Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yosemite wildflowers, weeds, and naturalized invaders

After the stellar floral performance at Death Valley I had high hopes for Yosemite as well. There were already blooms in motion when we got here in early April, some I'd seen elsewhere and some new. Early on, I went out to the Hite Cove Trail, known as being one of the best for wildflowers, and stayed on it that day until the crowds got too thick and the display thinned. Later I was told it was a poor year for Yosemite flowers, that in good years entire hillsides are covered in California poppies, which surprised me because it seemed like there was a lot to see.

So, in no particular order of bloom, here are some of my favorites. It's been pointed out to me that if I can't identify what I call wildflowers, which to me means anything in bloom in fields and along the road, it could be that they're considered weeds or have naturalized from people's gardens. 

This must be a weed, just like the one following it, because it's not in my book.

This pretty thing blooms near the one above. 

Most likely a Bruneau Marispoa lily, Calochortus bruneaunis.

Harvest brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans. Sierra Indians relied on all the brodiaea for food. The bulbs were dug early in the spring and steamed, roasted, or eaten raw. The flavor is sweet and nutty, not unlike water chestnuts. Or so it's been written.

There were a lot of these golden dragonflies on the Hite Cove Trail when I went in early April. 

Also several moths foraging -

One of my favorites, the delightful fairy lantern or white globe lily, Calochortus albus. Inside the flower, at the base of the three petals, are tiny nectar glands that attract pollinators. Above the nectar glands are silky hairs that gently brush pollen off a visiting insect, pollinating the plant. There are fourteen species of this plant in the Sierra.

This, surprisingly, is the beginning of the seed pod for the fairy lantern. How it goes from the tender, fragile globe above to this succulent-like lobed structure would be an interesting progression to watch.

A mystery from last year's bloom.

This is Mustang clover, Linanthus montanus. It's not in the clover family, but you can see the similarity to clover in the dense head from which the flowers form.

Dried remnants of some flower from last year, like a candelabra.

I don't know this one. It's not a good photo but all there is of this little butterfly-looking flower.

Blazing star, Mentzelia lindleyi crocea. I've seen large patches of it on hillsides along my commute - what a traffic stopper!

Simple dried grasses have elegant forms, like a classic ballerina pose.

This is an annual poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa. It's similar to the California poppy, E. Californica, the state flower, which is larger, more robust, and has a prominent red ridge at the base of the petals. All California poppies close at night and on cloudy days, presumably to prevent the pollen from getting wet.

This Western Blue Flag, Iris missouriensis, was along the highway I sometimes walk to work, just one lone flower, always in shade, and I took a million photos in hope of getting one usable one. Later, more bloomed in the same area but they were still always in deep shade, so this took some processing time to lighten it and give it contrast.

When an insect lands on a sepal, it crawls into the center of the plant toward the nectar, brushing against the style and thus rubbing another plant's pollen onto it as it picks up a new load. Some Native Americans used the leaves, woven into mats and lined with cattail "down" for baby diapers.

Pine violet, Viola lobata. These are sparse, at least where I've seen them. The description in my book says the lowest petal extends into a spur that holds the nectary gland, with the veins acting as nectar guides in the same way as the veins do on iris blossoms.

One of my favorite photos is this one of a backlit succulent about the size of a silver dollar.

There are many flowers I have difficulty identifying. They look similar to what's in my book but sometimes not a perfect match. This is one of them. It may be a Smooth Woodland Star, Lithophragma glabrum. I just give up after a while.

Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophilia menziesii. The explorer John C. Fremont wrote that "the blue fields of nemophilia and the golden poppy represent fairly the skies and gold of California."

At first glance this looks much like Baby Blue Eyes but, nope.

Possibly Mountain Jewelflower, Streptanthus tortuosus. 

Here is Twining brodiaea, Brodiaea volubilis, an amazing plant that twines around other plants to four or five feet. It will continue to twine, grow, and bloom even if severed at the base.

This unusual plant is Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, and is named for John Clayton, and early American botanist who collected plant specimens in Virginia. Which doesn't explain why this California plant is named for him. Its leaves are edible and are eaten as a salad. Good to know!

