Plant Trail Reports, San Diego County, 2005

5 January 2005: Torrey Pines (see Beach Trail / Broken Hill Trail Loop Plant Guide)

For the past two months, I had been concentrating on the Santa Rosa Plateau in order to complete plant trail guides for all the public trails there. But the heavy rains have made it impossible to hike there, so with the break in the rains today, I went to the least-muddy place in Southern California that I know: Torrey Pines. The combination of sandstone and the least amount of rainfall in coastal Southern California make this the place of choice in coastal Southern California during wet periods.

I was ecstatic to be back at Torrey Pines, and was quite surprised at all the species in bloom.

First, driving along SR76 in Fallbrook / Bonsall, I was astounded to see the highway lined with field mustard, Brassica rapa in full bloom. I had never seen such volumes of this species since I became a botanist in 2001. Fallowed fields behind them were completely full of purple wild radish, Raphanus Sativus in full bloom; other fields were full of what looked to be robust specimens of shortpod mustard, Hirschfeldia incana, in full bloom. All of these areas were filled with lush growth and lush blooms, on JANUARY 5!!!!!

Approaching Torrey Pines is spectacular, as always, with the estuary and beautiful beach. Stock, Matthiola incana, was in full bloom along the road along the estuary. Best of all, there were no tsunamis to speak of as I drove across the bridge next to the ocean. (;-)

Entering Torrey Pines, the stock quickly gave way to milk maids, Cardamine californica. Dozens of plants, probably hundreds of them, were visible along the road, all just beginning full bloom. My only regret from today is that I didn't have time to hike the Guy Fleming Trail, so didn't see any up close and personal. But I will on my next visit there, which will be soon!

The Beach Trail Loop was ablaze with color. I noted 25 species in bloom (see table below). ON JANUARY 5!! The coreopsis was the most spectacular (I've never seen it blooming like this in my trips there in 2002-2004), but wild cucumber, Isomeris, Mirabilis, Encelia, Castilleja affinis, sand verbena, Senecio californicus, deerweed, Solanum parishii, and Ceanothus verrucosus all provided beautiful displays. (See the table below for the missing common or Latin names.)

Now I understand why the reports I've been receiving of blooms on many trails; low elevation trails are blooming in full force!

The other highlights of my trip were:

By the way, the Beach Trail was in great shape, with only a few wettish spots where one had to be careful of one's footing. The Broken Hill Trail had some muddy sections where care was needed, and one large pond that required getting one's boots a bit muddy. These few problems were of little consequence.

Plants in bloom on the Beach / Broken Hill Trail:

FamilyLatin NameCommon Name% of Full BloomBloom Stage
AnacardiaceaeRhus integrifolialemonade berry0.5b
ApiaceaeLomatium lucidumshiny lomatium0.01b
AsteraceaeCoreopsis maritimasea dahlia0.5b
AsteraceaeEncelia californicaCalifornia encelia0.05b
AsteraceaeSenecio californicusCalifornia groundsel0.1b
BoraginaceaeCryptantha intermediapopcorn flower0.01b
BrassicaceaeLepidium virginicum var. robinsoniiRobinson's pepper-grass0.25e
CapparaceaeIsomeris arboreabladderpod1f
CrassulaceaeCrassula connatapygmy-weed0.01b
CucurbitaceaeMarah macrocarpus var. macrocarpuswild-cucumber0.25b
EricaceaeXylococcus bicolormission manzanita0.8e
FabaceaeLotus scoparius var. scopariusdeerweed0.1b
GeraniaceaeErodium cicutarium*redstem filaree0.001b
LamiaceaeSalvia melliferablack sage0.25b
NyctaginaceaeAbronia umbellata ssp. umbellatapink sand verbena0.2b
NyctaginaceaeMirabilis californicaCalifornia four o'clock1f
PapaveraceaeEschscholzia californicaCalifornia poppy0.1b
PoaceaeNassella cernuanodding needlegrass1f
PolygonaceaeEriogonum parvifoliumsea-cliff buckwheat0.1b
RanunculaceaeClematis paucifloravirgin's bower0.5b
RhamnaceaeCeanothus verrucosuswartystem ceanothus0.25b
RubiaceaeGalium nuttallii ssp. nuttalliiclimbing bedstraw0.25b
RutaceaeCneoridium dumosumbushrue1f
ScrophulariaceaeCastilleja affinis ssp. affiniscoast Indian paintbrush0.5b
SolanaceaeSolanum parishiiParish's purple nightshade0.1b
* non-native species

Bloom Stage:
b: beginning bloom
f: full bloom
e: ending bloom
The % of full bloom is measured against a normal year's full bloom.

16 January 2005: Daley Ranch (see Hidden Spring Trail Plant Guide)

Due to all the rain and cold weather in Southern California this year, I had been thinking that we had been transported somehow to Portland or Seattle. But seeing Daley Ranch today, I realized I was wrong. We have actually been transported to Minnesota, the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes!

There was water, water everywhere. It seemed that nearly everywhere we looked off-trail there was yet another full pond or lake. Water or deep mud filled almost every low point on the roads or trails, with water flowing across the trail.

