Sunday, March 3, 2013

Got water?

This weekend I visited my study site in search of plants. Combing through the desert I searched high and low. To my surprise I found one plant in bloom. I won't give away the species just yet. 

This trip was more of an exploratory trip but I was also in search of annuals doing their thing. I loaded the Tacoma with all my gear, a field assistant and high hopes. On Saturday, we left the Claremont area around 7:30 a.m. and reached Walker Pass, Highway 178, around 10:30 a.m. It was an amazing clear day. Minimal cloud cover, blue skies and the temperature was just right.
I wanted to explore Horse Canyon, the only canyon with a road which leads to the top of the plateau. In order to get to the canyon one must first traverse across the desert floor, zigzagging along spiderwebbing dirt roads to reach the base of the Scodie Mountains. I successfully accomplished navigating to the road of interest by using (dare I say it?) my iPhone.

Something is missing here.... 

Well, this is the sad part of my adventure. (Annotation: 3.27.2013 Not sad, just early)

As we began our off-road adventure the first thing we noticed was not a single flower in sight. We thought for sure we would see some seedlings, but instead we saw dry, crispy, gray, sad looking shrubs. We figured it was a terrible rain year for the desert and as we gained elevation we would certainly see some green life. As we drove through a Joshua tree woodland, switchbacked along south facing exposed slopes and reached the summit, we saw only ONE plant in bloom. I was S-H-O-C-K-E-D, shocked! Certainly there had to be other plants. Ok, well, there were, but they were in small localized patches (about two patches total) and in their first true leaf phase of life. There was a nice patch of Allium beginning to send their first leaves up and some Phacelia seedlings too. Looks like I have some time on my hands and I'll need to wait it out.

At the summit of the ridge we parked the truck and walked around. We hopped around a rock outcrop, saw some sad looking Eriogonum shrubs and walked a short distance on the Pacific Crest Trail. No signs of flowers anywhere. It is probably too cold at the top. There was some residual snow drifts along the trail and road. Maybe in a month some seeds will be stimulated by the little moisture up there.
At the top of the ridge, facing south.

The Pacific Crest Trail, remnants of snow

The one species in bloom was Lomatium mohavensis. We found this population at the base of the switchbacks on Horse Canyon road. I took the field data and my field assistant dug over a foot deep into the earth to get the entire plant. He gracefully gave up when he found out that the root just kept going and going, so he snapped it out of the ground. The thick woody taproot was extraordinary! I can see why this is the only plant brave enough to face the cruel desert environment. Oh yeah, the Allium is also pretty tough too! (Annotation 3.27.2013 I believe it is a Muilla. No flowers yet though). My floristic study is sounding more like a stew study, carrots and onions, thats what I have so far, carrots and onions.
About an inch above ground. In the background a grass seedling and in the 
far back Allium (sea foam green color). (Annotation: Muilla?)

An amazing starchy storage taproot. Go Lomatium!
Chul, digging and digging

After we made this collection we headed to the backside of the Scodies to see if the north exposures were in better shape. As we drove around the backside, along highway 178, the outlook was the same. Nothing in bloom. I did manage to earn my 4x4 badge of honor on this trip. With Chul's expert advice he helped coach me through what he called, "a baby 4x4 road." We did notice some Lupinus seedlings but they definitely need more time.

The backside of the range, with clouds moving in 
We ventured through Kelso Valley and noticed that the hillsides of the Scodies were just as crispy and yellow as the south. Again, nothing! We drove along SC120, a neat trail that crosses Pinyon Creek wash, we thought we would see something flowering in the wash, but unfortunately we didn't see a single seedling. 
When you don't even see an Erodium, Bromus or Brassica anywhere in sight, you know it is a bad year.(Annotation: 3.27.2012 It was really early. These weedy species are now flowering)

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