I first hiked El Cajon Mountain on June 1, 2014. I knew the trail by its reputation as a nasty, difficult trail that goes up and down steep slopes for 11 miles with hot temperatures and no shade. It's located in El Capitan Open Space Preserve in Lakeside, CA. What I did not expect when I arrived was the spectacular wildflower display.
El Cajon Mountain
(Note: If you do plan to hike El Cajon Mountain, start as early in the morning as you can and bring at least 5 liters of water and some snacks. Some people do this hike in 4 hours, but I do it in around 6 or more. The temperatures are beastly by 10:30am or so.)
Now that I knew about the flowers, I was determined to go back. Last summer I went up it three times (twice without my camera), and I saw scarlet larkspur, woolly blue curls, a humboldt lily, western azaleas, and more. So what blooms on El Cajon Mountain during the peak of wildflower season, in early April?
My out of shape arse only made it 2.5 miles up the trail (and back down again, which is no small task in this case), but here is what I saw:
Gazania, an escaped garden flower originally from South Africa that is naturalized in San Diego county
Cape Marigold, another African garden escape
An Indian Pink, one of my favorites, and only the second one I've ever seen
Blue Dicks, a very common flower but one I find difficult to photograph because they are on long, thin stems, always blowing in the wind. I am very pleased with myself for this shot. This flower has an edible corm, which the Kumeyaay Indians traditionally ate.
The next flower deserves an introduction. Fire poppies tend to bloom after a fire. To the best of my knowledge, El Cajon Mountain burned in the 2003 Cedar Fire but it has not burned since. I wasn't looking for or expecting to see a fire poppy there. My flower book says fire poppies have four petals, and this flower has six. But it's a dead ringer for a fire poppy, aside from the lack of fire and the six petals. There's another type of poppy that looks similar called a wind poppy, but wind poppies have "distinctively purple" stamens and this flower does not. So I think it's an actual fire poppy! Hooray!
A fire poppy!
The ubiquitous chaparral yucca, Hesperoyucca whipplei, a.k.a. Our Lord's Candle
Beautiful and sweet smelling ceanothus
Bush poppy - there are entire bushes covered in these
Best guess: Hooked Skunkweed, Navarretia hamata, in the Phlox family.
Lots of California poppies, cryptantha, and blue dicks
California Poppies and Owl's Clovers
Owl's Clover and California Poppy