Many drainage crossings required care to avoid getting a boot full of mud or water. Even with care, boots got muddy or wet in some crossings, and mud ended up high on our legs once or twice. Fortunately, no mud ever adhered to our boots, unlike my experience on 12/9/04 at the Santa Rosa Plateau, where my muscles began to ache from the added weight of an inch or two of mud coating the bottom and sides of my boots.

We even met a friend of mine on horseback whose horse was wet almost entirely to its back! Apparently the horse went over to get a drink from one of the ponds, and it sunk deeply into the watery muck, with my friend still atop her horse.

It just didn't seem possible that this was the Southern California of the last five years, where even seeing a flowing creek was an eventful experience.

Eight of us met at the trailhead, six botanists and two interested non-botanists along for the trip. Our plan was to botanize the Rock Ridge Trail. James had been at a Daley Ranch meeting on 1/13, and there was no mention of any trail closures. But he found out on the morning of our trip that the Rock Ridge Trail and the Boulder Loop Trail were closed.

So we had to come up with a new plan.

Michael Charters had driven down from Sierra Madre primarily to see the California adder's-tongue, Ophioglossum californicum, so we decided first to go in quest of it. James has seen it in some 15 locations at Daley Ranch, so we had a number of possibilities. After finding it, we would then pick a trail to botanize.

This plan certainly made the non-botanists happy, since we ended up hiking ~3 miles before we found the first Ophioglossum! We were then able to compile an initial plant trail guide to one of the trails farthest from a trailhead, which made the botanists happy. Only a few toes and feet were complaining a bit in the end, after our hike of almost nine miles.

Almost immediately after beginning our hike, James found a plant blooming that he did not recognize as being on the Daley Ranch plant list. Wayne Armstrong suspected right away it was African daisy, Dimorphotheca sinuata, and Wayne and I were able to use Beauchamp to key it out in the field. This plant is beginning to pop up all over. Two years ago, Wayne, James and I found it at Inspiration Point in the Cuyamaca Mountains, and I also found it at the Santa Rosa Plateau. All three of these occurrences were additions to the plant lists for those areas.

Interestingly, the closest Ophioglossum location was on a trail that also had a trail closed sign on it when we got there. So we continued onward to the next location, where the sharp eyes of Wayne Armstrong soon spotted the first plant, and then a number of others. The sterile leaf was fully developed on a number of plants, and the fertile leaf was just emerging from the ground.

This location was about two-thirds of the way up one side of the Jack Creek Meadow Loop. Once we got to that point, it made sense to go ahead and complete the loop and do an initial plant trail guide to the Hidden Spring Trail.

The Hidden Spring namesake for this trail wasn't so hidden today; water was flowing down the road from seepage near the top of the trail. It was a bit strange to suddenly come across a willow when we had been in the middle of otherwise-normal-looking chaparral!

The most interesting other species to me today was the Rhamnus. James Dillane and I have been worrying about whether R. pilosa was actually separate from R. ilicifolia, and if so, how to reliably separate it. We gathered data on its habit and leaf blade size range, which we will analyze in the future. But seeing the plants in the field upped the probability in my mind that all the plants I saw today are R. pilosa. I saw no plant that looked like the R. ilicifolia I've seen outside of San Diego County, and no plant remotely close to R. crocea.

20 January 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Borrego Palm Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide)

I was eagerly anticipating my trip today, due to reports like this:

The whole desert floor is just covered in green. (12/22/04)

Desert Bloom - general comment - January 4, 2005
Terry Sullivan (Field Biologist) writes: It's very important that you desert fans know that this is the year to beat all years. We just returned from 10 days in Borrego and identified over 100 species of flowers in bloom.

I can confirm that neither person was exaggerating; nearly all the desert is covered in green (not just the floor), and I found ~50 species in bloom just on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. (I'll tally them up after I've updated the trail guide, and put the list online here.)

The trail looked similar to its state of bloom on 22 March 2003, with, for example, the trail being lined with common phacelia, P. distans, in full bloom. But the display this year is much better because the quantity of the annuals is as much as a factor of ten higher than in 2003, and hundreds of times higher than in 2004. This unbeatable combination makes for flowers, flowers, everywhere. And we are not yet at the peak bloom! I'd agree with the estimate made by Terry Sullivan that the peak will be in February this year. (However, note that it is only possible to know "when the peak bloom occurred" after the peak has passed!)

I don't think it was possible to look in any direction, from any place in the trail, and not see a profusion of flowers in bloom. While working on the field guide, looking for new species, I constantly had to stop and admire the flowers themselves. I gave a steady stream of compliments to them, exclaiming Beautiful!, Amazing!, Wow! repeatedly. I couldn't stop myself from doing so! (;-)

If asked, it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite; I have so many of them!

Everyone doing the trail would notice these large flowers:

The smaller flowers delight me just as much. One of the most beautiful is Bigelow's monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii var. bigelovii, which has pretty big flowers for such a small plant. There were at least two good patches of these along the trail. Most people would never notice the tiny flowers of curvenut combseed, Pectocarya recurvata, with its interesting comb-bur fruit. My favorite inconspicuous flower today was Coulter's lyrepod, Lyrocarpa coulteri var. palmeri, with flowers and their cute little fruit that blend into the plant itself.

