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…

Wild About Wildflowers

And Harlan…


Harlan is our resident desert guru who has taken a hiatus from leading nature walks due to a flair up in his back. As he undergoes physical therapy, he is slowly getting back to his game. On this Thursday morning he asks me if I want to walk with him to Pushawalla to check out the wildflowers. You bet I do! I never turn down a chance to spend time learning and exploring with Harlan. Judith is the docent today in the Palm House and she is also excited to tag along. So Jeff takes care of the Visitor Center and Harlan, Judith, and I take off to view wildflowers.

Brown-Eyed Primrose



Shaggy Mane Mushroom

Indian Tobacco

Wishbone… again

Not sure… Harlan is stumped about this one… Maybe more Desert Tobacco?


Notch-Leaved Phacelia and Rock Daisies

Cryptobiotic Crust

Also known as “desert glue”, this hidden layer of biotic organisms plays a vital role in desert health. They hold the place in place! Cyanobacteria in the desert form filaments surrounded by sheaths. These filaments become moist and active during rains, moving through the soil and leaving behind a trail of sticky sheath material. The sheaths stick to soil particles and form an intricate web of fibers which stabilize erosion-prone surfaces from wind and water. They not only protect the soil from blowing away but they also absorb precious rainfall and reduce flash flood runoff. They contribute nitrogen and organic matter to the desert. The boot of a hiker or the weight of a tire, however, can destroy these cryptobiotic crusts which take 5 to 7 years to return. (

Chicory… again

Whispering Bells

A cool rock Judith and I really like!

Sand Verbena


Quiz Time

Okay, I’ve been taking pictures of desert wildflowers for awhile now and identifying them in my journal posts. How many can you identify?








Answers at end of blog…

January 26th

We wake up to an unpleasant surprise…

Yikes! More palm fronds have fallen from the same palm tree in front of the Visitor Center. Jeff and I live right behind the Palm House and sleep with our windows open, yet we heard no noise from such an incredible explosion!

I take pictures and send them to the Preserve Manager, Ginny. She tells us to leave them there while awaiting estimates to trim the skirts off the exploding palm tree. Dan and David secure the dangerous area with caution tape and orange cones.

Meanwhile, Harlan invites me on another wildflower walk. Jeff, Gregg, and Mary join us.

Quail Bush

Cryptantha or Popcorn,aka Forget-Me-Nots

Indian Tobacco



London Rocket

Phacelia (Notched-Leaved)

Desert Dandelion… one is pollinated… which one?

Answer: The one on the right is pollinated. (No red dot in the middle)

Bonus Question: What plant is below the dandelions?

Answer: Primrose

Answer to Quiz:
1: cheesebush
2: wishbone
3: pygmy cedar
4: lupine
5: phacelia
6: primrose
7: whispering bells

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!

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…


Gregg’s sense of humor…

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


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.


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. (

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. (

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.


They wanted me to document their successful accomplishment.

Christmas Morning…

Christmas brunch…

Quiche and mimosas…

Happy 2019!

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.