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…


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…


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


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.

A ”Wild” Hike

To Car Wreck Canyon and Back Again

Spring Blooms in December!

We start in the wash below Pushawalla Ridge and find it alive with colorful wildflowers blooming.

Below spindly Spanish Needle buds start to pop open in a natural arrangement of rocks, creosote, and primrose leaves… priceless!

Sandpaper Bush so aptly named for its unmistakable rough texture…

The fragrance tells all! Desert Lavender blooms pale but it’s smell vibrantly bursts out loud…

Lavendar and Desert Trumpet strike a beautiful pose.

This Desert Trumpet shows off from head to toe… tiny yellow flowers, skinny green stems, thicker red spines, swells of carbon dioxide, and a bouquet of lacy leaves.

Glancing up, I capture this surreal view of a dead palm and some desert mistletoe against a winter sky.

Purple Phacelia brighten the day.

Desert daisies rock!

But wait, there’s more!

Curly pods of Cat’s Claw…

Surrounded by the Indio Hills, the valley is awash with wildflowers.

The trail leads us up and out of the wash and onto a plateau.

Yellow creosote flowers fade into white fuzzy pom-poms.

We follow the trail signs and head down, in a  counter-clockwise loop, to  Pushawalla Palms and “Car-Wreck Canyon.”

Water still trickles through the grove of palms. But here’s where it gets interesting… Notice how the clear runoff suddenly turns orange.

Nestled in its own private canyon, Pushawalla Palms is off the beaten path.

We even encounter a dead coyote.

As we leave the palm groves a bright green bush with yellow flowers captures my attention.

I quickly identify this shrub as creosote with its yellow flowers. However, upon closer inspection, Jeff points out the pine tree-like leaves. Later we learn that, indeed, this is not a creosote bush but a Pygmy Cedar.

And here’s the old rusted car…

Someday we’ll follow the canyon instead of taking the loop.

As we climb back up onto the plateau a new flower greets us.

Usually the desert wildflowers don’t start blooming until March. What a fantastic time to be in the Southern California desert!

Through the Wash and Over the Ridge

To Hidden Palms We Go… (first)

The trail that crosses Pushawalla Ridge is quite scenic, especially once you start heading down into the canyon where the hidden palm grove thrives. Flowers are starting to bloom everywhere! Jeff and I keep discovering new ones to identify and old favorites to recall…


Standing tall amongst cryptantha, or popcorn flower, phacelia bursts into purple.


Don’t let the pale flowers fool you. Just crush a few in your hand and smell the fragrant essence of calmness.

We descend into the grove of hidden palms aka washingtonia filifera aka California fan palms. The “skirts” are a giveaway.

We follow the wash out of  Hidden Palms and pick up the Horseshoe Palms Trail that meanders through another wash and around this linear grove of palm trees.

Pygmy cedar

What? A fir-tree like bush in the desert? Is it some kind of pine tree with yellow flowers? The pygmy cedar is a member of the aster family. The species form is similar to a creosote bush… small, greenish, and hemispherical with yellow flowers in the spring. (calscape.org)


This thorny wisp of a bush splattered with deep purple flowers gives off an ethereal vibe.


This brown-eyed primrose is blooming along with cryptantha and possibly pincushion or desert dandelion. We’ll talk later…

The grove of Horsheshoe Palms is tucked along the south side of Pushawalla Ridge.

As we meander through the wash I turn around and take this picture of a flowering indigo bush with Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

When you crush the deep purple petals they smell like, as Harlan says, basil on steroids.

Looking down, we notice ants carrying small bits of petals to their ant hill. Maybe they like the smell too!

Desert sunflower

A single stem stands tall with one radiant flower unfolded and the promise of more to come. Bright pink verbenas hug the sand.

Desert star

This low growing mat-like plant usually blooms in the spring.

We arrive at the palm log fence overlooking Pushawalla Palms.

