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2011 Trip Report - DE Rendezvous -Anza Borrego Wildflowers

Borrego Wildflowers

Leader: Allan Schoenherr

At 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning 15 cars lined up along Palm Canyon Road  ready to search for wildflowers. As most of us knew the display was not as  dramatic as it had been in other years, but as documented by Dave Bullock, the  Proffitts’ son-in-law, we ultimately saw at least 52 different species. In other  words species diversity was quite good but total coverage of the landscape was  missing.

We began our search by stopping along DiGiorgio Road where the pavement ends  and the dirt road begins. The roadside there exhibited many showy flowers  including Desert Dandelion, Desert Sunflower, Arizona Lupine, and Sand Verbena.  The question arises, why are flowers so abundant along roadsides, and why are  the Creosote Bushes larger next to the road? The answer: Paved roads are higher  in the center so water runs off to the sides which greatly increases available  moisture for plants. Also, the pavement traps water underneath which makes it  available to the roots of roadside shrubs. At this point we also talked about  the abundance of non-native weeds, particularly African Mustard that  out-competes native plants for water and when it dies fills in with flammable  thatch the gaps between native shrubs. The dead material then becomes fuel which  enables fire to carry from shrub to shrub, a situation which normally does not  occur in desert landscapes.

Next, we moved farther into the mouth of Coyote Canyon and were greeted with  blooming Ocotillo and Desert Brittlebush. We stopped at the trailhead for  Alcoholic Pass and walked up the trail. This is a rocky region where most of the  plants are either water-storing succulents or drought deciduous, dropping their  leaves in the dry season. Here we observed Ocotillo with their red tubular  flowers which are pollinated by hummingbirds. We talked about the fact that  Ocotillo, in association with irregular precipitation, can gail and lose new  leaves several times a year. They also can store water in their stems and carry  on photosynthesis with chlorophyll in the bark. We also observed beautiful  drought deciduous shrubs such as Indigo Bush and Desert Lavender. We found three  species of cactus in bloom; Beavertail, Silver Cholla, and Desert Barrels. We  also learned how the stem-joints of Teddybear Cholla jump from a hiker’s foot to  the back of the other leg. Here, on the side of a hill, we saw a large number of  Bigelow’s Monkeyflowers, and some odoriferous Chias.

On our third stop we walked up a wash at the Desert Garden, a well known stop  off point for Borrego lookey-loos. There were lots of flowers here including  abundant Desert Dandelions, Pincushions, Popcorn Flowers, Phacelias, Star  Flowers and an interesting member of the Carnation family known as Desert Frost  or Frostmat. It’s a good thing we had such nice weather, because when the  fearless leader scouted the location the day before, the temperature was 104  degrees. One of the highlights of this stop was pursuing a Desert Iguana, a  desert lizard who is able to tolerate a body temperature of 114 degrees. It was  approaching lunch time so we drove back to town and ate lunch at the picnic  tables in Christmas Circle.

After lunch most of the participants traveled to Hawk Canyon, a scenic  location marked on one side by uplifted colorful lake beds, and the other side  by block-jointed granite boulders. This location is geologically interesting  because the East and West Butte portions of Borrego Mountain are offset  sideways, leaving different geological formations on each side of the Canyon.  The east side of Hawk Canyon has been dragged nearly a mile farther north by  strike-slip motion along the San Jacinto Fault. We saw different wildflowers  here. There were two kinds of Poppy; Parish’s Poppy and the tiny-flowered  Little-gold Poppy. We also saw two kinds of Evening Primrose; Sun Cups and  another tiny-flowered species, California Sun Cups. A highlight here, on a  hillside of clay soil, were groups of Desert Five-spots and Blazing Stars. Out  in the wash we observed Smoke Trees and Ironwoods, the seeds of which are  carried along with sands and gravels during heavy thunderstorms typical of the  Colorado Desert. This grinding action of the rocks cracks the seed coats,  enabling water to enter and stimulate germination in the wet soil only when  abundant water is present. After Hawk Canyon, a portion of the group went on to  explore the Goat Trail. Some visited the nearby scenic slot canyon, and others  went of to view the metal sculptures. Everyone seemed to get back in good  spirits in order to enjoy the evening festivities.