Our first expedition was up into Bear Creek Canyon, just outside Palm Desert, CA. Our mission was to find as many flowering species of plants as possible.
Our leader, Rusty Russel, leads a herbarium at the Smithosian and wants these species to compare to research that was done back in the nineteenth century. We are looking to see if any new species have invaded, and if any change in the climate has caused stress on certain species.
It was a hot dry day, and a mile into the climb, we were already exhausted. Then, at the top of the first ridge, magic happened. I came across a pair of endangered Big Horn Sheep, coming as close as 15 feet away. When they saw the rest of the group, they took off down the mountain in a thunderous flash. This picture was taken when they rested down behind some rocks below to check us out.
As we continued, we found many different flowering plants. Each one needs to be bagged, recorded and eventually pressed on the mountain. I was shocked to learn that these samples, once completely dry, can last forever.
I have started to learn the proper names of some of the plants that have been familiar to me on previous hikes. The small white flowers are called cryptantha. The Ocotillo, my favorite, were large tree like plants with enormous red flowers. The yucca are tall Dr. Suess like flowers with brilliant red cones. The floor of some parts of the chaperral were lined with yellow gillia. It was like walking on sunshine.