The Day the Lights Went Out

And Everything Else…

Jeff and I wake up to no electricity. Our co-host, Tom, greets us with an explanation. A car swerved off Thousand Palms Canyon Road, in front of the Preserve, and knocked over a utility pole. No one was injured, luckily.

Okay, but not… The temperature is going to rise to over 100 degrees today!

Luckily, our RV generator, which we are supposed to run for 30 minutes every month (and we don’t) still kicks on. For the next 9 hours we rely on it to keep us cool. Tom relies on his generator as well.

Our other set of co-hosts, Ken, Rebecca, and their daughter Megan live in a trailer RV about a half mile south of us on Thousand Palms Canyon Road. Unfortunately they do not have a backup generator. Fortunately, their power was restored by 10 AM because the power company could reroute the transfer of electricity to their power source.

But Tom and Jeff and I aren’t so lucky. A new electric pole has to be installed in order for us to get back on the grid.


Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon we notice a lot of equipment arriving and activity happening along the road. Jeff and I take the parking lot trail to investigate and take pictures.

A brand new utility pole is being hoisted up. The connecting pole’s wires reach across Thousand Palms Canyon Road. Apparently we are connected to this broken power line.

(But hey, I’m not complaining! We are in the middle of the desert and we have full RV hookup, WiFi, and an on-site washing machine and dryer… one of three spots reserved for Preserve Volunteer Hosts.) And since we have a motor home and Tom has one too, we both have built in generators to supply all of our electrical needs.

It’s fun to watch…

The guys above wave down at us as they wait for the new pole to be positioned correctly.

This disconnected loop of wire runs across the street to the next utility pole. The new wires are ready to be attached at the top.

Lots of big equipment… each truck has one worker wearing a mask, I might add.

Notice the pole equipped with a new set of electrical connectors. Did they build that and add it to the pole today? I am going to guess, yes… I mean how many ready-to-connect poles are needed on a daily basis?


The crashed pole splintered at the base.


The Imperial Irrigation District (IID) is the public agency that provides water and energy service to the Coachella Valley south to the border of Mexico.

iid.com


Now the wires get attached.

Tom watches the trucks leave and we quickly check to see if the electric meter is running. Nope… ?

We find out through Ginny, the Preserve Manager, that it will take another 45 minutes until the power returns. I guess someone somewhere has to pull a switch.

By 5:00 we are back on the grid! Ah, the beautiful buzz of electric energy…


Meanwhile, we can only speculate on what happened for a car to crash into and wipe out a power line…

Driving too fast? Cars, trucks, motorcycles speed through the curves of Thousand Palms Canyon Road all the time. Impatient drivers cross the double yellow line and pass 2 or 3 cars at a time before heading back to their lane.

Texting while driving on a curve?

Drinking and driving? …as in hot coffee… We did notice a takeout cup of coffee lying in the road.

We’ll never know. What’s surprising, however, is that there aren’t more accidents on this stretch of road between Ramon/Washington and Dillon.

google maps

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.

Shutting Down

A Gradual Process…

Covid-19 impacts the Coachella Valley Preserve, especially the 880 acres privately owned and managed by the Center for Natural Land Management.

First we shutdown the water station in the Palm House Visitor Center in early March. For environmental reasons we are no longer supplying single-use plastic bottles of water for visitors who either forget to bring water or need more after hiking. Instead we set up a water station of three 5 gallon jugs of water atop crocks with spigots. Of course, we can’t count on every visitor carrying a water bottle, so we provide paper cups as well. At least it’s a start. Our concern with the water station has to do with the spigot that easily touches the rims of empty water bottles that need refilling or the rims of cups for a second and third refill.

On March 13th we run out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, so we close the 2 bathrooms as we cannot replenish these supplies.

A few days later the Palm House Visitor Center closes as docent volunteers call Ginny, the Preserve Manager, expressing their concern for putting themselves at risk.

Docents can still volunteer but they are only available to welcome and talk to visitors outside of the Palm House.

Scheduled guided hikes become optional as well. By March 17th all guided hikes are cancelled.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issues a statewide “Stay at Home Order” on March 19th. Hiking is still allowed as long as people maintain appropriate 6 feet apart social distancing.

