Saturday, February 6, 2016

Mountain Palm Springs

My goal at the end of December was to find Elephant Trees in the Anza-Borrego Desert. These small, thick-trunked desert shrubs can harbor Gray Vireos in winter. There is an Elephant Tree Trail that supposedly leads to exactly one Elephant Tree. So I researched as best I could and came up with more of these rare-to-the-United-States trees beyond the Mountain Palm Springs in a remote area of the already remote Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I missed. From the parking area trails lead NW and SW to native California Fan Palms--rare in themselves. I was to take the SW trail, but it is not well-marked.

Walking up the wash led to the first palms with more beyond.

California Fan Palms

One of the driest areas in the United States and there was actually water flowing down the little creek!

California Fan Palms

Telling native California Fan Palms from the ubiquitous Mexican Fan Palms is not easy. Both are referred to by their scientific genus, washingtonia. What I think I have noticed is that the native palms are thicker-trunked and the fans are torn up into more individual leaflet spikes. But perhaps thick trunks are caused from access to year-round ground water and I just imagine the leaf difference.

California Fan Palms at Mountain Pine Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert

I should have kept following the stream into what looked like a dead end canyon at the head of the spring. From there evidently, a switchback trail leads up to the Elephant Trees. Instead, I followed the only sign I found and soon turned east out onto the desert floor. After a mile and a half I ended up at Bow Willow Campground.

Anza-Borrego Desert

It was still a pretty hike, with rocky outcroppings, Ocotilla, Cholla and Barrel Cactus. But I didn't end up where I wanted. I never did get to see the Elephant Trees.