Plant Trail Reports, San Diego County, 2008

Table of Contents

3 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Desert Gardens, First Crossing to Lower Willows
7 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Creek Dirt Road Cholla Survey; Desert Gardens, First Crossing Area
12 January 2008: Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve: Stone Creek Loop
16 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon and the hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica
21 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: the extreme northeast corner of San Diego County and the search for Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis
29 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Survey Of Annual Growth From West to East; and Villager Peak Trail (partial) (DSon)

2 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (DSon)
6 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon and Borrego Palm Canyon Alternate Wash: the second hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica (DSon)
21 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Upper Palm Wash / Calcite Mine Area (DSon)
26 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon (third hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica) and Smoke Tree Canyon (DSon)


28 November 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Coachwhip Canyon (DSon)

4 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Ella Wash, Short Wash, Vista del Malpais Wash, Smoke Tree Wash (DSon)
9 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Clark Valley (DSon)
12 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Clark Valley, Clark Lake (DSon)
19 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Arroyo Salado, 17 Palms, Una Palma, Five Palms (DSon)
23 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Borrego Sink, Borrego Spring (DSon)
29 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (DSon)


3 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Desert Gardens, First Crossing to Lower Willows (see Flora of Desert Gardens and First Crossing to Lower Willows)

I was very excited about returning to Coyote Creek and heading upstream along the flowing creek. There were ten species in bloom just in the little bit of creek I explored last time, so I expected to find more by walking along the creek. I hoped to see a blooming Rush Milkweed, Asclepias subulata, reported in this area, which I hadn't seen in southern California before in the wild.

Furthermore, I had read about Lower Willows and Santa Catarina Spring for some time, and was drooling with anticipation of being there.

I stopped first at the Alcoholic Pass Trail to check on a shrub we had not identified on our previous visit. I had been suspecting it was a dead indigo bush, Psorothamnus schottii, and it turned out that was precisely what it was.

At Coyote Creek, I immediately sought out some plants of Mexican sprangletop, Leptochloa uninervia, to properly greet them by name now that I knew who they were (see previous trip report). I also headed to an Oriental mustard, Sisymbrium orientale, and made sure of that id by observing that the pedicel width was the same as the fruit width.

It was indeed a delight heading upstream along the creek. It might have been the case that the species were relatively the same all along the creek, since the habitat seemed almost identical most of the way to Lower Willows, but I kept coming across new species regularly. I found 30 additional species over the 41 we had found on the last trip, and amazingly, there were a total of 32 species in bloom! See the list of blooming species, and my estimate of the total number of plants of each species with blooms.

The highlight was coming across a specimen of what I thought at the time was rosy apricot mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua var. rosacea, with a single bloom on it. I have been looking for this taxon for years, and was ecstatic to finally come across it. However, years later I realized that this specimen was actually Malacothamnus fasciculatus.

Near Second Crossing, it became difficult to follow the creek. As I left the creekbed to maneuver around the difficulties, it turned out I was right next to the road, so I followed the road the ~0.7 miles to Third Crossing since I was getting anxious to be there.

I was confused when I got to Third Crossing. There was a sign pointing left toward Third Crossing, and warning that the crossing was very deep. The path to the left at 90° appeared to be solid water, so that one would be walking in the middle of the water to go that way. However, looking at Google satellite imagery, it appears the crossing is actually a bit beyond that sign, almost straight ahead at a slight angle left. In the field, I saw that road going off on the other side of the creek, and it looked like I could have fairly easily crossed the creek with the aid of a big sandbar. But in the field I wasn't sure that this was the road, and it also wasn't clear how deeply I would sink into the sand of the sandbar if I tried to cross it.

So I elected to skirt the side of the creek without crossing it, and immediately found myself on a clear road going ahead. On Google maps this road is much clearer and wider than the road on the west side of the creek, and in fact this is the Jeep Trail shown on the topo map. I had little trouble following this road, which quickly turned into a trail.

I was simply amazed at how lush the vegetation was here. Even though I was still not yet at the green-stippled area on the topo map, the creek was choked with vegetation. It amazed me that any water at all could escape the roots of all the willows and other vegetation in the creek.

The trail itself stayed outside of the incised streambed, so it was easy to negotiate. I hiked the trail about 0.1 miles past the dry streambed of Box Canyon, and the trail began to have some vegetation across it. It was getting late, and I had shorts on, so I decided to turn around at that point. From Google maps, it looks like this point is only 500 feet from where the newly-cleared trail through Lower Willows crosses to this side of Coyote Creek. The topo map shows the old Jeep Trail making that connection, and this is the route shown in Schad (1998). I'll return in the future to see how well it connects.

On my return, I decided to take the Ocotillo Flat Trail, and almost immediately regretted it. The trail is in very deep sand, making the hiking extremely tiring. It hasn't been much used in the last month, since the trail itself had an abundance of annuals growing in it. It was distasteful to me to be stepping on all the beautiful baby Fremont pincushion, Chaenactis fremontii, and suncup, Camissonia sp., plants coming up! Worse, I found no new species along this trail.

That trail is beautifully signed and marked, however, making it very easy to follow. But after about a mile, the trail came very close to Coyote Creek, so I went back to hiking along the creek, which again was delightful. I found three more species on the trip back, since I tried to be on a different side of the creek than earlier.


7 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Creek Dirt Road Cholla Survey; Desert Gardens, First Crossing Area (see Flora of Desert Gardens and First Crossing to Lower Willows)

I had a number of different goals today:

I also was curious how much Coyote Creek had risen due to the massive rainfall at high elevations from the last series of storms.

I didn't have to wait long to get an answer to my last desire. Instead of the very small amount of water flowing across mile ~1 of the Coyote Canyon Dirt Road, there was almost as much water there today as was at First Crossing two miles upstream four days ago. I went ahead and blustered through on my 2 wd car, and was pleased I made it. (Also see the pictures at the end of this report.)

I spotted the first cholla where the road reached the alluvial fan and turned left; it was Opuntia ganderi, and began GPS'ing them from the car.

I soon spotted a possible O. echinocarpa specimen, and got out of the car to examine it. It turned out to be a depauperate O. ganderi, only resembling O. echinocarpa from the non-robustness of the stems, and having three clear traits that ruled out O. ganderi. The plants were multiple-trunked, not single trunked; the tubercles were very long and slender, not the less extreme tubercles of O. echinocarpa; and the branches were ascending and not spreading.

I did a foot survey at mile 2.4, and found about half the O. ganderi plants were dead or dying, which caused the stressed branches to be non-robust as above. Every plant I saw here, and everywhere along Coyote Canyon, was O. ganderi.

I did spot some baby probable Lupinus arizonicus plants in one location, and photographed them.

I stopped at Desert Gardens to check on the unknown plant that I had guessed might be Malacothrix, but which didn't seem to match that id very well.

The plant looked the same from the south side. But this time, I went around to the east side of the cholla it was under, and saw the flowers on this plant! It is a young Stephanomeria pauciflora, which nicely accounts for the tangled appearance of its stems. (:-)

I continued the cholla survey to just before the road dips into Coyote Wash, where I parked and went in search of the Asclepias subulata.

It took me an hour or so to find one. Normally, it is very easy to spot these tall milkweeds, but all the similar-appearing-from-a-distance ocotillo make the job harder here.

The plant I eventually found is 0.2 miles north of Coyote Creek along a wash that parallels the route of Coyote Creek Dirt Road from just west of Desert Gardens to First Crossing.

Here's how hard I worked to find that plant:

  1. I parked my car, and surveyed 360° by eye. I only spotted ocotillos and a few creosote bushes with long most-naked stems that mimicked A. subulata.

  2. I headed west on top of the north bank of Coyote Creek, along the lowermost terrace, and explored a small loop close to the car.

  3. I then went into Coyote Creek Wash, and surveyed a larger loop. I surveyed closely the north bank of the dry wash, and then returned along the south bank of the dry wash, which is the north bank of the wet wash.

  4. I then decided to head up the side wash coming from the north, where I finally found a single plant. I surveyed a fairly large distance; my survey route went well north of the latitude of Desert Gardens.

This effort was worth it, since this was the first time I had seen this species in San Diego County. I thank Bill Sullivan for making it possible by putting online his report of a blooming specimen of this species here.

These surveys, combined with my previous survey to third crossing, definitely say that this species is rare here! I wonder how this species manages to reproduce here, or whether this is a "sink" population coming from a larger concentration of plants elsewhere.

When I did the large loop described in #3 above, I thought about quickly crossing the Creek in order to GPS some of the previously-found plants. (I didn't GPS plants on my first two surveys for some dumb reason.) I went to the Creek, which was flowing much more strongly than it was four days ago. It was not possible to cross the creek in most places without getting wet.

I found a place downstream where the Creek braided into three creeklets, but even those creeklets were not pieces of cake to cross. One had to do a bit of leaping, which always has the potential problem of slipping on take-off or landing, or sinking deeply in sections that turn out to be wetter than anticipated. I decided to continue the Asclepias search before doing that crossing. (;-)

After the Asclepias survey, I returned to this place and made it across with no problems.

Relieved, I set out to GPS the plants from my first survey. I did that up to about mile 0.6 from the car, which got most of the plants except for the ones past Second Crossing. At that point, I took off cross-country to go to the Creek, and attempted to find the plants I wanted to check on in detail.

I got to the Creek in short order, but my 3 January 2008 path along the Creek was no longer always available due to the increased water. So I mostly followed the Creek at a farther distance, and was able to fairly quickly pick up where I was in my notes.

My main objective was to get some fruit from the plant I had previously thought was Sphaeralcea ambigua var. rosacea (This actually turned out to be Malacothamnus fasciculatus). I found that plant fairly quickly, but it was now in the middle of a wide stream! There was no way to get to it without getting wet. I decided it wasn't worth it; there will be fruit in the future when the stream flow lessens. (;-)

But since I had taken a pix of this plant four days ago, it made a great comparison with the pix taken on this trip:  

The picture below was taken on 3 January 2008, about 0.4 miles upstream from First Crossing. The flowing water is confined to the channel seen in the upper right of the picture, outlined by the plants growing alongside it. You can glimpse the water along the top of the picture, just a bit right of middle.

The picture below was taken on 7 January 2008. The picture is not taken from the exact same spot since that spot was now covered with water.

I checked on the determination for a few other species, and then it was time to return to the car.

On my way home, I stopped at the field across from The Mall in Borrego Springs to GPS and photographed some Opuntia echinocarpa, with O. ganderi nearby. This is an excellent location to see both species side by side.


12 January 2008: Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve: Stone Creek Loop (see Plant Guide to Stone Creek Loop)

The docents walked the Stone Creek Loop after a short presentation by Dave Bailey on the 30 most common birds of Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve (SMER).

It was wonderful to see green, green, green, nearly everywhere. At the beginning of the loop, the leaves of black sage, Salvia mellifera, at least the ones that survived the drought near the top of the stems, had done their amazing resurrection act and gone from the dead-looking leaves of two months ago to vibrant, green, healthy leaves. I don't know of many other non-fern or non-fern-ally species that can do this trick.

For example, behind the black sages, the scrub oaks (Quercus acutidens, but usually called Q. berberidifolia by most botanists) were still leafless. They dropped their leaves in the drought, and so have to grow new ones, which are still very tiny. But these were the only non-deciduous shrubs that had lost their leaves. Even the plants of deciduous chaparral beard-tongue, Keckiella antirrhinoides var. antirrhinoides, were already full of adult green leaves.

Annuals were everywhere. We're on target to get a "double-bloom" again this year, just like in 2003, if the rains continue. The double-bloom comes about because every year only a certain percentage of native annual seeds germinate. Since there were no annuals last year, we will get both the ones that would have bloomed last year, and the ones scheduled to bloom this year. Of course, this will vary by species, depending on what the signals are that tell the seeds when to bloom.

Several areas of this loop were carpeted by baby eucrypta, Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia var. chrysanthemifolia. The road bank south of SMER, and the corner of this loop by the entrance gate, had zillions of fiesta flower, Pholistoma auritum var. auritum, seedlings. Oddly, though, I saw no seedlings of chia, Salvia columbariae, or wild canterbury bells, Phacelia minor, that were present here in previous years. Perhaps these germinate later.

The north-facing bank of Stone Creek was filled in places with ferns coming back to life, mostly coffee fern, Pellaea andromedifolia, and California polypody, Polypodium californicum. There was also some resprouting California chalk lettuce, Dudleya pulverulenta ssp. pulverulenta, along with extensive displays of liverworts, mosses and lichens. One docent noted those cute little mushrooms with curved bases that often grown out of liverwort banks. The east-facing bank of Stone Creek (higher up, before the Creek turns west) had lots of coast-range melic, Melica imperfecta, resprouting as well.

We encountered quite a few different mushroom species. The most notable, besides the tiny ones mentioned above, were one purplish large individual toadstool and one large cluster (~one foot across) of ~10 brown toadstools with the edges of the cap turned up.

One mission manzanita, Xylococcus bicolor, was in full bloom on the east slope above the Santa Margarita River, acting for all the world like it had rained last year. However, another plant, on a drier south-facing slope above Stone Creek, still looked near death. This species, along with true manzanitas, Arctostaphylos spp., were hard hit by the drought, looking very stressed nearly everywhere from the Santa Rosa Plateau to Mount San Jacinto.

Wild cucumber, Marah macrocarpus var. macrocarpus, was also starting to bloom.

There was one large clump of silky lotus, Lotus heermannii var. heermannii, that was perhaps three feet across and very healthy looking. It was in heavy shade, and must have managed to survive the drought with its stems intact, unless it can grow that much in only five weeks.

Patches of Bigelow's spike-moss, Selaginella bigelovii, were mostly looking good, but they had suffered some death from the drought. In some patches, perhaps 20% of the branches had died. But overall they were looking so good that Dave spotted some patches across a tributary to Stone Creek from a distance of about 200 feet!

Back near the South Field Station, in the disturbed cultivated area, there was a mint-family species in bloom I had never seen in the wild before. It was so robust it looked like a resprouting shrub, but it turned out to be a summer-flowering annual, Bells of Ireland, aka Shellflower, Moluccella laevis.


16 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon and the hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica (see Flora of Little Surprise Canyon)

I have digitized and perused a lot of floras, and the first species listed on several of them is a species I'd never seen, Carlowrightia arizonica. It is in the first dicot family in the Jepson Manual, Acanthaceae.

A week ago I ran across Aaron Schusteff's photograph of this species from Little Surprise Canyon. Little Surprise Canyon is a location for which I had soon intended to do a plant checklist. With the motivation of seeing Carlowrightia arizonica, Wayne Armstrong, Paula Knoll and I went there today to compile a checklist for the Canyon, and to search for this species.

The name Surprise Canyon is ambiguous, since it is used for several locations. The main use is for a canyon in the Mountain Palm Springs drainage. It is also an alternate name for Flat Cat Canyon immediately north of Hellhole Canyon.

Little Surprise Canyon is the name used for a very small canyon south of the Hellhole Canyon parking lot. There is very little mention of Little Surprise Canyon online or in reference books. Although the name is mentioned on the display board in the parking lot, it is not mentioned in Schad (1998) or Lindsay and Lindsay (2002). Fortunately, the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association has a nice page on it, mentioning it as a nice wildflower location.

We quickly discovered the appeal of this Canyon. It is a beautiful little canyon, with steep (albeit short) walls rising quickly above you which makes it very scenic. It is indeed a good wildflower location, since we saw good annual growth in this fairly-low-desert-rainfall year. I was able to take more baby pictures. The favorable environment is due to decent rainfall in this west-side desert location, good concentration of that rainfall along the bottom by the walls of the canyon without too much runoff, and an abundance of niches in which plants can grow.

