Sunday, 26 April 2009 (continued from here):
After our lovely hike at Lost Horse Mine, we decided it was about Beer O’Clock, so we found a nice turnout near Hidden Valley and walked over to an enticing boulder and enjoyed a brew and some cheese.
Joshua Trees and funky rocks
The rocks in this part of the park, called appropriately-enough the “Wonderland of Rocks” are wildly eroded, and are quite famous among rock-climbers.
Mojave Mound Cactus / Echinocereus triglochidiatus
A large Mojave Mound Cactus grew next to where we sat, and although we’d seen a bunch of these on our hike, this one had several dozen flowers/buds.
Joshua Trees / Yucca breviflora
Our little midday break over, we drove through Hidden Valley Campground to scout it out for future reference. Although it’s a primitive campground (pit toilets and no water, the latter being a bit of a bummer when camping in the desert!), it’s very well-situated, especially for climbers, who can tackle interesting climbing routes right from the campsites.
On the drive back to our house we saw a coyote trotting alongside the road, right past a woman who was looking at something else, and didn’t even notice it running just a few yards behind her!
White-tailed Antelope Squirrel / Ammospermophilus leucurus
Back at the house we admired a showy Desert Spiny Lizard, and a Gambel’s Quail family with ~9 chicks. The voracious House Finches, and to a lesser degree the Black-throated Sparrows had emptied the birdfeeder, so we refilled it for what would not be the last time. We were amazed that they’d managed to eat several cups of seed since our arrival.
Juvenile Black-throated Sparrow / Amphispiza bilineata
A bird I didn’t recognize caught my eye and puzzled me for a moment until I saw its parent feed it – ahh, a juvenile Black-throated Sparrow, enjoying the bounty of our feeder.
Unofficial JTNP sign
We visited a touristy gift store in the town of Joshua Tree. Although it had the usual tourist stuff, it was funky in a good way, and next door was the extremely-funky Joshua Tree Saloon:
Tin-sided Saloon in “downtown” Joshua Tree
Our plan for the afternoon had been to go to Pioneertown, formerly a movie set, and now an actual town, and a short drive through Yucca Valley and up a canyon brought us to it.
We found it strange and a bit disappointing, as although there were folks in period costume playing with fake guns and riding horses, there wasn’t actually anything to do there. With amuzement we listened to one grizzled old resident gripe that “in Yucca Valley they want to charge you for everything!” This was doubly-amusing because before we’d left I had read that Yucca Valley is one of the US’ most affordable retirement communities.
Also in our plans was a show & meal at Pappy & Harriets Palace, which was a pretty cute place, but due to the lack of activities in Pioneertown, we arrived well before the band was scheduled to play. We had a mediocre meal, then headed back to the house.
Since we found ourselves with some time before sunset, we decided to make a kamikaze run to see if we could catch the Cholla Cactus Garden before sundown.
Jumping Cholla / Opuntia bigelovii
After a beautiful, but long’ish drive, we arrived at the garden, a large natural area of many, many Jumping Cholla Cacti, just after the sun had dropped behind the hills, about 15 minutes later than would have been my preference, but we had enough light for some photos, and an enjoyable walk.
Cholla Cactus Garden
These cacti are called “Jumping Cholla” because they have little spiny balls that they readily drop, and which seem to “jump” from the cactus to one’s person. This effective, if sometimes painful, dispersion system, resulted in the numerous cholla-covered acres of this garden.
Jumping Cholla bloom
For fairly obvious reasons, the path through the garden was fenced off, and festooned with several large-print warning signs about the dangers of touching, or even approaching closely.
Cholla Cactus Garden
These cacti have interesting coloring as well – light green on top, brown in the middle, and dark brown to black on the bottom.
Cholla Cactus Garden and the Pinto Basin
Finally as we neared the end of the little 0.2-mi nature trail, we ran out of light and headed home to a snack, a hot tub, and bed. The Cholla Cactus Garden is definitely a must-visit for folks in JTNP, especially as it’s right off the park road, and very accessible.
Monday, 27 April 2009:
I “slept in” until 6:30, then went for a walk around our yard, photographing cacti and flowers.
Beavertail Cactus / Opuntia basilaris
Pincushion Flower / Chaenactus fremontii
I saw an unfamiliar, but pretty, white flower; Flickr’s ever-helpful “ID Please” group pegged it as a Pincushion Flower.
