Friday, June 17, 2016

The True Treasures of Bodie

Date: May 30, 2016
Place: Bodie Hills, Bridgeport, California
Coordinates: 38.194218, -119.050138
Length: about 1.8 miles
Level: moderate

We left Bodie State Historic Park without seeing a sage grouse. The attendant at the park's gate informed us that these grouse are very shy and skittish and that we can't expect to see them in mid-day with all the people about. He instructed us to come back late in the evening or very early in the morning. "They come out to the road," he said.
We did go back that evening. The park was closed but we hanged around on the dirt road that leads to the park and strained our eyes for naught.
We agreed to return to the area on the morrow. While sighting a sage grouse was highest on our wish list, I had another perfectly good reason to go back there: the wildflowers I had seen on our visit to the park had left me with a strong taste for more.
Getting there at first light was out of the question. I did toy with the idea of waking up at 5 am and getting the chikas into the car still in pajamas and sleeping bags, but Papa Quail got me off it pretty quickly. We would be driving home after that and it would be too much for one day.

We still had our hopes to see sage grouse. We drove past the paved road and onto the dirt road that leads to the state park. We selected a dale that seemed accessible and parked the car on a gravel pullout.
No name creek
The chikas sat on the curb to put on their hiking shoes and a little excitement broke when they discovered a small scorpion that was heading toward little chika's shoe, looking for a refuge from the open sunlight. Little chike hastily pulled away and elder chika suggested capturing the creature, an idea I got her off of quickly although I used to do exactly that as a young chika myself.
The shunned scorpion dug itself into the ground and we begun walking down into the dale.
The hills near the park are covered with low sagebrush scrub. On first glance it looked like nothing was in bloom. That impression had changed within the first few steps into the dale when I saw the first wildflower - a bunch of intensely purple penstemons.
Meadow Penstemon (Penstemon rydbergii) 
There were many birds around, most of them blackbirds. Very common, but pretty nonetheless.
Brewer's Blackbird, female
Most violets I've seen in California are yellow. At Bodie Hills I finally saw a violet species that justifies its name. 
Northern Bog Violet (Viola nephrophylla)
Thick grass covered the creek bed and we soon discovered that it covered deep, watery mud. What looked from afar an easy, grassy hike turned out to be a slushy, muddy affair.
Our natural reaction was to go on  the hillside where the ground was dry. If that was good enough for the squirrels ...
Least Chipmunk
But there was no proper trail on the hill. There were a few narrow paths suggesting that people have passed through before us, but no actual trail with a clear path for us to walk on.Soon we were pushing through the thorny scrub and rubbing against rocks. I had kept my eyes down for the ground had many little wildflowers blooming under the bushes and boulders' shade.
Popcorn Flower (Cryptantha sp.) 
Eventually going through the scrub on the hill became too challenging so I went back down to the creek, trying to walk on the edge between water and slope.
I soon got another affirmation that my so called water proof shoes were only water proof from the inside out. I also found many lovely flowers that didn't mind the water the least bit. On the contrary.
Toad Lily (Montia chamissoi)
Papa Quail and the chikas continued struggling through the scrub up on the slope and Papa Quail started to make sounds of unenjoyment that bordered on  hopelessness. I was hopping the habitat seam, looking out or rather, down) for more wildflowers and trying to keep more water from getting into my shoes.
Low Phacelia (Phacelia humilis var. humilis)
At some point Papa Quail stopped progressing. he was focused on a little dot far away on some rock.
For ever so long the green tailed towhee was at the top of Papa Quail's desires, having seen floating glimpses of it here and there but up until that morning it has always evaded photo opportunities. Now it was a prime opportunity :-)
Green-tailed Towhee with nesting material
After that Papa Quail gave in to the scrub and joined the chikas who were already treading the creek bed, hopping from one side of the little brook to another, trying to avid getting wet.
A willow at a strategic place. 
After some more time of negotiating the non-existent path we came upon a place where the water went underground and the slopes were much milder. Papa Quail announced that we had walked a mile and that it was time to turn back if we wanted to make it home at a reasonable hour.
A bright, red spot beckoned me from the slope. Papa Quail had seen it too and pointed it out to me. I knew that it must be an Indian paintbrush shrub and I said I was going to go there to get a good close-up shot of the plant.
So Papa Quail and the chikas sat down to rest and I clambered uphill through the scrub.

