I met my new friend Bob Allen at his home in Mission Viejo and we motored up the Ortega Highway to Long Canyon Road, continuing thereafter NW to a small cleared parking area at Los Pinos Saddle. Our goal was to head down the Trabuco Canyon trail in search of an uncommon orchid that Bob had found there. Going down the trail, we passed some Cleveland's bush monkeyflower (Mimulus clevelandii) blooming nicely. We did find the orchid and spent some time observing and photographing it. There were only a few spikes either flowering or getting ready to flower, but many that were left over from last year. The only question we had about its identification was whether it was Piperia elongata or P. leptopetala, but we concluded, subject to further analysis by others, that it was the former (commonly called dense-flowered, wood or chaparral rein orchid). It had a beautifully-delicate flowering spike with greenish flowers characterized by extremely long spurs that crisscrossed each other. We compared it to the picture in Ron Coleman's The Wild Orchids of California and it did seem to match elongata perfectly.
After a brief unsuccessful search for blooming red monardellas (Monardella macrantha ssp. hallii) on the way back from Los Pinos Saddle, we decided to turn around and continue on in our original direction and head for Santiago Peak. Bob was anxious to show me the Monardella and seemed reasonably confident that we would find it. The road grew increasingly rocky as it wound around the hills with the tower-topped Santiago Peak looming ahead and beautiful vistas in all directions. I was glad we were in Bob's 4-wheel drive vehicle since my minivan would have made heavy weather of it and might not have made it at all. Along the way we stopped several times to photograph species I was unfamilar with such as the rare heartleaf pitcher sage (Lepechinia cardiophylla) and three-lobe oxytheca (Oxytheca trilobata), a species that is difficult to photograph because of its slender stems and tiny delicate white flowers. It was growing on some sandy berms along the road and unless Bob had seen it there before, we would have driven right by it.
We made an obligatory stop at the very summit of Santiago Peak, surrounded by unworldly communications towers, in order for me to have my photograph taken, and then continued on down past the adjacent Modjeska Peak where Bob had seen the Monardella. As we drove along it began to appear that its bloom was finished for this year, and I was already making plans to return next year, when suddenly Bob veered to the side and exclaimed "There it is!" Sure enough, the small bright red blooms of many individual plants were apparent on a rocky roadbank, and they were in prime condition. Abrams calls it large-flowered monardella, the Calflora website calls it red or hummingbird monardella, and Jepson calls ssp. hallii (the only one of the two ssp. to reside in the Santa Anas) Hall's monardella. The structure of the inflorescence reminded me of Monardella nana which I had seen in the James Reserve in the San Jacintos, but that is a cream- to white-colored (sometimes rose-tinged) species, whereas this was as brilliantly red as a flower can get. We oohed and aahed over it and took many photographs. Longstem buckwheat (Eriogonum saxatile) was also blooming profusely in the same area and we noticed many dogface butterflies which Bob identified as Colias eurydice nectaring on Cirsium and Helianthus gracilentus.
After one final stop to investigate some California aralia or elk clover
(Aralia californica) plants
to see whether they were producing any panicles of flowers (they weren't),
we headed back to Bob's house. Some other blooming species we saw on this
outing were rush-rose (Helianthemum scoparium), rigid hedge-nettle
(Stachys ajugoides var. rigida), white catchfly or dolores campion
(Silene verecunda ssp. platyota), heart-
Addendum 7/13/04: The Piperia has been confirmed by orchid
expert Ronald Coleman as P.
The elevation at the start is about 7500' and the trail more or less follows the course of Green Creek. This year at this time there was not a lot of water flowing, but it was enough to make the trail muddy in some places and to create a trailside environment for moisture-loving plants. The first 3/4 of a mile at least is more or less in the shade of Jeffrey pines and white firs, and there was an intermittent breeze blowing which helped to alleviate the heat of a July day. I started up the trail and immediately found masses of Richardson's geranium (Geranium richardsonii), Scouler's St. John's wort (Hypericum formosum var. scouleri), great red paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), and whitetip clover (Trifolium variegatum). There was also some star-flowered false solomon's seal (Smilacina stellata) and columbine (Aquilegia formosa), both San Gabriel beardtongue (Penstemon labrosus) and beaked penstemon (P. rostriflorus), Rocky Mountain buttercup (Ranunculus cymbalaria var. saximontanus), white hedge-nettle (Stachys albens), American speedwell (Veronica americana), dwarf checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. dolosa), and some California goldenrod (Solidago californica) just starting. Further along as the trail began to dry out, there were patches of flax-leaved monardella (Monardella linoides ssp. stricta) and numerous Anderson's lupines (Lupinus andersonii).
