Sahara Mustard Weed

An Invasive Pest

This mustard is native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East and has now become an unwelcome weed of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and the desert valleys of Southern California. The plant grows quickly and crowds out the native flora by monopolizing moisture in the soil. When seeds start forming, as early as January, the plant self-fertilizes and deposits seeds in the sandy soil. Winter rains then moisten the seed coats and turn them into a sticky gel ready to adhere to people, animals, and objects who then help distribute and drop seeds into the ground. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

So, how did this sandy soil annual invasive species, Brassica tournefortii get here? The most logical answer is from imported date palm trees. According to tsusinvasives.org, Texas Invasive Species Institute, Sahara mustard was first discovered in the U.S. in 1927 near California’s Coachella Valley. It was likely introduced as a seed contaminant.


It’s Monday, not our day to “work”. Jeff and I have nothing better to do, so we hike out to Moon Country looking for Dan, the Land Steward extraordinaire, and his truck. Why?… to help pull Sahara Mustard weeds! Why not?

But what a windy day it is! By the time we find Dan pulling mustard along the ridge, my ears sting and my muscles are sore from plowing through the wind.

We find him parked off trail amid a blowing field of huge Brassica tournefortii. We do our best to help out, leaving a trail of destruction…

Sweaty, thirsty, and in need of a break… I stop to get a picture of blooming fields of desert sunflowers. White-capped Mt. San Gorgonio smiles down upon us.

And then… woo-hoo! Chicory buds and blossoms flap in the wind!

When we are done we gratefully accepted Dan’s offer for a ride back to the Palm House where our RV awaits us.

Going on a Ghost Hunt

And Stopping to Smell the Flowers!

All we know is that the ghost flower is somewhere near Horseshoe Palms and the last time we looked for it we ended up on a goose-chase of a ghost hunt.

So we start on the Pushawalla wash and head down to Horseshoe Palms.

Before we even get to the wash trail, however, wildflowers slow us down as I stop to take pictures.

Purple Notch-Leaved Phacelia and white Chicory…

Cryptantha or Desert Forget-Me-Not…

Golden Poppies…

Bladder Pod…

On the wash trail we encounter red Woody Bottle Washer Primrose and white and pink Brown-Eyed Primrose.

Some type of Box Thorn…

Sandblazing Star…

Pincushion…

A Pincushion and Desert Dandelion…

Little Golden Poppy…

Brown-Eyed Primrose and Woody Bottle Washer Primrose…

Our Secret Garden… on the Pushawalla wash…

There’s a lot going on here. Rock Daisies and Whispering Bells bloom amongst old favorites.

California Evening Primrose…

Such tiny delicate yellow flowers…

A beautiful picture of an opened Sandblazing Star…

Arizona Lupine…

Desert Sunflowers and Lupine…

More Desert Sunflowers…

Not sure yet what this prickly little guy is yet…


FINALLY… Ta Da…

We find the ghost!

There’s a patch of Ghost Flowers hugging the side of a hill right before we descend into Horseshoe Palms! Sooo beautiful!


As we descend upon the plateau into Horseshoe Palms, a desert bouquet awaits us.

And then I look up and see movement in the hills below Pushawalla ridge and above Horseshoe Palms. How did these folks get off trail here?

The arrow in the picture below shows where the trail is. Right after I take this pic, the 2 people start sliding down the hill.

I will never find out how they got off trail or what possessed them to venture off trail to begin with. This is an example of what NOT TO DO when hiking in the Coachella Valley Preserve.


We take a social trail back to the Visitor Center.

And then we discover a new surprise as we ascend out of Horseshoe Palms toward Pushawalla Ridge…

Desert Five Spot

It’s not open yet but I can hardly wait!

When the flower opens, it looks like this:

 picture courtesy of a Preserve visitor 

So, this is my new wildflower goal: find and take a picture of an open Five Spot!

Dying to Find Dye Weed

Burro Bush, Cattle Spinach, Dye Weed, Four-Winged Saltbush, Sandpaper Bush… Oh, My!

Okay, all of these desert bushes are pale green in color and to the untrained eye have similar leaves.

Way back in October when Jeff and I first arrived on the Preserve, Harlan took me on a mini plant hike. He showed me Indigo, Brittle Bush, Cattle Spinach, Alkali Golden Bush, Four-Winged Saltbush, Cheesebush, and Dye Weed. I remember Dye Weed the most because when I squished my fingers on the dried flower bloom, my fingers turned yellow-orange.

So…. as Jeff and I become increasingly obsessed with correctly identifying desert plants and blooming wildflowers, I wonder where Dye Weed is. I know Burro Bush leaves a lemony scent on my fingers and Sandpaper Bush is REALLY scratchy. Cattle Spinach can be a little scratchy and Four-Winged Saltbush is still a mystery to me. But where is the finger-staining Dye Weed?

Finally, we ask Harlan and he sends us to the pink  boarded up “jack-rabbit house” on the  McCallum Trail…

Eureka… We found it!


We continue hiking through Moon Country. Just look at the lush fields of yellow Desert Sunflowers!

It’s January. Wildflowers usually start blooming in March!

Below, I capture Brown-Eyed Primrose blooming and Desert Sunflowers getting ready to burst open in yellow splashes.

Here is Four-Winged Saltbush in the wash below the ridge to Moon Country. It’s all about the dried flowers that resemble the Star Wars X-Wing Fighter.

As we return to the Visitor Center we follow a trail that loops from Moon Country back onto the McCallum Trail.

We discover some California Croton.

And some kind of grass growing in the wash.

Dye Weed or not, these delightful desert wildflowers are to die for!