As Riverside County requires face masks to be worn in public in the latter part of March, we do too…

The Bureau of Land Management  brings us a sign to post about enjoying outdoor activities in this time of Covid-19 while practicing safe precautions…

And finally on April 1st, no fool’s day joke, we are officially closed.

We don’t know when our 880 acres will reopen for hiking. Check our website for the latest updated information.

Meanwhile…

Stay safe. Stay home for the most part and when you do go out, maintain social distancing and wear a mask. Even if you don’t like the idea of face masks, wear one out of respect for others, respect for their right to feel as safe as they can amid this strange virus. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Check the source of information first. Stay strong. We are sharing this surreal experience together. We got this!

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 4

Wandering Through the Wash Along the Rockettes Trail…

Behind Squaw Hill there is a trail lined with rocks leading across Thousand Palms Canyon Road. One day in February I accompanied Ginny, our Preserve Manager, to post habitat signs to discourage visitors from wandering off trail. We then started lining one side of the trail with rocks, and with a broom we swept away any evidence of footprints off trail.

Since then, I continued the project of lining one side of the trail with rocks from the road to the intersection of Smoketree Trail. Mary, a docent volunteer, decided she would help me with lining the other half of the trail with rocks. Well, of course we had to christen this stretch of a desert path with a name. After brainstorming some ideas, Harlan (our local authority next to Ginny who leads hikes, repairs trails, and shares a wealth of information about the history, geology, flora, and fauna of the Preserve) came up with the name Rockettes and it stuck.

Parallel to the Rockettes Trail and further west is the off trail wash and stream.

As the San Andreas Fault system enters the Coachella Valley in Indio, it splits into 2 sections: The Banning Strand and the Mission Creek Strand. The hills that tower over the wash and stream are being pushed up as a result of being wedged between these 2 strands which eventually meet up again as they travel northwest. (Harlan)

The stream is run-off from fault water propelled by gravity. The boardwalk oasis and pond result from the underlying aquafir water hitting the Mission Creek fault strand. The water cannot pass through so it has to go up, the path of least resistance. (Harlan)


As usual these days, I am mining for invasive Sahara mustard.

And of course I am enjoying the scenery and flowers I find along the way.


A splash of Arizona Lupine

What tickles me about lupine are its unusual leaves that look like flowers themselves.

calflora.net



Checker Fiddleneck

The yellow flowers are arranged in spikes that resemble scorpion tails, unfolding as new flowers open. But don’t be fooled. The long white hairs give the plant its fuzzy-wuzzy appearance, but can be quite irritating to the touch. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)



Heart-Leafed Primrose

Similar  to yellow cups, the leaves are shaped like hearts, hence the name, instead of lobes.


Desert Trumpet

I love this unusual desert treasure because it has 3 distinctive segments to enjoy.

The inflated stems grow 1 to 3 feet tall. In contrast, the tiny ethereal yellow flowers are only 1/16 inch long.

The hairy rosette of leaves at the base of the plant have slightly lobed edges with long stalks and measure about 2 inches across. The swellings on the leafless stems were thought to be due to wasp larvae living inside. More recent findings, however, have put that explanation to rest. These inflated pods are the result of a buildup of carbon dioxide in the stem. (americansouthwest.net)


Brittlebush

Bright yellow flowers hover over this pale green bush as they burst open on long wooden stems. A member of the Sunflower Family, a brittlebush will shed its leaves in drought conditions to conserve water. Additionally, insulating white hairs cover the light blue-green leaves to help reduce water loss. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


Indigo Bush

This purple flowered shrub is a member of the Pea Family and attracts butterflies. In the spring, it’s not uncommon to see pieces of purple petals scattered around anthills as busy ants carry them home.


Sweetbush…

A member of the Sunflower Family, bebbia juncea, is a scraggly looking aromatic desert shrub easily ignored by casual observers until the tiny yellow-orange florets pop up. The plant is a haven for butterflies and moths and an important host plant for bees. Chuckwallas are known to relish sweetbush so it’s no surprise that this shrub is also known as Chuckwalla’s Delight. (southwestdesertflora.com)

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a chuckwalla lizard here… yet.