For anyone who enjoys seeing butterflies, this would be a good trail.
The moist areas in particular were coated with blue, white, black, yellow
and red butterflies, and I wish I knew more about them. The beautiful
blue ones were identified for me by Bob Allen from a photograph as Plebejus
iricarioides or Boisduval's blues.
One thing that was very interesting was a yellow Penstemon labrosus blooming right next to a red one. The Jepson Manual does say that this species can be rarely yellow, and yellow is known to be a frequent color variant of many normally-red species (e.g. chuparosa). Numerous specimens of yellow salsify (Tragopogon dubius) that I observed are further evidence of the spread of this species into the San Bernardinos. My edition of Munz's Flora of Southern California (1974) does not even list this as being present in the region.
I stopped at the junction at approximately 8700' where the trail to Sugarloaf
Mountain goes off steeply uphill to the right or continues on ahead to
the trailhead on Forest Road 2N93, and ate my lunch under some lodgepole
pines, leaving that section of the trail to the summit for another day,
and then returned to the car with many photographs and samples to identify
at home. Although the uphill hike had tired me out, I was happy to have
seen at least two new (for me) species, the orchid and the buttercup.
It has been at least six years since I last ventured up the Fish Canyon trail in the San Gabriels above the Azusa Rock quarry, and I remember it as being a difficult hike now that you have to go up and over a steep ridge to get into Fish Canyon. I only went to the top of Van Tassel ridge, which Robinson says is a 1600' climb, because it was extremely hot and I didn't get started until about 12 o'clock. It took me about an hour to get to the top of the ridge. Ideally, this hike should be done in April or a cool May, beginning at about 7 in the morning. One of my main interests in Fish Canyon is that it is the only place where I have ever seen Calochortus plummerae (Plummer's mariposa lily), and of course Fish Canyon Falls are one of the most spectacular in the San Gabriels. I will likely wait until next spring to look for the mariposa lily again.
The trail is not a good one, but at least there are some level sections alternating with the steep uphill parts. In many places the tread (the actual travel surface of the trail) has broken down, making it necessary for the hiker to step down into loose dirt below the edge of the trail. This is not a particularly safe maneuver, but can be accomplished with care. However, this only further damages the trail and causes significant likelihood of the trail's being washed out by a heavy rain or injury to hikers who might slip and fall. I found that it was particularly difficult coming down, but that by moving slowly and by being careful where I placed my feet, I was able to manage it without slipping. I did not think it was a dangerous trail if treated with caution, and I saw no places at least on the way up to the top of the ridge where the trail crossed what I would describe as "unstable rock slopes," but that may be true of the 1200' descent into the canyon. A walking stick would definitely be of great help, and hiking boots are an absolute necessity.
I did not expect to find much in the way of interesting blooming vegetation,
this being July on the dry south-
The almost constant gunfire from the nearby shooting club was also an
irritant, but at least I didn't hear any bullets zinging overhead. This
hike is described in John Robinson's Trails of the Angeles National
Forest (Hike #49 in the 1998 edition).
Sugarloaf Mountain is the highest point of the San Bernardinos outside
of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The trailhead to the Wildhorse Meadows-Sugarloaf
Mountain trail is six miles up rocky Forest Road 2N93, after having turned
left off Rt. 38 2-1/4 miles beyond the entrance to Heart Bar Campground,
coming from the direction of Redlands. There are no signs indicating that
this is an access to Sugarloaf, either on the 38 or at the trailhead.