We surveyed up the west branch, as recommended on the above webpage, finding a number of species, but not the Carlowrightia arizonica. After ascending a brief steep area to the upper part of the canyon, we found an single stem fish-hook cactus, Mammillaria sp. on the ridgeline above us.

One of the differences between the fairly common M. dioica and a species I have been dying to see, M. tetrancistra, is the number of apparent stems. (The apparent stems are described as branches from the base of the plant, but they appear as separate stems to the eye). Munz 1974 says that M. dioica typically has multiple stems whereas M. tetrancistra typically has single stems, and essentially all the specimens I've seen have had multiple stems. If this plant was therefore M. tetrancistra, this was exciting, especially since M. tetrancistra has not been vouchered in the northern part of Anza-Borrego.

So I walked up the easily-accessible ridge to check it out. Unfortunately, it was clearly M. dioica, with a single central spine and fewer than 20 radial spines. In total, we ran across perhaps five specimens of this species, all with a single stem.

Since the area on top of this south wall of the canyon was a very different habitat than we'd seen so far in the canyon, we explored it a bit. Another pleasure of being in this area is that I've seen it countless times as I've driven down S22, but never explored it previously.

Just beyond the M. dioica was a barrel cactus, Ferocactus cylindraceus, which had six barrels, four of which were the same height. I got as close as I could to it to try to see if it had any cottony fruit, just to make sure it was not Echinocactus polycephalus. I found none. In fact, quite a few of the barrel cactus had multiple barrels in this area.

Surprisingly, we soon ran across a M. dioica with buds that were just about to bloom. But that was about it for additional species for the checklist. We spotted a way up the north wall of the Canyon, so walked back down our ridge into the canyon bottom and then that route up the other side.

We easily traversed the flattish area on top of the canyons, went over to the east branch of the canyon, but found no easy way down into it. We decided at that point to go back the way we came, but now with the main purpose of discovering the picture location to find the Carlowrightia.

I've relocated old photo locations a number of times now, and nearly all the time it is a tricky business. There are many locations that are almost right, but only a single location that is exactly right.

We quickly figured out that the peak in the background of the picture was Indian Head, that the ridge in the middle background had to be from the immediate area, and thus that the plant was photographed on the top of the west-facing slope of one of the two branches of this canyon. We saw no place along the west branch that could fit the picture location, since the angle to the Indian Head Ridgeline was wrong.

We headed over to the east branch, but it was clear that we needed to be up on east rim of that branch. We climbed to the top of the first ridge, which seemed to be the ridge in the middle background, but once again couldn't easily cross the tributaries to the drainage in the east canyon. We also were a bit troubled that the ridge didn't have quite the same shape as seen in the photo.

We went across highway S22, just to verify that the picture location wasn't in the hills on that side. We then decided to walk up S22 a bit to get on the next ridge south of the ridge in the middle background. We quickly got very close to the location of the photo, but once again we were on the wrong side of the east canyon.

Looking at the probable location of the picture, we saw a handful of dead-looking plants on the inaccessible bank of the east canyon that very well could be Carlowrightia. However, we saw no plant at the top of the canyon that could have been the plant in the photo. Worse, we didn't see the rock outcrop next to the plant in the photo.

Wayne found a way down into the east canyon, but it was steep and filled with ball-bearing rocks. We decided at that point to punt, and go to Borrego Palm Canyon to check on a Carlowrightia voucher by Larry Hendrickson.

Borrego Palm Canyon even smelled moist when we got there, and was filled with annual growth. I took more baby pictures, and the three of us explored the south canyon wall in the waning light. Unfortunately, we struck out once again. Larry Hendrickson later told me that the plants there were still dormant, hard to see, and scarce there. It was thus not surprising that we didn't find any specimens, but disappointing nonetheless.

I had also anticipated seeing one more species new to me at Little Surprise Canyon, Erodium texanum, a native filaree. Unfortunately, all we saw were tons of the non-native E. cicutarium.

Fortunately, Wayne knew of another location. He had often taken his botany classes on walks on the flat sandy area near the water towers south of the visitor center, and seen E. texanum there. Unfortunately, the flats there were covered with E. cicutarium, without a single plant of E. texanum in sight.

Perhaps the rainfall this year wasn't enough to germinate the E. texanum, but this seems doubtful, since the first rainfall event here was 0.88 inches and there are many annual species that have germinated well. It seems more likely that the non-native E. cicutarium has eliminated it here in this unfair competition.

Although I was 0 for 2 in finding anticipated new species today, it was still a delightful day. We compiled a good initial checklist for Little Surprise Canyon, we saw a lot of healthy baby annuals, we got some good exercise in beautiful surroundings, and I got to see my first blooming Mammillaria dioica, which we found on the trip back down the west branch. We should also be able to return to this area and quickly head to the exact picture location on our next visit, and see whether the Carlowrightia plant is still there.


21 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: the extreme northeast corner of San Diego County and the search for Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis (see Flora of Extreme Northeast San Diego County and Wayne Armstrong's pictures)

Wayne Armstrong, Bill Sullivan and I had a very exciting goal for today: to search for the specimen vouchered as Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis from the extreme northeastern corner of [San Diego] County by Frank Gander in 1937.

This was the only cholla taxon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that I hadn't seen previously. I did a number of cholla trips in early 2007 to sort out the other species, but had not previously gone to this corner of the county for three reasons. First, this area is remote, almost an hours drive from the town of Borrego Springs and thus 2.5 hours from my house in Fallbrook. Second, this area has no trails or old roads, and so one must travel along uneven, rocky ground. Third, the chollas could be anywhere within an area of 20 square miles or so. Looking for a very rare cholla here might be similar to looking for a needle in a haystack.

Fortunately, I began an extensive email correspondence with Bill Sullivan a few weeks ago, and in the course of a discussion on chollas Bill mentioned his previous searches for this taxon here. This fired up my interest in checking this out, so Bill, Wayne Armstrong, and I planned this outing to look for it together. Bill had been to this area a number of previous times, which helped immensely in knowing how to get to this remote location.

Philip Erdelsky came along, and pointed out how exciting this trip was from a non-botanical point of view. We were visiting the EXACT northeast corner of San Diego County, a Huell Howser kind of trip!

Nearly the entire drive from Fallbrook to Borrego Springs was in drizzle or light rain. Raindrops were even falling in Borrego Springs, although they were few and far between. But the raindrops quickly ceased as we headed farther east.

To refresh our minds on the habits of Opuntia ganderi and O. echinocarpa, we stopped in Borrego Springs across from the Mall. As Wayne was getting out of the car, he noticed an Erodium texanum right next to his feet, one of the elusive goals of the trip reported above! It was an auspicious start to the day.

As we drove through the Badlands of Imperial County along S22 about three miles east of the San Diego County line, Bill's sharp eyes spotted another quarry for me, Orcutt's woody-aster, Xylorhiza orcuttii. I was quite impressed at how large these plants were, and even more impressed that there was a bud on one! This spot even had a few baby annuals that had germinated from the road runoff from sparse rainfall here, including Spanish needle, Palafoxia arida, and what looked like hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens. I was also excited to see Arizona honeysweet, Tidestromia oblongifolia.

We turned left on CA86, and were surprised to see plants in the median with dense green leafy growth. But it was too hard to identify them from 65 mph.

We turned left on Avenue 86, just over the Riverside County line, and proceeded up the dirt road. Bill was surprised to see a new (date?) palm orchard on the left, along with a new sturdy gate placed before the Coachella Valley Water District Pumps. We learned later that this gate was installed to try to prevent copper theft, an ongoing terrible problem ever since the price of copper soared.

The gate was open, so we drove through it and parked at the end of the dirt road, 0.1 mile beyond the Imperial / San Diego County border. The GPS led us to the three county intersection, where we found a one foot tall wood stake. Amusingly, there is a much-taller five foot metal stake located some distance inside San Diego County.

We took the obligatory pictures of each of us being in three counties at once, and then began our plant survey.

Our plan was to follow the route shown in the map given here, heading directly to the base of the mountains and exploring along them, since that was the habitat in which I had previously seen Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis at the base of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains near Yuma, Arizona. See Flora of Extreme Northeast San Diego County for a description of the plant habitats along our route.

We planned to do a plant checklist for this area as well, and were just beginning it when two workers from the Coachella Valley Water District came up to us. They kindly told us they were about to lock the gate, and that we might prefer that my car be on the other side of the gate. I moved my car, and they were even nice enough to give me a ride the 0.5 miles back to the northeast corner of San Diego County.

As we began our plant survey around noon, the most stunning feature was that annuals were everywhere. We had all expected this to be an extremely dry location, in the rain shadow of the Santa Rosa Mountains, which themselves are in the rain shadow of the peaks to the west. Yet this area looked much more like the area immediately west of the town of Borrego Springs in terms of wetness right now! It was more than a little puzzling.

We finally realized that these two areas both get "spill-over" rain that had been squeezed out of the clouds by their mountains to the west. Amusingly, this means that this area on the rain-shadow side of the Santa Rosa Mountains gets more rain then the area on the southwest side of the Santa Rosa Mountains. This was very evident in the flora, with indicators of extreme dryness such as desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, present only on the southwest side and absent here.

Another interesting feature of this area was the relatively large amount of cryptobiotic soil present. This indicates soil that has been undisturbed by human or heavy animal footprints for a very long time. See trip report for Fonts Point Area for more information.

When I told Jon Rebman we were searching for Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis today, he had kindly told me about the collections Frank Gander had done here in 1937. I had done my homework and looked at the list of those species, and was excited that they included five species I had never seen in the wild before. I studied their characteristics so I would be ready to greet them if I saw them.

It didn't take long to find the first one, sticky fagonia, Fagonia pachyacantha. However, it did not fit its description in the Jepson Manual, so we initially concluded that this specimen was probably the species seen commonly in the desert here, California fagonia, F. laevis. In particular, F. pachyacantha was supposed to be a prostrate perennial, whereas F. laevis is a much-branched shrub with stems ascending to erect. The first specimen we saw was as tall as it was wide! The other characteristics, whether the leaf stipules were curved or not, and the shape of the leaflets, were ambiguous and so didn't help sort out the determination.

We encountered quite a few more specimens. Many of them were a bit flattened, up to twice as wide as tall, so we were suspicious that these in fact could be F. pachyacantha and kept checking them. We soon came across a somewhat prostrate specimen that had stipules much longer than we'd ever seen for F. laevis, 5-8 mm, and finally knew we were seeing F. pachyacantha. We'd never seen F. laevis with long stipules. We later saw a true specimen of F. laevis, in a different habitat, and its tiny stipules of only 1-2 mm stood out. That specimen also was more erect than most specimens of F. pachyacantha.

Later, at home, we found that Munz (1974) said that both species are subshrubs with similar habit, exactly as we observed! Munz uses the length of the stipules to separate them, which is what we independently deduced here.

We found a single specimen of a Lycium in full bloom, with pretty purple mostly-single flowers. I was very pleased since I rarely get to see Lycium with blooms or fruit. I was even more pleased when I got home and determined these plants as another species I hadn't seen before, L. parishii, which is listed as RARE in CA in the Jepson Manual. It turns out this is also the first record of this species north of Mountain Palm Springs in San Diego County.

The count of new species for me was now up to three, and we had hardly begun our survey here.

We got to the base of the mountains around 2 p.m., and the exciting phase of the trip began, the search for Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis. We looked all around the slopes and their base for the next 0.75 mile, and even explored a ways up a west-flowing drainage amidst the steep slopes. We found no chollas at all except for an occasional pencil cholla, Opuntia ramosissima. It was a bit disappointing, since it was now getting late in this short day.

Our route then encountered a little valley between two ridges projecting north from this arm of the Santa Rosa Mountains. This valley consisted mostly of an old north-facing alluvial slope (bajada) which is being dissected by the current drainage system. Large areas of the slope are still intact, bounded by deeply-cut drainages on the east and west, and the alluvial slope itself is only very shallowly dissected.

We quickly encountered a cholla, but it was clear at a glance it could not be Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis. Since the plant was small, it was a bit hard to be sure whether it was O. ganderi or O. echinocarpa.

We decided to split up, with two of us taking drainages and two of us taking the intervening ridges. All of us found chollas, which were most abundant on the old alluvial slope itself, and they were all very clear O. ganderi. (See Opuntia ganderi In Extreme Northeast San Diego County.)

Since Frank Gander (yes, the namesake of this species) had returned with only one type of cholla from here in 1937, it was immediately fairly clear that his cholla specimen was simply misdetermined as Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis. This is a very easy thing to do, since the taxa are similar in a number of respects, and very hard to tell apart with a small voucher specimen, especially with a voucher 71 years old. The differences between these two taxa are most apparent only in the habit of the entire plant, easily seen in the field, but not in a voucher.

By the way, O. ganderi was only recognized in 1938, as O. acanthocarpa ssp. ganderi, from another Frank Gander voucher, so Gander's voucher was originally determined as O. acanthocarpa.

Of course, we covered only a small portion of the 20 square miles here, so we cannot claim definitively that Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis does not exist here. However, Gander spent only one full day here in 1937, so he could not have scoured the 20 square miles here either, and he most likely traveled much the same route we did. Our route was the quickest route to the montane habitat, as well as the nearest palm grove.

In addition, our finding that this area was actually fairly wet makes it extremely unlikely that a taxon found only in the driest part of the Sonoran desert near the Colorado River would live here. See Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis for more details, including a distribution map for this taxon.

This was a bit disappointing that we found no Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis, but at least we had solved the mystery of Gander's voucher. And as a result, we had found the farthest east occurrence of O. ganderi.

My disappointment quickly turned to joy, when we found a fourth species new to me, another one I had long sought, fish-hook cactus, Mammillaria tetrancistra. This was a beautiful specimen, and fit the floras exactly for the differences with M. dioica.

Interestingly, in reviewing vouchers for this species just two weeks ago, I had found that none existed for the northern part of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and so I had taken it off my list of plants for this area. It's now back on!


29 January 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Survey Of Annual Growth From West to East; and Villager Peak Trail (partial) (see Plant Guide to Villager Peak Trail)

In the Borrego Valley area, my previous trips this season found that the rain of 12/1/07 had germinated annuals primarily from the town of Borrego Springs west. For example, many annuals germinated in Borrego Palm Canyon, and the other plants there looked happy, but essentially no annuals germinated in Fonts Point Wash, and the other plants looked near death there. I'd wanted to quantify this a bit, and took an hour today to do so.

Since I was heading to the Thimble Peak trailhead, about 12 east-west miles from the Visitor Center, I decided to collect data at five to six locations, roughly every 2.5 miles.

I began just south of the Visitor Center Parking Lot, a bit west of the trail to Hellhole Canyon. Of the ground not covered by shrubs, about 50% was covered by annual growth at this time. Unfortunately, about 90% of that coverage was due to the non-native redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium; the rest were native annuals and small-seeded spurge, Chamaesyce polycarpa.

Underneath the shrubs was a different world! About 80% of the ground was covered by native annuals, mostly common phacelia, Phacelia distans, and popcorn flowers and combseed, Cryptantha and Pectocarya species, along with native poppies, Eschscholzia minutiflora and/or E. parishii.

The next stop was 2.9 miles east, about half a mile west of the Borrego School. The germination and growth was already way down here, with just 10% of the ground away from shrubs covered by growth and only 5% covered underneath shrubs. By the way, this location showed possible evidence that it had previously been severely disturbed, since there was only one species of shrub here, burroweed, Ambrosia dumosa. There were at least two species of shrubs at every other stop.

