Plant Guide to Upper Fish Creek Trail, San Bernardino Mountains

See also Plant Voucher Checklist for Fish Creek Area for a plant list in traditional family order, referenced to this guide, the guide to the Lower Fish Creek Trail, and including vouchers.

This is a working list, about which I make no guarantees at all until I officially release it. Use at your own risk!

Introduction and Explanation of Plant Trail Guides

Highlights of This Trail
Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time
Botanical Trip Reports
The Plant Guide
Comments On Specific Species


The Upper Fish Creek Trail is a beautiful high-country trail that explores the upper portion of Fish Creek and ends at Fish Creek Saddle. The trail goes through eastern Fish Creek Meadows, and alongside western Fish Creek Meadows, and crosses three streams with almost year-round flowing water from springs just upstream.

Its upper reaches give a good view of the upper portion of the Santa Ana River canyon, including Sugarloaf Mountain, and views of the northern part of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, the town of 29 Palms, Deadman Lake (dry), and the Bullion Mountains.

The next mile of trail beyond Fish Creek Saddle is virtually level, making it easy to continue on to Mine Shaft Saddle, which is only 0.75 air miles from the summit of San Gorgonio. At this location, you are standing on the shoulders of the beast itself, looking it right in the face, and can fully appreciate its majesty. However, it is a 7 mile roundtrip from Mine Shaft Saddle to the summit of San Gorgonio if you want to stand on the top!

The Upper Fish Creek Trail begins at 1N05, 7.4 miles along a mostly very-bumpy rough dirt road from SR38, and reaches a junction with the upper end of the Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail in 0.69 miles. This trail guide begins at that junction, and covers the trail to its end at Fish Creek Saddle. It therefore does not cover the first 0.69 miles of trail if you begin at 1N05. However, beginning at this junction is a more convenient starting point for botanists who have used the Aspen Grove / Fish Creek Trail Plant Guide.

Thus the beginning of this trail guide can be reached in two ways. First, you can hike two miles up the Aspen Grove / Lower Fish Creek Trail. Alternatively, you can drive an extra 25 minutes to get to the Upper Fish Creek Trailhead, and walk 0.7 miles west.

Mileages and Elevation Gains:

Directions to trailhead: On SR38, go 5 miles east of Barton Flats to the signed entrance road to Heart Bar Campground, 1N02. Do not take the earlier turnoff to Camp Heart Bar! Turn right on 1N02 to a signed junction in 1.2 miles with 1N05. Go right, up 1N05, bearing right at all road forks.

The signed Aspen Grove / Lower Fish Creek Trailhead parking is reached a total distance of 2.6 miles from SR38, which takes about 10 minutes total driving time.

The Upper Fish Creek Trailhead parking is another long 4.8 miles along 1N02, which takes an additional 26 minutes from the Aspen Grove / Lower Fish Creek Trailhead parking. Thus it takes 36 minutes from SR38.

GPS Coordinates:

TOPO! GPS Data Format Deg NAD27 ElevFeet

1N05 is the junction of 1N02 and 1N05.
FISHLO is the Aspen Grove / Lower Fish Creek Trailhead parking
FISHUP is the Upper Fish Creek Trailhead parking
HRTBAR is the junction of SR38 and 1N05.
MNSHFT is Mine Shaft Saddle
SNGORG is Mount San Gorgonio.

Highlights of This Trail

The botanical highlights of this trail are:

Number of Unique Taxa On This Trail

The following histogram gives the number of trails in my database that contain each taxon on this trail. I had 77 trails in my database when this histogram was made; two of those trails, including this one, are in the Fish Creek Area, with two others in the San Bernardino Mountains. A number of "1" means the taxon has only been found on this trail among the trails in my database; numbers of "4" or smaller may indicate taxa found only in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Number of Trails
Containing A Taxon
Number Of Taxa
On This Trail
% of Taxa
On This Trail
Total Taxa99100%

I found 2 additional species not in the above table, since they have not been identified yet. The unidentified ones are marked with ? or sp in the id? column in the guide, and do not have any number given in the #all column.

Fieldwork Dates and Summary of List Changes With Time

The following table gives the dates the trail was walked and taxa recorded. After each visit, the table gives the total number of taxa on the list and the breakdown of the taxa without positive identification. See Explanation of Plant Trail Guides to understand the symbols below.

Visit DateVisit ## taxa# "?"# "sp"# "~"# "ssp"

Only the first 0.18 miles of trail was surveyed on 8/10/04, the first 0.72 miles on 6/7/04, and the first 1.75 miles on 7/13/04, 7/22/04 and 8/5/04. The trip on 7/13/04 was primarily a hiking trip, with limited botanizing. The first full botanical survey of the complete trail was 7/27/04.

Botanical Trip Reports

7 June 2004
11 June 2004
13 July 2004
22 July 2004
27 July 2004
10 August 2004

See also reports from the lower Fish Creek Trail.

