Field Trips Log
September 2006

Saturday, 2 September 2006 (San Gabriel Mts)

Thanks to a tip from Jane Strong, I drove up to the Switzer parking area on the Angeles Crest Highway this morning to look for a species I had long wished to see, Greata's aster (Aster greatae). A quick 15-minute walk southward along the trail from the parking area brought me to where Jane had said she had found the aster and also Dunn's lobelia (Lobelia dunnii), which I had only seen once before. Both of these species are late season bloomers and both typically inhabit moist areas. I saw the lobelia first on the other side of a narrow bouldery creek with its lovely blue three-lobed blossoms, so I was sure I was in the right place. There was also some scarlet monkeyflower along the creek which was no surprise, but the blooms on it were mostly done. I searched around for the aster, but since there had been no pictures of it on the internet, I had only a general sense of what it was supposed to look like. The first thing I noticed was a plant with little buds on it that appeared to be in the sunflower family, and Jane had said that it was just starting to bloom. I thought at first that I might have to come back in a few weeks, but then I found a single plant lying almost horizontally on the ground that had one flower on it. I took some pictures of that and then searched around a little further down the creek. Fortunately for me, there were a couple of very nice plants each with several flowers in perfect shape. I checked some of the characteristics that were supposed to apply to this species, and they seemed to fit. So I will be able to put the first photographs of it online.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006 (Devils Slide Trail, Wellman and Strawberry Cienagas, San Jacinto Mts)

I drove up to Idyllwild this morning, arriving at the Ranger Station at about 8am. I was on the trail at 8:10 and at Saddle Junction by 9:45, where I reset my gps and started out on the Pacific Crest Tail, which is the one that goes to the left and is signed San Jacinto Peak ahead. I had been under the impression that the trails radiating out from Saddle Junction were over fairly level terrain, but I quickly realized that was not the case. The trail quickly begins to switchback uphill, gaining approximately another 1000' by the time you reach the highest point before Wellman Cienaga.

The first thing I wanted to find was slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus) not far from Saddle Junction. I walked back and forth along the trail without seeing it at first, and then found it, but there wasn't much there to photograph and the pictures didn't turn out so well. I saw some short-flowered monardella (Monardella nana ssp. tenuiflora) but it was past prime and anyway I'd seen that before. Then there was an impressive Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii var. roezlii) covered with its bright red spiky fruits. As I continued to switchback up the trail, my gps unit got steadily farther and farther behind the mileages on Tom's trail guide, so I had to record my unit's readings next to each of Tom's so I would know where I was. Not surprisingly at this time of year the sides of the trail displayed some beautiful clusters of bright yellow San Bernardino rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus ssp. bernardinus). I stopped to do some more photograph of the meadow goosefoot (Chenopodium pratericola), then saw a single mountain prickly phlox bloom (Leptodactylon pungens). I passed almost the high point of the trail at 8,960' and began a series of ups and downs on the way toward Wellman Cienaga. 'Cienaga' is a Spanish word meaning "marsh, meadow, ditch or open sewer," according to David Hollombe. I'll have to remember that the next time I'm driving on Open Sewer Boulevard.

Shortly after that I passed the junction of the trail to Strawberry Cienaga. From there it's only about 1/3 of a mile until you begin entering the Wellman Cienaga area. The dense shade of the pine woods gives way to a chinquapin-dominated hillside and very quickly the flora changes. Ranger's buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellatum) and corn lilies (Veratrum californicum var. californicum) appear, things that you might not have expected looking up at this seemingly dry habitat. Nevada cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa ssp. nevadensis) was next on my list, and it wasn't hard to find, although I did have to search for a while to get one in bloom. Nevada cinquefoil has leaves that are generally single-toothed, and sepals that are shorter than the cream-colored to white petals. As I got further into the cienaga, I saw yarrow, willow-herb and Cleveland's horkelia. I looked for the species Tom had tentatively identified as mat muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis), but being terrible with grasses was not sure whether I found it or not. The cienaga became a moist grassy meadow on one side of the trail, and there I found the other things I was looking for, alpine aster (Aster alpigenus var. andersonii), wide-leaved Parish's yampah (Perideridia parishii ssp. latifolia) and Idaho blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense ssp. occidentale), a species I had once searched for unsuccessfully at RT Hawke's Blue Sky Meadow Institute in the San Bernardinos. There also was Richardson's geranium (Geranium richardsonii) and a tiny yellow flower peeping up from the wet ground that might have been primrose monkeyflower (Mimulus primuloides) which is known to be in this area. I had forgotten to look up a picture of the mountain timothy (Phleum alpinum) that Tom had on his guide, so it was hard to look for it, but I did take a picture of some grass I didn't recognize and it turned out to be the timothy but well past its prime.

