Bear Valley Road in the Drought, 04-12-21

I got up a little before 6:00 this morning to get everything ready to go out with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne Moger, to Bear Valley Road.

On this trip, we took my dog Esteban with us. He traveled in his soft crate (which takes up most of the back seat) and his pillow, and got out for potty breaks and lunch along the way. He was about 90% good during the trip, only melting down once when we stopped to look at wildflowers along the roadside, and I made him stay in the car.   

After stopping to get some coffee for breakfast, we headed up Interstate 5 (I5) toward the town of Williams, and then cut across toward the foothills on Highway 20. All along the way, we were struck by the fact that we weren’t seeing many wildflowers at all. Usually, this time of year, there are lupines everywhere. We were seeing nothing.

Here’s some of what we saw last year:

In a normal rainy season here, we get about 20 inches of rain. This year we only got 6.58 inches… Everything is super dry, which cut the wildflower season down to nothing. We were certainly seeing that as we drove along.

Off of Highway 20 on the entrance to Bear Valley Road there’s a corral. Usually, around and in the corral we see lots of Tidy Tips, Pepperweed, and Blow Wives. Once again, here we saw next to nothing today. There were minimal flowers and most of the Pepperweed looked like it was used up and going dry. It was very shocking and disappointing.

There were some spots along the road that held little outcroppings of wild onions, lupine, paintbrush, and lots of Q-Tips. I was hoping to find at least one jewelflower plant but — nuthin’.

What seemed to have weathered the drought was the dodder. We saw hillsides covered with the stuff.

Dodder is a kind of parasitic plant (that’s related to morning glories).  I think the stuff is very interesting to look at; it feels like thin strands of rubber. 

Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica

Here’s what the Encyclopedia Britannica says:

            “…The dodder contains no chlorophyll and instead absorbs food through haustoria; these are rootlike organs that penetrate the tissue of a host plant and may kill it. The slender, stringlike stems of the dodder may be yellow, orange, pink, or brown in color… The dodder’s seed germinates, forming an anchoring root, and then sends up a slender stem that grows in a spiral fashion until it reaches a host plant. It then twines around the stem of the host plant and throws out haustoria, which penetrate it. Water is drawn through the haustoria from the host plant’s stem and xylem, and nutriments are drawn from its phloem. Meanwhile, the root of the dodder rots away after stem contact has been made with a host plant. As the dodder grows, it sends out new haustoria and establishes itself very firmly on the host plant. After growing in a few spirals around one host shoot, the dodder finds its way to another, and it continues to twine and branch until it resembles a fine, densely tangled web of thin stems enveloping the host plant…”

Rox and I were able to get photos not only of the dodder strands, but of the haustoria as well. It’s an invasive species, I know, but still think it’s so fascinating!  The plant gets tiny white flowers on it, but we didn’t see any in bloom.

We did see the tamarisk trees blooming.  Those trees, also called Saltcedar, are beautiful, showing off thousands of pale pink flowers, but they’re also invasive. They take over the areas where they grow and dump tons of salt into the ground and waterways.

Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima

There were quite a few growing along Bear Creek, especially near the Wilbur Hot Springs.  (The springs and surrounding preserve are open to guests by reservation only.) The hot mineral springs create a milky look to the adjacent creek waters.  We found a nice stand of phacelia there, and I wondered if the spring had anything to do with that.

A little farther down the road, we stopped under a large oak tree and had our lunch in the shade before moving on.

Continuing down Bear Valley Road we came across a cowgirl on horseback with two very well-trained dogs trying to herd some cattle into nearby fields. The dogs looked like Border Collie mixes, and they were trained to verbal commands and to specific whistling. It was neat to watch.

Cowgirl and her trained dogs.

In that same area, there were dozens of Cliff Swallows collecting mud for their nests. They move so fast, it’s really hard for me to get any kind of photo of them.

We also came across a coyote carcass in one of the distant fields that was surrounded by Turkey Vultures and some ravens. It was difficult to get any clear photos of them because of their distance from the car and the heat-waves rising from the car and ground. But it was very cool to see.

