Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Serpentine Gold


Goldfields in Serpentine Soil, Mt. Tamalpais

I took a ride up to Mt. Tam yesterday to check on my trail cams for the first time in a month (and picked up my first tick of the year). I'd meant to check them a week after putting them in a new location but never got around to it. There were hundreds of captures on the SD cards, and the rechargeable batteries were almost dead. 

A mass of earwigs had taken up residence behind one of the cams, nestling between the back of the cam and the bark of the Douglas fir tree it was strapped to. Perhaps they enjoyed not just the protection of the camera itself, but the warmth of the battery compartment.

I packed up the cams to take home until I can decide on a new location, then continued riding up the mountain to check out the wildflower situation. I could tell from a long way off that none of the big patches of sky lupine or showy silverbush lupine were happening, and indeed I found only a few scattered plants flowering among thick grasses. 

Taking a left at Rock Spring I looked forward to seeing what was coming up in the recently burned meadow just north of the serpentine outcrop, but it was the serpentine outcrop itself that had all the wildflowers. I guess the exotic, old-world grasses don't do well enough in serpentine soils to crowd out the natives.

At a glance it looks like there's nothing but goldfields, but closer inspection reveals a few other species thriving here as well. The meadow across the street was burned over the winter but so far isn't producing much in the way of showy wildflowers.

Bees and other insects were busy gathering pollen and nectar from the cream cups  (Platystemon californicus) growing among the goldfields.

Reaching for the Sun

Lots of little purple phacelias (Phacelia divaricata) found the serpentine to their liking as well.

A California ringlet (Coenonympha california) holds on tight to gather nectar from a goldfield flower (Lasthenia californica).

A well-camouflaged western fence lizard basks on a warm, lichen-crusted chunk of serpentine near a patch of goldfields.

Ditto for this guy.

I knew what this was as soon as I saw it from the road, but I've never seen one so high up the mountain. Note San Francisco skyline in the distance.

I believe it's Western Giant Puffball (Calvatia booniana). These were still pretty fresh and firm, but eventually they will fill with yellow-brown spores that will spread on the wind (and cover your shoe) if you kick one....

The sky lupine bloom of another year (4/18/2021).

Numerous fairy slipper orchids were blooming in their usual place next to the portable toilets at the top of the Bootjack parking lot.

I knew as soon as I arrived that I was going to have lots of deer captures on the SD card. There were deer lays all over the place. Many young bucks were just beginning to grow out their antlers.

A gray fox passed through only twice in the month. I'd hoped to catch a bobcat coming toward the camera through that notch, but no such luck.

Jackrabbits were the main event at this location, with just a few deer, a couple of foxes, and just one coyote.

Sometimes you get a nice surprise, like this red-tailed hawk. Although it appears to be about to land, it actually did a touch-and-go, like a jet practicing on an aircraft carrier. If it caught something before flying away, I couldn't tell.

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Monday, April 8, 2024



Magic Pinhole Eclipse :)

A neighbor asked me to move his morning newspaper into his porch vestibule for a few days while he is visiting a relative -- in Cincinnati, Ohio. What a totality lucky guy!

As you can see from the photo above, I'd been looking for a suitable pinhole to view our measly partial eclipse and got a mushroom instead. (My wife created the image by poking pinholes in a sheet of thick paper.)

I took a bike ride down to the Giant Camera at the Cliff House, hoping they would have a great pinhole view of whatever eclipse could be seen here, but it was closed. I tried to work something out with the webbing from my bike helmet, but that was pretty unconvincing, then strolled over to get the view over Sutro Baths and noticed a dead baby seal on the beach, with gulls beginning to take an interest, and when I strolled back I saw that the Giant Camera was about to open after all.

Never having been in there before in all my years of living in San Francisco, I paid the grand sum of $2 to get inside. It was interesting, but unfortunately it was not set up to view the eclipse. So, like everybody else stuck in partial-world, I did the next best thing and watched it online (and took a few screenshots).

Nice clear day for an eclipse viewing....

Bike helmet mesh viewing....

Baby seal washed onto the beach at Sutro Baths.

View inside the Giant Camera. The image rotates 360 degrees but probably wouldn't work well for even a total eclipse.

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Thursday, April 4, 2024

Alt Takes


Ladybird Beetle Getting Around a Lupine Leaf

Just wanted to include alternative takes on some of the Anza-Borrego shots....

Also, I was surprised to log so many miles on this journey. My trip odometer rolled over 1,000 miles on the way to Dante's View in Death Valley, yet I still had another 715 miles to go. Although gas prices were high, they were well worth the cost. I calculated that my car averaged about 6.57 miles per dollar, which seems pretty good, even if the alternative would be riding a bike -- and especially if the alternative would be walking across a desert.

