Spring is coming, and that means that hundreds of thousands of people start thinking about visiting the desert to see the "superbloom." But even in the rare years when it happens, there's a right way and a wrong way to take in the desert flower show. Chris and Alicia offer tips. Plus: a note on Ukraine, and an update on the Dixie Valley Toad. More detail available at the Center for Biological Diversity's website. Episode photo by CA State Parks.
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Bouse Parker: The sun is a giant blow torch aimed at your face. There ain't no shade nowhere. Let's hope you brought enough water. It's time for 90 Miles from Needles, the desert protection podcast with your hosts, Chris Clarke and Alicia Pike.
Chris: Hi, this is Chris. I wanted to start off with a quick note. This episode of 90 miles from needles comes out during an especially troubling time. As we face what can be argued is the first wholesale military invasion in Europe in nearly 80 years, an unprovoked assault on the nation of Ukraine at the behest of the apparently unhinged Vladimir Putin.
We here at 90 miles from needles mourn the inevitable human suffering that will result, and our hearts are with the people of Ukraine and with the Russian people who are bravely speaking up against this outrageous assault on human liberty.
Personally, as a conscription resistor and the husband of a war veteran myself, I'm also keeping in mind the soldiers on both sides who will pay the price for this war, for the rest of their lives, in injury to body, mind, and soul. I have spent my entire life in opposition to the machinery of war in the US, which we have largely used to impose our will on the poor of the world. This Russian war on Ukraine differs only in strategy. like wars conducted by the U S this war is illegitimate and benefits only a scant few at the cost of the suffering of millions
At this point listeners may be asking “what on earth does war in Europe and conflict between the U S and Russia have to do with desert protection?” To which I can only say that there is very little that happens in the world for which the American desert does not pay the price.
troops training for that last European war trampled desert wildlands here to a degree that their tire tracks remain as historical testament to global conflict. The long conflict between the US and the USSR prompted Congress to carve priceless habitat out of desert parks to give away to the mining industry.
The push to divest ourselves of foreign oil has meant new gas, oil, wind, and solar development on intact desert habitat. And then there's this.
Announcer: Nevada USA: this is the valley where the giant mushrooms grow. more atomic bombs have been exploded on these few hundred square miles of desert than on any other spot on the globe. little bombs. Big bombs. Low bursts and high bursts.
These colossal blasts have echoed across the great barrier and the stretches of the Southwest, this testing ground in our own backyard
Chris: The film from which we lifted that audio was called a target and Nevada, that's not particularly subtle, is it?
The title of this episode where have all the flowers gone as a double meaning that we'll be playing to listeners of a certain age?
Yes. We will be talking about desert flowers as an ecological and social phenomenon, but our title is also the title of a 1950s era anti-war song by Pete Seeger, which he adopted from a traditional Russian folk story. That song, though desperately in need of an update to the outdated lyrics, remains a fitting commentary on the pointlessness of war.
More to the point though, the connection between protecting the desert and opposing war is not just a literary metaphor in a folk song. It is not just an accident of history.
The war on Ukraine is the war on the desert is the war on brown people is the war on women is the war by police on black Americans is the war on free speech is the war on voting rights
again, personally? I don't think you can really effectively oppose just a handful of those at a time.
We send our best wishes to all the people, human and otherwise suffering in all the wars. we'll be right back.
Chris: Hi, welcome to 90 miles from needles. I'm Chris Clarke.
Alicia: I'm Alicia Pike,
Chris: and we are coming to you from our newly put together makeshift studio with a couple of guest stars, namely the canine companions Heart and Dos.
Alicia: I believe you can hear Dos's heavy breathing in the background.
Chris: Yeah, he's asleep. He's not being creepy.
And because it's a makeshift studio and because we don't have anybody to keep the dogs outside and happy, you will hear them periodically making little background noises through this podcast. And we're fine with that. And we hope you are too.
Yeah, we sure hope you are.