One other feature of the trail also caused me to exclaim Wow! many times: the changes in the trail caused by the 10 September 2004 flash flood. In that event, a 5-10 foot tall, 100 feet wide wall of water was observed at the campground, coming out of the mouth of Borrego Palm Canyon. This has been estimated as a 100 year flood, and I believe it. The trail, beginning at the bottom, was littered with broken palm tree trunks. Many areas had stacks of three palm trees angled on top of each other.

Many of the specific plants recorded in the plant trail guide are no longer present; they have been uprooted and washed down stream. In fact, the former trail no longer exists in some areas. Those areas have now been converted to wash, and will not have those species growing there again for some time, if ever.

The destruction, while widespread, is by no means total. There are still ~20 palm trees visible in the first grove, which still is a beautiful destination. The entire alternate trail is intact and unchanged. Well over half of the main trail is intact and unchanged except for scattered palm tree trunks. The rerouted main trail is easily traversed by anyone who can follow a route tagged by marking tape.

However, for some reason, the visitor center staff is advising people to take the alternate trail up, not the main trail. There is even a sawhorse at the trailhead which has a sign on it saying Trail washed out; use alternate trail. This recommendation is for those people who have difficulty following anything other than a well-defined trail.

I recommend that you ignore that sign and take the trail anyway unless you are not comfortable following a route that is not obvious at times, and thus requires some paying attention to divine the route. There is no actual prohibition against taking the main trail, and it looked like nearly everyone who took the alternate trail up was taking the main trail down. There is no similar sign at the top of the main trail.

The rangers and staff at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park have done a lot of work in restoring and rerouting the main trail. Most of the re-routing takes advantage of a neighboring wash, so new trail construction was kept to a minimum. (See Map - the red portion is the reroute.) But in some places, the staff had to chain-saw up numerous palm trees to open a path. In at least one place, there was a lot of deposition of other plant material as well, which had to be removed. Your feet can stay dry during the multiple crossings of the main stream, despite significant water flow, due to well-placed logs and rocks. All of us hikers are deeply grateful for all the work done to allow us such easy passage.

Needless to say, if you have ever thought of visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, now is the time. How many times do you get a chance to see the effects of a hundred year flood AND a hundred year bloom at once?

Plants in bloom on the Borrego Palm Canyon Main and Alternate Trails:

FamilyLatin NameCommon Name% of Full BloomBloom Stage
AcanthaceaeJusticia californicachuparosa0.2b
AsteraceaeBebbia juncea var. asperasweetbush0.01 
AsteraceaeChaenactis fremontiiFremont pincushion0.01b
AsteraceaeEncelia farinosabrittlebush1f
AsteraceaeHymenoclea salsola var. salsolacheesebush0.5b
AsteraceaeMalacothrix glabratadesert dandelion0.01b
AsteraceaePerityle emoryiEmory's rock-daisy0.05b
AsteraceaeRafinesquia neomexicanadesert chicory0.02b
AsteraceaeSenecio mohavensisMojave ragwort0.2b
AsteraceaeViguiera parishiiParish's viguiera1f
BoraginaceaeAmsinckia menziesii var. intermediacommon fiddleneck0.5b
BoraginaceaeCryptantha intermediapopcorn flower0.01b
BoraginaceaeCryptantha micranthapurple-root cryptantha0.01b
BoraginaceaePectocarya recurvatacurvenut combseed1f
BrassicaceaeBrassica tournefortii*Asian mustard1f
BrassicaceaeDescurainia pinnata ssp. halictorumalkali western tansy-mustard0.1b
BrassicaceaeGuillenia lasiophyllaCalifornia mustard1f
BrassicaceaeLepidium lasiocarpum var. lasiocarpumhairy-podded pepper-grass1f
BrassicaceaeLyrocarpa coulteri var. palmeriCoulter's lyrepod1f
BrassicaceaeSisymbrium irio*London rocket1f
ChenopodiaceaeChenopodium murale*nettle-leaved goosefoot1f
CrassulaceaeCrassula connatapygmy-weed0.5b
EuphorbiaceaeChamaesyce micromeraSonoran spurge1f
EuphorbiaceaeDitaxis lanceolatanarrowleaf ditaxis0.1b
EuphorbiaceaeEuphorbia erianthabeetle spurge1f
FabaceaePsorothamnus schottiiindigo bush0.01b
GeraniaceaeErodium cicutarium*redstem filaree1f
HydrophyllaceaeEmmenanthe penduliflora var. penduliflorawhispering bells0.5b
HydrophyllaceaeEucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. bipinnatifidaeucrypta0.5b
HydrophyllaceaePhacelia cicutaria var. hispidacaterpillar phacelia0.5b
HydrophyllaceaePhacelia distanscommon phacelia0.25b
HydrophyllaceaePhacelia minorwild canterbury bells0.25b
HydrophyllaceaePholistoma membranaceumwhite fiesta flower0.5b
LamiaceaeHyptis emoryidesert lavender0.5b
LamiaceaeSalvia columbariaechia0.01b
MalvaceaeHibiscus denudatusrock hibiscus1f
NyctaginaceaeMirabilis bigelovii var. bigeloviiBigelow's desert four-o'clock1f
NyctaginaceaeMirabilis bigelovii var. retrorsawishbone plant1f
OnagraceaeCamissonia californicaCalifornia suncup0.01b
OnagraceaeCamissonia claviformis ssp. peirsoniiPeirson's clavate-fruited primrose1f
OnagraceaeCamissonia pallida ssp. pallidapale sun-cup0.5b
PapaveraceaeEschscholzia minutiflora ssp. minutiflorapygmy poppy0.1b
PapaveraceaeEschscholzia parishiiParish's poppy0.1b
PlantaginaceaePlantago ovatadesert plantain1f
PoaceaeAristida adscensionissix-weeks three-awn0.01b
PoaceaeBromus madritensis ssp. rubens*red brome0.01b
PoaceaePennisetum setaceum*fountain grass1f
PoaceaePleuraphis rigidabig galleta1f
PoaceaeSchismus barbatus*Mediterranean schismus1f
PolygonaceaeEriogonum inflatum var. deflatumdesert trumpet0.01b
PortulacaceaeCalyptridium monandrumsand cress1f
ScrophulariaceaeMimulus bigelovii var. bigeloviiBigelow's monkeyflower1f
SolanaceaeDatura wrightiisacred datura0.1b
SolanaceaePhysalis crassifoliathick-leaved ground cherry0.5b
ZygophyllaceaeLarrea tridentatacreosote bush0.05b
* non-native species

