Plant Trail Reports, San Diego County, 2009

Table of Contents

2 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon
7 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon
12 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon
15 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon
19 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Palm Wash
24 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Butler Canyon
28 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon
1 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon
5 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon
11 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Canyon Road, Box Canyon

I did not have time to convert most of these botanical reports from an email version to a web version, so many scientific names are not italicised, and not every species has both its common and scientific name given.  

2 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (see Flora of Henderson Canyon)

Mike Crouse and I got to the Henderson Canyon parking at around 10:40 a.m. and spent a little time looking at the annual germination there. It appeared the same as four days ago, with no new species germinated, and the plants that had germinated just slightly larger, as expected.

I also searched for a dead plant of a species I had photographed on the previous trip, probably Descurainia pinnata, that I later found we hadn't recorded as being at the trailhead last March, but to no avail. This probably meant I had photographed it on the last trip from an area a bit outside of our survey route last March.

There was another car at the parking area, and tracker Mike determined there were two people in the car. Immediately after that, two people appeared on the ridge, and they looked familiar! It was RT and Shaun Hawke. They were on vacation, and spent the previous night in a Borrego Springs hotel with Internet access, after returning from Big Bend National Park. They saw the hike notice and surprised us by showing up. (;-)

The four of us took off up the wash, mainly hiking but with some plant, bird and track observations thrown in. Our goal was to begin the day's survey 2.5 miles up the canyon.

I stopped to smell the leaves of a cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola, along the way, and found that they now had their usual cheese odor. Previously this year the leaves smelled sweet, without any trace of cheese.

On our way up the canyon, when we got to the first cliffs at around mile 2.0, we began looking for Carlowrightia arizonica, a rare species in California that has been found in the similar canyons immediately to the south of Henderson Canyon. Although we found no Carlowrightia, we did discover a boulder that had an unusual depression to one side of its base, in a flat wet moist area. It looked at first like the rock had been pushed downstream, leaving a depression upstream, but none of us could figure out how in the world that was possible. I then realized the rock had somewhat recently fallen from above, landed in roughly its original vertical position, but had then fallen over to its side, leaving the impression where it had first fallen. Mike thought it fell before the recent rain, or else it would have made a large hole, probably with splashes.

See Pictures of the fallen boulder, and a very crude re-"righting" of the boulder done by cropping the boulder and rotating it 90 degrees.

We looked up, and by golly there were a number of similar boulders just waiting to do the same thing. We decided we'd eat lunch someplace else. (;-)

We stopped at the "unknown Asteraceae shrub" seen last year. The year it cooperated and had some leaves on it, revealing itself as a Brickellia, probably the same species as a nearby B. desertorum.

We checked the Crossosoma bigelovii, and it showed no signs of buds yet.

After stopping for lunch in what we deemed a somewhat-safer location for rockfalls, we reached the junction of the two main branches of upper Henderson Canyon around 1:00-1:30 p.m., and pondered which branch to botanize. We picked the southern branch, which turned out to be the best choice. The southern branch is longer, with a gentler slope, and is stunningly beautiful. The portion we surveyed is almost a slot canyon canyon in places, whereas the northern branch is more open.

We began our survey at the well-defined gate-like entrance to this branch.

See a picture from our "pondering point", showing a panoramic view to the west from February 2008. The gate-like entrance to the southern branch is seen at the left of this picture, and the open northern branch is on the right.

The species came fast and furious with four of us searching. RT took the high route on the lower southeast wall of the entrance, and picked up species we wouldn't have seen down in the canyon bottom. Meanwhile, eagle-eyed Mike and Shaun surveyed the bottom and sides of the Canyon with me.

RT joined us after we finished surveying the very beginning of the canyon, since otherwise we would not have seen him again as the southeast wall retreated far above our canyon bottom.

As luck would have it, we almost immediately came across ANOTHER Asteraceae shrub whose determination was not obvious! I couldn't believe it; I had just resolved one "unknown Asteraceae shrub" minutes earlier, and it got replaced by another. (:-)

Fortunately, soon afterward it occurred to me that this was a cheesebush that somehow found itself a bit up out of the canyon bottom, and was just leafing out. This different habitat, and the somewhat-different looking appearance of the plant, perhaps due to it being in this closed canyon drier habitat than in its usual moister wash habitat, had fooled me. Also, there were only a few specimens of this species here, instead of the usual crowd.

What really surprised us was to find no specimens of chuparosa, Justicia californica, in this Canyon at all. Later, as we returned down the main canyon, we looked for the first occurrence of chuparosa, and were again surprised to find that it didn't appear except within about a mile from the parking area. It must be too dry for this species up higher in the wash.

Back in our survey area, we quickly became enchanted with this canyon. It was beautiful first because it was somewhat of a slot canyon, with the usual twists and turns that add interest. The canyon had added beauty over a true slot canyon since it was a bit more open, allowing one to appreciate the rock walls more than if they simply ascending vertically over our heads. The rock itself came in numerous shades of color, from nearly white to deep red. We regularly stepped up ~3 foot mini-waterfalls to ascend the canyon.

Oddly, a very small amount of the rock was extremely weathered, and looked like it would disintegrate if you blew hard on it! The rest of the rock was solid, and often polished by water.

Like the side canyon we explored on the previous trip, this canyon was also in almost complete winter shade. So we were curious to see if the three additional (other than C. parryi) fern species found in that side canyon would be found here as well. Although we were handicapped by lacking the eagle eyes of James Dillane, our group did well, finding two of the three fern species, Cheilanthes covillei and Notholaena californica, thanks primarily to Shauna carefully surveying the sides of the canyon for ferns. We only lacked finding the Cheilanthes viscida, perhaps because there didn't seem to be any places here with the habitat in which that fern was found last time, or perhaps because James was not with us. (;-)

We rounded one bend, and there was a JUNIPER just above our heads! I thought this was the lowest-elevation juniper we'd seen, but I misremembered the elevation of the lowest juniper on the California Riding and Hiking Trail. That one was at about 1500 feet elevation, and we were at 1800 feet here.

We rounded another bend, and somehow Shauna spotted something very curious, very high up a canyon wall. With her binoculars, she found it was a set of large honeycombs! I'd never seen anything like this. Mike had seen honeycombs in a cave before, and this had a bit of a cave-like environment, being in a sunken portion of the walls.

Any doubts about the determination here was resolved when on our way back down the canyon, we found a piece of the honeycomb that had fallen immediately below this cliff.

Another bend brought my first Arabis seen in the Borrego Desert, probably A. perennans.

In several places in this canyon, we came across mineral deposits in interesting patterns on the rocks. They are beautiful in their overall appearance from a distance, and even more beautiful up close. Some of the minerals look like tiny caterpillars with bristly hairs! Compare those "caterpillars" with one photographed by Mike. Maybe some of Mike's caterpillars moved too slowly and got coated with the mineral deposit! (;-)

Interesting species were coming fast and furious in this stretch of the canyon, just before we had to turn around, as often happens. We found two Dudleya species growing together, Dudleya pulverulenta and Dudleya saxosa ssp. aloides. We found some happy specimens of desert apricot, Prunus fremontii, in bud. Immediately at our turn around point, where this canyon split into two roughly equal upper branches, RT found Plantago patagonica, which we had searched for unsuccessfully on the previous trip! This is also my first observation of this species in the Borrego Desert.

All in all, we found 71 species, of which 65 could be fairly confidently identified. Of the 65, 5 of those species were ones we hadn't seen before at Henderson Canyon anywhere: ~Arabis perennans, Dudleya saxosa ssp. aloides, Juniperus californica, Plantago patagonica, and Prunus fremontii. All of these are new ones for the entire Henderson Canyon Plant list, including vouchers, except for Plantago patagonica, which Rebman and Roberts vouchered.

We of course immediately vowed to return to this point on our next trip, and botanize further. We had so much fun that we only made it 0.5 mile up this canyon in the 2.0-2.5 hours we had available today!


7 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (see Flora of Henderson Canyon)

Mike Crouse and I met Dave Stith at Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs at 10:15, and we caravaned to the Henderson Canyon parking area.

On our drive in, we noticed that the _south-facing_ walls of the canyon were green in several places! As we hiked up, we found the green was due to brittlebush, Encelia farinosa. Yay!

Since this was the third visit in a row here, this time we were able to hoof it to the beginning of the south branch of the Canyon. I was delayed once by Mr. Wait-A-Minute bush, Acacia greggii, in a somewhat-mortifying way. I was following Dave Stith, who went through a live bush with his long pants without getting snagged. I commented on how amazing that was, and then got a full-on stab in my finger moving a dead branch just beyond!

Acacias slowed me down twice in the upper canyon as well. The next time I somehow managed to get two prickles stuck under the cuticle of my thumb, a new record for me. The third time the plant got my socks. I was having having a "bad thorn day", since normally I get prickled zero times.

In a few places, I found baby plants of two species, Camissonia californica and C. claviformis ssp. peirsonii, not seen so far on previous trips here this season. Neither of these species has a germination anything like last year, with densities down by a factor of 100 to 1,000 so far.

On the hike up the main wash, with the help of Mike and Dave, I amused myself by GPS'ing the positions of the chuparosa, since on the last trip we were surprised that it was confined to the lower part of the canyon. The chuparosa locations are indicated by blue diamonds on this map.

The survey was from the parking area at the extreme lower right, to the end of the upper red line at middle left. (Our survey area was along the upper red line.)

This is a very odd distribution, which I don't understand.

From the last trip, I had thought the chuparosa was confined to the lower wash, perhaps due to higher ground moisture in the lower canyon. While that statement about the distribution is mostly true, we encountered the clump of plants shown on the map far above the rest of the plants, throwing that explanation into doubt.

I plotted voucher elevations, and they show a linear decline from a peak at sea level to the last one at 3000 feet elevation. Munz says "common below 2500 feet". So I don't think elevation has anything to do with this distribution, since we were below 2400 feet for the entire survey.

We found the first Engelmann's hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, recorded in Henderson Canyon on the hike up.

We ate lunch at the Crossosoma at mile 2.4 from 12:20 to 12:35, and got to the beginning of our survey route in the south fork five minutes later. While eating, I noticed a brittlebush, Encelia farinosa, behind me that had both its dry-season gray leaves and its wet-season green leaves close together, so photographed them side by side.

The first order of business was to check on several species that had been recorded from our last trip here. Most checked out; two did not. (This is not unusual; on a first survey, my main goal is just to record all possible species, without spending too much time on the determination of any one species. All species then must be verified on a future survey, when I spend more time on the species needing it. Many species of course have to wait until they have flowers or fruit to be confidently identified.)

As part of the checking, we went up the east wall of the canyon, following RT Hawke's lead from last time, and were very impressed with how beautiful that area was up there. It was loaded with baby combseed, Pectocarya!

