020 has been a constant reminder of the fragility of our human place on our planet. We were compelled to miss most of our happy traditions this year, the Fourth of July being the hardest-hit with event cancellations strewn across …Continue reading →
Guest Post: A Last Opportunity to Travel to a First Opportunity—to See the 2020 Desert Spring Under Baby-blue Sky Blog by Barbara Swanson. All photos Barbara Swanson. Click on any photo in the blog for a full-size image and caption. …Continue reading →
The village features wide trails along the northern periphery of Kwaaymii family sites scattered throughout the heavily-bouldered mountain.
Mine Wash lies along a direct route between Mt. Laguna and the Salton Sea. The sea today is a pale cousin of the ancient freshwater Lake Cahuilla, which was periodically formed by the overflow of the Colorado River and which provided home to thousands of native people around its shorelines. The Kumeyaay Village site lies along the best route from the ancient lake to the Laguna Mountains to the southwest, the ancestral home of the Kwaaymii, the last natives to use the Mine Wash site. To hike to the mountains, continue south to the upper end of the wash, the nape of Mescal Bajada, through Mine Canyon and on into Earthquake Valley, where lookalike bouldered hillsides embrace another village site.
The blue waters of the Salton Sea can be seen through the Narrows to the northeast from the site, but as you explore the gentle hills west of the site for this nice vista, watch out for the rambunctious “Jumping Cholla,” aka Teddy Bear cactus–but in no way are they soft and fuzzy close up.
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Cholla removal method
With our spring rains of 2016–making it past the Julian rain shadow to the desert–the burst of color around the Mine Wash cultural site was worth a few spines around the boot edges. Just remember when you visit, wear solid hiking-type boots, because regular walking shoes can admit the spines readily, and getting the little jumpers off–once they stick your skin–is going to be regretful. The rough edges of a heavy rock or boulder lying nearby is sometimes your best friend.
An ocotillo bloom
If you’re looking for an ocotillo forest, Mine Wash is one of the best areas to find these beautiful plants in sufficient density to obtain good photos, as well as actually be shaded by clusters of them. Desert color can sometimes be a sprinkle here and a dab there, but after a good drink the forests of brilliant vermillion-crowned ocotillo seem to float above the desert floor like glowing candlesticks.
Click on any photo for full-size image, then back button to return. Photos and captions by Barbara Swanson.
Ready for nightfall in the flowerA cholla flower: There are a number of cholla species that grow in Anza Borrego, and most have yellow-green flowers 1–2” in diameter. I found this beetle in the flower after sunset, apparently ready to spend the night in the flower.
Crown of Ocotillo against blueCrown of an ocotillo plant (Fouquieria splendens): Ocotillo plants take advantage of rain during any season, and will leaf out and bloom when the conditions are right. This plant has a spectacular display of the tassel-like flowers. The birds and hummingbirds often feed from the flowers.
Mine Wash panoramaPanorama looking southwest into Mescal Bajada from Mine Wash: Desert senna is in full bloom among the teddy bear cholla as the wash gently slopes away to the tall hills. Desert lavender and creosote bushes are lightly scattered in this area of fairly dense vegetation. An ocotillo forest in full bloom is in the distance.
Hedgehog cactus in full bloomA hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii): This plant was at peak, with around 30 brilliant blooms on it. Hedgehog cacti can grow into large clumps. They like to grow in rocky areas or in washes, where this one was found.
Desert sennaDesert senna (Cassia armata): This shrub grows about 2 feet tall. In spring, the flowers are clustered on tall stems, and in full bloom the plant looks like a golden half globe.
Senna flowersDesert senna is in the legume family and is also known as spiny senna for for the sharp-tipped green leaves seen along its long, graceful branches.
Going south into Mine WashThe road from Highway 78 to the cultural site in Mine Wash meanders lazily at a gentle upward grade for about two miles. Four wheel drive is recommended, and a higher clearance. The road is not paved but is mostly sand with a few areas with low exposed rocks. Use caution, especially after a storm.
Teddy Bear chollaTeddy bear cholla (Opuntia bigelovii): While the teddy bear cholla may look soft and fuzzy from a distance–this one reminiscent of the Indian flute-player Kokopelli–it is loaded with spines. Just the slightest touch will dislodge one of the segments of the plants onto clothing, skin or fur, so these areas with these cacti need to be negotiated with caution. The plant can grow as a clone from one of its segments, so some of the cacti are clones instead of growing from seed.
Bee at work in Desert IndigoA bee in Desert Indigo (Dalea schottii): The desert indigo plants, some over six feet tall and wide, were in full bloom with their dark blue legume flowers reminding me of tiny pea blossoms. With the gentle breeze I would occasionally catch the perfumed scent of the flowers, reminding me of lilac, citrus blossoms and sandalwood. The bees must have smelled them too, as the bushes were buzzing with bees at mid-day into early evening.
