Don Rideout and I went to Split Mtn Gorge in order to look for the Eucnide vouchered from "a small side canyon of Split Mountain, north of anticline", and also so that Don and I could get an iNat obs of Hoffmannseggia microphylla (=Caesalpinia virgata), wand holdback, since we had never posted that species at iNat.

There were 11 iNat obs of the wand holdback in Fish Creek from Split Mountain to where Fish Creek meets Split Mtn Road, so I thought we'd easily see some on our drive to the anticline.

That turned out to be wildly incorrect.  We saw NO wand holdbacks on our slow drive in, including at the iNat locations we checked in the gorge.  What we saw instead were barren, washed-out places where strong water flow in the past had wiped the main wash clean of plants.  There was debris something like one foot above the ground in some of the plants on the banks of the wash.  Fred and Carla wrote on one of the iNat posts, after I commented that the plant in that obs was now gone, that this plant was gone as of a year ago, so the strong water flow that took these plants out did not happen in the last six months.

As we drove in, we stopped for plants in a handful of locations, including side drainages that might have the Eucnide.  We saw a small number of species in bloom, including a ghost flower and Lupinus arizonicus, but no Eucnide and no wand holdback.

We parked just below the Anticline, and immediately tried to recover an iNat wand holdback plant there.  It was gone, too.

Btw, if anyone knows where the common name of "wand holdback" comes from, please let me know.

We were very pleased we were able to drive all the way to the anticline with no problems.  There was a big sign on Split Mountain Road, saying "Road Closed Ahead", but that was probably referring to where that Road entered the quarry.  Any 2 wd drive car could easily have driven this far.

We were also a bit worried about whether the rain so far this year might have created problems for the wash road, but the only problem is that the rain tends to obliterate the usual path that vehicles take, so at times the road was ill-defined.

In fact, the main problem with the road was its washboarding. Almost no soft sand at all; instead it felt like my brain was being shaken out of my head!  (:-)

When we got out of the car, there was a lone hiker going back to the car parked near the paved road.  When I asked her if she had seen anything interesting, she looked at me like I was a slow learner, so I quickly clarified I meant plant-wise.  (:-)

She was coming back from the Elephant Knees.

The geology of this area is nicely explained in Remeika and Lindsay, Lindsay and Lindsay, as well as a bit in Schad. Basically, the anticline is the result of a massive rock landslide that occurred into a shallow sea 5 million years ago from something like seven (7!!!) mile away, which folded and contorted the sandstone sediments in the sea.  This area also has the oldest marine sediments deposited in the newly-formed Salton Detachment Zone.  See Remeika and Lindsay, and Dorsey's papers.

We then turned our attention to the Xylorhiza at the anticline that was made famous by Fred and Carla's realization in 2016 that this plant probably appears in lots of historical photos.  This plant was still there, and I took the time to put some of the historical photos online in our Xylorhiza page:

This plant is at least 20 years old, and has survived the worst drought in the last 500 or so years in southern California!  But clearly the drought has taken a toll on it; it was at its best in 2004.

If any of you have pix of this plant from times we don't have, especially ones prior to 2004, please let me know.

We then started our very slow search for Eucnide at 1:00 p.m.  We poked into every side drainage we saw, at least until they became hard to traverse, or we saw that there were no more plants farther up them.  In fact, most of the canyon walls had no plants at all growing on them, both in the main canyon and in the side canyons.

We surveyed on the west side of the gorge on our way north, and on the east side on our way back.

Almost immediately we spotted a borage (like a Cryptantha) that I didn't recognize, that was just starting to produce very small buds.  I had no hopes to trying to identify this without flowers and fruit, so I was just hoping that this had been observed by some else when it was mature.

My post:

A bit over an hour later, Don found some plants of this same species that were not only in bloom, but had immature fruit! Those immature fruit, however, were a good example of Kay Madore's claim that plants actively try to fool us.  (:-)  See the discussion here:

It was a delight to find a number of plants of Malperia all along our survey route, including one in bloom at the same location with the J. holoptera in bloom.  Don's posts:

We had previously decided to turn around at 2:30 p.m. to survey the other side of the canyon, and get back to the car in time to look for more wand holdback above the gorge.

