Quarantined in the Desert

Staying Put During the Covid-19 Shutdown

On May 1st Tom, our neighbor and co-host leaves for Utah.

From left to right, Tom, Ken, Rebecca, and Jeff gather to say goodbye as I take a picture.

Be safe, Tom, and know you will be missed…

Ken opens and closes the parking lot gate for Tom and takes a video. We all hope he will return in October. Fingers crossed.


So now it’s just Jeff and me on the Preserve.

What are we doing to keep busy? Besides reading, eating, binge streaming Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube, eating, getting on each other’s nerves, eating, and missing our family and friends? And of course, eating!

Well…


First, we finish lining a trail with rocks that starts at the Pushawalla Loop Trailhead parking  area and heads south along Bee Mesa.

There are so many washes in this area and established trails are confusing to follow, especially since rains that cause flash flooding constantly wipe away the original trails.

As always, our hard work pays off.

After laying the final most perfect rock to complete the hiking pathway, I walk the trail to admire our contribution to the greater Coachella Valley Preserve for future visitors’ hiking enjoyment. (And yeah, to remind guests to please stay on the trail.)

This amazing Sand Blazing Star, with its 5 satin-like pale yellow petals and serrated leaves, smiles up at me in gratitude.


We hike the Indian Palms Trail loop clockwise and counterclockwise pulling Sahara mustard and to establish a possible trail through the wash to line later with rocks, pending our Preserve Manager, Ginny’s approval.

We discover that desert holly turns a pale pink.

And these huge rocks with pock marks and layers… I mean, we have walked by these guys many many times, but today we notice them!


At the south grove of Indian Palms, Jeff is convinced that we can head back through the wash to reach the old Indian Trail. I’m not one for saying, “I told you so,” (fingers crossed behind my back… ) but I know better. I find a steep descent into the wash and…

…a sunbathing speckled rattle snake blocking the hazardous pathway. Jeff thinks the snake is dead because of the bees buzzing around it. I wait and watch. Sure enough, its  tongue flickers in and out and then it curls its head toward the end of its body.

Jeff now agrees that this grove is an in and out trail. (You know I told him so!)


Ginny, grateful and impressed with our Sahara mustard weed-pulling skills, shows us the summer weeds that need constant attention: tamarisk and pulicaria. 🥴😱🥴

Tamarisk

According to usgs.gov, tamarisk is an invasive, non-native shrub or small tree. Also known as saltcedar, tamarisk thrives in alkaline soils where water availability is low. Ah, this means the streams of the Coachella Valley Preserve, created by the aquifer and the San Andreas Fault, are a perfect home for this unwelcome guest.

Tamarisk grows in dense, nearly impenetrable thickets, hoarding light, water, and nutrients that are precious to the desert ecosystem by replacing native cottonwoods, willows, and dry land plants that provide habitats for animals and birds. The plant’s  foliage and flowers offer little food value for native wildlife. Tamarisk also increases wildfire hazards. (discovermoab.com)

selectree.calpoly.edu, courtesy of W. Mark and J. Reimer 

selectree.calpoly.edu, courtesy of W. Mark and J. Reimer 

Here’s a young shrub blooming on the Preserve. The pink flowers are quite lovely, however, don’t be fooled. Each plant can produce as many as 500,000 seeds a year. Seeds are small with a tuft of hair at one end enabling them to float long distances by wind and water. Seeds are short-lived and can germinate within 24 hours after dispersal, sometimes while still floating on the water. (discovermoab.com)

And here’s a better pic from the internet.

invasive.org courtesy of Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org

So, where is tamarisk from and how did it get here in the desert?

Originating from the dry areas of Eurasia and Africa, tamarisk was introduced to the Southwest in the 1800s, predominantly as a windbreaker along railroads and riverbanks. Of course it’s tolerance in dry climates made it a popular ornamental landscaping plant. (discovermoab.com)

Pulicaria

Another non-native flowering weed is Pulicaria, also known as Spanish false fleabane. (calflora.org)

calphotos.berkeley.org/Keir Morse at keiriosity.com


We follow the stream as it runs under Thousand Palms Canyon Road.