Bloom Stage:
b: beginning bloom
f: full bloom
e: ending bloom
The % of full bloom is measured against a normal year's full bloom.

24 January 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Borrego Palm Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide; not yet updated from today's fieldwork)

I had originally planned to botanize the Santa Rosa Plateau today. However, reports from Michael Charters and Kay Madore about how wet and muddy it still was there changed my mind. It wasn't hard to decide to go back to the most floriferous location in Southern California! (;-)

I had several goals today: to check out a few species on the plant guide; to check in detail how different miles 0.10-0.25 were after the flood; to check the condition of the bypassed old trail (miles 0.67 to 0.92); and GPS the alternate trail. Of course, I am always on the lookout for new species that ask to be added to the plant trail guide.

It was an excellent day; I succeeded in all goals.

Driving to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I was surprised to see high clouds over the area, and very strong easterly winds. This meant that the low over northwest Mexico had not left last night as expected, but was still hanging around. Descending Montezuma Grade showed the desert to be very hazy, quite unlike the crystal clear views I had last Thursday. That day was the only time I had ever seen the entire southern end of the Salton Sea from that location, as well as the mountains on the other side.

At the trailhead, it was cool enough that I left my sweatshirt on for a while. There were even a few tiny raindrops that fell for a few moments!

I checked out the species on my to-do list in the first 0.10 mile, then spent significant time on the mile 0.10-0.25 section in order to understand the changes. In fact, I did this section a second time after reaching mile 0.25 to finally figure it all out. Basically, the trail is exactly the same here as it was before the 9/04 flash flood. But the surroundings of the trail have changed significantly!

See Detailed Changes To The Trail After The 9/04 Flash Flood

I successfully GPS'd each bend in the alternate trail while looking for new species and checking the rest of the species on my to-do list in that area.

Among the plant highlights were a number of new species that had come into bloom only in the last four days:

The most interested botanical find of the day was something I did not find: the Phacelia cryptantha I had keyed out last year. The location of that species was surrounded by blooming P. cicutaria var. hispida.

The two species are quite similar overall, and mostly differ on the size of their flowers, including whether the stamens and style are exserted or not. Since there is no ambiguity in the keying of the plants from last year and the keying of the plants from this year, this means only one of the following statements is true:

It will be quite interesting to find out, later this year, which alternative is true. (;-)

13 February 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Creek Wash (see Trail Plant Guide)

I was eagerly anticipating my trip to Coyote Creek Wash today, since I had spent so much time botanizing Borrego Palm Canyon on my last two trips that I had not been able to check out Coyote Creek Wash so far this year. It didn't disappoint. (;-)

However, I was momentarily taken aback when I got to the trailhead. Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii, seemed to dominate the whole area there from the side of the road! Fortunately, it was just that immediate area that was so dominated; the rest of the Wash had the usual amount of it, which was bad, but not horrible.

Peak bloom is clearly here. There were thousands of flowers, and perhaps ten thousands flowers or more, of the usual suspects: dune primrose, Oenothera deltoides, and hairy sand verbena, Abronia villosa. As always, in places the blooms were so dense it was not possible to walk without stepping on flowers.

