Archive for May, 2011

Missing Mariposa

May 23, 2011

I went looking for Mariposa lilies yesterday. I hoped to find a yellow Mariposa (Calochortus luteus) which I’d only seen on Arroyo Burro Rd. And only once, last year in June.

Sadly I did not find it.

I remember where it was last year, and I didn’t see it. Maybe it wasn’t blooming yet? Perhaps I should come back in a couple of week?

Still… Two other mariposas were blooming, and it was a beautiful morning. As I biked up Painted Cave I could see the clouds spilling over the mountains and, as I neared the top myself, I plunged into a dense cloud. Camino Cielo itself was alternately foggy and clear as I popped in and out of the cloud, sometimes above, sometimes within.

The mountains stretched away like a chain of islands.

But Arroyo Burro takes off from a low place on the road, and it looked more like this.

I got to the trailhead early, and waited to see if anyone would join me. To my amusement, another group showed up instead. They had also chosen to start here, at the same time, to look for wildflowers, but they were only going on the trail while I intended to make a big loop going down the road and then up the trail (Map). We chatted a bit, and they offered me a species list of plants on the trail they had drawn up (which proved helpful later in identifying a pea-family plant).

At the top of Arroyo Burro there is a shooting range. And it was very noisy just then. It sounded to me as though someone had an automatic weapon (or something of that nature) as there would be bursts of 10~20 shots extremely close together. It’s kind of intimidating to walk down a road with that going on behind you.

As I went down, the fog closed in around me. Santa Barbara was fogless when I set out, but the Santa Ynez valley was under a blanket of cloud. I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of wildflowers on the road up here, being more interested in the valley below, but I wanted to walk the road early and not when it was in the full sun of noon.

On the side of the road were some small white flowers. They look like Clarkias. But there aren’t any white Clarkias. I don’t know what to make of them. I’ve been seeing them moderately frequently this year. C. epilobiodes

A little further on were some fairy lanterns — the first mariposa lilies for today. They were in a little rocky grotto protected by a stand of poison oak. These seem to be our earliest (mariposa) bloomers, and currently are our most common member of the genus — they grow down in the Santa Ynez valley and all the way up to Camino Cielo. I’ve even seen them spill over on to the front side — there are a few across from the Painted Cave.

The fog becomes denser as I descend. I’m in my own little world now with nothing to bother me save the intermittent sound of automatic weapons firing. (How far can a bullet go if it misses a target?)

There’s some pitcher sage here. I like pitcher sage. It’s such an odd looking thing. I see pantaloons when I look at the blooms. But I’ve never seen it east of this trail. Yet Calflora says it goes as far east as Ventura and LA. A mystery.

A little further down is a star lily. These are finished in the front country — I saw the last scraggly bloom at the end of April, but here they are still going strong; indeed, I’ve passed one which was just budding. It always surprises me how differently things bloom in the front and back countries.

Then I hear running steps behind me; I turn and see a person running out of the mist with a small child running beside her. As she approaches the person resolves into Kim and the small child turns out to be a large dog.

Nothing very interesting shows on the side of the road for a while. There are lots of tarweeds, but I can’t tell them apart. There’s some Yerba Santa, but it isn’t blooming yet. There’s wedge-leaved horkia, but that’s a plant whose most interesting attribute is its name.

Finally we get down to Mattias trail and I make a little detour down it for a mile or so. The trail has suffered a couple of mudslides since last year, but is basically passable. I’m hoping to see some clay mariposas and chick lupines out here. I do see some soap lilies (but they don’t bloom until evening) and some wine cups (but they don’t bloom because it’s too cold and foggy).

Oddly, the dog seems very confused by this trail. He doesn’t like the mudslides. He stops at them. I’m not sure why; they are perfectly solid now; it’s just that the footing is a bit uneven. Little streams cut across the path in a couple of places; these seem to disturb him as well. He doesn’t understand that this stuff is water, Kim has to hold some up to him in her hand before he’ll drink. Then he finally gets it and starts lapping from the stream. “You can lead a dog to water…”

Eventually we reach some mariposas. But, like the wine cups, they aren’t completely open. Still, their outsides are nice. Ah, and here is one that is beginning to open.

There are some arroyo lupine around, but those are boring, they show up everywhere.

Just when I’m thinking that it is time to turn back, I see some chick lupine.

I’ve only seen this species here and at the base of Arroyo Burro trail. It’s the only yellow lupine I know (only one in SB, that is), and it looks a little odd to me.

The stem comes out of the blooms a little off center. It looks odd (as I said), but … I’m not sure I’ve ever paid attention to where the stem is on other lupine species …

So now we turn back, having seen what I wanted to see out here. The dog continues to find the trail a little strange.

When we get back to the trailhead Kim has to go back, so she’ll go up the road to Camino Cielo and I’ll proceed down for another mile or so.

I turn round and realize that here, the Yerba Santa is blooming. Up at the top of the road it was not. I’ve come down from about 3000ft+ to about 1800ft in elevation. It seems to make a difference.

