Jan Auburn, Don Rideout, Jim Roberts and I enjoyed seeing a number of very happy Elephant Trees on Wednesday, 12/14/22.  Jan was especially pleased to see how many Elephant Trees were on the upper part of the alluvial fan, and to see that area, since she had never gone beyond the Discovery Trail.  Jan and her husband have a special affinity for this place, since they cover this area as part of the ABDSP Botany Society Adopt-a-Wash program.  It was a delight for us to see how happy Jan was to see each new Elephant Tree.

This area clearly got at least one good monsoonal rain, judging from the Elephant Trees and the many monsoonal annuals present. On our hike from the parking area to the mouth of Alma Canyon, we saw 25 species in bloom.  The blooms list is given at the bottom of this email.

There were no spectacular displays, since there were no areas with significant sand.  In fact, there were no plants of sand verbena at all along our hike.

Don and Jim posted 49 obs of 35 species at iNat:


Jim posted 27 obs of 27 species; Don posted 22 obs of 20 species.

This trip was mainly devoted to rephotographing some of the elephant trees that were originally photographed in 2009 or earlier, so we did a bit more hiking than normal.  We made it to the mouth of Alma Canyon, but unfortunately didn't have time to enter the Canyon.

We checked two trees that were alive on their last check in 2015: the tree at post 9 on the Nature Trail, and Bill Sullivan's tree just south of the Nature Trail.  Those trees were not only still alive, they looked very happy, fully leafed out.

Oddly, though, none had any fruit.  That was true of all the other live trees we checked, except for a single plant with fruit.  This is pretty unusual not to see fruit if the trees got good monsoonal rain.

Pix of the "post 9" Elephant tree from this trip by me:


Pix of that tree from 27 January 2015 by me:


Pix of that tree from April 2008 by Richard Zmasek:


We checked one tree that was dead in 2015 and earlier.  It was still there, in a slightly more advanced state of decomposition.

For pix from 2009, 2010, 2015, and now 2022 of these trees and others, and comments on the differences seen in the repeat photos, see:


We failed to relocate one live tree, and one dead tree, because I didn't have good GPS coordinates of them from our relocation in 2015.


It was not very floriferous on our drive from Fallbrook to the Borrego Valley.

There was frost at Lake Henshaw in shady places along the road, with steam rising from the frost when sun hit them.  Later, on our drive home, those frosty places, or very nearby areas, had wet pavement, which puzzled us.  The skies were clear, so there hadn't been any drizzle.  Our only speculation is that the humidity was high enough in those areas to get a little condensation on the roadside.  The wet patches on the road look like the typical wet patches that were not underneath tree canopies.  So maybe the pavement in those areas cooled from radiating to the sky, causing the condensation there.

There were no flowers along S2 to Scissors Crossing, and only a few bladderpod in bloom in Sentenac Gorge.

We saw a single Agave in bloom, a single Ericameria paniculata, and a single ocotillo in bloom along SR78 in the Mescal Bajada. All the ocotillos there were leafless.

Don and I met Jan and Jim at the junction of Borrego Springs Road and SR78 at 11:15 a.m., and carpooled to the trailhead.

We were very happy not to see any off-roaders at Ocotillo Wells, so we wouldn't be breathing their dust.

There were some good fields of Abronia in bloom in Ocotillo Wells, and lots of Datura discolor, some of which were still in bloom.

The road to the parking area seemed very similar to its condition in the last ten years or so, with good stretches interspersed with very rocky stretches.  Any 2WD with decent clearance could easily drive it.

The indigo bushes along the dirt road were covered with good-looking Cuscuta psorothamnensis, our defined-only-in-2018 endemic Cuscuta, which may have been in bloom, but we didn't stop to check.

It was 61 deg at noon, which felt quite pleasant due to the nice sun and lack of wind.

It looked pretty dry on the Discovery Trail near the parking area.  Two pix from me, from a pano set at 12:15 p.m.:

Looking back to the parking area, with my three hiking companions visible in the distance:


View looking up the alluvial fan to the mouth of Alma Canyon:


Don took this pix of Jan and me near Bill's tree at 12:47 p.m.:


After Bill's tree, we tried to mostly hike to get to the mouth of Alma Canyon, and additional Bursera to take repeat photos of.  The plants did get a bit happier near the mouth of the Canyon.

Of course, the closer we got to Alma Canyon, with its "thousands of elephant trees", the more elephant trees we saw, which slowed us down a bit.  (:-)

Don took this pix of Jim photographing an elephant tree at 1:34 p.m.:


At 2:45 p.m., we made it to what I thought was the location of a recently-dead (in 2009 and 2015) elephant tree, but it turns out I didn't have an actual GPS location for that tree, and we didn't find it.  Don took this pix of me photographing that area, with Jan sitting where I thought the tree should have been:


Don and Jan decided to take a break at this location while Jim and I made a mad dash for the
last elephant tree I had targeted for repeat photography. Jim and I made it there precisely at 3:00 p.m., our designated turn-around time.  I took a good look at the mouth of Alma Canyon, that was achingly close, and then we started back.

On the way down, Don took a last pix of an Elephant Tree in the waning light at 3:36 p.m.:


We made it back to the car just at sunset.  The temp was still 61 deg then.

On our drive home, it was interesting that the temps in the Lake Henshaw / Ranchita area were also just about the same on our drive home as on our drive out, a low of 37 deg.

List of species seen in bloom on our hike:

#Pls in bloom   Name

99    Allionia incarnata var. incarnata
99    Bebbia juncea var. aspera
99    Chamaesyce polycarpa
99    Ditaxis lanceolata
99    Hyptis emoryi
99    Perityle emoryi

50    Cryptantha angustifolia

30    Physalis crassifolia

10    Chylismia claviformis ssp. peirsonii
10    Encelia farinosa

5    Amaranthus fimbriatus

3    Palafoxia arida var. arida

2    Funastrum hirtellum
2    Hibiscus denudatus
2    Psorothamnus schottii
2    Stephanomeria pauciflora

1    Ambrosia dumosa
1    Datura discolor
1    Ditaxis neomexicana
1    Eschscholzia parishii
1    Euphorbia eriantha
1    Hilaria rigida
1    Horsfordia newberryi
1    Phacelia distans
1    Plantago ovata

tom chester