The bloom for many species, such as Arizona lupine, Lupinus arizonicus, and desert needle, Palafoxia arida, is several times better than a normal year. Their blooms are present in stunning quantities. Even the usual suspects above have noticeably more blooms than normal, although this is harder to discern since they normally produce so many blooms. What impressed me about the dune primrose was the size of the plants, not the number of blooms. I photographed one that was the size of my backpack, with a tall thick stem! I don't even recall seeing stems before on these plants.

However, for many species, this year is not noticeably different in the number of blooms, simply because those species produce a lot of blooms almost every year. Nearly the entire area of this "trail" is a well-watered wash, due to its huge drainage area from well-watered peaks, and thus nearly always produces a spectacular bloom except in severe drought years. This is quite unlike Borrego Palm Canyon (see reports above), for which the wash is only a small fraction of the trail, and which therefore depends on well-above-average rainfall to produce a spectacular bloom.

Interestingly, even the drainage in the alluvial fan below Coyote Mountain looked pretty much the same as last year, which, of course, was pretty good at its peak. That, too, is probably a well-watered area, since it drains a large area.

In fact, I only have a handful of new species to identify from today's trip, which is about the number I'd expect from any trail on a visit on a different date.

But don't get the impression that the bloom is not fantastic, since it is indeed so. Nearly every species that could be in bloom in February is in bloom. There are so many species in bloom that it is much easier just to refer you to the trail plant guide and state that only a few annuals on that list are not yet in bloom!

On this trip, I spent more time exploring the alluvial fan. My efforts were rewarded by finding two plants of desert five-spot, Eremalche rotundifolia, in bloom, and my first ghost flower, Mohavea confertiflora, on the trail. Interestingly, one of the five-spots was a delicate little plant, and the other was a honking plant. If I hadn't seen a flower on each, I would never have suspected they were the same species.

The ghost flower was especially pleasing, since earlier in the week I had seen the only other Mohavea species, M. breviflora, in bloom at Death Valley.

The other surprise was seeing a single plant of white mallow, Eremalche exilis. This had been seen on the first quick walk on this route, but had not been seen again.

20 February 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Creek Wash (see Trail Plant Guide)

I had two previous hikes this week canceled due to the rain, so I was pleased when the sun was shining when I got up and it looked like we had a break from the rain. The only place dry enough to hike was, of course, Anza Borrego. An additional bonus was that Wayne Armstrong was there this weekend, enjoying the botanical splendor of the Park, as well as the intermittent rainfall there.

I met Wayne at the beginning of the Fonts Point Road, and we looked at some interesting plants for a while. Then he went off for lunch with his wife, and I continued on to Fonts Point. I was very surprised to find out that the "dirt road" to Fonts Point was actually just a packed path through a wash for the most part! Wayne had told me the sand was packed hard enough that my 2 wheel drive high clearance vehicle would have no problem, and he was right.

Fonts Point was beautiful! What a stunning vista of the badlands!

I had been quite interested in checking out these badlands since my Death Valley Hike earlier this month had found essentially zero plants growing in the Furnace Creek Formation Badlands. I could clearly see that a number of plants grew in scattered spots in the Borrego Badlands, even though perhaps 99% of the area was devoid of plants. Thus clearly it was the poisonous high salt content of the Furnace Creek Formation that prevented any plant from growing there.

I headed back to botanize Borrego Palm Canyon, but there were two problems. First, the day use area was full, so they weren't letting anyone in until someone came out. Second, it began to rain pretty heavily shortly thereafter.

Wayne didn't fare much better; he and his wife had to wait an hour to be served lunch! Weekends in and near Borrego Springs during peak wildflower season are to be avoided...

After puzzling what to do, since it looked like rain was everywhere, I decided to head toward Coyote Creek Wash, and, if it was raining there, continue east. Fortunately, there was no rain there, so I began checking out the handful of species that needed further identification work. After about an hour, though, a light shower came up, and I had to debate whether to continue or not.

From that area one has a good vantage point for rain coming in from the southwest. I could see that the shower would be brief, and it was, so I continued botanizing.

As I drove out of the Park, I was amazed that the hillsides had turned even greener then they were a week ago. The green color of the hillsides would not look out of place in any coastal area!

25 February 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Borrego Palm Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide)

I returned to this trail primarily to try to find some desert bells, Phacelia campanularia. There was a report of one blooming in the wash in January. Since I hadn't seen any on the trail, I decided to explore the wash to find it.

Kay Madore accompanied me, which was a good thing, since it was her sharp eyes that spotted the first distinctly clear blue flower. But to our great surprise, there was no "bell"! We saw only a couple of plants, all in their first blooms, so will have to return to find out if the first flowers are simply anomalous or if this is in fact a different species.

There were blooms, blooms everywhere. However, it looks like we've reached the ending phase of the peak bloom in the lower elevations. Already, at least two annual species (Mimulus bigelovii and Stylocline micropoides) were finished blooming, and the brown-eyed primrose, Camissonia claviformis, was down to its last flowers in one spot, and completely finished in others. I can recall only one or two annual species that was still vegetative; everything had buds or blooms or fruit. If the temperatures climb soon, as they are predicted to do, the annual bloom will quickly subside.

But no complaints here! It has been a fantastic display for well over a month.

