Thursday, May 1, 2014

Secret Scodie Canyon and Pigmy Poppies

April 25th through the 27th, Rachel Poutasse decided to join me in the field again. I was super excited to find out that she wanted to go back to the Scodies. I'm so glad she came along with me. If it wasn't for her, I probably would have left the field a day early and in sad spirits.
Thankfully Rachel is super supportive, adventurous and level headed. When I wanted to call it quits, she kept me from throwing in the towel. I'm so glad I listened to her and not myself. This field trip was filled with some of the most extreme weather I have had to endure in the field and she handled it all so well. Thankfully we found, Canbya candida, Pigmy poppy which brightened our spirits and made the trip one of the most memorable ever.
One of Rachel's favorite little plants. Loeseliastrum matthewsii
Day 1
Saturday, April 25th

We drove up after work on Friday and were immediately stuck in traffic on the 210 freeway. The amber alert  indicated that it would take 51 minutes to get to Devore. I can handle getting stuck in traffic every once in a while so we stuck through it.
Then passing through Kramer Junction we hit the eye of a huge storm system. It was raining so hard the windshield wipers were on full blast mode. Eventually we made it to Ridgecrest and got a room for the night.

In the morning we headed to Cow Haven Canyon. Rachel has been there before and I wanted to see how much had changed since the last time I was there. When we got there the wind was cold and unbearable and I was shocked to see how fast the color had faded from the hillsides. I was a little saddened to see that the spring field season in the lower elevations are petering out. I wanted to find Pholisma arenarium in the wash. Although I didn't find it, Rachel found Canbya candida! It was so cute and tiny. I have been wanting to see this plant for a really long time. I could not believe that we were finally seeing it! 
Pigmy poppy! Canbya candida
It was adorable. In fact there was only one in the wash. We wanted to find more, so we were on the hunt. We scoured the hillsides but couldn't find any. Right when I was about to give up looking we stumbled upon a huge population of it! There were hundreds! It was spectacular.

Eriophyllum pringlii trying to fit in with Canbya
Rachel for scale
Canbya habitat
We got what we were looking for and also saw things that we weren't expecting to see. The sphinx moth caterpillars were everywhere and we even found a scorpion! I must say the caterpillars are the most disgusting things I have even seen in the wild. The worst thing about them is that they are everywhere!
oooooohhhhh! Neat! Not very lively at all. We think it was on it's way out :(
After being terrorized by caterpillars I wanted to see how Horse Canyon Road was fairing. We drove to the top and started down the crazy 4x4 road. After driving a couple of miles in, we were impeded by a difficult impassable section of the road. Rachel and I decided that it was not the right time to try to get stuck in the middle of nowhere, so we gracefully backed up and turned around. The great thing was that there was a fair amount of snow at the top. The soil was saturated. It was nice to see how Friday night's storm impacted the Wilderness.

Snow on the ground
Puddles in the road 
Beavertail cactus in the snow
After checking out the road we talked out our options and decided to head back to Ridgecrest for the night. It was 34 degrees by 5:00 pm. 

Day 2
Sunday, April 27th

A while back I received permission from the California Fish and Wildlife to access Scodie Canyon. Scodie Canyon is a part of the Canebrake Ecological Reserve and it is behind a locked gate. Since the wind was not howling and the weather warmed up I decided it was time to check out Scodie Canyon. I'm so glad I finally got the chance to explore it. I think it might be my new favorite canyon. Most of the canyon is not included in my study, but access to remote locations from this canyon is feasible.

On the road to Scodie Canyon
We reached the end of the road at the base of the hills and began botanizing. It was a neat area. Lots of perennials were in bloom, as well as annuals.
Salvia dorii looking good
Delphinium in the sagebrush
Hiding in the hills with Fremontodendron
We dropped down into a wash, near Scodie Spring and found many things in vegetative form. Which means that I will need to return to find them in their flowering stage. This is a rugged and wild spring. We found a cow skull under a huge Populus fremontii. 

