Sunday, January 11, 2015

Seasons, San Diego-Style, at Mt Gower

Sorry for my long absence. I've spent the last several weeks in San Diego (a.k.a. heaven). On Monday, I will return to the meat grinder that is graduate school. Actually, I think being ground up in a meat grinder might be more pleasant.

Some people say they don't want to live in San Diego because they like the changing of the seasons. To them I say: Good. Stay where you are. We're overpopulated here. Enjoy shoveling snow.

However, we DO have seasons here. They just don't involve snow (unless you go up in the mountains). The Kumeyaay people referred to the seasons as cold, rainy (winter); wildflowers (spring); hot, dry (summer); and harvest (fall). That sounds about right to me. We're currently in cold rainy but the first signs of wildflowers are already here. And I AM EXCITED. It's kind of like when you first see Christmas decorations come out before Halloween and you know it's not actually Christmas season yet but it still means that it's coming. If wildflower season is your Christmas.

I wanted to share a hike I did this past Thursday up Mt Gower, an 8 mile hike in Ramona. Because a sadist constructed the trail, I did not get to the top. Well, I am sure I could have but it was late in the day and I wanted to get down by sunset. And the reason why it took me so long was that I kept taking pictures, enjoying all of the signs of San Diego's winter and upcoming wildflower season.

Mt Gower Open Space Preserve is located in Ramona, CA. It's the part of the county that gets beastly hot in the summer, so now is a good time to visit. Actually, March will probably be a better time to visit, because there will be flowers everywhere.

When you begin, all sorts of obvious signs point you to the trail. Shortly thereafter, you reach this sign:

Mt Gower Trail Map

You can go left or right. Go right.

Here's a close-up of that map:

Mt Gower Trail Map

I made it to about the C. If you can't read a topo, let me translate this one: up down up down up down up down. I enjoy going up a mountain and then back down. I am less pleased about this repeated up and down arrangement, particularly when I don't expect it in advance. It's easier to get yourself in trouble on trails like these because when you're going "down" you still have to go UP.

In any case, there were already early blooming flowers all over, mainly sugar bush and manzanita.

Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)

Mission Manzanita (with bee)
Mission Manzanita, with bee

Mission Manzanita (with bee)

Mission Manzanita
Mission Manzanita

Other type of manzanita

You can still see the damage from the Cedar Fire of 2003, which burned most of this area, although there is plenty of regrowth. In this picture, you can see the dead wood from what burned above the manzanita regrowing beneath:

Regrowth After the Cedar Fire

There's quite a lot of a type of perennial sage I'm unfamiliar with. It's not white or black. It might be purple sage (Salvia leucophylla) but that's just a guess I can't confirm without seeing the flowers. It smelled slightly different from the other sages, and very nice.


Sage close-up. It's lighter than black sage but darker than white, with a different fragrance from either.

Speaking of good smells, I saw lots of my favorite-smelling plant, Artemisia californica, a close relative of sagebrush, mugwort, and wormwood.

Artemisia californica

Here's the TRUE sign of the start of wildflower season (for me, anyway): a baby wild cucumber vine beginning to grow. First these flower and then the rest of the landscape explodes in flowers soon thereafter:

Wild Cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)
Wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus)

P.S. They aren't edible.

Here's another plant growing that will soon explode into flowers. I need to check to be sure but I would bet this is some sort of Four O'Clock.


Most exciting of all to me was the little baby native chia plants I saw (Salvia columbariae). These plants have nutritious seeds like the chia sold in supermarkets and health food stores, but it is a different species than those.

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)

For perspective, here's how tiny they are right now if you are standing and looking at the ground:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)

So how did I spot these tiny baby plants? I saw what I correctly guessed were last year's dead chia plants up above them. Or perhaps dead plants from the year before, considering last year's drought:

Native Chia (Salvia columbariae)
Dead chia plants

There was also a bit of something I did not recognize in the sunflower family already blooming:


And the first blue dicks are starting to grow - with no flowers just yet. They are the plants that look like large blades of grass in this pic:

Blue Dicks sprouting
Blue Dicks

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi) are also growing. These plants produce one flower in the fall and one leaf each in the spring. Because they are weird. But each little leaf hides an edible corm just below the soil.

Indian potatoes (Jepsonia parryi)

A navigational note: After maybe a mile, a water tower comes into view (visible in this picture below in the background). Once you can see it, there's a fork in the trail. Go left.

Artemisia californica
Artemisia californica in front, water tower in back

As you're coming along and the water tower is in view, you can look down and see some sycamores, which are the deciduous trees with yellowing leaves that have mostly dropped off in this picture:

Ravine with Sycamores

Ravine with Sycamores
Close-up of sycamores

The trail you want to follow goes down to the sycamores and back up the other side. It gets very steep as it goes back up. After you come up that steep side, you start doing all of the up and down, up and down. It's mostly fairly minor but it's still a pain. And you aren't even really going up Mt Gower, you're still basically walking toward it. This becomes clear when you look around and see this:

Mt Gower
Mt Gower... that tall thing that you aren't actually climbing yet

Oh, you wanted to go to the top of Mt Gower? Well, you've got a ways to go before you even start on that. Sorry. Keep walking. Up and down, up and down.

It wasn't long after that when I got fed up and headed back. I'm staying with a friend and borrowing her car, and it did not seem polite to stay out after dark when she didn't expect me to. But I can tell you that the last bit of the Mt Gower hike involves rock scrambling and bouldering, so expect that if you go.

All in all it was a fun hike that will be spectacular once wildflower season arrives in full and beastly hot and miserable in the summer. Best of all, it's uncrowded, unlike some other nearby hikes. I saw a total of two other hikers the entire time I was there - and no dog poop or mountain bikers at all.

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