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Yosemite Interlude

Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

I meant to already have a post up about the second garden I visited on the Garden Conservancy tour, but I ended up taking a trip to Tuolumne Meadows (the early scenes of the video) before I got a chance. Tuolumne was of course awesome, and it will probably be a little while before my attention fully turns back to Bay Area gardens and posting resumes.

— Update 8/29 — I haven’t been closely following the news about the rim fire, it kind of depresses me, but here’s a video of it. Sadly it’s a bit more relevant than the one above.

Saguaro NP and Organ Pipe Cactus NM

I got back from my road trip a little while ago. It was great. Much colder than I expected, but Anita says it was also cold around here. I started in the Tucson area, visiting a friend and doing a little bit of climbing. I spent a couple of days hiking at the lower elevation parts of Saguaro, a couple more hiking at higher elevations in the Catalina Mountains east of Tucson, and one day hiking in the Santa Rita Mountains about an hour south. I also went to Kartchner Caverns and Colossal Cave State Park, and spent a day at the Sonora Desert Museum. The Desert Museum was great; I went to several botanical gardens on the trip, but I’ll put those photos in separate posts. These photos are all from Saguaro and Organ Pipe.

It was my first time in that part of Arizona. I found there was a lot of overlap with plants I knew from Baja or Southern California, but with subtle differences. I hadn’t seen saguaros before, just Cardons, the Baja equivalent. I like the saguaro skeletons almost as much as the living ones. I was surprised at how many of the plants I recognized when I went up to higher elevations, to the grass and oak woodlands. There was an Arizona version of sycamore, rhamnus, rhus, and madrone, and more species of scrubby oaks than I could keep track of.

The Ocotillos were my favorite plant there. I know them from when I went to school in San Diego and would hike in Anza Borrego State Park. I think they’re the first desert plant that I ever loved.

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After Saguaro and the other Tucson parks, I went to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the border with Mexico. It has a lot of the same species as Saguaro, but it’s also the one part of the US where Organ Pipe Cactus and Senita Cactus make it up across the border. It might sound strange to call the desert lush, but the area where I camped, Alamo Campground, was noticeably more lush than where I hiked in Saguaro, with more foliage on the plants and a lime-green cast to to the silver-leaved foliage. It was also the one place in Arizona where I saw leaves on some of the ocotillos. It could be because the soil was redder, with more iron in it, or maybe the area had received a little more rainfall. The weather had warmed up after the cold snap in Tucson, so it felt almost tropical.

I hadn’t thought too much about Organ Pipe being on the border, but in the past decade the park has had a lot of problems with drug traffickers. There doesn’t seem to be as much trouble now, but that’s because just about every third person or vehicle in the park is Border Patrol. There are a couple of checkpoints just outside the park and one guy came around to my campsite and spent some time questioning me about what I was doing in the area and what was in my truck and so forth. And while I was hiking I found a stash of about forty empty water bottles that were obviously used either by drug or undocumented immigrant groups, so there is obviously still activity. At first I was happy to be the only one at the little campground, but by the time I left I had much less confidence in my solitude. Rather different from my usual national park experience. While the Border Patrol guy was filling out his report on me, I made a sketch of his truck.

It’s one of the prettiest little patches of desert I’ve ever visited, though, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again. The photo below is pretty representative. It’s best if you click to see it larger.

Ryan Mountain

‘Perspective — that is the reward for hiking to the top of Ryan Mountain.’ (J. Tree signage)

In Joshua Tree there’s a peak named Ryan Mountain. I might have resisted the bait, but then at the trailhead I found a sign proclaiming that ‘The…hike up Ryan Mtn. is a reaffirmation of life. The pulse accelerates, the senses become more acute, and one may renew the acquaintance of lungs and muscles previously taken for granted.’ (Robert B. Cates, Joshua Tree National Park: A Visitor’s Guide 1995) So what’s a blogger named Ryan to do? I of course want my blog to be reaffirming. So, photos from the hike are below.

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Occupy Joshua Tree

Occupy Joshua Tree

Anita and I spent most of last week at Joshua Tree. It’s one of my favorite places and very photogenic. These are some of the photos I took.

Years ago when I first saw Joshua trees, I thought they were just about the goofiest things growing on the planet. After working with plants for a number of years and seeing a lot more succulents, I don’t find them nearly as strange. Still somewhat Dr. Seuss-y, but not nearly as much.

The showiest color in the park was in the red seedheads of a buckwheat. The foliage was quite red too. Really striking against the dried grass or stone.