Chris: And I should say that this recording is the first in the actual studio that we put together And I am going to need to rethink my choice of chair because there's some chair creak noise, but I heard it.
Alicia: I couldn't tell if that was oh,
Chris: and there's a velociraptor outside.
Alicia: Is that your chair squeaking
Chris: there? I think it's yours.
Alicia: Yep. That's yours. All right, well, I'll just try not to move
Chris: well, animated is good. So I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'll clean it up a little bit
Alicia: get out the WD 40.
Chris: Yep. Remember when we were talking to Patrick Donnelly from the center for biological diversity about his campaign to save the Dixie valley towed from a geothermal plant in the middle of Nevada?
Chris: We have an update on that turns out and it's not all good news, I'm sad to say. After we talked to Patrick plant construction started, and that was because the ninth circuit court of appeals stayed an injunction a lower court had given to fans of the toad. And so they are starting construction.
Alicia: Eesh. Patrick did mention that it wasn't the actual construction that's going to affect the toad. It's the plant operation. So they're allowed to start building.
Chris: Right. And you can listen to that episode. It's episode two of season one on the Dixie valley toad, but there is some good news, which is that the center for biological diversity and us fish and wildlife service have reached an agreement that the agency has to decide by April 4, whether or not to give an emergency listing for the Dixie valley toad under the US endangered species act. And that would offer a significant amount of protection for the toad. In our show notes we'll have a place where people can weigh in on that, sending notes, emails urging them to protect the toad from this geothermal plant.
And we'll also provide a link to more information from center for biological diversity’s website.
Alicia: If you care, share,
Chris: It's March and that means the days are getting longer and the desert is getting a little warmer. And one of the signs that spring is approaching in a few weeks is that I am starting to get emails from people all over the West, asking when and where they should show up to see the “super bloom.”
That's not particularly my favorite term.
Alicia: Not exactly a good descriptor of spring in the desert.
Chris: Especially most years, I think people have this conception that every year, the desert reliably, at least somewhere has huge valleys that are just chock full to the brim of daisies and primroses.
And don't forget those poppies.
Yep. Oh right. California poppies. But it's an interesting thing because there are places in the world where there is a reliable bloom every year, where as long as there isn't a devastating drought or, flood or completely unseasonal freeze that you can count on the maypops and the golden seal and the goldenrod.
Alicia: Even some of those aren't as reliable anymore. That's cherry blossoms in Japan. They're not functioning like they always have.
Chris: That's really true.
Alicia: We're looking at you, climate change.
Chris: but they've never really been reliable in the desert.
Alicia: This is true.
Chris: I remember when I first started coming to the desert, which was, there was still ground sloths and sabretooths and all that kind of stuff wandering around
Alicia: we knew you were old.
Chris: Yeah, I was like 27. And it was a thing that you really looked forward to, but you knew it didn't happen every year.
It's like there was a special year like the winter of 1997, 1998. And we knew that this was a big year and that, at some point We would be able to tell the young’uns about, the valley north of Ludlow, California. It was just absolutely full of yellow primroses and just stretching as far as the eye could see.
And there were like three per square foot and it just spread over many square miles. And it's just this blaze of color. And it was not to be repeated there so far in my lifetime. And that's what? 25 years? But that was a spectacular year. And I spent time going through the Mojave Preserve, which had just been declared a few years prior.
And there were lupins and there were Canterbury bells and there were milkweeds and Calochortus kennedyi the desert mariposa lily. was just absolutely stunning. And then for the next several years after that, there were flowers here and there, bladderpod blooms, you know that kind of thing.
But it wasn't like 97, 98. That was just a spectacular year.
Alicia: What's really striking me. Is that in 97, 98? I think Myspace was the only real social media platform around and nobody was on my space talking about flower blooms. But these days…
Chris: What about Tom?
Alicia: Tom was on Myspace talking about everything,
Chris: yeah. I dunno, I felt special cause Tom friended me, you know?
