for the ones in the first drainage at mile 0.95. The tentative id for those plants was arroyo willow, S. lasiolepis. That id was apparently confirmed by some of the leaves being dead ringers for normal arroyo willow leaves, being elliptic/symmetric and thus very un-Scouler-like! This just goes to show that with some willows, one needs all the help one can get from the flowers.

This is not a complaint about the JM willow leaf key, which I think is fantastic overall. I really appreciate the three separate keys for vegetative, male and female plants. This is just a comment about how difficult it is to separate these two species from the leaves alone.

It was a source of constant merriment to me that we occasionally saw small patches of snow on the Devils Slide Trail, and lots of patches of snow on the trails past Saddle Junction. I've spent a fair amount of time in the Anza Borrego Desert in the last two months, where the temperature was in the 80s and 90s nearly the entire month of March. It just seemed so hard to believe that snow could still exist so close to there after all that hot weather!

After we reached Saddle Junction, we toured the meadows. I was shocked when crossing one patch of snow that I postholed down a foot or so in it! Even more shocking was how dry everything looked. The soil looked bone dry everywhere except within literally inches of each patch of snow. I was expecting the trail to be at least muddy, with the surrounding ground looking wet to the eye. Fortunately, every time I checked, the soil was quite moist only an inch or so below the surface.

The Laws Trail has a lot of pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum, on it. Some plants near Saddle Junction already had young flower stalks on them. One plant had six of them!

Many annuals were germinating along the trail in a number of places, and their id suddenly came to me after seeing them a number of times - ground smoke, Gayophytum oligospermum, the id I had obtained on the PCT last year for them. Now I know what baby Gayophytum plants look like! (;-)

There were two interesting non-botanical phenomena we got to observe.

First, Nick pointed out something that he had been asked about last week, which was especially apparent in the flattish area around Saddle Junction and the meadows. Immediately next to many of the remaining snow clumps, or in places that had lost their snow cover recently, the ground was often covered with what appeared to be white spider webs.

No other location had them, but it was clear that they were ephemeral. Simply stepping on one of them made it much less visible.

I poked at a few of them, trying to simulate an insect being caught in the web, but no spider ever appeared.

I discovered that these webs were actually on top of the snow, at least in a few locations at the edges of the snow packs. There was clearly snow/ice underneath the webs.

This made us think at the time that the webs weren't formed by a spider, since we couldn't imagine a spider living on top of the snow. So being a good theoretical physicist, I dreamed up a theory about how the dust particles picked up in the snow, both from the air when the water droplet nucleated, and from falling through the pine forest, coalesced into cobwebby networks as the snow melted.

I nabbed a few samples to take home, since I thought it might be possible to tell the difference under a microscope.

They looked just like spider webs under the microscope. The filaments have a semi-organized pattern, with sparse support lines connecting more dense (trapping?) areas. The filaments are very strong, as I would expect of spider webs, but which would not be characteristic of dust filaments. I couldn't cause them to break by stretching them with a probe.

So I tentatively concluded they were spider webs, as unlikely as that hypothesis might seem.

Then I got lucky enough to find the remains of an insect, post having its insides sucked out by a spider, in its characteristic wrapped-up-like-a-mummy position within the web.

So I'm pretty convinced these are indeed spider webs!

From a web search, I found that spiders definitely live and obtain food on top of snow (see Snow - What's going on under that white blanket that covers our [Olympic] Mountains). In fact, a number of webpages mentioned that even in the worst environments, where only a handful of animal groups exist, spiders are among them.

Don't that beat all! (;-)

Second, Jane Strong had previously mentioned to me that gophers remain active under a snow pack, and use a different technique to get rid of the soil they excavate to make their tunnels. They create tunnels in the snow, which they then pack with excavated soil. When the snow melts, these cylinders of dirt end up on top of the soil surface, looking like the casts of a gopher tunnel that they are. See Pocket Gophers.

Within minutes of asking Nick about them, we came across a great set of them! I took pix of them, and was pleased to find later that I had recorded the Gayophytum oligospermum seedlings growing at the base of the gopher tunnel casts.

Plants in bloom on the Devils Slide Trail

FamilyLatin NameCommon NameFraction of Full BloomBloom Stage+
EricaceaeArctostaphylos patulagreen-leaf manzanita0.1b
EricaceaeArctostaphylos pringlei ssp. drupaceapink-bracted manzanita0.01b
SalicaceaeSalix scoulerianaScouler's willow1 

+ Bloom stage:
b = beginning
e = ending
1 = full bloom
The % of full bloom is measured against our estimate of a normal year's full bloom on this trail.