The ground coverage numbers declined to 5% away from shrubs and 0% under shrubs, respectively, at the next stop 2.6 further miles east, south of the Airport. The numbers dropped to almost zero, only 1% both away from shrubs and under shrubs, another 2.7 miles east, between Rockhouse Road and Inspiration Wash.

Interestingly, annual growth picked up a bit to the east. Just east of Fonts Point Wash, the numbers were 15% away from shrubs and 10% under shrubs, and at the Thimble Peak Trailhead, the numbers were 1% and 20%, respectively.

This survey thus confirmed quantitatively that annuals, especially native annuals, are currently only found in any significant numbers west of Di Giorgio Road. It also found that there are some annuals, in much smaller numbers than at the Visitor Center area and mostly non-natives, also present east of Fonts Point Wash. This is probably because rainfall usually increases with elevation, and the elevation increases from about 500 feet at the Airport to 1000 feet at the Thimble Trailhead.

Unfortunately, except for the first stop near the Visitor Center, the survey made me sick.

Other than the shrubs, essentially the only things growing east of the Visitor Center were redstem filaree and Asian mustard, both non-native annuals. I did occasionally find native annuals, but they were vastly outnumbered. One suspects the natives won't be long for this world, since the non-natives have already tremendously crowded them out. However, this suspicion needs to be confirmed in a wetter year by a repeat of this survey, due to the low annual vegetation coverage. These non-natives require less rainfall to germinate than required by our native species, and that may explain the observed difference. A wetter year might germinate the native annuals, and give a quite different picture.

By the way, this observation means essentially all the green that one sees along S22, especially on the badland side, is due to Asian mustard, a very sad state of affairs.

The main business for the day was to compile a flora for the area around the use trail to Villager Peak. I didn't expect to get very far on the trail, since I was entirely botanizing, but I made it to 2.3 miles from S22, not counting switchbacks, to an elevation of 2320 feet. That taste of the trail made me hungry to come back and go much farther.

This is a delightful area and trail! It was exciting to be at Lute Ridge, clear evidence of one of the branches of the San Jacinto Fault going through this area. Remeika and Lindsay (1992) say that Lute Ridge is the largest known fault scarp on the North American continent existing in unconsolidated sediments. It is always dramatic to be at a location where one can sight along a fault line so well. The north face of Lute Ridge is dead linear, and lines up with the southern tip of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the east and the north tip of Coyote Mountain to the west.

The first 1.25 miles of the route are mostly in braided washes, with bits of remnant alluvial slope, and has the usual suite of species. I was pleased to see some baby buds on silver cholla, Opuntia echinocarpa, and to find the elevation where that species gave way to O. ganderi. I was especially delighted to see a handful of plants of rush milkweed, Asclepias subulata, in two locations.

I was a little nervous about what the trail going up the ridge would be like. The Alcoholic Pass Trail has a similar steepness, and it is not pleasant to descend due to poor footing. I was very relieved to find the trail is well switchbacked, making it significantly less steep, and has very good footing.

Once up the 200 foot face cut by the Rattlesnake Canyon Creek, the hiking was easy, the views were superb, and I was wondering why I had not hiked this trail before.

The only thing missing from this habitat were new species! I expected many new species once I got out of the wash, but I found a total of only five new species in the one mile of ridgeline I hiked. My only guess is that this south-facing ridge is simply too dry to have many species different from the ones on the alluvial slopes below.

It was only with great reluctance that I turned around at 3:15 p.m. so I could make it back to the car by sunset, with a bit of margin since this was my first return to the car from this point.

The trail required more attention to follow on the way down, since I was walking faster and probably also because it was harder to distinguish due to the difference in viewing angle. Fortunately, I was able to spot a bighorn sheep who took little notice of me, and walked perpendicular to the trail, stopping to munch on something every now and again. He did look alertly at me when my camera made noises.

Sometime on the way back I realized that I had not seen redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, here. I looked hard for it in its expected habitat on the flats, and didn't find it. This species is also missing from the extreme northeast corner of San Diego County. I'm very surprised to find any area here missing this species, and I can only speculate that for some reason it has not spread to this area yet. It would be wonderful, of course, if there were some other reason why this species is not a successful invader here.

Two other things were interesting about this area. First, the area and species found here reminded me strongly of the extreme northeast corner of San Diego County. This is perhaps not too surprising, since they are just eight miles apart.

Second, in the area of this trail, from just north of S22 to 2300 feet elevation, there was no visible evidence of the widespread rain from the latest storms of three days ago, 1/26/08-1/27/08, that dropped at least a quarter of an inch everywhere nearby. The Ocotillo Wells weather station, 12 miles away, reported the lowest 24 hour rainfall total as of 10 a.m. 1/27/08, only 0.24 inches, at the same time Fish Creek Mountain reported 0.52 inches and Borrego Springs reported 1.18 inches. This was very surprising, since there was standing water in big puddles in many places along S22, and evidence that a lot of sediment crossed S22 in Fonts Point Wash. Yet I saw no mud in the washes crossed by this trail, no water anywhere in this area away from the road, and no evidence of recent erosion.


2 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (see Flora of Henderson Canyon)

The annuals have begun to pop into bloom!

When I got out of my car at the end of the road into Henderson Canyon, I was delighted to see how much all the annuals had grown. Many of them have begun producing their bloom stalks. Moreover, there were buds on at least some plants of four of the eight native species there, and a fifth species had its first bloom open on one plant. I came across several more annual species in bloom later in the trip, two of which had begun to set seeds!

No one should rush out here to see the bloom, since there still are very few flowers to be seen. But the bloom is soon going to be delightful on the west side of the town of Borrego Springs. There were so many annual plants growing along my route that in many places I couldn't avoid stepping on them, which always tugs at my heart. I tried most of the time to stay in the wash, where I could mostly walk without worry about stepping on plants, but Henderson Canyon is so little visited that in places there were annuals growing in the wash.

This was my first visit to Henderson Canyon, and it was pure delight. The lower canyon is open, giving good views throughout. It has scenic side canyons every so often that beg to be explored. There are some good north-facing cliffs that have a different suite of species. But after seeing so many places to the east with very few annuals this year (see previous report above), I suspect my opinion of Henderson Canyon was raised tremendously by seeing so many native annuals.

I began heading west toward the main Henderson Creek channel, going across or temporarily following wash after wash since there are no trails here (see Google Map of this area). This entire area has been the wash off and on over time; it ought to be called an alluvial wash since it most definitely is not an alluvial plain. Bill Sullivan calls them ruts since one's journey is repeatedly up and down in such terrain.

But the traveling here was fairly easy since the ruts were shallow and there were no obstacles like boulders in the way. Time was not important anyway, since I was compiling a plant checklist for this area today, and hence I was constantly scanning for species to add to the list.

The going was much easier when I got to the main Creek channel and followed it up the canyon. Even here there was no trail or constant path. The main channel was braided with many sandy routes, and one had to hop from one to another at times. Oddly, every channel seemed to have rock cairns marking them, no matter which one I was on. Most channels had a small number of footprints in them.

One dead annual remnant from a previous year puzzled me for some time, until I found the remnant right next to a bunch of baby monkeyflowers, probably Bigelow's monkeyflower, Mimulus bigelovii. Now I know what that species look likes dead! (;-)

All the usual annual suspects were growing, but for some wonderful reason there were almost none of the usually-ubiquitous redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium. Unfortunately, there was the usual high density of Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii.

I was very pleased to come across what looked like seedlings of Eriogonum inflatum growing right next to a mature plant of that species.

The drought had taken its toll here, but it primarily affected only three species. Nearly every plant of California trixis, Trixis californica; small-seeded spurge, Chamaesyce polycarpa; and Newberry's velvet mallow, Horsfordia newberryi, was dead. For the trixis, only plants in heavy shade from the south canyon wall, or underneath another tall plant, were alive. For the Horsfordia, only a single young plant was alive; the other taller ~six of them were dead. All the other shrub species were unaffected except for the death of part of some of the plants for some species. These plants are tough!

The spurge is a perennial, and it surely would have resprouted by now if it were still alive. I did find a handful of young plants with growth, but well over 95% of all specimens were dead. It looks like this species will have to come back from seed and will take some years to build up its former population size.

I reluctantly concluded I needed to turn around significantly earlier than I normally would have just from the mileage, since I had no idea how quickly I could primarily hike along this terrain. Fortunately, just before I turned around I found a few plants of rock crossosoma, Crossosoma bigelovii, bursting with buds, which was the highlight of the trip. I've only seen this species in two other places, Borrego Palm Canyon and a canyon near the Santa Rosa Mountains Visitor Center. Immediately after that, I was at the junction of the two main upper branches of the Canyon near 1700 feet elevation, a beautiful open area giving good views into both branches. (See view looking west up canyon and view looking southeast down canyon. It was a natural place to turn around.

I made good time going down, so decided to take the Creek to the eastern border of the Park here, and then go directly north up the boundary to my car, to continue the plant survey. (See surveyed route.) It got to be a bit tedious before I got to the boundary, but I only had a quarter mile to go at that point, so persevered. I was glad I did, since it was interesting to see the area from that vantage point. Also, I discovered that the main wash had been blocked by a berm just outside the park boundary.

The route directly along the Park boundary north was very tedious, and I don't recommend it.


6 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon and Borrego Palm Canyon Alternate Wash: the second hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica (see Flora of Borrego Palm Canyon; Xerophytic Desert Liverworts, and Phacelia minor in Borrego Palm Canyon)

Wayne Armstrong wanted to return to Borrego Palm Canyon to study some peculiar "black stringy prostrate stems" we had seen next to mosses on exposed soil on the cliffside on our 1/16/08 search for Carlowrightia arizonica. We had wondered about them, but since we were primarily searching for the Carlowrightia we hadn't spent any time on them. But when we got home, we couldn't find any information on them, so were consumed by curiosity as to what they were (dead moss stems? lichens? something else?).

We combined this trip with our second effort to find the Carlowrightia plants that had eluded us earlier, both in Little Surprise Canyon and in Borrego Palm Canyon.

Kate Shapiro and Bill Sullivan joined us, along with two reporters from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Mike Lee is doing a flower ecology story and interested in seeing first hand what conditions were like in the desert, and Chris Barber, a videographer for the paper's website, came along to record some video.

I had contacted Aaron Schusteff, and he had give me good directions to where he took his photograph of this species from Little Surprise Canyon. The location he gave me was in the only area we hadn't explored on 1/16/08, the east branch of the canyon along the bottom. So I felt quite confident we would be able to find his location and the Carlowrightia, especially with so many people looking for it! (We put the reporters to work on the task, too. Mike was especially good at this task, since he is part mountain goat and easily scampered up and down slopes that I wasn't keen on traversing.)

Aaron had said to stay in the east branch of Little Surprise Canyon, and that he had taken the photograph without climbing the wall of the canyon. With great hope and expectation, we went forth up that branch.

That branch had three branches of its own, and we dutifully explored each branch. Alas, Indian Head was not visible from any part of the bottom of any branch. Furthermore, we found no foreground rocks reachable from the canyon bottom similar to the ones shown in picture. So once again, we explored on top of the canyon, again without success.

We had a very promising mid-range ridge to match to the one seen in Aaron's picture, but we just couldn't get to any position in which it appeared with the right perspective. We then applied the Holmes principle and decided that the picture was actually showing a much more distant lower ridge at almost the distance of Indian Head ridge. There were in fact lower ridges at that distance that had somewhat similar shapes to the mid-range ridge, both of which resembled the ridges shown in the picture (The picture was taken with a macro lens, and everything except the plant itself was out of focus.)

We found a rock projection that looked right, and took a picture from that spot to compare to see if that hypothesis was correct. Unfortunately, detailed examination of that picture at home clearly revealed that there was indeed a very close hill that produced the mid-range ridgeline in the photo.

Applying the Holmes principle again, we will have to go back and find where a foreground ridge is at the right height to mask the appropriate amount of the Indian Head slopes. At home, I realized there was still a single location we did not visit. We met a 10 foot high dry waterfall near the top of the main branch, and we didn't go above it. This has to be the only spot we haven't now visited in all of the Little Surprise Canyon area. Logic therefore concludes that this must be the location of Aaron's photo, since Aaron, a mathematician, has given us an existence proof for such a location by his photo. (:-)

We then drove to Borrego Palm Canyon, where Mike Lee was impressed by the difference in annual growth between there and Little Surprise Canyon. I had told him about the huge difference in annual growth as one went west of the ridgeline above Borrego Springs, but seeing it is always better than just hearing about it.

To help us find the Carlowrightia, and to provide some scientific benefit if we didn't find it, we also planned on producing a plant checklist for the Alternate Wash at Borrego Palm Canyon.

We began recording all the species we saw. It is pretty liberating doing a checklist for an area, rather than the plant trail guides I have spent so much time doing in the past, since one can just wander anywhere to find new species.

We quickly ended up on the lush hillside, and the "black stringy stems" immediately revealed themselves as liverworts! This dumbfounded Wayne and me; we didn't even entertain that as a possibility. Those black stems were the rolled up leaves! See Xerophytic Desert Liverworts.

I had always assumed, without any foundation other than analogy to plant seedlings, that liverwort leaves emerged from the ground each year afresh. But instead, this liverwort, at least, has leaves that persist from year to year and just unroll to reveal the green upper surface. This "resurrection" of the leaves is similar to those of spike-moss, one species of which is known as the "resurrection plant" since it greens up within minutes of being wetted.

Thank goodness; one mystery solved, even though we struck out on the photo location at Little Surprise Canyon.

Surveying for the plant checklist was a delight. We came across masses of three blooming species that have minute blossoms only a botanist could love: pygmy-weed, Crassula connata; curvenut combseed, Pectocarya recurvata; and hairy-podded pepper-grass, Lepidium lasiocarpum. We were delighted at the robust growth we saw on all the annuals, giving promises of what might come in the near future if the weather cooperates.

Then we were stunned to come across dozens of the big beautiful blooms of wild canterbury bells, Phacelia minor! This was surprising because lower in the canyon we had seen lots of rosettes that had yet to even put up a bloom stalk. This again must have resulted from the increased rainfall to the west in the 12/1/07 storm.

We had been carefully looking for the Carlowrightia all this time, without success. We had gone past the voucher location, and were getting a little discouraged about finding it when Kate suddenly spotted some good candidates. Unfortunately, the plants were just barely beginning to leaf out, so had none of the flowers or fruit needed to discriminate the Carlowrightia from the very similar chuparosa, Justicia californica.

Worse, at this location we didn't spot one of the companion species given in the voucher, California trixis, Trixis californica. By this time, we had not seen any trixis plants at all, so it was becoming clear that trixis, an easily identifiable plant from a distance, would be the key to finding the Carlowrightia.

We persevered upstream, and soon found more treasures. We came across a dense field of our native Texas filaree, Erodium texanum, which at one stroke increased the number of specimens of this species I've ever seen by a factor of ten. Interestingly, the non-native redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, was not widespread in this canyon, just like I found on the last trip in Henderson Canyon. Perhaps that species really is a creature of flat areas.

We soon encountered the Alternate Trail, and took it farther up canyon to check on another rare species for here named for Arizona, Arizona spurge, Chamaesyce arizonica. We went past all three of its known locations from the plant trail guide, but it wasn't in evidence yet.

