I have wanted to go out to the Channel Islands for years but one of
the things that has inhibited me from doing so was a fear of seasickness.
That and airsickness have been an occasional problem in my life, especially
on smaller planes and boats. So when I saw the San Miguel Island field
trip advertised on the Jepson website, I was some-
And that's just how it turned out. Around 7:30 we were cruising by
a cove at San Miguel where the beach was covered with elephant seals
and there was at least one gray whale nearby. San Miguel is the westernmost
of the Channel Islands, five of which make up the National Park, the
others being Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara. Soon
we were slowing and entering Cuyler's Harbor, where shortly we dropped
anchor and had
San Miguel is a fairly small island, only about eight miles in length and about 14 square miles in total area. Primarily a plateau about 500' in elevation, it has two rounded 800+' peaks named San Miguel Mt. and Green Mt. Largely covered by introduced grasses, the damage caused by a century of grazing has been mitigated to a great extent, and native vegetation has made a tremendous comeback. We hiked up a switchbacking trail from the beach through Nidever Canyon, enjoying the coreopsis and such species as island morning glory (Calystegia macrostegia var. macrostegia), Douglas's silver lupine (Lupinus albifrons var. douglasii), and the beautiful island endemics island paintbrush (Castilleja lanata ssp. hololeuca) and island deerweed (Lotus dendroideus var. veatchii) which is a San Miguel Island endemic. Just as in the desert many species are called desert this or that, here we found that many species are called island this or that. Reaching the plateau, we turned right at a trail junction and headed north, passing some gorgeous island checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. malviflora), island wallflower (Erysimum insulare), coast bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus), and seaside fiddleneck (Amsinckia spectabilis var. spectabilis). Further on, there was some owl's clover (Castilleja exserta), some large patches of common phacelia (Phacelia distans) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), many California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) and California buttercups (Ranunculus californicus), and then thelovely pale-blue northern Channel Island phacelia (Phacelia insularis var. insularis), a species that like many of these was new to me.
Continuing on toward Harris Point, we saw dwarf pearlwort (Sagina apetala), cream cups (Platystemon californicus), various everlastings, tidy tips (Layia platyglossa), and Channel Islands beach primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia var. cheiranthifolia). Just before the final bluff, there was a rocky area well populated with small patches of chamise, a habitat apparently favored by the interesting short-lobed broom-rape (Orobanche parishii ssp. brachyloba). We had a person in the group who had a permit to collect samples of this species and she searched diligently until she began finding evidence of last year's stalks. Finally her perserverence was rewarded by the discovery of a couple of new plants, still small, but in good bloom, and we were able to enjoy another taxa of this unusual parasitic family. We were exceptionally lucky to have a spectacularly lovely sunny day with cool ocean breezes, something that is not at all common in May. The seas were quite calm, and after returning to the beach, we were transported out to the boat for showers and a great meal. The seas remained calm that night and I was able to get a good night's sleep.
Friday morning the good weather continued and we again hiked up the switchback trail to first visit the Cabrillo Monument which commemorates the discovery of California by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a military figure and explorer of either Spanish or Portuguese origin, who served in the army of the Conquistador Hernan Cortez, lived most of his life in the Spanish New World colony of Guatemala, and at the behest of the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), explored what is now the American west coast, naming San Diego Bay and Santa Barbara, and then wintering on San Miguel Island, where he died from complications from wounds suffered in a fight with the local indians. It is not certain where he is actually buried. although this monument implies his burial site. After a short visit there, we continued south and then eastward toward Cardwell Point where we expected to find a large colony of elephant seals. Many of the things we had seen the day before were present along this hike as well, but we also saw early onion (Allium praecox) in fine bloom, blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), earth brodiaeas (Brodiaea terrestris ssp. kernensis), oligomeris (Oligomeris linifolia) and coastweed (Amblyopappus pusillus). The Brodiaea was listed on the Channel Islands list as Brodiaea jolonensis as it often is in many places throughout Southern California, but various characteristics of it such as the green ovaries showed it to be Brodiaea terrestris. One of the most interesting discoveries which I made at the end of this hike involved the species western dichondra (Dichondra occidentalis). I have been looking for several years for the flowers of this species and have found the plants at times when the flowers should have been in evidence with no sign of them being present. I never could understand this, but while we were enjoying our lunch, I saw several people digging around in the ground and went to see what they were looking at. Sure enough, there were the characteristic leaves of Dichondra, and I asked them what they were doing. It turns out that the flowers develop underground! Mystery solved. Pictures here. We spent an hour or so just resting in the warm sun and enjoying a tremendous view down onto the beach where a group of what looked like several hundred elephant seals were all hauled out on the beach. We were observed continuously by a pair of gulls whose heads just poked above the grass and looked for all the world like some Far Side cartoon figures. By the late afternoon the wind was beginning to pick up a bit and the zodiac ride out to the boat was a little wetter, but it was good to get back to our comfortable berths, a shower, a cold pale ale, a delicious dinner and another good night's sleep.