Some of the spots in the park look like the work of a talented gardener with a loose, easy style. This path, (click to see it larger), looked like it had been deliberately edged with red and yellow foliage.

The Sulfur Buckwheats were still in bloom. They were doing the same thing — blooming from the cracks in the boulders — when I was in the Buttermilks around this same time last year.

There is one species of manzanita in the park, A. glauca. I saw a few nice healthy ones, but the most beautiful was a deceased one. I don’t think I’ve ever had that opinion about a plant before.

And the desert can make a dead car look beautiful too. A great, great place.

Salt Point State Park

I took a couple of days this week to go climbing and hiking at Salt Point State Park up the coast between Jenner and Sea Ranch. I’d never been before, it’s a little far for a day trip, but now the impending closure of so many state parks has got me motivated to check out some of the parks I’ve always meant to visit. Salt Point isn’t one of the ones that will be closing, but that’s partly because they have already cut back many of the services. The closures didn’t really affect my visit, I had a great time, but it was a reminder of how things are trending. But in any case, I wasn’t dwelling on that during my trip, mostly I was just enjoying the park. Classic Northern California coastline, lots of wildflowers in bloom, and I was lucky to enjoy perfect weather. I’m not sure photos can show how exceptionally pleasant it was.

Salt Point was a quarry in the 1850’s. Sandstone slabs were split and shipped down to San Francisco to use as paving and wall stone; you can still see drilling scars on some of the rocks.

It’s nice to see a former quarry site looking so beautiful.

Baja Multitrunks

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree at Dusk

Here are some more plant photos I took in Baja in the desert around San Ignacio and Cerro Colorado, along the coast near Bahia Concepcion, and further south near Cabo Pulmo. My first go at taking photos in low desert, pretty fun, as my favorite things in the plant world are multitrunked trees with interesting form and bark, and Baja is pretty much an entire landscape of beautiful multitrunked specimens with interesting form and bark. Elephant trees were my favorites, but there were other stunning ones: Palo Verdes, Palo Blancos, Cardon Cactus, Organ Pipe Cactus, Adam’s Tree known in Spanish as Palo Adan (Fouquieria diguetii, the southern form of Ocotillo) and Limberbush (Jatropha cuneata), which I’d never heard of but really liked. So many good ones. I suppose some of them are technically standards or semi-standards, but practically all of the plants down there grow with the interesting form I associate with multitrunk trees.

Limberbush, Jatropha sp.

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata

Cardon

Cardon

The Cardones come in graceful or stubby forms.

Cardon Multitrunk

Cardon Multitrunk

Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus

Elephant Tree

Elephant Tree

Burseras

Burseras

We saw hillsides that had an amazing specimen every twenty or thirty feet.

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Bursera microphylla, Elephant Tree aka Torote

Torote means ‘twisted.’

Elephant Tree Trunk

Elephant Tree Trunk

Fouquieria diguetii

Graveside Fouquieria diguetii, Palo Adan

Fouquieria

Zero Leaves, One Bloom Cluster

Fouquieria diguetii, Adams Tree

Lots of Leaves, No Flowers

In the drier sections most of the Fouquierias were leafless, with maybe a few token blooms to keep the hummingbirds and visiting gardenbloggers happy; down south a lot of them were in full leaf with fewer flowers. Does anyone know why they’re called Palo Adan or Adam’s tree?

Fouquieria diguetii

Fouquieria diguetii at Playa Requeson

I remember something incredibly spiny was keeping me from backing up any more for this photo.

Palo verde

Palo verde, aka Desert Willow

I’m partial to the name palo verde, but desert willow, another of its common names, seems appropriate too. Leafless they looked a lot like Japanese maples, but in full leaf they were indeed willowy.

Green Sticks

Green Sticks

Roadside Palo Verde

Roadside Palo Verde

As far as I’m concerned, they’re pretty even when they grow along the highway with trash scattered around.

Mesquite Tree

Mesquite Tree

We started calling the Mesquites ‘Palo Gris’, because their trunks are gray but their green twigs and foliage resembles a Palo Verde. They’re actually a pretty sweet little tree, I think, just not as showy as the Palo Verdes and Palo Blancos. I read somewhere that some miners in Baja once found a root 50 meters deep.

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco is a perfect common name, but if Palo Verde gets desert willow for a second common name, I think Palo Blanco should also get a second name and be called desert birch. They did seem biggest and happiest at the bottoms of washes and arroyos where they could find some extra water.

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

Palo Blanco

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