Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents|
Joshua Tree National Park
Unfortunately about the only wildflowers growing near the pass were the degusting alien invasive Sahara mustard that is fast becoming an ecological nightmare in our Southwest deserts. It was sickening to see how dense those ugly bullying plants had become along the road in just a few short years. I drove back west on SR-62 and noted wildflowers only really began to appear where I neared the Iron Gate Road that leads north to Dale Dry Lake. Thus there was indeed just a narrow band a few miles wide where thunderstorms passed in September that had any flowers to speak of. How amazing!
As warm orange sunlight began working its way down the craggy granitoid Sheephole Mountains range just north, I turned north down the wide well graded Iron Gate Road towards the Dale Dry Lake salt works. All along the road were colorful magenta hued sand verbena, abronia villosa, large bright white flowers of dune evening primrose, oenothera deltoids, off-white smaller brown-eyed evening primrose, camissonia clavifornia, and yellow hued Mojave suncup, camissonia campestris. Lots of flowers but without interesting structure to work something in beyond the constant low density creosote bushes, larrea tridentata that dominate so much of the Colorado and its further east Sonora Deserts and give the whole desert a characteristic background fragrance. However the gangly creosote bushes rarely add much to one's photographic compositions. The Sheephole Mountains would do nicely for my backgrounds. I drove back south then continued west on SR-62 deciding to do a quick survey on roadside areas along the highway.
Not seeing anything compelling enough to start walking around, I drove on further beyond the roadside flowers to unsigned Gold Crown Road and turned southeast down its very bumpy washboard surface. There are often many no-name roads in deserts that can be quite confusing to eliminate from the ones actually shown on topographic maps. So I tend to carefully assess the landscape versus a map as I move down a highway, recording odometer mileage readings, and looking for clues in the topography. Gold Crown turns towards a low pass in the Pinto Mountains a few miles away up a low gradient slope. In the distance I could see yellow patches just west of the pass below Humbug Mountain, I expected were desertgold sunflowers. Only the dense yellow areas seemed to have many flowers. Not exactly how I planned to spend the best shooting period of my first morning. But I had spent effort and gas to drive a few miles up the road thus decided on hiking out a half mile to the yellow areas. The Pinto Mountains mark the edge of a long east to west border of Joshua Tree National Park.
Humbug Mountain bajada hike
So for the first time on my journey, I hoisted up my 23 plus pounds of daypack with camera gear plus another 6.7 pounds of the big Gitzo G-1325/G-1318 tripod and set off across the Humbug Mountain bajada. Crossing a number of wash channels dominated by the ever-present creosote bushes, many had ORV tracks that no doubt began a couple miles north where these washes crossed the highway. It's fine with me that those folks who enjoy riding up such legal off road routes, do so in the sandy wash channels where the water periodically removes any trace of tracks. Scattered smoke trees, dalea spinosa and palo verde, cercidum floridum, eked out an existence at the wash edges with small bluish-purple flowers of blue phacelia aka common phacelia, phacelia distans, finding niches tangled up below the trees and various bushes with green dense branching masses of brandegea, brandegea bigelovii. I laid down prone on the ground to be able to peer into my lcd display right at ground level and took a picture of bottlebrush, camissonia boothii, up against the sky. Here and there were obvious desert lilies leaves that were yet to bloom. Beyond the washes, desertgold sunflowers, geraea canescens, grew atop the hard rock debris soil about as densely as I'd seen in 2005 at Death Valley. Most interesting were the variety of small species down in the wash like desert stars and purple mat. One particularly striking flower, a spotted langloisia, langloisia punctata, begged for a portrait from my Coolpix camera. I exposed a so so 4x5 sheet, 08-A-1.jpg , (Mouse left click these 4x5 image links.) on a landscape with brown-eyed evening primrose, Mojave suncup, and desertgold to get out of my system the fact I'd not used my view camera 3 months since early November.
sand verbena hill hike stomping Sahara mustards
An hour and a half later with sunlight getting a bit too harsh, I was back on highway SR-62 driving back east. I stopped at a spot along the berm at a dip of a wash where dense naked green branches of a palo verde tree provided the only roadside shade for my parked car over miles. With a very light breeze, the temperature had already risen by 9am to the high 70s and would rise to over 80F at midday. Of interest, I noticed a half mile distant was a slight hill that seemed to be dense magenta from sand verbena. Setting out on the second hike of the morning, I began my war against the Sahara mustard by stepping on a great many along my tediously sandy path. I tended to ignore the skinny wimpy ones that had never taken much of a drink of rain waters thus were not likely to produce many seeds and instead stomped the larger ones. A good thrusts with the side of my boot right at the base of the bulky plants usually was effective at breaking the main large celery-like stems causing the plant to half lean to the side in mortal injury. At least I'm hoping mortal? For some largest clumps, I continued to stomp a bit atop the remaining roots but that soon began to take too much effort. A twisted idea rose up in my imagination of some future DNA scientist engineering a race of mustard eating jackrabbits. Better than stomping is pulling mustards out roots and all but that takes more effort.
Out at the hill, indeed were nicely dense sand verbena that I framed up with sharp outlines of the Sheephole Mountains to the north as a background. Unfortunately there were jet contrails in the sky mixed in with thin clouds that I waited some till they blurred in a bit with other clouds though results later showed I should not have wasted my pricey film. Unlike most photographers today per my personal long consistent style, I will not digitally alter in post processing my image graphics by removing even those white streaks in the sky. Also on the hill, I exposed a fourth sheet, 08-A-3.jpg , on what would be one of only a couple 4x5 close-up images of the trip, a nicely shaped dune evening primrose against clean isolated sand that is sure to receive a pricey drum scan in the future.
Before leaving my beautiful little magenta hill, I raged against all the mustards there, kicking and stomping at least a hundred. One person will not make a difference but at least I can say I tried and will continue to do so. If we could get a few thousand people to come out to some of these special areas during key times, it would be possible to really make a dent in all these mustards. A few thousand people wearing boots spread out over 5 miles of highway or 26,000 feet, could each take on a 25 foot wide path and quickly exterminate most all those plants by walking a half mile out on each side of the highways. Even better if they were all carrying little push hoes to guillotine them. It's the roads where those invaders are spreading from. Gee with 10 gazillion humans now living in Southern California that can't be asking too much. Some kind and considerate mega-millionaire ala Bill Gates could simply take notice and offer to rent a few hundred urban school busses for a day on a late spring weekend bussing out a few thousand urban folk who have never been out in the our desert. Free ice-cold lemonade would of course be back at the busses. Well of course the state could do that too if one could get past all the politicians and legal monkeywrenchers that would figure out ways to do nothing.Spring 2008 Wildflower Road Trips...page 2