Not sure about this one, either, but the color! Just eat it with a spoon.

Maybe a monkeyflower. Sure is pretty, whatever it is.

Chinese houses, Collinsia heterophylla, are some of the most unusual flowers I've encountered. Can you see how the tiers might resemble a pagoda? 

This is heartleaf or purple milkweed, asclepias cordfolia. What's interesting about this plant is that it doesn't turn its face to the sun; it droops at about 45 degrees. It could have been given a name that includes penta, because of its five sepals, five petals, and five concave hoods. Native Americans extracted material from this milkweed to make rope; the plant was also used as a contraceptive and a snakebite remedy. Larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on its leaves. I've seen fewer than a dozen monarchs here. I hope there are lots of larvae munching away.

Farewell-to-spring, Clarkia williamsonii, is so named due to its late spring flowering. We have seen acres of hillsides in a wash of pink from these flowers.

One day, it seemed, these flowers popped up out of nowhere. They occur in large stands, not as individual flowers, and remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss. They're a variety of Argemone, a prickly poppy, but I can't tell which one. Most of the prickly poppies I've seen described say they're 2-3 feet tall. All of these are 5-6 feet.

Live-forever, Dudleya cymosa, is a succulent perennial that I saw coming out of almost bare rock along a road I walk between home and work. They were in poor show this year and this is the best I could do. I'd heard of this plant and so was glad to see one. 

Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia. I think. Or caterpillar plant.

There are more in my arsenal. Be warned.


Thought of the day: 

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. - Doug Larson

Saturday, June 6, 2015

East of the Sierra again

Yesterday we had huge, gigantic plans to go over Tioga Pass and see half a dozen things before coming back. We always do this and we never manage to get it all done. I think we saw about half of the list and it was still worth the drive.

Outside the fee station on the east side of the park is this lovely view. There were no cars lined up to get into or out of the park, and only one other car at the pullout, a far cry from a couple of weeks ago.

There's still a good distance to drive after leaving the park on the way to Highway 395 that runs north and south. It's the same road that Manzanar is on, south of here. 

Clouds were gathering over the Sierra. I love how the sky looks when they gather over the mountains.

I heard a Ranger at Yosemite say there is no such thing as the Sierras, or the Sierra Nevadas. It's just the Sierra. The name comes from the Spanish, meaning snowy mountain range. From this website comes a lively discussion on the irritation Sierra-philes feel with the pluralization of any part of the name. It also summarizes the history of the name

The great mountain range that dominates Tulare County has a Spanish name. The title dates back to April 1776, when a Spanish soldier named Pedro Font pushed inland from newly discovered San Francisco Bay and saw a range of high mountains far to the east.
Describing what he saw, he mapped the feature as una gran sierra nevada - literally "a big snowy mountain range." The name stuck. We still use it more than two centuries later.
Notice that Font, on that first day of European awareness of California's biggest mountains, got something very basic right. He grasped on that long ago day that California's Sierra Nevada was a single, continuous entity. This is why he called it the Sierra Nevada. If he had thought of it a complex of mountain ranges, he could have used the plural form: las sierras nevadas. But he didn't.
The Spanish language habit of calling a mountain ridge a sierra dates back a very long time. The word originally meant "serrated," and thus also came to mean "saw blade." 

One reason our eyes are always bigger than our accomplishments is we have never met a side road we didn't like. The plan was to drive directly to Devils Postpile National Monument but when I saw the June Lake Loop road approaching and asked HH, "OK?" and he said "Of course!" our itinerary was doomed.

The loop road not only goes by June Lake, but also Grant, Silver, and Gull Lakes. It's a resort community tucked away from the highway and the busyness of Yosemite, and altogether as pretty. There are many campgrounds along the loop, most of them on one of the lakes or another, and fishing must be good because anglers were out all over.

After driving the loop we continued south on 395 to the turnoff for Mammoth Lakes, Devils Postpile, and Rainbow Falls. Just before the entrance station to the Postpile and Falls is a turnoff to the viewpoint for the Minarets, peaks off in the distance. 