On our hike up, we had noticed that some of the north-facing walls of the main canyon were also green, and Pectocarya immediately became the likely suspect. Last year, the slopes of Little Surprise Canyon were green with curvenut combseed, Pectocarya recurvata.

We hiked the ground previously covered in this south fork fairly quickly, stopping primarily to voucher two species: desert brickellia, Brickellia desertorum, and Patagonia plantain, Plantago patagonica, which previously had zero and just a single voucher, respectively, for the Borrego Desert. The P. patagonica location had a zillion babies of this species growing there, so I nabbed ten or so baby plants to put on the voucher sheet.

A single one of the desert apricot, Prunus fremontii, plants had its first blooms, most of which were perversely facing away from us above our heads. But Mike found 1.8 blooms facing toward us in an accessible position. (One flower was missing one petal.) Oddly, we found no other P. fremontii plants in the additional area we surveyed today.

We made it to the end point of our previous survey, at the split of this south fork, at 1:40 p.m. Following Mike's "left hand rule", we decided to go up the left branch, which was a good choice. This branch was just as stunning as the slot canyon below, and delivered new species for our survey as well.

We almost immediately found white sage, Salvia apiana, which was the only Salvia above this point. (Only Vasey's sage, S. vaseyana, was present in this canyon below this point.) Dave then soon found a San Jacinto beardtongue, Penstemon clevelandii var. connatus, which we had last seen at 4000 feet on the Cactus Spring Trail on the other side of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

The ONLY Penstemon species in the plant list by Duffie Clemons of the Borrego Area of ABDSP was Cleveland's beardtongue, P. clevelandii var. clevelandii, so this was a great find! The nearest voucher of this taxon is in Indian Canyon in Collins Valley, 3.4 miles to the northeast, so this find isn't terribly surprising. (A voucher of var. clevelandii is from "upper Borrego Palm Canyon".) There was no doubt about the variety here; the uppermost four pairs of leaves were fully fused around the stem ("connate").

We then came across a single plant of desert baccharis, Baccharis sergiloides, which was odd, since that species usually is found in more moist drainages, and comes only in bunches. But this turned out to be just the lowest outlier of a larger population.

We were pleased to pick up rock crossosoma, Crossosoma bigelovii next.

Dave then noticed a live tarantula literally almost frozen in position. This canyon is in almost perpetual shade, and it wasn't very warm here. The tarantula allowed us to photograph him close up, only moving a bit when Mike touched him accidentally with the ruler.

Somewhere on our path we looked upstream and found a gigantic boulder, perhaps 20 feet high and mostly spherical, blocking the main channel. There was no way we were going to get over that boulder! Fortunately, there was an easy route to the left that got us around that choke stone.

We picked up the fourth fern here, sticky lipfern, Cheilanthes viscida, to match the Dillane find of the same four ferns from the small side canyon surveyed on 29 December 2008. And as a bonus, we got a fifth fern, bird's foot fern, Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata, at the same time!

In this same location, sharp-eyed {Mike or Dave} noticed a plant way above our heads up a steep crumbly side drainage. We couldn't tell from binocs what species it was. I would have just gone on, hoping that the plant was at eye-level farther along the trail, but courageous Mike risked his life climbing that steep crumbly slope to nab a sample. Both Dave and I got out of the way to avoid being hit by any rocks (or Mike) tumbling down. (;-)

Mike retrieved an excellent sample of last year's finished inflorescence, which looked like a paintbrush, which would have been a fabulous find. However, it wasn't a paintbrush. I spent two hours on this determination without getting one. I gave up, and wrote a detailed "HELP!" email note with facts and possibilities.

Of course, I finally latched onto the id while writing that note. This plant was an unusual desert tobacco, Nicotiana obtusifolia, that for some reasons had leaves with no odor, which is usually the dead give-away for this species. I had kept rejecting that id simply from the lack of odor, knowing it "couldn't be that species" without that odor.

I should have gotten a good clue about the id of the desert tobacco from our next plant. We came across a very unusual 3-4 foot tall plant with 3-4 erect stems that had almost everything in whorls of 3's, with just a few opposite leaves and branches! I was suspicious that the leaves bore a good resemblance to the leaves of desert lavender, Hyptis emoryi, but the leaves of this plant had no smell, either. I was looking forward to figuring out just what the heck this species could be.

But as we proceeded up the canyon, and saw a zillion more desert lavender, I realized this had to be the likely id. On the way back, I smelled more leaves, and finally found one with its tell-tale lavender odor.

We found many more California junipers, Juniperus californica, today, both next to us in the canyon and above us on the north-facing slopes. This answered our question on the 12/29/08 survey as to the determination for the bushes on the north-facing slopes that were too far away to identify then.

We were having so much fun we could hardly believe it was getting close to 3:15, our turn-around time. We were at least hoping we could get to an obvious turn-around point where our forward progress was seriously blocked, and we did.

We were 15 minutes behind our time on the last trip at the turn-around point for that trip. However, we flew down the rest of the canyon, and ended up getting back to the car slightly ahead of our return time then.


12 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Henderson Canyon (see Flora of Henderson Canyon)

Mike Crouse and I met Bill Sullivan at Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs at 10:18 a.m., and we got to the parking area at Henderson Canyon around 10:30 a.m.

We mostly hiked up to the beginning of the north branch of Henderson Canyon, arriving there around 1 p.m. after eating lunch at the Crossosoma bigelovii.

The Crossosoma has buds! Most are just emerging, but a few are a bit more advanced. It may begin blooming in several weeks or so.

We also observed small buds on the Mirabilis bigelovii on our way up.

In the small washes near the car, there were a lot more seedlings of Camissonia californica, C. claviformis and Lupinus arizonica in the small number of places where they had been seen previously. We also found several spots where there were additional very small seedlings of Phacelia distans and Pholistoma membranaceum that are clearly a case of delayed germination. Those spots had lots of plants with many leaves, but a small number of seedlings with just the cotyledons and the first true pair of leaves emerging.

I was impressed at the size of some of the bigger Phacelia distans plants. It sure would be nice if they could get some more rain before so they can continue growing strongly.

Many places in the washes still have no germination at all, which seems odd for a 2 inch rainfall. Perhaps it simply was too late for most of the annuals to germinate there.

We did find germination in otherwise barren areas in the washes in depressed patches, which collected more water. We also found our first germinated Gilia stellata, which had a rosette of ~14 leaves. It clearly germinated right after the rain, but we had never noticed it on previous trips, or had not gone by it on them.

We also found the very extensive germination we had seen on previous trips on the north-facing slopes in the north branch we surveyed.

We began our survey at the entrance to the north branch of Henderson Canyon. Surprisingly, the first species recorded was Sarcostemma, either S. cynanchoides ssp. hartwegii or S. hirtellum! The id isn't abundantly clear. Although the stems look glabrous to my eye, fortunately Mike checked them with his inverted binoculars and found a moderate number of hairs. Unfortunately, this could be either species, so we'll have to wait for blooms to get the id here.

We also found the same confusing few specimens of cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola, that were almost entirely leafless, except for a very few leaves just emerging. Fortunately, this time I got a cheese odor from the leaves on one plant.

The north branch of Henderson Canyon is quite different from the south branch. The drainage in the south branch is mostly a fairly well-defined wash inside a slot canyon, with periodic waterfalls of ~2-6 feet in height and mostly easily traversable without plant or rock obstacles.

In contrast, the drainage in the north branch is a V-shaped canyon in the part we surveyed, with the drainage blocked by large boulders in a number of places, and blocked by plants such as Hyptis in others. We spent at least half our trip outside the wash, and most of it was somewhat slow-going. This may account for why this area seems way less traveled than the south branch.

Those places outside the wash were interesting. One area was very moist, with mud in one spot. We were expecting water to appear on the surface nearby, but it didn't happen. Five new species appeared for the first time in that area, among them Delphinium and Crassula.

Mike and I had been having a debate about how extensive this north branch was. Such debates are normal; figuring out the topography from down below is extremely hard, and I've made zillions of mistakes in the past.

From below, it looked like one could not traverse the north branch very far before it became a steep bowl, limiting easy further exploration. However, with both binocs in person and Google Earth on the computer, Mike thought he saw the canyon making a right turn at the bottom of that bowl, which extended the flattish part, possibly as part of a slot canyon.

We were hoping we could get to the place where the canyon made that turn and take a peak upstream, and we were lucky to just get to that point before we had to turn around. Mike was indeed correct that the canyon made a right turn there. But it appears from an analysis of the topo map and my pictures that it makes a left turn soon afterward and then heads up the bowl. Of course, it may well be a slot canyon for a while, enabling us to continue on for at least a while on a future survey. Our surveyed route is shown in green on this map.

We went up the canyon through point 3, and turned around at point 7. Mike had the good idea to go directly down the slope from point 7, which netted us a few more species for the survey.

This was also providential for seeing bighorn sheep. There were four bighorn sheep hidden to our right, who spooked when we got too close to them, and they bolted away from us. Mike took some good pix on short notice before the sheep vanished over the ridgeline: Pix 1 and Pix 2.

The last picture looks like a painting!! These sheep all looked very healthy.

In one of my photos, I discovered that one of the sheep had a tracking collar on it, which we did not notice at the time:

On our way down, Mike discovered an Ephedra with cones, so we could finally get the id for the Ephedra species here. It had one seed per cone, the seed is furrowed, and the stems are smooth, making it E. fasciculata var. clokeyi, if the keys can be trusted here. (:-)

One interesting thing about this survey is that we found only 3 plants of creosote, and zero plants of Ambrosia dumosa. Of these two species, we also found only creosote on the survey of the south branch of the upper canyon. This means that creosote has pulled ahead of its former tie with Ambrosia dumosa as the most widespread species in my surveys. Both species had been present in all 24 of the previous surveys. But now only creosote is 26 for 26.

We made it back to the car at the usual 20 minutes after sunset. We tried to see Mercury one last time, from Borrego Springs Road, but its time has passed, and it is now lost in the sun's glare, at least for easy observing.


15 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon (see Flora of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons)

It turns out I failed to write down any times at all in my notebook, probably because I was having too much fun. (;-) Hence all times in this report are approximate times deduced from the times of pictures in the beginning parts and GPS points in the ending parts.

Mike Crouse and I carpooled from I-15/SR76.

We stopped briefly at mile 8.5 on the Montezuma Grade of S22 to enjoy the spectacular clarity. The Algodones Dunes were easily visible to the eye, as were what i _THOUGHT_ were the Gila Mountains in Arizona just east of Yuma.

We wondered what the isolated little peak (with peaklets near it) was at the south end of the Chocolate Mountains. A quick check with "Topo!" shows that it is Picacho Peak, just north of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, which is surrounded by some shorter peaks, as we observed.

