Since my Mojave hangouts are all in the process of turning into an oven for the next couple months, I’ve been doing a little exploring closer to home in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, located in the Angeles National Forest.
The hike was from Islip Saddle up to the summit of Mount Williamson and a bit further. All told it was about 5.2 miles out and back. The hike itself was moderate, the vast majority of the first portion is uphill with numerous switchbacks. Having shade is a luxury I’m not afforded in the high desert so I took the opportunity to sit under some of the many conifers and listen and watch. At one point a chickadee, unconcerned with my presence, was browsing the pine branches not ten feet over my head. Across the trail, in a massive dead pine, violet-green swallows were nesting. Their lilting flight reminded me of the wagtails I fell in love with in France a couple years ago. There’s a grace to them in the air, more akin to butterflies or kites. They dance instead of plowing through the air.
The trail from the parking lot began with conifers the dominant feature on the steep slopes, but there was also a healthy population of Canyon Live Oaks before it began to really climb. Other notables along the way were plenty of well-spaced Western Wallflowers (Erysimum capitatum), Sierra Gooseberry (Ribes roezlii), Mountain Whitethorn (Ceanothus codulatus), Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), Greenleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula).
On the climb up, huge thickets of manzanita blanketed the ground, interspersed with yucca whipplei. The views were quite pretty looking across to Mount Islip and Throop Peak even though the route never really gets above treeline. Approaching the summit, the trees cleared somewhat with decent views. Just past the summit at a rocky section, I stumbled on some gorgeous
Urn-flowered Alumroots, endemic to the San Gabriel Mountains and somewhat rare.
On the way back I stumbled across this lovely. Having never seen one before I of course breathed, “Hello, little dragon egg!” Turns out it’s a snowplant (Sarcodes sanguinea) - it’s part of the heath family and is parasitic, living off mycorrhizal fungi on tree roots. Pretty neat!