On Saturday morning the wind had definitely picked up and the boat was rocking more than it had previously. The zodiac landing on the beach was a bit tricky but the boat crew managed it with expertness and care, flinging their wet-suited bodies willingly into the cold surf and rotating the skiff so that its stern was toward the beach, and soon we were winding up the by now familiar trail which was the only way to get up onto the plateau. We had all been informed that today's hike was to be to the western end of the island, the farthest point from where we were, and would be 16 miles roundtrip. Since it was an out and back hike, anyone had the option of stopping at any point and turning around. I was by no means sure that I had sixteen miles in me, and the day before the shoulder on which I had had surgery recently had begun aching a bit from carrying the backpack, so I didn't know what I was going to do. There didn't seem to be anything in particular at Bennett Point except the northern island mallow (Lavatera assurgentiflora). Actually the Jepson Manual has lumped all these plants together although there is significant variation among northern island and southern island individuals, but Steve Junak believes they are deserving of separate recognition. Since I had seen either this or its southern island relative at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden some years ago, there didn't seem to be a compelling reason to go all the way, but I decided to just play it by ear and see how it went.
The trail passes the Cabrillo Monument and then heads uphill to the Visitor Center where there is a small dirt runway. The grassy areas there were covered with sticky sand spurrey (Spergularia macrotheca) although this is a species that typically opens only in direct sunlight and was mostly closed. The day was overcast and the wind was kicking up. We saw some longleaf plantain (Plantago elongata) which was unfamiliar to me, then the introduced cut-leaf plantain (Plantago coronopus) which Steve promptly dug up, not wishing to see it spread any further. The trail goes up over the top of San Miguel Mt. and continues down the other side through a waving grassland. I was able to photograph some interesting grasses such as curved sicklegrass (Parapholis incurva) and maritime rye (Leymus pacificus), and then near the Caliche Forest there was some prostrate hutchinsia (Hutchinsia procumbens) which I had only seen once before on the pebble plains of Big Bear. Seemed odd for it to be all the way out here. The Caliche Forest is a pretty unusual geological formation that is quite an attraction for those relatively few people who venture out to San Miguel, and is basically the calcified remains or castings of ancient trees and roots, although most are no more than a couple of feet high.
Continuing on across the shoulder of Green Mt., we followed a path through the grasslands that was made by the people who went before us. A lot of California saltbush (Atriplex californica) was spotted, goldfields (Lasthenia californica), lupines and blue-eyed grass, and other things we had already seen. Six-weeks fescue (Vulpia octoflora var. hirtella) and sand-dune bluegrass (Poa douglasii) were pointed out by Steve and photographed by me. I just kept going, along with the majority of the group, and by early afternoon had reached the research station at Point Bennett. I photographed the Lavatera, ate a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and headed back on my own. I had eight miles to go, but it was not difficult to follow the crushed grass path. The wind was really gusting and when I crossed San Miguel Mt. I was being blown practically off the path. It was exhausting trying to keep going in such a wind, but I had to continue to the beach. Waves were breaking on the sand, and the trip back out to the boat was even worse than this morning, although not due to any lack of competence on the part of our crew. The usual amenities were waiting for us on board, hors d'ouvres, and cold beers. I was not looking forward to the boat ride in the morning, so when I began to hear rumors that we might ship anchor and sail for Santa Rosa Island, where there is a pier, it was heartening news. Later that night we were informed that indeed at 6 in the morning we would depart for the next island, and everyone was excited at the prospect of seeing another of the Channel Islands that we had not expected to see.