Alicia: Oh! Look at you!
Chris: But yeah, I mean there wasn't a comparable bloom even until the winter of 04-05 and then there was tons and tons of water falling out of the sky and that was, that brought its own problems because that summer of 2005, because everything had grown so profusely, the entire desert caught on fire. The spring, the late winter and early spring was really nice. So it was, clear that far from being something that is supposed to happen more or less every year, this is something that has evolved to be that spectacular because it doesn't happen all that often.
Chris: It's a reproductive strategy for the plants that they put out such a profuse bloom when conditions are right.
That there's quadrillions of seeds waiting in the soil for, as long as it takes, the next 40, 50 years maybe. I mean, it might be 40 or 50 years at this point now that we've messed up the climate. you really have to have that magic combination of just the right amount of water temperatures that are cold, but then warm up and don't get cold again.
And then they don't warm up too far
Alicia: or too fast!
Chris: cause as the seedlings sprout, they'll bake.
Chris: if they don't get their roots down in. you can't have big windstorms Like we just had here in this part of the desert because wind dehydrates seedlings, and, in fact can blow them out of the ground and. There's just like all these things that have to go right for the so-called super bloom that is a really spectacular and wonderful thing when it happens. And I think people take it for granted. It's really gratifying to me that people are so interested in seeing desert flowers. It's a nice thing.
Chris: but when people are disappointed that there's going to be a normal wildflower year or a really sparse one and complain about it to me, I want to tell them to…. Not to go to hell because I totally understand the disappointment, but I kind of want to tell them to go to Wasco California.
Alicia: yeah. Calm down now, Chris. Calm down now.
Chris: No, Wasco is a perfectly nice place. There's a great Mexican restaurant there, but what they mostly have is immense fields of hybrid tea roses.
Chris: Central Valley, California. It's where they grow a lot of roses for the rose companies. And you can go there certain times a year and just see geometric bands, stretching into infinity of red and white and yellow and purple and just all these different rose colors.
And that's the way that you get reliable bloom all the time, Same time every year is by planting and irrigating and fertilizing. And that's not the desert.
Alicia: Yeah. Even closer, People can go to the Carlsbad flower fields in San Diego. There's also reliable fields of flowers to look out there. But to maybe, explain or soften your discomfort with the situation, it's very clear to me that society is grooming us to have expectations. We have been bred into a consumerist society where we feel like at any time we can go and click a few buttons and get what we want.
We look at Instagram, we look at TikTok. We look at all of these online platforms, Facebook and see everybody's travels and see everybody's beautiful photos and think, “oh, I want to go do that. They went and did it so I can go and do it.” And it creates this false sense of whatever you want. You can have it whenever you want.
And that's just simply not true. The super bloom is a great example where it's one of these rare, special occasions that we get. And if you're lucky you're in the right place at the right time, you're going to get an experience You'll never forget. but it isn't some wholesale experience that by looking at Instagram, you're like, oh, “It's time to go to the antelope poppy fields because everybody's there.”
Chris: First off, if everybody's there, then that's the last place I want to go.
Alicia: You know this, yeah. [laughs]
So I think the point that you're trying to get to is you can't expect a super bloom every year.
Alicia: That's the message we want to get out.
Chris: In fact, it would be much more boring if there was one every year, because who needs that need a little uncertainty in our life, I think you hit the nail on the head with a sort of materialist approach. The commercialization of it that the desert bloom is not a marketable commodity. But there are people trying to make it marketable. And certainly the desert has been made to be marketable in a bunch of different senses from the current real estate boom to, mining borax or sunlight or whatever. But the bloom, it's just this thing that resists commercialization, I think, but people are still trying to do it.
Alicia: Absolutely. But that's for the hardcore nature lovers. That's, it's one of those rewards That you get, if we can look past all the people, stomping their feet and slamming their fists saying, “I want, I want,” it's a really nice treat for those of us who are patient and do understand that nature is on its own cycle.
