Archive for the ‘wildlands’ Category
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
The Cardones come in graceful or stubby forms.
We saw hillsides that had an amazing specimen every twenty or thirty feet.
Torote means ‘twisted.’
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?
I remember something incredibly spiny was keeping me from backing up any more for this photo.
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.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re pretty even when they grow along the highway with trash scattered around.
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 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.
I mentioned that we started bicycling from San Ignacio, an oasis town about half way down the Baja peninsula. Before we started riding, we spent a few days exploring the desert and checking out the plants there, and especially checking out the succulents on Cerro Colorado, a volcanic hill a few kilometers from town.
If you’re interested in succulents, Cerro Colorado is the place. The Center for Sonoran Desert Studies/Desert Museum did a survey and found 44 unique species, which they claim is the highest number of succulent species of any spot in the southwestern U.S. Would that then make it the highest number of any spot in the world? I don’t know, but there’s a ton of succulents there, regardless. Anita and I did our own personal survey and identified 19, which we’ll obviously have to improve before we can start leading botanical bicycle tours of Baja (now accepting reservations for winter 2031). Looking at the species list for the hill, I see that it broadly defines a succulent as just about any plant that has tissue designed for storing water. The list includes a couple of Asclepias species and a bunch of caudiciform shrubs and vines: cucumber relatives, shrubby euphorbias, a wild fig, and two species of elephant trees (Bursera). Some of those are plants I wouldn’t have considered succulents, but then I’m not a botanist, and with 24 species of cactus, it’s not exactly lacking in conventional succo’s.
I think these are two different species of barrel cactus. I lost track of all the chollas. We could tell there were several different types, but the desert museum lists eight, including hybrids. A couple were jumpers.
It’s probably the spiniest place I’ve ever been, but plants are spaced far enough apart that we could make our way through it as long as we occasionally pulled spiny branches out of our way. I found that walking with all those spines everywhere kept my attention always focused on my immediate area and each plant immediately in front of me, so that I was constantly looking up to discover yet another awesome specimen in front of me, over and over and over.
Elephant trees get the nod as my favorite plant down there. Has anyone seen or grown one in the Bay Area?
This is probably the best trunk I saw on a Red Elephant Tree while I was down there.
There were two kinds of Jatropha. The other one, J. cinerea, looks a lot like the mexican redbud, but with somewhat swollen-looking branches and twigs.
The hill had great palo verdes. They aren’t a succulent, but they have chlorophyl and photosynthesize on their wood, which seems like justification for getting in with the succulent photos.
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