This road is a bit difficult to find so keep a sharp lookout for it. My
friend Richard Sapiro and I decided to try this approach to Sugarloaf
instead of the somewhat longer one from Green Canyon, which we did five
years ago and which I did the first two miles of a week ago. The elevation
at the trailhead is about 8700' and Sugarloaf summit is 9952', so the
overall elevation gain for this hike is only 1250', making it somewhat
easier than the Green Canyon trail which necessitates a 2500' climb and
a greater walking distance. The road is quite rocky and contains some
deep ruts which require careful driving, and banging against some sizeable
stones caused my splash guard under the front of the car to come loose,
but I was able to tie it up later to keep it from dragging on the highway.
We turned left and walked about 15 minutes fairly steeply uphill to another junction, this time a 4-way junction with a wooden signpost. Straight ahead is the trail down to the Wildhorse Canyon trailhead on Rt. 38 near the entrance to Heart Bar, right is the trail to Sugarloaf, and left was not indicated on the sign. We turned right and from that point followed the trail to Sugarloaf summit, about another two and a half miles. The trail contours over the shoulder of Peak 9775, drops down about 200', then climbs up the forested flank of Sugarloaf to the summit. Intermittently along the way there are beautiful views northward down into Big Bear Valley, especially of North Baldwin Lake at the eastern end of the valley and the Mojave Desert beyond, and on the other side the great gray treeless bulk of Mt. San Gorgonio. This is a dry trail, so no moisture-loving flora would be expected, and none was seen. At the elevation of 9000' or so, lodgepole pines predominate, with beautiful gnarled old western junipers and limber pines higher up, and singleleaf pinyons even higher.
The rocky jeep road from the metal gate to the top of the ridge was lined with rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus sp.), curl-leaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus), wax currant (Ribes cereum), Martin's paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei ssp. martinii) and gray horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens), with blooming Wright's buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. subscaposum) and Munz's buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum ssp. munzii), silver wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana var. incompta) and wild tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae), and beaked penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus). Further along there was a considerable amount of flax-leaved monardella (Monardella linoides ssp. stricta) and some yarrow (Achillea millefolia) and a few remaining western wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) plants. As we headed up from the Green Canyon junction, we began seeing a great deal of lovely yellow Parish's catchfly (Silene parishii) in full bloom and the beautiful purplish-blue tubular blooms of San Bernardino beardtongue (Penstemon caesius). Richard is a birder and so was on the lookout for anything interesting, identifying mountain chickadees, western blue birds and pygmy nutchatches. We saw a few butterflies flitting through the trees and I photographed (poorly) and later identified one bright orange one as a Coronis fritillary (Speyeria coronis), a not uncommon mountain species that ranges all the way from Mt. Pinos to the Laguna Mts. We also enjoyed the antics of what Richard said, probably due to the elevation and habitat, were lodgepole chipmunks (Tamias speciosus speciosus).
Above the 4-way junction we saw Brewer's lupine (Lupinus breweri var. grandiflorus) nestled closely on the rocky ground with its delicate blooms, ashy-gray paintbrush (Castilleja cinerea, the smaller form with dark maroon bracts that is referred to in the Krantz/Sanders Vascular Plants of the San Bernardino Mts) and some Anderson's lupine (Lupinus andersonii) sending up their pretty white flowering stalks. Mountain whitethorn or snowbush (Ceanothus cordulatus) soon began to predominate the world of shrubs, and we also observed, not blooming, some woodland spurge (Euphorbia palmeri) and white catchfly (Silene verecunda ssp. platyota). A single Parry's hulsea (Hulsea vestita ssp. parryi) peeped up at us, and a rocky trailside slope was covered with Parish's alumroot (Heuchera parishii) past bloom but still coloring the ground with red. As we reached the upper elevations of this trail, we finally saw the bush chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens) that we had been wondering about, with both fruit and flowers. I saw the fuzzy basal rosettes of a Draba (probably corrugata), also past bloom, then saw what I at first took to be an Arenaria. After keying it, it turned out to be the rare Davidson's stonecrop (Sedum niveum), and I was pleased to be able to add this species to my life list. There was also a lot of Watson's spike-moss (Selaginella watsonii) filling rocky crevices along the trail, another new species for me. Along the way we saw a lot of a blue-petalled sunflower that I thought was an Aster, but turned out to be hoary aster (Machaeranthera canescens), and an Erigeron that was blooming that turned out to be Brewer's fleabane (Erigeron breweri). Thanks to Tom Chester for those identifications.