Dollar Road

Beyond Pushawalla

Today we hike the ridge of Pushawalla, descend onto the plateau, and take a side trail marked, Dollar Road.

A new perspective of mountains, hills, and plateaus appear.

And we discover more wildflowers…

Sandblazing Star

Ground Cherry

… And a unique view of the plateau trail leading to Pushawalla Palms and/or the Ridge.

The picture below shows the trail that leads down into Car Wreck Canyon and Pushawalla Palms.

Basking on a rock is a zebra tailed lizard, I think…

We turn around and head back to the Pushawalla Ridge where we take the wash trail back.

The wash trail is alive with blooming wildflowers…

Lupine and Desert Dandelion

Woody Bottle-Washer Primrose

Sandblazing Star and Brown-Eyed Primrose

This spot is our favorite and we call it Our Secret Garden because it is filled with a plethora of desert wildflowers.

Below is a close-up of Sweet Bush and Golden Poppy.

As we continue through the wash we encounter more…

Pigweed or Amaranth

Fremont Box Thorn

Bottle-Washer Primrose in bloom

Burro Bush

Fagonia

Wow! You know we will be back!

Horseshoe Palms

A Goose-Chase of a Ghost Hunt

Harlan tells Jeff and me about the elusive ghost flower and where to look for it. So, off we go toward Pushawalla and head for Horseshoe Palms. We cross the Pushawalla Trail at the ridge and take the Hidden Palms Trail until it intersects with an unmarked but clearly defined social trail.

We hike parallel to Pushawalla and then descend into the length of the grove.

Actually you can’t get close up and personal with Horseshoe Palms, even on the social trail. The photo below gives you a good perspective. Also notice snow-capped San Gorgonio in the distance.

We reach the length of Horseshoe Palms and I capture a close-up of the greens and tans of palm trees sitting in front of the bright blue sky.

We encounter Cheese Bush with blooms…

Purple Notch-Leaved Phacelia poking through the rocks…

And this plant we cannot identify yet…

A friendly reptile basks in the January sun.

Barrel Cactus up close…

Even the desert has dandelions!

This notched white wildflower is Desert Chicory.

But, yes, we find no ghost flowers!

So… we take the Pushawalla Ridge Trail back.

Before we cross the street to return to the Visitor Center, look what I see… orange dodder on a mesquite tree against a deep blue sky.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that needs a host plant to survive. It may be a “user” but it sure makes for a gorgeous picture of color!

We didn’t find any ghost flowers, but we sure enjoyed a beautiful hike.

The Perks of Being a Preserve Host

For 7 months Jeff and I are living under palm trees in an oasis on the San Andreas Fault. We are volunteering as hosts at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the Coachella Valley. As the New Year begins, I reflect back on all the special moments from the past 3 months.


A rainbow appears after a few large splats of rain…


SUNRISES…


Gregg’s sense of humor…

Gregg is another host who lives in his RV next to ours.


Rattlesnakes…

Gregg discovered the one below in our supply hut behind the bathrooms…


Guided hikes…


Climbing a sand dune with ginny…

Ginny is our Preserve Manager. Jeff and I were searching with her for evidence of campers after Athena and I observed 2 people trespassing onto Barney Powell’s land and buildings at Chimney Ranch.

From the top of the sand dune, McCallum Oasis and Simone Pond are hidden under the cluster of palm groves on the right.

In the distance are the Little San Bernardino Mountains. The 2 white rectangles in the middle are our supply crates. Beyond them is the Lane House, where Ginny’s office is located. To their right is the “Crab Shack” and where Athena and David, the other 2 hosts, park their RV.

Another view of McCallum Trail from off the beaten path…


A great horned owl…


Buddy and bear…

These are Gregg’s little dogs.

Auntie L babysits.


Marcia and i take a break repairing the  MCCALLUM trail…

We walk to the pond and she calls my attention to the screwbean mesquite.

Marcia is a docent here and a Master Gardener who leads a guided hike called Native Plants and Their Uses.


Sunset…


Moon rise…


An engagement… (I was the first to know!)


Gregg’s New Mini-cooper…


An unkindness of ravens…

These noisy birds pick off the palm fruit to eat but manage to drop even more on top of the roof of our RV. We are getting used to the hail-like sounds of dropping palm fruit.


A gathering of poets…

One Sunday morning contributors to the anthology Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California and others (including one raven, circled in the photo above) joined for poetry under the palms. Ginny just completed her MFA in creative writing and 2 of her poems were selected for publication.

Ursula K. Le Guin is also featured in this anthology.

She is an American novelist famous for her fantasy and science fiction. She also authored children’s books, short stories, poetry, and essays. She died in 2018 at age 88. (en.m.wikipedia.org)


Rain clouds…


Desert blooms… in DECEMBER?

Brittle Bush

Sand Verbena

Desert Sunflower

And yet there’s snow on San Gorgonio…


Weeding the desert…

Sahara Mustard is an invasive species of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts and the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of southern California. This mustard is native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, probably hitching a ride on the imported date palms. Thick strands of the plant can crowd out native flora by monopolizing any moisture in the soil before other plants can access it. Also,  it forms seeds before other species do, as early as January. This mustard self-fertilizes and propagates by dropping large numbers of viable seeds in the soil. (en.m.wikipedia.org)

It’s back-breaking work, but someone has to do it! Jeff and I have helped Dan, the Preserve Ranger, a few times pulling these weeds in Moon Country. We also pull them out if we see them on our hikes.


A PROUD GROUP CELEBRATES AFTER HIKING PUSHAWALLA…

They wanted me to document their successful accomplishment.


Christmas Morning…


Christmas brunch…

Quiche and mimosas…

Happy 2019!