Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents|
Southern California Road Trip
March 12 thru March 21, 2008
page 6 of 9
Friday March 14, a morning in Smoke Tree Wash
As dawn began lighting the eastern sky, I was glad to find only a light breeze about. So I packed up gear and headed back north into Joshua Tree National Park to the Black Eagle Mines dirt road area. Along the drive in, I did find areas that seemed to be rather windy while others that might remain workable for a time though I knew as the morning progressed such upper winds have a way of lowering down to surface areas everywhere. I parked and quickly explored area of Smoke Tree Wash where I set up and exposed a back lit image putting smokethorn aka smoke trees, dalea spinosa, against the shadowed bouldery pile peaks with a foreground of small glowing wash wildflowers including brown-eyed primrose, purple mat, blue phacelia, desert senna, and poppies that were quite closed up, 08-C-4.jpg . A delightful time to be walking about these wonderful desert washes. There were some nice areas of poppies but by time they would open up around 10am, light would be rather harsh. These were nicely enjoyable landscapes for hiking about offtrail with many species to keep things interesting.
At mid morning after poppies had opened, I exposed the better of 4 sheets, a delightful landscape without any overpowering elements, 08-C-7.jpg , that had a sandy wash foreground of poppies, brown-eyed primrose, and purple mat, amid creosote bushes, larrea tridentata, with the bouldery rockpile granite peaks in the background. Walking about in areas with brown-eyed primrose, considerable pollen tends to stick on one's boots and my boots and lower pant legs were quite sweetly yellow. There were also little jewels of Bigelow monkeyflower, mimulus bigelovii about all the sandy wash areas as I found one nice subject for my Coolpix.
fan palms at Cottonwood Springs
I drove back south and stopped at Cottonwood Springs and visited that very popular oasis of desert fan palms. I stopped at the Cottonwood Springs visitor center, bought a good park topographic map, and being a good citizen paid for my $15 park entrance fee that otherwise without stopping to do so lacks enforcement. It was now noon and increasingly windy. I knew the only roadside areas I had any chance of doing some close-up work at would be in sheltered areas of Cottonwood Canyon below. So I drove off to the one spot I knew where I could park and receive a bit of shade from a palo verde tree. After lunch I walked about the bright bare sand and stone wash some unproductively. Later in the afternoon, I hiked a ways up the Coyote Mine sub-canyon, and despite strong winds, managed one modest image of flowers and ocotillo against shadows and a nice flash close-up of canterbury bells, phacelia campanularia, against the sky.
escaping south in violent winds
I could tell the predicted storm was now moving in, so decided to head all the way south to Anza-Borrego State Park where I would scout out landscapes to shoot while holing up a couple days for storm winds to pass. Having a patient stingy attitude with my pricey large format film, in my first three days I had only exposed 9 sheets of film though conditions had been difficult due to winds and that was bound to worsen over the next couple days. On the positive side, I had captured a number of good close-up images of wildflowers with my Coolpix camera in desert regions where I had previously few images. I would have already had many from my March 2005 road trip, but right before that trip, the lens on my previous digital camera had permanently frozen up.
At sunset, I had crossed I10 and was driving down through the Box Canyon Road through the Mecca Hills eroded badlands towards the below sea level agricultural fields and towns of the Salton Sea. Below, I once again filled my gas tank at a large Arco station, then continued south on SR-195 then SR-86 that are west of the sea. By this time winds had increased to rather violent levels and rocked my car about on the road. A half hour later, I reached the S22 road junction and turned west, soon entering Anza-Borrego State Park. At the Arroyo Salada dirt road junction I followed that road down to a spot where terrain shielded my car from the violent sand blasting winds. This was one night I would most definitely be sleeping inside my Suburu sedan that can be done somewhat comfortably with the folding down of the right rear seat and clearing out portions of the trunk.
