Desert Rains and Mountain Snow…

…Make the Wildflowers Bloom and Grow

Valentines Day 2019 brought rains and flash floods to the Coachella Valley.

Cold temperatures dropped snow on the mountain tops… from San Jacinto to San Gorgonio to Joshua Tree…

February 21st

Harlan asks me to join him on a walk along the Indian Palms Trail. He is searching for an unknown wildflower he saw a few days ago and one that even stumped Ginny, our Preserve Manager. You betcha! Any walk with Harlan is a special treat.

We don’t find the whereabouts of the unknown wildflower, but I enjoy identifying the flowers I see with Harlan and capturing the threatening sky surrounding the valley.

California Evening Primrose…

Cheese Bush and something else I don’t know…


Some type of Box Thorn? Not sure…

Indian Tobacco…

Later in the afternoon

Jeff and I walk along the McCallum Trail in search of Spectacle Pod. We spy with all 4 of our eyes…

Wild Heliotrope aka Phacelia Distans…

Also called Blue Phacelia, the flowers are a light lavender color.

Arrowweed blooming…

California Croton…

And a small patch of Spectacle Pod along the return loop from Moon Country back to the Visitor Center… It’s my new favorite wildflower!

Look at the leaves on the stem…

Sooooooo awesome and unusual!

I turn around and capture the field of wildflowers blooming on the Moon Country Trail.

On the way back we discover…


Desert Velvet or “Turtle Back”…

And purple clouds over Simone Pond…

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. (

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, 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.

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!

Moon Country

The Moon Country Trail is an extension of the McCallum Trail. It’s been a month since the October flash flood so Jeff and I decide to take the 4+ mile hike out and back to observe the water damage and examine the work of our repair efforts.

We head northwest from the Palm House Visitor Center along the boardwalk. White threads spread across the surface of the natural spring. These wisps are the tips of the palm roots.

The salt grass lays across the oasis channel, crushed by the weight of streaming water.

The new boardwalk hovers over the mud. An 80- foot section was built between 2 original sections. Now the boardwalk continues throughout the wetlands of the riparian forest.

The San Andreas Fault is so evident as we leave the palm grove and step out into the Colorado Desert. The hills inch up every year and the green arrowweed, creosote, cheese weed, and indigo thrive in abundance with a water source below. We are walking along the Mission Creek Strand of the Fault.

A plank guides hikers across a newly formed rivulet. To the left is the driveway to Chimney Ranch where the Powell family still owns homesteading property and living quarters. To the right, a boundary of rocks lines the trail to Simone Pond.

Beyond the line of rocks, notice the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the source of the flash flooding that wiped out most of the vegetation in the wash.

In the distance is an RV where David and Athena are staying. They are Preserve Hosts too, returning for their second winter.

David and Athena live about 3/4 mile west of the Palm House Visitor Center. The tree stumps are from cut-down Tamarisks, an invasive tree that sucks up precious water.

Tamarisk logs line the trail of the washed-out wash. Before drying out, the wash was a lake!

A phainopepla rests on a mesquite bush near the mound of red-orange desert mistletoe.

A creosote, confused that it’s springtime, starts blooming with its yellow flowers.

Meanwhile, the alkali goldenbush’s flowers fluff into seeds.

Desert holly… Jeff and I identify as many plants as we can.

On our hike through Moon Country, we stop and head to Vista Point.

Below is McCallum Grove shadowed by the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

And that’s the parking lot for Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve circled below.

We descend Vista Point and continue west along the ridge of the Moon Country Trail. The peak of San Gorgonio Mountain guides us.

As we descend the ridge we see the switchbacks of the Herman’s Hike Trail. And there’s a trail sign.

We know Moon Country is a loop so we continue west as the trail sign indicates.

After awhile, we realize we should have headed back when we came down the ridge. The sign should have read Moon Country Canyon instead. So, no problem… our goal now is to find the end of the box canyon.

With every turn, we think we are at the end only to find out we are wrong. The canyon hills are beautiful and entice us to continue.

Finally, we reach the end and turn around. I guess our 4-mile hike is becoming a 5+-mile hike.

As we connect with the McCallum Trail again, we loop around to the “jack rabbit house”. This pink building is an example of the minimum structure required to be built on homesteaded land.

Also, from this return loop from Moon Country, you get a good view to the entrance to Chimney Ranch, private property owned by the Powell family.

A Cottonwood Tree log…

And we’re back at Palm House. The fronds below blew down from yesterday’s wind storm.