It took me a long time to get there, and not because the way was particularly challenging. It's just that there were too many pretty plants in bloom on the way, all of which so close to the ground that they were invisible to me from the creek below.
Humboldt River Milkvetch (Astragalus iodanthus)
Many of these wildflowers were completely new to me. They were also very small. I spent a lot of time on my knees trying to get decent shots.
Curvepod Milkvetch (Astragalus curvicarpus)
My solo hike uphill was a series of hops from one colorful cushion to another, with an occasional halt to remove all the thorns that got into my socks.
Cushion Phlox (Phlox pulvinata)
Fellow members of the California Native Plants Society call it 'Belly Botany'. It means having to lay down on the ground to get level with the plant. If I didn't do that it was only because there was no space there to lie down. Still, I managed to get quit low.
Brewer's Navarretia (Navarretia breweri)
The slope does add the advantage that every now an then a flower of interest is found level with my eyes simply because it's a bit uphill from where I stand.
Suksdorf's Monkeyflower (Mimulus suksdorfii)
Either way, I was making a very slow progress. Every now and then I looked to the creek below, but the chikas and Papa Quail were already out of sight.
I increased my pace.
Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia sp.)
When I finally made it to the red spot I found that it was indeed an Indian Paintbrush, of a species I met (in bloom) for the first time merely two days before near the Travertine Hot Springs. It was as spectacular sight indeed: such an intense color!
Desert Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa)
But my most surprising find was next to the bright-colored chromosa. It was another Indian Paintbrush, but cream-colored rather than red. It didn't stand out at all and blended shyly in the background. I thought at first that it was and albino version of the red species but no - it is a different species altogether. Needless to say, it was my first time seeing one.
Parrothed Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja pilosa)
I made it back to the creek bed. Papa Quail gathered the chikas and was ready to go but I pouted and sat down to eat. Eventually Papa Quail did start back with the chikas, leaving me to finish my snack and look forlornly at the downstream part of the creek that I wouldn't get to explore that day.

Eventually I got on my feet and followed my family up the creek. On my way I came across dish-like leaf rosettes, many of which had a dandelion blooming on their side. The dish-like plants are the native dinnerplate thistles. The dandelions are immigrant weeds.
Dinnerplate Thistle (Cirsium scariosum var. americanum) with non-native common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
On the way back I got the chanch to explore more closely the willow that was growing in the middle of the creek. I was not able to determine the species, however.
Willow (Salix sp.)
Looking closely I saw another bush growing inside the willow: a golden currant that was in full bloom.
Golden Currant (Ribes aureum)
Papa Quail was tracking some birds on the slope and the chikas were waiting for me in the puny mid-day shade cast by the willow. Upon seeing me they got up and started up the creek again.
After some walking I noticed a shallow cave up on the hill and I informed Papa Quail that I was going up there to explore who might be living there. On the way up I came upon many little beauties, like this dwarf monkeyflower.
Skunky Monkeyflower (Mimulus nanus var. mephiticus)
There were two subspecies of it blooming around, each more beautiful than the other.
Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower (Mimulus nanus)
It was the west-facing slope and there were so many little flowers there that I had a very slow time going up, doing my best not to step on any of them.
Small-flowered Blazingstaer (Mentzelia albicaulis)
The cave itself turned to be a bit of a disappointment: campfire leftovers left no doubt that the latest inhabitant of that rock cavity was of the species Homo sapiens.
The space in front of the cave, however, was carpeted by a species of Phacelia that I had never seen before: the beautiful and delicate Twocolor Phacelia.
Twocolor Phacelia (Phacelia bicolor)
Papa Quail called from below and I stepped down grudgingly. I really didn't want to leave the place as it seemed to me that I had only been scraping the surface, as far as wildflowers were considered.
Nevada Gilia (Gilia brecciarum)
But Papa Quail was right: our progress was very slow (we were treading as lightly as we could) and time was running out for us. So off we went up the creek once more.

Once we stopped worrying about wetting our shoes we were making a faster progress on our way back. I was striding at the tail of my family, stopping now only infrequently for a quick shot here and there. Like these nice-looking old iris fruits that dotted the wider segments of the creek bed.

Eventually we got back to the dale we had started at. Papa Quail and the chikas headed directly to the car and started changing their shoes. I took my time and enjoyed the views.
Sagebrush (Artemisia cana)
This creek does not extend uphill on the other side of the road: it begins south of the road where the water seeps out of the ground in a shallow spring that gives life to everything below it. 
I went up to the car in slow unwilling steps, the soil turning drier under my feet and the lush grass remaining behind. Stooping to say a last goodbye to one of the tiny residents of the Bodie Hills Sagebrush I got into the car and we drove off.
Purple Mat (Nama densum)
On our way to Bodie State Historic Park the day before I saw much bloom by the road side. Now I had the opportunity for a few quick stops to capture the sights.
Sulphur Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)
I was interested in one plant in particular: a large bush near the road that looked so pink that based on the quick glimpse from the moving car I wasn't sure if that was a natural bloom. It was, however, natural and also very fragrant. The sweet, heavy smell of the rose family.
Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii)
It was a busy weekend in Bodie, but on occasions the road cleared for a few moments. As we were gliding back down toward Hwy 395 and Bridgeport we caught the sight of the Sierra Nevada range with all its majestic glory.
Mount Dunderberg
We did not see any sage grouse, but botanically speaking this trip was a mind-blowing success: we got so see so much bloom and nearly all of it was new to us. And we got a taste of an area that clearly has many more natural treasures for us to discover.
We will be back.


  1. I know the belly botanic very well, but only from watching other people doing that...
    The flowers are beautiful and so is the Green-tailed Towhee.

    I guess you will see the sage grouse another time :-)

    1. Oh, we're definitely going after that sage grouse again :-) Thank you!