Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Wildflowers at Box Canyon (Mecca Hills), Eastern Riverside County

Back in March, I had read some promising reports of fantastic wildflower displays in the Box Canyon/Mecca Hills area. As our days were getting longer and the mercury slowly but surely rising, we decided to head out to this lesser known gem of the California desert in early April to hopefully catch some blooms before they succumbed to the inevitable effects of heat and diminishing precipitation. Our last visit to Box Canyon was in 2007, so it's been a few years. For those unfamiliar with the Mecca Hills Wilderness, it's about 15 miles east of Indio and accessed from State Hwy. 195 (Box Canyon Rd.) off of I-10 just due south of Joshua Tree National Park. 

4/3/11 En route to Box Canyon, we passed the hard-to-miss wind farm in the San Gorgonio Pass off of I-10 just east of Whitewater. 

Just before the junction with SR 195, we pulled off the freeway to stretch our legs, and I trekked a short distance down to see what was blooming. Well, apparently, quite a lot:

Notch-leaved Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata).

4/3/11 Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus schottii).

 Desert Star (Monoptilon bellioides). One of my favorite desert belly flowers (i.e., so small you have to get down on your belly to see them).

 Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), a very common shrub in our desert regions and other habitats including coastal sage scrub. 

Pencil Cholla (Opuntia ramosissima).

California Barrel Cactus (Ferrocactus cylindraceus).

California Barrel Cactus (Ferrocactus cylindraceus).

California Fagonia (Fagonia laevis).

Bigelow's Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii).

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). A real hummingbird magnet when in bloom. 

Rush Pea (Caesalpinia virgata).

Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum), surrounded by the yellow blooms of Brittlebush and Creosote Bush.

Ghost Flower (Mohavea confertiflora). One of the loveliest of desert flowers. They do seem ghostly because they are practically invisible until you come up on them, and then - wow! 

Pale Face/Rock Hibiscus (Hibiscus denudatus). Looks slightly bedraggled, but I was really happy to get this shot as it was the first time I had run across one of these in the field.

Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. basilaris).

Arizona Lupine (Lupinus arizonicus). Very common in this part of the Colorado Desert. Hmm...Arizona & Colorado, and all here in California.

Sweetbush (Bebbia juncea). 

Chia (not the pet) (Salvia columbariae). An annual that's native to our deserts, coastal sage scrub & chaparral. Smells super minty when you touch or brush against it. Chia seeds are edible.

Next, we headed up Highway 195 to Box Canyon in the Mecca Hills:

Common Phacelia (Phacelia distans). Meccacopia trailhead.

Bearded Cryptantha (Cryptantha barbigera). Meccacopia trailhead.

Whispering Bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora var. penduliflora). Meccacopia trailhead.

Narrow-leaved Cryptantha (Cryptantha angustifolia). Meccacopia trail.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica). Meccacopia trail.

Chuparosa (Justicia californica). Meccacopia trail.

More Ghost Flowers (Mohavea confertiflora). Meccacopia trailhead.

Strigose Lotus (Lotus strigosus). Meccacopia trailhead.

Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum). Meccacopia trailhead.

Hana, daydreaming of Alaska. Meccacopia trailhead.

Bigelow's Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii). Meccacopia trailhead.

Desert Five-Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia). Sandy wash across the road from the Meccacopia trailhead.

Bracted Blazing Star (Mentzelia involucrata). This blazing star bears a superficial resemblance to Ghost Flower, but it lacks the tell-tale maroon spots at the base of the petals, and is in the Stickleaf Family (Loasaceae), not the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae). Meccacopia trailhead.

Little Gold or Small-Flowered Poppy (Eschscholzia minutiflora). The name speaks for itself.  Meccacopia trailhead.

Brandegea or Desert Star Vine (Brandegea bigelovii). A member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Meccacopia trail.

Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii). Meccacopia trailhead.

Mojave Ragwort (Senecio mohavensis). Meccacopia trailhead.

Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi). Sandy wash across the road from the Meccacopia trailhead. I have one of these aromatic shrubs growing in my garden at home. I've heard that it's not very cold tolerant, but it seems to be doing ok so far in our occasionally frosty & damp (for SoCal) winter microclimate.

Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata). In good years, this wildflower will carpet the desert floor in a spectacular show of yellow. Meccacopia trailhead.

Desert Woolly-Star (Eriastrum eremicum ssp. erimicum). Sandy wash across the road from the Meccacopia trailhead.

Smoke Tree (Psorothamnus spinosus). Wash across the road from the Meccacopia trailhead. From a distance, the gray-green foliage of this small tree resembles a puff of smoke arising from the desert floor.

Parish's Poppy (Eschscholzia parishii). Meccacopia trailhead. The color of this desert poppy is a soft yellow-orange, not the blazing orange of our State flower, the California Poppy (E. californica). Think Meyer Lemon vs. Satsuma Mandarin.

Emory's Rock Daisy (Perityle emoryi), with a few Desert Dandelions peeking through. Meccacopia trailhead.

Heartleaf Sun-cup (Camissonia cardiophylla ssp. cardiophylla). Meccacopia trailhead.

Female Phainopepla/Silky Flycatcher (Phainopepla nitens). Meccacopia trail. 

Desert Mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum). Meccacopia trail. Silky Flycatchers are addicted to their berries.

Imagine that, our common House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), all the way out here in the desert. Meccacopia trail.

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana). Shaver's Well.

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. torreyana). Shaver's Well. The seedpods are edible. For centuries, mesquite meal has been a traditional staple food source for the Native American tribes of the desert. 

Marker for Shaver's Well.

Bigelow's Monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii). Shaver's Well.

Broad-leaf Gilia (Gilia latifolia). Shaver's Well.

Desert Plantain (Plantago ovata). Shaver's Well.

Little Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum trichopes). Shaver's Well.

Desert Sunflower (Geraea canescens). Shaver's Well.

Desert Iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis). At about 8" long, not a small lizard. He scuttled under a Smoke Tree as fast as lightening as I was approaching. I managed to get this slightly out-of-focus shot before he took off again.

Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum). Shaver's Well.

Leaving Shaver's Well, en route to Mecca. Palo Verdes were in full bloom all along Box Canyon Rd.

Here we are, coming up on the Salton Sea. Turnoff to Painted Canyon is on the right - that's a whole 'nother trip unto itself.

And in case you didn't know, the Coachella Valley, smack dab in the middle of desert, is home to acres upon acres upon acres of ag. Believe it or not, their top crop is table grapes. 


POSTSCRIPT: and just for the heck of it, here are a few plants/blooms we encountered in the Mecca Hills back in February of 2005 that we didn't come across this time around (probably too late in the season):

2/6/05 Spanish Needles (Palafoxia arida). Wash across road from Little Box Canyon trailhead.

2/6/05 Desert Tobacco (Nicotiana obtusifolia). Meccacopia trailhead.

2/6/05 Bottlewasher (Camissonia boothii). Meccacopia trailhead.

2/6/05 Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla). Not in bloom, but that basal rosette of leaves is quite striking. Wash across road from Little Box Canyon trailhead. 

2/6/05 Desert Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa). Wash west of Sheep Hole Oasis campground.