Chuparosa & Beavertail Cactus

Tightly packed amigos on a barrel cactus.

Unfurling cholla blossoms.

This lone verbena looks like it could have been seen out at Abbotts Lagoon at Pt. Reyes, or many other California beaches.

Here's a dark morph version of the white-lined sphynx moth caterpillars. It was rare to see one on the ground unless it was... this. There was a black blister beetle feeding on this carcass when I first saw it, but I got too close too fast, and the beetle scuttled for cover beneath a nearby shrub. D'oh! Kind of funny, but I consider that scene with the beetle "the one that got away," the shot I most regret having missed.

Here's a more extreme close-up of a caterpillar feasting on flower parts. You can click on any image to make it bigger (900 pixels high).

This is similar to a shot I already posted, but it includes a desert trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum) sprouting through the evening primrose plant.

Downpours loom in the background, and low light keeps the yellow flowers from opening up all the way. For me, the stormy weather is what made the trip worthwhile. Many years ago I did a couple of hikes with a group called Desert Survivors. Their hike descriptions always included a caveat similar to the typical "Rain Cancels," except theirs was "Rain Enhances." On desert trips, I couldn't agree more.

Cinder Cone
(Somewhere between Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree.)

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Carrizo Plain


Carrizo Plain near the southern end of Soda Lake Road, with owl's clover, fiddleneck, and daisies galore. The Temblor Range is in the distance.
(Click images to view larger.)

I don't have much to add to what I've already said in the previous recent posts about my very brief Carrizo Plain visit. Carrizo still remains a kind of wildflower Shangri-La in my mind, ever since learning about it in a botany class at Santa Barbara City College back in the '80s. I've seen it looking very sparse in April in dry years, and I've been there in the winter when all is brown. I love it all.

The peak of the bloom is no doubt coming later this month, but I doubt it will measure up to last year's extravaganza. Still, there are some showy patches even now, and I saw lots of lupine leaves giving promise of purple blossoms still to come.

This is as far as I went, to the end of the little bit of paved road near Traver Ranch. From what I could see from here, it didn't look worth the risk to keep going in my low-clearance 2WD vehicle. The sign says: Road Becoming Impassable. Vehicles Stuck in Mud. Recommend Turn Around. Use Alt Route to Hwy 58.

People who've gotten stuck are found by California Highway Patrol searchers flying helicopters. Tow trucks are then called in. I can only wonder how much all that costs, and whether people are on the hook for any CHP expenses in addition to what must be a very expensive tow.

A pronghorn on the plain in a very dry spring (4/10/2008).

Morning light on the plain.

There were animal trails and lays here and there, but I didn't see any elk or pronghorn, or even deer or cattle. It couldn't all be due to photographers.... Or could it?!

Why do they call them hillside daisies even when they're on the plain?

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Desert Lilies to Death Valley


Desert lilies with verbena and creosote bush along Desert Center-Rice Road, just south of the Desert Lily Sanctuary.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn't find any lilies in the sanctuary despite arriving with a lucky rainbow in the distance, and I wondered if the ground has become more gravelly over the nearly 70 years since Tasker and Beula Edmiston first saw them here, making the land less conducive to growing lilies.

As I left the sanctuary and accelerated to driving speed I suddenly spotted numerous desert lilies growing just a little distance into the desert near the road. The sun came out in my heart, and I hit the brakes to pull over, with little daylight left to burn. 

After a short visit with the lilies I drove to Joshua Tree where I spent the night near the south entrance, and where I was awakened a few times by a chatty mockingbird who must have been singing to the beautiful half-moon arcing across the sky. By morning the mockingbird's singing had died down, but the wind had come up, very much alive. The car thermometer read 47 degrees, but I was warm in my down jacket. I skipped making coffee and ate more of my pasta salad for breakfast before trying to do some photography in the area around my parking spot. (For three days I ate pasta salad, baby carrots and hummus, potato chips, and trail mix.)

I exited Joshua Tree at Twentynine Palms, then took Amboy Road north to Historic Route 66 which was open as far as Kelbaker Road, which I used to traverse Mojave National Preserve up to SR 127 which took me to Death Valley.

The entrance doesn't even have a recognizable driveway. You basically just pull off the road into an open, gravelly area.

Pulling in, I wasn't entirely sure I was in the right place...