At 6am on Sunday morning the engine came on and we began motoring toward Santa Rosa Island in heavier seas than we had experienced before. The boat was rocking from side to side and if there had been a time when I would have felt any nausea, this would have been it, but my Dramamine did the trick and I was OK. In about an hour and a half we were pulling in to the dock at Bechers Bay, after having had breakfast. The captain had to carefully position the boat next to the ladder going up onto the pier, and it was a bit tricky to get onto the ladder with the boat going up and down, but after a good briefing on proper procedure, no one had any difficulty. We first explored a little canyon off the beach where we saw the introduced Cretan mallow (Lavatera cretica), a relative of the Lavatera we had seen yesterday. We were hoping to see an Orobanche, but all our Orobanche expert could find was evidence of last year's bloom.
We headed up from the beach through the Vail and Vickers Ranch, formerly a cattle operation, and now running deer and elk hunts several months of the year. Santa Rosa is the second largest of the Channel Islands, 15 by 10 miles in dimension and about 84 square miles in total area. It is three miles between Santa Rosa and San Miguel, and six miles between Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz. The two highest points are Black Mountain at 1298' and Soledad Peak at 1574'. Our goal today was an area to the east of Bechers Bay where grew the island ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. aspleniifolius) and the Santa Rosa Torrey pines (Pinus torreyana ssp. insularis), but we knew that there were likely to be many other things on the way. We had to be back at the pier by 2pm so we had to be satisfied with a fairly quick view of a small area of the island.
Once again, the road cut through a coastal area largely covered by
non-native grasses, but we quickly found species such as the endemic
island deerweed (Lotus dendroideus
var. dendroideus), a different variant than that found on San
Miguel and on which we observed feasting tussock moth caterpillars,
sandmat (Cardionema ramosissima),
caraway-leaved lomatium (Lomatium caruifolium), and some native
grasses like bobtail barley (Hordeum intercedens) and meadow
barley (Hordeum brachyantherum ssp. californicum). Further along
we saw the Santa Cruz Island buckwheat (Eriogonum
arborescens) in bloom, also the beautiful red island bush monkeyflower
currently lumped in with aurantiaca in the Jepson Manual, but
likely to be segregated in the next edition. Along some bluffs overlooking
the beach there was the native San Diego County needlegrass (Achnatherum
diegoense), and other species such as Nuttall's poverty weed
(Monolepis nuttaliana), the gorgeous California sea-pink (Armeria
maritima) which I had been looking to see in bloom ever since
I first encountered it in the island section of the Wild Animal Park's
Native Plant Garden, Coulter's saltbush (Atriplex coulteri),
and a lovely red-petalled species of bedstraw (Galium
angustifolium ssp. foliosum).
Regrettably it was time to head back and we were soon clambering down the ladder onto the boat for our trip back to the mainland. My appetite for further island botanizing had definitely been whetted in a big way, and I was particularly pleased that I had not succumbed to any motion sickness. We sailed past Santa Cruz Island and had a beautiful cruise across the channel to Santa Barbara, arriving close to the advertised 5pm time on Sunday evening. Tuesday morning Steve Junak headed out on a 4-day trip to Santa Cruz Island with a group from the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. I'll have to get out there soon.
I continued down the path, trying to measure my course with my gps, but the going backwards and forwards soon had me well off Tom's guide, so I had to retrace my steps to find the next plant I was interested in, Alaska rein orchid (Piperia unalascensis), of which I soon found a pair. The taller of the two was about 24" in height and very slender with a few linear basal leaves. Along the road there were masses of checkerbloom (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsifolia), and also golden yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum), Southern California milkvetch (Astragalus pomonensis), blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum), San Diego pea (Lathyrus vestitus var. alefeldii) and Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla). I had to search a bit to find the meadow nemophila (Nemophila pedunculata) that Tom suggested I photograph but I finally did find a few plants with blooms.