Pushawalla Palms lead up and out of Car Wreck Canyon that loops onto a plateau on the north side of Pushawalla Ridge. Or, you can stay in the wash and continue hiking into Pushawalla Canyon where it dead ends.

But we are not hiking down into Pushawalla Palms today anyway. We head toward the Ridge instead, which still requires an uphill hike.

Desert holly

This blooming plant greets us along the way up to the plateau where we connect with Pushawalla Ridge. Did you know there are male and female holly plants? The female has reddish buds that pop out berries. The male plant, well, if you crush the blooms in your hand, they turn into a grainy dust.

We head back on the Pushawalla Ridge.

Mt. San Jacinto smiles down on us.

Can you tell we really love it here?

Herman’s Hike Again

Counterclockwise This Time…

Today we want to hike up the switchbacks and along the ridge of the Willis Palms Loop in search of the trail that cuts through the palm grove, the trail we couldn’t find on November 14th.

We head out on the McCallum Trail toward Simone Pond and cut through to the wash of Moon Country. Purple rain clouds compete with white cumulus clouds for attention in the sky.

Three autumn rains send wildflower seeds spinning into confusion, bringing early blooms and blossoms and making Jeff and me crazy with trying to identify the flora that we see.

Cattle spinach, sandpaper, or burro bush?

Now you know… but we still confuse these 3 plants until you touch and smell. Cattle spinach has no smell and the leaves feel soft. Sandpaper is distinctly coarse. Burrobush smells lemony when you crush its yellow buds.

Here’s something new that we identify later. The caterpillar gives it away.

This caterpillar will turn into a monarch butterfly, we learn later.

We arrive at the trailhead to Herman’s Hike wondering how many switchbacks there are to the top. I start counting.

Moon Country Canyon lies below.

After almost a mile of 9 gradual switchbacks, we stand on a plateau of desert gravel where I take a picture of the Salton Sea. (It’s the bright white radioactive-looking horizontal line below the clouds.)

The snow-topped peak below to the west is Mt. San Jacinto hovering over Palm Springs.

To the “other” west is San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California.

This pile of rocks adorns the highest point of Herman’s Hike. Last time we were here we stopped to rest, hydrate, and grab a snack. Today we just take pictures and head down toward Willis Palms identifying flowers along the way.

Now the 2 snow-capped mountain peaks can be seen in the same picture frame.

Meanwhile, we discover a plant we recognize…

And another we don’t…

Until I send a pic to our Preserve Manager, Ginny Short, who identifies it as alkali golden bush. We know this plant that blooms in October! But we have never seen a smaller version with prominent green leaves and wilting flowers that don’t look straw-like…

The erosive fractures on the hills remind me of stalagmites.

We descend along the trail ahead. And, just in case you were wondering, that IS Mt. San Jacinto in the background.

Down off Herman’s Hike we take the ridge trail toward Willis Palms. Desert trumpets blast through the sandy soil.

Below is the trail along the wash.

This rounded shrub is a popular plant around the Preserve. Its branches are brittle and woody with a fragrant resin. Small but radiant yellow flowers bloom on long stalks sticking up above the leafy stems in late winter or early spring. This year’s late autumn rains, however, have started early blooms.

We follow the ridge trail heading toward Willis Palms instead of the trailhead parking area. It’s narrow, steep, muddy, and rocky.

Finally we are inside the palm groves.

As we exit the grove we see a trail sign, the one we missed last time.

We exit into the wash and walk right into another new plant blooming. I’ve seen this plant before but always wondered why I could not see the shape of a wishbone in its leaves. Duh, it’s the stems that carry the shape!

Instead of heading back to the Willis Palms parking area and trailhead, we plow our way through a cutoff suggested by Harlan. (Please don’t do this on your own!)

Finally, we see Thousand Palms Canyon Road which we follow back to the Preserve.

Flowers, familiar bushes, and the Indio Hills escort us.