Covid chronicles: The hidden bloom of Canebrake Valley

Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.

Having been a frequent visitor of the Californian desert now for the past few years, there is always a sense of anticipation in the air within the hiking community when it comes to the flower blooms that follow winter rains. Everyone wants to know the who, what, when, where, and why to get there before the crowds do.

Really wet winters lead to ‘super’ flower blooms in the desert, which draw springtime visitors from far and wide. In San Diego County the crowds flow into Borrego Springs of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the traffic mainly focusing on the areas that are easily accessed from roads. And I don’t blame these people for cramming the park — the blooms are shockingly beautiful. Orange, white, purple, and yellow flowers can stretch out for miles across the sandy desert valleys.

The best blooms are not always the easiest ones to find. Sometimes it takes a bit of exploration, checking each valley and canyon — seeing what’s beyond the next ridge on the horizon.

This year, 2019-20, was not a ‘super bloom’ year. After a couple good storms to start the winter, California went bone dry for January and February. An uncharacteristically wet spring came in March to save the day, but it was too little too late. Coronavirus had already squashed any plans to search for a late-season bloom within the state park boundaries.

Stumbling upon the hidden bloom

As part of my outdoor regimen during the lockdown — searching out remote, open hiking areas in the county — I ventured out to the high desert to take an age-old trail down into Canebrake Valley.

Canebrake Valley isn’t anything particularly special. It’s one of the dozens of flat, yet upward sloping, valleys that line the peninsular ranges of southern California.

The area was an important route for the Kumeyaay tribe, connecting their winter dwellings in the low desert to their summer homes in the more temperate mountain ranges.

I took my trustworthy, little Nissan down 10+ miles of dirt road in McCain Valley to reach my starting point. The road is as good as dirt roads get in the area due maintenance for the wind turbine farm.

I started with some cross country trekking, following a hanging valley down from McCain into Canebrake.

From a distance I began to see vibrant colors spread across the valley floor. The sweeping yellow Brittlebush was most prominent, with pockets of red, purple, orange, and white flowers filling in the blanks.

I hadn’t gone in search of the springtime bloom, but I had certainly stumbled upon one that few had seen due to the shutdown and remote location.

Take a gander at the vast range of blooming plants that we came across that April afternoon. (I am no botanist, so feel free to correct me on any of the flower identification).

Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Descending down into Canebrake Valley, with Sawtooth and Red Top mountains seen across the valley floor.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
As the valley floor came into view, the expansive bloom became apparent.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
The orange tones of Apricot Mallow were perhaps the most vibrant flowers.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Small flowers of Bearded Cryptantha.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Violet hue of the beavertail cactus flower.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Brittlebush was the main attraction, with its yellow flower enveloping the valley floor.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
California Chicory.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Chaparral Yucca towering above the other flowers.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Cholla cactus blooming.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Tiny Creamcups thriving in the micro environment close to the soil.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Engelmann’s Hedgehog cactus is quite unique with the inner shoot that sticks out from the center of the flower.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Amsinckia.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Hairbrush monkey flower
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Purple owl clover blanketed the ground in great quantities.
Indian Paintbrush in Canebrake Valley.
Indian Paintbrush.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
Saying goodbye to Canebrake Valley and climbing up back to the car.
Flower bloom Canebrake Valley, San Diego, California.
We didn’t exactly choose the easiest route back…

Is the age of the super bloom actually long gone?

To wrap up this post, I’d like to introduce an interesting thought that I came across in an article online.

The article theorizes that super blooms have always been around and were just popularized by social media, but the idea that makes my ears stand up is about human intervention on the land making super blooms a rare occurrence, instead of the norm.

Is the introduction of invasive flora, dams that leech natural water sources, and cement that banishes our soil to never see the sun causing these flower blooms to become rarer and less expansive?

Hard to say no.

2 thoughts

  1. Your writing inspires me to get out and explore more remote, less known areas of our beautiful state! I was not aware of peninsular ranges so I learned something new. Loved the pictures! Lynn

    Like

    1. Thanks! Yes many don’t think of mountains when they think of San Diego, but we have a ton of mountains in the 5,000-6,000 foot range, high enough to experience a great range of ecosystems and even get some snow in the winter.

      Like

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