27 May 2004: Knickerbocker Canyon Trail (see Plant Guide) and Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

The drive around the Rim Of The World Highway, from SR330 to SR18 to SR38 was beautiful, as always. At lower elevations, the Spanish broom, Spartium junceum, was in stunning full bloom, lining the road and occasionally providing its heady perfume inside the car. At higher elevations, the wallflower, Erysimum capitatum ssp. capitatum, and grape-soda lupine, Lupinus excubitus, were also at peak display, providing beautiful patches of yellow and purple, respectively.

I stopped at one turnout just east of HeartBar since I saw a flash of white next to one of the patches of purple. It turned out to be an Evening primrose I hadn't seen before, probably Oenothera californica from the nodding buds. As an extra bonus, there were beautiful gilias in full bloom next to them, as well as a Euphorb I didn't recognize. (All plants will be keyed soon.)

I first botanized the Knickerbocker Canyon Trail, primarily to check for flowers to id any Scouler's Willow, Salix scouleriana, on the trail. I had previously checked the trail for blooms on May 1, and found arroyo willow, S. lasiolepis, to be in full bloom. But about half the willows either hadn't leafed out then, or had no blooms yet.

The first plant on the trail, which was a possible candidate for Scouler's, still had no flowers that I could see. I was quite disappointed! I surveyed the ~15 foot tall tree from every angle, and finally saw just a few flowers at the very top. But the dilemma was how to get those flowers up close! That plant was mostly dead, so there were lots of dead branches between me and the flowers. I tried once, but failed to get close to the branch with flowers. I was about to give up, but thought I ought to give it one more try. This time I was able to get in close enough to bend down the branch with the flowers and get a sample. (Note: no plants were harmed in this process!)

The rest of the willows still had no evidence of flowers at all. Some were quite leafy already, and a few were still even just budding out. It is beginning to appear that some of these willows simply are not going to bloom this year. Sigh....

I was quite surprised at the number of species in bloom so early at 7400 feet elevation. There were at least 20 species in bloom, and probably 30 or more.

The most wonderful thing of all was to find a couple of inflorescences on a mystery sedge that Jane and I have been waiting for literally years to id! Only a few plants in one drainage had blooms; dozens of other plants along the trail still had their usual I'm-never-going-to-bloom-for-you appearance. (;-)

The wet meadow area, which had been dry on May 1, was now back to its usual wetness. The little stream, which had no water on May 1, now was flowing strongly. Yet we received no precipitation since May 1, and there was no snow at all in the upper canyon on May 1. I wonder if that moisture was locked up in frozen ground at high elevations, or if it simply took that long to show up in the groundwater table here.

I intended to primarily hike the Fish Creek Trail for exercise, since I was already loaded-up with samples to id from Knickerbocker Canyon, and didn't think I would see anything new. But I was proved wrong; I came across at least one plant I hadn't seen before on the trail, and didn't recognize, as well as an Astragalus in bloom I hadn't seen previously. How wonderful! (;-)

When I got to Monkey Flower Flat, I first came across many Potentilla wheeleri in full bloom, which I had seen on my last trip only in the meadow above the top of this trail. And then I suddenly saw the same evening primrose and gilia that I had seen on the road. How about that?! (;-)

7 June 2004: Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide) and Upper Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

So many flowers on this trail today! Before this year, I've only hiked this trail in August and September. It was a real treat to see many of the species here in peak bloom.

Perhaps the cutest of them all was the pussy-toes, Antennaria rosea, also known as rosy everlasting. There is a single patch on the trail, of perhaps 10-20 plants that were all in full bloom, and that were just too cute. There was another display of them along the roadside just before one gets to the trailhead. The catty-display on the trail was made complete when I later ran across pussy-paws, Calyptridium monospermum. One can never see too many pussy-paws in full bloom!

I had been concerned about the id for the grape-soda lupine, Lupinus excubitus var. austromontanus, since the individual flowers I smelled last time did not smell strongly of grape soda. Although that was still true this time, there were so many masses of flowers that I smelled it strongly when I merely walked past this great display.

There are many patches of columbine, Aquilegia formosa, along the trail, and a number of them were in bloom.

Best of all, I ran across a couple of species I didn't know, so will get to have some fun identifying them.