As long as I was checking on this, I decided to go ahead and put a photograph online with the peaks labeled. I ended up spending all day yesterday on this, and some of this morning, and found that my "Gila Mountains" were the Cargo Muchacho Mountains!

This was an easy mistake to make, since those two mountains ranges are only 30 miles apart. Both are next to the Arizona border, the Cargo Muchacho Mountains in California and the Gila Mountains in Arizona. (How DO you get a name like "Cargo Muchacho", which apparently was spelled "Cargo Mechaco" on an early map??) See Views From the Montezuma Grade of S22.

We got on the Rockhouse Canyon Road and stopped several places along the way.

Our first stop was Clark Lake, at roughly 10:45 a.m., to see if there were any Allenrolfea near the road. There wasn't.

We did come across some plants of Isocoma acradenia that I wasn't able to immediately recognize since they looked quite different to me with small green new leaves. It didn't even occur to me that these plants might be Isocoma. I puzzled over this plant all day in my mind, but finally figured out the id as we drove back past it in the dark. I should have known it right away just from the saline habitat. At home, my pictures confirmed the Isocoma id from the suddenly expanded corolla throat at its base.

I was very surprised to see channels of water at the Lake! The lake surface was dry and cracked, but walking around it was apparent that many spots were mushy, due to the water being just underneath the surface. The top of the water in the channels was only a few inches below the lake surface.

The vegetation is very partitioned at this west edge of the lake, right next to Coyote Mountain. In contrast, we didn't find a similar partitioning at the southeast edge on our previous trip there, so maybe the partitioning has something to do with the presence of Coyote Mountain.

Mesquite forms a wall on its southwest border, with arrow-weed, Pluchea sericea, forming another wall just inside the mesquite (on the lake side). Most of the vegetation on the lake surface here was bush seepweed, Suaeda moquinii, with scattered desert-thorn, Lycium brevipes and Isocoma.

The road has essentially the flat surface of a freshly-bulldozed road up to the Lake, easily traversed by normal passenger cars with normal drivers. Beyond that point, the road is rocky and/or sandy in places, with a crown in the middle, but still poses no problem for most passenger cars. The predicted very sandy stretch beyond the Alcoholic Trail never materialized. Hence most cars would easily make it the 9.2 miles from S22 to the junction of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons.

It was interesting to see the vegetation change before our eyes on our drive in. I didn't write it down at the time; here are a few changes I remember:

- At the beginning of our drive past Clark Lake, Opuntia ganderi was found only hugging the edge of Coyote Mountain, with O. echinocarpa farther out in the flats. As we drove up canyon, O. echinocarpa eventually dropped out entirely, being replaced by O. ganderi.

- The first smoke tree appeared just below the Alcoholic Pass Trailhead, and they soon became very abundant. They eventually began to drop out, and we recorded only a single specimen on our foot survey.

- We'd go in and out of ocotillo land, and Opuntia bigelovii land.

- Psorothamnus schottii was concentrated to a few locations, and there was a TON of Cuscuta on the plants. This area has the densest concentration of Cuscuta I've seen at ABDSP, with the next most dense concentration being the other side of Coyote Mountain at the other end of the Alcoholic Pass Trail.

Btw, we found it hard to believe there was ever ANYONE who lived up here and needed to jog into Borrego Springs across the Alcoholic Pass for some liquor or cigarettes. It just doesn't look like there once could have been cattle and cowboys here.

We got to the Butler / Rockhouse Canyon junction at around noon, after making one or two shortish stops along the way to check out interesting plants, such as a single blooming Asclepias subulata. Our average driving speed was perhaps 15-20 mph, so the driving time for the 9.2 miles from S22 to this point was about 30-40 minutes. We had about 35-45 minutes of stops, including the stop at Clark Lake.

Mike decided to go ahead and drive up Rockhouse Canyon Road a way, to get closer to the canyon itself, which was an excellent decision. The first part of the road goes through an open wash, which looks pretty similar to most of the open washes in this area.

At mile 0.8, the area starts getting more interesting, since the road is next to what appears to be a hill of Badland sediment. Both the Ocotillo Formation and Canebrake Conglomerate are mapped in many places in this area. The hill turned out to be covered with blooming bladderpod, Isomeris arborea! We stopped there to photograph the plants for about ten minutes.

Isomeris turned out to be one of the plants of the day. It was not only a 99/9 for total plants (at least 99 plants in 9 locations, the most abundant rating I give to a species in a given area), it was a 99/9 for blooming plants! I've never seen Isomeris anywhere near this abundant anywhere else at ABDSP.

It was amazing to see this species thriving in permanent shade, hanging onto the cliffside of sediment, and then seeing it thriving completely out in the open in the wash.

There must be something in the environment here, since this was the first time I've ever seen arrow-leaf, Pleurocoronis pluriseta, out in the open as well, on both the north and south-facing walls of the washlets.

There were just a handful of rocky spots in the road that required thinking about whether we wanted to drive over them or not. We made them all up to 1.4 miles from the junction with Butler Canyon. At that point, we encountered one requiring a bit more thought and decided to start our foot survey from there. This was s perfect place to start our survey, since we were just 0.40 miles from where the wash emerged from a V-shaped canyon, and meant we got to sample the wash fairly well before entering the expected-to-be-more-interesting canyon.

We got to this point at about 1:30, and began our survey ten minutes later.

Although this wash, both in the open and in the canyon, looks like most of the other open washes, it has some pretty big differences in plant species:

- Just as with upper Henderson Canyon, we found no chuparosa at all. In fact, I don't recall seeing that much chuparosa on the drive in.

- The wash is lined with Isomeris and Chrysothamnus paniculatus (I mistook this for Ericameria brachylepis on this trip; see a later report below to see how I became enlightened), two species that are uncommonly found elsewhere.

- All the ephedra here are the three-leaved per node E. californica. I was astounded! The normal species we find everywhere is a two-leaved species, which is ambiguous as to species unless it has cones. Furthermore, "green ephedra" doesn't seem to be a good choice of common name for this species, since the plants ranged in color from pale-ish yellow-green to green. None of the plants were very bright green.

The wash did have the usual high density of Hyptis, cheesebush, Bebbia, etc. Creosote and Ambrosia dumosa were almost entirely absent from the beginning of our survey. We found only three total plants of creosote there. Both species became more abundant when we got into the canyon a ways.

As we went up the canyon, the very numerous punctate rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus paniculatus gave way to scalebroom, Lepidospartum squamatum. This is the only location for Lepidospartum squamatum in the Borrego Desert that I know of! In San Diego County, this species is confined to the coastal side of the mountains except for this location, and another voucher from "Crypt Canyon, Anza Borrego National Park, San Diego County. alt 2000ft", wherever that might be.

We saw only a single specimen of Fagonia laevis, continuing the extreme lack of this species recently. I used to see this species all the time in the Borrego Desert, and I've read that this is the only species covering some of the drier locations in abundance. Have they all died except for specimens hiding inside other plants?

As we got deeper into the canyon, the scenery kept getting more interesting. I'd been hoping to see the vouchered Chrysothamnus paniculatus, which I'd never seen. We came across a single specimen of an Asteraceae shrub I didn't recognize, but it clearly wasn't Chrysothamnus. In fact, I wasn't sure at all what it was, and was mortified to be writing down yet another "unknown Asteraceae shrub"!

After puzzling over it for a minute, I first thought might be Brickellia desertorum, but Mike pointed out that the leaves were wrong. I then thought it might be Baccharis sergiloides, but at home that id was ruled out because the stems were hairy. At home, I quickly found the id was B. microphylla, which hadn't been known before from the Borrego Desert area.

The nearest vouchers in San Diego County are from Mine Wash and Sentenac Canyon. There are vouchers on the other side of the Santa Rosa Mountains, too. I've seen this only once before, on the Art Smith Trail near Palm Desert, in a similar non-flowering condition, some years ago, so I was pleased to make its acquaintance again.

We got to the end of the current road at the Wilderness Boundary, and the canyon became even more interesting. We saw some large bushes / trees on the other side of the wash, and had no idea what they were. So we crossed several incised branches of the wash to get to them, which directed us right by the only Thamnosma montana I've seen in the Borrego Desert. This is only the second trail / area I have seen it on; the other is the Cactus Spring Trail on the north side of the SnRsMtns. This was a stunning specimen in beautiful big purple BLOOM. (I thought it was fruit at the time, but my pictures clearly show blooms.)

The large bushes / trees turned out to be the only Palo Verdes in the Canyon on our survey.

It was getting late, so we sped up a bit to get to Hidden Spring. Hidden Spring is so hidden that we nearly walked right by it, even though there was a SIGN saying "Hidden Spring"! I checked my GPS display here as we were hiking at a decent clip, which said we had just barely passed it, and there was the sign. (;-)

The spring is less than impressive, being mostly a patch of salt grass and bermuda grass on a lower canyon wall, with a wee bit of Juncus mexicanus and Typha domingensis. But there was a bit of water in a depression someone or some animal had dug, and we even found a blooming Lotus rigidus there, along with a baby Palm tree with just two leaves and no trunk.

We also located the Indian Trail going up the cliff to the old Indian Village, and regretted we didn't have enough time to blast up that trail.

Just opposite the spring, we found some seedlings that look like Isomeris, which were growing directly under a large bush of Isomeris.

On our way back, we found SEVEN species we had missed on the way up. Three or four of these species were only visible on our return path, one or two of them appeared since we took a slightly different route back at times, and the other couple were just the expected few species missed on the way up.

One of these species was impressive: a subshrub Astragalus with its first bloom. It appears to be Astragalus lentiginosus var. borreganus, which has been vouchered four times from this Clark Valley area. It is normally a perennial, but may have stuck around since it was growing in the shade of another plant.

We got back to the car just before dark, a good end to a fine day.

We saw no evidence of any modification of the flora by Indians, but we also didn't get close to any former villages except at the spring. I would have thought that the spring's water flow is not enough to support even one family, let along be used to grow some favorite plants.


19 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Palm Canyon (see Flora of Upper Palm Wash / Calcite Mine Road)

ABSP Palm Wash 1/19/09: Botanical Report

The atmosphere was quite clear as James Dillane and I descended Montezuma Grade, and the wind was calm in the Borrego Desert. The Cargo Muchacho Mountains were easily seen, as were the clouds of dust rising from the Ocotillo Wells Off-Road Vehicle Area. It was amazing to see so much dust coming from that area, but it was a holiday, increasing the number of off-roaders there.

As the day went on, the dust was distributed throughout the Valley, adding a general haze that would not have existed if humans hadn't been adding that dust to the air. (:-( Surprisingly, I couldn't quickly find any data that reports on the health impact, especially to the off-roaders, of putting these fine particles into the air on such a regular basis.

The coastal side of the mountains had high clouds coming from the south, but those clouds disappeared on the desert side, as often happens.