Today was no slouch. Kay and I found ten more species for the plant guide, including three I had not seen before: winged cryptantha, Cryptantha holoptera; dwarf filago, Filago depressa; and the previously-elusive snapdragon campion, Silene antirrhina. This latter taxon appears in a huge number of floras for places I've botanized, but I had never seen it until now, in a place where it is supposed to be uncommon.

I spent a fair amount of time struggling with the identification for a sample of volcanic gilia, Gilia ochroleuca ssp. exilis, before I finally realized the floras simply had to be wrong about it always having cobwebby leaves. The basal leaf I nabbed was glabrous, but no other identification was possible.

I got so frustrated that I finally made a draft key to the Gilias of San Diego County that is much easier to use than the keys in the floras. I'll be trying this key out in the future, and gathering pictures to illustrate the key. I'll then put it online for people to try out.

21 October 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Fonts Point Road and Hellhole Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide)

It's time for the desert again! The high temperature was predicted to be 85° today, so I headed out to see what the fall bloom was like in Anza-Borrego. They received a bit over 2 inches of rain from the unusual 16-18 October 2005 storm, and were actually the wettest part of San Diego County since they were on the wet side of the mountains for a change.

I expected a pretty good fall bloom, since the monsoon was very active this year. From mid-July to mid-August in 2005, there were monsoon thunderstorms over the Laguna Mountains on 21 out of 22 days, and some of that rainfall surely fell in the desert.

Driving there from Fallbrook on SR76, as I slowed down for the Palomar Mountain School, two turkeys crossed the road. Another turkey crossed in front of me in the section past the Lake Henshaw restaurant. I don't believe I have ever had a turkey cross in front of my car before!

I stopped first at the reported Lessingia glandulifera ssp. tomentosa location on S2 "2 miles east of SR79". That turns out to be the notorious drainage that has been dumping great piles of dirt onto the road ever since the Pines fire of 2002. Since it dumped extensively from the monsoons of mid-july to mid-august, and Caltrans is STILL working on clearing it all out, needless to say nothing was growing there.

I stopped immediately east of the Caltrans work, at the first location that had any growth at all. The first thing I noted was a huge number of plants Linanthus parviflorus, much taller than the ones at the Santa Rosa Plateau.

I then noticed a tarweed amongst the Linanthus. When I looked at it, I was dumbfounded to see my first Lagophylla in bloom! That is, the flowers were actually open, with PETALS!, as compared to all the other plants I had seen that were in full bloom, but the flowers were closed. (;-) This was at about 11:00 a.m., and the sun had been out for at least an hour and probably more. Maybe they always stay open that late; this is the earliest I have ever checked one.

Then I went looking for the Lessingia, and I quickly found a number of plants. They were mostly finished blooming, but there was no doubt they were L. glandulifera tomentosa, since they were honkingly tomentose. However, they sure weren't prostrate (JM key). Munz only says "plants depressed", which I'd buy.

I then stopped at the first wide curve right in a flattish area, inside Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, to id the "honking Eriogonum like E. nudum". I keyed it in the field to E. wrightii nodosum, but it doesn't match the only online pix i could find. My plants looked like E. nudum, with a few very tall and robust stems; the online pix, all from one person, show a tangled shrub. I'll work on this again in the future.

At that same curve, there were the usual large number of Amaranthus fimbriata. Some were finished, but some were still in bloom.

I met Kay and Paul Madore at the visitor center. We briefly toured the new exhibits, which look very nice.

Kay and Paul had stopped at the PCT crossing on S22 on the way in, and found a large number of plants in bloom: Lessingia glandulifera ssp glandulifera, Malacothamnus, Ericameria, masses of Eriastrum sapphirinum, horseweed, Artemisia tridentata, golden eardrops, California matchweed, Eriogonum wrightii, E. davidsonii, Lessingia filaginifolia var. filaginifolia, Hirschfeldia incana, bristly birds beak, goldenrod (almost done), lots of Stephanomeria, and even a single plant of Lonicera subspicata var. denudata that had both berries and blooms!

We drove to Fonts Point Road to see if the Pilostyles was in bloom yet; it wasn't. Its host, the Psorothamnus emoryi, was just beginning to flower.

Fonts point road had a LOT of species in bloom. P. emoryi, P. schottii, Chamaesyce micromera, Petalonyx, Dicoria, Croton californica, Spanish needles, desert willow, are the ones I remember off the top of my head. In addition, sadly, there are tons of Brassica tournefortii, but no other annuals, that have just germinated.

The high temp in Borrego Springs was 85° (official) to 90° (Weathernet station) today. We got pretty hot botanizing essentially in place at Fonts Point Wash at local noon, so spent some time in Christmas Circle drinking cool beverages in the shade. It was quite pleasant in the shade, doing nothing but sitting.

However, it was pretty warm heading up Hellhole Canyon, even though we began at 2:20 pm. We discovered another good reason for the name "Hellhole" Canyon; the sun essentially travels parallel to the canyon, so that there wasn't a lick of shade until just about sunset. This is very different from Borrego Palm Canyon, where there is permanent shade from the canyon walls fairly soon into the hike. (Hellhole Canyon was actually named by cowboys who found it was a hell of a place in which to retrieve lost cattle; surely that included the effects of the sun exposure on the cowboys, too, as well as the difficulty in climbing into the canyon.)