The Plant Guide

Version for printing, without lines and other text on this page (6 pages)

MileS#id?Common NameLatin Name#here#all
0.00   Begin trail guide on Upper Fish Creek Trail at intersection with Lower Fish Creek / Aspen Grove Trail, heading southwest; elevation 7980 feet (2430 m).
0.00l1 mountain whitethornCeanothus cordulatus99 / 913
0.00b2 green-leaf manzanitaArctostaphylos patula99 / 910
0.00r3 white firAbies concolor99 / 918
0.00l4 Grinnell's beardtonguePenstemon grinnellii var. grinnellii30 / 913
0.00l5 Jeffrey pinePinus jeffreyi99 / 919
0.01l6 pine lousewortPedicularis semibarbata5 / 59
0.01l7~Ross' sedgeCarex rossii20 / 92
0.01l8 San Gabriel beardtonguePenstemon labrosus50 / 96
0.01l9~groundsmokeGayophytum diffusum ssp. parviflorum50 / 211
0.01l10 pinewoods rock-cressArabis holboellii var. pinetorum50 / 52
0.02l11 bristly-leaved rock-cressArabis rectissima var. rectissima+5 / 12
0.02l12 short-leaved squirreltailElymus elymoides ssp. brevifolius50 / 92
0.02l13 western wallflowerErysimum capitatum ssp. capitatum99 / 915
0.02l14 June grassKoeleria macrantha1 / 12
0.04r15 wild tarragonArtemisia dracunculus30 / 521
0.05r16 Fendler's blue grassPoa fendleriana ssp. longiligula99 / 92
0.05r17~Letterman's needlegrassAchnatherum lettermanii20 / 23
0.05l18 Martin's paintbrushCastilleja applegatei ssp. martinii+50 / 514
0.05r19spone-sided bluegrass?Poa secunda ssp. secunda?30 / 9 
0.05r20 mountain mugwortArtemisia ludoviciana ssp. incompta50 / 95
0.05r21 Fremont's goosefootChenopodium fremontii50 / 311
0.05   Trail curves left at far end of ridge.
0.06l22 Parish's bedstrawGalium parishii30 / 94
0.07r  Jct. faint old trail.
0.08b23 Parish's snowberrySymphoricarpos rotundifolius var. parishii99 / 910
0.08l24 southern mountain-monardellaMonardella australis99 / 96
0.08l  (spear-leaved mountain dandelion, Agoseris retrorsa)
0.08r  (little false-solomon's-seal, Smilacina stellata)
0.09l25 Wright's buckwheatEriogonum wrightii var. subscaposum50 / 911
0.10l26 golden yarrowEriophyllum confertiflorum var. confertiflorum30 / 946
0.10l27 goldenrodSolidago californica30 / 326
0.10l28 wild pepper-grassLepidium virginicum var. pubescens3 / 15
0.10l29 smooth scouring rushEquisetum laevigatum30 / 33
0.11r30 California bromeBromus carinatus var. carinatus5 / 114
0.11b31 hoary-asterMachaeranthera canescens var. canescens30 / 93
0.11r32 arroyo willowSalix lasiolepis20 / 328
0.11r33 alkali western tansy-mustardDescurainia pinnata ssp. halictorum5 / 14
0.11r  "Witches' broom" (proliferation of branches forming a dense cluster) on the white fir, caused by a "fir broom rust" fungus, Melampsorella caryophyllacearum, or a close-related species.
0.11r34 Southern California drabaDraba corrugata var. corrugata5 / 22
0.13r  (swamp sedge, Carex senta)
0.13r35 cow parsnipHeracleum lanatum30 / 22
0.13r36~wax currantRibes cereum var. cereum5 / 511
0.13r37 Richardson's geraniumGeranium richardsonii30 / 23
0.14l38 mountain sprayHolodiscus microphyllus var. microphyllus30 / 96
0.14r39 swamp sedgeCarex senta30 / 22
0.16   Trail turns right; (faint use trail continues straight)
0.16r40 brown sedgeCarex subfusca20 / 21
0.16b41 *common dandelionTaraxacum officinale10 / 14
0.16b42 Kentucky blue grassPoa pratensis ssp. agassizensis20 / 24
0.16r43 long-anthered rushJuncus macrandrus10 / 12
    Check for Mimulus guttatus.
0.16r44 larger mountain monkeyflowerMimulus tilingii20 / 22
0.16b45 American speedwellVeronica americana10 / 22
0.16l46 willowherbEpilobium ciliatum ssp. ciliatum5 / 216
0.16   Cross first branch of a stream, a south branch of Fish Creek; enter eastern Fish Creek Meadows
0.17r47 cobwebby hedge-nettleStachys albens30 / 24
0.17l48 slender hairgrassDeschampsia elongata20 / 22
0.17l49 Fendler's meadow-rueThalictrum fendleri var. fendleri10 / 33
0.17b50 fringed bromeBromus ciliatus5 / 13
0.17b51 western columbineAquilegia formosa30 / 55
0.17r52 fireweedEpilobium angustifolium ssp. circumvagum10 / 23
0.17r53 winter cressBarbarea orthoceras10 / 16
0.18l54 mountain sweet-cicelyOsmorhiza chilensis5 / 15
0.18l55 sticky cinquefoilPotentilla glandulosa ssp. reflexa+10 / 29
0.18b56 horsetailEquisetum hyemale ssp. affine30 / 33
0.18r57 yarrowAchillea millefolium20 / 211
0.18b  (ranger's buttons, Sphenosciadium capitellatum)
0.18b58 Parish's lupineLupinus latifolius var. parishii20 / 23
0.19b59 giant red paintbrushCastilleja miniata ssp. miniata10 / 25
0.19r60 stinging nettleUrtica dioica ssp. holosericea5 / 110
0.19l61 *perennial mouse-ear chickweedCerastium fontanum ssp. vulgare5 / 12
0.19l62 variegated cloverTrifolium variegatum phase 2+10 / 12
0.20l63 Wheeler's cinquefoilPotentilla wheeleri10 / 12
0.21l64 western mountain asterAster occidentalis var. occidentalis5 / 11
0.21   Cross second branch of a stream, a south branch of Fish Creek, and leave eastern Fish Creek Meadows.
