Two Days In The Colorado Desert

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This is a writeup of a hike I did recently (February, 2021) in the desert of southeastern California, known as the Colorado Desert (named after the river).

Greetings readers,

I took a couple days aside to do a little lepping in the Colorado Desert along I-8 in Imperial and eastern San Diego Counties, California. My playlist contained albums from Three Days Grace and Hollywood Undead, and a variety of other alternative rock acts within the past decade that each contributed a song such as MCR, Bayside, and Foo Fighters. My hiking food list consisted of homemade date and banana protein cake loaves, my usual protein shakes from those same fruit, a bag of beef jerky, some cheap tins of sardines, and some sub-mediocre oranges picked from a neighbor's tree.

My music would prove to be the best part of my trip. According to forecasts, the I-8 corridor got a decent rain around January 20 (supposedly up to an inch and a half at Jacumba), but you sure couldn't tell. The only green plant life anywhere was what was found in irrigated fields in the Imperial Valley. An hour or two spent walking up and down alfalfa fields on Thursday 2/11 yielded a couple of tiny dayflying moths (geos?) and that would be it. The alkali mallow is ubiquitous and in decent shape on their edges, but yielded no P. scriptura nests or adults. Temperature was a perfectly adequate 70F or so at this early hour, with full sun and no wind.

I pretty quickly got the hint and decided to move up my next scheduled stop, Quartz Peak in the Black Mtns. on the east flank of the Chocolate Range a little bit NE of the Glamis Dunes. I arrived by 11 a.m. and was on the summit before 1. While dormant perennial hosts were abundant (Thamnosma, Bebbia, Asclepias), once more--not a single lepidopteran was there to be seen. My only hilltopping friends would be a couple of common odes. Winter annuals were nonexistent (a very small number of sprouts not progressed past the stage of seed leaves was seen underneath nurse plants). The desert was the driest I've ever seen it--albeit oddly enough, the ocotillo was very green and lush; go figure. While Quartz (a little shy of 2200'--downright alpine by the standards of the eastern Colorado Desert)--was a pleasant climb and a "must return" destination for when (if!) we ever get a wet winter again, my only voucher would be a nice photo of a desert tortoise deep in its burrow (uploaded to iNaturalist with location slightly obscured), desperately praying for any kind of precip so it could eat.

I was at my car by 2:30 pm. The day was still fairly young, but I'm not anymore. Despite pretty good sleep and nourishment the night before, I was beat. Plus, there wasn't any other place around that was worth checking out in this moonscape of a spring, and that could be reached within the daylight hours I had left. A brief attempt at a nap on the road shoulder right before Glamis was interrupted by a BLM ranger who had stopped to accost a similar motorist (parked without a pass, I assume) so I soldiered on back to Brawley and eventually back down to the Jaime Obeso Rest Area at Seeley which would be my campsite for the night. A conversation with my dear mentor to share the results of my hike, and with my grandmother in her group home, would cap off the night.

Friday, 2/12 would see me hitting a number of spots around Jacumba in eastern San Diego County, with the goal being to score a few tents of the ever-elusive Megathymus yuccae harbisoni giant skipper butterfly. I was temporarily driven back to my vehicle for a nap by gale-force winds and rain, but it didn't cost me much time and otherwise I put in a whole day of work. To show for it, I was rewarded with just a single larva. There weren't even many old or failed tents. So, for whatever reason the population is down where I looked (albeit many spots are not searchable because they are posted private property or in Anza-Borrego). The Keckiella and Thamnosma bushes are still alive, but nothing to write home about. No Euphydryas larvae were seen. The spring greening-up here was about 10% better than further east and the sand was at least sort of moist.

I packed up just before 6 and enjoyed a mostly traffic-free evening back to San Diego. A mediocre steak burrito from Burro & Fries and a yummy Robek's smoothie would conclude my trip that night prior to the long drive back to Whittier. My biggest lep highlight of these two days would be a huge Hyalophora euryalus flopping around on the median in front of the San Onofre power plant, visibility courtesy of a massive traffic jam prompted by some kind of a big police stop on I-5 (drug bust? body found in a trunk?). This surely was one of my least productive trips of the past five years. Oh well... any time I can get out, prove I've still got it in hiking, and arrive back in one piece is something to be thankful for.

Praise God for his wilderness and majesty, even when it's not quite the way we hoped it.



Submitted: February 14, 2021

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