Bees bed down in a cactus bloomBees sleep in a Hedgehog cactus bloom: This bee species apparently doesn’t have a hive to go to at night, but instead sleeps inside the cactus flower blooms. Some flowers will have many bees in them; this one has at least four bees tucked in together after the sun went down.
Barrel cactusA barrel cactus bloom(Ferocactus acanthodes): There is only one species of barrel cactus found in Anza Borrego, and in spring it blooms with a full circle of yellow-green flowers on the top of the plant. While a few of these cacti can grow to six feet, most of them grow to three to four feet tall.
The white-lined sphinx moth, also known as a hawk or hummingbird moth, can be found in Anza Borrego in the spring and after summer monsoon rains. It is a fairly common moth with a range from Central America to Canada. Most people visiting the desert see the caterpillar form, which voraciously eats some of the desert annual flowers during the daytime. It most prefers to eat the dune evening primrose and brown-eyed primrose plants, which are plentiful annuals after a rainy winter. The caterpillars grow quickly and can reach 5 inches in length. Their markings vary, but most of the ones in Anza Borrego are a mix of green and black; they range from almost all black to a mix of black and green stripes to the more rare mostly green form. The larger caterpillars can move quickly and will cross roads when looking for food. Once they are mature, the caterpillar digs a shallow hole in the sand by moving its upper body back and forth. It then pupates underground, with the sand providing protection while it waits for the right conditions to wriggle up from the ground and emerge as a moth. The adult moths mostly fly from dusk to dawn and look like a grey blur with a plump body and fast wings that hovers by a flower to feed before flying off to the next plant. From a distance they look like a tiny hummingbird. Both the moths and the caterpillars can carry pollen between flowers, helping to pollinate the plants and start the next generation.
During prolific years, there can be hundreds of thousands of caterpillars in the area northwest of Borrego Springs, such as off of DiGiorgio Canyon Road and Henderson Canyon Road. They will quickly eat the primrose plants before moving to the next area. As each female moth can lay hundreds of eggs, it doesn’t take very many moths to produce this many caterpillars. The migrating Swainson’s Hawks and reptiles will eat the caterpillars, but during prolific years this probably does not greatly reduce the caterpillar population.
Click on any photo for full-size image, then back button to return. Photos and captions by Barbara Swanson.
White-lined sphinx moth caterpillarA caterpillar forages on a brown-eyed primrose plant.
Caterpillar looking into sunsetA caterpillar rests on a desert sunflower branch as sunset approaches.
An elusive moth to photographLook carefully at the lower left primrose flower. The white-lined sphinx moths come out at dusk to feed on nectar. It looks like a small hummingbird as it hovers. As it goes from flower to flower it pollinates the flowers, helping to ensure the next generation of plant and insect.
Sphinx moth caterpillar after a rainstormA close-up of a caterpillar sitting on a brown-eyed primrose after a rainstorm.
Caterpillars on an evening primroseAbout two dozen caterpillars have a feast on a dune evening primrose plant. While eating most of the leaves they leave fertilizer for the next generation of plants.
Caterpillar in the morning lightAfter the morning temperature warmed up the caterpillars went searching for food. This caterpillar walks up a dune, adding its tracks to those who already traveled this way.
Caterpillar trailsThe side of this dune looked like it was a caterpillar highway.
Emerged from the sandWhen the pupae have matured they wriggled to the surface and then emerge as the moth. I found this one in the morning. If you look closely you can see the abdomen (on the right) and the feet (on the left) of the moth through the outer protective layer.
Caterpillar treatA caterpillar eats a dune evening primrose flower.
A caterpillar bedAs the evening temperature dropped, this caterpillar settled in for the night on a dune evening primrose flower bud.
oachwhip Canyon is possibly named for the fastest snake around these parts, the coachwhip. A coachwhip, when sensing danger, wastes no time fleeing into the protection of the brush or the rocky walls of a Borrego canyon. Like the coachwhip snake, …Continue reading →
bout a half mile east of Tamarisk Grove Campground, looking south from State Highway 78 is the western edge of the Mescal Bajada. a three mile wide desert delta that, in the best of summer storms, carries a torrent of …Continue reading →
y midnight this time of year, the Milky Way has risen to the ceiling of the sky. The desert has cooled to short-sleeve temperatures without the uncomfortable humidity that accompanies the thunderstorm months of July and August. We traversed about 100 miles of …Continue reading →
esert banded geckos are unusual as geckos go, whose large, bulbous eyes generally muster only unblinking stares. But the nocturnal Coleonyx variegatus variegatus, with their movable eyelids (and charming little squeaks) make them perfectly qualified to audition for certain late-night insurance commercials. Talent scouts …Continue reading →
isnaga is an Americanism for the Spanish Biznaga, which refers to tall barrel cactus. Friendly to hikers for some 1.5 miles of trek, starting from the parking area, it is one of several bajadas (drainage basins) that carry off the rainfall gathered …Continue reading →