On the way down, we realized we had missed one section of the Alternate Wash, where we had taken the Alternate Trail instead of being in the wash. We backtracked to the upper end of that section, and could hardly believe it: we saw Trixis! And right by the trixis were some plants that looked like excellent candidates to be Carlowrightia. Furthermore, within feet of these plants were the specimens found earlier by Kate.

Very pleased with ourselves, we returned to the car thinking of our future return trip here to see the Carlowrightia in bloom.


21 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Anza Borrego State Park: Upper Palm Wash / Calcite Mine Area (see Flora of Upper Palm Wash / Calcite Mine Area)

I picked this location for my botanizing today since it was predicted to have the calmest winds in the Borrego Desert this day. The prediction turned out well; the winds were calm except for a brief period in the mid-afternoon when I had to hold on to my hat while walking the lowermost section of the Calcite Mine Road right next to the Wash.

This location turned out to be a delightful choice! I had planned on primarily doing the Mine Road, but Bill Sullivan had suggested I head into Palm Wash to explore. He motivated me by sending me a photograph of what he said was the largest Peucephyllum schottii that I have ever seen. Heading up Palm Wash was by far my best decision of the day.

In fact, at the parking area 0.2 miles west of the beginning of the Mine Road, I was captivated by the deep gash of Palm Wash. I had driven by here several times previously, and had a burning desire to hike the deep washes here. So it might have been impossible for me to resist heading into the wash anyway.

As I had hoped, there were a fair number of native annuals growing and blooming here. The parking area was a delight by itself, with even a blooming desert lily, Hesperocallis undulata.

The number of plants dropped to zero in the saline area immediately at the beginning of the road. Only the dead stalks of desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatumEriogonum trichopes, from some past year broke the soil surface. I wonder if these plants are now all dead, or are only sleeping. (Note added in 2021: like many beginning botanists, I initially mistook Eriogonum trichopes as E. inflatum.)

Down in the wash was a different story. There were treasures galore! Almost immediately I came across a number of hairy sand-verbena, Abronia villosa, in bloom, along with a fair number of other species in bloom, such as heliotrope phacelia, Phacelia crenulata var. ambigua, and even one population of longbeak streptanthella, Streptanthella longirostris.

To my great delight, I found about ten plants of Orcutt's woody-aster, Xylorhiza orcuttii, including one with a bud on it. I'd only seen this species once before, close to here along S22, and this was the first time I captured it on a trail guide or flora.

Other species new to my Borrego Desert trail guides or floras kept rolling in. White-stemmed milkweed, Asclepias albicans, greeted me with its honkingly-tall stems; I hadn't seen this species here before.

Although my original thought was just to go up the wash to see Bill's Peucephyllum, it was very clear that this was the place to be plant-wise, so I continued up the wash. It was fortunate that I didn't find his specimen right away on the way up!

I was also captivated by the beauty of the slot canyon. The sandstone walls towered above me, and would alternately close in and then open up.

Usually, species not yet seen on a given walk start to occur less and less frequently as one continues to walk in the same habitat, but not here. I kept picking up new species for the checklist at a regular rate. (See the plot here.) One of the species was Pilostyles, an old friend!

I came across one species that I had never seen live before in memory (I'd seen dead stalks of it earlier this year that Wayne Armstrong identified). This species was abundant here, and it really bugged me that I couldn't even figure out what plant family it was in. The plants somewhat reminded me of Sphaeralcea with a more entire leaf, but they had fruit like a Brassica. One plant had extremely small buds, and they reminded me of a euphorb! It was only at home later that I figured it out: heartleaf sun-cup, Camissonia cardiophylla.

The story of how I figured it out is amusing. I couldn't key it out, since I had neither flowers nor fruit. I had only pix of the dead inflorescence, fresh leaves, and the tiniest of new buds, and that was it.

I went through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park plant list two times, and then the Santa Rosa Mountains voucher list, but I still couldn't find a match. (I of course skipped over Camissonia, since I "knew" this wasn't a Camissonia since they didn't resemble any Camissonia I'd seen before...)

I had given up, put some pix online, and was about to appeal to friends for help when it occurred to me that maybe I could sneak my way into its id. There was only one species as numerous as this one in the shaded slot canyon wash area: desert tobacco, Nicotiana obtusifolia. So I searched for vouchers of that species in this area, and looked for "associated plants".

BINGO! Camissonia cardiophylla popped right up. (:-)

Back in the wash, I then came across an excellent candidate for a species I had never before, although I've been looking for it a long time. There are tons of Thurber's sandpaper-plant, Petalonyx thurberi, in washes in the Borrego Desert. It has a cousin, narrow-leaf sandpaper-plant, Petalonyx linearis, that lives on canyon walls and is rarely found.

I found a dead plant on the canyon wall that had the linear leaves, plant gestalt, and habitat of P. linearis, and then discovered a similar live plant right next to it. Interestingly, just 30 feet away, were clear specimens of P. thurberi, growing in its typical habitat in the sandy wash, with its typical leaves and gestalt.

However, I've found specimens of P. thurberi before that have some pretty linear leaves, so I asked Andy Sanders about this specimen. He was pretty sure it was still P. thurberi, just growing in a very unusual habitat for that species. I'll try to check blossoms in the future to make sure the blossoms agree with the leaves.

I was then stunned to run across a perennial Cryptantha, C. racemosa, looking happy, healthy, and flowering. I've been dying to see a perennial Cryptantha, and here one was! It was a big bush, much bigger than annual Cryptanthas, and had last year's inflorescence still present on the plant, shouting out that it was indeed a perennial. (I also found some perennial specimens of desert needle, Palafoxia arida var. arida, that puzzled me for a while since they weren't blooming. I didn't know this usually-annual species could also be perennial.)

I had some difficulty keying this out later. Due to FOUR problems in the floral description for C. racemosa, I originally rejected that determination, and ended up with no acceptable determination for this plant. Eventually I keyed it to C. micrantha, which I wasn't terribly happy about since I thought it was a perennial, and C. micrantha is an annual. Fortunately I had copied Mike Simpson on the determination since I had pictures of it for Mike's Cryptantha website, and he was doubtful about that id from my description of the nutlets.

Back at the determination drawing board, I had nearly given up on getting a good determination, when it accidentally fell into my lap when I was perusing the key in Abrams. He had a key element that described this plant exactly, and the nutlet and plant drawings fit precisely. All of those things were so unique and well-fitting that this had to be the determination, despite the problems.

I have no idea how the floras could have so many things wrong about this species. For the record, the problems in the floras are:

Determinations are rarely correct when they have this many problems.

Oftentimes, this many problems are caused by the lack of sufficient herbarium vouchers, but that isn't the case here. C. racemosa is a widely-distributed species, with many vouchers (174 retrieved at the Consortium).

Back in the wash, I was pretty disappointed to run into the end of the hiking line at a dry waterfall. I turned around, and then headed up the Road.

On the way back down the wash, I finally found Bill's Peucephyllum. It was a beautiful tree, about nipple-high to me, which is 49 inches (12.4 dm). The Jepson Manual says its maximum height is 30 dm, so somewhere there are even taller specimens.

I also found an isolated boulder which had a number of plants growing right out of the rock. When one sees plants growing out of rocky hillsides, one tends to assume they have pockets of moisture they are tapping in the hillsides. But there can't be any such pockets here; the arrow-leaf, Pleurocoronis pluriseta, and catclaw, Acacia greggii, are surviving on the moisture in their root system alone.

It was fun hiking the road. I'd been told the road was deeply rutted, and there is a sign warning people about the bad road, but the road is in great shape. It was easy hiking, even on the way down, and I never worried about my footing at all.

I found only two more species on the road, and another two species in another branch of Palm Wash at mile 1.4 on the road. Schad's slot canyon in that wash is indeed a beauty.

The road was nonetheless quite interesting to botanize. I was struck by how many hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens, plants had germinated, some of which were growing in what looked like very dry places.

It was also interesting that the first eight specimens of silver cholla, Opuntia echinocarpa, fairly widely spaced on the road, were dead. This area is at the dry limit of its range; see its distribution. This species seems to be pulling back to yet wetter locations due to the drought in the last ten years.

On the way back, I found a species I had missed before on the use trail from the parking lot, little-flowered heliotrope phacelia, Phacelia crenulata var. minutiflora. The size of its flowers were in marked contrast with its sister, var. ambigua.

This solved a problem Wayne Armstrong and I had with the determination for specimens in the Cottonwood area of Joshua Tree National Park last week. They all had white throats, which supposedly only went with var. minutiflora according to the Jepson Manual, but everything else went with var. ambigua. The plants here clearly respectively fit the two varieties in all characteristics, except that the var. ambigua specimen also had a white throat seen in the plants at Joshua Tree.

Interestingly, every picture of var. ambigua that I could find clearly showed white throats, and Munz even says that var. crenulata, and by inference var. ambigua, have white throats.

I'm pretty sure the source of the discrepancy is fresh plants versus dried plants. Phacelia corollas fade within days, so dried specimens have completely different colors than fresh specimens. Floras are keys to dried specimens, and I bet that dried specimens do show a color difference for the throat.


26 February 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Little Surprise Canyon (third hunt for Carlowrightia arizonica) and Smoke Tree Canyon (see Wayne's pictures, Flora of Little Surprise Canyon and Flora of Smoke Tree Canyon)

Wayne Armstrong and I met Chris Barber, a videographer for the San Diego Union-Tribune, at Little Surprise Canyon. Chris did his final filming for his paper's wildflower article on 1 March 2008. Lots of flowers had popped into bloom here, so Chris had lots to record.

Wayne and I then looked once again for the Carlowrightia arizonica, this time armed with a much more precise location from Mel Gabel. We were very sure we were extremely close to the exact location of that photo, but we couldn't exactly match it. This was quite frustrating, since it seems unlikely there has been much change in the plants or rocks in only four years. I took pictures from all the possible locations to try to pin it down further at home, and to see if Mel recognized any of the locations in the pictures.

We then did a quick survey of the species near the parking lot to resolve some of the species that could not be 100% identified in our previous survey. We also found several species not apparent last time, including ghost flower, Mohavea confertiflora.

We then drove to Smoke Tree Canyon, past the hills of the Borrego Badlands sickeningly green with the non-native Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii, in full flower. Fortunately, although there was plenty of Brassica tournefortii in the canyon, it has not yet overwhelmed that area.

Although there were not many native annuals visible along S22 to the west, this canyon had a good sprinkling of beautiful blooms. We started calling it Phacelia crenulata Canyon, since the blooms of this taxon were the best we've seen for it, and they were abundant (see Wayne's picture of one plant).

"Phacelia crenulata Canyon" was just an alternate name, since we've never seen smoke trees as abundant as here. Furthermore, we found numerous baby smoke trees. I could hardly believe that the first specimens we saw, with broad leaves and no thorns, could be smoke trees, but slightly older specimens removed all doubt.

The wash also had abundant poppies, with all three major desert species represented. Small-flowered poppy, Eschscholzia minutiflora, and Parish's poppy, Eschscholzia parishii, were found near S22. A short distance later, those species essentially disappeared and desert golden poppy, "Eschscholzia glyptosperma" [See note below], appeared. After another short distance, the first two species reappeared.

I was delighted to see "E. glyptosperma" [See note below] since this was the first time I had seen it in the Borrego Desert. I had seen it at Carey's Castle Wash in the Cottonwood Springs area of Joshua Tree National Park last week, but never before in the Borrego Desert. I was surprised when I got home and digitized my data to find that this species had never been recorded in San Diego County before! Somehow, I had the impression it was known to occur in several places in the San Diego County desert, but I can't find any evidence to support my impression. I'll return to voucher this species on my next trip.

[Note added 2 December 2008: Alas, when Wayne and I returned on 6 March to voucher this "Eschscholzia glyptosperma", we found that all ~50 of our plants, all along one stretch of the wash, had turned into E. parishii! We were dumbfounded, since they appeared different from the E. parishii plants before them in the wash, and after them in the wash, in that they had leafless, branchless stems.

Apparently, the first blooms of E. parishii, at least here, can at times appear on leafless, branchless stems, and so resemble E. glyptosperma. This may account for the occasional reports, like mine, that someone has seen E. glyptosperma in the county.

So Eschscholzia glyptosperma is still not in the county, and the prize for being the first to find this in San Diego County is still unclaimed.]

The plant pleasures are too numerous to list them all, but some of the rest were seeing a very healthy about-to-bloom sticky fagonia, Fagonia pachyacantha, and perhaps the most beautiful Cooper's broom-rape, Orobanche cooperi, that I had ever seen (see Wayne's picture). We were stunned to see the O. cooperi on the way back, since we had stopped in the exact location of that plant and must have nearly stepped on it while examining a nearby desert thornapple, Datura discolor, in bloom.

There were two main highlights of the trip in the field. First, Wayne found a single plant of broad-leaf gilia, Gilia latifolia, with a single bloom on it. I was ecstatic to see this, since I've known about this species for some time, but never found it. We found only one other specimen of this species here.

Second, I finally resolved the identity of a baby rosette I had seen last week in Palm Wash. Those rosettes were fairly abundant in the wash there, as well as here, and they reminded me of pebble pincushion, Chaenactis carphoclinia, or meally white pincushion, Chaenactis artemisiifolia. But when Wayne found some clear rosettes of C. carphoclinia in its standard hillside habitat, it was clear that this wasn't the determination. Almost at the very end of the hike, as we were returning to the car, one plant some distance away somehow caught our eye. When we investigated, we saw it had pendant buds (no flowers yet), and very clear stalked glands. Wayne and I both realized it had to be white tackstem, Calycoseris wrightii, a species I had also been dying to see for some time.

It was another good day.

At home later, it kept getting better. One of the comb-burs I had nabbed to key out turned out to be a species I had never seen before, broad-fruited combseed, Pectocarya platycarpa.


28 November 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Coachwhip Canyon (see Flora of Smoke Tree and Coachwhip Canyons)

This was my first desert trip of the season, being the first time it was too cold to hike at higher elevation. The timing was absolutely perfect, since it followed the first desert rain of the winter rainy season on 26-27 November 2008.

Surprisingly, this was a very rewarding trip in at least four respects, any of which would have been enough for a rewarding trip alone.

Storm totals in inches from the National Weather Service storm summary:

       BORREGO SPRINGS  0.35
         AGUA CALIENTE  0.52
            SAN FELIPE  0.51

Karyn Sauber reported that Canebrake got 0.55 inches.

The real time gauge at Ocotillo Wells never reported any rainfall, but that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't rain there.

James Dillane, Bill Sullivan and I arrived at Coachwhip Canyon / Ella Wash at about 10:45 a.m., and were immediately delighted to see that this area had received significant rain. James dug into the sand above the wash some distance from the road, and found it was moist for at least two inches. Rainfall of 0.3 inches would penetrate sand to 2.3 inches, using the formula for "Barmera Sand", and to 4.9 inches for "Winkie Sand".

Throughout our hike we found evidence of rain, including moist sandstone rock walls in places, "damp lines" on canyon walls several inches above the wash where water had recently flowed, some evidence of water flow in debris, and even a single pothole with water in it and some glistening water in one chokepoint in the upper main canyon.

It will be very interesting to see in the near future if this rain was enough to germinate the annuals there.

Although no plant species could have already responded to the rain of just a few days ago with new growth, we found six species in bloom, and two species with new growth.

Seven species were in bloom; see the list here.

In addition, one plant of a perennial grass, possibly an Aristida, was just about to bloom.

Species with new leaves included sweetbush, Bebbia juncea; and rambling milkweed, Sarcostemma hirtellum.