...until I reached the sun-parched interpretive sign, which says the Edmistons discovered this place on Easter Sunday 1957, and the 2,000-acre site was proteced by the BLM on Easter Sunday 1968. Just for the record, I was there on Easter Sunday 2024....

Although I found no lilies in the sanctuary, I was graced with this ghost flower (Mohavea confertiflora), an old friend I hadn't seen since 1994.

Desert lily (with soaproot-like leaves) and pink desert sand verbena. The sand really was pinkish -- or at least it appeared so in the last light of day.

Hurrying back to the car after shooting the lilies (wanting to get to Joshua Tree before full dark), I had to stop and get the gear back out again when I spotted this crop of desert broomrape (Orobanche cooperi). I love how this non-photosynthetic plant pushed out of the ground like a mushroom.

This was the wind-tossed wildflower patch next to the pull-out where I spent the night.

I love the rocks in Joshua Tree. These are overlooking a sandy wash that was still quite damp. This also is near my overnight sleeping spot... was this chuparosa in the company of several blooming ocotillos.

Same wash still, with some evening primrose in bloom...

...and this guy sleeping it off inside one of the blossoms (which you just make out in the previous photo).

Ocotillo close-up of the leaves and bark.

Ocotillo branches.

Canterbury Bells (Phacelia campanularia).

A closer view.

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) and Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens).

As I drove and drove, I was worried I'd somehow missed the Cholla Gardens, but they finally turned up quite a bit farther into the park than I remembered. I also mis-remembered them being on a steeper slope. I also remembered, correctly for a change, that my wife and I pretty much had the place to ourselves when we came through many years ago (April 10, 2007). This time the parking lot was packed, and people were roaming all over the place.

The jumping chollas, or teddy-bear chollas (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), formed an island surrounded for miles by creosote bush scrub. Even stranger is the possibility that the whole garden consists of only one individual that has reproduced itself vegetatively.

While I was gingerly walking around and setting up my camera I heard a young boy shout out in frightened surprise, "I thought I could do it!" Apparently he'd  tried to pet a teddy bear and found out why they call it "jumping" cholla. Shortly after that came his anguished cry of, "Dad! No!" as I imagined his father trying to unhook the cactus. 

Pinkish granite in Joshua Tree.

I think this wild rhubarb, or Tanner's dock (Rumex hymenosepalus), was along Amboy Road. When I saw them I went from 65 to 0 much more quickly than I can accelerate the other way around.

I don't even recall where this is, but probably still along Amboy Road.

This was another stop along the way, just a random expanse of wildflowers in the middle of nowhere. Despite the lonely locale, I could see a cell tower in the distance, and I did in fact have excellent cell service (as I did in many other out-of-the-way locales, allowing me to text my wife with numerous selfies).

I kept thinking I should stop to take a picture of one of these cute desert tortoise signs, but it wasn't until I stopped to check out the old Kelso train depot that I finally did so.

The drive down the mountains into Death Valley was interesting, but a kind of depression hit me when I reached Ashford Mill, where my hopes of seeing lots of wildflowers, as I had in 2005, were dashed.

As I continued driving north I didn't really see any signs of life on the alluvial plain on either side of the road. Also, I drove for quite a while before Lake Manly came into view, and I thought I'd missed my chance to see it. When I finally got there I took a few photos with my DSLR, then switched to the FZ80 for just about the rest of my very brief jaunt through the park.

I was briefly driving behind a pick-up with two kayaks loaded on top, but they were just passing through. I believe the lake became too shallow for kayakers a few weeks ago.

People were enjoying the lake near Badwater.

Not only is Badwater the lowest point in North America, it was the warmest point on my three-day drive, reaching 81 degrees. (The low would be 38 degrees in Carrizo Plain.)

This guy was enjoying the lake without the crowd.

A dust devil gives an idea of the wind out there.

You gotta love Death Valley's geologic features. I just wish there had been some colorful spring wildflowers to put in the foreground.

There were many of these golden evening primrose flowers (Camissonia brevipes) here and there, making them the sole exception to the rule of no wildflowers. These were seen on the way up to Dante's View.

Here's a desultory snapshot from Dante's View, with his inferno below. Unfortunately there were no decent wildflowers to put in the foreground, and the harsh late-afternoon light was putting the Panamint Range in shadow. I did not break out the DSLR.

After taking their picture with their phone, I chatted awhile with a friendly young couple from Ontario, Canada, who'd flown in from San Diego. They thought Death Valley was great, including the heat, since it was still quite icy back home. As for me, I kept drinking water to stave off an incipient dehydration headache. Some of us San Franciscans can't take the heat much past 65 degrees!

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