I like old interpretive signs. At least I think it's an old one; the newer ones are slick and colorful. This etched metal sign is classic.

Here is a far-off view of the Minarets, to the right of center. 

And here is a closer view. Because sierra means serrated or sawtooth, the term could also be used for that small part of the range if someone hadn't made the fanciful connection to Arabic architecture. According to Wikipedia, the minarets collectively form an arête, an almost knife-like ridge of rock which is typically formed when two glaciers erode parallel U-shaped valleys. They're a prominent feature of Ansel Adams Wilderness, formerly called Minaret Wilderness. Oh, the stuff I learn when I write this blog.

In the opposite direction is Mammoth Mountain, a ski area when they get snow. You can see the lift line on the far left slope and between the two peaks on the left. More WikipediaMammoth Mountain was formed in a series of eruptions that ended 57,000 years ago. However, Mammoth still produces hazardous volcanic gases that kill trees and caused ski patroller fatalities in 2006.

Here's something else I love about the old interpretive displays. At the top of the pole is a metal pipe that's parallel to the ground. Pivot the pointer to the sight you want to see, look through the pipe, and there it is. Old school, low tech, and eminently useful.

After I got to use my new Golden Age Pass at the fee station, thanks to being eligible for Social Security, we drove to the parking area for the Devils Postpile. It's a different kind of geologic feature that I haven't seen outside of this part of California, volcanic in origin, unbelievably hot conditions that slowly cooled, creating geometric columns. 

In 1910 mining interests wanted to blast this area in order to dam the San Joaquin River. Thanks to a few good men, President Taft named Devils Postpile a National Monument in 1911, quick work when you think about the glacial pace of most government work. 

Isn't that amazing? There are areas of tortured rock in Death Valley that go against everything you think you know about rock not being bendable, and here's another graphic example.

When we drove over Sonora Pass a couple of weeks ago I made a quick turn into a parking lot labeled with the sign Columns of the Giant - too good a name to pass up. It's another example of the same ancient rock formations as the Postpile, but here there are no prohibitions against climbing:

Almost back to the parking area was a pretty framed scene of river, greenery, mountain, and clouds. There were people fishing along the river, a nice place and way to spend the day.

After returning from the short walk to the Devils Postpile we drove a little farther down the road to the trailhead for Rainbow Falls.

The Rainbow Fire blew its way through the area in 1992, ultimately burning 8,000 acres of dense forest. It seems renewal has been slow, but a nearby sign says sun-loving ferns, herbs, and berries are providing food for a variety of animals, who themselves are food for animals up the food chain. The sign also said that prior to settlers moving in, fires occurred every eight to thirty years, but due to grazing, fire suppression, and the decline of the Native American population (which regularly burned off the land) fuel in this area had accumulated for 117 years, contributing to the severity of the blaze.

I found the stark landscape photogenic...

...and had fun with forced perspective. You've seen photos of people holding up the Tower of Pisa? This highly sculpted tree trunk held a mountain top in its pincer grasp.

It was an interesting fire-made totem and I told myself I'd stop on my way back from the falls to get more photos, but I was getting rained on by then and didn't linger.

Here was the goal at the end of a mile-and-a-quarter walk. The 101-foot Rainbow Falls is so called because at midday a rainbow arcs across the mist just above the river. It wasn't a day for sunshine and rainbows but the falls were beautiful nonetheless.

The tiny side falls are especially pretty.

The walk back to the trailhead was uphill. What is it with this country? Even though it was just over a mile, the elevation is in the neighborhood of 8,000 feet and I felt every step.

We continued to Mammoth Lakes for lunch, then decided to go home. Bishop, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest, were another 45 minutes south and the day was getting late. There's so much to see on that side of the Sierra so we know there are more trips we need to make across the mountains.

The clouds continued to move in and we drove into rain, and then snow, as we approached Tioga Pass.

The ranger at the entrance station welcomed us with a Merry Christmas, also saying that there was no snow all winter and this is June in the Sierra.

Note the temperature: 34 degrees at 10,000 feet. By the time we got home, the temperature was back to about 75 and the house air conditioner was going full blast.


Thought of the day: