coyote_creek fr_subu1 lunch_fr cholla_babybe owls_clover_gf wishbone_bush flower_ridge1 can_bells_gran gun_shells2 ground_pink red_monkeyflwr rlf5_lowmix2 ourlordscandle 2nd_crossing coyote_mouth
cirrus, poppies, goldfields    08-C-29.jpg

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

Southern California Road Trip
March 12 thru March 21, 2008
page 7 of 9

">exploring Coyote Creek Canyon

pic15 I drove off towards the dirt road that goes up into Coyote Creek Canyon. Even on Monday there were a surprising number of vehicles making that favorite long dirty road journey. When I was in the park for 11 days in mid February of 2005, there were flash floods all over the washes and that road would not again be usable for several weeks. So this was my first visit. The first crossing surrounded by fields of gone to seed sand verbena this year was dry. pic14 However the dusty second crossing did have a modest amount of flowing water with a half dozen vehicles parked in the sun. I continued to the third crossing that was too ugly for my low clearance sedan, turned around and drove back to the canyon mouth where most flowers and ocotillo were.

From what I could see, the best these parts had seen had been a week or two before. Desert dandelion and Fremont pincushion were dense everywhere, though the whole area had a dry look.pic1 I would have worked the area some with my view camera but a pesky afternoon wind from the west was increasing. Time to slow down and make plans again, so I stopped in minor shade of a dense ocotillo, made lunch, looked at maps, and contemplated the future. It was getting a bit warm into the upper 70s and the creek sure looked inviting at the crossings. So I grabbed some fresh clothes, pail, dirty socks and t-shirts, with towel and headed off for the stream about 100 yards distant through dense areas of ocotillo and desert dandelion. Well up on the slope, I hand washed a few items without soap, then went back down for some more water, dousing myself several times. Along the stream was a wealth of green life including many damselflies that swallowed in flight any annoying flies that might have otherwise dined on me. Back at my car, I headed back out the dirt road and then drove back to the lower Coyote Wash back road. My game plan was firming up. I would try and capture an afternoon image across the flower fields of lower Coyote Wash till about 6pm and then bail on Anza-Borrego. Thus I set up my camera and waited for the window of better light after 5pm but before 6pm. While waiting in my car, I studied maps of southwest Riverside County that would be my next region to work on the trip. A couple other photographers found there way to the back roads and then roamed into the next field to the south. Well the wind did seem to quiet down at times but never enough for me to waste exposing a sheet. About 5:45pm I had seen enough and began to pack up.

">driving northwest to the Elsinore Mountains

I drove west out of the park on highway S22, to S2, and then north on SR-79. The sun set and I continued northwest through San Diego County's higher elevation plateau areas. In an hour or so, I had reached Interstate I15 at Temecula and turned north for another 25 miles till reaching SR-74 at Lake Elsinore. There I climbed up out of the urban jungle onto some crude back roads in Cleveland National Forest into the Elsinore Mountains where I expected to find peace at, parked, and set up to sleep inside my vehicle that night. In the distance below were myriad lights of the giant Southern California mega-metropolis.

">Tuesday March 18 where are the wildflowers?

At dawn I was up organizing my gear then on my way down to areas east of I15. This was the first time I had been to southwest Riverside County. Well except way back as a skateboarding teenager when I lived a year in San Diego. I had images in my mind of difficult shooting conditions with urban structures as power lines, roads, and structures impinging on my frame space. With 18 million people now in Southern California or three times as many when I was born in downtown Los Angeles decades before, I suspected any beautiful natural areas were quick to be trampled on by hoards of weekend nature seekers and photographers. But then again maybe not? Possibly the intimidating enormity and complexity of the urban areas inhibited tendencies to explore beyond quite local familiar places? Armed with web reports and several maps, I also bought a local Rand McNalley street map for this region. Driving into the city, I filled my gas tank then stopped at a supermarket filling up with fresh food including a big tin of bakery iced cinnamon rolls and a half-gallon of orange juice.

From the snowy heights of San Jacinto Peak at 10,804 feet visible from most everywhere 40 plus miles to the east, seasonal waters drain into the San Jacinto River that eventually drain into Lake Elsinore where a state park popular with fishermen and bird watchers has long existed and now a region of bedroom communities is exploding. Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Sun City, Perris, and Hemet are already sizeable small cities. About the San Jacinto River basin are a number of hills and ridges where wildflowers have always found a niche in some areas and aspects. To the west a barrier of somewhat higher densely chaparral covered mountains catches the bulk of rain off the ocean during storms. However enough rain falls in the more arid hilly area east some years that are at the edge of the Mojave Desert flora, such that broad areas of wildflower blooms may occur much like to the north in Antelope Valley. Between the many small suburban areas in bottomlands are hills where homes, roads, and structures have tended not to be developed in. It is those areas where wildflowers still grow naturally and that I was keen to explore. Many of the areas have been scenes of wildland fires in the past decades so trees tend to be few and stunted.