London Rocket

Introduced from Europe, this aggressive weed is a member of the Mustard Family, but unlike the Sahara mustard, we don’t actively pull it on the Preserve since it is not nearly as abundant or invasive.

Also called “tumble mustard”, the scientific name for this tall, slender-stemmed annual with yellow flowers is sisymbrium irio. Following the Great Fire of London in the 1600s, this plant made a comeback in such rapid abundance earning its most common name, London Rocket. (southwestdesertflora.com)

According to the database, Native American Ethnobotany from the University of Michigan, Dearborn, several uses for this herb have been identified: (naeb.brit.org)

The Cahuilla who lived on this Preserve boiled or fried the leaves and served them in salads. (Bean, Lowell John and Katherine Siva Saubel,  1972,  Temalpakh (From the Earth);  Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants,  Banning, CA.  Malki Museum Press, page 140)

The Mohave roasted the young shoots and ate them as famine food. (Castetter, Edward F. and Willis H. Bell,  1951,  Yuman Indian Culture,  Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press,  page 201)

The Pima stored the seeds for winter to prepare a gruel by grinding the seeds and adding water. As a medicine, dried seeds were placed under sore eyes to induce tears. (Curtin, L.  S.  M.,  1949,   By the Prophet of the Earth, Santa Fe.  San Vicente Foundation,  page 84)

Check out this article by John Slattery, “Urban Foraging for London Rocket” posted February 29, 2016 on desertortoisebotanicals.com for modern day kitchen and medicinal recipes.



Broad-Leafed Gilia

A member of the Phlox Family, this desert annual stands out with its dark green leaves and pink flowers.


A bouquet of purple Notched-Leafed Phacelia and Desert Poppy…


A vibrant patch of Desert Poppy…


And my favorite cottonwood tree leading back to the boardwalk, a favorite hang out for our feathered friends.

Leave No Trace

Preserve Etiquette…

As we spend time outdoors, in the natural world and wilderness, it’s important to be aware of the effects our individual actions may have on plants, animals, other people, and entire ecosystems. By practicing the 7 principles of Leave No Trace, we can minimize our impact while still enjoying our outdoor experience. (nps.gov)

nps.gov

These principles were established in the mid 1980s by The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, LNT.org, and built on work by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management. (nps.gov)

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of other visitors.

Our Preserve Manager, Ginny, knows how much I enjoy organizing, labeling, and creating signage so when she meets with our team of hosts and we discuss a need for communicating important information, I get to design a poster for Ginny’s approval.

Since we are a privately owned Nature Preserve and not a National Park, no overnight camping is allowed here. So I adapted the 7 principles to fit our environmental needs. Below is the poster I created:


Here are some examples of the “traces” various visitors have left behind this season:

Three pair of shoes left in the parking lot…

I guess they changed into hiking boots and then forgot about them. 😱


Leftover “props” from a photo op…

Here’s a good story…

A younger woman and older man walk in carrying a dress on a hangar. Now, this is not as unusual as you may think. We often have professional and amateur photo shoots on the Preserve. We prefer that the photographers or picture subjects give our Manager a heads up so we can expect them and let them know the etiquette of the Preserve, yadda yadda.

Something about this couple alerts Tom, our co-host, and me to check out what is happening. So, we take a quick walk on the Smoketree Trail and almost fall over them. The She is posing on a cooler in the middle of the trail. Her back is arched back and her legs are seductively exposed through the slit in the halter dress she obviously changed into. The He is standing off-trail on restorative habitat taking pictures. Strewn around the cooler are red and yellow flowers and green leaves. Before Tom and I can even open our mouths, she tells us not to mind them; they are just having some fun. They brought the flowers in and they will pick them all up. Dumbfounded, we just remind him to stay on the trail and leave.

Later our Manager tells us that blocking a trail is a “No-No”, I mean, can you imagine someone in a National Park sitting in the middle of a trail or someone coming on your property and making you walk around them to enter your house?

Anyway, She and He didn’t do a very good job of picking up after themselves… 🤨


A tennis ball to knock down palm fruit…

Here’s another good one from Tom.

