After leaving Anza-Borrego State Park (SP) and the Sonoran Desert, we headed north, stopping to visit with our friends Jim and Ellen Strauss in Pasadena. We reached Carrizo Plain National Monument (NM), located west of the southern end of the Central Valley, just before dark. This area is notable for both wildflower displays and a good selection of rodents. We mounted the thermal scope outside the truck (it cannot see through glass) and wired it to a display inside the truck, so we could use it to look for mammals while driving. In this fashion we got our best views ever of Giant Kangaroo Rat, a mammal with such limited numbers and distribution that there was concern about it possibly becoming extinct because of the 7-year drought experienced by California. We found decent wildflower displays in Carrizo Plain NM, but clearly the peak was still to come.
Our next stop heading north was Panoche Valley which, like the Carrizo Plain, is an isolated outpost of grassland habitat west of the Central Valley. We again trolled for mammals after dark, using the thermal scope from the truck, with only minor success. Our field work done for the time being, we headed for the Bay area to visit friends. We went out of the way to drop our canoe off at California Canoe and Kayak in Oakland for repairs, this being one of the few places we know where high-quality Kevlar work is done.
We stayed a week with Rob and Tam Jenkin and their daughter Sierra in Morgan Hill. I worked with Rob for several years, and we had last all seen each other at the total eclipse in 2017. Sierra, who was a bit too young to remember the eclipse, has really grown in the intervening year and a half. While in Morgan Hill, we were able to catch up on a lot of tasks requiring cell signal, and meet with a number of other friends. One day, we had a nice lunch with Elaine Jin, with whom both Rob and I have worked. Over the weekend, it was great to see MC Dwyer and her partner Mark in Boulder Creek; MC was our realtor both buying and selling there. Last but far from least, the group Eileen used to work with each week at the U. C. Santa Cruz Arboretum, then known as the Aussie Weeders, threw a potluck lunch for her. It was wonderful to see the whole group again, and we really appreciated Melinda Kralj arranging the event! Afterward we had a chance to walk around the Arboretum, which looked beautiful, and we admired the rock garden area, which was just being started when we moved in 2016.
Our itinerary for the year called for us to continue north at this point, but we decided to return to southern California first, to take advantage of the “superbloom”, and also to delay arrival farther north, where the season was late because of continued rains and cool temperatures. Studying the itinerary, I decided we could afford perhaps ten days truancy; in the end, the southerly loop took eleven days. Our first stop was the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve, which was just as good as during the legendary 2008 season. The wind was wicked the day we were there, but we got in some photography during a brief calmer spell just after lunch.
From there we headed northeast to Red Rock Canyon SP, as there were rumored to be Red Rock Monkeyflower, Erythranthe rhodopetra, in bloom there. This recently described and very rare species is currently known from only four sites, all within or close to the state park. We quickly found it in Hagen Canyon Wash, paralleling the road from the tamarisk grove to Red Rooster. This annual apparently only flowers after adequate rains; we heard that this was the first year since 2011 that it had been seen. We spent two more nights in the area, enjoying beautiful dispersed camping; singing Bell’s, Brewer’s, and Black-throated Sparrows on their breeding grounds; Mojave Desert Parsley (Lomatium mojavense), with some plants having yellow flowers and others inky dark purple ones; and clouds of the aptly named Evening Snow (Linanthus dichotomus), which blooms at night and turns the desert ghostly white in moonlight.
Turning south again, we visited the Desert Tortoise Natural Area, where the wildflower display was also very nice. We did in fact see a pair of mating Desert Tortoises there, which was neat, and we also enjoyed lunch with a singing LeConte’s Thrasher. But we did not find Mojave Ground Squirrel, always difficult, but especially so as a result of the drought. I saw this species once, in 1983, and Eileen has never seen it.
Joshua Tree National Park is not especially noted for wildflower displays, but this year the southern portion, which is in the Sonoran Desert, was outstanding. I expected the area would be well past by the time we got there, but I figured some of the higher, more northerly portions of the park, which lie in the Mojave Desert, might be good. In fact, there were excellent areas for wildflowers in both the Mojave and Sonoran sections.
The three-mile round-trip hike to Forty-Nine Palms Oasis, always a favorite of ours, had fine displays and excellent variety – we noted 38 species of native wildflowers in bloom along the trail. Wilson Canyon had colorful displays of a nice variety of species, and while we were photographing here, to our surprise, Jim and Ellen, whom we had visited three weeks before, nearly 200 miles away in Pasadena, stopped to say hello, as they noticed our vehicle while driving by! A last notable location was the wash parallel to the road at the south end of the park, where flooding has damaged the road. Here we walked 0.4 miles in the wash, finding 39 native wildflowers in bloom, an amazing total for such a short walk in a single habitat!
With time running out, we headed once again for the Carrizo Plain, stopping to spend one more afternoon hiking at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve, where the wind was even worse than a week before. At Carrizo Plain NM, we found that the flowers were past peak on the plain itself, and on the Caliente Ridge on the southwest side of the plain. However, they were excellent in the Temblor Range on the northeast side of the plain, as good as in 2010, another superbloom year. We were able to track down several uncommon species on Hurricane Road that we last saw in 2010.
Two sights will particularly stay with us. Coming over a high point on the Elkhorn Road, which runs close to the San Andreas Fault, I looked half a mile ahead to see an otherwise pale, barren hill that was partially covered with flowers of a burnt orange color, and immediately realized that it was an uncommon fiddleneck (Amsinckia) that we had seen twice before, growing on nutrient-poor substrates, usually on steep slopes. When we reached the hill, I keyed the plant to be sure, and it was indeed the striking Amsinckia vernicosa var. furcata, growing on finely decomposing shale.
The other sight was the 360-degree panorama visible from our campsite that night, on an isolated hill along the crest of the Temblor Range. From that spot, on the precipitous slopes surrounding us, we could see huge splotches of six colors amidst the green hills: yellow (Monolepis lanceolata), yellowish orange (Mentzelia pectinata), reddish orange (Eschscholzia lemmonii), magenta (Castilleja exserta), deep blue (Phacelia ciliata), and pink (Eremalche parryi). Though difficult to photograph in the fading light, this exquisite palette will remain in our mind’s eyes for quite some time.