All of these were either still responding to a monsoonal storm from 8 August, or possibly 17 September, or were simply growing and/or flowering on their own schedule without needing to have any rainfall.

Some plants of small-seeded spurge, Chamaesyce polycarpa, had good-looking leaves, but they may just have been resuscitated by the rain or still in good shape from previous rain.

None of the ocotillo had any leaves in evidence, but we didn't look up close at many for signs of leaf buds.

Our first major goal for this trip was set by Bill: find the Asclepias albicans vouchered by Beauchamp in 1971. We also wanted to do a complete survey for both that species and A. subulata, to see if either were abundant enough to account for the naming of this canyon. Lindsay, in Anza Borrego A-Z, says that Coachwhip Canyon was named by superintendent William Kenyon in the late 1950s for the "number of buggy-whip like milk weeds (probably Asclepias albicans) in the canyon".

Lindsay's guess on the milkweed species was probably from Beauchamp's voucher, which was the only milkweed species vouchered from this canyon, and/or from the twice longer stems of A. albicans as compared to A. subulata.

In previous surveys, Bill had found two patches of A. subulata, one with ~4 plants in the named branch, and a single plant in the main branch of the canyon, but no A. albicans. The A. subulata didn't seem numerous enough to account for the rationale for the name of this canyon.

Our second major goal was to compile a plant checklist for this canyon.

It was a pure delight to wander around in this beautiful canyon. The canyon branches are almost entirely in the 4-5 mya Canebrake Conglomerate, which makes very scenic hills, and has interesting exposures.

Pix from the beginning of our hike, and from the top of the named canyon, are here.

Pix in this directory, and others, with numbers of 42xx, are from Bill Sullivan; you can easily recognize them by their high quality compared to my pix. (:-) Some pix are from James Dillane as well, either identified below or with "dillane" in the file name.

Remeika and Lindsay say the Canebrake Conglomerate is

made of locally-derived fragments of granite intrusives and metasediments that are typical of Anza-Borrego basement rock. Their presence indicates periods of active mountain building and erosion, with deposition of sedimentary formations (alluvial fans and floodplains) that extended out onto the low-lying Borrego Basin.

I.e., 5 mya, the Santa Rosa Mountains began to be weathered, with the resulting sand, gravel, cobbles and boulders being deposited on their southern flank here, forming a bajada. At that time, this location was similar to that of the present-day Altadena / Pasadena below the San Gabriel Mountains.

That bajada is now being dissected due to further erosion, creating the present-day scenery.

Although the southernmost part of the bajada has moved 16 miles westward due to displacement along the San Jacinto Fault, the fault here is south of S22, so these sediments remain close to their point of origin. However, they have been thrust to the north over the basement rock due to a recently re-activated 15-20 mya nearly-horizontal detachment fault. (Source: Remeika and Lindsay)

One of the interesting geologic features was the concretions we saw in numerous places. The concretions here are almost entirely 1-2 inch diameter spheres, but in other places nearby form fantastic shapes such as described here and here.

From Remeika and Lindsay:

They may form a mosaic on the bare ground, more firmly cemented than the surrounding parent rock, all of which is Diablo sandstone of ancestral Colorado River delta origin.

Concretions apparently result from the tendency for particles of like composition to concentrate around a common center, with a cementing agent of silica, iron oxide, or calcite. Being more firmly cemented than the enclosing sandstone, concretions weather out in myriad shapes. They appear as follows: in nodular patches; concentrated along bedding planes; protruding from weathered cliffsides; randomly distributed over mudhills; or perched on soft pedestals.

The geology map in Remeika and Lindsay doesn't show any Diablo Sandstone in Coachwhip Canyon; the closest is about 2.5 miles away. However, that is a very large-scale map; presumably these are small exposures of Diablo Sandstone found within the much larger area of Canebrake Conglomerate. If these rocks interfinger here, they would still have to be called just one name on their broad-scale geologic map. There is no doubt that we saw concretions only in sandstone, although in at least one case conglomerate was closely intermixed with the sandstone.

We first surveyed the named Coachwhip Canyon, which is the smaller western branch of the canyon. We quickly located Bill's first population of ~four plants of A. subulata in one spot (it helped to have Bill leading the way!), and were very pleased to find one of them in bloom.

We were even more pleased to find a male tarantula hanging out (literally!) in the top branches of a bush in the shade nearby. I can't recall ever seeing a tarantula off the ground. We were there for 20 minutes or so eating lunch, and the tarantula didn't move a bit during that time. It was alive, since it slowly moved one leg when it was touched. We speculated it was trying to dry itself out, since its little canyon, and home in the sand, was undoubtedly a bit on the damp side. If it was trying to warm up in the sun, it picked a bad location, since it was firmly entrenched in shade of the nearby hill until later in the afternoon.

Bill returned to this spot a few hours later, and found the tarantula had left the plant and was three-quarters of the way across the wash near a little cave in canyon wall.

When James and I returned soon afterward, we didn't see the tarantula, but we didn't look in that direction.

The tarantula was a male, as shown by the spurs on his front legs.

See pix of the tarantula, some of which show the spurs

As we continued up the named canyon branch (actually, it turned out we went up a more prominent eastern branch off the "dashed blue line = watercourse marking" canyon), we found three more occurrences of A. subulata, including one plant filled with bloom. These finds essentially answered the question of the origin of the name of this branch of the canyon, since this is a larger density than any of us have seen elsewhere. We've only seen one or two plants here and there elsewhere. A map of all the Asclepias specimens we found is here, unlabeled and labeled.

We went past the latitude of the upper end of the "blue line stream" shown on the topo map (in the neighboring canyon), and were able to ascend the canyon for a ways further before it got too difficult to go further. James explored a bit of the canyon away from its bottom, and immediately found some Mammillaria tetrancistra! To photograph it, he removed a stick obscuring part of the plant, and was flabbergasted when the entire plant pulled apart; it was dead.

This dead plant turned out to be one of the most fascinating Mammillarias we'd seen. We got a GREAT view of the individual spines, clearly revealing the multiple ranks of the white basal spines. And the plant was mostly hollow inside! Oddly, there was no sign of the death cause on the outside of the plant, which looked perfectly normal. See pix.

A friend and I have been having a fascinating discussion about Mammillarias in general. Some species retain their fruit inside their stems the entire time the plant is alive, releasing their seeds only when the plant dies. It was clear from this dead plant what an effective strategy that is. Not only do some seeds get to grow in the same favorable location where the mother plant grew, without competing with Mom, but others get easily dispersed by the spines still attached to the seeds in the tubercles.

I nabbed a few tubercles and will examine them for seeds. Bill nabbed some to make the first M. tetrancistra voucher from the Borrego Desert. (We've seen a few M.t. elsewhere in the Borrego Desert, but none have been vouchered before.) We left the others in case they did have seeds in them.

There were about 4 other live plants in this area.

While Bill and I were photographing the Mammillaria, and the vistas from this point, James scampered like a mountain goat from the ridge on the east to the ridge on the west, looking down into the neighboring canyons. (;-)

As we headed back down the canyon, the Park Airplane Ranger appeared overhead, and proceeded to circle over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over us. It was novel at first, but the noise quickly became annoying. She settled down and appeared to be circling a canyon to our east, with us on the edge of her circling.

We learned later from a car ranger heading up this canyon that two hikers had been reported missing, so maybe the Airplane Ranger was searching for them. Also, we later found some car campers in the upper part of the main canyon, with a wood fire, so she possibly was checking that fire out.

Ranger enforcement was amazingly apparent here. On our way home, a third ranger had pulled over an off-road vehicle near Rockhouse Road.

Bill called it a day at this point, wanting to get home by dark. James and I explored up what we thought was a side branch on the west of the named canyon, but it turned out to be the "blue line" canyon on the map. We found nothing new.

We returned to the lower junction of the canyons, and went up the main branch. We picked up only five species, and found a single additional Asclepias subulata, just before we reached the harder to negotiate upper part of the main canyon.

We checked that Asclepias pretty closely, since when we first saw it we thought it might be the sought-after A. albicans. The plant was 6 feet high, which seemed promising, but all nodes had just two leaves, and there were many stems from base.

We found a large number of Xylorhiza orcuttii and Atriplex hymenelytra in this canyon, species that are fairly rare most other places. I'd have named this branch of the canyon for those two species. (;-)

The upper part of the canyon looked very interesting, since the habitat was different from any habitat we had seen earlier. In particular, it was much rockier, the habitat we knew was preferred by Asclepias albicans. Here is a view heading up the canyon.

Although it was time to turn back, we pressed ahead a bit. We immediately found a very interesting "shelf" of another milkweed species, Sarcostemma hirtellum:

That of course encouraged us to go a bit farther, even though it was already getting dark. It was 4:20 p.m., sunset was at 4:40 p.m., and we were over a mile away from the car, in a slow-going canyon. We rounded the next bend, and by golly, there it was, the Asclepias albicans we had been seeking, high above our head.

The next series of pix shows the two plants there:

Our first sighting of the plants, which were obvious to the eye, but not to the camera:

3 x telephoto view:

closer shot one and two.

Although we couldn't get up close and personal to these plants, there was no doubt in our mind about the id. One of these plants was at least 12 feet tall, twice the height of the A. subulata below; it had few stems from base; and it was growing in rocks.

James thought he could get to the plant, but we were both sure it wasn't necessary. But I did develop a sudden respect for Beauchamp's field ability, if this is the plant he vouchered. (;-)

At this point, James pressed on ahead to see more of the upper canyon. I turned around, since I knew I'd be slower than James going down the ~5 places where I had to stop and figure out just how I was going to get up those boulders in the bottom of the canyon. Oddly, this turned out to be one of the few places where going down was easier than going up, since one could just side on the uppermost boulder and slide down. Going up, the boulders stuck out at the top at these drops, so one had to be careful not to bang one's knees up on the climb up.

We also found some unusual spherical scat piles in this upper canyon. Rabbit and bighorn sheep pellets are usually found scattered on the ground; we'd never seen such scat piles before. A web search quickly found the pooper:

Rabbits produce two types of droppings and they are very different. The one most often seen is the fecal dropping. These are the hard round ones.

The other type of dropping is known as a cecotrope. Sometimes it is referred to as the night droppings. They actually resemble a small cluster of grapes. In the picture at the right you can see their size in comparison to regular droppings. Unlike fecal droppings these droppings are soft.

Cecotropes are produced in the cecum which is a part of the rabbits digestive system. Inside the cecum are bacterias that are essential nutrients to the rabbit. It is believed that the cecotropes can protect the rabbit from harmful pathogens.

The rabbit will eat them as they are leaving their body. Generally they do this late at night or in the early morning hours. That is why they are sometimes called night droppings

As usual, we made it back to the car with the last drop of sunlight. The light is always wonderful at this time of day. James was able to capture some of the magic of this moment here.

I was very surprised that a mosquito landed on me the second I paused by the car, so I dove into the car.

What a trip! A tarantula hanging out in the end branches of a bush; a Mammillaria at the end of its life that opened itself to us; finding out that the name of Coachwhip Canyon was from Asclepias subulata; concretions; and finding an elusive voucher of Asclepias albicans, all in a beautiful canyon at an interesting time of year. Trips don't get any better than that!


4 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Ella Wash, Short Wash, Vista del Malpais Wash, Smoke Tree Wash (see Flora of Borrego Badlands)

I made it! It always surprises me when I accomplish a fairly lengthy hike while botanizing intensely, especially the first time I botanize a given route.

I did the entire 8.0 mile loop in just 9.0 miles of actual walking according to the GPS. (;-)

The extra mileage was mostly from my sometimes zig-zagging through my route. I didn't walk a direct line along the route; I deviated whenever I saw something interesting off to the side, or when I just wanted to sample a different side of the wash. I backtracked a few times as well.

But now a small part of me wishes I had not gone so far on this mostly sandy walk, since I have a small blister on the big pad of my right foot. It looks like I'll have to stay off sand for my next hike.

A small blister is a small price to pay for this trip. This entire trip was lovely; badlands are such interesting places! I loved hiking through such a topographically-interesting area, and I really enjoyed making it to the Vista del Malpais.

On my drive in along Montezuma Grade, only a few percent of the ocotillos had any leaves. On my hike, this percentage seemed to hold as well. Most ocotillos still looked dead; I only hope they aren't dead. Actually, it amazes me that these plants can respond so well to only ~0.3 inch of rain.

The ones in leaf had leaves in various stages. I measured the leaves on one ocotillo; they were 10-15 mm long. I photographed two other plants; one was in fairly full leaf, with leaves 25 mm, and another had leaves just emerging, only 10 mm long, in small clusters that hardly covered 10% of the surface area of the stem.

The Jepson Manual says that the primary leaves are 10-50 cm long. Maybe the leaf length depends on how much rainfall each plant received. The most fully-leafed out plants were right next to the road, where they received extra water. The measurements above come from places well away from the road.

I stopped first at Smoke Tree Wash, because I wanted to check the dead white tackstem, Calycoseris wrightii, found in abundance in that canyon. I had been surprised when the dead annual Asteraceae in Coachwhip Canyon turned out not to be that species. In Smoke Tree, I found a specimen on the north side of S22 right by the road, and it clearly still had the "tack-shaped glands" still present on the dead stems, still with a tack-shape.

My eye was then caught by a sweetbush, Bebbia juncea, in bloom on the south side of S22. What really struck me was the leaves; they looked just like the leaves of cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola. But they had no trace of a cheese smell.

I looked around the base of the plant to see if there were plants of both species growing there intertwined, but it sure looked to me at the time like all the stems were coming from the same plant. However, since there were many stems from base, I couldn't tell for sure how many plants there were here.

Pix of this plant, with the flower heads of Bebbia circled and uncircled.

I nabbed a sample of its leaves, then went across the highway and nabbed the leaves from what I was pretty sure was a cheesebush, which had no Bebbia flowers on it. I tried to verify the odor from the leaves, but I couldn't detect any cheese odor on these leaves either. The second plant is shown here:

In the field, I saw a difference between these two plants in the clustering of the leaves.

Fortunately, I took the samples home, and both samples are the same, cheesebush. (;-) The difference in clustering was just due to the age of the young twig. The leaves are identical to those in online pix of cheesebush, with margins that are rolled upward, and with stems that are striate in all cases. The samples don't look like Bebbia.

The interesting thing amidst all this confusion in the field is the realization that the new growth of cheesebush doesn't smell like cheese. Instead, it has a "sweet smell" that neither my wife or I could characterize further. Don't that beat all!

Continuing my confusion in the field, hours later, in Short Wash, I came across a specimen I couldn't recognize. It looked like cheesebush but the leaves didn't smell right; they had a strong "medicinal sweet" smell when broken. It sure didn't look like Bebbia. I didn't connect this with the previous cheesebush, since I hadn't broken those leaves, only tried to get the "cheese" odor by rubbing the leaves. Now I understand that this was indeed a cheesebush.

It is almost unbelievable how many ways there are to be fooled by plants. (;-)

I drove in my car to Ella Wash, but found it was just a stone's throw away, so turned around and parked at Smoke Tree, where the car could be in the shade of a Smoke Tree.

As I was walking to Ella Wash along S22, there was a man collecting cans along the road. I was dumbfounded to meet someone out in the middle of nowhere collecting cans! He was pleasant and informative. He told me he had been doing this for several years. The first year he picked up something like 1400 cans (all numbers are from my imperfect memory). He said that some of those cans weren't even recognizable. After that, the numbers came down. He was up to something like 400 cans this year.

I'm amazed so many turkeys toss their recyclable cans onto the highway. (:-(

The first part of the hike is not in the badlands, but in a typical desert wash in a mountain bajada, with the typical species for that environment.