A family is leaving the Preserve and Tom hears a loud raucous so he goes to investigate. Apparently a father just happens to have a tennis ball in his pocket.  Really? In front of his son and wife he repeatedly throws the tennis ball up into a palm tree to try and knock down the palm fruit. His attempts prove unsuccessful but for some reason he leaves the tennis ball. Tennis anyone? 😧


Orange peels that will not break down in the desert heat…

Organic litter is not okay!

We ask people not to feed the wildlife so what gives with leaving apple cores, and peels in the desert? What critters will eat it? Or will it just evaporate into thin air?

Leave No Trace has done experiments. Banana peels can take up to 2 years to decompose. In arid environments orange peels will last indefinitely. Citrus contains a natural insecticide. Even ants won’t touch orange peels. Chewing gum contains rubber, so it won’t rot.

Do we eat banana peels or orange peels? So, why would a squirrel or desert critter? An apple core is edible, but if it is not part of an animal’s daily diet, it can change the animal’s biome to the point where it can no longer digest its normal food.

Desert animals have a special difficulty. Many of these critters have no ready source of water: They get moisture from the food they eat. They cannot flush salt from their bodies, and excess salt will kill them. (hcn.org)


This busy ant actually picks up some litter in the parking lot… 🥴

It looks like a petal from some kind of flower not found in the desert, a trace someone else left behind maybe. Where is he or she taking it and why?


A swarm of bees “camps” here for several days before buzzing off…

We don’t confront them, however. 😳

According to perfectbee.com, when bees swarm, a single colony becomes two because the colony needs more space to raise brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae), and store honey and pollen.

To prepare for swarming the queen bee lays an egg in a queen cup. A queen cup is an enlarged wax cell built by worker bees in case the queen lays an egg for her heir. Bees may build one or dozens of these throughout the hive. The empty cups are sometimes torn down so the wax can be used elsewhere, or empty cups may just be left alone in anticipation of the need for swarming. (honeybeesuite.com)

honeybeesuite.com

When a queen lays an egg in a queen cup, she plans to leave and is preparing a new queen to take over for her in the existing hive.

Up until this point the old queen has been busy laying eggs (not in a queen cup) and is heavy and not in a position to fly well. To lighten up for travel, she stops laying eggs and the worker bees reduce her feedings, leaving a gap in the egg-to-adult timeline of the colony.

The swarm starts with the old queen and 50% – 60% of her offspring leaving to relocate to a new home. Tens of thousands of bees will stream out of the hive together and choose a nearby location as an intermediary place to rest because the queen is not a great flyer at this point. (perfectbee.com)

Here’s what’s crazy though… Ginny, Harlan, some docents, co-hosts and I walked through this Arrow Weed lined path of the Smoketree Trail earlier to assess rain damage. A few hours later the swarm of bees chose to set up camp here. I can only imagine what it looked liked to observe tens of thousands of bees landing here!


And this squawking raven… 🤫

These hawk-size members of the crow family, or more technically, corvids, are everywhere in Southern California, the center of a Common Raven population boom plaguing the American West. Raven populations in the Mojave Desert have increased more than 700 percent over the past 40 years. Often considered the raccoons of the bird world, ravens are opportunistic feeders willing to feast on everything from trash to other animals. Because they will feast on the eggs and young of other desert animals, raven predation has been detrimental to many desert species. (audubon.org)

During the winter months, ravens enjoy wreaking havoc through the palm trees to eat bugs among the fronds and pick off the palm fruit. Coyotes enjoy the dropped purple berries the ravens leave behind.

According to mentalfloss.com, the collective noun for ravens is an “unkindness” of ravens. Ravens aren’t exactly friendly as they will often gang up on their prey or animals. And because of the impression that they are an ominous presence, an unkindness of ravens can also be called a conspiracy.

All I can say from firsthand experience is that these magnificent black birds appear in a noisy cloud of flapping wings rustling through the air and palm trees, calling out loudly to each other as they show off their acrobatic flying skills. They are not considerate guests. They are boisterous and not only drown out the melodies of the other birds, but completely take over the canopy of palm trees on the oasis. They’re the thugs, bullies, gangstas of the bird world. But they mesmerize me!