We met Dave Stith at the beginning of the dirt road into Palm Wash. Dave had already located an example of our "mystery plant" found up the wash, on the south side of S22, a desert lily, Hesperocallis undulata. We were quick to tell him that this did not look like the mystery plant, but as it turned out, Dave was right! See below.

We admired the baby annuals that were up there, including hairy desert-sunflower, Geraea canescens; Texas filaree, Erodium texanum; and desert five-spot, Eremalche rotundifolia, with its very distinctive three-lobed cotyledons, with the central lobe longest.

Dave joined us in James' car, and we drove down the steep bank of Palm Wash. Mike Crouse and Vince Balch were coming UP the bank at the same time, to meet us at the top! They kindly backed down the road, and we met them in the wash.

Fortunately, Mike and Vince had arrived much earlier, and had been scouting out the wash. They found a species not recorded in the single previous survey of this area, a single plant of Atriplex polycarpa.

We drove to the beginning of the slot canyon, in quest of the two mystery plants found and photographed by James on 2 January 2009. On our hike, we of course stopped regularly to look at the species, so whenever we did I recorded the species we saw. Thus this was not a full-blown plant species survey, but just a partial one. We ended up adding six species to the plant checklist for this area, even with this haphazard recording.

In the slot canyon, we came across a young plant of Arizona honeysweet, Tidestromia oblongifolia, and young plants of desert tobacco, Nicotiana obtusifolia. We found a plant of Encelia farinosa that had the largest green leaves I can recall seeing, with blades almost 5 times longer than the gray leaves from the end of the last year.

We hiked first to the rockfall just below the impassable waterfall in the upper part of the main canyon, and then headed up a tributary canyon to the north of this point, which is where James found his first mystery plant. We already knew what was probably going to be the id, since we had previously seen a lot of desert lily on the slopes. And yep, that was what we found when we got there.

However, we weren't sure that James' mystery plant #2 was the same as this mystery plant #1. So we withheld judgment on it, and headed off in search of it.

To get there, we took a use trail that went out of the wash around the waterfall. Mystery plant #2 was in an unusual gently sloping hill made of fragmented weathered limestone. Every plant near the location of mystery plant #2 was also desert lily.

We took pix, but still wanted to compare them to the pix of unk #2. We still couldn't believe that unk #2 could really have turned out to be desert lily, since it looked more like a dudleya for its leaves.

As we continued on the use trail, James found some newly-emerged desert lilies in a nearby location that looked a bit like what james photographed on 2 January. This helped nudge us toward believing this id for unk #2.

At home, when we were able to match the rocks in his first pix with pix we took on 19 January, we had to believe it.

Once we became true believers, the reason for the different appearance in the baby plants turned out to be simple. Desert lilies that have to emerge through rocks produce shorter, stubbier, thicker, more robust leaves, since they have to push rocks out of the way. James and I had only seen desert lilies emerging in sand before, which can get by with narrow little insubstantial first leaves, since they only have to push sand out of the way.

I put all the pix online as part of my first species page for the Borrego Desert; see Hesperocallis undulata, desert lily.

The use trail put us back into Palm Wash above the waterfall, where we continued to explore. One of the Psorothamnus emoryi bushes found just before entering the upper Wash had Pilostyles thurberi on it! From the relative freshness of the finished flowers, it looked like it had just recently finished blooming.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was to find actual LEAVES on some white-stemmed milkweed, Asclepias albicans! I had never seen leaves before on any specimen of A. albicans or A. subulata. The new growth on this plant was already colonized with aphids, and we even found a ladybug picking off the aphids. (;-)

Many of the branches on the six foot tall stems of this plant had been browsed by someone with sharp teeth. Mike and Vince knew who it was! Of all things, a woodrat crawls up these stems to nibble the branches. That would really tick me off if I was that bush, to grow stems out of the reach of rabbits, mice and rats, but still have a rat gnaw on me. (:-)

We ate a snack at the farthest point we could go in the upper part of the main canyon, where we found a tiny alcove in the rock that had five or six regularly-spaced piles of bird poop. First, we were amazed that any bird could actually perch in this small alcove. Second, we were amazed that there were regularly-spaced piles of poop! One speculation is that somehow five birds perched there together, and the spacing of the poop came from the very regular spacing of their bodies. If five birds perched there, they would be crammed in, and so their positions would be the same each time they perched. Or perhaps when the pile of poop began to reach the body of the bird, a single bird just hopped one bird distance over until the same thing happened. (:-)

We then backtracked a bit, and explored a northern tributary of Palm Wash, where we found some animal droppings along one wall of the drainage. Mike and Vince soon pronounced it as being bat poop, and proved it by showing that the poop had tons of insect exoskeletons in it.

On our way back, Mike Crouse brought up the question of whether we were seeing the Cargo Muchacho Mountains from a ridgeline we were on. The answer wasn't clear just from seeing the peaks we were seeing, so Mike climbed the nearby hills to get a better view. He was able to see Picacho Peak to their left, verifying that we were seeing the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. Surprisingly, they are at almost exactly the same distance away from here as they are from the Montezuma Grade!

I took a pix of the mountains to the south, and later found that we were seeing the Sierra Cucapa Mountains in Mexico, 73 miles away; see View From Bank of Upper Palm Wash.

On our way down the use trail, James had the excellent idea to use the setting sun to create "human petroglyphs". For extra credit, you can try to identify, from left to right, who these shadow figures are.

In alphabetical order, your choices are:

Vince Balch, Tom Chester, Mike Crouse, James Dillane, Dave Stith.

Actually, I'm not sure I can identify anyone other than myself! (;-) And that was from knowing where I was in the crowd.

We got back to our vehicles at 3:30, and decided to drive down Palm Wash to "find the palms". We didn't know where they were, so we were just exploring.

We found a beautiful Borrego milk-vetch, Astragalus lentiginosus var. borreganus, just beginning its bloom:

Nearby, we found Brassica tournefortii in its first blooms, on teeny-weensy plants only a few inches high. They were right next to foot-tall plants from last year, showing what will happen to many annual plants this year unless we get more rain.

We next stopped at a good concretion site.

We turned around at about 5:00 p.m., finding only a line of 3 dead palms along a telephone line that parallel the wash to the south. It isn't clear to me if there are ANY live palms in the wash. The only palms that show up on the topo are at Four Palms Spring, which is not in the wash.

However, I learned the following later at home from Lindsay's book Anza-Borrego: A-Z

The wash has numerous palm trees and is the site of the mysterious Petrified Forest. During the late 1950s, rangers heard reports about a forest of petrified trees. Fragments of petrified palm trees are scattered in the wash, indicating that a large forest of palm trees once existed in this wash. The name Petrified Forest appeared on early park maps.

James even found a curious disk-like object at the concretion site, but it probably was related to the concretions and not to the fossil palm trees.

I took a pix of the skyline at our turnaround point, and a quick check shows that we had a good view of the Cottonwood Mountains in Joshua Tree NP, the Orocopia Mountains, and Peak 3766 in the Chuckwalla Mountains. The Chocolate Mountains were of course quite prominent. I'll have to spend some time and confirm all the ranges and peaks seen in my photographs.

Here's one photo with peaks I think are correctly labeled. Caveat: I haven't verified the angles to the peaks, so I might have screwed up.

Chiriaco Summit is directly behind the highest peak in the Orocopia Mountains, and Desert Center is directly behind the peak in the Chuckwalla Mountains.  

24 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Butler Canyon (see Flora of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons)

The annuals are popping! Much to our surprise, in Butler Canyon we came across the first blooms of common phacelia, Phacelia distans; small-flowered poppy, Eschscholzia minutiflora; and even the first FRUIT of curvenut combseed, Pectocarya recurvata.

Furthermore, we came across buds and/or the beginning flower stalks on a number of annual species, as well as buds on perennials and shrubs like cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola; and rambling milkweed, Sarcostemma hirtellum. Many annual species will have their first blooms within weeks.

Not coincidentally, insects were out as well. Butterflies were mobbing a desert-thorn, Lycium brevipes, at Clark Lake.

Michael Charters photographed 15 of the species here and at Clark Lake in bloom, as well as some of the other lovely non-blooming species here and the canyon itself; see his Field Trip Gallery: Butler Canyon, Anza-Borrego January 2009.

A list of the species found in bloom on this trip, along with a updated Borrego Desert bloom summary, is given in Plant Species of the Borrego Desert: 2008-2009 Blooms.

Blooms are even popping in the mountains, and new growth is evident on the coastal side. On the drive along SR76 in Fallbrook, I was amazed at how the elderberries had all leafed out very noticeably, with lots of green foliage, compared to almost no foliage being visible just five days earlier. Farther east, wild cucumber was blooming high up in some of the trees along the road.

At Palomar Mountain, just west of Lake Henshaw, at about 2500 feet elevation, two manzanitas were in glorious full bloom, just covered with flowers. Vouchers indicate these were probably A. glandulosa.

Manzanitas also were beginning bloom at the top of Montezuma Grade at 4000 feet, probably A. glauca.

I stopped in Lower Culp Valley, at around 2800 feet elevation, and found chuparosa and Prunus fremontii in bloom there.

I met Michael Charters, and Mike and Lolly Crouse at the Visitor Center at 10:15. Michael pointed out the Orcutt's woody-aster, Xylorhiza orcuttii, with three beautiful blooms in the Visitor Center garden, which was a delight. There were the first blooms of two annuals, redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, and what is probably curvenut combseed, Pectocarya recurvata, in the watered area in the parking lot.

We took two of our three cars to Rockhouse Canyon Road. We stopped three times along Clark Lake, to search for Allenrolfea, each time without success. But we found some beautiful desert-thorn, Lycium brevipes, in full bloom, being visited by lots of butterflies, and a rush milkweed, Asclepias subulata with one bloom.

As we drove along Rockhouse Canyon Road, this time I recorded the appearance of dominant or co-dominant species. In order past the lake, they were Larrea tridentata, creosote; Krameria sp., rhatany; Ambrosia dumosa, burroweed; Psorothamnus schottii, indigo bush; Opuntia ramosissima, pencil cholla; Hymenoclea salsola, cheesebush; Fouquieria splendens, ocotillo; Opuntia bigelovii, teddy-bear cholla; Psorothamnus emoryi, Emory's indigo-bush; Hyptis emoryi, desert-lavender; and Justicia californica, chuparosa.

Typically, when a species first appeared, it was the dominant species in for at least a short distance.

We stopped again when we approached the steep slope on the south side of Clark Valley past the main body of Coyote Mountain, since I thought this was the location of the Chrysothamnus paniculatus we saw there last time. Unfortunately, I remembered the location from the previous trip incorrectly, which was actually in Rockhouse Wash above Butler Canyon. But we still had fun here, finding a single plant of thick-leaved ground cherry, Physalis crassifolia, in bloom, along with the fruit from last year, and blooming plants of bladderpod, Isomeris arborea.