The first badlands aren't encountered until near the bottom of Ella Wash, and things change immediately, both the topography and plants, controlled by the bedrock.

Two saltbushes - four wing saltbush, Atriplex canescens, and desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, were encountered for the first time immediately on entering the badlands, and those two species were dominants throughout the Badlands. I've never seen this many desert holly in so many places except at Death Valley. Of course, it is no surprise this species is common in both places, since the lake-bed sediments are essentially the same near Badwater as those near the Salton Sea.

These two species were accompanied in places by tons of desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum, which is the only thing that grows in many flattish areas of the mudstones except for a handful of fields of devil's spineflower, Chorizanthe rigida. I've never seen so many C. rigida plants, and never so dense as these populations.

The sides of the washes in the Badlands were lined in places by alkali goldenbush, Isocoma acradenia, many of which were in bloom, and by burroweed, Ambrosia dumosa.

These species are all able to tolerate alkaline soils, with lots of salts in them, from the mudstones.

Much of the surface area of the Badlands, especially on vertical slopes, had no vegetation at all.

The mudstones had some very large (badger-sized) and deep holes, some four feet off the ground. I don't know whether these were formed geologically, or from animals.

I found no Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, at all, which was quite surprising. As a result, of course, I found no Pilostyles.

Ten species were in bloom; see the list here.

Some of the wire-lettuce, Stephanomeria pauciflora, were honking plants, chest-high and as wide, with a number of flowers on each one.

One plant of desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra, was in bud.

Four wing saltbush, Atriplex canescens, was in beautiful seed in many places. It was gorgeous at times, with the entire bush yellow-gold from the seed bracts. And of course some of the silver / golden chollas, Opuntia echinocarpa, were gorgeous as well with their dense multicolored spines.

There were tons of Encelia frutescens, most of which were just growing their leaves, which makes them easy to distinguish from E. farinosa. One of the plants was blooming, which made it even easier. (;-)

But better yet, I saw it could be identified by its dead inflorescences alone, in two ways (see pix). First, I totally forgot that the heads of E. frutescens were solitary, which immediately distinguishes them from the panicled heads of E. farinosa. Second, the dead seedheads of E. frutescens remain erect, with prominent spreading phyllaries, whereas those of E. farinosa often curve over at the tips of their peduncles and become insignificant with their phyllaries closed up. Here are pix of these two species here:

I found an interesting chain of alkali goldenbush, Isocoma acradenia. See these two pix, one from each end of the chain.

These sure look rhizomed, don't they? (;-) I never knew Isocoma were sometimes rhizomed, but it makes perfect sense for plants that grow in wet places:

It is possible that these came from seeds that were uniformly deposited along a small stream within the wash, whose pattern in the sand you can see at one end of the chain. However, I strongly doubt the plants could be so uniformly spaced if they were seedlings.

The Vista del Malpais looked very much like Fonts Point, but with the advantage that one can look to the west and see Fonts Point. (;-)

On the way back in Short Wash, I came across some unusual "ground bubbles", where it looked like a volcano, or mud pot, was about to erupt. Pix of some of them are here (#1-5):

I dug up one of them, but there was nothing unusual below the surface (photograph at the link above). In a later spot, pix 8 and 9 at the link above, I found some intact mudstones sitting on the wash, so I then suspected these "ground bubbles" were just the last stage in their disintegration.

For the hike back up Smoke Tree Wash from Palo Verde Wash, I was very glad to be navigating by GPS. Unlike the other washes, there was no sign for Smoke Tree (since it is not open to vehicles). Further, Bill Sullivan says Smoke Tree Wash is more like an alluvial fan than a wash when it dumps into Palo Verde Wash.

Without my GPS, I would have had not much confidence I was actually hiking in Smoke Tree Wash at this point, and would have had to spend some quality time with the topo map to pick out my route. Fortunately, I had noticed the last crop of mudstones in Ella Wash, some distinctive elongated hills, so when I passed those on my right I knew I was headed in the right direction.

In Smoke Tree Wash, I photographed one poor Acacia greggii that was killed by its huge mistletoe contingent, which was all that was visible for most of the plant.

I was very surprised to see no seedlings until the very end of my trip, where I saw them in only three places. Two of those places had seedlings of Asian mustard, Brassica tournefortii, coming up in those weird circular dense clumps. I pulled them all out.

See clumps from last year, as well as later stages of those clumps.

Can anyone explain to me how those linear seedpods produce that?? My only thought is that water flow in the wash concentrates them. Of course, an individual B.t. plant can produce close to a thousand seeds, so water flow might well do that.

The third place had Cryptantha seedlings, only in a single area of perhaps a foot long. Those seeds were not in a tight cluster, and only weakly clumped. They were only along the rim of a half circle, in ~7 decently-separated clumps.

Apparently everywhere along my route got some rain from last week's storm. I checked the moisture at Vista del Malpais; the sand was wet just under the surface. Short Wash also had patches in shade that were still wet.

I thought I was going to get back a half hour before daylight, but I slowed down near the end since my body was telling me that it would have preferred a hike that was a mile or two shorter. (;-) That is also where I found the seedlings, and spent some time with them.

As a result, I got to my car 10 minutes before sunset, another day well-used. (;-)


9 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Clark Valley (see Flora of Clark Valley)

I was very excited about doing my first botanical survey of the Clark Lake area, for two reasons.

First, this is a relatively pristine area that is presumably somewhat similar to what the Borrego Valley looked like before humans destroyed most of the natural areas there. I've always wondered what the Borrego Valley would have looked like pre-human disturbance. Although Clark Valley was used for cattle ranching by the Clarks, that at least is a much less severe disturbance than farming or bulldozing the land.

Second, one of our goals was to look for the northernmost population of Elephant Trees, Bursera microphylla, found there by Mark Jorgensen.

I met Mike Crouse at the Visitor Center at 10:15 a.m., and we carpooled to the beginning of our survey route on Rockhouse Canyon Road.

See the map of our route (unlabeled version). The red line with directional arrows shows our route.

The only information about the location of the elephant trees is that they were somewhere from "Clark Well toward Barton Canyon". A line in the map connects Clark Well with the head of Barton Canyon.

The green dashed line indicates a possible route for my next trip, starting near Clark Lake.

Our intent was to take the "Jeep Road" indicated on the map to get as close to Clark Well as we could before beginning our hike. Unfortunately, no such Jeep Road exists at that location. We had a GPS point for its beginning, and couldn't find it. Our hiking route crossed that "Jeep Road" in four places, and we didn't see it.

This is the second "Jeep Road" on a topo map I've come across in the last month for which there is no trace on the ground; the other was on the PCT near Sagebrush Flat. I'm now becoming deeply suspicious about the accuracy of "Jeep Roads" or "4 WD trails" on the topo maps.

We did encounter a road, ~0.3? mile south of where that "Jeep Road" meets Rockhouse Canyon Road, that presumably leads to the private residences near Clark Well; it had a giant tire on its side blocking the middle of it, and a sign saying "Authorized vehicles only". I suspect that very long ago, someone created a new road that cut off the large excursion north of the "Jeep Road" to give a more direct route to the private residences.

In fact, looking at Google satellite maps, that seems to be precisely what happened. When I turn off the "labels", the beginning part of the "Jeep Road" isn't visible at all in the satellite photo, and the new road cuts off the extra length of the "Jeep Road".

After realizing the "Jeep Road" didn't exist, we drove to a point on Rockhouse Canyon Road just a bit north of the "Jeep Road", and proceeded to compile a plant checklist for our route toward the Santa Rosa Mountains. We knew this would be non-optimal for surveying for the elephant trees, but we had fun looking for them on the hillsides in the distance anyway.

Clark Valley is very deceptive! Where we parked, it seemed one monotonous flat area, with a uniform habitat except for the Dry Lake, and a few patches of mesquite-covered low sand dune areas 1.3 miles north of the dry lake. However, we went through six distinct areas on our trip! Each of those areas gave us a set of new species not seen before on our trip.

See the Google satellite map showing our route and the different habitats (unlabeled map).

The areas we encountered are:

Interestingly, we saw no evidence in the plant species we encountered of the very prominent color change in the satellite map from the white-gray area to the blue-gray area. In contrast, the abrupt boundary at the brownish area just beyond the farthest extent of our route, which is the alluvial fan of the mountains, was very noticeable in the field in all respects.

The change in color from white-gray to blue-gray is apparently due to the source of the rocks on the valley floor, and/or the depositional environment of the streams in the two places. The white-gray rocks are along drainages from upper Clark Valley to the northwest. The blue-gray rocks are from drainages in the local Santa Rosa Mountains to the northeast.

From one of the pix linked below, it looks like the main reason for the blue-gray color is the absence of finer, lighter-color sand particles. The streams coming off the alluvial fan may be moving too quickly to deposit their sand here, or they may not contain any sand particles, due to their closeness to the source of the material.

We spent most of the day hiking toward the largest alluvial fan at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. As we got closer, we surveyed the area with binocs. But all we saw were one zillion ocotillos on the alluvial slopes, a few catclaw Acacias, and a smattering of what probably were pygmy-cedar, Peucephyllum schottii, on the more vertical cliffs. This wasn't surprising, since we knew we were well to the northwest of the reported location of the elephant trees.

We were the only people in this area as far as we could see. Mike commented numerous times about how quiet the area was. We saw no human footprints, or animal trails, except in the washes, where there was an abundance of animal tracks.

Mike knows a lot about tracking, and I was happy to pick up several tidbits from him during our hike. From my memory, we saw tracks of many coyotes, some bobcat tracks, one bighorn sheep, a few kangaroo rats, and possibly a fox.

We saw scat of coyotes, that often contained some big seeds that looked undigested, and bobcat scat. Neither of us recognized the big seeds, but Mike later discovered that they had to be date palms. Since there are no native date palms here, these coyotes were getting them from the groves in Borrego Springs!

The sandy areas were filled with extensive condo systems of holes. We spent the longest time looking for tracks near the holes, and coming up empty. See the pix of one of the more extensive sets of holes and another.

Finally, near the end of the day, we saw tracks at a burrow entrance, those of a kangaroo rat. The openings were 15 cm by 15 cm, semicircular with the flat part on the bottom, which is the largest given on this page:

Mike made an interesting discovery in one of the holes that happened to be so aligned that the sun was shining directly in it. The tunnel turned 90 degrees after about a foot!

Very surprisingly, Mike pulled out a dead mouse from under the only specimen of Chamaesyce polycarpa we saw. The mouse looked untouched except that it was flattened a bit. The flattening could have come simply from it being dead for a day or so. Ants had just gotten to it, but had not yet changed the corpse.

I took a picture of the mouse, and Jane Strong was able to identify it as a Peromyscus species. She speculated that a snake had killed this mouse, but the mouse had run too far from the snake before it died for the snake to successfully locate it.

The harvester ant mounds were gigantic here, containing almost entirely Cryptantha calyces. I speculated that the 1-2 mm nutlets might be the food of last resort, and essentially the only food crop available to the ants at this time of year in this location. However, ants must like the seeds, since Jaeger comments in Desert Wildflowers that when the nutlets of Cryptantha angustifolia "are ripening, numerous black harvest ants may be seen busily gathering them in quantity" (p.215). C.a. is one of the most common desert species of Cryptantha.

We had one of those wonderful moments where Mike asked me "Had I ever seen any pottery shards?". I answered "no", and within a minute or so, we came across some pottery shards! We left them in place, and recorded the GPS position.

Btw, this is an example of the blue-gray soil surface seen on the satellite map. It looks like the main reason for the color is the absence of finer sand particles.

Oddly, every dune primrose we saw had managed to successfully set seeds, many of them. Yet in the same places, every desert dicoria looked like its axillary flowers were aborted, and didn't produce seeds. It is very unusual for an annual not to make it to seed. However, I'm not entirely sure those annuals were dead, even though every leaf was dead except possibly for the very small ones at the very tops of the stems. These plants might revive with some significant rain and end up seeding after all. Also, maybe those "aborted flowers" actually contained a few seeds.

One of the highlights of the day was when Mike spotted some "frozen raindrops" in the dried mud in a wash! I've seen lots of curling mud flats, but never recall seeing one with raindrops visible in them (see another picture).

In fact, I think I've seen more fossil raindrops, from hundreds of million years ago, than I have "frozen raindrops"! Note how the smaller raindrops create much shallower craters.

One of the ocotillos at the bottom of the bajada was just beginning to grow its leaves. At the same spot, baby annuals of phacelia and Cryptantha were growing in a shady spot below the bank of a wash. Otherwise, essentially the only annuals we saw were tons and tons of Brassica tournefortii. (:-(

We saw two interesting beetles, of the same species, that were different from the ones we saw on Alcoholic Pass trips last year, looking very spider-like. One played dead when it got under the very tiny shade of a twig or exposed root just off the ground, folding its legs under it when we lightly touched it.

We saw only two plants in bloom total, a creosote bush and a Bebbia.

This is clearly an interesting place, and there are still elephant trees to find. I plan on returning here for my next trip, probably on Saturday. This time, I'll start from the lake itself, since the dry lake surface will give good hiking speed, and allow me to quickly head to the location of interest for the elephant trees.


12 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Clark Valley, Clark Lake (see Flora of Clark Valley)

Mike Crouse and I carpooled from I-15/SR76 and arrived at the Visitor Center at 10:10 a.m. After spending some time at the Visitor Center, we headed to Clark Lake.

This time, instead of taking Rockhouse Canyon Road past Clark (Dry) Lake, we took the road that used to traverse the eastern side of the Lake. That road is now closed at the lake, so we parked at the edge of the lake, and began our survey.

We didn't have to spend very long near the beginning of our route; there were just 11 species in the vicinity of the car. We walked the continuation of the road to get onto the lake bed, and were pleased to come across bush seepweed, Suaeda moquinii. I had only seen this at Moonlight Canyon at Agua Caliente County Park before.

Once on the lake bed, we surveyed the slopes of the Santa Rosa Mountains, and picked what we thought was an interesting area to head to. I thought I even saw one interesting candidate for an elephant tree there, but it turned out to be rocks and shadows as we got closer.

A map of our route is here, with red showing our route on 12/9 and blue our route on 12/12:

You can see we've nicely managed to completely surround the desired path for the elephant trees, but not actually ever be on it! (;-)

It was fascinating walking across the dry lake bed. I've walked on several dry lake beds before, but this is the first time I've ever surveyed the species in such an area.

Most of the lake bed was devoid of any plants at all. Several different conditions here apparently don't allow plants to become established. First, the surface in many places is fine clay, which swells when wet and cracks when dry. This movement doesn't make many plant roots happy. Second, the soil in most places has extremely high salinity, further stressing any plants that might germinate here, and perhaps even preventing germination of most seeds.

This situation is interesting, since this is an infrequent vernal pool, and has the usual assortment of branchiopods, including representatives of fairy and/or brine shrimp, clam shrimp and tadpole shrimp. So it a vernal pool only for animal life, not plant life.

Instead of the normal vernal pool plant life, it has the saline-tolerant shrub plant species in areas next to the clay / salt pan. Some of those may in fact have gotten started in the clay / salt pan, but then accumulated wind-blown sand to eliminate the clay pan on the surface next to them.

In many places, the ground surface is composed of small polygonal ridges that probably result from heaving when the ground is wet and the clay particles swell. Often we'd see fresh-looking salt deposits on the surface in the middle of these polygonal ridges. These deposits may have come from the 0.3 inches of rain from a week or two ago.