Refuge under a cottonwood
Populus fremontii old and weathered 
Down in the spring. A Salix forest! 
After exploring the spring we decided to get back to the truck. Right then the winds kicked up and that was our cue to return home.
Farewell to spring

Thursday, April 24, 2014

We found her! We found Charlotte's Phacelia

April 15th-17th, Jessica Orozco and I went to the Kiavah Wilderness. Jessica is also a second year M.S. student. She is conducting a floristic project in the South Fork of the Tule River Indian Reservation. The Tule River Indian Reservation is located on the west side of the Sierra Nevada. It is very lush this time of year and the soil is rich and moist. Quite different from the Scodie Mountains. Her floristic project is seriously amazing. She is one of the first botanists to gain access of the reservation and explore it in full detail. A couple of weeks ago I joined Jessica in her study site. It was so great to finally see her site. In fact Jessica has a blog too! She posted about our adventure here.

We were sent on a mission to collect wildflowers for the annual Wildflower Show at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. It was a great opportunity to get back into the Kiavah Wilderness. We left on a Tuesday and returned Thursday.

Day 1
Tuesday, April 15th

In the morning we had class. After class ended we jumped into Jessica's Jeep and high tailed it to the Wilderness. Since we got to the Wilderness late in the day we only had time to scout areas and get a feel for what we should collect. I was super excited to see that the Allium that I have been watching was finally in bloom. I'm still in shock that the Wilderness is doing so well considering the little amount of rain the area received.

Horse Canyon. Tons of Wildflowers
I still can't believe this is a desert
We drove to the top of Horse Canyon road to set up camp. Unfortunately, I bottomed out on a little rock. Jessica wanted me to make sure the under carriage of her Jeep was okay. I pulled over and jumped out of the car to find that I almost stepped on a snake. It was a beautiful gopher snake, or so I think. It's head was down a hole and it didn't have a rattle.
Trowel for scale
No rattle in sight, what a relief
After assessing the underside of the Jeep we found no harm done and continued up the road to where we were going to camp. We set up camp, ate dinner and then the temperature dropped dramatically. At that point we decided to call it a night.

Camping in comfort
Day 2
Wednesday, April 16th

We ate breakfast and started our collecting adventures. The weather was amazing. I could not believe that we were not being pummeled by wind. It was absolutely wonderful. We explored a nice portion of the PCT and the abandoned quartz mine. Is was spectacular. The flora is on fire! 

Jessica on the PCT. Little tiny Gilia too 
An Astragalus on the side of the PCT
The old quartz mine
We ventured down Horse Canyon Road and it was popping with color.

Astragalus lentiginosus 
Jessica blown away by the strong grape soda scent
We ventured down the road some more and found some really cute dinkophtye. Jessica was especially excited to find our version of "Wooly buddies."

Eriogonum nudum with a friend
We had a full day exploring the Wilderness and the sun was about to set on us. We headed down to the end of Horse Canyon and set up camp. Surprisingly the night was warm and the wind did not last long to be annoyed by it. 

Day 3
Thursday, April 17th

In the morning we headed over to Cow Haven Canyon. I was in search of a Phacelia. I have been watching it bud over the past couple of weeks and had a feeling it would be flowering. After torturing Jessica in the heat and almost ready to throw in the towel, we found it! We found Phacelia nashiana!  It was amazing! I have never seen anything so blue in my life. It was out of control.

Phacelia nashiana shaded by Leptosyne bigelovii 
Pure beauty
Habitat for Charlotte's Phacelia
It was an amazing feeling to find this rare plant ranked as a 1B.2. It is considered fairly endangered in California. Jessica and I estimated over 200+ plants in this population. It was spectacular. We were in the right place at the right time to find this treasure. The entire slope was covered with wildflowers. The last time I was in this canyon about half of the slope was covered. I wish I had more time at this location. I would have summited the ridge if I could. Time was running out and we had to return to RSABG to deposit our specimens for the Wildflower Show.

This was a truly a rewarding experience. Each time I visit the Wilderness I discover new things about the flora. I am extremely glad I decided to work in the Scodie Mountains. There is so much to learn and so little time. 