Btw, I thought the Chrysothamnus paniculatus was "Ericameria brachylepis" on that previous Rockhouse Canyon trip, but realized a few days ago that those plants were probably actually C. paniculatus. Later discussion with Jane Strong led to certainty on the C. paniculatus determination. Now I can't wait to go back and see these plants again!

The annuals were thick on this north-facing slope, but some were already wilting from lack of water, at least when the sun was on them. (:-(

Here, as in many other places along our trip, the sweetbush, Bebbia juncea, was in full leaf. I'm just amazed to continue finding so many plants with leaves, since normally this species is leafless.

We drove 0.55 miles into Butler Canyon from its junction with the Rockhouse Canyon, and began our plant survey there.

Butler Canyon turns out to be different in a number of respects from Rockhouse Canyon, although it is similar in being an impressive steep-walled canyon, with constant twists and turns.

First, its watershed is much smaller, and much lower. It drains the southwest face of Buck Ridge, with its creek being called "Dry Wash" in that area. In contrast, Rockhouse Canyon drains a lot of the southwest face of the Santa Rosa Mountains, including all except the very westernmost drainage of Toro Peak. In fact, sometime soon, geologically speaking, Rockhouse Canyon is going to capture the headwaters of Coyote Creek.

It is likely that Butler Canyon is in fact the ancient lower Rockhouse Canyon, and has been displaced to the northwest by movement along the San Jacinto Fault. When it moved to somewhere near its present position, a new lower Rockhouse Canyon (the present one), was cut, and cut off the flow to Butler Canyon. This also created Jackass Flat.

I made some cartoon illustrations to show what happened; see Formation of Butler Canyon, Jackass Flat, and Lower Rockhouse Canyon.

Second, probably because of the smaller watershed, the plants are different. We didn't find a SINGLE plant of bladderpod, Isomeris arborea; or punctate rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus paniculatus in Butler Canyon! Yet those plants were very abundant in Rockhouse Canyon.

Instead, this canyon has two fairly abundant species that are completely absent in the similar portion of Rockhouse Canyon: chuparosa, Justicia californica; and rambling milkweed, Sarcostemma hirtellum. The Sarcostemma draped itself across our paths in a number of places.

The surprise find of the day botanically was a single plant of coyote melon, Cucurbita palmata, that was growing 10 feet above our heads on a ledge in the rock wall! Mike Crouse nabbed a sample for us to voucher it.

We also found a very unusual patch of Anderson's desert-thorn, Lycium andersonii, on a north-facing slope. These plants had no thorns!! We could brush up against the plants, and hold branches in our hands for photography, without feeling any thorns. In contrast, the plants on the south-facing slope nearby were very ouch-y. We could hardly believe these were the same species, but they both had flowers, so there was no doubt about it.

This poses a serious challenge to the idea some of us had in previous years of trying to identify Lycium species by their gross appearance when they are leafless.

I suspect the main reason these plants had no thorns is that they were younger plants, and so had not yet formed a stiff skeleton, but the deep shade may be a factor as well.

Both the Cucurbita and Lycium were not found in Rockhouse Canyon.

Third, Butler Canyon has some HUGE boulders in it. Sometimes we looked ahead, and wondered how we were going to get over them. This is the result of the smaller watershed, which doesn't have enough water to process those big boulders. Fortunately, there was always a relatively-easy path around them.

Fourth, Butler Canyon has a fair number of caves in its walls. Mike and Lolly found lots of fox and bobcat poop, seemingly more than we found in Rockhouse Canyon a week ago. Mike, is it a fair conclusion that the animal population is different in Butler?

Mike also found the skeleton of a snake, missing only its head, and what appears to be the jawbone of a bighorn sheep.

We came across a "geode" pocket in one of the big boulders, displaying the typical crystals found on the inside of a geode, but here they were along a long line.

The wind came up a small bit in mid-afternoon for a short time, and we ate a snack in the shelter of four or five huge boulders. We implored the earthquake gods to hold off for a while! But we realized that there was no safe place in Butler Canyon if the San Jacinto Fault let go; there would be boulders tumbling downward from every direction, and we would have to play a possibly-deadly game of dodge-boulder.

It was with heavy heart that we turned back, after only covering 1.4 miles. There is much further exploration to be done here.

On the way back, we found three species not seen on the way up, including a specimen of turpentine broom, Thamnosma montana, in its full beautiful blue-purple bloom. You just gotta love this plant when it is in bloom!


28 January 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon (see Flora of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons)

Mike Crouse and I carpooled from SR76 / I-15.

Even though I was looking for the two manzanitas in full bloom near Lake Henshaw, so we could stop and admire them, somehow I didn't see them from the car, which was a bit puzzling.

At mile 8.5 on the Montezuma Grade, I mentioned that it would be nice one day to see the Gila Mountains in Arizona to the right of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. Mike almost immediately said he could see such a peak; that was pretty exciting!

At home, I matched my photograph to the horizon view, and found that peak is at the southern end of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains, and is called Pasadena Mountain, of all things.

The Gila Mountains would show up as a ridge that is to the right of Pasadena Mountain by the same viewing angle as that of the entire Cargo Muchacho Range.

I stretched my photograph of the skyline, and there is a hint of a peak at that location. It is only visible as a fixed object that is barely seen as I continuously enhance the image, but since it is so faint, it might just be noise in the image itself. Maybe we'll be able to see it by eye on the next trip, now that we know where to look. In this case, the eye is better than the camera.

Driving along Rockhouse Mountain Road, I was scanning for the first Chrysothamnus paniculatus, and found the first one just a bit earlier than the one we had found accidentally on our drive in on 1/15/09.

I was astounded when I got out of the car to look at it to find that today it looked very much like a Chrysothamnus, even though I had rejected that id for the plant a bit farther along the road on 1/15/09! I had rejected that id for that plant since its phyllaries seemed to be in more than 5 ranks, which is the hallmark of Chrysothamnus.

This bush was the size of typical C. nauseosus, and it had phyllaries that were quite typical Chrysothamnus phyllaries, 5 ranked, and without the raised midrib of Ericameria brachylepis.

It's amazing how your perceptions of a plant can change, depending on what knowledge and biases you have in your brain when you are doing the perceiving, especially when there is variability in a population of a species. (Another example is making two species out of one from that variability.) C. paniculatus is said to have phyllaries "+- 5 ranked", so there is variation in that key feature.

We looked for the black bands on the stems said to occur for C. paniculatus, and found them on the dead twigs from previous year.

Black bands, and Chrysothamnus 5-ranked invols with no raised midvein, turned out to be the case for every plant we examined, leaving no doubt that these plants were indeed all C. paniculatus.

This made my day right there!

See Pix of some of these plants.

Look how similar the white-dotted old leaves are to the Ericameria brachylepis in Henderson Canyon, but how different the phyllaries are:

I GPS'd the C.p. as we drove up the road, and there was a ton of it. In fact, it even continues past the Lepidospartum at Hidden Spring, and is found in the upper canyon, too. It is amazing it is so widespread and abundant here, but absent everywhere to the north and east until Whitewater River, Joshua Tree National Park and the Orocopia Mountains.

We parked in the same location as for 1/15/09.

Beginning at the car, we again created a plant checklist for our route. But this time we didn't spend any time scouring the area away from the road near the beginning for additional species, and instead picked up those species along our route to save time.

We found 10 species up to Hidden Spring that weren't found in the previous survey, primarily because we covered slightly different ground on our way to and back from the Spring. Interestingly, we also found 10 species on the 1/15/09 survey that we didn't find on this trip, again mostly due to covering a different area in a small portion of the hike.

The comparison of the two surveys also found that I failed to write down one species on each survey that was seen on both surveys, a failure rate of about 1%. This implies there should not be any other species here that was seen but which I failed to record (since a double failure rate would occur with a probability of only 0.01 x 0.01 = 0.0001, or one in 10,000 species). Of course, there may well be a species or two that I didn't notice in the first place, and more species will be added when the annuals begin to bloom and reveal themselves.

We finally saw the first baby chia plants of the year from anyplace in the last two months. There are tons of dead plants nearly everywhere, but so far only two plants that germinated this year. There are a handful of other annual species for which we haven't seen any live plants this year from any area surveyed in the Borrego Desert.

The bloom for the Chrysothamnus paniculatus and the Lepidospartum squamatum was down significantly this trip compared to 13 days earlier. This is expected since these species are late fall bloomers, and this is the tail end of their bloom. In contrast, the desert lavender, Hyptis emoryi, is now in full bloom here, joining the bladderpod, Isomeris arborea. The wishbone bush, Mirabilis bigelovii, still seems a week or two away from blooming.

Unlike the nearby Butler Canyon, none of the annuals here have popped into bloom except for a single redstem filaree, Erodium cicutarium, which was surprising. Judging from Butler, I had anticipated seeing a fair number of annual species in bloom. There must have been something different about that single location in Butler that caused the annuals to bloom earlier there.

We found a very unusual bebbia that could not be recognized as a bebbia at first. It had a mounded appearance with dense tangled bristly foliage that looked like a giant perennial Cryptantha racemosa. But out of the dense foliage came some normal-looking bebbia stems, and the fruit was dead-on bebbia.

Something must be in the air there, since close to this plant we found a very strange growth on a Mirabilis bigelovii, probably from a gall.

I vouchered the Baccharis brachyphylla, and we found the first baby plants of Emory's rock daisy, Perityle emoryi, nearby. I also vouchered a Brickellia desertorum farther up canyon.

We came across an unusual-looking cheesebush, Hymenoclea salsola, which had its main stems knocked horizontally, possibly due to a flood, which then sprouted many strong new dead-erect branches from the stem nodes. Such sprouts are sometimes called "water sprouts" by gardeners.

We went over to find our single specimen of turpentine bush, Thamnosma montana, but the GPS did not lead us right to it. It turned out to be 35 feet away, an unusually high relocation error, perhaps due to multipath reflects from the canyon walls. In our hunting for this specimen, we were delighted to find another nearby specimen that was now in fruit. Thamnosma has a very distinctive fruit, to go along with its very distinctive blue-purple flower.

We made it to Hidden Spring about 2:30, pleased we had 1.5 hours to explore farther up the canyon. However, we spent 20 minutes of that at Hidden Spring. I photographed the Muhlenbergia asperifolia and the pistillate stalks on the Typha domingensis, which were exactly the 0.5 mm peg-like stalks that were advertised for this species. Mike photographed the bees in a crack in Hidden Spring and the Lotus rigidus.

When I was photographing the Typha by holding a stem up close, the female fruit came flying off the stalk, going directly into Mike as he was trying to photograph the bees. Mike interrupted his bee photography to capture some of the seeds, with Jackass Flat in the background on the upper right.

At one point, the bees became quite upset at Mike being too close to them, and a large number of them came out of their crack. Fortunately, they weren't interested in annoying us further.

