Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Last wildflower hunt

I went on my final wildflower hunt on Sunday. This is my last week at work and we hope to be on the road to Yosemite by Sunday at the latest. I don't regret leaving here now as much as I would if it were cooler, but when the temp is in the high 90s and I don't want to be out in it, it's time to move on. I look forward to Yosemite bringing its own crop of wildflowers.

When I found the first big crop of flowers several weeks ago, they were at sea level. The sphinx moth caterpillars have wiped out the sand verbena, according to the park's Facebook page, and what the caterpillars haven't eaten the heat has killed off; March 27 saw a heat record here, at 105 degrees. The air conditioner in the house goes nonstop; I tell people I live in a tin can and it's never more apparent than when the sun makes its way overhead.

Oh, and the a/c? Last week, when HH was in the hospital and family had come for a visit at the same time, and while I was shuttling between the park and Las Vegas, the a/c went out. Not one of the first half-dozen or so shops I talked to would come out to the park. For various reasons I couldn't take the house to them, but I finally found one guy who would come, at $3 a mile just to get here ($225), and then add shop charges of $85 an hour. He arrived, went inside, moved the switch to Air, and I heard it start up. I have witnesses that it wouldn't start for me except for a low hum that lasted less than a minute before shutting off. Two hours later (you do the math) I had a functioning air conditioner and all I know about what was wrong was that there was a bit of loose wiring in the thermostat that I replaced a couple of months ago. So he says. Why it worked all that time and then decided to quit, only to heal itself when faced with a guy with a screwdriver, is one of the mysteries of the ages. That was the excitement for the week.

Sunday I went up the road toward Dante's View, to an elevation of between 2500 and 3500 feet. Some of the flowers there were also on the Valley floor, but there were also some new ones and I am missing the names of just a couple.

First, though, I am fascinated by what I call ants with burdens. I've seen these tiny critters moving, with single-minded focus, objects much larger than themselves - mesquite pods, twigs, a stem from a maraschino cherry, and now flowers. You just have to admire them.

This one was moving fast. I could hardly track it fast enough to get two shots off.

All right, on to the flowers. Keep in mind that almost every one of these is less than a half inch across, even as small as a sixteenth of an inch. The very low growing ones are known around here as belly flowers because you have to get on your belly, hopefully with a magnifying lens, to appreciate them.

This is purple mat, Nama demissum.

I love this little one so much I have three photos of it. I think it's called desert star, Monoptilon bellioides.

When I saw desert dandelion a while ago, it was an isolated plant. This week, I saw them in wide, arcing bands of yellow following the curve of the road, and caught like snow drifts between shrubby plants. Here's a reminder of how pretty they are.

Pebble pincushion, Chaenactis carphoclinia, is a complicated dome of open loops and orchid-like flowers.

Like the dandelions, desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, was in good numbers here. The petals are interesting - see how they're fringed in sets of two and three fingers per petal?

This is a new one to me, possibly humble gilia, Linanthus demissus.

This is one of the smallest flowers. It is broad-flowered gilia, Gilia latiflora.

This daisy-like flower is larger than many of the others but is still only an inch or so across.

This is desert gold poppy, Eschscholzia glyptosperma.

I thought this was lesser mohavea, mojavea breviflora, but it's not. The fierce-looking spines are soft. I've read that fuzz helps to protect the plant from heat.

This looks like a forget-me-not but is called Fremont phacelia, Phacelia fremontii here. It's also very small, about 1/4" across.

This is a mystery.

As is this one, but it could be a newly-flowering dandelion.

This is a phacelia that's past its prime. The stems of some phacelias will curl into a spiral as they die. I couldn't find any of those but this one is also interesting.

Mojave asters, Xylorhiza tortifolia, are luminous.

Like asters I found on the North Rim, their petals curl like ribbons as the flower dies.

One heck of a different kind of plant - desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum. I like the inflatum part of the name. The flowers are at the end of slender stems and are no bigger than a speck, as if they know they can't compete with the attraction of the inflatum.

Masses of globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, are showing up along the roads. They were ubiquitous at Petrified Forest, too.

Finally, beavertail cactus, Opuntia basilaris. It looks a lot like prickly pear but has tiny barbed spines instead of the spikes of the prickly pear.

I have a few more flowers from the park, but this is what I found on Sunday. It's all the fun of a treasure hunt when I drive along the road, looking for colors and shapes that I haven't seen before. Regardless of what I find, I always come away with the gold.

Thought of the day:

Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn't color-blind! - Donkey, Shrek