">searching along roads for flowers

Part of the first area of dirt roads I explored had been advertised on a web report. I immediately began seeing lots of nice areas of wildflowers. With some areas of mud puddles about, it was obvious the weekend storm had added several tenths of an inch of precipitation to the area. pic2From experience, I knew that could cause a massive jolt of goldfields to burst out in some places that is often the best background flower one can hope for to complement the other species. I continued driving about till about 9:30am in the morning when by chance I managed to thread the needle into a larger remote zone of jeep and dirt bike roads where some absolutely peaking lush wildflowers were everywhere.

">a hidden basin of lush flowers

Without wasting any more time in exploration, I parked, organized my daypack for a long hike, placed my blue tarp over the sunny side windows, and then excitedly set out about the area. Since California poppies don't really open up till about 10am, I was right on time to make the most of this first day. And wonderfully for the first time on my trip, the mid morning air had only a faint intermittent breeze.pic9 Although the area was empty of people, I could tell that others had recently been driving up these roads. Rather disgusting was all the trash in the area. Careless people had obviously been using this back area as their private dumping ground when they didn't want to pay municipal garbage dumps fees for getting rid of furniture and appliances. Additionally were large amounts of bullet and shotgun shells as well as all the usual trashy targets those inconsiderate people bring along to blast away at. Of course the dirt roads were a minefield of broken glass and a reason I preferred to hike around on foot instead of using my car. These unmaintained dirt back roads also had severely eroded sections low clearance vehicles like my sedan could not pass.

">David's long hiking day into flowers


The first slope of wildflowers I explored was dominated by California poppy, eschscholtzia californica with a small ridgeline spine of eroded granite boulders. Nicely mixed in with the orange poppies were deep blues of a taller lupine species. And about the slope were areas of dense birds-eye gilia, gilia tricolor, popcorn flower, plagiobothrys nothofolvus, fiddleneck, amsinkia intermedia, miniature lupine, lupinus bicolorand goldfields, lasthenia californica. After a couple modest front lit images of the lupine areas without good geometry, my third image,    08-C-17.jpg    through my 90mm nikkor lens, showcased the densest area of poppies in the foreground with an aesthetic S-curve sweep of the bouldery spine above towards the north-northwest. After a fifth exposed sheet just on this first nice slope I moved on and traveled through about a half mile of terrain visiting several places. Then I found in the distance a ridge with a wild mix of different colors against lush greens. Before traveling to the ridge, I composed an image with an absolutely blazing in late morning sun dense patch of fresh blooming goldfields with the full ridge in the background.


pic4 In addition to the previous mentioned flowers, the ridge had good numbers of blue dicks, dichelostemma pulchellum, chia, salvia columbariae, tansy-leaf phacelia aka lacy phacelia, phacelia tanacetifolia, blue phacelia, phacelia distans, baby blue-eyes, nemophila menziesii, wishbone bush, mirabilis bigelovii, miner's lettuce, montia perfoliata, lace pods, thysanocarpus curvipes, redmaids, calandrinia ciliata, and canterbury bells, phacelia campanularia mixed in with green grasses and scattered greasewood bushes.

My first composition oriented south for backlighting in celebration of the lush greens, used a foreground of magenta hued wishbone bush with baby blue-eyes across part of the ridge with a mix of flowers dominated by poppies, goldfields, and baby blue-eyes, well separated by grasses,    08-C-21.jpg   . A few varied images later, I was now at the base of the ridge and made an image downward at dense waves of baby blue-eyes amid goldfields with some pink hued ground pink, linanthus dianthiflorus, poking through,    08-C-25.jpg   . And finally for my afternoon session of an even dozen exposed sheets of film, was a backlit vertical format image southwest across a flat of dense poppies and goldfields towards a hill covered on its right slope with baby blue-eyes between greasewood,    08-C-27.jpg   .


For some reason climbing up and down these small hills had rather tired me out. I dragged back to my car and ate a couple sugary sweet rolls downed by orange juice. Instead of heading out for another session exploring hidden places I needed to climb over ridges to see, I decided on a more relaxed late afternoon. Accordingly I exposed just one more image and instead spent more time shooting digital close-ups. Near where I was parked were areas of owls clover, orthocarpus purpurascens and I got low to the ground in order to work one situation of a single clover flower within a jungle of dense goldfields. pic5I also put some wishbone bush, mirabilis bigelovii, that is in the nightshade family, up against the sky after sunset using flash. During the day a couple of SUV's had also driven into the area looking at the flowers, and one other truck that drove out into a remote area beyond followed by a couple hours of gunfire. At the end of the day I was all alone. Well except for lots of singing birds that quite liked this place. At night the sound was a pleasant one of crickets and frogs.