Btw, as mentioned in a previous report, the Rockhouse Canyon Drainage was on TOP of Jackass Flat until geologically recently. The canyon became much more impressive as we went.

At Hidden Spring, the canyon was cut into relatively-easily-eroded reddish rock, with the old alluvium on top of it on the Jackass Flat side (it had been eroded on the other side). When this canyon formerly drained into what is now Butler Canyon, the floor of the canyon was on top of Jackass Flat, on top of that old alluvium. When the current drainage captured the Rockhouse Canyon Flow, the steeper course to Clark Valley cut the current canyon ~100 feet or so below the base of the alluvium.

At Hidden Spring, there were thick dikes of white granitic rock above our head. A bit above Hidden Spring, one of those dikes cropped out at canyon level, which abruptly changed the character of the canyon. Instead of a sandy wash, we now were walking on this more-resistant-to-erosion rock, which formed mini-waterfalls of just a few feet in many places.

Rockfalls and steep talus slopes abounded on the sides of the canyon, evidence that the canyon is still adjusting to its new steeper profile.

One rockfall had to have occurred very recently, since most of its rocks were freshly broken, with very small rocks, and were _upstream_ of the fall! Stream flows had not yet pushed even the smallest new rocks downstream. The picture of the rockfall was taken from farther up the canyon looking down canyon.

The canyon became so impressive that we anxiously peered around each bend to see what it looked like there. Also, new species started coming fast and furious due to the changed topography.

Inevitably, this was where we ran out of time, and very reluctantly, had to turn back. See a picture taken just before our turn-around point.

We peeked around the corner in front of us, where the canyon turned left for a while, but then it turned right again, continuing its meanderings here. (:-)

Notable new species here were:

- heartleaf sun-cup, Camissonia cardiophylla, which grew only on the rocky talus slopes

- bushy cryptantha, Cryptantha racemosa, which grew along a very steep, somewhat incised, side drainage. There were five plants here in the little area we surveyed at our turnaround point. By comparison, I've only seen two total plants of this species ever before, both in Palm Wash.

- we found a rosette that matches the leaves of Stanleya pinnata, which is vouchered from only this canyon in san diego county. This is the southernmost locality for this species.

On our way back, below Hidden Spring in an area that we probably passed three times already on our two trips, we were stunned to see a blooming specimen of desert sage, Salvia eremostachya. This plant had nearly died at some point in the past, since it had lots of dead branches. But it had managed to survive and produce a number of new stems, all of which showed buds or blooms.

Surprisingly, we managed to find two new species for our survey on the way back, in territory previously covered below Hidden Spring three times before: the Salvia eremostachya and a dead annual like Eriogonum deflexum.

We also checked on the mystery Astragalus that had a single bloom last time, that seemed to be Borrego milk-vetch, A. lentiginosus var. borreganus, but which looked very different from the plants of that species in Palm Wash. Neither Mike nor I could believe that this could be the id, but I spent a little time prior to this trip trying to see if any other id could fit, and failed. I was hoping that bloom observed on 1/15 had produced the beginnings of fruit that could be used to help key it out.

Annoyingly, we couldn't find that bloom stalk. The plant had no flowers at all, only small buds! We couldn't even find any evidence that the bloom stalk had ever been there. There was no question we had the right plant, since there was only one, in a distinctive location, that also matched the GPS readings previously. But it was near sunset, so maybe the flower had just dropped off that stalk, and there were no further flowers or fruit on it, making it hard to see.

Fortunately, I took a pix of the small buds by flash, which showed the red glands of Marina parryi, which immediately led me to the true determination. See also other pix.

For the third time this year, we found Palafoxia arida flowers open at dusk, that we had not noticed as being open when we passed them earlier in the day. I get the distinct impression that these flowers open in the evening!

A map of our route.

We only managed to make it 0.7 miles above Hidden Spring in just under two hours, a total of 2.65 miles from the parking spot. But we almost made it to Riverside County!

We need to go an additional 3.5 miles to make it through Buck Ridge to the open valley above it.

I am quite ecstatic about botanizing through Buck Ridge, a place I have only seen from afar previously.


1 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon (see Flora of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons)

Anne Kelly and I carpooled from I-15 / SR76.

We looked for the manzanitas in bloom on SR76 near Lake Henshaw, and saw several that looked to be in bloom, including one at the San Luis Rey Picnic Area. I'll try to stop there the next time to check it out.

On the Montezuma Grade, one Encelia farinosa is in good bloom. From the car, it looked like it was in a favorable location for moisture and early heat, being on the side of a road just above an asphalt road drainage. None of the others even showed buds that could be seen from the car, so I won't count this as beginning its bloom here.

On Rockhouse Canyon Road before Clark Lake, we spotted a tarantula crossing the road. Of course, we know why this tarantula was crossing the road! (;-)

We backed the car up several hundred feet, and were able to take pix before he disappeared in a bush. It was indeed a "he", as expected, from the hooks on his front legs, and was out seeking lady love literally "to his death". What a way to go! (:-)

We stopped at Clark Lake so that Anne could see Lycium brevipes in bloom. We found a very interesting butterfly on it.

I thought at first I was seeing two butterflies mating, but the second "head" was just the very interesting structures at the tail end of its wings. This butterfly kept moving its wings up and down slightly all the time it was resting on the Lycium.

Looking at my pix, it is even more bizarre. The tail end of each wing has a structure that appears to be a head, complete with an antenna!

Leafing through "Butterflies of ABDSP", I got lucky and skipped right to p. 42 and found the id was a Great Purple HairStreak (what a name!), Atlides halesus.

The book says it has "two pairs of fancy tails". A "tail" is apparently a single wing appendage. The "two pairs" are shown clearly here.

Thanks to Jane Strong for the verification of the butterfly species id, the two links and the explanation of why there are "two pairs of fancy tails"!

Butterflies were quite common throughout the day. We encountered a large number driving along Rockhouse Canyon Road, and then more as we were hiking, including what we thought was a swallowtail of some species. The book has pages on six separate swallowtail species, so I won't venture to guess what species this was, since I didn't photograph it.

Insects in general have been increasing in numbers on each of my recent trips. Plants in bloom on this trip sometimes had swarms of a number of different insects on them. We weren't bitten by any insects, but we did have a few landing on us or buzzing around us for the first time, illustrating the increased numbers.

On our drive in, we counted 79 chuparosa plants in bloom to get an accurate count of a number we had only previously estimated. This is full bloom for this species here; there were very few plants not in bloom.

We parked 0.4 miles from the Butler Canyon Road junction, just before the first area where 4 wd might be needed. This was one mile shy of where Mike Crouse's 4 wd made it to. This of course gave us a chance to survey this initial mile botanically, but penalized us because we had to turn around a half hour earlier.

We found five additional species for the Rockhouse Canyon plant list from that initial mile: ~Loeseliastrum matthewsii; ~Camissonia pallida ssp. pallida; Stylocline gnaphaloides; Psorothamnus emoryi; and Pilostyles thurberi.

The Psorothamnus / Pilostyles was growing on the Salton Sea sediments, continuing the association of Pilostyles with those sediments. We found four more Psorothamnus bushes farther along, in the wash, all without Pilostyles.

Finding these Psorothamnus plants gives further support to Jane Strong's suggestion of P. emoryi for the seedling plant farther up the wash, since previously we hadn't found any adult specimens of this species here.

This bush was at eye level on a slope, and loaded with easily-visible Pilostyles, which made it very easy to photograph.

We noticed some unusual growths on the Chrysothamnus paniculatus that looked like galls. Anne spotted one old one on a later bush that had the black "fungus" (or whatever it is) inside it. We speculated that maybe this is the way the fungus reproduces to infect other C. paniculatus bushes. It is also possible that the fungus infects the seeds, so that every plant is inoculated with the fungus from the beginning.

Anne made a very interesting observation that the ocotillos in the lower open part of Rockhouse Canyon were preferentially leaning to the southeast! It is so striking it easily shows up on my photographs, both from the upper slopes and down in the bottom of the canyon. I don't recall ever noting this anyplace else.

We checked on the "unk annual like Psorothamnus emoryi", but it hadn't changed in the last four days. Even with the GPS position, and finding it just four days ago, I couldn't initially find this plant. I had given up, and began to continue hiking up the wash, and then, boom, there it was. Once again, the GPS coordinates were off by 30 or 40 feet.

We met three groups of vehicles on this Superbowl Sunday, more than we've seen in our previous two trips combined. The first group we heard as some strange booms in the distance, that we couldn't initially figure out what they were. As they got closer, we learned it was their stereo. (:-( They were traveling down canyon, and just waved as they went by.

The second vehicle was traveling up canyon, staying just about the same distance behind us as we walked, verifying my suspicion that one could walk just about as fast as one could drive in the upper canyon. I was interested in seeing how they overcame the boulders that had stopped Mike Crouse and me from continuing in Mike's vehicle, but we were too far up canyon to see. I asked them when they approached on foot later, and they just said "they drove over them".

The third vehicle was traveling up canyon when we were on our way back to the car, and turned out to be people from my town of Fallbrook. We had seen them camping near the Alcoholic Pass Trail wash on our drive in.

I twice photographed today the same Mammillaria dioica cluster that was blooming four days ago, once on the way up the canyon and once on the way down. The flowers today, on the way up at 1:51 p.m., were more open than four days ago, and more numerous. The flowers were mostly closed on the way down, at 4:21 p.m. These three pix are from roughly the same vantage point, showing the change in the buds / flowers in four days, and in 2.5 hours:

You can also see the HUGE difference in how my camera records the scene, depending on the light level.

We got to Hidden Spring at 2:07, and I was delighted we had almost an hour and a half to explore up canyon. We had been thinking about possibly going up to Jackass Flat as another option, but it was nearly 80 degrees, and so we were looking forward to getting into the shady upper canyon instead of baking further in the sun.

The desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, that was beginning bloom last time was now in full bloom, loaded with insects and heavily perfuming the air with its wonderful fragrance.

We found a specimen of Cryptantha racemosa a bit downstream of the ones Mike and I found on the last trip, and a different Gilia sp. near it. This Gilia has much longer white hairs, and has what look like purple glands near the leaf blade edges.

In the previously-unexplored-by-us granite section of the canyon, we turned a corner and found a beautiful 15 foot dry waterfall with a honking 12 foot high boulder looming overhead! See a pano made of 3 pix, with Anne climbing up the waterfall on the left:

Fortunately for non-mountain goats like me, there is an easy bypass trail, discovered by Anne, that follows the top surface of the granite intrusion to the top of the waterfall. (;-)

At the base of the bypass trail, we found a Galium stellatum that hadn't read the floras, and was caught producing a few whorls of 5 leaves, instead of the usual 4. (;-)

We also found some baby plants of threadstem, Pterostegia drymarioides, that I didn't recognize in the field at all, but which was instantly obvious to me when I looked at my pictures just now. They look like they have leaves in a whorl of 7-8! These very small plants look like they are already producing buds.

