"What an incredible trip", seemed to be the reaction of everyone.
During a day and two-thirds 11 CNPS members did a botanical grand tour of this spectacular piece of land, encompassing 270,000 acres or over 200'suare miles. Two of us came up the afternoon before and spent some time with Ellery Mayence, the Senior Ecologist at the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. After some office time and orientation the three of us spent the late Friday afternoon and evening visiting a small portion of the ranch, watching the sunset from the immense grasslands and foothills. Once back at the campground we talked until nearly midnight about the ranch, the plants and the land.
The next morning we met the rest of the group at the Conservancy headquarters. We were joined for the two days by Nick Jensen, a botanist with The Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden who is in his third year of surveying the ranch property and developing of a flora of the area. Nearly one thousand taxa are now on that list. That is almost 20% of all the species known to occur in California, a statistic that may not be repeatable anywhere else in the state.
Eleven of us fit comfortably into a large conservancy van and we headed out for a day that no one would forget. We began by traveling through the Mojave desert at the Southeastern edge of the ranch, visiting a Joshua tree forest and understanding the unique plants and ecology of this arid area. As we travelled up the canyon, edging closer to the mountains we saw our first and only Pronghorn, a male that stood beautifully on a hillside for all of our photographs. A bit further up the canyon we stopped for the hard-to-find little parasitic plant Pholisma arenaria, a couple of pacific diamondback rattlesnakes and other several nice plants.
The scenery was already terrific, but it only got better as we travelled up to the ridge and into the mountains that truly separates two of California's iconic areas, the Mojave Desert and the San Joaquin Valley. It Is a unique area in California that brings all of these biomes together, including the two very different valleys to the east and west, but also the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Peninsular ranges just to the North and South. While in the mountains we made numerous stops to see interesting or rare plants. It was great to have Nick Jensen as our guide, since he knew exactly where to find just about every one of these plants. As we drove and walked during the day, we probably said to Nick, "what's this" at least a hundred times, and he always obliged with a curteous and accurate answer.
Nick and Ellery took us to a recently discovered colony of Peirson's lupine (only the second location in the world and over 60 miles from the other location in the San Gabriel Mountains) and to an undescribed new species of Caluanthus. Nick is a Caulanthus specialist and is currently working on this plants and hopes to publish it as a new species in the near future. We stopped for lunch on a grassy ridge high in the mountains and ate and talked under a large spreading Kellogg oak. Blooming Calochortus venusta accompanied us as we ate. Not far away a California condor was seen soaring high over a ridge.
We very slowly descended the mountains along a north facing slope that afforded more wonderful discoveries of plants in full bloom, including Sedum spathulifolium, Allium peninsulare, Tritileia ixioides, Collomia grandiflora, the very rare Eriophyllum lanatum var. hallii, thousands of Clarkia cylindrica and countless others. We saw at least six species of Clarkia during the day. One of the most exciting stops for the group was to a colony of beautiful Acmispon grandiflorus, which we all agreed should be in horticulture. In the lower foothills we stopped to pay visit to a Native American site, with excellent petroglyphs (rock art) and well developed motreros.
Our travels during the day (80 miles in total) took us on a Grand Tour of the ranch as we traversed from one side to the other, from the desert floor, up into the mountains and conifer forests at over 6,000 feet, across flatlands, through the valleys, into grasslands and back down to the basin. Few people have ever been able to do a trip like this and see this much variety in a single day. What a day. We were grateful.
A few folks headed off to a motel while the rest of us camped under the stars on the ranch. While we snacked that evening we visited with our friends, made new friends and talked even more about the land, the need for conservation, our travels and of course our easy solutions to most of the worlds issues.
The second day was a visit to a small cluster of a recently discovered vernal pool complex in a foothill area of the ranch. In the now dry pools were growing an unidentified button celery (Eryngium species). Nick took voucher samples and worked on the plants taxonomy as we prowled for additional interesting plants in the oak woodland and grasslands. Following many more stops and plants, our lunch stop was at a beautiful riparian area with flowing water in the deep recesses of Tejon Canyon. We munched on our sandwiches and snacks as we eagerly investigated the interesting plants through the shaded, moist canyon.
We sadly departed on Sunday afternoon, our cameras filled with photographs, our tablets filled with notes and our minds overflowing with beautiful scenes and wonderful experiences that will stay forever.
many, many thanks to Ellery Mayence and Nick Jensen for giving us their time and knowledge during this trip. Also many thanks to OC CNPS field trip committee member Kevin Davey who set this entire trip up over the course of many month, numerous emails and handled all of the logistics. Volunteer members like Nick are a what makes CNPS such a great organization.
We are already thinking about a return trip next year. Maybe this time in March. Wow!
(At least 206 plant taxa were identified during the trip. For a complete list of these plants, click the "Plants Seen" tab.)