There was only one other thing I wanted to photograph and that was the beautiful hulsea (Hulsea vestita ssp. callicarpha) and Tom had said he had seen one blooming on the trail to Strawberry Cienaga, so I headed back in that direction. Since I was kind of tired (it is almost 5 uphill miles from Humber Park to Wellman Cienaga), at the junction where the Pacific Crest Trail goes to Strawberry Cienaga, I decided to leave my backpack behind some large boulders and return for it later. I had some lunch and then hiked on toward where I expected to find the hulsea. I did find several plants, including one with a nice flower on it, and then further on found a couple of nice groupings of rock goldenbush (Ericameria cuneata). At Strawberry Cienaga itself was a lovely display of scarlet monkeyflower (Mimulus cardinalis) and Bigelow's sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii). It was so surprising to come upon these moist areas percolating down out of the high rocky ridges.

I had seen and heard helicopters flying around all day and hadn't really thought anything about it, and when I was approaching the Wellman Divide/PCT junction again, I was startled almost out of my socks by a loud blast of a whistle. I headed toward the area where my backpack was, and saw these two guys in bright orange jumpsuits standing in the clearing there beneath the trees. They asked me if I was returning for my backpack, and I said I was. Then they asked me for my name. I thought this was kind of odd, but it not being a secret I told them what it was. They told me that they were searching for a 46-year old man who had come up into the mountains the day before and gotten lost. He had a blue Jansport backpack (just like mine), a black windbreaker (I had one in my pack), a Canon 7.1 megapixel digital camera (I had one in my pack), and he drove a Honda (I had Honda keys in my pack). So they thought that they had found the missing guy's backpack and had called it in. Now they had to start over again. I learned later that he was eventually found after five days! He had had only a quart of water, some apples and other snacks, and a jacket, and was almost completely deaf, but fortunately the weather had been favorable and he was OK.

Saturday, 9 September 2006 (Whispering Pines and Keller Meadow, San Bernardino Mts)

This was probably my last attempt to find Lobelia cardinalis in the San Bernardino Mts, a series of efforts that has been very frustrating. My last outing, which I didn't even bother to write a log report for because it was such a dismal failure, was several weeks ago in the Santa Ana Canyon area south of Seven Oaks with my friend Richard. Not only did we not find the Lobelia, we also didn't find Acer glabrum which is another species that has managed to elude us. So now, unless someone gives me a specific location where they've seen it currently, I will look for it down in the Cuyamaca area of San Diego Co. On this outing, Richard and I had been looking to gain taxa #2000 for my website, and in failing to find the maple thought that we had failed. However, when I got back and had Tom look at some pictures, I discovered that I had gotten #2000, and it was desert crested wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum), so something had been accomplished after all.

Today I again drove down into the Santa Ana Canyon to an area called Keller Meadow, where Tim Krantz apparently collected it. I had a bit of difficulty finding the trail that leads to this location, but once I found it, it only took me fifteen minutes or so to get up to the actual "meadow." I put that word in quotations because I would not describe it as a meadow, in fact far from it. Aside from the marshy trenches and running streams that crisscrossed the area, the entire "meadow" was overgrown with 5' tall bracken, nettles and wild roses. And although I saw streamside lotus, goldenrod, willow-herb, St. John's-wort, and loosestrife, I was not able to find any of the Lobelia I was searching for. I made the mistake of thinking that the other side of the "meadow" might be a better location and then had to fight my way back being ripped by roses and burned by nettles and having my boots filled with muddy water. The two things that made it not a complete bust were my finding of a new species for me, mountain mint (Pycnanthemum californicum) and my growing confidence in my ability to get around on the rocky dirt forest roads that wind their way across the San Bernardinos, which is the result of my purchase of a new 4-wheel drive Honda.

Before going down to Keller Meadow, I stopped at the Whispering Pine Nature Trail to have a close-up look at some white firs. The last time I was on the Devils Slide Trail, I had seen a tree that I was convinced was bigcone spruce, because it had its needles arranged mostly in flat sprays with some even extending below the branch stems and my impression of white fir was that its needles were curved upwards and arranged mostly on the upper side of the branch stems. In doing some more research on it, and especially after discussing it with Tom Chester, who told me that there were no vouchers for Pseudotsuga above 5000' in the San Jacintos, I began to realize that I had been wrong. The needles of white fir are spirally arranged around the branch just as are those of bigcone spruce, but in most cases the needles twist upward and appear to be erect. I have created a page which discusses these two species which may be found at

Wednesday, 13 September 2006 (Sugarloaf Meadow, San Bernardino Mts)

I noticed in the San Bernardino Mts flora recently that Sugarloaf Meadow was a location for yellow-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium elmeri) which is a species I have long wanted to see. Having no idea where Sugarloaf Meadow was, I contacted Scott Elaison and Chris Wagner, botanists with the Mountaintop Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest, and Chris told me that the Sisyrinchium was all over that meadow and that as of a couple of weeks ago it was still blooming, so having just added Idaho blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense var. occidentale) to my site was anxious to get this one. She also gave me directions on how to get there, and for that I extend my thanks.