So… a birds’ eye review of how to be a VIP Visitor of the Preserve:

  • Check our website for our hours by going to coachellavalleypreserve .org
  • Leave your dogs at home.
  • Bring water, lots of water, and drink it.
  • Stay on the designated trails and respect the areas that are off limits. We are a Wildlife/Nature Preserve, not a park or playground.
  • I don’t care if you need to smoke in the parking lot. Just please take your butts with you, okay. I am the one who picks them up… along with dirty diapers, beer cans, straws, discarded water bottles, etc.
  • Walk, enjoy, listen, look, and take pictures. Stacking rocks into cairns serves no purpose. Spelling names or messages with rocks or sticks in the sand might be meaningful to you but no one else gives a hoot… seriously. Enjoy nature and get over yourself.
  • Plants and wildlife, even anthills, have the right of way. We are the visitors and we respect and enjoy their habitats.
  • And finally, but most importantly, know that your acts of respecting the environment and other visitors do not go unnoticed. From all of us volunteers, we thank you for sharing this magically special and spiritual space with us!

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 3

Pushing Through the Pushawalla Washes to Pull and Pause…

On a Sahara mustard mission, the bag lady strikes again! And once again I am not disappointed with the treasures I find…


Cholla…

Silver or golden cholla is a highly variable member of the Cactus Family. The spines on the stems can be silver or golden. Flowers are usually greenish-yellow but can age to dark red. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These shrubby cacti have cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. The stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions including water storage, photosynthesis, and flower production. (desertusa.com)

Later I spy more cholla… an open blossom this time…


Desert Tobacco

A member of the Nightshade Family (nicotiana trigonophylla), desert tobacco is related to domestic tobacco (nicotiana tabacum). The leaves are dark green, very sticky, and ill-smelling. Although extremely toxic, Native Americans often smoked this plant during religious ceremonies. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


Jimson Weed

Another member of the Nightshade Family, datura meteloides is also called moonflower, a reference to the fact that the flowers usually open later in the day. (Not here in the desert, though.) Georgia O’Keeffe enjoyed painting its huge blossoms. She said, “When I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening.”

Jimson weed is also known as “sacred datura” and has been revered as one of the sacred visionary plants among almost all cultures around the world that have encountered it. Daturas have been used as poisons, medicines, and ritual intoxicants since the beginning of time. Some scholars believe Delphic oracles in Ancient Greece used datura to induce their legendary visions. The Aztecs used datura as a painkiller in initiation rituals and as a narcotic for ritual sacrifices. (fs.fed.us)

The plants produce large white trumpet flowers tinged with purple.

There are 9 to 12 known species of datura, each with its own characteristic narcotic tropane alkaloid, making datura one of the most dangerous and poisonous plants known. Jimson weed is a major cause of accidental poisonings and death by those looking to get a cheap high. (fs.fed.us)


I come across a new wildflower that resembles desert milkweed and I send pics to Ginny, the Preserve Manager, to identify it for me.

Pignut…

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)

[I just found out how to add an accent mark over a letter on my iPad, DUH 🙄 and I am so excited 😆!]

But the more research I do, I discover that the leaves of the hoffmanseggia glauca…

southwestdesertflora.com

and the leaves on the plant below are different… 🤔

So, maybe this is Desert Rock-Pea, a common perennial shrub found in washes and on rocky hillsides. (Yep, that’s where I found them: along the side of Bee Mesa and the wash.) A member of the Pea Family, the flowers are yellow and turn red with age. The plant is somewhat woody (not sure about that), multi-stemmed, and less than 3 feet tall. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Perfectionist as I am, I am just not sure…


Then I get even more confused. I spy another plant with similar yellow and orange flowers, but the stems and leaves look different. As always, I lean on Ginny, the Preserve Manager, and Harlan, the desert professor, for answers.

Heart-Leaved Primrose

Camissonia cardiophylla is a member of the Evening Primrose Family.

Most of the leaves are found at the base of the plant with the flower stalks rising leafless and growing to about 16 inches. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

The younger flowers are yellow, but as the blossoms age, they turn red and give us a plant with 2 beautiful colors. (Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, abdnha.org)

The seed pods remind me of mustard but are thicker.


