Plant Species of the Borrego Desert: Where In Coyote Canyon Was Hall's Voucher of Cryptantha oxygona?



On 2 April 2009, as an appendage to a discussion over an unusual Cryptantha pterocarya that I had found, Mike Simpson wrote me:

Now, be on the lookout for C. oxygona. So far, we have one specimen for San Diego County (that I just verified a couple weeks ago): UC 56847, collected in 1902, at Coyote Canyon. Normally, this species is a bit farther north.

This voucher was from the famous Harvey Monroe Hall, who had just published the very first paper in a new journal, University of California Publications In Botany, in that same year. His paper was his Master's Thesis A Botanical Survey of San Jacinto Mountain, prepared under Professor Willis Lynn Jepson, the original Jepson.

This possible new record for San Diego County intrigued me greatly, especially since I have always wondered about a number of vouchers from Hall with the same location of Coyote Canyon, 500 feet elevation.

I wrote Mike back as follows:

Good work!!!!

Now if we just knew which "Coyote Canyon" Hall was referring to.

Hall has some other weird species in that collection batch that are supposedly from the same area:

Linanthus floribundus subsp. hallii
Astragalus douglasii var. douglasii
Lycium torreyi
Solanum umbelliferum
Astragalus palmeri
Ericameria linearifolia
Lotus oblongifolius var. oblongifolius
Lupinus microcarpus var. densiflorus
Prosopis pubescens
Astragalus pachypus var. jaegeri

Many of these are higher elevation species, and I don't expect to see them in lower Coyote Canyon.

I wish I knew exactly where he was in Coyote Canyon. I flat out don't believe the elevation of 500 feet. For one thing, there is no elevation of 500 feet in Coyote Canyon; the lowest elevation of the canyon proper is around 1000 feet.

I think most of the time that Hall says "Coyote Canyon", he means the upper Coyote Canyon in Riverside County. His collection numbers bounce around in elevation up to 4500 feet, which surely has to be in upper Coyote Canyon.

Now that there was a fairly urgent botanical question that needed to be settled here, I decided to pursue this botanical mystery, and try to pin down more precisely where Hall collected that voucher. I also wanted to pin down his other vouchers, too, to find out if they were additions to the Borrego Desert flora.

Dick Moe kindly scanned all the relevant pages of Hall's notebook for me, which provided a number of clues as to where Hall was. Unfortunately, those clues were even more confusing, and in some cases, contradictory!

Here is one example of seemingly contradictory information.

First, note that Hall recorded a summary of where he was on his trip in a different section of his notebook from where he collected his vouchers. So his description of where he was appears to have not been made contemporaneously with his voucher notes.

Hall's notebook (p. 33) says on April 9, 1902, via Terwilligers and down Coyote Canyon to flat near small rocky hill; flowers few, and on April 10, 1902: to Edminston's Camp and then to Ebbens'.

Terwilliger Valley is just south of Anza Valley, at an elevation of 3800 feet.

This implies he was at higher elevation on April 9, and clearly says he didn't get to Ebbens' until April 10. Yet his vouchers, from a later page in his notebook, record Coyote Canyon; region of Ebbens' ranch at 600 feet; April 9 for the first part of April 9, and then his last voucher was from 4500 feet near Terwilligers!

This was extremely confusing, but it gets worse.

According to Hall's summary of where he was, he apparently was at Ebbens' Camp on the night of April 10, where he stayed until he left on the morning of April 14. Some of his voucher entries corroborate that he went either up or down canyon from Ebbens'.

The voucher in question is Hall's #2849, which was collected on April 12, when he went up the canyon and toward Haystack Mt. to mine.

The only Ebbens that appears on the topographic map in this area is Ebbens Creek near Palm Desert, on the north side of the Santa Rosa Mountains, named after prospector Theodore Ebbens. (Coyote Creek is on the south side.) The only Haystack Mountain on the topo map is at the head of the very same Ebbens Creek. And given that Mr. Ebbens was a prospector, it seems highly likely there was a mine in Ebbens Creek. For good measure, there is also a Dolomite Mine seven miles south of Haystack Mountain.

However, a Theodore 'Frying Pan' Ebbens is shown in a picture in the book The San Jacintos, by Robinson and Risher, taken at the "Clarks Coyote Canyon cattle camp, ca. 1905". The Clarks drove cattle between Anza and Clark Valley next to Borrego Springs.

Clearly, Mr. Ebbens traveled around a lot, so who knows where Ebbens Camp might be.

There was only one thing left to do, try to figure out where he was from the species he collected. Since there are extremely few vouchers from Upper Coyote Canyon, the only way to pin down the areas where he collected his vouchers was to survey Upper Coyote Canyon from Terwilliger Valley down.

I had always wanted to visit Upper Coyote Canyon, so this gave me a perfect opportunity to do that. I was too busy with other desert work to go here in April, so further exploration had to await cooler temperatures in the fall.


My first survey of uppermost Coyote Canyon was done on 29 October 2009, with Mike Crouse and Bill Sullivan. We drove Upper Coyote Canyon Road to its closure at Upper Willows in Fig Tree Valley, and stopped four times to record the species we saw. Three stops were in Nance Canyon; the fourth stop was at Upper Willows. We also recorded the first occurrence of each new species found below the last stop in Nancy Canyon, which was just above Turkey Track at the beginning of the formally-named Upper Coyote Canyon. (It is called Horse Canyon above Turkey Track, even though it is one and the same drainage.)

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Updated 18 December 2009.