T. Chester's Trip Reports For Dripping Springs Trail: 2003 - 2004 Season

1999 - 2000 season
2000 - 2001 season
2001 - 2002 season
2002 - 2003 season
2003 - 2004 season

22 April 2005

See Dripping Springs Trail for a general introduction to this trail. These comments relate only specifics appropriate to a given hike. All mileages below are referenced to the Plant Guide.


Trip Reports

22 April 2005

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days...

Well, not quite the best or worst, but this trip certainly had a lot of good things and more than its share of bad things.

The drive along SR79 to the trailhead was stupendous! I had forgotten that a lot of this area burned last year, and there were lots of patches of color from the road. Lupines were probably responsible for the great show of blue / purple, but the source of the other patches of color was not immediately obvious at 55 mph. It was quite windy in this area, and I was worried that the wind would extend to the Dripping Springs Trail and make botanizing there difficult.

I met James Lightner at the trailhead, which fortunately was free of wind. James reported that he had driven through some rain on the way up from middle San Diego County, which surprised me since no rain had been forecast until some time Saturday.

I was pleased that the campground and trailhead had not yet suffered its annual mowing, so the plants were still temporarily intact. The chick lupine, Lupinus microcarpus, produced fantastic displays of many plants in full bloom in several areas, and the fragrant evening-primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, still had its flowers open due to the overcast skies.

We found a handful of annuals I had not found in previous years, and we moved up a lot of species to earlier locations. I was finally able to get identification for the Mariposa lily, Calochortus splendens, since it had its first blooms. I'd never botanized the trail late enough in previous years to see it in bloom.

It was amazing to see Arroyo Seco Creek with water in it! It has been years since I've seen water there. The flow had taken out the rope fence to block off the upper reaches, and it took a few moments to find where the best place was to cross it.

I was puzzled to see a pit dug on the other side of the Creek, and couldn't figure out what was going on until near the end of my trip - see below.

There were oodles and oodles of flowers everywhere, much more than in previous years. Two examples: there were perhaps 100 times as many gilias on the trail as last year. Last year there was a single plant of Chinese Houses; this year there were over 100. But it was interesting that some species were not present. I looked for the comb bur, Pectocarya sp., both at the trailhead and at mile 0.58, so I could identify them, and couldn't find any trace of either one.

One plant that always looks great this time of year is the summer snow, Linanthus floribundus. It occurs at only a single location on the trail, but is simply a treasure to behold when it is in full bloom, like it was today.

At mile 0.6, the first bad thing happened. The cartridge of my pilot razor point pen exploded with a small puff, and ink began to flow all over my hand.

At mile 0.7, the first of three snakes slithered off at my approach. (I was wondering why James always let me go first! (;-) )

The trail near mile 0.8 was picture-perfect, being filled to the brim with California poppies, chia, and blue dicks. Overall, I must have seen thousands and thousands of chia and blue dicks blooms all along the trail. Oddly, I found only a single California suncup, Camissonia californica, on the entire trail. I thought it was a strong law of Nature that thousands of chia blooms must be accompanied by California suncup blooms!

Beginning at mile 1.06, the trail was lined with Turkish rugging, Chorizanthe staticoides, that was just beginning its bloom. There were zillions of plants! Farther up the trail, in about a month or so it will be joined in bloom by fringed spineflower, Chorizanthe fimbriata.

I was pleased to find a second large patch of small-flowered meconella, Meconella denticulata on the trail, and even more pleased to see 4-5 fire poppies, Papaver californicum.

James has seen lots of Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. adamsii, so I was pleased he was along and could look at the first A. glandulosa on the trail, which I had determined as ssp. zacaensis. This determination had always surprised me, since the flora by Banks said that adamsii was the most common subspecies here, with zacaensis only occasional on the eastern face of Agua Tibia Mountain. Yet virtually every specimen on this trail seemed to be zacaensis, despite my looking very hard for the white-glaucous leaves of adamsii in a number of previous trips.

James immediately said the specimens did not look like adamsii.

With that important check done, James turned around to go back to the burn area along SR79, and then to an appointment he had later in the day.

As I've tried to do in many previous trips, I checked a number of A. glandulosa plants for inflorescences or fruits, but once again there weren't any. The half-normal rainfall last year apparently wasn't enough for them to set buds to bloom earlier this year. I did find a number of buds being produced for next year; all of those seemed to have the leaf-like bracts of zacaensis, not the scale-like bracts of adamsii.