At a little drainage on the other side of the Granite Loop Trail, I was photographing clover fern (Marsilea vestita ssp. vestita) (the common name being poorly chosen in my opinion because it isn't clover and it doesn't look like a fern) floating in the water, and in concentrating on it I failed to notice the good-sized western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata) which I guess my peripheral vision had taken to be a rock. Since I have only seen fossilized remains of these at the Tar Pits, I was unaware of how pretty is the patterning on their heads. In the same area and further along was some cut-leaf geranium (Geranium dissectum), Spanish clover (Lotus purshianus), and the introduced species windmill pink (Silene gallica), smooth cat's ear (Hypochaeris glabra), and creteweed (Hedypnois cretica). I turned left at the jct of Waterline Road and Tenaja Truck Trail and saw a nice patch of miniature or dove lupine (Lupinus bicolor) and then some rattlesnake weed (Chamaesyce albomarginata), which having been burned many times on Chamaesyce identifications I confirmed by the fused ciliate stipules. There were tons of splendid mariposa lilies (Calochortus splendens) waving amongst the tall grasses, which were also dotted with Southern California morning glories (Calystegia macrostegia ssp. arida), and then various small groupings of blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum).
The next thing I was looking for was Douglas's microseris (Microseris douglasii ssp. douglasii) which I was amazed to discover recently that I had no photographs of. And suddenly the road was full of them, both in the middle and along the un-mowed edges. Their basal rosettes with the heads nodding on slender stems were very distinctive, but it took me a while before I found any that were blooming. I don't know if they bloom at a certain time of the day, but it was clear that many of these individuals had already produced seeds. And while I was looking at the Microseris I noticed a small white five-petalled flower that I didn't immediately know the id of. But it came to me in a quick flash that this must be the next thing I was looking for, which was small-flowered morning glory (Convolvulus simulans). It is a cute little species with leaves that don't look much like morning glory leaves to me. I turned right on Monument Hill Road, and then right again on Fault Road heading north toward Waterline Road, and my gps reading led me right to the last thing I needed to see, which was Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens). Unfortunately not yet in bloom for me to photograph, I still got an idea of what its vegetative parts are, but I was a bit chagrined to see how large a patch of it there was there, being as it is an introduced and unwanted pest. I ate my lunch under the shade of an oak grove and headed back to the car.
There was only one thing more I wanted to see, and so I drove from the Visitor Center to the Sylvan Meadows parking lot which was filled with about a dozen horse vans. Apparently some group had met for a yearly ride. I walked a brief distance along the Nighthawk Trail to find the California popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys collinus var. fulvescens), like P. canescens with a very small corolla but easily differentiated by the lack of basal leaves. After changing into sneakers and fresh socks, I headed up to the Jack-in-a Box for a cold Diet Coke, and then turned for home, having added another seven new species for my website.
Made a quick trip down here today to look for a species that Cliff McLean had mentioned from a recent outing, many-stemmed dudleya (Dudleya multicaulis). This park is in San Dimas just off the 57 freeway north of the 10, and is adjacent to Raging Waters. I had a little difficulty orienting myself because I couldn't be sure I was at Cliff's starting point, so I called Mickey Long at Eaton Canyon who was with Cliff when they found the dudleya. He gave me exact directions, and with those in mind it only took me a couple of minutes to locate the correct area. On the slope of a hillside not far from the road, I could see a number of reddish rocky outcrops, and both Cliff and Mickey had said that this is where the dudleya was growing. It was a short walk up the hill and within minutes I saw the first plants, just as described. The Jepson Manual says that this is a rare species, growing in heavy, often clayey soils. It is a succulent perennial that sends up groups of stems 12" to 14" tall from a corm. There did not seem to be much of a basal rosette, but the small cauline leaves were quite linear. They obviously had not been blooming long, but there were some yellow flowers that I could photograph. Maybe I'll go back in a few weeks and see if they have developed more.
This was a fairly quick hike up from Baldy Notch to Thunder Mt to look for the blooming woolly mountain parsley (Oreonana vestita) that Jane Strong had told me she saw up there recently. I have been looking to see this species in bloom for several years but never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I think one of the problems has been Munz's giving June to July as the bloom time, so that is when I have been looking for it. I was no more successful today, the bloom obviously having been over for at least some time, so next year I will have to start in early May and see if I can get it.
There was a good bloom on the pine lousewort (Pedicularis semibarbata) and the San Gabriel linanthus (Linanthus concinnus), the latter of which is an exceptionally beautiful flower, but there wasn't much else of interest to see today.