I began a plant list for the Upper Fish Creek Trail. The best display in the first mile of it is the Heuchera alpestris in full bloom in a number of places there.

On the drive back to Fallbrook, I stopped to see what was causing the great display of white patches on the roadcuts of SR38 just east of the Whispering Pines Nature Trail. It was summer snow, Linanthus floribundus ssp. glaber, in full bloom. I received a wonderful bonus for stopping. Immediately next to the turnout, the white display was interspersed with fabulous blue iris, perhaps Iris hartwegii ssp. australis.

11 June 2004: Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide) and Upper Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

Michael Charters and I sparsely botanized the lower Fish Creek Trail. Our main objectives were just to precisely locate species Michael had seen on 5/30/04 that I had missed on 6/7/04, and for Michael to photograph species I had found on 6/7 that he had not seen on 5/30. Although we did not spend much time looking for new species, Michael found four new species for the trail today that I had missed on 6/7. It is quite interesting how each of us picks up some different species better than the other one does!

I had been able to identify all the new species I had found on 6/7 except for an unusual Brassicaceae that had leaves and calyces covered with brown dots, like a rust fungus. I couldn't id it since it had yet to develop its fruit, and many Brassicaceae are impossible to id without ripe fruit. In a nice coincidence, Michael had botanized the Whispering Pines Trail earlier today, and found an Arabis with mature fruit that had beautiful yellow fungus dots all over it. I can't wait to see if these are the same species!

After we finished the Lower Fish Creek Trail, we then continued on the Upper Fish Creek Trail, heading toward Fish Creek Saddle. Michael's main objective here was to photograph the Heuchera alpestris on Heuchera Hill. Michael turned around shortly after that, at the beginning of the switchbacks, in order to get a good picture of the Allophyllum near the trailhead in better light than when we started at noon.

After that point, new species on the Upper Trail were very few and far between. But my, the trail and area kept getting more and more spectacular! Everything here in the San Bernardino Mountains is on a slightly grander scale than the San Gabriel Mountains. The biggest difference is of course the meadows and wet drainages. There are very few flattish areas in the San Gabes.

The scale of the drainages and peaks is slightly larger as well. As a result, the close-up views of things are grander. Thus, for example, the side drainages to Fish Creek look like very interesting places to explore in their own right. And the head of Fish Creek is a world to itself, quite majestic.

The San Gabes have many majestic views as well, but they are of more distant objects, and hence larger-scale views.

The world changed once I crossed to the west side of Fish Creek, since this location held a beautiful rock garden opening in the forest, which allowed other species to flourish. A number of new species appeared, including one I had been dying to record on a trail guide for some time, Salvia pachyphylla, rose sage. As one webpage author put it, possibly the most beautiful & fragrant of native California sages. Amen!

It was only with great reluctance that I turned around soon after this point, in order to get back to the trailhead before sunset. I can't wait to see what other treasures the rest of this trail contains!

13 July 2004: Upper Fish Creek Trail to Mine Shaft Saddle (see Plant Guide)

What a stunningly beautiful trip this was for scenery as well as beautiful flowers! The highlight by far was to be on the shoulder of Mount San Gorgonio, staring the beast in the face from up close, since I thought I would never be able to hike to high enough altitude (due to altitude sickness) to get so close to it.

This was primarily a non-botanical trip. On my previous trip here a month ago, I had made it to far enough in the upper portion of Fish Creek Canyon to have a view of its beautiful uppermost reaches. Since then, I had been dying to get back there and try to make it to Fish Creek Saddle. And when I looked at a topo map, and saw to my surprise that the next mile of trail beyond Fish Creek Saddle was nearly level, I had dreams of making it to Mine Shaft Saddle to gaze upon the summit of Mount San Gorgonio from only 0.75 mile away.

My intention had been to botanize my way slowly, trip after trip, to make it to that point. But when my former longtime hiking buddy (from pre-botanical days) Craig Cheetham called me last week and said he was interested in doing a hike, I seized on this as a chance to make it to Mine Shaft Saddle immediately.

Of course, I managed to sneak in a bit of botanizing. (;-) I concentrated primarily on getting good mileages to different points along the trail, since it is difficult to get accurate mileages when one is stopping and even backtracking at times to look at the plants.