">Wednesday March 19
discovering Our Lord's Candle flowers

The next day, Wednesday March 19, 2008 was a special day that I'll always remember because I discovered a truly spectacular small area of wildflowers that had some of the best mix of colors I've ever seen. pic6 Prior to this location, my most memorial experience had been at Gorman Hills on Easter Eve April 19, 2003 where a photographer friend and I were the first two people up into some incredible areas after three straight weeks of storms had pretty much kept anybody from going in across its fences. Actually the two locations are not really comparable because of species differences but in terms of just different colors and patterns what I discovered this day was it. Wasn't it quite the coincidence that this was also the Easter holy week and today was Holy Wednesday? And what did Holy Thursday celebrating the Last Supper have in store for me? As usual I was up and away at dawn. My first task was to drop back into an urban area city park and fill up my 5-gallon water container that was running low enough, taking a bottle shower might be a luxury. On the way I took a long tour on some dirt back roads with ranch homes. At one location I stopped and captured these quite nice canterbury bells up against a boulder. pic8Using my street map, I found a city park early in the morning and filled up out of a water drinking fountain. Now I would explore about some obscure roads I had identified in hilly areas. If I didn't find anything as good as what I saw Tuesday, I would head back there about 10am as the poppies opened.

Well amazingly from the first road I took, I could see some amazing patches of flowers so found a place to park and hiked out that direction. Very quickly I was rather surprised at all the species down in the grasses and bushes that I could not make out from the road. Burned creosote bushes were in the landscape that is something I regularly saw driving around several places. About that time some spectacular cirrus clouds were magically moving across the sky, so I quickly set up at the first location I reached and composed the image displayed at page top,     08-C-29.jpg    with blazing goldfields and poppies that was obviously the strongest image I'd made so far on the trip. Wow that was some start to Holy Wednesday! The image at the center page column is a 100x2900 pixel top to bottom slice of that image from above the first p in poppy in the description, by a crude flatbed scan. A drum scan at my normal sized prints would contain nine times as many bytes for that same area. Next I moved nearby, but had so much trouble framing up an awkward situation of terrific elements that the best clouds came and went too quickly for my sluggish view camera work. So I moved on a bit and did capture this rather odd composition in a vertical format that nevertheless was interesting,    08-C-31.jpg   , containing an unusual green due to lighting on the dense fiddleneck stems up the ridge that are barely discernable in this downsized web sized image.

After that I continued hiking on climbing up then crossing a steep ridge. There were flowers on the other side, though nothing that appealing for a landscape compared to what I just worked. The thoughts of returning to the other side tugged at me. However I decided to do a grand tour all the way around a ridge so began footing down an old dirt bike trail stopping a bit along the way for some close-up work. The ridge was complex with a number of side ravines that held secrets if followed up to headwalls. One held a blazing mass of orange poppies and purple canterbury bells. On the approach I found an outstanding subject for a vertical format downward composition at short flowers. A dense mass of cream cups, platystemon californicus, was on the edge of some poppies and baby blue-eyes,    08-C-32.jpg   . Flowers had a fine even spacing between the greens. About that time another photographer, J, with a handheld DSLR had driven up on a nearby dirt road, saw my large format set up and came over. I found out J was one of the rare photographers like me that were keen on exploring the region for secret places. pic10 We both wandered up the ravine to the dense poppies and I exposed another sheet of film with a vertical format though the intensity of the colors was obviously beyond the ability of the film to capture and my cheap flatbed scan herein doesn't even do the transparency justice,    08-C-33.jpg   . J left to explore the next nearby ravine I'd already seen from a distance that had really looked interesting for the little I could see earlier. I dabbled taking a close-up picture of a beautiful new flower to me, ground pink, that I'd first seen Tuesday but were far more abundant in this area.

I moved into the last ravine in my tour and immediately noticed this area as absolutely incredible in several ways. pic12 There was the considerable range of flower colors, the extreme density of flowers piled up on top of each other much like I've seen at Carrizo Plain, the mixing of the flower species instead of more separation of groups of species that tends to be more often the case, and some burned creosote snags that provided additional graphic patterns to work into a composition. Rather remarkably and appropriately for Easter as though this whole area had been grown per some Heaven sent order, at the top of the main field of flowers, the two Our Lord's Candles, yucca whipplei, within the field despite the fact one normally only sees a small percentage of those giant stalks in a given year in flower, were both blooming! pic13

I exposed a few more sheets in this area although I could see late morning would likely have better light than what was now mid afternoon. This outstanding image from a low angle of poppies mixed with baby blue-eyes was the best of my last few sheets exposed,    08-C-35.jpg   . Also one can see the light violet white of birds-eye gilia and a few goldfields in the mix. Also very interesting was this image sectioning off five regions of the frame into different flower color areas,    08-C-38.jpg   . The pink flowers are the ground pink with owls clover in the left foreground against dense goldfields, at top left dense baby blue-eyes mottled with birds-eye gilia mixed with patches of dense goldfields, while at upper right it is all California poppies. Between upper right and lower right was an area within the burned creosote bushes with fiddleneck and birds-eye gilia. Although these images look somewhat impressive on a monitor display, the actual film has vastly more detail, with better color than my cheap flatbed scan was able to pick up. All these tiny flowers will only really come out mixed in within a much better green matrix after drum scanning the film and printing up large highly detailed 30x38 inch size Lightjet prints.

Spring 2008 Wildflower Trip 8

   David Senesac

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