0.21l65 spike bentgrassAgrostis exarata5 / 13
0.21l  Jct. path; continue straight.
0.23l66 Parish's campionSilene parishii20 / 96
0.23l67 beaked penstemonPenstemon rostriflorus / 10
0.24   Cross shallow dry drainage
0.25l68 granite prickly phloxLeptodactylon pungens20 / 94
0.26l69 sulphur buckwheatEriogonum umbellatum var. munzii30 / 99
0.26l70 santolina pincushionChaenactis santolinoides5 / 18
0.28l71 San Bernardino rubber rabbitbrushChrysothamnus nauseosus ssp. bernardinus20 / 914
0.30b72 Parry's sunflowerHulsea vestita ssp. parryi5 / 12
0.31   Switchback left at ridge.
0.32l  (Parish's alumroot, Heuchera alpestris)
0.34   Heuchera Hill, filled with Heuchera alpestris. Trail is now ~50 feet above western Fish Creek Meadows
0.34b73 Parish's alumrootHeuchera alpestris20 / 12
0.40l74 fir mistletoePhoradendron pauciflorum1 / 19
0.44l75 perennial rock-cressArabis perennans3 / 12
0.54r  (California corn lily, Veratrum californicum var. californicum)
0.56   Enter area of western Fish Creek Meadows, with trail parallel to its edge, just a bit above it.
0.56r  (Field of lemon lily, Lilium parryi, scents the trail here in season, accompanied by the following species not seen previously in the guide: Bigelow's sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii; Scouler's St. Johnswort, Hypericum formosum var. scouleri; and southern goldenrod, Solidago confinis.)
0.60r76spCalifornia evening-primroseOenothera californica10 / 12
0.60r77 Parish's buckwheatEriogonum parishii10 / 13
0.64r  (blue elderberry, Sambucus mexicana)
0.67b78 ranger's buttonsSphenosciadium capitellatum10 / 14
0.67b79 California corn lilyVeratrum californicum var. californicum10 / 12
0.68r80 little false-solomon's-sealSmilacina stellata20 / 14
0.72r81 Mexican rushJuncus mexicanus10 / 110
0.72   Switchback left; elevation 8200 feet (2500 m); leave western Fish Creek Meadows.
0.74b82 blue elderberrySambucus mexicana5 / 539
0.79   Switchback right.
0.86   Cross dry drainage
0.97   Cross large dry drainage; nearly all trees here at white fir, with just a few Jeffrey pines.
1.05r83~Scouler's willowSalix scouleriana1 / 13
1.07l84 Watson's spike-mossSelaginella watsonii4 / 43
1.22   Cross large dry drainage
1.24r85 lodgepole pinePinus contorta ssp. murrayana99 / 96
1.25r  Jct. steep trail.
1.27r  Jct. trail to Fish Creek Campground; Sign: "Fish Creek Campground (right); "Fish Creek Saddle (straight)"
1.27b86 bush chinquapinChrysolepis sempervirens20 / 58
1.27   Switchback left; elevation 8440 feet (2570 m)
1.29   Switchback right at ridge.
1.32l87 limber pinePinus flexilis / 5
1.33   Switchback right.
1.35   Switchback left at ridge.
1.45   Cross large dry drainage
1.56r  Sign 10 feet above ground on tree: "No camping here".
1.59   Cross water of Fish Creek from spring 0.14 miles upstream; elevation 8600 feet (2620 m); last water on trail in early summer; dry in late July 2004.
1.61b88 bitter cherryPrunus emarginata5 / 15
1.62   Enter a beautiful "rock garden", filled with flowers in season.
1.62l89 rose sageSalvia pachyphylla20 / 31
1.62l90 naked-stem bedstrawGalium angustifolium ssp. nudicaule30 / 22
1.63   Switchback left.
1.63r91 spineless horsebrushTetradymia canescens20 / 35
1.64r92 Parish's needlegrassAchnatherum parishii+10 / 55
1.64r93 woodland spurgeEuphorbia palmeri10 / 32
1.68   Trail turns right 45°
1.70   Switchback right.
1.72l94?cut-leaved daisy?Erigeron compositus?1 / 1 
1.72r95 curl-leaf mountain-mahoganyCercocarpus ledifolius var. intermontanus30 / 98
1.98   Switchback left at ridge.
2.16   Switchback left; elevation 8880 feet (2705 m).
2.20   Mixed forest beginning to change into mostly lodgepole pine forest.
2.24   Switchback right at ridge
2.26b96 Nevin's bird's beakCordylanthus nevinii20 / 45
2.30l  View of Deadman (dry) Lake in front of the Bullion Mountains.
2.40r97 Tehachapi ragwortSenecio ionophyllus5 / 24
2.52   Cross side drainage.
2.77   Switchback right, close to Fish Creek; elevation 9160 feet (2790 m).
2.99r  View of the city of 29 Palms and Joshua Tree National Park to its south.
3.03   Highest Jeffrey pine, Pinus jeffreyi
3.11   Long switchback left at ridge; first view of Sugarloaf Peak; trail then gradually curves right.
3.26   Long switchback left at ridge.
3.30   Switchback left; elevation 9480 feet (2890 m)
3.33   Long switchback right at ridge.
3.45r98 pinyon rock cressArabis dispar15 / 51
3.49r99 San Bernardino beardtonguePenstemon caesius10 / 53
3.55   First view of Old Grayback, San Gorgonio Peak
3.93r100 rock buckwheatEriogonum saxatile5 / 17
4.02   Switchback left at drainage; elevation 9740 feet (2970 m)
4.06   Highest limber pine, Pinus flexilis.
4.11r101 fragile sheath sedgeCarex fracta5 / 16
4.33   Fish Creek Saddle; elevation 9805 feet (2989 m); end trail guide.