I also kept a lookout for new species to add to the guide. On the way down, I noted the highest locations of white fir, Abies concolor and Jeffrey pine, Pinus jeffreyi, as well as the point at which the forest was no longer predominantly lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta ssp. murrayana, which I'll put in the guide. Basically, the mixed forest begins turning into a lodgepole pine forest above an elevation of about 8800 feet (2700 m), with the forest becoming 100% pure lodgepole pine above 9800 feet (3000 m).

The best flower garden on the trail is a rock garden immediately above the highest crossing of Fish Creek. The flower garden can be enjoyed from above and below since the trail fortunately switchbacks at that point. The star of the show is rose sage, Salvia pachyphylla, which was in full glorious bloom with perhaps 20 plants or so, each one stunning. The supporting cast was golden yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum var. confertiflorum; Martin's paintbrush, Castilleja applegatei ssp. martinii; spineless horsebrush, Tetradymia canescens; and mountain spray, Holodiscus microphyllus var. microphyllus, all in full bloom or close to it.

On the trail between Fish Creek Saddle and Mine Shaft Saddle, we came across the most beautiful specimens of San Bernardino beardtongue, Penstemon caesius, I have ever seen in my short botanical career. Many individual plants had literally several hundred beautiful blue-purple blooms all open at once. I had no idea that species could be so stunning! Most specimens I've seen before have only had a few to ~ten blooms open at once.

The trail also had a treat for the nose as well. I was surprised to see that Upper Fish Creek Meadow had tons of lemon lilies in full bloom, and then even more surprised when their beautiful scent hit me. We could smell them strongly for about a hundred feet of trail. Wow!

The perennial lupines, Lupinus latifolius var. parishii, were putting on a stunning display there as well, with dozens of plants each having dozens of blooms.

Other notable species in bloom: Cow parsnip, Heracleum lanatum, and sulphur buckwheat, Eriogonum umbellatum var. munzii, were just beginning to bloom; western columbine, Aquilegia formosa, was in full bloom in many places, and especially beautiful at sunset; little false-solomon's-seal, Smilacina stellata, was in charming full bloom; California corn lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum, was in bud; and curl-leaf mountain-mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus, was just beginning to produce its beautiful display from its feathery seeds.

A moderate number of Grinnell's beardtongue, Penstemon grinnellii var. grinnellii, were in bloom. I thought there was a strong chance that this was the type locality for it, since the Upper Fish Creek Trail is on the slopes of Grinnell Mountain, but it turns out the type locality for this species is "near Mt. Wilson". (;-)

The hike itself was as good as one could expect. Despite this being one of the hottest days in the valleys below, neither of us even broke a sweat during the climb. We saw monsoonal clouds just to the east, but we weren't affected at all. (Our timing was excellent; it rained the next day here!) Bugs were minimal; only a few deer flies on the way up, and a few mosquitoes on the way down.

22 July 2004: Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide) and Upper Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

My primary objective today was to resolve as many of the uncertainties as I could for the Lower Fish Creek Trail, as well as check the initial plant guide for the Upper Trail.

The weather was pleasant, with a temperature of about 80° F from when I began at 12:40 pm until mid-afternoon, since the trail is almost entirely in shade. The bugs were misleadingly absent near the trailhead, but soon became a bit annoying. If they had been equally annoying at the trailhead, I would have used bug-repellant. But they weren't bad enough to disrupt the pleasure of botanizing this beautiful area.

Lemon lilies, Lilium parryi, were in bloom in at least four different areas, and several were close enough to smell their beautiful sweet fragrance. However, the fragrance in Upper Fish Creek Meadows was no longer strong enough to be smelled from the trail.

Three other yellow-flowered species came into bloom since my last trip nine days ago in Upper Fish Creek Meadows: goldenrod, (species to be determined); Bigelow's sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii; and Scouler's St. Johnswort, Hypericum formosum var. scouleri. Also now in bloom, and towering over the other species, were the tall inflorescences of California corn lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum, the body-builders of the herbaceous perennial world, each plant with hundreds of good-sized flowers.

Cow parsnip, Heracleum lanatum, was in full bloom along several sections of the Upper Trail, adding an interesting musk-like perfume to the air.

I wrote down 33 species in bloom on the Lower Trail, and I'm sure I missed at least a handful of other species in bloom, since I was writing down the blooms only when I wasn't otherwise botanizing. Among my favorites were a mass of southern mountain woolly-star, Eriastrum densifolium ssp. austromontanum near the trailhead in full bloom; hoary-aster, Machaeranthera canescens var. canescens, just beginning its bloom in many places along the trail; and the delicate little meadow starwort, Stellaria longipes var. longipes, blooming only at mile 1.22.