The first thing we noticed about the plants was that there were approximately one zillion Chamaesyce polycarpa plants all along the trail. There were probably 100 just at the trailhead. All of them were in full "bloom", all looking quite healthy and happy.

Many plants of Ditaxis neomexicana were blooming everywhere near the trailhead. Oddly, we saw no Boerhavia or Amaranthus fimbriata until mile 1! There were tons of Boerhavia from that point on, but nearly all of them had completely finished, with no fruit on them left.

The "check for different mallow" bushes in the field guide turned out to be Malacothamnus densiflorus; there were quite a few in bloom.

The main purpose of this trip, beside the Pilostyles search, was to find the real Maidenhair Falls, since we had missed it last time. This time we knew exactly where it was, and found it. It wasn't easy; Schad says "tucked away in a corner of the canyon bottom - hard to find -you'll discover the grotto containing Maidenhair Falls." It definitely was a bit hard to find, and figuring out HOW to get there was challenging as well.

But when we got there, we thought "HUH?". It looked very unimpressive, with just a trickle of water going over a drop of only a few feet. We surmised that when the stream is really flowing, water pours over the top of the boulders above that drop off, making the height in the 8 foot range. Looking at the pix in Schad, that seems to be the case.

I had completely forgotten how much scrambling over rocks / small boulders was involved in this trip. It really slows you down when you run out of nice trail and have to work to go just a few yards. As Schad says: "after 1.2 miles, the walls of the canyon begin to close in. ... on ahead you'll have to scramble over or around large boulders and fallen trees. Try to avoid encounters with the rosebush-like thorns of the catclaw bushes."

We ran out of daylight on the way back with about 0.25 mile to go, and had to hike by flashlight. But just before the light ran out, I saw a dim figure scooting across the trail, which turned out to be a tarantula. I took a pix by flash which turned out well.

At dusk, the whole trail changes. A "wet moist" scent took over. The 2 inches of rainfall had not been apparent in anything other than water-filled rock holes until that point. I scraped off the top tenth inch of gravel at one spot in the trail, and it was all wet below.

It was pitch dark when we made it to the car; the Milky Way was bright.

I turned on the lights in my car so I could sit on my tailgate and change my shoes, but as soon as I opened my tailgate "whoosh!"; some creature flew into my car. It smushed up against the windshield, and looked like a bat!

So I opened my windows and tried to get the creature to leave. As soon as it moved, it was clear it was a small bird.

I soon found out why birds are so easily trapped by cages where they can fly in easily, but somehow can't reverse course and fly out. This dumb bird kept trying to leave through my rear side windows (which don't roll down), and simply couldn't figure out how to get out using my front side windows or tailgate.

I kept pushing it toward the back or front with a windshield cleaner. It would typically land on my spare tire, about 4 inches from freedom, and just sit there. When nudged, it would either fly over to the other side of the car, or go back to the windshield.

Worse, I knew how often birds pooped while flying, and that a frightened animal probably would be pooping more...

I tried turning out all the lights, and using my flashlight to lure it out, or force it out. That didn't work. So I just turned off my flashlight and left it alone for a while. Then, when I couldn't find it, I drove to the other side of the parking lot to use the bathroom.

When I came back, yep, the bird was still in the car. Another LONG round of nudging, and finally the bird landed on the spare tire close enough to the tailgate that it could leave.

WHEW! (:-)

On the drive home, I met the usual hundreds of cars heading toward the desert on a Friday night, and the usual thousands of cars heading to the Indian casinos.

All in all, a good outing. I'm still incredibly amazed at all the species in bloom in mid-October. I'll have to pay attention for the first sub-90° heat day in August or September next year, to see what's blooming then.

I only found two small bird poops in my car the next day.... (;-)

25 October 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Hellhole Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide)

I headed back to Hellhole Canyon today to more carefully botanize and accurately GPS the trail, and voucher (collect and press a specimen) for the San Diego County Plant Atlas some of the plants that are not in Beauchamp for that area (such as Ditaxis neomexicana, which was a recent addition to the San Diego County plant list given in Simpson and Rebman).

Along SR79 just south of S2, I stopped to verify that the fields of reddish-brown were due to incredible numbers of Eriogonum davidsonii. They were! This has got to be the best display of this species anyplace. (For pictures, see the link below.)

I stopped on S2 at the Linanthus parviflorus location to document its late bloom time, which I have seen in virtually every year at the Santa Rosa Plateau. As I slowly drove away from this stop, the green plants in the drainages caught my eye, and I stopped to identify them.

Much to my amazement, they were popcorn flowers, Cryptantha intermedia, just beginning to bloom! And the drainages were filled with spring-blooming annuals, which were beginning to bloom now, in late October. See An April Bloom In October! for more information.