As we crossed the last little bare hilltop before descending and then ascending to the summit, we were treated to the glorious sight of about a dozen large mounds of rose sage (Salvia pachyphylla), one of the most beautiful species I have ever seen, with its rose-colored bracts and blue flowers. We stopped to enjoy the sages, a cool breeze, and a spectacular view of Mt. San Gorgonio.
Soon we were on the summit, tired but happy to have made it at last. As we looked around and prepared to eat our lunch, Richard suddenly noticed that the butterflies swooping and dancing in the air were the rare Baird's swallowtails (Papilio bairdi), the males of which species hilltop on Sugarloaf and may be infrequently found in a few other places in the San Bernardinos. Emmel and Emmel's The Butterflies of Southern California describe it as one of our state's rarer species, and since Robinson had said that they flew here in August and September, we had not expected to see them. They settled on the rocky ground, inviting us to study them, and occasionally nectared on the Monardella linoides flowers that were all that was blooming on the summit. It definitely made the hike all the more worthwhile for its unexpected nature.
Although the lowlands below were sweltering in above-normal heat, it was generally pleasant in the higher mountains, with a good breeze cooling us off throughout most of the day. The slight possibility of a thunderstorm didn't materialize although some dark-looking clouds scudded over in the afternoon. On the way back we saw some northern white-skippers (Heliopetes ericetorum), and Richard looked for more birds. We were happy to have been able to hike in the San Bernardinos, because the National Forests of Southern California may soon be closed due to the early fire season we have been having, and the extreme dry conditions that continue to plague us.
I have added a map to illustrate the route that we took. The trailhead is at #1. #2 I think is the point at the top of the ridge where Robinson says "continue west atop the ridge." If you headed toward the words 'Ranger, Ranger' on the map, you might connect with the trail to the jct at #4, but that is supposition on my part and remains to be verified. We continued to #3, turned left up the hill to the junction at #4, and then turned right to Sugarloaf summit at #5. If we had turned left, this map indicates a trail going back to 2N93 perhaps 1/2 mile before the trailhead at #1. I intend to investigate this trail and will reveal my results in a future report.
WARNING: This is an extremely rocky trail for most of its length, the trail being more or less covered with loose broken rock, especially from the junction of the Green Canyon trail. It makes fairly unpleasant walking and is hard of the feet. It also requires more care than usual during the downhill sections.
Addendum 7/27/04: As predicted, sections of the San Bernardino
National Forest, particularly in the lower foothill areas, have now been
closed, although so far this does not apply to the Sugarloaf or Fish Creek
Recently, as a result of an inquiry I made regarding the species broad-leaved lupine (Lupinus latifolius), I received three e-mails, one from Carl Wishner, editor of the journal Crossosoma and author of Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains: Synonymized Checklist and Index (1997, 1998), a second from Barry Prigge, one of the authors of Flora of the Santa Monica Mountains (1986), and a third from Steve Boyd, Curator at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens, that revealed to me that there is currently no certain identification of the subspecies of this lupine that resides in the Santa Monica Mountains. There are collections from years ago that have been identified as L.l. parishii and others that have been identified as L.l. latifolius. At least some of these collected specimens have characteristics that are akin to one subspecies and other characteristics that are akin to the other. It's possible that both of these subspecies are there with a certain amount of hybridizing and intermediate forms, and it's also possible that there is only a single subspecies with inadequately delineated parameters and perhaps a greater range of variation than previously suspected. Having observed this species in at least seven different localities in the Santa Monica Mts, it is my intention to revisit as many of these areas as I can both this year and next to collect data and samples, and to record locations, with an eye to possibly making a small contribution to the resolution of this question.