When we got to the property where we normally view the wildflowers we were stunned to see the whole thing mowed flat to the ground. The only flowers were those outside of the fence line. It was just emotionally crushing to me to see all that virtually barren ground; so disappointing.

Even though we only saw small smatterings of flowers, I still ended up with a pretty good list of individual species, so even though the empty field was disappointing, I felt the trip as a whole was worthwhile. And my dog was with me and the company was nice. 😊✨

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Driving back past where the coyote carcass was, we were surprised to see a juvenile Bald Eagle poking at the carcass. I couldn’t get my camera up and focused fast enough before the eagle was driven off by Ravens.  Dang it!

We passed the cowgirl and her dogs once again, and they were working on another small herd of cattle, trying to get the beasts to go down the side of the road. One of the caws jumped the metal guard on the side of the road, and the dogs went after it, nipping at its heals and legs until it re-jumped the guard and returned to its fellows. Once the cattle were safely out of the car’s way, we drove past them and headed back home.

We were out for about nine hours, but because we spent much of that in the car, I didn’t count this outing toward my #53HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  2. Beaked Hazelnut Tree, Corylus cornuta
  3. Bee Fly, Family: Bombyliidae
  4. Birchleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus betuloides
  5. Bird’s-Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor
  6. Blow Wives, Soft Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis [rounded ends]
  7. Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus
  8. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  9. Blue-eyed Marys, Collinsia sp.
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bristly Fiddleneck, Amsinckia tessellata
  12. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  13. Bush Lupine, Silver Lupine, Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons
  14. California Ash, Fraxinus dipetala
  15. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  16. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymosa
  17. Cattle, Bos taurus
  18. Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum
  19. Chia, Salvia columbariae [roundish, purple]
  20. Chinese Houses, Purple Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla
  21. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  22. Common Manzanita, Arctostaphylos manzanita
  23. Coyote, Canis latrans
  24. Creamcups, Platystemon californicus
  25. Deervetch, Foothill Deervetch, Acmispon brachycarpus
  26. Deerweed, Rockpea, Ottleya rigida
  27. Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica
  28. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  29. Dot-Seed Plantain, Plantago erecta
  30. False Babystars, Leptosiphon androsaceus
  31. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  32. Fringepod, Sand Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes
  33. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  34. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
  35. Goldpoppy, Eschscholzia parishii
  36. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  37. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  38. Horse, Equus caballus
  39. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  40. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  41. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  42. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  43. Lomatium, Foothill Desert-Parsley, Lomatium utriculatum
  44. Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
  45. Lupine, Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus
  46. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  47. Metallic Wood Boring Beetle, Acmaeodera labyrinthica
  48. Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris heterophylla
  49. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  50. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  51. Narrowleaf Onion, Allium amplectens [white flower]
  52. Nightshade, Parish’s Nightshade, Solanum parishii
  53. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  54. Phacelia, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia [bluish purple]
  55. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  56. Pineapple-Weed, Matricaria discoidea
  57. Popcorn Flower, Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus [tiny]
  58. Purple Owl’s-Clover, Castilleja exserta
  59. Q-Tips, Micropus californicus
  60. Red Mite, Superorder: Acariformes
  61. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  62. Rufous-Crowned Sparrow, Aimophila ruficeps
  63. Seablush, Shortspur Seablush, Plectritis congesta
  64. Shining Pepperweed, Lepidium nitidum
  65. Silverpuffs, Uropappus lindleyi [like blow wives but with pointed ends]
  66. Strap Flame Lichen, Dufourea ligulata [dark orange]
  67. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  68. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  69. Tidytips, Frémont’s Tidytips, Layia fremontii
  70. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor [green puffball with pink flowers]
  71. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  72. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  73. Two-Spotted Grass Bug, Stenotus binotatus [small, yellow and black]
  74. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  75. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  77. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  78. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  79. Western Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum
  80. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  81. Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
  82. Woolly Desert Dandelion, Malacothrix floccifera [white with yellow center]
  83. Woolly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa
  84. Woollyfruit Desert Parsley, Lomatium dasycarpum
  85. Yellow Sweetclover, Small Melilot, Melilotus indicus
  86. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum