Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Whitewater River

Every time I drive east of Palm Springs, I pass an exit on I-10 called whitewater. If driven up that way before, but never all the way to the Whitewater Preserve. Leon and I were trying new spots for hiking this time around, so we thought we'd give it a try.

When we first arrived, it didn't look like much- lots of mowed grass around an old fish hatchery. The overall effect was like a city park. Eventually we found the trail system, and discovered a lovely bit of wilderness where the mountains meet the desert.

The Whitewater River drains out of the mountains around Big Bear. It's a year-round water source in an otherwise rather arid region. The trail begins by going upstream. Eventually it crosses the river, goes a short distance up a side canyon, and then switchbacks sharply up hill to a plateau overlooking the valley. The weather was just about perfect, and the views were magnificent.

There was not a lot in bloom this late in the season. I'm always a bit disoriented when I venture out in a part of the world that I don't know well- the few blooming plants that I saw were mostly unfamiliar. The pale pink blossom appears to be a composite, possibly related to chickory. Down by the river we saw a few plants with amazing bright orange flowers that I thought might be some sort of Justicia. You would think that such a showy, conspicuous flower would be easy to identify- but so far I've had no luck. Update 11/2/15: the red flowers are Cardinal Monkey Flower, Mimulus cardinalis.  

We didn't see many insects, either. There were a couple of cloudless sulphur butterflies, and a very active little carabid beetle. When we stopped for lunch, a darkling beetle ventured out of its hiding place and started eating a crumb from my sandwich.

I would love to go back at a different time of the year when the insects might be more interesting. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to return in November- it was a beautiful spot in very easy reach of Palm Springs.

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