Watching the sunrise in the East

Monday, April 14, 2014

Return to Ridgecrest

I can't believe how fast time flies. It was about a year ago that I was introduced to the dedicated wildflower enthusiasts of the CNPS Creosote Ring sub-chapter and volunteers of the Maturango Museum. I have been impatiently waiting for this spring to arrive. Partly because of the wildflowers and the other part in anticipation of returning to Ridgecrest for the Wildflower Exhibit at the Maturango Museum. Last Year Naomi and I went to the Maturango Museum to help identify the wildflowers for the Wildflower Exhibit. It was such an amazing experience. Reflecting back, I'm proud to say that I have come a long way with my botanical skills (although there is still a lot to learn). Last year I was so timid and unsure of my identifications. I remember being too scared to place plants under their botanical names on the tables. However, this year was different. When we walked into the museum the first thing that came into view were tables packed with jars and vials filled with wildflowers. My eyes began bolting from table to table identifying species that I've collected in the Scodie Mountains. It was such a great feeling.
Perrine checking off the list
This year Naomi brought along a new intern. Perrine Veguer, an undergraduate from France, is interning at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden for 10 weeks. It was my first time meeting Perrine. This is Perrine's first time in the United States. For her internship she is to learn about botanical conservation as well as gain cultural experience. Perrine was a great help with setting up the wildflower exhibit. She was tasked with checking off the various plants from the different collecting locations. Oh boy, was she fast at it!

I think last year left a bad impression in our minds. There were not a lot of wildflowers for the show because of the drought. We were finished setting up the exhibit a little before lunch. We even had time to key out the difficult plant groups. But this year was a different story!  There were so many flowers in jars. SO MANY waiting to be processed and placed on the appropriate tables. Judy, Karen and Charlotte gave us direction and Naomi and I set off identifying. We were nowhere close to being finished by the time lunch crept up on us. Judy and Charlotte decided on John's Pizza for lunch.

John's Pizza: Lunch break
Lunch was very satisfying. It was nice to sit down and rest for a bit. I didn't realize how much we had been on our feet going back and forth from table to table. Judy's lovely husband, Gene joined us for lunch. After lunch we had to jet back to the show. There was so much work to be done.

Amazing! So much Asteraceae
Naomi and I placed plants on the tables like crazy botanists. Just when we thought we were almost finished identifying all of the plants, a new group of people would show up with even more plants! The desert is amazing! It is so resilient and full of beautiful botanical splendors.

Upclose and personal with Wildflowers
I'm so glad that we were able to make the trip up to Ridgecrest to help with the wildflower show. It was a great pleasure to reunite with Kathy, Charlotte, Judy and Karen. It was also a great feeling gaging how much I have grown my botanical knowledge and knowing that there is so much more to learn. I can't wait for next spring, to return to Ridgecrest for the next Wildflower exhibit.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Golden Eagles, Bowling Pins and Rainbows

March 28th through the 30th, I was ever so eager to return to my study site. This time Joy England, a Master's student conducting a flora in the Upper Rock Creek Watershed, joined me in the field. I was glad that Joy agreed to assist me with collecting. She has a beautiful study site in the high Sierra with alpine plants and riparian splendors (including trout). Inhabiting the desert for a couple of days would be a new experience for her. It sure was quite the trip. We experienced some of the harshest obstacles the desert has to offer (gale force winds, cold nights, warm afternoons, nighttime rain). Despite all of that, the Wilderness gave us a lot to walk away with. I can't believe how well the Wilderness is doing. Each time I return, new fields of wildflowers cover the ground.

Sage Canyon. 
For this trip we decided to explore the southern canyons. My last trip out with Sarah De Groot proved that the southern end of the Kiavah Wilderness is where its at.

Day 1
Friday, March 28th

Joy and I are not morning people. In fact we are very similar in many ways. We both work in the herbarium and we work well together. Waking up at 6:00 am is not easy us but we did it, for the sake of the Scodies. We jumped into the field vehicle and set off into the sun-rise towards the Wilderness.

I returned to Cow Haven Canyon to see if Phacelia was in flower. When we reached our destination I immediately noticed illegal tire tracks and a broken wilderness boundary signs. I'm getting tired of seeing this over and over again. It seems to be worse this year.