The almost-too-cute-to-stand rosy everlasting, aka rosy pussytoes, had transformed itself from looking like a bunch of pussytoes to looking like a bunch of Q-tips!

Unfortunately, the drought was evident even up here, in one of the wettest places in Southern California. One of the hardiest plants around, blue elderberry, Sambucus mexicana, was hanging some of its stalks in places, with the tips pointing to the ground, instead of the sky. The last crossing of Fish Creek on the Upper Trail had no water, unlike the good volume of water it had on 7/13/04. But Lower Fish Creek still had its normal amount of water, from the springs lower in the Canyon, and the Meadows still looked good.

I turned around at the Rock Garden at mile 1.7 on the Upper Trail, having run out of sunlight, not out of enthusiasm to continue onward.

27 July 2004: Upper Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

The closure of most of the lower-elevation San Bernardino National Forest was announced yesterday, due to the high fire danger. Fortunately, the Fish Creek Trails remained open. In fact, the Upper Fish Creek Trail is one of the boundaries of the closure area, with Ten Thousand Foot Ridge closed, for example.

I spent the extra 25 minutes each way to drive to the Upper Fish Creek Trailhead, so that I could botanize the entire Upper Trail to Fish Creek Saddle for the first time. I had just enough time to do so, getting back to my car at dusk, despite being delayed 45 minutes by a traffic tie-up at the infamous I-215 / SR60 / SR91 interchange.

The weather was delightful. Most of the afternoon the temperature was 75°, and on the way back I had to put on a sweatshirt. Even then, my hands were cold for a while on the way down.

I took no chances with bugs this time, and sprayed myself with deet. Unfortunately, this time the application made me a bit nauseous for most of the uphill journey until it wore off. But this detracted little from my pleasure of being here. It turned out I didn't really need it, since the bugs were hardly noticeable at all this time.

The blooms along the trail were mostly as in the previous two weeks, but the rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus ssp. bernardinus, has begun to bloom on top of the trail. This signifies the beginning of the end for this year's bloom here, as well as everywhere else in Southern California. It was bittersweet to see the blooms as well as recognize that this year's display is ending!

I found several new species for the trail guide, and was able to positively identify many of the species with uncertain or qualified identifications. I was especially pleased to finally 100% resolve the identity of bristly-leaved rock-cress, Arabis rectissima var. rectissima, the Arabis with the brown fungus all over it. I also found a cute little Arabis near the top of the trail, pinyon rock cress, Arabis dispar, which is the fourth Arabis species on this trail. This is a tiny plant that holds its relatively large fruit pod upright, looking a bit incongruous.

At one of the creek crossings, I saw a purple "aster" that looked a bit different from the others in this area. It turned out to be western mountain aster, Aster occidentalis var. occidentalis, which is the fifth purple "aster" on both the lower and upper trail.

It has been absolutely delightful to return to these two trails several times this month in order to get their plant guides in much better shape.

10 August 2004: Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide) and Upper Fish Creek Trail (see Plant Guide)

Ka-boom! Off in the distance I heard thunder. This wasn't exactly what I had in mind while botanizing today, but it was not totally unexpected, given the forecast for a 20% chance of rain in the San Bernardino Mountains.

I had bought new hiking boots yesterday, and had intended to botanize the Dawson Saddle Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains. The length of that trail was just about perfect to break in my new boots. However, Jane Strong alerted me that a fire had broken out just west of Wrightwood yesterday afternoon, and the northernmost portion of the Angeles Crest Highway was closed. Since breathing smoke is no fun, and the Idyllwild temperature was predicted to be 95°, ruling out a Devils Slide hike, I decided to go back to Fish Creek to work on the very few remaining species that needed further investigation.

Leaving Fallbrook at 10:00 a.m., I saw some tiny clouds over the valley west of the San Jacinto Mountains, and no clouds over the mountains anywhere. But as I approached the San Bernardino Mountains, some clouds had appeared over them. Approaching the Heartbar area, the car was in the shade of one of the larger ones. The Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trailhead was just on the edge of this cloud when I began hiking at 12:48 p.m. The temperature was 81°, and it was quite pleasant to hike in the shade of the cloud.

In the parking lot, I had noticed a species I hadn't seen before there, and went to investigate it. It turned out to be slender everlasting, Gnaphalium canescens ssp. thermale, which I had only seen once before! I made a mental note to look for it on the trail.

