This was my first real field outing since my shoulder operation, and I chose it because I knew the hike was on a fairly easy fire road and there would be friends of mine in the group. The hike was one of the series arranged by the Natural Science Section of the Sierra Club and was led today by Bob Muns, who in addition to being an exceptionally nice man, is about as knowledgeable about the flora of these mountains as anyone. He is also a person who is as eager to learn as he is to instruct. Also in the group was my friend Richard Sapiro, an old hiking companion named Bill Hogshead, Cliff and Gabi McLean who frequently lead wildflower walks in the local area, Cathy Rose from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and about ten others.
After a brief discussion of fire ecology and the effects on the canyon by the fires of a few years ago, we started up the road and almost immediately were introduced to a species new to me which unfortunately is an invasive and apparently spreading in the area, mediterranean cabbage (Brassica fruticulosa). Perhaps easily overlooked as just another one of our common mustards, it is characterized by very different -looking leaves and seed pods that are fairly long and extremely knobby. We observed a great deal of regenerative growth both with the oaks along the trail and in the understory, and Bob described to us how the water had rushed down the canyon in the big rains which happened in the aftermath of the fires, and how much erosion had been caused.
It seemed fairly clear before long that this was not going to be a particularly floristic hike. The lack of rain until recently plus the cold weather has either prevented things from germinating or has delayed the process, so that most of the things that we saw blooming were represented by a small number of individuals. Nevertheless, Bob pointed out many species which we could identify just from their vegetative parts. There were the dried stems of last year's elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) and later on a great many young plants coming up along the trail which should produce a nice display in a couple of months. There was a fairly massive bloom of miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) all along the trail, and three different everlastings (Gnaphalium bicolor, G. canescens and G. californicum) in close proximity. A few smooth cat's ears (Hypochaeris glabra) were blooming with the basal rosettes of young plants very much in evidence, along with those of California chicory (Rafinesquia californica).
In shady areas were dense mats of bur-chervil (Anthriscus caucalis) and then chickweed (Stellaria media) and sweet cicely (Osmorrhiza brachypoda). Heartleaf penstemon (Keckiella cordifolia) and honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata) hung over the trail, but neither were yet in bloom. We saw some poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) and its supposed antidote mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana). A few stinging lupines (Lupinus hirsutissimus) popped up here and there, along with their diminutive relatives dove lupine (Lupinus bicolor). Lanceleaf dudleys (Dudleya lanceolata) appeared on some of the rocky trailside slopes, and then a beautiful individual of elegant rock-cress (Arabis sparsiflora) in full bloom. Purple and white nightshade (Solanum xanti and S. douglasii) were both present, with the former more prevalent. The wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) and hillside gooseberry (Ribes californicum) had already finished their blooms, to whatever extent they did bloom this year.
A little further up the road we were pleased to begin finding individuals
then groupings of the lovely baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii),
and we were able to identify numerous other things just from their leaves,
like deerweed (Lotus scoparius), California aster (Lessingia
filaginifolia), scarlet and bush monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis
and M. aurantiacus), bedstraw (Galium aparine), cliff
aster (Malacothrix saxatilis), Mexican elderberry (Sambucus
mexicana), soap plants (Chlorogalum pomeridianum), sow thistle
(Sonchus oleraceus) and whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora).
We saw a couple of young Humboldt lilies (Lilium humboldtii)
only a foot or so tall, and plenty of ferns like coffee fern (Pellaea
andromedifolia) and California polypody (Polypodium californicum),
plenty of grasses, both the oriental and hedge mustards (Sisymbrium
orientale and S. officinale), coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica)
and holly-leaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia), some meadow-
This is by no means a definitive list of the species we observed, and in fact Bob said that he had counted 140 taxa on a recent hike up to the saddle overlooking Potato Mountain, which is where we turned around, but we can only hope that there will be a better bloom developing as the season goes along, and in fact some more rain is predicted for this week. So everybody keep your fingers crossed.
I have grown increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of repair which is happening on various closed roads and trails around the area. There is currently a landslide blocking the bottom of the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, another on the Sunset Ridge Fire Road (I haven't checked that one out yet), and the Angeles Crest Highway is currently closed from Cedar Springs to Vincent Gap (due to damage from the 2002 fires, the 2004/2005 storms, the February 2006 landslide, and habitat protection for the mountain yellow-legged frog in Cooper Canyon). This last also affects part of the Pacific Crest Trail and the popular climbing area called Williamson Rock. The Glendora Mountain Road has been closed, as is the road to Crystal Lake. The place closest to where I live that has been closed is the Chantry Flat Road which leads not only to a much-used picnic area but also to the trailheads for several excellent trails to Spruce Grove, Sturtevant Falls, Mt. Zion and Mt. Wilson. This road was closed from December 1999 to August 2000 due to damage from a fire and subsequent rain and landslides. It was closed again for several months in 2001 and then most of the summer and fall of 2004 to refurbish the picnic area (!!), followed by the major storms of January 2005 which have closed the road until the present time. There are rumors that powers that be in the Forest Service would like to close it permanently, which I think would be a terrible shame.
I have also heard rumors of hikers being chased off the road but both times I've hiked it recently there was no sign of that, and I saw other hikers and bicyclists going up and down. The road is in seemingly good shape now with the section that received the most damage having been completely repaired. There is still a short section of one-lane road near the top, but other than that is perfectly driveable. I am concerned however that the steep hillside above where the road was taken out last January is unstable and if we get another prolonged heavy rain, it will come down again. The latest I have heard is that the road is scheduled to be reopened on April 15, but I'll believe that when I see it. In the meantime, despite the inconvenience of getting to Chantry Flat, it is ironically very pleasant to walk up the road without having to be concerned about cars.
I was pleased to see aside from the many non-native species that there were quite a lot of native species growing and blooming at the present time, including white nightshade (Solanum douglasii), mulefat (Baccharis salicifolia), deerweed (Lotus scoparius), white sage (Salvia apiana), wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus), California everlasting (Gnaphalium californicum), greenbark ceanothus (Ceanothus spinosus), canterbury bells (Phacelia minor), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), sugar bush (Rhus ovata), cliff aster (Malacothrix saxatilis), baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii), dove lupine (Lupinus bicolor), miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), holly-leaved cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), bush monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus), black sage (Salvia mellifera), chia (Salvia columbariae), canyon sweet pea (Lathyrus vestitus), hairyleaf ceanothus (Ceanothus oliganthus) and bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida).
There was also a section where a stream course is channeled under the road and in that area it appears that someone has done some planting because there are small shrubs in cages and a mass of bloomers that might have come from a native seed mix, including yellow tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), goldfields (Lasthenia californica), purple clarkia (Clarkia purpurea), birdseye gilia (Gilia tricolor), eucrypta (Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia), both canterbury bells and what looked like desert bluebells (Phacelia minor and P. campanularia), poppies, lotuses, lupines and popcorn flowers.