windy Saturday March 15
at Anza-Borrego State Park
By dawn the strongest howling winds seem to have passed though winds were still quite strong. Despite the winds, the storm had not yet reached the area as skies were still mostly clear and blue. I decided to find somewhere to spend a couple days in peace. I knew that would need to be in some wind protected canyon instead of the quite open locations here in Borrego Valley. Given the strong west wind direction, I targeted some small narrow canyons off SR-78 near The Narrows to likely be most protected since they were oriented north to south. During wash explorations along the highway, I stopped at a wash where several beavertail cacti, opuntia basilaris, were blooming with their large fragrant magenta flowers. Oh what insidious little hair-like spines that species has! I found my desired conditions up the 4WD road into Quartz Vein Wash's narrow steep walled ravine. Strong erratic winds occasional bore down into the canyon but it was generally quieter. I found a pleasant location underneath a large shaded desert ironwood, olneya tesota, tree and parked so my car would protect a set up tent from the usual wind direction. There I set up my summer North Face Slickrock tent that I'd tossed in my car. Although it was Saturday and the highways were thick with vehicles driving into the park from nearby urban areas for the ORV areas about Ocotillo Wells or for wildflower viewing in Borrego Valley, only one other SUV had driven up this wash to camp.
A bit later, I had made camp and was taking a pleasant midday bottle shower that the windy conditions had not allowed Friday. After cooking lunch, eating, and looking at some maps, I was enjoying a pleasant nap while the wind occasionally played havoc outsides. However when I woke up about mid afternoon, I noticed fine sand had been blowing in under my rainfly, through my fine mosquito netting, and into the tent leaving a white layer on gear at one end. Hmmm? I immediately wished I had brought my winter tent instead that is quite protected from spindrift snow problems and would have done the same for fine blowing sand. For another hour I put up with the growing sand. However about 4pm, I'd had enough and tore down my tent and shook sand off everything, as all my gear went back into my car that was then set up for another night sleeping inside. Sand is an insidious desert reality that one ought not take too lightly. It has a way of coating everything and worse getting into camera equipment. Lesson learned.
change of plans with desert rains
About 5pm, I decided to hike about the area since winds had decreased somewhat, so followed up the wash to where I managed to climb the eroded walls up to a ridgeline separating the next little canyon north. From there I could see rain clouds of the coming storm bearing down on the area and those clouds would likely arrive within an hour. Suddenly I was excited about the possibility of actually experiencing rain in the desert, so decided given the lowering winds, to drive out to a location where I might enjoy the rainfall overnight. Thus a half hour later I was back in Borrego Valley where indeed about a healthy third of an inch had already fallen near the mountains edges to as far east as the community of Borrego Springs. However just a ways east over the valley, clouds quickly dried up in the desert air leaving mostly clear skies. Higher up over the taller peaks west, a fresh blanket of white snow was readily evident from this forecasted low snow level storm. Eventually I drove out on a dirt road below the Henderson Canyon trailhead to park for the night while enjoying the occasional pitter-patter of rain squalls through the evening.
Sunday March 16, a hike up Henderson Canyon
Waking before dawn on March 16, I was glad to hear winds had decreased to a minor breeze. Skies were mostly cloudy though more open skies could be seen further east in the rising dawn light. Thus I decided to gamble wasting some gas, by driving a dozen or so miles east to areas along highway S22 where ocotillo are more dense such that I might capture warm light on the clouds through silhouetted ocotillo branches. However a few miles east the breeze changed to stronger winds, so I turned around deciding to return to the foot of the mountains that was apparently being sheltered from higher altitude wind flow. On the way back I checked out possibilities along Coyote Wash at Henderson Canyon Road but the breezes were too strong. I drove up to the end of the Henderson Canyon dirt road unsigned trailhead, parked, organized gear, put on warm clothes, then set out up the unsigned trail in a small sub-wash on the bajada towards Henderson Canyon. There were many species of wildflowers all about. Being right against the mountains, such areas always receive more rains from near lee side orographic effects than just a short distance out into a rain shadow because clouds don't immediately lower after passing mountain topography but rather gradually lower. I immediately found a blooming barrel cactus, ferocactus cylindraceus, that I enjoyed pointing my Coolpix down at.