Joy holding a broken Wilderness sign. Tire tracks
within the wilderness boundary
We marched on and hunted for new flowering plants. On the drive up, I explained to Joy that we might see golden eagles. I wasn't certain but I had a strange feeling we would see them. The last time I saw a golden eagle in the Kiavah Wilderness was June 2012. About fifteen minutes into the hike looking down at the ground, I picked up my eyes and saw a large golden eagle soar 50 yards overhead. I exclaimed, "GOLDEN EAGLE!" Joy looked up and was awestruck . We could see its golden nape with our naked eye. The eagle must have noticed that we locked in on it and it jetted out of the canyon. This was the first time Joy had seen a golden eagle. She said it was on her list of birds to see. In fact over the next couple of days in the afternoon we would periodically spot the eagles riding the jet streams.

Can you spot the two species? I promise there are two different
 plants in this photo
Cow Haven Canyon had many botanical treasures for us to discover. We documented the flowering species and moved on to Sage Canyon.

Sage Canyon is aways full of surprises and bowling pins (ok, it's not full of bowling pins. But we did stumble upon one. I wonder how we could fit that onto a herbarium sheet). It was my favorite canyon last year because of its sheer beauty. I have a soft spot for this canyon. I was excited to find plants in it this time.
OMG. I have no words for this rare find 
Diplacus aurantiacus. Weirdo blooming early
Crassula connata! I was excited to finally find this little one 
What are you doing Cuscuta growing on Gilia!?
Phacelia fremontii in dense patches
 After a full day of exploring we setup camp, ate dinner and hit the hay.

Day 2
Saturday, March 29th

In the morning we packed up camp and headed to Horse Canyon. Horse Canyon is very large. There is a lot of territory that I have not yet covered. I've had my eye on Horse Canyon Spring since last year.  I was glad that I finally had a reason to venture to it. We hiked up an old road and found even more in bloom.
Parking at the wilderness boundary, Horse Canyon Spring here we come
How could this be a California desert?
Prunus andersonii in full flower
Joy taking a break on the job
After we explored the spring we decided to go to the top of the canyon. It was time to see what the conditions were like higher up in the mountains. To my surprise there were plants in bloom! Microsteris gracilis blanketed the ground and vibrant red Castilleja were in full flower. This wilderness is seriously messing with my mind.
As the temperature dropped and the wind pummeled us to exhaustion, we decided to call it a day and setup camp.

I can usually sleep anywhere without a problem. However, this particular night will forever be known as the night I tried to sleep but never did. The wind beat against the tent all night. It never let down. I listened to the rainfly flap about in agony and all I could think about was sleep. Finally I said out load, "I can't sleep." In which Joy replied, "me too." I was shocked to hear her voice clear as day. And then it started to rain! Rain was falling! It was a strange mix of sleepless emotions. Hooray! Rain in the Scodies! Ugh, I'm so tired. Yay, rain! And then we felt water seep into the tent. That was our cue to pack up camp and sleep in the field vehicle…. at 2:00 am!

Day 3
Sunday, March 30th

My plans to collect on Sunday were hampered by the weather. It was COLD and windy and COLD. The clouds hung over the Scodies in defiance. They weren't going anywhere but the rain had stopped. Joy and I started the vehicle at 6:15 a.m. and began our drive out of the Wilderness. Then we looked back into Horse Canyon and saw SNOW on the mountains! It was beautiful! I couldn't believe my eyes. Then a rainbow appeared! As if things couldn't get any better. The rainbow arched over the entire Wilderness. I wanted to yell, "WHOA. What does it mean?" In reference to the viral youtube video, Double Rainbow. (I can say that I totally understand his heartfelt emotions over a rainbow)

Socked in snow capped Scodies. A nice light dusting 
"What does it mean?" 
A rainbow arched over the scodies
This trip was filled with adventure and new discoveries. We got to experience golden eagles soaring overhead, crazy plants doing crazy things, and a beautiful morning rainbow after the rain. Joy was a delightful field assistant. I'm so glad she was with me on this trip. Even though we experienced some rough desert conditions, she was a great sport about it all. I can't wait to go to Rock Creek to assist her in the field.