At mile 0.16, I spent some time with the Parish's needlegrass, Achnatherum parishii, measuring its stem and inflorescence lengths, and the width of its leaves. On my last visit I had noted that the leaf width was 6 mm, which in the JM key contradicted the single bend in the awn. When I noted that, it immediately reminded me of some plants on the Manzanita Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains, that had awns with 2 bends and leaves of width 6 mm one year, but had awns with only a single bend the next year. Clearly, something is fishy in Achnatherum coronatum / parishii land, so I have begun collecting data on all the plants I come across.

As I was measuring the plants, I suddenly noticed several plants of fragrant everlasting around me. (;-) Somehow I had missed those in 11 previous trips on the trail, looking for new species. But as is often the case, they were in bloom today, which makes all the difference in spotting many species.

At Fish Creek itself, I looked carefully at the yellow monkeyflower, and found that they were all Mimulus tilingii. On one of our first visits to the trail two years ago, we had simply put down M. guttatus, not knowing there was another species that looked superficially similar. Errors like this are the hardest ones to root out in a plant trail guide since one thinks one knows the species, and doesn't realize that it has to be keyed out. That's why I won't consider all the trail plant guides to be solid for the identifications until I have seen all the similar-looking species.

After Fish Creek, things got a little unpleasant bug-wise, since the cloud cover apparently caused the mosquitoes to come out in mid-day. They were much worse than they had been on any of my trips in the last month there, and I had to wave my handkerchief nearly continuously to keep them at bay. Since I had only limited botanizing to do, most of which I had already done, that actually wasn't much trouble. And I was fortunate that in the places I did botanize, I was able to do so without being hindered.

That brings us to the ka-boom, which I first heard at 2:25 p.m. I immediately looked up, of course, and found only blue sky above me. Off to the west was the source of the thunder, and it looked like I was a safe distance away, and continued hiking.

At 2:49 I reached the junction with the Upper Fish Creek Trail, and went off for the three species I wanted to check there. Ten minutes later, as I was checking the last of the three species, it was raining! It was an unusual rain of infrequent large drops. I looked up again, and still there was mostly blue sky over me. I considered continuing my hike, even though I had accomplished my botanical aims, when KA-BOOM! Now the lightning was much closer, and it was quite clear that it was time to turn around.

Down the trail I went, fairly rapidly, with nearly continuous thunder, the kind where you jump a little bit with each clap. I only saw two lightning flashes, so most of the lightning must have been in the clouds. The first I timed to be just one mile away from me, which was far too close for my comfort, but still far enough for safety. The next flash I saw was 1.6 miles away, so the storm was ending for me.

It turned out that I was in a pretty good position at the edge of the storm. The storm went from southwest to northeast, and when it went by, I was at the farthest southeast point on the trails. I got moist from the rain, but not wet.

As I descended the trail, the plants and the soil got wetter and wetter. At the top of the Lower Fish Creek Trail, there were only scattered raindrops on the soil. About halfway down, the soil was completely wet on the surface. Near the trailhead, the soil was moist as far as I dug with my boot.

The Aspen Grove was now littered with leaves and branches. Those powerful big raindrops had knocked off enough leaves to put roughly 4-10 leaves per square foot underneath each of the trees, with scattered branches as well in places.

At the trailhead, I looked back at the vegetation, now lit by the sun again, to see an unusual summer Southern California scene. The vegetation was all freshly-washed, without the usual collection of dust, and sparkling in the sunlight from the drops of moisture still on the leaves.

A CDF person drove up, and said there had been 30 lightning strikes that hit the ground, four of which caused fires. I gave him my report that no lightning had hit the ground in my vicinity, with all the activity to the west.

Driving home, it was first amazing that my car generated no dust from the dirt road. Then, on the north slope of Anderson Mountain, I saw one of the fires, a narrow column of smoke, and thought how lucky I was not to get caught or trapped by one of those four fires.

I had to slam on my brakes for a deer crossing the road, and was surprised that my car pulled strongly to the right. I waited to see if more deer were coming, and sure enough, the baby was following his mom across the road. After a short period of intentional braking, my left brakes, moistened by the rain coming from that side of the car, dried out, and normal braking was restored.

The weather service got this one exactly right for me; I was rained on for about 20% of the time on this trail. (;-)

Go to:

Copyright © 2004 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 10 August 2004.