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.