Santa Ynez Canyon is at the eastern end of the range in the southern part of Topanga State Park. To get there, you drive out into the San Fernando Valley on 134/101, go down Topanga Canyon Blvd to the Pacific Coast Highway, turn left 1.3 miles to Sunset Blvd, turn left 1/2 mile to Palisades, turn left 2-1/2 miles to Vereda de la Montura, and turn left again and go over the crest of a hill, parking as far down the street as you can. The entrance to this trail is directly across the street from the gated driving entrance to Palisades Country Estates. From the entrance it is 0.5 miles to the waterfall junction and then one more mile to the waterfall. The trail is almost level, crossing the rocky streambed several times and actually going along in the stream channel in a few places. Incidentally, the source of this stream is Eagle Spring up near the Backbone Trail. Be warned that there is no water in the stream and no waterfall at this time. Sometimes ropes are strung to allow people to get up beyond the waterfall, but those ropes were not in evidence today. Taking the other trail at the junction will take you up wooded Santa Ynez Canyon to where in about 1/2 mile the trail makes a sharp right turn up some steps and climbs out of the canyon. From that point you can continue all the way to the Backbone Trail and Trippett Ranch. As long as you remain in the canyon, you are in shade most of the time with intermittent patches of dappled sunlight. Today was fairly warm but there was a nice occasional breeze.
I had to keep reminding myself that it was after all July 30 because there was not much blooming. Immediately inside the entrance gate, however, there was a nice stand of Foeniculum vulgare, the non-native sweet fennel, odorizing the air. As you walk along the first section of the trail, there is a lot of blackberry and poison oak, and some blooming California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and short-leaved cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis var. tenuifolia) with the pretty purple stripes on the undersides of the ligules. I soon crossed a seepy concrete apron where there was an abundance of willow-herb (Epilobium ciliatum) and water speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica), and in that same area there was some bristly ox-tongue (Picris echioides) in full bloom.
Beyond that moist stretch, the trail becomes quite dry. The bush lupine is done for this season, but I was pleased to see some white-leaf monardella (Monardella hypoleuca ssp. hypoleuca) still in prime state. It is a summer bloomer, whose common name isn't terribly appropriate because the leaves aren't really white, but their lower surfaces are somewhat tomentose and hypoleuca does mean 'whitish beneath.' Its other common name, thick-leaf monardella, is even less appropriate. A few bush mallow (Malacothamnus fasiculatus), morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia) and white sourclover (Melilotus alba) blooms provided a bit of color in an otherwise green surrounding. The trail proceeds through an oak/sycamore/walnut wood that has california bay, elderberry, laurel sumac and lemonadeberry interspersed through it. Watch out for the poison oak, it's really abundant. Heartleaf penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia) had some blooms, as did the hoary fuchsia (Epilobium canum ssp. canum) and a few remaining white nightshade (Solanum douglasii) and Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) plants. There's also quite a lot of white hedge-nettle (Stachys albens), many of which are still blooming.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see the very attractive small yellow
blooms of hawkweed (Hieracium argutum),
which is a fairly rare species in the Santa Monicas. As you near the site
of the waterfall, you pass through a dense stand of giant horsetail (Equisetum
telmateia), some of which are as much as 10' tall! It is truly deserving
of its name. In a shady bend of the creek where there is a little pool
of water, there was some lovely coast boykinia (Boykinia
occidentalis) and scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus
cardinalis) blooming, and ample patches of maidenhair fern (Adiantum
capillus-veneris) draping themselves down the rocky canyon walls.
I checked this carefully because I was hoping it might be the other species,
Adiantum jordanii, which I haven't yet seen, but the indusia were
interrupted and only about 2mm long.
All along the trail there were California sister (Adelpha bredowii) butterflies flitting in and out of the shade, and zooming around in that seepy area near the beginning of the trail was a species of dragonfly called big red skimmers (Libellula saturata) and a species of damselfly called violet dancers (Argia vivida). Sharing many anatomical and behavioral characteristics, they are most easily told apart by the fact that dragonflies stretch their wings out while at rest while damselflies fold their wings back over the body. A smaller white butterfly was also in evidence, never remaining still long enough for me to identify it, but based on its type of flight I think it was one of the skippers. I also saw a single spectacular western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), which is a species that can be seen flying at any time of the year.
Addendum 8/10/04: Thanks to Jay Sullivan for correcting a wrong
identification I made of Hieracium argutum as Malacothrix clevelandii.
You can see Jay's website at Wildflowers
of the Santa Monica Mountains.