Yes, we have some influence over it, but that doesn't mean we can make a super bloom every year. And I think you had an issue with us calling it a super bloom, did you not?
Chris: Yeah. I just it's. I don't know. It just seems trite, like it overstates the way the bloom usually is, and then it really understates it when it's spectacular.
Alicia: Yeah, sure.
Chris: It can be like mind altering. It's like psychedelic bloom.
Chris: Ego dissolution bloom.
Alicia: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: And I'm talking sober. Next time there's a really good bloom I probably ought to try mushrooms or something, just to see how that is. Cause you know, bucket lists, they exist, even when I was in the business of telling people where to go to see flowers in the desert, when I worked at KCET, we had to do those public interest things. I really didn't like the term. And in fact, I think I entitled one of my articles, “super bloom Shmooperbloom,” which, not particularly creative, but it expressed my point of view.
Alicia: I think there is some validity in the term super bloom, but I mentioned social media and I think that's where it's really been watered down where people are asking where's the super bloom going to be this year? Like it's a scavenger hunt or something it's going to happen somewhere. So where's it going to be next?
Chris: It's been hashtagged.
Chris: And we will be right back after the break
Bouse Parker: Here's a 90 Miles from Needles Public Service Announcement.
Petey Mesquitey: Hello, I'm Petey Mesquitey, host of Growing Native from KXCI Tucson. Each week since 1992 I've been sharing stories, poems, and songs about flora, fauna, family, and the glory of living in the borderlands of Southern Arizona, recent episodes of growing native are available at KXCI.org, Apple Podcasts, and P R X. The desert is beautiful my friends. Yeah, it is.
Chris: Do you have a desert related podcast or website or newsletter or something similar that you'd like us to promote? Let us know. 760-392-1996.
Chris: Speaking of stomping feet,
Alicia: what are we stomping over now?
Chris: Hopefully not wildflowers. Cause that's one of the things that bothers me about the trend, and I totally support people coming to the desert to see it when it's at its most beautiful, which I think is, whenever you happen to be there or whenever a canyon wren sings and you can hear it.
But if your definition of desert being at its most beautiful includes a carpet of blossoms, there are certain ways that you can act as a visitor that actually harm the desert.
Chris: that harm other people's experience of what you went there to see.
The idea that you need to avoid damaging wildflower displays has gotten some play on social media lately. And that's a really good thing, but I just keep thinking of this one particular ridge that I know that is a really popular spot for people to pull off and take a look at the flowers.
A few years back when there was a respectable amount of bloom, I saw it when it first started blooming and it was spectacular. And then I drove past it maybe a couple of days later, and there was a little thin trail along the top of the ridge with flowers on either side. It was maybe a foot wide. And then a couple of days after that, there were little side clearings going off of that. And these paths were being created by people walking out to get closeups of the flowers or selfies with the flowers surrounding them. and I haven't seen a good bloom on that ridge since. I'm hoping it's not the case, but that much foot traffic, compact soil, it makes it that much harder for flowers to grow.
Alicia: Yeah, it can permanently alter that landscape.
Chris: I would really like to see more attention paid on social media to the fact that you don't want to destroy that thing you came to admire.
Alicia: Yeah, here's the equation. Okay. You take a photo, you get your photo that is going to last in air quotes forever for you, but you've taken away the ability for other people to see that for perpetuity.
When the soil gets compacted, nothing's going to grow there anymore. And that there are, I think it's the Antelope poppy preserve did side-by-side photos from the last major bloom where there were hillsides that were unobstructed, pure fields of orange. And as you described, these little trails start to appear, and they multiply like veins running through. And then there's pockets of dirt that are forming where people are still standing and taking photos all around them.
And then that field of color is gone. It's broken up and to be able to see that so clearly in one bloom season really was a good visual for me. It is landscape altering. just your footsteps and the people behind you and the people in front of you.