By the way, I did find a single adamsii last November, at mile 4.82.

Oddly, within several feet of each other in a single location, I found a single plant of California groundsel, Senecio californicus and two plants of goldfields, Lasthenia californica. (There were the usual fairly large number of southern goldfields, Lasthenia coronaria, closer to the trailhead.) A half mile later, there was just a single plant or two of what appears to be slender madia, Madia gracilis. All three of these species were new to the guide, so they must just barely make it to this area.

At around mile 2.5 or so, I met a young rattlesnake, who was lying across the trail, taking up nearly the entire width of the trail. There was a bit of space in front of his head on the uphill slope, but it wasn't clear that I would stay on that uphill slope if I took that approach. I debated whether to simply jump over the snake, since it was unlikely he could strike me in his current position. While I debated the approach, the snake showed no signs of moving. I finally decided to quickly take the uphill slope past him, which I did with no problem.

My main goal this trip was to see the Indian warrior, Pedicularis densiflora, found by Joe Jackson on 2 April near mile 5.4. I took a break at my usual resting spot at mile 3.75, and determined I had a pretty good shot at getting to the Indian warrior and back to my car before dark.

Up to this point, there had been a few scattered raindrops, but they were almost welcome. The trail can be debilitating at this time of year in full sunshine and heat, so the cloud cover made the trip very pleasant. However, off and on showers began for the rest of my trip.

Of course, showers quickly put an end to my botanizing since it makes it impossible to record plants and locations without losing my notes from earlier on the trail due to raindrops smearing my writing. But with my goal in mind, I charged on, hoping that the showers would be brief. Unfortunately, they weren't.

I soon had to put on my poncho, and then quickly became too hot going uphill at a hiking pace with it on. Every so often, when the showers stopped briefly, I took it off, and quickly became too cold. As I got higher on the trail, and closer to the Indian warrior, the rain became heavier, the air colder, and the wind stronger. I definitely began to question what exactly was I doing out here in the rain! (;-)

But it wasn't much longer until I hit the top of the ridge at mile 5.09, and I knew my quarry was close at hand. My quick journey was immensely aided by trail work someone had done recently, removing the trees across the trail.

Interesting, due to the rain and fog, I had no recognition of the area past mile 5.09, despite being quite familiar with it. I even wondered for a moment whether the trail had been rerouted until I finally saw some up-close familiar landmarks.

After crossing the swale at mile 5.29, the first thing I saw were a dozen of the most beautiful "bajada lupine" plants, Lupinus concinnus, I have ever seen. Each of them was a beautiful rosette set apart from each other, with no other plants next to them. Each of them had a number of perfect flower spikes with the strongest most beautiful pink color I've ever seen them have. But it was raining too hard to get a picture of it!

Almost immediately after that, my quest was over, and I saw my first Indian warrior. Unfortunately, it had finished blooming, but it was still a pretty sight to me.

I immediately turned around, and quickly the hike became an all-too-familiar hike in the rain. It wasn't long before my boots and socks became waterlogged, and my steps turned to squish-squish-squish. Going downhill now, I quickly became cold, especially my hands, but I had no place to put them with the poncho on. I couldn't put on the cotton gloves I brought, since they quickly would have become soaked.

Hence the journey down was not especially pleasant. It rained off and on the entire time until the last mile, when the rain finally stopped.

But the worst was yet to come. When I got back to the Linanthus floribundus, expecting to enjoy its bloom one final time, it wasn't there! In its place, there was only a hole in the ground where someone had dug it out. I couldn't believe it!

And then the source of the pit next to the Arroyo Seco became clear - someone had dug out another plant there.

This is unbelievably disgusting that some low-life is stealing plants from this area. After trying to figure out how the plants would be transported through the campground, it occurred to me that the miscreants possibly were local residents coming up the privately-owned Arroyo Seco below this point. There is a fairly new house just below this point where in previous years I had watched them bulldozing away all the lovely native vegetation and piling it next to the drainage there.

A hike in the rain is a bit unpleasant, but a warm shower and dry warm clothes immediately makes it only a memory. The loss of the Linanthus floribundus will be felt everytime I hike this trail, and makes everyone's trip there in the Spring a little poorer.


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Copyright © 2005 by Tom Chester.
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Last update: 22 April 2005.