On the way back, we found an area that had 22 seedling Xylorhiza plants.  My post:

We got back to the car at 3:30 p.m., but without finding any evidence of Eucnide.  There were plenty of places with Perityle, but despite us looking at those places really hard, there was no Eucnide.

After a snack, we then started hiking south to exit the gorge. There were a number of iNat obs of wand holdback there, as well.

When we exited the gorge, we went to a bench a bit elevated above the stream bed, and fairly quickly found a very unhappy plant that was at least present.

My post:

Don's post:

We did a little loop above the gorge, with the main find being a single beautiful plant of Langloisia, with some color variation in the open flowers.

My post:

Don's post:

We saw some sand verbena plants there, but some of them didn't look very happy, probably because they were growing in decomposed sandstone instead of nice thick sand beds.  A few others did look pretty happy.  My posts:

We also spotted five desert lily vegetative plants. Don's post:

That area didn't look like a candidate to do any further exploring this year.  Here's one of my pix of how bleak the area looked:

Many of the bushes in the middle of the photo are cheesebushes, which were lush and green in places in the gorge and farther down Fish Creek, but not here.

I've not done justice in this report to the geology here.  Here are some pix by Don showing how beautiful the gorge is.

Just before entering the top of the gorge on the way back:

Just inside the top of the gorge:

A bit below that, with me giving the scale of the gorge:

For completeness, here's Don's pix from earlier in the day, looking back just after we had entered the bottom of the gorge:

We hiked back to the car, and drove to the remaining wand holdback iNat locations we hadn't checked on the way.  We were skunked at all of them except for the very last one, which still had a very happy plant.  We were delighted to see at least one good-looking plant of this species still here.

Don's post:

My post:

On our entire trip in the Split Mountain area, including our car stops, we saw a total of 35 species in bloom, but not very many plants of all species except Perityle.  The list of the plants in bloom is at the bottom of this email.

Don and I posted a total of 80 obs of 46 species from this day:,tchester

Don posted 55 obs of 44 species; I posted 25 obs of 13 species.

Other details:

On our drive from Fallbrook to Ocotillo Wells, there were very few plants in bloom, just ~5 plants of bladderpod in Sentenac Gorge, and a few chuparosa after exiting the Gorge.

We stopped at The Narrows Earth Trail to check on the Tiquilia canescens plants there, and they looked sorry, indeed. I was shocked at how dried up these plants were here. It was like I was transported back to a drought year in the desert, especially compared to how lush some other areas were.

My post, which contains a link to Don's posts:

The plants along the roadsides looked equally bleak until we got to Ocotillo Wells, where the sand verbena was providing good color still.  But they quickly disappeared as we drove up Split Mountain Road, where it looked pretty bleak again.

List of species in bloom:

#Pls in bloom   Name

99    Perityle emoryi

20    Johnstonella angustifolia

15    Astragalus crotalariae
15    Johnstonella holoptera

10    Abronia villosa var. villosa
10    Chylismia claviformis ssp. peirsonii
10    Cryptantha maritima
10    Plantago ovata
10    Tidestromia suffruticosa oblongifolia

5    Aliciella latifolia
5    Brassica tournefortii
5    Condea emoryi
5    Geraea canescens
5    Palafoxia arida var. arida
5    Xylorhiza orcuttii

2    Cistanthe ambigua
2    Eriogonum
2    Eriogonum
2    Lupinus arizonicus
2    Mohavea confertiflora
2    Ottleya strigosa
2    Phacelia crenulata minutiflora
2    Physalis crassifolia

1    Allionia incarnata
1    Dalea mollis
1    Ditaxis serrata
1    Encelia farinosa
1    Euphorbia polycarpa
1    Hoffmannseggia microphylla
1    Isocoma acradenia var. eremophila
1    Langloisia setosissima ssp. setosissima
1    Lepidium lasiocarpum var. lasiocarpum
1    Mirabilis laevis retrorsa
1    Pectis papposa var. papposa
1    Pleurocoronis pluriseta

tom chester