Chris: So we've kind of hinted at it a little bit about what constitutes proper and improper behavior, but it would probably be good to just list a few things that people commonly do that we think are best avoided
Alicia: stay on the trail. I just want to scream.
Chris: Stay on the trail. Staying on the trail is really important. Remember that anything that you do, anything you're inclined to do, anything you think of doing there are around here 3 million people a year that are going to be tempted to do exactly that. So think about the impact that your footprint is going to have multiplied by 3 million. And that may give you a hint as to what is destructive and what is not. So staying on the trail do not step on the flowers. That's important.
Couple other things that are really important to avoid doing, and then we'll get to some more positive stuff, but we, got to mention this. Assuming listeners want to know listeners want to do the right thing. That's my assumption. We're not, lecturing people that are doing something bad.
Alicia: We're advocating for stewardship.
Chris: Right? And you've mentioned picking flowers and it may seem, again that times 3 million effect you have to figure out whether what you're doing is going to be multiplied by hundreds of thousands of repeat acts. picking a flower can have serious effects. You are depriving that plant of having successful reproduction from that flower. It takes a lot of energy to put flowers out. A Lot of stored starch and sugars a lot of metabolic activity. Putting out that display for you to look at that plant sacrificed to do that.
And if you pull that flower off before it makes seeds, then that's wasted effort for that plant. And that plant may not reproduce. The general genetic diversity of that population of that plant gets eroded some and in national parks, at least, it's against the law,
Alicia: Let's not forget about the poor little bugs and birds that feed on the flowers.
You're taking away a food source. Some, the Joshua tree is a great example. They don't necessarily bloom every year. The pinyon pine is the same. It doesn't produce pinecones every year. It's every three to five years. And that stuff has to be managed. You can't just say, oh, I'm going to pick all these flowers and not consider the impact that you're having.
If you know that that plant only flowers when conditions are right, you might seriously reconsider picking that flower. And that's the goal of this conversation is not to shame people into not picking flowers, because that just sounds ridiculous. But what we're trying to get across is the room for pause, to think what long-term impacts am I really having with this simple act of picking a single flower?
Chris: Right. And I will say that I have picked flowers and I've stuck them in my hat band. I totally get the impulse to do it. It's one thing to do that on private land, where you live or where, you know, the owner, and there's just a whole lot of the flower and you know, that the mass of those flowers are going to go through and become mature and produce seeds either because nobody goes out there or because the landowner's right there and they're not gonna mow it. There's a difference between that and going to a place like the poppy reserve in the west Mojave or Joshua Tree or Saguaro national park or Ironwood Forest national monument places like that where you have to account for the fact that your actions are going to be duplicated by others. Maybe that's a little bit too much nuance, maybe that's too much moral relativism.
Alicia: Well, I think it really comes back to the mindset of having stewardship management in your decision-making. We are not up on a soap box. We are not placing ourselves at the top of some ivory tower or alter trying to say, “we don't do anything bad. Let us tell you how to be!” You know, we're trying to advocate for that happy medium, that respectful stewardship of the land and it can be done. Yup. Just got to put a little thought and research into it.
Chris: lastly, I think lastly…
Alicia: You never know, this could go on and on and on.
Chris: Yeah. Endless complaints are possible. Lastly Alicia mentioned drones don't fly a drone in a national park. It harshes the buzz
Alicia: in so many ways.
Chris: It brings on a harsh buzz.
Alicia: Yeah, literally and figuratively.
Chris: My pal, Travis and I were hiking at 49 Palms Canyon and a couple of weeks ago and found somebody who was getting ready to fly a drone. And they listen to us explaining why that was a bad idea.
And just didn't get defensive at all. They were surprised to know that this was not something that was proper or legal.
Alicia: They didn't have a sign at the head of the trail?
