The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 5

Beyond Indian Palms

On our official trail map, the Indian Palms Trail is an almost 2 mile out-and-back hike to 2 small palm groves.

But there is an old Indian trail leading out of the wash of the second grove, the southern one, that takes you into the wash leading to the Pushawalla loop or beyond to Willis Palms along the trail beside Bee Mesa OR  to the stone-lined trail leading back to the Indian Palms Trailhead and across Thousand Palms Canyon Road to our parking lot.

My point is, this off trail path eventually leads to several marked trails and our Preserve Manager, Ginny,  would like to incorporate this old Indian Trail into a connecting loop.

I am excited to discover this loop and, as I hike it, I combine work with pleasure by pulling and bagging Sahara Mustard along the way.

I think I went out 3 or 4 times myself before enlisting Jeff’s help. We hike the loop several times filling and carrying out 1 bag apiece and then 2 bags each.

I hope you enjoy these hidden splendors I encounter as I snap pictures while I work alone and with Jeff.


There is no actual trail leading out of the south grove of Indian Palms to the old Indian Trail which ascends beyond the wash. So, you can either backtrack to the wash and cut over, or backtrack and find a path of least resistance across the wash. Jeff and I do both as we pull and bag Sahara Mustard.

So, I’m hot, tired, and discouraged by the amount of mustard that still needs pulling… (Honestly, if a dumpster could somehow be dropped down here and somehow follow us along that would be so wonderful. And, if with a twitch of the nose or a sophisticated app, it could be magically picked up and sent to the Big Dump in the Sky, that would be even better.) We can’t get too tired or thirsty or hot because we still have to carry bags of mustard weeds out with us for another 1.5 miles! But I am not complaining. It’s actually a rewarding chore as I discover…

Mammillaria dioica, Nipple Cactus

I don’t even begin to understand the nuances of descriptions of the various cacti that sparsely grow in the Coachella Valley, but this is the consensus of my authoritative sources, namely Ginny, Harlan, and Jon Mark Stewartfrom his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers.

This red pepper protrusion is something I have never seen before. (Duh, like I’m an expert!)


My bag/our bags full, we ascend out of the wash. Luscious wildflowers line the old Indian trail leading out of the south grove.

Hidden hills smile over the rocks.

A secret canyon folds into the hills.

A Barrel Cactus hangs out among the rocks, perfectly posed beside Creosote Bush.

A Desert Dandelion and Chicory share this selfie among the thorns.

The only White Rhatany I’ve seen this season is along this trail.

Krameria bicolor, also known as Krameria grayi, is a member of the Krameriaceae Family, named in honor of the father and son Austrian botanists Johann Georg Heinrich Kramer and Henry Kramer.

Native to the arid regions of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Baja California, and Mexico, White Rhatany are root parasites that depend upon nearby plants such as Creosote Bushes for part of its nutrition. (southwestdesertflora.com)

(According to britannica.com, “A parasitic plant is a plant that obtains all or part of its nutrition from a host plant without contributing to the benefit of the host and, in some cases, causing extreme damage to the host. The defining structural feature of a parasitic plant is the haustorium, a specialized organ that penetrates the tissues of a host and absorbs nutrients and water.“)

Instead of nectar, White Rhatany produces oil that attracts bees of the genus Centris which have specialized hind legs that enable the bee to scrape up the oil. Black-tailed jack rabbits rely on White Rhatany during the winter. As a browse plant, White Rhatany provides fodder for livestock, Mule Deer, and Desert Bighorn Sheep. (southwestdesertflora.com)

A sky full of pelicans erupts over the hills.

A group of pelicans has many collective nouns, including: brief, pod, pouch, scoop, and squadron. (identify.whatbird.com)

And when they swoop and turn, the sun catches their white wings causing bright flashes…

On the ground, a robust Woody Bottle-Washer Primrose starts to bloom, the only one I have seen this season!


The old Indian Trail ends. I can see the trail leading up to the top of Pushawalla Ridge and the electric poles extending across Thousand Palms Canyon Road to the parking lot trail.

There is no established path here so we head toward one of several washes and eventually “mark” a trail with memorable landmarks, such as this healthy patch of Chia.

A member of the Mint Family, Salvia columbariae has tiny lavender to blue flowers clustered in several balls along the stems. The velvety leaves lie along the base of the flower stalks and apparently smell a bit skunk. (Hmmm… Next time I will be sure to get down and nosy…)

Dried seeds were harvested by Native Americans and ground into a flour called pinole. A type of porridge or gruel was made by adding water to this powder. Steeping the dried seeds in water produced a thick gelatin-like liquid.