A Rush Milkweed is in full bloom.

This plant is also called Skeleton Milkweed because of its tall slender gray-green rush-like stems. Native to California, asclepias subulata, releases a sap that has been analyzed (way back in 1935) and found to contain natural rubber. This toxic milky juice was used to induce vomiting in some native cultures. (desertusa.com)

And I remember reading somewhere in my milkweed research that Native Americans chewed on certain species of milkweed like chewing gum. No, they couldn’t blow and pop bubbles…

Milkweed is crucial to the life-cycle of the monarch butterfly. Female monarchs search for milkweed to lay their eggs as the larvae will only feed on leaves from the asclepias family. The leaves contain cardiac glycosides which, when ingested by the caterpillars, protects them from becoming prey to birds. This protection continues when they become butterflies as well. Predators learn to avoid monarch larvae and butterflies because they taste bad or make them vomit. (swmonarch.org)

swmonarch.org


We continue down the stream toward Washington Street feeling confident in identifying and pulling tamarisk.

So far we don’t think we have seen pulicaria until we recognize the red stems… Wow! We hit the mother lode of a patch…


More pics of the stream…

And some surprises…

I stumble upon the only Ghost Flower I have seen this season!

So beautiful and precious a find…

Gamble Quail squawk and scatter along the wash. And then I look up and am so surprised to see a quail calm and settled in a Smoketree.

Speaking of Smoketrees…

They are blooming!

Datura or Jimson Weed grows abundantly in the washes. Notice the round green spiny seed pods of this healthy guy…

And the blooms just barely ready to open…

The stream dries up and we make our way to the stone-lined trail that crosses the road to Willis Palms on the west side, leads to Hidden Palms on the east side, or makes a right angle turn leading back to the Palm House Visitor Center along the base of Bee Mesa.

As we head back to the Visitor Center, we notice something rusted and abandoned toward Thousand Palms Canyon Road. We leave the trail, (only because we can as we volunteer and work here…) and walk toward this heap of an old Volkswagen Bus riddled with bullet holes…

The bus, not the bullet holes, reminds me of Jeff’s son, Andy… When he lived with us in Cincinnati he was working on restoring one.


On Fridays Jeff and I take the Preserve truck and drive out to the pond which is still closed for the restoration and eventual reintroduction of pupfish.

Our job is to clean up the piles of dead reeds, that were cut down and pulled from the pond last spring and summer, and all the other piles of debris that were removed to fence the area in to protect wildlife from the restoration project.

It’s a slow process. We rake and fill the truck bed with a load of debris. Then we drive it back to the dumpster in our parking lot at the Palm House Visitor Center. The garbage  gets picked up on Thursday, so Friday is a good day to fill it up again with 2 truck loads.

Jeff jumps in the dumpster and tampers down the stuff we unload to make room for the weekly garbage of Ken, Rebecca, their daughter Megan, and us.


Of course we still take care of the Palm House even though it is not open. The mice still leave their little mouse poop and sand piles and the surfaces get dusty.

Outside the Palm House and behind our RV, we rake up fallen fronds.


Once a week we cut back the reeds growing along and under the boardwalk of the oasis. No visitors + infrequent foot traffic = lots of reeds needing a haircut.

No foot traffic does not prevent air traffic from enjoying the oasis, however… Look whooooo is supervising our work!

Two Long-eared baby owls!


Is this not the perfect place, except for the hot summer temperatures, to be sheltered in place? We have 880 acres in our immediate backyard surrounded by the rest of the 30,000 acres of the Coachella Valley Preserve.

I mean, look at this view from a bench on our Preserve. Imagine yourself sitting here.

And when you leave, you turn around and notice the words engraved on the bench…


So… We have decided to hunker down in the desert during the uncertainty of these times; the Covid-19 pandemic and now the racism pandemic.

Please everyone… Stay safe. Keep safe for others. Pass kindness forward. Look for sameness instead of difference. Ask questions to understand. Let’s love ourselves so we can love another. Reach out. VOTE! Vote for our children and our children’s children.

Before it’s too late…

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