Chris: There is no sign at 49 palms canyon. But confronting people in a friendly fashion does work. I think even when people are doing things that have major fines and jail time potentially attached. I remember being out hiking with you last year and coming across people who had driven three miles into a wilderness area and talking to them about vehicles in the wilderness area and they were perfectly nice.
Alicia: I think it's important to note for the general public out there, that it is not easy for us to have that conversation with you on trail. I don't feel like you or I come from a place of righteousness that we weren't going to tell you, there was actually the opposite, I think you saw me turning around, like, should we leave?
Should we disappear? I really don't want to confront these people because you never know how they're going to react. And it is not an easy thing to do to advocate for wilderness. And if someone has come up to you, it is the decent thing to do to just hear them out because it was not easy.
Chris: So, we've laid down a lot of don'ts. I think it's time for the dos. Let's talk about just the really fantastic aspects of desert bloom, whether it's an entire field of completely blooming out of their minds plants that have had the best spring ever, or just something that you happen to find stuck on the north side of a rock in a wash
Alicia: I love those little treats. It's like getting a free ice cream cone from nature when you're out there and something just takes your breath away and gets your gears turning.
Chris: Yeah, it's funny. I get so happy for some of these species of desert wildflower and just even if it's just one of them. There's at least one species—I don't know if anybody has split it into multiple species yet—but it's a California poppy. Like the kind that you see in the seed packets or, covering the hillsides in coastal California, except this one is instead of — I’m going to bust out the dog Latin here — Eschscholzia californica is the main California poppy that everybody knows that you can buy in the rack in the front of the drugstore.
Alicia: And that's a half dollar size bloom.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Quarter to half dollar, depending on how much you fertilize and water it. Right. These are Eschscholzia minutiflora and their blooms are maybe a quarter inch across and otherwise they are exactly perfect replica of the standard California poppy, which is the official state flower of California.
These, I guess they tend to be a little bit more on the yellow end of the spectrum than on the bright orange —traffic cone orange is pretty close to what the larger flowers are. These are more yellow — but it always just knocks my socks off to see them. And they're like the nail on my little finger is bigger than these blooms, but they're just we were both like invisibly sticking out our little fingers to
Alicia: cause my pinky fingernail is about the size of the bloom minus growth. My nail bed. It is so tiny. We had one show up in our yard, I think two years ago.
Alicia: Only one. And it grew on the have a little berm where I planted an agave, and it grew just inside the berm where water had been collecting and the seed blew in there. And I was so excited about it. I went out there every day and I looked at it and monitored its progress, and I was going to collect seeds from it and put them in other places in my yard and try and keep it behind the fence and keep it safe.
And I wanted to see it expand. And before I knew it, I went out there one day and it had been predated upon by a rabbit and it was gone to the ground.
Chris: I've been really enjoying bladder pod the last couple of years. And it's like, when you go out into the desert, from January through May hoping against hope that you're going to find something blooming. If you don't find anything else, blooming you'll find the bladder pod blooming.
Cause it's just like rock solid every year.
Alicia: Yeah. I've noticed that too.
Chris: Yeah. Really interesting plant, Peritoma arborea, it's in the caper family. So it's really closely related to the capers that you, spend $12 for the tiny little jar of, you put three in your salad and it's like an extravagance
Alicia: I was just looking at creosote caper recipes this week. So now I'm going to be looking for bladder pod caper recipes
Chris: the bladder pod. the pods are technically edible. And what I mean by technically edible is once they get past a certain level of maturity, you don't want to, because it's like taking a gob of wasabi and stuffing it up your nose.
Alicia: So it gets spicy.
Chris: Yeah. It gets really spicy and a little bit bitter too. But if you get them at the right time and, throw them in some white vinegar, apple cider vinegar or something like that, just cure him for a little bit. Like olives, they are reputedly — I have not done this, but reputedly —
Alicia: You have a bladderpod in your front yard. Right?