This is one of the few species of Salvia used as an energy enhancing nutrient. The most popular health food chia is the Mexican Salvia hispanica. (wildflower.org)

This mummified Cat’s Claw is another desert marker we use to navigate through the various washes off the old Indian Trail.


As I wonder and wander through the wash, I see bright orange patches ahead, lighting up the way contrasting with the blue sky, green shrubs, and light beige desert sand.

Desert Dodder is a slender-stemmed pale yellow to orange parasitic annual twining around and through shrubs, bushes, and herbs in the Colorado and Mojave’s Deserts. And yes, even some of the Sahara Mustard I pull is all tied up in strands of Dodder.

It starts from a seed. As it sprouts it weaves itself counter-clockwise around a plant’s stem or branch, tightening its grip on the host and pushing little wartlike bumps, called “haustoria”, into the stem. Now, the Dodder’s connection to the earth has been broken, and since it cannot make food on its own, it depends on the host to draw its nourishment through the haustorium. Dodder does not usually kill its host plant, but a heavy infestation in times of drought may cause significant damage. (calflora.net)


And then a perfect pop of pink! Desert Five Spot, a precious gem of the desert…

Eremalche rotunddifolia is a member of the Mallow Family and is native to the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. When open, each of the 5 pink petals has a large dark red blotch at its base. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Last year, during the superbloom, we barely caught a glimpse of opened Five Spots!


Checker Fiddleneck, with its curled tails, loves hanging out in the washes.


Bladder Pod greets us along the trail back across the street to our parking lot.

A member of the Caper Family, the yellow flowers give way to an inflated pod that contains several seeds. Yep, this plant is related to the commercial capers you buy in a jar in the grocery store. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Another Bladder Pod lies along the base of Bee Mesa.


As I continue through the wash along the base of Bee Mesa I notice a white canister hanging out of the side of the hill. At first I think it’s a water bottle and wonder who would leave one here. Upon closer examination, I realize this has something to do with a science activity. A few weeks later I notice more of these devices half buried, scattered throughout the washes, and marked with a pink flag near the Pushawalla Loop. Placed by geologists, they measure earthquake activity.


Further on, a young Cat’s Claw bush  starts blooming.

A member of the Pea Family, Cat’s Claw Acacia, or Acacia greggii, has sharp curved hooked thorns resembling the claws of a cat. (southwestdesertflora.com)

Also known as “wait-a-minute” bush, this common shrub abundant in the washes of the Colorado Desert is nearly impossible to navigate through as the claw-like thorns catch, hold, and tear clothing as well as lacerating the skin. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers AND southwestdesertflora.com)

More mature Cat’s Claw bloom in fragrant bundles of sweet smelling deliciousness…

Later, the fuzzies turn into curly pods…


Just beyond, a “field” of wildflowers on the slope of Bee Mesa catches my attention.

This is amazing! I mean, this is the mini desert superbloom of 2020!

Among the Little Gold Poppies, Lupine, Notched-Leaf Phacelia and Chicory, I notice a flower unfamiliar to me with leaves that remind me of parsley.

I share this pic with our Preserve Manager, Ginny. She suggests this is Earth Smoke, a non-native desert wildflower.


Walking further south along the base of Bee Mesa, an “Avenue” of Smoketree lines a  wash meandering to the west. In the background you can see the Indio Hills that are being squeezed up by the 2 strands of the San Andreas Fault: Mission Creek in front and Banning behind.

Patches of Pignut pop up.

Hoffmannseggia glauca, also known as Indian Rushpea, Hog Potato, and “Camote de Ratón” or mouse yam, this plant is a member of the Legume Family. (southwestdesertflora.com)


As Jeff and I continue pulling Sahara Mustard along the trail beside Bee Mesa, I discover desert dandelions towering over Frost-Mat. (Well, I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I sent these pics to our Preserve Manager, Ginny, and she identified them for us.

Thick greenish leaves and tiny white flowers, Achyronychia cooperi is a member of the Carnation Family.


Finally, Jeff and I head back home with 2 trash bags apiece filled with Sahara mustard. We look up and I immediately put my trash bags down and grab my phone from my pocket to take this pic of this Smoketree and  Sweetbush. It’s only later after reviewing my photos that I realize that I captured Squaw Hill and the palm groves around Thousand Palms Oasis in the background.


As we head back along the trail that leads across Thousand Palms Canyon Road, I smell a subtle and familiar fragrance and barely notice the flowering bush of pastel purple flowers.

Desert Lavender


Finally…

I wish you could see the amazing blazing yellow color of these Desert Dandelions!

And the yellow-orange glow of these Little Gold Poppies  mingling with the bright white Chicory

And this, my favorite pic of all… the “token” white among the yellow.

I have entitled it, ACCEPTANCE.

I invite you to read Tana French’s novel, The Secret Place, to discover why.

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