Just a bit further along was a large brittlebush, encelia farinosa that I immediately noticed how from down low I could put its nicely curving shape of peaking flowers up against the sky. Thus out came my view camera gear, that I then set up, and waited unsuccessfully for 20 minutes of so for its flowers to stop moving. Nope not today. I'd need to try and snag this shot tomorrow. It was obvious there was a bit too much of a breeze to likely put my view camera to much use. I continued climbing the wash trying to keep on the main footpath. However ducked routes were all over the many wash channels. About a quarter mile above that route entered the wide primary wash channel passing through the narrower mouth of the canyon. Above the canyon mouth, a half mile or so low gradient valley began. I noticed a decrease in wildflower species this far up so instead decided on heading up crosscountry to the dense ocotillo slopes just north of Indianhead Mountain on the south side of the canyon.
That turned out to be a productive choice as blooming yellow-hued brittlebush were quite dense below ocotillo. The slope was quite bouldery and held good numbers of other species given all the microclimates boulders tend to offer. One wonderful little find were blooming fishhook cactus, mammillaria dioica. After finding the likely best ocotillo landscape, I once again set up my view camera. Clouds had increased to the point I needed to wait till more blue sky showed in my frame. A couple hours later it was late morning and in frustration I exposed a sheet in overcast conditions mainly as a record to prove once again how such flat conditions are usually a waste of film with flower landscapes. There was a fair chance I would not hike the mile plus from the trailhead again so that might be my only chance to record an image. I began the bouldery ramble back down towards the distant trailhead and snapped a Coolpix image of the lemon and orange orchards down below in Borrego Valley with the large field of yellow desertgold sunflowers behind in lower Coyote Wash.
Now at midday, and increasingly breezy, most of the clouds had cleared and a large lens of deep blue sky surrounded all the remaining small cumulus buildups over higher mountains. Lower down in the wash, I found a lavender bush, hyptis emoryi branch down near the ground out of the breezes, I thought I could image against the sky. The Coolpix was having trouble focusing on my subject as it often does so I had to use a small section of a bar code I'd cut off a product package, the lines of which when positioned at an intended focus location readily allow focus. However the complication of refocusing each time the wind is about to stop while depressing the shutter half way is quite tedious. I'll never buy another compact digital without focus lock. Well when the wind finally calmed enough, a honeybee visited that I nicely caught filling up on the fragrant lavender pollen. Finally further along, I found a good situation for putting a very red chuparosa bush, justicia californica, branch up against the sky, so went to work accomplishing that also.
dense flowers at lower Coyote Wash
Back at my car, I drove back down to Henderson Canyon Road and then explored driving down the long dirt road out to VV Whitaker Horsecamp. Along the way were dense fields of desert dandelion, malacothrix glabrata, and Fremont pincushion, chaenactis fremontii. At one point I noticed an early blooming ocotillo, fouquieria splendens, amidst some of those dandelions so got out and investigated carrying my view camera. However it was so windy I could see trying to capture an image was fruitless thus just snapped this Coolpix image. Next I drove down the road towards the Coyote Creek Canyon dirt roads but then noticed a great many cars churning up dust at the paved road end where it turns to dirt and remembered it was Sunday and the urban crowds had arrived, so turned around. It was now mid afternoon and quite windy. One of the most important landscapes I wanted to capture was something along the very popular lower Coyote Wash areas near Henderson Canyon Road. There, like in 2005, was a vast impressive field of desertgold sunflowers, sand verbena, and dune evening primrose, oenthera deltoides. For a background there is a rusty mountain on the ridgeline and this day, thunderstorms were parked atop the higher distant Santa Rosa Mountains where dustings of snow from the storm had not yet fully melted.
