Two Deserts

Up as usual at 4:00 am this morning, I had a sudden desire to see if the Ocotillo in Joshua Tree was in bloom, since we had considerable rain (for a desert) two weeks ago. The plant puts out leaves shortly after any appreciable rainfall.

Joshua Tree National Park contains the edges of two deserts, the Mojave to the north, and the Lower Colorado to the south. The map shown here is a crop of the map supplied by the National Park Service at the gates to the park. I added a bit of text and arrows and labeled the two deserts. The transition zone between the two deserts appears a bit faintly on the map as a line several dots wide. It is easiest to make it out on the edge of Pinto Basin. Though I shot several frames in the Mojave zone, all of the photos in this post are from the Pinto Basin, in the Lower Colorado Desert.

I quickly showered then loaded the cameras into the car and left the house at 4:30. I stopped shortly after 6:00 am in the northern part of the park to shoot the sunrise, then at various locations in the Mojave, then drove on toward the basin where the Ocotillo groves are. I’ve never noticed Ocotillo in the Mojave section of the park, but it is possible that they are there and I’ve simply missed them multiple times.

I stopped at the area marked on the map as the Cholla Cactus Garden. Before walking among the Cholla, I spotted three Rangers standing around at the rear end of a Forest Service vehicle. I walked toward them, wondering about the state of the Ocotillo that I knew I’d find to the south.

“Do you know if the Ocotillo is in bloom?” I asked.

One of the two women answered. “I’m not sure.” She said. “I noticed the leaves were sprouting a few days ago, but I don’t remember seeing any blooms.” The other woman and the man shook their heads. They hadn’t noticed, either.

I nodded. It was understandable that they might miss it, since they saw it every day, and were probably thinking about other things that had nothing to do with what was going on in the park. “I thought it might be blooming after the rain we had.” I said. “I’ll see it down the road, anyway.”

As it turned out, the plant was in bloom, as can be seen in the photo shown here. I’ve seen it with the green shoots of leaves out, but no blooms several times. To my eye, the red makes creates a pleasing contrast with the surrounding terrain.

Below are crops of Ocotillo photos. From left to right, leaves sprouting from the trunk (a “cane”), a cane with blossoms, and a closeup of the same blossoms. The unopened flowers look like tiny lipsticks to me.

Other plants in the Pinto Basin that benefited from the recent rain included the yellow-blooming Bladder Pod.

Bladder Pod is an unfortunate name for the plant. It seems to me that it would be better to attach a name like “Desert Pea”, because the pods look much like pea pods.

Another plant blooming in profusion in the basin was the Scorpion Weed. At least that is what I believe the vibrant blue bloom is. My closest guess. It may well be something else. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong about something.

I took my time making my way through the park, stopping whenever I felt like it, but still made it back home at 11:00 am with 240 miles on the car’s trip meter and a half-empty gasoline tank. Except for the gasoline, my wallet was only $15 lighter from the park entrance fee for an automobile. One can hardly get a reasonable breakfast for that amount of money, anymore…

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