Chris: Yeah. That was planted. That was the first thing we planted in the yard. And the summer of 2021 was disastrous in our garden there are cacti that died because of heat and lack of water And, just all the things that desert plants are supposed to do just fine with it, but it was a little bit too much for them.
The bladderpod is doing great.
Chris: And so that's really been a favorite of mine. The flowers. are vaguely snapdragony, I guess, but just this bright yellow I just love it and it, grows in gardens as well as it does out in the world, out in the desert, but it's just such a wonderful thing.
We were just remarking on it, driving into Joshua Tree his morning. There were a couple of things blooming right now and one was a desert dandelion, and then the other was the bladderpod and the bladder pod is just like the Rock Star
Alicia: and the bushes get pretty big. Which is an impressive show. And it's looks like a glowing orb.
Chris: Yeah. I think they I've seen them as much as four and a half feet tall, I think. And they look like nothingbushes until they put out bloom and even then, people drive past them. Cause it's easy to ignore yellow.
Chris: It's not like a smoke tree where it's covered in purple, all of a sudden, and you stop, and you try and take a photo of it. And no matter how good a photographer you are, unless you're just like getting a macro of one blossom it all washes out into the green gray of the leaves and it's “oh yeah, I can see how that is kind of impressive in the photo.”
And if you were to stand by the tree, that's in the photo, while it’s in bloom is like, holy, it is like, holy.
Alicia: it is. [laughs]
Talking about the smoke tree, I thought about the indigo bush that grows out here. it has the same tight clusters of purple flowers and it's show-stopping cause most of the year it just looks like a dead bush. And when it goes into bloom, it turns into a purple blue orb. The whole thing just goes, and it has stopped me. I just driving to the market and I'm on the little side road and I see one of those bushes go in and I get help, but I stop the car and I get out and I go over there and admire it.
In our valley, a little star is the desert senna, which is, you don't see it every year. It's one of those. It's also a Bush, it grows to about waist height and it's just spectacular. And the fragrance for when these things go off is just… it's intoxicating, to be around these layers of flavors and colors throughout the spring is always really lovely.
Last year, the bush commonly called white rhatany. Latin name, Krameria bicolor. Really caught my attention cause I'd never really seen it bloom in our valley before, but it just had a really good year. I think it was year before last, now that I'm thinking about it. contrary to the name, the blossoms are shades of pink from dark pink to light pink.
And what I love most about this bush is that it's hemiparasitic and it grows at the base of creosote bushes and taps off the roots from the creosote and takes water from the humble king of the desert. Creosote is so toxic that pretty much nothing will grow under it or near it. It's, it's the king, it's like a lot of other trees out there that they put out their chemical essence and then they own the block.
Nobody else is going to come anywhere near and then to meet this plant, who's Hey, I can outsmart the smartest of them all and actually tap into their roots and take their water directly from them. I thought that was really cool.
Chris: Yep. A flower that you don't see all that often And I mentioned it earlier in this episode… So there's this genus of plants throughout the west and they have this sort of reputation for being rare and very persnickety about their growing conditions. They're hard to grow in the garden. It’s Calochortus, or mariposa lily, and they are really distinctive.
But there's one in the desert it’s called Calochortus kennedyi, and I'm not sure if there is a fancy common name for that particular type other than maybe desert mariposa lily, but… it's low to the ground. It's got this grassy looking curved leaf that's just got a crease along the Meridian of the leaf, folded up, but it curves in a spiral, comes out and that leaf is there for a bit.
And then this flower pops out and its bright orange, with little dark brown or black kind of spots at the base of each petal and it's just. It's so rare that I see one. I saw some of them up in the road between Pioneertown and Big Bear a few years back. It was a good year up there. It was more, more the mountains than the desert. Really. It was up in the Piñon-Juniper, and getting into the other conifers up there, but it was just so spectacular. And it's such a treat to see it. They grew on Cima Dome. They might still, they might've made it through the fire. I don't know.