Some places had a crust of dried clay right next to salt pinnacles similar to those of the Devils Golf Course in Badwater at Death Valley;

Btw, this area gets good winds, so it might be interesting to put some good-sized rocks on this playa and see if they move and produce tracks when the playa is wet, just like the rocks at the Racetrack at Death Valley. (;-)

We would have made good time walking across the lake bed, except that there were interesting remnants of its use as a gunnery range from WWII. The training was with "small munitions including 0.30 and 0.50 caliber machine guns, 2.75 inch practice rockets and 1.5 pound practice bombs" (Lindsay, p. 115).

We came across a number of 0.50 caliber bullets and cases. Mike restored one bullet to a nearby case. For comparison, see 0.50"/90 (12.7 mm) M2 Browning MG and 0.50"/90 (12.7 mm) M2 Browning MG Pictures.

We also found some clip-like objects we didn't recognize, which I didn't photograph, but I'm now pretty sure they were the links holding the bullets together in the ammunition belt.

We also found remnants of the practice rockets and/or bombs. I'm not sure what these objects were, but they resemble the "four flip-out fins" on this rocket.

There were a number of mesquite plants at the edge of the playa. One group of them were rich with animal sign, including those of rabbits and coyotes. All the mesquite were trimmed at rabbit-level back to the main twigs.

One of the species I was hoping to see here was iodine-bush, Allenrolfea occidentalis, which I had never seen before. It had been documented from Clark Lake, but I began to be worried it might be present only along Rockhouse Road, and hence our route was missing it. But the next thing we saw were zillions of Allenrolfea - yay! (;-)

This made my day right here, even if we found nothing else.

These are beautiful plants, with weird jointed stems, very much resembling a shrubby pickleweed, Salicornia, which appears right next to it in the JM key. You can easily pick them out in a distance from the other two common species here (Atriplex canescens and Suaeda moquinii) by their light green (or yellow-green) color.

Some patches were perhaps 1/4 dead in their south-facing portion (each patch forms a hill due to wind-blown sand collecting at their base).

Interestingly, the stems have the faint odor of dead fish. (;-)

Btw, Mr. Allenrolfia was actually Robert Allen Rolfe, an English botanist, 1855-1921. I wonder why this genus was named Allenrolfia instead of robertrolfia (or worse, robertallenrolfia!).

We kept heading for the area we had picked out in the distance, but diverted north a bit to go around a high ridge between Clark Lake and Little Clark Lake.

We almost immediately entered the recent sedimentary beds, which here were tilted almost at 90 degrees and were not eroded into Badlands. I had seen what looked like exposed tilted formations on the Google satellite map, and was pleased to find this was the source.

There was almost no animal life in these sedimentary beds until we encountered a sandy area, which was booming with tracks of rats and birds. Up to that point, we had not even seen a bird or an insect except for a dragonfly (or similar flying insect).

We found a kangaroo rat burrow that had abundant clear tracks outside of it.

We soon found one of the beetles we saw last time that play dead when approached.

In the sandy areas in these beds, we encountered quite a bit of a dead Asteraceae that was probably hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens, or desert sunflower, Helianthus niveus.

We also found a handful of blooming alkali goldenbush, Isocoma acradenia, and quite a bit (~30 plants in 5 locations) of what is probably the same Astragalus James Dillane found in Coachwhip Canyon, Astragalus crotalariae, Salton milk-vetch. On the way back, we found a single specimen of a different, much taller Astragalus.

We left the sedimentary beds, and began to pick up all the usual alluvial fan suspects, with the bonus of a single plant of rush milkweed, Asclepias subulata. This plant had tons of dead stems lying on the ground, as well as its usual complement of live stems.

We found some unusual growths on big galleta.

We began heading up a wash in the alluvial fan, getting to our turn-around point around 3:30 p.m. We spent some time surveying the slopes, cliffs and ridges for potential elephant trees, without finding any.

We did see an ultralight plane skirting the edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We were amazed to see him head over a saddle in the ridgeline, since if he had to put down in that remote area, it would be either a difficult rescue, or a long walk back.

On our way back, we went over the top of the ridge between the two Lakes, which was a good choice. We finally encountered about 15 plants of Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, all of which looked either completely dormant, or dead. No Pilostyles was on them.

Oddly, despite all this saline environment, we encountered only a single depauperate nearly-dead-looking specimen of desert holly, Atriplex hymenelytra.


19 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Arroyo Salado, 17 Palms, Una Palma, Five Palms

Mike Crouse and I left the I-15 / SR76 Park and Ride at around 8:45, and drove through a winter wonderland here in southern California. (;-)

The pattern of snow on Palomar Mountain seemed odd. There was a large amount of snow on some peaks, but no apparent snow on other peaks that appeared to be at the same elevation.

Mist was rising from the very calm surface of Lake Henshaw, and the surrounding mountains were covered by snow. Even Toro Peak didn't stand out from the much lower nearer peaks, since they all had copious amounts of snow.

On S22, it looked like snow was soon going to be at car level and just ahead, and by golly, we soon found ourselves in snow, and not just trace amounts. The pile by the side of the road was several feet high. It was covered by ice-like snow, since the surface melted the previous day and refroze that night.

The road had ice on it, too, in spots, so we slowed down to avoid any unpleasant surprises on our way to Borrego Springs.

Going down Montezuma grade was an amazing sight. The Gander's chollas, Opuntia ganderi, in upper Culp Valley were surrounded by snow! Snow and cactus in the same picture. (;-)

The snow ended on the low side of Culp Valley, but was visible on all the surrounding peaks.

The skyline from Borrego Springs is wildly different when the San Ysidro and Santa Rosa Mountains have snow on them.

As we drove to Arroyo Salado, the roadside was green from the mostly non-native annuals that had sprouted there. Surprisingly, though, many places looked no different than before the rain, but they were. Everything was wet, and the dirt roads and arroyos had mud instead of sand. Many places did have puddles of standing water. Very soon everyplace should explode with baby annuals and perennials.

We went down Rockhouse Canyon Road to get a good view of Clark Lake, which had standing water in it that mostly just gave it a muddy look. But in binocs we could see reflections of the surroundings in the water. Even though Rockhouse Canyon Road, and most of the nearby surroundings looked the same as always from the car, when I got out and checked the road surface by hand, it was wet.

We drove into the Arroyo Salado, where there was one person camped in the primitive campground next to S22. Beyond the campground, there were no car tracks; we were the first ones on this road since the rain.

When the road joined the wash, all remnants of the road were gone! It was weird to be driving in a place that appeared to have never been driven on before. We had no clue where the usual route was, and had to make it up as we went along.

On the drive in the wash, we saw one specimen of Asclepias albicans in beautiful full bloom! It had mostly opposite leaves in its lower nodes, but clear whorled leaves in the uppermost nodes.

We drove to about one mile from 17 Palms, where it wasn't clear at all what the usual car route was. This turned out to be a perfect place to begin hiking, since we had time to do Schad's two mile Palm Loop, as well as explore the wash down to 17 Palms.

The fresh surfaces were a tracker's dream, and Mike was busy looking for tracks. Although we came across a number of tracks, most areas had no tracks at all, presumably because the animals are well-spaced in such demanding areas.

We saw tracks of rabbits, coyotes, and one fox. We saw numerous "deer tracks" as well, caused by water flowing around a piece of gravel, excavating two depressions that looked identical to deer tracks.

We also found a few spots with "frozen raindrops". Conditions that create these must be rare, since we found huge areas that were completely smooth, and only those few spots with the frozen raindrops. Perhaps the flowing water must retreat a bit, accompanied soon afterward by the last few raindrops of the storm, to produce these frozen raindrops.

At 17 palms, Mike found rabbit tracks spaced three rabbit body lengths apart. I didn't believe these far-apart tracks could be such a small creature it until we later saw a rabbit running from us creating the same track spacing!

At 17 Palms, there were coyote tracks right next to the rabbit tracks, so they may have been connected. However, we didn't see any obvious signs of a chase coming to a halt with a flurry of footprints.

From near 17 Palms, I counted 17(!) palms, by counting the visible tall heads. In 17 Palms, Mike counted the trunks, and came up with 21 trunks.

If you've ever read a "survival in the desert" article, you know they all talk about finding water in the desert by digging down in a sandy wash until water appears. Well, the star animal sign of the day was a puddle of water in a hole in a wash that a coyote had very recently excavated. The hole had coyote prints around it, and very wet sand that Mike deduced had been thrown out very recently, since the sand was still wet. Neither of us had ever seen such an excavation before!

At the beginning of the trip, we found the usual plant suspects, plus Xylorhiza orcuttii. The surprises began just before we hit the first palms, finding Lycium brevipes, some even with fruit.

At 17 palms, in addition to picking up Washingtonia filifera, we found Suaeda moquinii; saltgrass; and Lycium brevipes, the latter in prolific bloom! This Lycium turned out to be identical-looking to the plant we'd found in the northeast corner of the county. This lead to my spending a day investigating the Lycium species found in the desert of San Diego County, and putting the info online.

We also found the only patch of good-looking Emory's indigo-bush, Psorothamnus emoryi, with its blooms just starting. We looked hard for pilostyles, to no avail.

That was it for the species list at this Palm Oasis, though. I was surprised not to find much evidence of moisture there at all, and to find so few species. The moisture is clearly deep, benefiting only deeply-rooted species.

From 17 Palms, we began the circular route outlined by Schad going to Cut Across Trail, then back to Una Palma and Seven Palms.

We were a bit worried about how suitable Schad's route was for us today, just after two inches of rain. We were in the Badlands, with plenty of a Mud Hill Formation. Those clay hills had swelled significantly, and had turned into a morass of mud. These Mud Hills must creep downhill significantly every time they get wet!

We had to be quite careful walking to avoid any area of mud. We didn't dare go into those mud hills, since we would have sank up to our knees or more, and probably ended up looking like we had just come through the Camp Pendleton mud run.

Fortunately, most of the route skirted the mud hills, and was in a consolidated alluvium, a much more pleasant place to walk then. Even in the mud hills, the washes provided firm footing, and we mostly followed washes to the Cut Across Trail.

On our way down to the Cut Across Trail, we came across two plants of desert lily, , that had just begun to grow. One plant had a single small leaf, looking almost like a blue dicks, so we weren't 100% positive about the id. We then found a nearby plant that had two typical bigger leaves in addition to its first atypical leaf.

On our trip, most areas still had no annual germination, but it was too early to expect much so soon after the rain. This area has very few Brassica tournefortii so far, but we found ~20 patches of seedlings up, most of which had germinated from the November rain. We eliminated all patches we could see, since a simple kick step usually did the trick. (;-) Several areas that had wet mud at the surface had considerable germination of native annuals.

Just before we got to the Cut Across Trail, I was completely and utterly shocked to comes across two bushes of Xylorhiza orcuttii that each had one flower! This was the star flower of the day, since these are honking blooms, which would be entirely at home in a prize-winning garden bed. The bushes otherwise had a bunch of dead flowers from the two previous bloom seasons, and were just leafing out now. The flowers we saw must have been buds that went into suspended animation last spring, and were revived by the recent rain.

The cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola, in the washes had a ton of new growth, which still smelled sweet, without a trace of cheese. We only came across two Bebbia plants, but one had already grown a few new leaves.

On the Cut Across Trail, we quickly saw the Una Palma standing tall and proud, as promised by Schad. Schad said to head directly for it, but we couldn't do that due to the Mud Hills we would have had to pass over. We kept going, and luckily found a wash that we could take to get near them. We still had to climb one small Mud Hill area, but luckily didn't fall in the mud nor sink too deeply into it.

Much to our pleasure, we found that above the wash here, the surface was already drying and cracking! This is an amazing place to do that after two inches of rain. My only conjecture is that the high gypsum content of the soil promoted that quick drying on the south-facing slopes.

Just before we got to Una Palm, I was flabbergasted to see a stand of Phragmites australis and Juncus cooperi!

Just as surprising, we found mesquite growing on the TOPS of the Mud Hills in several places. I speculated these started growing when those locations were washes, and these were very old plants that had protected those areas from erosion, leaving them on tops of hills. I don't know if that has any chance of being true, but I can't think of any other way to have those mesquite be able to have their roots in water.

We were soon back in the Mud Hills, and it didn't look pleasant to continue get over them to get to Five Palms. We took a wash out of the Hills, and then walked along the flatter drier area in a half circle to get to Five Palms. There is just one tall palm left at Five Palms, but there are babies on their way.

Even though the route to the car was directly across the Mud Hills, we elected to walk perpendicular to the car in order to get in the main Arroyo Salado Wash, where we could make good time to get back.

Although it was getting dark, on the way back up Arroyo Salado, we found a single plant of Spanish needles, Palafoxia arida, that we had missed on the way down, and the fox tracks.

As usual, we got back to the car with the last drop of sunlight, this time with heavy boots from the gypsum mud stuck to them.


23 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Borrego Sink, Borrego Spring

See a map of our driving and hiking route (unlabeled map), and the Google satellite map of this area.

James Dillane, Michael Crouse, Bill Sullivan and I carpooled in two cars from the I-15 / SR76 Park and Ride to Palm Canyon Road East off of S22.

Our destination was the Borrego sink, which none of us had been to. But first we had to get past the Borrego Dump.

The topo map shows Palm Canyon Road East / Old Springs Road heads south to the vicinity of the Sink after making a quick 90 degree right soon after leaving S22. However, the Google Satellite Map showed that the Borrego Dump, established after the topo map was made, has cut off that road, making it impossible to continue on it past the dump.

Fortunately, the Satellite Map also shows about one zillion off-highway routes established in that vicinity. So after going through the Dump, and verifying we couldn't get through, we turned around and went through the wash just north of the dump. We quickly climbed out of the wash and found the old road, or a reasonable approximation of it, heading south.

The road we were on that headed south seemed to automatically curve east, and we never saw the road that went directly to the Sink, or at least one we were willing to go on. We might have come across that road, but it looked too problematic for us to drive on, so we headed east, along with everyone else, judging from the road condition. After seeing the sink, it is no surprise that the well-traveled route is this one to the east.

After realizing we were heading away from the Sink, and debating for a moment about what to do, we decided to park near the Borrego Spring, and hike back to the Sink, reversing our previously-planned course of travel.

We parked just north of the Borrego Sink Wash, and began compiling a plant checklist as we walked to THE Borrego Spring. This was the spring that gave Borrego Springs its name.

I could hardly believe the results of our plant survey in the area near to the car; it was almost a monoculture of Atriplex polycarpa, with mesquite tossed in every so often. We had never before found A. polycarpa so abundant; it had always played second fiddle to A. canescens. Here, A. canescens was hardly to be seen at all, and we didn't find it for some distance in our survey.

There were also a handful of Lycium brevipes here, many in bloom and some in fruit.

The whole area we surveyed can be summarized in one word: alkaline. Saltbushes, Atriplex, were the dominant species by far, except in the most alkaline places of all, where only two species dominated, bush seepweed, Suaeda moquinii; and iodine-bush, Allenrolfea occidentalis. We came across only a SINGLE specimen of Acacia greggii the entire trip, even though it is a dominant species in most other washes. There were hardly any cacti at all along our route, just about ten chollas. There were no ocotillos on our route at all, which was seen only on ridgelines far away from the alkaline flats.

We had a temporary delay in getting to the Spring, since somehow Bill got separated from the rest of us as we crossed through a dense line of mesquite. After splitting up to find Bill, and briefly all being together, we then lost James for a while! This all was very surprising since this area generally is quite open country, making it hard to believe anyone could get separated for very long. However, there were a number of mesquite groves in this "spring" area, each of which blocked the view beyond. Also, it was a bit windy, making it impossible to hear anyone shouting, even though none of us were very far apart.