There are Clarkias blooming here (normal pink ones, not just the questionable white ones), and Chaparral Yucca, but no sign of a yellow mariposa. Ah well.

The trail comes in on the left, and here I see (again) clay mariposas and chick lupine. Then I cross a little stream and head up the trail.

The trail is shady (not that it’s sunny yet, but there’s a bit more light now) and goes up beside the stream for several miles. It’s a pleasant walk.

A strange plant is growing beside the trail (strange to me, that is). It’s almost certainly in the pea family, with a flower like a milkvetch and a leaf like a giant clover. Thanks to my species list I see it is “California Tea”.

There are a lot of Chinese houses here, and one white one. I found one here last year and that looked like “white blue-eyed mary”, but this one just looks like a white variant of Chinese Houses. Dunno.

A few variable Lianthus, but they are also all curled up on themselves until the day brightens. A seed pod from shunkbush.

At a stream crossing I find the other group eating lunch.

A little further up are some Mission Stars. These finished more than a month ago in the front country (and around Forbush too), but here are several plants, still blooming strongly.

And stretching across the trail is a frond containing the seed-pods of some kind of Fritillary. Now my species guide only lists Fritillaria ojaiensis — which is not one I’ve seen before, and is considered endangered by CNS. I’ll have to remember to come back here next March and see if I can find it blooming.

The trail climbs away from the creek now, and out into the sun (and there is sun!)

As it does so, it passes through several stands of larkspur; two different species, probably. To me it looks like pale larkspur and purple larkspur, but that doesn’t agree with the species list, so I may be wrong.

I can hear shots again.

And I come out onto the road; unlock the bike, and ride away.


Then and now

May 5, 2011

The Jesusita fire started on 5 May 2009. Two years ago today. The original blaze was near Inspiration Peak, the summit of the Jesusita trail.

The trailhead was under evacuation orders until 13 May, and the trail itself was closed until November.

I try to compare the state of the trail as it was when I first saw it after the fire with how it is now.

The fire itself, 6 May 2009, and no fire on 3 May 2011.

The trailhead, then and now.
After the blaze there are the bare tree trunks and a general lack of vegetation, in the background the trees still have leaves, but these are dead, cooked. Now the area is covered with thistles and poison hemlock. There is an elderberry bush blooming where the trail turns. Many, but not all, of the oaks are covered with new leaves.

Another view of the start of the trail (I could not figure out precisely where this one was taken so the second photo gives a general feel as to the current situation rather than a precise comparison).

In the old shot many of the trees are leafless, those with leaves are covered with dead, dry leaves — the fire did not reach them, but the heat did.

In the current shot the trees seem a little odd looking, but basically healthy. And grass and wildflowers have taken over the hillside.

In the spring of 2010 there was a mass bloom of arroyo lupines — such mass blooms are common after fires, the earth is cleared of competition and the ash provides nutrients.

In the spring of 2011 there were almost no lupines (I found only one in this area). I did examine the area in Feb 2011 but failed to take a photo then. It didn’t look much different than it does here, there was no mass bloom then either.

Oak trees.
Immediately after the fire the trees and shrubs were either completely bare or covered with dead, “cooked” leaves. Many shrubs and trees produced new shoots from the ground after the fire, but the oaks did not.

After 6 months they started to produce new leaves in small clumps off the main trunks. (I mistook this for mistletoe for a while and worried the tree was dead).

Two years on some trees seem almost completely recovered while some (such as the one on the far right) still have major branches which appear dead.

Even though the sycamores grow on the edge of the stream bed (where I assume the fire would be less intense) they seem to have suffered more than the oaks. Very few of the old trees have any leaves on them today, but from their base new saplings have sprouted.

I’m pretty sure this is the same tree, though taken from a different angle and a different scale. The shouts are bigger in 2011 and the bark has almost completely flaked off the tree…

Bay Laurel
The laurels put out basal shoots while the tops appeared dead. Now the basal shoots are growing well, and — in some cases at least — the old trunks have come back to life.

A pleasant oak grove with a carpeting of oxalis.
There were no living leaves on the oaks in 2009, while there are in 2011. But there is also the fallen trunk (in 2011) of a dead oak.

Two panoramas of the hillside across from the trail (not quite from the same point, I fear).
The top hillside is denuded of vegetation, the bottom is covered with it. At a higher resolution you would see the blooms of bindweed all over it.

There aren’t many wildflowers in November even without a fire, so I was pleased when I saw these wild cucumbers had come out. Purple nightshade was also blooming then, but that was about it. Now there is a riot of blooms.

The trail after the first ridgeline.

Just before the fire road near the top.

A little further on (this is actually looking backwards).

Looking down toward the Mesa and Hope Ranch. Barren hillsides on the left, vegetated hills on the right.

At ground level at the top the sky is covered with a maze of dead branches. On the left a few fronds of chamise spring from the old roots. On the right the branches are still dead but the shoots are bigger and rock-roses have colonized the soil.

Panorama from the top of Inspiration looking northwest.

In July of 2010 there was another mass bloom of these Late-Blooming Mariposa Lilies. It’s too early to take a comparable shot for 2011…

Someone else had a similar idea…