Rock Daisy

A common wildflower on rocky slopes and in sandy washes, peristyle emoryi is a member of the Sunflower Family. The flower heads are the size of dimes with white fringed rays and a yellow center. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These tiny daisies pop up in low growing clumps of dark green, crisp white, and brilliant yellow-orange:



Desert Poppy

This common little poppy resembles the California poppy but has yellow flowers instead of orange. The flower stems grow to 1 foot and can either be leafy or naked, like the one below. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


The displays of wildflowers I encounter today are pretty spectacular for this season’s scarce rainfall. And now I know why; I have reached the stream that flows under Thousand Palms Canyon Road, the literal dip in the road…

In the picture below, the palm trees in the distance surround the boardwalk and Visitor Center along the San Andreas Fault separating the Pacific tectonic plate from the North American. The hill you see is part of the Indio Hills separating the 2 strands of the San Andreas Fault: the Banning strand and the Mission Creek strand. The line of palm trees, parallel to the Indio Hills in the foreground, grow along the stream seeping up from the fault strands.

I’ve never been here before but I have driven past more times than I can count.

You can hear the water trickling as it ripples along.

The stream snakes it’s way south to Washington Street.

My trash bag is almost full of mustard weeds so I head back to the Pushawalla parking area via the road, pulling more mustard along the way.


I am hot and getting tired, until I look down at this perky patch of purple.

Notch-Leafed Phacelia

Phacelia crentulata is a member of the Waterleaf Family. The violet flowers are arranged into a tightly coiled scorpion-tail. The plant is ill-scented and the foliage is known to cause a rash similar to poison oak on some people. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

I find this picture of purple poison quite pleasing to partake…


Arriving at the Pushawalla parking area, I set my bag down and decide to double check if the trail to Indian Palms is clearly marked from here. (Since the 880 acres of the Coachella Valley Preserve we live on is privately owned by the Center for Natural Land Management, CNLM, I often direct disappointed visitors to park at Pushawalla on Mondays and Tuesdays when we are closed and suggest they hike to Indian Palms.)

So I pretend I have parked here and want to hike to Indian Palms to make sure there is an appropriate trail marker. As I leave the parking area and take the rock-lined trail, I discover a pale pink flower growing on a slender green stem.

Annual Mitra

A member of the Sunflower Family, stephanomeria exigua is a common late season wildflower. Because the plant is light green and it’s branches are spread about, it’s easy to walk by without noticing it. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Indeed, during last year’s superbloom, I never noticed this delicate pink flower.


After taking pics of annual mitra, I look up and see more mustard weeds. I can always cram a few more in my garbage bag and, as I proceed to pull, I come face to face with red spiny thorns and yellow blooms.

Barrel Cactus

Bisnaga, ferocactus acanthodians, is California’s second largest cactus, (the largest is the saguaro). The stems can grow up to 9 feet and are usually solitary, but it’s not uncommon to see plants branched at the base. The flowers are produced in a ring at the top of the trunk.

A popular myth suggests that lopping off the tops of these cacti will produce life-sustaining water. This is not true, however, as lopping off the top ruins the plant for life.  Due to increased poaching, barrel cactus is now fully protected in California and Arizona and cannot be removed legally from the wild. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


Have I convinced you that the perks of pulling outweigh the mission yet?

I’ve Looked At Clouds From Both Sides Now

Sometimes My Head is in the Clouds…

And I look up and start singing Joni Mitchell’s song in my head…

cbc.ca

cbc.ca


Most days the sky over the Coachella Valley is an endless sea of blue floating above the Colorado Desert.

But sometimes the wind hits the San Jacinto Mountains just right pushing the air upward. As the wind moves over the mountains, it cools down enough for condensation to develop and brushes the sky in strokes of white.

Local AccuWeather Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell explains that these clouds are called lenticular clouds and need moisture, a stable atmosphere, and strong winds perpendicular to a mountain range. “They are continually reformed over the same location by new air rising up and over a mountain, condensing and producing the clouds.”

Here’s a beautiful example of a lenticular cloud over Squaw Hill…

But not all clouds are lenticular clouds. Some are just cool clouds, like these in Moon Country…

And these hovering over the Little San Bernardino Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park…

Then there are “rows and flows of angel hair”…

“And feather canyons everywhere”…

And instead of “ice cream castles”, there is popcorn in the air…

But sometimes “clouds got in my way”…

And “they rain and snow on everyone”…


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