San Andreas Fault at Wallace Creek

We drove to the Carrizo Plain to see the wildflower bloom, so an opportunity to see visible effects of the San Andreas fault was an unexpected bonus. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake on the San Andreas fault led to fires that burned much of San Francisco.

According to a geology tour brochure from the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the San Andreas fault is about 700 miles long, and it’s “the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates.” The land on each side of the fault has slipped sideways as the tectonic plates moved, and you can see this at Carrizo Plain.

In the above aerial view from Google Earth, the red arrow points to where Wallace Creek crosses the San Andreas fault. The diagonal line running parallel to the Temblor Range is the San Andreas fault. From wikipedia, temblor is “from the Spanish word for ‘earthquake’ (terremoto)”.

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Wildflowers of Carrizo Plain

After the heavy rains that ended California’s five-year drought, our state’s wildflowers have made a comeback. Enjoying last year’s superbloom at Death Valley, we visited the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a premier place for California wildflowers. Shown above, coreopsis and fiddleheads bloom above Soda Lake, an alkaline lake ringed by salt. Reflected in Soda Lake, the Temblor Range is painted with swaths of wildflowers. I can see an impressionist painter splashing bold strokes of color on the canvas.

When rain falls, the water dissolves salts from the soil and usually flows to the ocean, already salty from past rain. Like Death Valley, Carrizo Plain has no outlet for rainwater, so water collects in the lowest spots and evaporates, leaving behind salts. Invasive plants struggle with this salty environment, while native plants that evolved here flourish without invasive competition. Consequently, Carrizo Plain has vast fields of California native plants and their spring blooms.

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Our 2016 Mojave Desert Road Trip

In February 2016 we took a road trip through the Mojave Desert: hiking and looking at wildflowers and pretty rocks. This post summarizes the road trip and has links to our posts for the road trip.

Here’s the google map we made as we planned our trip. From the San Francisco Bay Area, we drove Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park in time to see the superbloom, and the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster.

Our Mojave Desert road trip
Our Mojave Desert road trip

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In Search of Poppies

After leaving Death Valley, we drove to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster, California. The park website says that poppies start blooming in mid-February, but this year the early bloomers got cut down by a frost. Finding poppies there would be a long shot, but Death Valley was too far to comfortably drive home in one day, so we stayed with our plan and saw the poppy reserve.

After driving over 200 miles, we arrived at the Reserve and saw the green hills shown above. A few poppy plants are blooming on the bank next to the parking lot — poppies have orange flowers. A couple returning to the parking lot said these poppies were as good as any poppies they found in the hills. On March 10, the park service posted “generally late March to mid-April is the best bloom”, but that didn’t help us in late February.

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Death Valley: Wildflowers of the Panamint Range

After enjoying the 2016 superbloom at Death Valley, we crossed the Panamint Range to go to the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve near Los Angeles. On the way, we hoped to find the cotton-top cactus, like the ones my wife spotted above Mosaic Canyon. According to Mojave Desert Wildflowers, the cotton-top cactus “occupies rocky slopes and ridges from 2,000 feet to 5,000 feet”, and we would drive through this zone.

On the west side of the Panamint Range, we saw some pink clumps. We pulled off the road and walked up the hillside. We were rewarded with new wildflowers that we hadn’t seen at Badwater Road and Beatty Cutoff Road.

Above, a car speeds past notch-leaf phacelias (phacelia crenulata). At a shutter speed of 1/40 second, the speeding car is a blur behind the phacelia. Click on any photo to view a larger image. All plants are California natives. Plant descriptions are from Mojave Desert Wildflowers.

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Death Valley: Wildflowers of Badwater Road

Although Death Valley averages only 2″ of rain a year, California native plants have adapted and put forth beautiful blooms when it rains. In October 2015, a large rainstorm at the south end of the park washed out the road. On February 18, as part of our Mojave Desert road trip, we drove to the south end of Badwater Road to see the resulting wildflower ‘superbloom‘.

This post covers the wildflowers we saw at the south end of Death Valley, such as the desert five-spot shown above. All these plants are part of the creosote bush scrub community. The terrain is dominated by creosote bush and is flat, covering most of the valley floor and alluvial fan.

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Death Valley: Superbloom of 2016

We wanted to see and photograph wildflowers at Death Valley National Park, but the wind blew very hard our first sunset and sunrise at the park. For a sharp photo, the flower has to be motionless, not a blur as it whips back and forth in the wind.

The wind died down in the morning while we hiked Golden Canyon, so after lunch we drove more than an hour south to the end of Badwater Road, where the best wildflowers were reported to be. Death Valley usually gets only 2″ of rain a year. Record rains last October washed out the road to Badwater from the east, and that storm triggered the best wildflower bloom since 2005, according to the New York Times.

Shown above, a plain of desert gold flowers is the face of the Death Valley superbloom — fields of desert gold or desert sunflower (geraea canescens), with the Amargosa Range in the background.

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