Chris: they're just Kind of magical and so gorgeous. And it's such a lovely thing when you see them out here.
Cause they're so incongruous. They're just really a great color, but you'll never see them in great big fields of square miles of Calochortus kennedyi because that doesn't ever happen.
But it's a such a treat when you look up close,
Alicia: kind of reminds me of the desert five spot.
Chris: Yeah. it's like that.
Alicia: it's rare. I looked for that one for over 10 years and didn't ever saw it and I just had it on my list of flowers. I really wanted to see at some point and one year probably about four years ago, I think. I saw it
It was a — dare We use the term? — it was like a super bloom year out here. And I was going around from work site to work site and they were in the backyards and my work sites, what I've been waiting a decade to see them. And now in one day I've seen ‘em in four different places and sure enough, within a week or two, one showed up in my yard growing on the side of a bit of concrete.
And I just couldn't believe it. like all these years of back country and in national park footwork and I didn't see a single one. And then here they are just showing up under the right conditions in the backyards of our desert abodes
Chris: yeah. You know, the deserts are so full of such botanical diversity that we could go on with this for a very long time. Cause there's just many, many different species, especially since we're including the shrubs. We could talk about the differences between. The Chuckwalla cholla and the staghorn cholla and the Munz cholla flowers. And they're all really wonderful. And I don't grow them in my yard because it would punish the dog.
Alicia: They suck. [laughs]
Chris: But I think there is one thing that we can offer our listeners that are new to the desert, which is a fairly reliable thing that will carpet the landscape. And you don't really notice it unless you know what you're looking for as you're driving past on the highway, especially if you're pushing the speed limit, but once you get out of your car and you're walking around, it can be really striking.
And it's like I said, it's pretty reliable. And all you gotta do is pay attention to what's happening in the desert for a few weeks beforehand and you'll know exactly where to go. And that plant is cinchweed. That's Pectis papposa, it's in a Daisy family and it's a fall bloomer. If there is. Summer monsoon rain anywhere in the desert, anywhere in the Mojave, at least that area that gets rained on we'll have cinchweed growing on it at some point in the fall. And so if you are the kind of person that has the weather channel on as background, music in your house pay attention to the monsoon storms, pay attention when they say, and even though it's August, it is raining in Las Vegas, look at where it's raining and make a note to go there, because you will see cinchweed.
And you'll probably see other summer annuals coming up too. Monsoons are really good things to keep track of If you're looking for where the flowers are going to be, because you'll see things that haven't bloomed in. Years, and years and years. Monsoons don't hit everywhere in the desert every year.
Chris: They hit the desert every year, but an individual spot might not get any monsoon moisture for 10 or 20 years. So pay attention to where they go and you will see something cool, even if it's just like a new plunge pool that, has some bighorn tracks around it or something like that. But you will almost certainly see cinchweed a little low carpet of yellow daisies, about a third of an inch across.
Anyway check out our show page for photos of some of these flowers that we've been talking about in addition to photos of the effects of inappropriate use of the landscape.
that we've talked about earlier and we will be right back after the break.
I think that's it for this week.
Alicia: All right. I'm ready to keep going on it and into next week.
Chris: Okay yeah, we got our work cut out for us. There's a lot of stuff going on in the desert, but until we meet again, I'm Chris Clarke
Alicia: and I'm Alicia Pike.
Chris: Thanks for joining us.
Alicia: 90 miles from needles.
Bouse Parker: This episode of Ninety Miles from Needles was produced by Alicia Pike and Chris Clarke. Editing by Chris. Thanks to Heart and Dos for the studio security and rodent control. Podcast artwork by our good friend Martin Mancha. Theme music is by Brightside Studio. Other music by slip stream. Follow us on Twitter or Instagram at @90mifromneedles, and on Facebook at facebook.com/ninety miles from needles. Find us at 90milesfromneedles.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
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All characters on this podcast stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.
I'm Bouse Parker. Don't be a stranger.