After stopping at the Visitor Center to get this year's total rainfall there, 4.04 inches (2 inches in October, and 2 inches in July and August), and letting the Park staff know I was collecting plants for the Plant Atlas (a condition of the permit), I headed to Hellhole Canyon.

There were an unusual number of vehicles in the parking lot. When I parked, someone came over to tell me I probably didn't want to park in that location, since a helicopter would be landing there soon. They were definitely right, especially since my car had been washed recently for the first time in over a year and was no longer protected by a thick coat of dust and dirt. (;-) I moved my car to the farthest location in the lot, partially shielded by another vehicle.

This turned out to be a Department of Fish and Game operation to check whether the sheep and deer here had been infected by the disease that is crashing bighorn sheep population in the Santa Rosa Mountains. I chatted with them a bit about their work, and explained why I was collecting plants there, which is a forbidden activity without a special permit. They had already worked on, and released unharmed, a deer and another bighorn sheep earlier in the day.

While I was vouchering plants from near the trailhead, their helicopter brought in a bighorn sheep. I stopped to photograph the operation from afar, so as not to bother them. The DFG people were quite friendly, and motioned to me to join them up close and photograph them working on the bighorn sheep. That was a very interesting thing to see, and I was quite grateful to be able to observe their operation up close.

After finishing at the trailhead, I took off up the trail to GPS it accurately (from each bend to each bend), to locate many of the plants on my guide with GPS positions, and to voucher some plants at the upper end of the trail.

Although the temperature was only around 80 degrees, it was still pretty warm on this totally-exposed trail. I was grateful to stop and rest in a small bit of shade about halfway up the trail.

I found a handful of species that I hadn't seen four days ago, or last March, to add to the guide. I made special note of the number of places where the trail was braided, or where it was difficult to follow the trail, which was made easier by having just been on some of the different braids four days earlier.

I made it to the plants I wanted to voucher near Maidenhair Falls just before I would have had to turn around to avoid hiking by flashlight again on the way out. Of course, since I was close, I couldn't resist going to the Falls again.

On the way down, amazingly, I came across two more species that I hadn't recorded earlier (even though I was on the same route), and made it out just before flashlight time. (;-)

Best of all, no birds entered my car while I changed my shoes. (;-)

29 October 2005: Anza Borrego State Park: Hellhole Canyon (see Trail Plant Guide)

Michael Charters, Richard Sapiro and I botanized the Hellhole Canyon Trail. Michael wanted to photograph some of the species there, and I didn't mind going for the third time in nine days, since I knew they'd find species I had missed for the guide. What surprised me was that there were also a handful of new species for the guide that had just come into bloom in the last four days and suddenly made themselves obvious.

I was a bit worried that the place might be crawling with people, since this was the weekend of the Borrego Days Desert Festival, but it seemed like a normal weekend in late October here. We came across just four groups of people.

It didn't take long to spot the first species: a blooming rock hibiscus, Hibiscus denudatus, just off-trail that had opened its first flowers today. We checked the normal bloom time in the Jepson Desert Manual that Michael brought along. This species normally blooms February - May, so it was blooming four months early. This was almost a theme as we botanized the trail, finding many species blooming unusually early, thanks to the four inches of rain received in July, August and October. "Spring" in the desert seems to be happening early this year!

Michael pointed out that this may not be an early "spring" bloom, but instead might be due to species which can bloom anytime there is enough rainfall to do so. It will thus be interesting to see what happens in the next six months. Some possibilities are:

The next addition to the plant guide was trailing four o'clock, Allionia incarnata, which again had just come into bloom. Its normal bloom time is April - September, so it was blooming six months early. (I'm not sure I entirely accept that April - September normal bloom time, since I've seen it blooming in past years on the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail before April.)

I had found a single needle grama, Bouteloua aristidoides var. aristidoides, in bloom four days ago; today dozens of plants were coming into bloom. Its normal bloom time? April - September.

Michael commented on how small the blooms were on the scarlet spiderling, Boerhavia coccinea. We speculated it was due to blooming out of season; it normally blooms April - July.

The high temperature in Borrego Springs was 83° today, so we were glad to finally rest in the first decent shade on the trail from a sycamore at mile 2.15.

The highlight of the trip was a marshy area just below Maidenhair Falls. I had not had time to adequately botanize it in the previous trips. It yielded a treasure trove of ~ten species to add to the list, including California loosestrife, Lythrum californicum. Two tamarisks were coming up there, so I yanked both of them.

We spent the rest of our time before sunset exploring every inch of the falls location, trying to find the exact location of the picture shown in Schad of Maidenhair Falls. We couldn't do it; we couldn't find any location that matches. Schad's picture appears in the 1998 edition of his guidebook, but not in the 1986 edition. I'll write him to see if this is a change that has occurred since he took his picture, or if something else is going on.

By the way, while checking for the date of Schad's picture, I came across this interesting information in his guide:

Indigo bush (dormant and dead-looking until about March)

The indigo bush here has been looking great since my first trip on October 21, and its first blooms were appearing then at Fonts Point Road.

What a great year!

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Copyright © 2005 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 4 December 2005 (Font's corrected to Fonts on 14 December 2009).