We also found at this same location a seedling I had never seen before. It appears to be a seedling Mirabilis bigelovii, which came from the mother plant just above it.

See pix both of these species, along with the Mother Mirabilis for a leaf comparison.

Above the waterfall, the bottom of the canyon was nearly flat, and the canyon was more open. This is perhaps an indication that this waterfall is the "nick point", the highest point that the current erosion cycle has reached. This latest cutting was presumably produced by the recent capture of the drainage that formerly went into Butler Canyon.

We were surprised to find graffiti on a rock above the waterfall, that was so old it could now be classified as historical, and not graffiti:

"Sand buggies; 8 VW's; 1969".

There might be a "1" in front of the "8", making it "18 VW's".

I just noticed in my pix that there are further letters below that we didn't notice in the field: "RG...".

The Fallbrook person we talked to later mentioned that people used to winch their vehicles over this waterfall, confirming that this really used to happen.

But this story from 1968, says they could only make it to a half mile beyond Hidden springs at that time.

Btw, the article above talks about the Rockhouses, and has pix of two of them and a map of their locations.

We only had enough time to go a short distance above the waterfall, but Anne's sharp eyes quickly spotted three species that we hadn't seen before, but which are usual plant residents in desert canyons here: woolly lipfern, Cheilanthes parryi; California chalk lettuce, Dudleya pulverulenta; and desert spike-moss, Selaginella eremophila.

We puzzled for a moment why it had taken this long to find these species, and the answer quickly came to us. They were on a recessed portion of a cliff that was an old surface and had not been eroded recently. Every portion of the canyon below the waterfalls screams out that heavy erosion is going on. There are landslides everywhere on the walls, made out of very angular rocks. These species aren't present below here because they can't get established in an environment of rapid erosion.

We also were surprised to encounter a single plant of Parish's viguiera, Viguiera parishii, just beginning its bloom, with five open flowers and a number of buds. One neat thing about this species is that you don't need a microscope to see the chaff scales; they are very visible when the heads are in bud as black scales that separate the disk flowers.

Chaff scales are important in keying out Asteraceae plants, but usually aren't visible in photographs unless a head has been split in two and photographed.

All told, we found five new species for the plant checklist in the extra 0.32 miles we covered in the upper canyon. Anne also found an additional species, Engelmann's hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus engelmannii, in the previously-covered section just below this, from a dead, upside-down plant next to the canyon wall! (;-)

It was a delight to hike this trail with Anne, since she was seeing the bloom of some of these species for the very first time, and was very pleased to see the blooms. She did her master's thesis on the north side of the Santa Rosa Mountains, but mostly only got to see dead plants since she did her surveys in the horrible drought year of 2007.

On our way back, we counted the number of desert-lavender, Hyptis emoryi, in bloom. This was interesting, since the first thing we noticed is that contrary to our earlier impression, Hyptis does not line the wash except in places! There are almost no Hyptis plants in the upper canyon. We went so long between plants that I kept forgetting what the count was, even though the count was in the 1 to 12 range. It is only in the lowermost part of our surveyed area that Hyptis becomes abundant, and only there did we finally get up to 99 plants, when we could stop the count. (:-) I don't think we would have gotten to 200 plants in bloom.

We had daylight to check the Marina parryi this time, since we had an extra mile to walk to get back to the car. Despite both of us looking hard, we could not find any evidence of the stem that was in bloom on 1/15/09. We did find another specimen on the way back farther up canyon.

Our total trip mileage recorded by the GPS was 8.93 miles, 12% more than the 7.96 miles given for our route by "Topo!". I think most of the extra GPS mileage was due to poor satellite reception in this narrow canyon.

Although we only covered an extra 0.32 miles in the upper canyon, it was a glorious 0.32 miles. (;-) We also walked an extra 1.9 miles round trip due to having to park farther down canyon.

See also these 360 degree panoramas from locations here: Lower Rockhouse Wash, near Clark Lake; Hidden Spring; Upper Narrows in Rockhouse Canyon; and "Rockhouse Valley", which I'm guessing is the section above Buck Ridge, from the Yucca schidigeras in the pix.


5 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Rockhouse Canyon (see Flora of Butler and Rockhouse Canyons)

Mike Crouse and I carpooled and had every intention of blasting directly to the farthest point covered so far in Rockhouse Canyon, without botanizing, so that we could botanize from that point farther and hope to emerge from the narrow canyon portion into Upper Rockhouse Canyon just below Toro Peak.

We both got to the carpool point early, so we had a ten minute head start on the day.

So far, so good.

On SR76, we saw the manzanitas in bloom just before Lake Henshaw, but did not stop, following that plan.

So far, so good.

We got to the beginning of the Rockhouse Canyon Road at around 10:10 a.m., 20 minutes earlier than usual.

So far, so good.

We were driving along Rockhouse Canyon Road when I suddenly noticed that one could see the Clark Fault going from Clark Valley into the portion of Rockhouse Canyon aligned with Jackass Flat and Dry Wash. It was clearly marked as a linear trace in the hills on the west side of Clark Valley producing a saddle on the ridgeline.

This was exciting, since we had looked for the linear trace of the fault heading southeast from that portion of Rockhouse Canyon on previous trips, but only found that saddle. Seeing just the saddle wasn't enough evidence to convince me that the fault continued along this same trace here. However, seeing the trace on the southeast side of the saddle shows that it does. This implies that the linear trace of the fault between the floor of Rockhouse Canyon and the saddle is just hidden by the erosion from the steep slopes within the canyon, which makes sense.

We stopped quickly to take a picture, and were still 15 minutes ahead of our usual trip here. So far, so good.

We continued merrily driving along Rockhouse Canyon Road when I suddenly noticed annuals in bloom; LOTS of annuals in bloom. We stopped there, and another location a bit farther along, and spent about an hour enjoying and photographing about ten annual species that had popped into bloom in the last four days. All the usual suspects were there and in bloom, including spectacle pod (one even had its first fruit!), Cryptantha angustifolia, brown-eyed primrose, spanish needles, Malacothrix glabrata, and sand verbena. We found some perennial / subshrub plants of Fagonia laevis in full bloom there as well.

Oh, well, so much for blasting to upper Rockhouse Canyon. (:-)

Btw, the annual bloom is not widespread yet; the above report is from the first two patches that have popped into bloom. Most areas have no annual bloom at all yet. Four days ago, these two patches had no blooms either.

My camera battery ran out at the beginning of this photography extravaganza, so I changed to my back-up battery. To my complete and utter disgust, I found it was dead. I had screwed up and not recharged it, thinking I had already done so.

I, of course, was extremely ticked at myself that this had happened, and spent much of the next hour kicking myself. But, as often happens, this was probably a fortunate occurrence. The failure of my camera bought us time on our hike, since only one of us was photographing things as went, and we didn't have to "line up" to photograph a given plant. Mike kindly offered to photograph anything that needed a pix, and Mike and his camera do a good job producing good pictures.

We got to the parking area at 11:50, and found the first Eschscholzia parishii in bloom right there!

As a result of the unanticipated blooms, we began our hiking at 11:54, 24 minutes later than anticipated. The only botanizing we did on the way up was to record species in bloom, which didn't take very long. All mileages below are given from our parking area, which is 1.4 miles above the junction with Butler Canyon.

We got to Hidden Spring at 12:50, by far our earliest arrival there, and spent five minutes trying to reproduce a photograph from ca. 1950 in an old ABDSP Guidebook by Horace Parker kindly sent to me by Elizabeth Schwartz.

Open these two pix - Pix 1 and Pix 2 - in two separate browser screens, line them up on top of each other, and then you can use alt-tab to flip between them to see how things line up and change between the photos. I've numbered corresponding features in these labeled photos (unlabeled photos have the same URL without the "_label"):

Features match pretty well at Hidden Spring and to the left, but the scale is off to the right, and I could only match up one thing on the right. This probably means the camera position needs to be moved a bit, and we need to do the pix when the sun angle is different as well to get the shadows to match up. However, there may have been some erosion on the right since 1950. Also note that the current sign is new, and smaller than the old one.

The major change is a surprising one: the wash was deeper in 1955! Note that features "1, 10, 9, 12" occupy about the same length in both photographs, but there is a lot more cliff below feature "12" in 1955 than now. This is not unexpected; washes change dramatically between floods, with some floods depositing material and other floods removing it.

One stretch of the wash above Hidden Spring was absolutely perfumed with the sweet smell of mistletoe in bloom. The wind was blowing from the south, and for tens of feet downwind we were in the plume of fragrance from this single clump.

We made it to the dry waterfall at mile 2.75 at 1:25 p.m., and took a break and ate there. Mike climbed up the ridge to the south above the waterfall, and we ended up spending until 2:00 p.m. with food, the view, the animal sign, and the plants there.

We reached the end of previous botanizing at mile 3.00 at 2:06 (in Riverside County!), and began botanizing as we walked. We had 2.4 miles to go to get to upper Rockhouse Canyon, and to get back in daylight we needed to turn around there at around 3:15 p.m. That would mean a pace of about 2 mph, which is challenging when one is botanizing.

Worse, at least for the timing and botanizing, it was hard to watch for new plant species, since the canyon was so spectacular! This stretch of the Canyon is east-west, with a former river terrace along the north side. At mile 3.6, the Canyon turns north-south again, and at mile 4.0 opens up to an extensive flattish area in a side drainage to the east. The anticipation of seeing this kept our eyes returning to the forward view.

We were pretty stunned at mile 3.6. The current Canyon is incised in the former river terrace, which in this location has on its top a huge number of white boulders. It looked like someone had gone to massive effort to line the top of the incision with a wall of beautiful boulders!

It was hard to imagine just what happened that had made the erosion regime change so much, from the finer material below to these very coarse boulders above.

This spot was even more interesting on the way back. As we hiked south, it didn't look like there was any way out of the canyon we were heading into. (:-)

We saw our first juniper here at mile 3.6, and they became more numerous as we gained elevation.

We were enchanted by seeing the extensive flattish area in the side drainage. There were two main incised drainages in it, with the rest of the flattish area being an extensive former river terrace. It seemed quite probable that native Americans used that flattish area extensively, and we ached to explore it.

But our goal was upper Rockhouse Canyon, so we continued north.

We saw our first Prunus fremontii plants at mile 4.1, all of which were in bloom, with a good fragrance.

We reached mile 4.3 at 3:15 p.m. It was clear then that we could not make it to upper Rockhouse Canyon and return to the car in daylight. Fortunately, we both carry flashlights and we couldn't bear the thought of turning around. So we began to hoof it the last mile, and minimized our further botanizing.