Needing shade to spend time enjoying lunch and reorganized my gear, I drove east to a back road that is a quarter mile south of Henderson Canyon Road. A place that few folks seem to know about despite being within sight of where hundreds park their vehicles each day. The deteriorating road is lined by imported desert athel trees that line many roads in Borrego Valley creating windbreaks. And they provide some much needed places to park in shade. Most people parking along Henderson Canyon Road explored flower fields just north in order not to place their parked vehicles in views. The most dense areas of flowers were in the rather difficult to discern shallow main wash channels shown on the topographic map. There were little such areas of dense flowers available north of the road before desertgold dominated, and what there was tended to be rather trampled. Between that road and the back road in the main wash channels were far denser peaking flower areas. In the morning the background ridge tends to be shadowed till mid morning, thus offering little in a composition. Shooting westward puts rows of orchards, farm buildings, and athel trees in view. However mornings tend to be much calmer while afternoons when the ridge looks best, tends to be breezy. Unfortunately from the back road, and especially so on weekends, there are certain to be many vehicles in one's frame. Well except for a couple special spots where small rises above the back road allow getting low enough to eliminate vehicles.
And that is where I set up at though it was frustratingly windy with little chance of lulls. What a terrific image it would have made that I only snapped the above Coolpix image for. For amusement I walked along the back road and pulled up lots of alien Sahara mustard roots that severely plague Borrego Valley. In the end it was futile and I hoped a chance on Monday would turn out better. To the west dusk skies put on a nice show for the first time on my trip. I drove back west to a location on the Henderson Canyon trailhead dirt road to overnight.
Monday March 17
hike back up Henderson Canyon
Waking up in the wee hours of night, I noticed the winds had finally left. Over the first five days of the road trip, I had exposed but 10 sheets of film. That was going to change. I went back to sleep and it wasn't long before light rose in the eastern skies and I rose too. After driving the short ways to the end of the dirt road trailhead, I organized gear and car for the day then set out up the Henderson Canyon use paths. My plan this day was to first work these areas for the three shots I had wanted to take, then drive off east for the lower Coyote Wash area. I would need to work quickly. By time the first rays of sun hit the canyon slopes about 7am on this sunny day, I was a quarter mile up the route. In little time I had gone the mile plus to where I needed to work my first image. Both these shots were with my 90mm Caltar wide angle lens. After exposing the first sheet, I roamed about some to check what other opportunities this early light had to offer as things looked a bit different than on the previous hike at midday. Along the way I spooked a bobcat that bounded off in huge leaps up the awkward terrain of the boulder field. Bet this was the first time it had seen a human in these parts well off the wash trail most visitors use up the canyon. I dropped down to a shallow gully where I been waiting out a shot Sunday and set that shot up too in short order, 08-C-11.jpg . Dense brittlebush grew between small rusty granite boulders with ocotillo branches up into the blue sky above background ridges. In the foreground were several Our Lord's Candles yucca plants, but too early for any to possible bloom. Here and there were purple-hued blue phacelia, phacelia distans and desert dandelion. A cholla cactus in the left foreground and a bit of a magenta bloom of a beavertail cactus mid frame added interest. I then rambled down the canyon back to the brittlebush that I positioned up against the sky while at EV14.7 and 1/8 second, stopping down at f/60 for maximum depth of field, 08-C-12.jpg . Looking through the smooth arc of many yellow flowers on long pedicels against blue sky provided an unusual form for a flowering plant that ought to make a worthwhile large print.
images made at lower Coyote Wash
It was so nice to quickly knock off these images without having to wait for wind to calm. Just hiking back and forth two and one-half miles required bit more than an hour of time. Setting up and taking the shots took another half hour or so, and then driving to the back road at lower Coyote Wash another 15 minutes. So I wasn't there till about 9:15am and then didn't get my first shot off for another 15 minutes. The second image, 08-C-14.jpg, at page top, further out in the wash, was exposed in another 15 minutes. However as expected, I wasn't too happy about the quality of mid morning light. At least it was calm. However it would have been best about 8am so I had to wonder about trying the shot again on Tuesday morning? I wasn't convinced I needed to stay in this valley another day just for that image. Even in earlier light, if all I had to work with again were clear blue skies, the result would not be that valuable.
Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles...page 7
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