Comments On Specific Species

Arabis rectissima var. rectissima. All specimens on this trail and on the Lower Fish Creek Trail were infected with rust fungus, producing a large number of brown dots on almost every surface of the plants. This makes this Arabis easy to identify at any stage!

Castilleja applegatei ssp. martinii. The plants here have narrowly oblong, wavy leaves, closer to the usual examples of this taxon than the plants on the lower Fish Creek Trail. See the note there for a complete discussion of this taxon in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Potentilla glandulosa ssp. reflexa. All specimens on this trail clearly key to ssp. reflexa, having petals obovate; sepals > petals; st and pedicel hairs gen glandular (some non-glandular); lflet double-toothed, which is essentially the JM key. However, the petals are white, unlike the yellow petals of ssp. reflexa, and the inflorescence branch angles are 5-10°, unlike the gen 20-40° angles of ssp. reflexa. Both these characteristics fits ssp. nevadensis, so perhaps there is some intergradation occurring here.

In addition, the plants on this trail are not as glandular as the plants on the lower trail, and the stems are more slender.

Trifolium variegatum phase 2. According to a note in the JM, this taxon is commonly confused with T. wormskioldii, and we understand why. These plants look to be perennial, and the leaves and stems are almost the spitting image of the illustration in the JM. Using Munz, the only possible id is in fact T. wormskioldii, since apparently Munz describes only a subset of the T. variegatum population that does not fit these specimens.

However, they key perfectly to T. variegatum in the JM, since the involucres are only 1 cm wide, and there are 1-2 seeds per pod. Confirming the id, the inflorescence widths are 1.5-2.0 cm, and the JM notes that this can be a short-lived perennial. The inflorescence in fact looks much more like the JM illustration for T. variegatum than for T. wormskioldii.

In summary, there are no inconsistencies with a T. variegatum id for these plants, whereas there are five inconsistencies with a T. wormskioldii (the involucre is not gen 2-3 cm wide; the involucre is lobed; the seeds are not 2-6; the inflorescence width is not 2-3 cm; and the corolla tip is not white).

Achnatherum parishii. This taxon may not be distinct from A. coronatum. See Achnatherum coronatum / A. parishii for a discussion of the characteristics of the specimens on this trail versus the characteristics of the two taxa given in the floras.

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Copyright © 2004 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 13 August 2004.