Paperbag Bush / Salazaria mexicana
Another interesting shrub, which we saw scattered all over the place, was the aptly-named Paperbag Bush AKA Bladder Sage. “Mojave Wildflowers” says,
The flowers have […] rose-colored calyces that become inflated and papery in fruit, giving this the common name of Paper-Bag Bush. The fruit inside the calyx is composed of 4 nutlets, a characteristic of the Mint Family, but Bladder Sage lacks the minty odor and square stems that are also common family features.
After breakfast we gassed up in Joshua Tree and headed into the park, destination Geology Tour Road. A large’ish interpretive display marked the start of this 18-mile dirt road, but there were no pamphlets to be found, rendering the numbers alongside the road rather meaningless.
The first part of the drive is 5.4 miles on a well-graded road, suitable for any passenger vehicle.
Desert Sand-verbena / Abronia villosa
A flash of purple on the roadside enticed me to pull over, and I was happy to find what was obviously some sort of Sand-Verbena (Yellow Sand-Verbena, which looks identical except for its yellow color, is pretty common along the Point Reyes shorline). A quick lookup in our flower book confirmed that it was Desert Sand-Verbena (LIFER!).
California Evening-Primrose / Oenothera californica
A little farther off of the road I saw another new flower, California Evening-Primrose. I wish I’d thought to give it a smell, as many Evening-Primroses are known for having a lovely fragrance. For some reason, although I take plenty of time to admire flowers, I hardly ever think to smell them.
Geology Tour Road
The road passed Squaw Tank, and the next 7’ish mile loop was signed 4WD only. No problem for my little Subaru, and the road was in good enough shape that I’d think any vehicle wouldn’t have trouble, as long as there were no recent rains.
Dark volcanic(?) formation with light eroded rocks
This part of the auto tour looped around oddly-named Pleasant Valley, which despite its name was almost totally devoid of anything over 3 feet tall, and seemed a forbidding, rather than pleasant, place especially come summer.
This sign seemed silly way out here
Pleasant Valley is in a transition zone between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, so Joshua Trees, strictly a Mojave species, were sparse and mostly scraggly here. As we drove along the southern side of Pleasant Valley, we saw a few birds, notably absent from the rest of the drive except for a few Common Ravens.
A solid dark, mid-sized bird with a crest flew quickly by, and once I got a good look I confirmed it to be a Phainopepla (LIFER!). This weird bird, whose name is Greek for “shining robe” exhibits several unusual characteristics according to All About Birds:
The Phainopepla exhibits strikingly different behaviors in its two habitats. In the desert, it is territorial, actively defending nesting and foraging sites, while in the woodlands it is colonial, with as many as four nesting pairs sharing one large tree.
The Phainopepla rarely drinks water, even though research indicates that it loses about 95 percent of its body mass in water per day. Instead, it gets the water it needs from its diet of mistletoe.
This interesting bird was too distant for photographs this time, however, and we continued on, past the Pushawalla Canyon Corridor, which looked like it would be interesting to hike, and then north back toward the main road.
Geology Tour Road
Ash-throated Flycatcher / Myiarchus cinerascens
We saw a few Ash-throated Flycatchers along this stretch, including one that posed for a photograph.
Joshua Tree / Yucca breviflora with Malapai Hill on the horizon
The views were very pretty here as we rejoined the 2WD road and headed back to the tarmac, seeing just a couple of other cars on the way. Geology Tour Road seemed little-visited, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit off the beaten path. The geology & ecology of Pleasant Valley were quite interesting, and I was happy that although we’d seen few flowers or birds, the ones we did see were mostly new to me.
|Birds seen||Wildflowers seen:|
|Location: JTNP – Geology Tour Rd.
Observation date: 4/27/09
Number of species: 4
White-throated Swift – Aeronautes saxatalis 7
* = life bird, + = year bird
This report was generated automatically by
|* California Evening-Primrose
– Desert Mallow
* Desert Sand-Verbena* = life flower
- Part I – Getting there, settling in
- Part II – Twentynine Palms Oasis
- Part III – Oasis of Mara, Noah Purifoy, Key’s View, Cap Rock
- Part IV – Lost Horse Mine
- Part V – Cholla Cactus Garden, Geology Tour Road <– You are here!
- Part VI – Split Rock, Hidden Valley
- Part VII – Barker Dam, Ocotillo Patch
- Part VIII – Mastodon Peak, Cholla Cactus Garden revisited
- Part IX – Big Morongo Canyon, AKA Birding Paradise
- Part X – Tahquitz Canyon
- Part XI – Living Desert, LA, and home