Before going on to Sugarloaf Meadow, I decided to stop at the Greyback Amphitheater parking area in Barton Flats to look for white fir cones to photograph for my page on Abies concolor and Pseudotsuga macrocarpa. I walked up into the open woods there which are filled with pines, incense-cedars and white firs, and I saw some Parry's rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus parryi ssp. asper) in bloom, two species of Erigeron, Brewer's fleabane (Erigeron breweri) and spreading fleabane (Erigeron diffusus), California-aster (Lessingia filaginifolia), sapphire woolstar (Eriastrum sapphirinum), Gayophytum, what looked like a Madia species, and mustang mint (Monardella lanceolata). Although I found lots of white firs, there were only a couple that had some cones right up near the very top and I couldn't get any close-up shots of them.

The road to Sugarloaf Meadow is the 1N03 and is off the 38 just a little ways past the Santa Ana River as you drive toward Onyx Summit, past Barton Flats but before Heart Bar. The road isn't signed so that you can see it from the highway, but it's the next road going to the left past the 1N04 which is signed. It's also a gated road, so you have to park and walk up to the meadow, a distance of perhaps a mile. Right now there's a lot of bright yellow broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) blooming there as well as rubber rabbitbrush and big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Another species I was kind of surprised to see there was apricot mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) with even a few blooms. I wasn't sure I was on the correct road since the topo map I had indicated there was a fork which I never saw, but when I passed the first small meadow on the right, I knew I was heading in the right direction. Soon the road ended and I saw the meadow ahead, and lo and behold it was a real meadow, not like the faux meadow I had struggled around in four days ago.

You could clearly see where there were some main drainage channels coming down from the hillsides above the meadow, and there were masses of southern goldenrod (Solidago confinis) making yellow stripes across the grassy expanse. Especially near the start of the meadow were also lots of beautiful white (sometimes blue-tinged) western mountain aster (Aster occidentalis var. occidentalis) and some slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis). Chris had told me to look for the Sisyrinchium along the drainage channels, so I started wandering around in the meadow and actually came upon some Idaho blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense var. occidentale) first but since I had seen that in the San Jacintos recently I kept looking for the yellow species. It wasn't hard to see the leaves of it that more or less covered the moist channels. Among the goldenrod there was quite a lot of Bigelow's sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii). Finally I saw a single yellow flower and pounced on it for some photographs, fearing that it might be the only one I would see. Its normal blooming period is apparently July to August so I was definitely catching it right at the end and considered myself lucky to even find one. I continued walking around the meadow, up and down along the drainage channels, and over the course of the next hour found about a half-dozen more in bloom, so I was able to get some nice photographs.

Saturday, 23 September 2006 (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

For one last attempt to find Lobelia cardinalis this year, I had gotten some information about a good population of the Lobelia in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. I decided to drive down there with my wife both to look for the Lobelia and to have a nice hike in a place my wife had never been to before. It was a beautiful day with a nice cool breeze and we didn't have any trouble finding the trailhead. According to my information, it was supposed to be only about a mile to the location, but as we walked along the road I couldn't see anything that I could identify as the location that had been described to me. I did see a gumplant that I didn't pay too much attention to at first, and there were a few other things blooming, but by and large it seemed fairly dry. Although I looked as well as I could, I was once again unsuccessful in finding this species, and have pretty much given up on locating it in Southern California.

On the way back I noticed a flower I hadn't seen before that looked like something that might be new for me, and I photographed it and collected a sample. When I got home I keyed it out and it did turn out to be something new, Wright's thimblehead (Hymenothrix wrightii). I also photographed and collected a sample of the gumplant, and I was surprised at home to find that it also was new for me, San Diego gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula var. hallii), a rare species according to the Jepson Manual. So even though I had again been frustrated in my search for the Lobelia, the outing had not been a complete bust.

NOTE: I have purposely left the location where I looked for the Lobelia unspecified as it is a fragile area and although it is open to the public, it's better that it remain as undisturbed as possible.

This will be my last log entry for September since my wife and I are going back to Poughkeepsie, New York, to visit our daughter at Vassar College.