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Cataviña Boulder Gardens

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Death Valley and the ‘super bloom’ was just one stop on the trip, we spent the bulk of our time south of the border in Baja. We revisited Cerro San Ignacio, an amazing spot that deserves an interpretive trail perhaps more than any other site in the world. But we’d been there once before; the botanical highlight of this trip was the Boojums. Boojums! I’d wanted to see the boojum forests for years.

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We did our boojum viewing amongst the boulder gardens around the oasis town Cataviña, a beautiful area with pinkish granular granite reminiscent of the rock at Joshua Tree (there’s apparently good climbing on some of it, too). Some of the boojums had strange curlicues at the top like something out of Dr. Seuss, but my favorites were the graceful upright ones. There’s something illogical about them, as if the plant got confused and put it’s taproot in the air and it’s branches underground.

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The area also has tremendous Cardón cactus trees.

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Elephant trees are another favorite. A little bit like small oaks from a distance, but with striking caudiciform trunks up close.

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As with any great rock garden, in some places the plants were a compliment to the rocks and in other places the rocks were a compliment to the plants.

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There were plenty of showy flowers tucked amongst the rocks and arroyos. A few of my favorites are below. (more…)

Joshua Tree Revisited

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After the garden show I went down to Joshua Tree for a week of rock appreciation, for which there is no better place. There was a small amount of wildflower action to appreciate along with the rock, but not much. This Echinocereus was shockingly intense wherever it was in bloom, but even pulling back out a little shows what a small bit of color it was in a relatively monochrome landscape.

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The main excitement was with the rock. So many beautiful rock formations. I took photos of a few of the features that reminded me of dry-stone work.

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The rock above looks like it was split at the end of the work day and left ready to be installed tomorrow. It’s uncanny how cleanly some of them are split.

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And at the end of the day, it’s all amazing for climbing. One of my favorite landscapes in the world.

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

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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, naturalistic 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.

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