We didn't have any similar trouble staying together the rest of the way, once we left the dense mesquite thickets behind.

We got to the location of the spring on the topo map, and were flabbergasted to find no evidence of a spring at all. The dense mesquite clusters testified that there is a fair amount of water underground here. But none of it was on the surface, and there were none of the plants expected to be present at a spring. The only evidence we found that this was a historical location were some metal parts and half of the sitting part of a one hole outhouse. (:-)

The Lindsays are less than abundantly clear about what has happened to the spring. They mention that the "dense vegetation" near the Borrego Sink Wash itself "marks the general area of Borrego Spring". This sounds as nebulous as the San Gregorio Historical Landmark wording "Somewhere in this narrow valley, perhaps on this very spot, the Anza expeditions of 1774 and 1775 made their camps". The Anza expedition apparently didn't get their water from a "spring"; they dug a series of wells in the wash to get their water.

The Lindsays then talk about the site of "Borrego Spring II", which sounds like the location given on the topo map, "marked by a dugout depression in the north bank of the wash". They say "no surface water is currently found at the Borrego Spring II site".

I'm shocked that the people of Borrego Springs haven't done much more to highlight and commemorate the site that gave the town their name. It seems very disgraceful that half an outhouse hole is the most memorable marker of their namesake!

We then headed to the San Gregorio Historical Landmark and took in the good view from that local hill, getting a chuckle from the wording on the sign.

Just before getting to the landmark, we came across an Atriplex that we hadn't seen in the Borrego Desert before. Fortunately, James had brought along the Desert Jepson Manual, and we quickly keyed it to A. lentiformis.

We saw zillions of this species today; it was one of the most common species. Yet Beauchamp says: "Rare, in alkaline areas; desert, below 100 m: Carrizo Stage Station". (Note that Beauchamp placed the coastal plants under A.l. ssp. breweri, which has now been combined with A.l. in the JM.)

The Carrizo State Station was indeed the only vouchered location in San Diego County prior to 1989. Since that time, it has been vouchered from three additional locations:

And now this location has been vouchered, thanks to Bill Sullivan.

James found an intact small skull, which Mike quickly identified as a Merriam's Kangaroo Rat.

We then headed up the Borrego Sink Wash toward the Sink. From the topo map, it looked like we would mostly be following one or more branches of the wash, but we quickly left the wash we were in, and found ourselves "washless". Looking at the map of our route now, we started out in the wash that came from hills to the south, that has captured all the Borrego Sink Wash branches in its channel in this vicinity.

We soon saw a branch of the Borrego Sink Wash to our right, and meandered into it, thinking this would be the most interesting route to the Sink.

The most striking thing we saw, however, were dead mesquites. It was almost like the wand of death had been waved over only the mesquites in this area, killing them but leaving intact all the other shrubs. In fact, this is exactly what has happened. Bill later reminded us that this was due to groundwater extraction, which has been killing all the mesquites everywhere around the Borrego Basin. Mesquite can put their roots down 140 FEET, but the groundwater is now deeper than that in most places due to all the wells used for irrigation, and is dropping two FEET per year.

The groundwater used to flow (underground, of course!) from the well-watered Coyote Creek source to here. But the groundwater pumping has ceased that flow, dropping the groundwater table here. In fact, the pumping may now have even reversed the flow, and groundwater from here is being sucked to the agricultural operations in Borrego Springs.

It is disgusting there is no consideration given at all to the natural vegetation when we humans steal the water for our own use.

We aimed right for Metate Hill, an interesting low hill that was probably once the site of an Indian Village. It apparently used to contain a "number of granite boulders with metates", but they were all looted by "collectors". We did find pieces of pottery that we left.

Metate Hill is a wonderful place to survey the area, being ~20 feet or so higher than the surroundings. The Borrego Sink stretched out for 1.5 miles in front of us.

We quickly reached the edge of the Sink, and realized that was as far as we wanted to go. The surface of the sink was all mud, bearing a great deal of similarity, for good reason, to the texture of the Mud Hills on the last trip when they were wet. We were delighted to come across our new friend Allenrolfea occidentalis, and equally delighted to leave the mud behind and hike back to our cars along a slightly different route.

As we hiked, we came across a number of very unusual holes in the flat surface that were 1-2 feet in diameter, and very deep. These holes puzzled us greatly, since the only way we could think of forming such a hole was to have an animal tunnel of some sort below, where the ground could collapse into it and then be carried off by water. But no animal that we knew of could make the necessary tunnels.

The solution to this mystery finally came to us when we saw a hole within sight of a neighboring mesquite. These holes were from mesquite trees that had died, and whose trunk and roots had rotted or otherwise been removed. This is somewhat similar to craters found in forests, where trees were blown over, leaving a hole in the ground where their roots once were.

The sharp eyes of James Dillane picked out an obsidian tool with a very sharp working surface that we enjoyed seeing. We photographed it and put it back.

Overall, there were few non-native plants here. Several miles to the north, the land is almost 100% Brassica tournefortii and Schismus barbatus, but those species are not abundant here yet. Perhaps the alkaline soil here limits their invasiveness. The only unusual invader we came across were about ten plants of Russian thistle in one spot.

However, most of the germinated annuals we saw here were Brassica tournefortii and Schismus barbatus. They outnumbered native annuals that had germinated by a factor of 100 to 1000. There was very little annual native germination here so far, which may also be a function of the high alkalinity. We saw many fewer dead native annuals than most other places.

One of the interesting plants of the day was a plant with the wonderful common name of "Lineleaf Whitepuff", Oligomeris linifolia. This annual was dead of course, but easily recognized by its distinctive inflorescence and fruit. The only other place I've seen this species is in the extreme northeast corner of the county. This is a bit odd, since this is an extremely widespread species according to vouchers.

Back in the car, we intended to drive out the route we came in, stopping near the Borrego Dunes to spend our last hour of sunlight. Fortunately, we took a wrong turn early on, and went up the wash leading to the Badlands. (See the route map linked above.) We quickly realized what had happened, but the wash was spectacular, with 6-10 foot walls, so we enjoyed the trip.

After some time, we took one of the zillion routes out of the wash to see where we were. As far as we could determine, we weren't anywhere. (;-)

We continued on the road, and came to a T-intersection. Not knowing which way to go, we turned right. This was once again a "wrong" turn for getting out directly, but it was a wildly successful choice. We ended up heading for the Badlands, and came upon a little hill next to a beautiful little dunelet isolated from the main Borrego Dune population.

After enjoying that dune on foot, we got our bearings from that hill, turned around, and headed off to the sunset to meet S22. Along the way, we traveled along a major wash that doesn't appear on the topo map, but which is very prominent in the Google satellite image. My guess is that this wash was created by ground subsidence that accompanies extraction of ground water faster than it is replaced. Ground subsidence would tend to pull the drainages in such a flat area toward the new lower ground. See, for example, Surface deformation in the Western Salton Trough as observed by InSAR.

This wash skirts the end of the Borrego Dunes, which were stunningly beautiful. Some of the sand dunes seemed oddly truncated right at the wash, which would support the hypothesis that this is a fairly new wash.

It was even interesting to drive just outside the fenced Dump. There were many ravens feasting on the trash, and some beautiful tracks on the side of our road.

We got back to S22 just past sunset, with perfect timing.


29 December 2008: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (see Flora of Henderson Canyon)

Annuals! Finally, there are annuals in glorious profusion! (;-) Yes, Virginia, there WILL BE an annual display at Anza-Borrego this year, at least in places. (;-)

I expected there to be widespread annual germination in this desert-edge environment compared to the open-desert alkaline environments of my previous trips this year, and there was. However, the patterns in the germination were unexpected.

In the parking area at the middle of the farthest point of the mouth of Henderson Canyon, the germination was not widespread. It was mostly confined to areas such as the base of rocks, underneath shrubs, and on north-facing shady walls of washes and the nearby wash areas.

Interestingly, there were two age classes of annuals, some that had germinated from the 27 November rain, and others than had germinated from the 15-17 December rain. For example, seedlings of common phacelia, Phacelia distans, had only their cotyledons in areas receiving only direct rainfall, but had an additional four quite large true leaves in areas at the base of boulders that received runoff from those boulders. See these examples.

The bigger phacelias are about equivalent to the ones observed last year at day 38 after its first germinating rainfall (it was day 32 after the 27 November rain on 12/29/08):

The floor of the wash had little germination, despite the presence of many dead remnants of annuals from previous years. For example, we saw numerous patches of dead remnant California suncup, Camissonia californica, plants that had at most a very few baby annuals. However, the few seedlings of this species were much smaller than those of other species that had germinated in nearby areas. So it is possible this species just takes longer to germinate, and a robust germination may still take place.

Seedlings of brown-eyed primrose, Camissonia claviformis, and pale sun-cup, C. pallida, were totally absent everywhere. There were dense carpets of dead C. claviformis from last spring with not a single seedling anywhere on our survey.

As we approached the north-facing slopes of Henderson Canyon, the germination increased, echoing the pattern of germination on the north-facing banks in the low-relief east-west washes. The flats out in the open began to have a good cover of annuals. When we got to the slopes themselves, annual germination was widespread, with the perennials making an appearance as well.

We surveyed the base of these north-facing slopes. When we got to the first major side-canyon at 2 p.m., and saw no sunlight anyplace in that large open canyon, we suddenly realized this entire area was in almost permanent shade near the winter solstice. This explained why we had been seeing zillions of plants of woolly lipfern, Cheilanthes parryi, and desert spike-moss, Selaginella eremophila. As we rounded the east wall of the side canyon, we were stunned to see large patches of liverworts and mosses, which often grow on banks where the sun don't shine when these species are actively growing.

Oddly, the shrub cover of this area was mostly ocotillo and Encelia farinosa, with some Agave deserti. These must be the only shrubs that can tolerate both the winter shade and summer sun in this environment.

Now to the time-ordered report. See the map of our route.

We began at the parking area at the end of the green line on the map. We hiked along the red route to the base of the slopes below Indianhead, where we began compiling our plant checklist. We headed up that first main side drainage until we had to turn around, and then finished our survey where our route hit the blue line along the main Henderson Canyon drainage. Most of the blue diamonds are GPS points from our track, denser in the last part of our track since those points were still in the track memory of my GPS, and less dense in the first part of the track since those points were just from a sparser "saved track". The other blue diamonds are mostly GPS points from previous surveys where species were first found, with a few being waypoints established for navigation.

James Dillane, Mike Crouse and I carpooled from the I-15/SR76 park and ride, and met Kate Shapiro at the Henderson Canyon parking area at 10:30. I spent nearly 30 minutes photographing the baby plants, and the dead plants, to go along with photographs of the blooming plants I took there last March. Later I will play "match the baby to the adult", since I have a list of all the species observed in this area from last March. I even know that almost all the baby Cryptantha species are C. barbigera here!

James wasted no time adding one species to the list created earlier this year. I was stunned that he found a dead desert twining snapdragon, Antirrhinum filipes, on a nearby shrub. He also found California fish-hook cactus, Mammillaria dioica, nearby, that was probably just a bit south of our path on previous trips. We only found that species later on our previous surveys.

We headed for the vicinity of the Rebman / Roberts voucher site, where we began our survey. Going up and down across all the little washes to get there reminded me of our trips on the northeast corner of the County. One of the highlights in these little washes was finding seedlings of the annual desert thornapple, Datura discolor, which we found in a handful of places. We also came across a number of Mammillaria dioica, some of which were in bud. Both here, and farther along our survey, we came across a handful of plants in which one stem had produced 5-10 stemlets at its tip, possibly due to stem tip damage.

We were able to get a good count on the number of dead ocotillos, since any plant that hadn't leafed out by now was clearly dead, and they looked it. Shockingly, about half of the ocotillos were dead everywhere we went. However, we found just about the same number of baby ocotillos (probably several years old or so, even though they were just inches high) growing everywhere, so they are well on their way to being replaced.

We got to our survey starting point, and mostly climbed the lower slopes for our survey here. While doing so, James stepped on the edge of a flat rock, several feet in diameter, that lifted up, so he peered underneath. Much to his surprise, annuals had germinated under it! There was NO WAY that any seeds could have gotten under this rock. However, there were also holes under the rock, similar to gopher holes I've seen under objects in my yard, so we speculated an animal had burrowed under the rock, transporting unlucky seeds there.

Some of the additional interesting species found here, and in many places along our survey, were muilla, Muilla maritima; and intermediate larkspur, Delphinium parishii ssp. subglobosum.

We found one species a very interesting way. James had found a wood rat's nest, and embedded in it was the fruit of a thick-leaved ground cherry, Physalis crassifolia! That was the only evidence we had of that species being here today. (;-)

We found surprisingly few additional species contouring around the slope until we got near the ridge bordering the first major side canyon. We picked up a number of species there, and then hit the jackpot when we got in the main drainage of that side canyon, where new species came fast and furious.

James found FOUR ferns in that wash, and even found a spot where all three were growing side by side, 1-2-3, that could be, and were, photographed in the same pix! The ferns were Cheilanthes parryi (ubiquitous on our survey and the only one found outside this wash); Notholaena californica; Cheilanthes viscida; and Cheilanthes covillei.

As always, things got even more interesting near our turn-around point. James told us to go ahead and head back, along our intended slightly different route back to the west of the main drainage, while he was "just going to check out the south wall" where the drainage made a temporary turn to the west. He found two new species there, ayenia, Ayenia compacta (from the chocolate family!), and Newberry's velvet mallow, Horsfordia newberryi. So of course we had to join him to see these species. (;-)

We all headed up the now-north facing wall of the wash, which is where the fourth, and best, fern was found, the Cheilanthes viscida. I had never seen this species before, so it was the special treat of the day.

We were short on time, so I was hurrying back, but James is ever alert. He spotted some young plants of spearleaf, Matelea parvifolia, which is quite rare. There are no vouchers of it from the Borrego Desert, and Jaeger says it is "exceedingly rare". Jaeger's sketch is from a voucher specimen, implying he never came across one. (:-) This is the second time we've found it in the Borrego Desert, with the other one being in Hellhole Canyon. (I vouchered that one on 12/23/05.)

Our survey added eight new species to the Flora of Henderson Canyon, bumping it up from 141 species to 149 species, an increase of 6%. Not bad for a December survey!

I was a little surprised at how few species had any blooms. The best bloomer was chuparosa, which had quite a few plants in bloom. The next best star was Wright's buckwheat, Eriogonum wrightii var. nodosum, which had several plants in full bloom. Five other species had just a few blooms, that would not have been noticed by anyone other than a botanist. See the complete list.

On the way home, we checked out the planets and stars from a stop along Borrego Springs Road, near where many of the new prehistoric animal sculptures are placed. Mike had told us that Mercury was visible below Jupiter, which surprised me greatly, since Mercury is normally very difficult to see. It stood out very clearly as a bright star, but I was skeptical since it twinkled and had no reddish color. But Mike turned out to be right, and James and I were ecstatic on seeing Mercury for the first time! Don't miss this chance to see Mercury; reportedly even Copernicus never saw it in his lifetime. See the star chart for tonight

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Copyright © 2008-2009 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 1 March 2009 (Font's Point corrected to Fonts Point on 14 December 2009;
Sphaeralcea ambigua rosacea corrected to Malacothamnus fasciculatus on 9 December 2017; Eriogonum inflatum corrected to E. trichopes on 16 February 2021).