I was quite surprised to run into a good concentration of what appears to be Penstemon clevelandii, which appeared very happy there. The surprises kept coming: a single plant of Rhus ovata, and several plants of Nolina parryi, the lowest ones known in the Borrego Desert by far! The only other occurrence of this species here is at 5400 feet near Villager Peak; we were at 2800 feet elevation. (There are vouchers at Whitewater in Banning Pass at 800 feet, so this elevation is no problem.)

We could see the end of the canyon in front, and then there we were, in upper Rockhouse Canyon! We were almost at the foot of Toro Peak, with ominous clouds just to the west from the storm that came in this afternoon.

Mike climbed a ridge to the south a bit, and took the pix that I put into Autostitch to create this .

Note how utterly insignificant I appear, even though I am much closer to the camera than most of the things in this pix. Toro Peak is the highest peak in the distance.

The Upper Rockhouse Canyon Valley is much bigger than it appears. The wall on the right is a totally insignificant feature of upper Rockhouse Canyon, which goes on behind it as well as to the left of the end of the leftmost wall in the distance.

Here is a view from Toro Peak on 19 July 2008 looking back at where we were standing on 2/5/09, where you can see how big Upper Rockhouse Canyon actually is (see also pix with the landmarks labeled).

VERY satisfied with ourselves, we began to hoof it back. We picked up the expected "two new species on the way back" in one stroke very quickly, when we found Ayenia and Delphinium in the same crack between two rocks.

The sun set, the daylight faded, and even though clouds were all around us, I suddenly noticed Mike and I had shadows cast by moonlight. We pulled out flashlights since we didn't want to twist an ankle on the rocks in the wash. Hiking by flashlight slows one down considerably due to the small field of view lit up by the flashlight. We made it to the car with about 30 minutes of flashlight hiking.

On the drive out, the car scared up a bird I had never even heard of, but which Mike knew right away, a Nightjar. Mike says that cars and Nightjars don't mix well, since Nightjars nest on the ground, and depend on camouflage to keep them safe. Unfortunately, cars and drivers operate on a different set of rules. (:-( But at least this bird was car-aware.

It was a great day. We saw over 500 individual specimens of 42 species in bloom. We added 16 species to the Rockhouse Canyon plant list. We reproduced a photo from over 50 years ago. And we got to put our toes in Upper Rockhouse Canyon!


11 February 2009: Anza Borrego State Park: Coyote Canyon Road, Box Canyon

The flowers they are a-poppin'! (;-) As noted in the previous email, on our car stops along Coyote Canyon Road, and hike up Box Canyon, we saw over 1100 individual specimens of 53 species in bloom! The count was actually 54 species, since Michael Charters managed to find a flower on a plant of arrow-leaf, Pleurocoronis pluriseta, that I missed, and I didn't find out about it until I saw his pix.

See Michael Charters' beautiful pix from our trip; a map showing our hiking route in Box Canyon; and view down the tributary of Box Canyon, from the farthest point reached by Mike Crouse. In Mike's pix, the tributary bends to the right, in this view, to join the main channel of Box Canyon, out of sight on the right. Coyote Creek is in the canyon going left-right just above the middle of the picture.

The detailed list of all the species we saw in bloom along our car stops and hike is given here.

Mike Crouse and I met Michael Charters at the end of Di Giorgio Road in Borrego Springs at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 2/11/09. We discovered there were literally carpets of spectacle-pod, Dithyrea californica, in full bloom there. They were accompanied by the first blooms of Lupinus arizonicus, Camissonia claviformis, Abronia villosa, Cryptantha angustifolia, and Palafoxia arida.

I checked for the heteromorphic nutlets of C. angustifolia to verify its id, but since these were the first blooms, it was very difficult to see the tiny ovaries clearly with a hand lens, and I couldn't be positive one was larger than the others. In a week or so there will be some more-developed nutlets, making this much easier in the field.

I looked for any different cryptanthas, and found a single plant. Because I was actually trying to find C. ganderi, which has been found here regularly by Wayne Armstrong, that species was uppermost in my mind when I found a single plant of a different species.

Last night, I had written down the simple ways to determine two cryptantha species in the field, C. angustifolia and C. barbigera. Somehow I thought one of them was C. ganderi, and consulted by notebook. I saw the "C. barbigera", but was thinking "C. ganderi", so ended up thinking I read "C. barbigera". Its test is a calyx in flower of 4-6 mm, and that's exactly what I measured. So I got excited about finding "C. ganderi" and being able to photograph it, as did Michael Charters, since he had never photographed it either.

At home, I looked at my pix and immediately thought "gee, this looks like C. barbigera", which, of course, it was.

I took a pix of Michael photographing the C. barbigera, and Mike Crouse took a pix of both of us. (;-)

Only Wayne seems to have the magic touch of finding C. ganderi here. I've seen him do it several times now.

We would have spent more than 20 minutes here, but we were meeting Bill Sullivan at 11:30-11:45, so needed to move along. We drove about 100 feet, and then had to stop the car at a lovely field of dune primrose, Oenothera deltoides, just beginning to show off its beautiful white large blooms.

We managed to drive another half mile or so before we saw the first blooms of desert dandelion, Malacothrix glabrata, and had to stop. I've been dying to find the difference in the pre-flowering leaves between this species and Fremont pincushion, Chaenactis fremontii, so I photographed a number of leaves. Only a botanist would be foregoing photographs of the flowers to photograph the leaves! (:-)

I was stunned to see that there was no water at First Crossing, despite the recent rainfall. Last year, there was always enough water there, on every visit I made from 30 December 2007 to 5 April 2008, that I decided against trying to cross it with my 2 wd Chevy Blazer. Today, my car would have had no trouble driving to Second Crossing, and maybe even to Third Crossing. (I was in Mike Crouse's 4 wd truck, anticipating difficulty on going across First Crossing.)

We were able to drive a bit beyond First Crossing before we had to stop for the first blooms of desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana.

After another short distance, we had to stop again since there was a field of longbeak streptanthella, Streptanthella longirostris, in flower and fruit.

Fortunately, since we hustled ourselves out of each flower stop, we met Bill Sullivan at 11:46, only a minute late, who had been walking toward us from Second Crossing. (;-)

Bill joined Michael Charters in his car, and we drove another few feet before we spotted the first Fremont pincushion, Chaenactis fremontii, in bloom and had to stop again. (:-) This time, with Bill, we leisurely enjoyed the flowers, and walked over to Coyote Creek, which had plenty of water at this spot. But the water all disappeared into the sand in the next half mile! On the bank of Coyote Creek, we spotted the first blooms of indigo bush, Psorothamnus schottii.

At Second Crossing, Bill wanted us to check out the plants blooming there, so we did. Most were non-native weeds, which choke almost every watercourse here, but we found one beautiful bloom of sacred datura, Datura wrightii, as well as a single plant of Stillingia linearifolia just beginning bloom.

Carpets of spectacle-pod, Dithyrea californica, in full bloom, were seen all along nearly the entire length of Coyote Canyon Road.

We parked just before Third Crossing, and walked up a side washlet that was somewhat slow going since we had to pick our path through it. One place was a real treasure-trove of California fish-hook cactus, Mammillaria dioica, with about 10 plants very close together. A few were in flower here; we found something like 10 plants total in bloom along our entire route.

On our hike up the washlet, we finally observed the first blooms of wishbone plant, Mirabilis bigelovii var. retrorsa. The buds have been growing larger for weeks, and some finally popped. Oddly, the blooms were open here at noon, but we didn't see any in bloom after four o-clock on our way back, perhaps because it was cold, cloudy and a bit breezy then.

There were some gnats or equivalent bugs at the last two car stops, and at the beginning of our hike. I picked up several bites on my hands and legs, but fortunately the bugs went away as we got farther up the wash.

We began our plant checklist at the narrow mouth of Box Canyon about a half mile north of Third Crossing.

Almost immediately, we came across a Asteraceae bush we didn't recognize. I finally realized it was probably short-leaved baccharis, Baccharis brachyphylla. I analyzed a sample, and that indeed is the id. This made Michael happy, since he had been looking for this species, and here it was, dropped into his lap. (:-)

The only real obstacle of the day was a dry waterfall about 5 feet tall that was easy to descend, but a bit trickier to ascend. Just above that waterfall was a young grass, whose leaves, all basal, looked like those of fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum. Annoyingly, though, the inflorescence at first glance looked like that of big galleta, Pleuraphis rigida.

Mature big galleta plants have only cauline leaves, which gives an easy discriminant with fountain grass.

This bothered me all day. We later came across a big galleta with an inflorescence that had the normal leaves, and I again shook my head at the improbable leaves on that first young plant.

Fortunately, I took a pix of the first plant. When I looked at the inflorescence, I noticed all the long awns / bristles, which big galleta does not have. I then quickly realized this was just a young fountain grass inflorescence, which had not yet "spread out" to look all fluffy like fountain grass usually does. The feathery styles on the grass flowers made them look more similar than they actually are.

See pix of our confusing plant.

We came across two plants of punctate rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus paniculatus, increasing by 50% the canyons in which it was known in the Borrego Desert. The other two are very close by, Coyote Canyon below, and Rockhouse Canyon on the other side of the ridge to the north.

We turned up the side canyon, following Schad's directions to get to the old Indian Trail, but then I misdirected us up the canyon, following the GPS track I had constructed from the map in Schad's book. James Dillane had even sent an old topo map that had the trail marked, but I didn't look carefully enough at it. I had placed the trail going up the upper drainage, instead of on the ridge just the east of the upper drainage, which was 1 mm away from the canyon on that map.

In the map linked above, we should have headed up to the ridgeline, following the blue line route that curves around the "K" and heads north.

Heading up canyon became increasingly difficult, as we had to pick our way through and over large boulders. I was hoping to get up to the ridge, to see what the old land surface looked like above this canyon, but it became clear we weren't going to make it on this trip. So we turned around at 3:41 p.m.

Mike Crouse went up to the ridge from here, found the Indian Trail and took it down, while the rest of us negotiated the boulders. He said he hit the upper trail a bit to the upper right of the "K" on the map.

I wasn't unhappy that we didn't take the ridge route this time. If we had, we would have missed the Euphorbia eriantha in bloom, and maybe the Thamnosma montana found by Mike on his way up the ridge. But next time we'll take the turnoff to the ridge route! (;-)

On our way back, we went down the main wash which took us to the wonderful riparian area of Lower Willows. We saw plants of Chrysothamnus paniculatus that actually had dense panicles for their (old) inflorescence, with maybe ten times the number of flowers per stem that we'd seen on previous examples.

Btw, the whole bank of the river was covered in "scattered scat". (;-)

We made it back to the cars at 5:29 p.m., with minutes of daylight to spare. (:-)

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Copyright © 2009 by Tom Chester.
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Updated 14 February 2009.