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Mojave Desert - part II
April 2023


Mojave National Preserve
Returning to the preserve, we were impressed by the large clusters of blooming phacelia among a very green (for a desert) landscape. By mid-morning, we reached our usual dispersed camping spot, which was blissfully unoccupied. After setting up camp, we hiked into the wash below the campsite and were again awestruck by the extent of blooming phacelia. The goldenbush on the hillside was also in full bloom.

Small blossoms of woolly sunflower, cryothantha, rattlesnake weed, and woolly daisy sprinkled color over the desert gravel. At the springs near the old mine, yellow monkeyflower bloomed over the small pools of water. Clusters of bluebells colored the hillside. In the seep below Cottonwood Springs, a few red-spotted toadpoles squiggled in the shallows. The cottonwoods at the spring looked a little worse for wear. This year's rain did little to reverse the overall damage climate change has had on this little spring. Only a Lazuli Bunting and Black-throated Sparrows sang nearby. The trees surrounding the springs were pretty quiet.

After returning to camp, we spent the evening wandering along the road, taking in the views, and attempting to capture it with our cameras. The night cooled to quiet peaceful solitude, except for the chirping crickets and the occasional Common Poorwill or Great Horned Owl call.

In the morning, we returned to Cottonwood Springs where bird life was a little more lively. Townsend's and Orange-crowned Warblers gleaned the juniper. A Scott’s oriole and Lazuli Bunting sang from the tree tops. Warblers and sparrows came down to the pools below the junipers for a quick bath. While enjoying the sights and sounds of the spring, we heard a distinctive call of a hawk. The Merlin app identified it as a Zone-tailed Hawk, which is rare for the area. Years ago, we spotted one in pretty much the same place. Now, I kept scanning the warming skies for the Turkey Vulture-like flight. I spotted the Zone-tailed Hawk drifting up on the rising thermals along with the vultures. It was nice to see the hawk in the area again.

Mid-morning, we followed the old jeep trail, which eventually went to a mine atop one of the peaks in the Granite Mountains. We climbed up into a small canyon where the walls were covered in prickly cholla and ultra-violet bluebells. Hermit Thrush, Lazuli Bunting, Juniper Titmouse, and Dusky Flycatcher were sang and fluttered among the canyon oak and junipers. We paused on a large boulder to enjoy the sights before we hiked back down to the large spring off the trail. The spring had once been easily accessible from the trail, but the desert scrub had grown in considerably. We had to zigzag our way through prickly cholla, blackbrush and catsclaws to reach the springs.

At the springs, water trickled down the granite rocks and flowed through algae dense pools, which teemed with toadpoles and eggs. A pair of Red-spotted Toads were coupled and in search of the right pool to spawn. The male clung to her back as she hopped up and down the series of pools. She ended up spawning in a crack of a pool. As soon as they were finished, the male hopped off, retreated into the dense grass, and gave a few trilled calls to await the next female.

After cleaning up and eating dinner back at camp, we walked along the road at dusk. The sound of crickets and the occasional hoot from the Great Horned Owl filled the desert air for another quiet night under the waxing moon. The stars began to twinkle down on us. Later in the night, the Milky Way stretched across the sky in an impressive display. Despite being so close to the Vegas light pollution, it was the best showing of the night sky and the Milky Way that I'd seen so far on this trip.

We set out for Coyote Springs to the north in the morning. We dropped down into the wash again and followed it through narrow rain-worn rock walls and wide open deep gravel. A large honeybee colony gathered on the trunk of a mesquite, perhaps on the move to a new hive. Black-throated Sparrows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and House Finches chattered at us from yucca and catsclaws. The wash eventually dropped us back on the road and in creosote. A few dense patches of desert dandelion bloomed along the creosote. The springs we visited had little to no water, which was surprising given the year it had been. Still the canyons were busy with birdlife: Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Gray Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, and Rock Wrens.

The preserve cleaned up Coyote Springs and the canyon by blocking access at the main road. The campsite that was normally denuded of vegetation due to human and car activity was now free of litter (and shotgun shells) and plants were starting to get reestablished. The day grew hotter, but hiked up the old jeep trail to (you guessed it) another mine. On the hillside, phelicia, suncups, pincushion, mariposa lily, and aster were in bloom. Down the valley, we could see Kelso Dunes in the distance. After visiting the old tunnel mine that we had seen years ago, we turned back down the trial toward camp.

The heat of a desert day can really change your perspective of a place. The creosote bushes become incredibly monotonous and exhausting. With almost no breeze to help fight off the heat, hiking up the smallest incline can seem challenging. Without the sounds of birds or even a scuttle of a lizard across the path, a four mile hike somehow seems like it would take eons. A strenuous walk through a desert can make you ponder hard about your own mortality.

Back at camp we were able to recharge and prepare for our next day's journey back to civilization and home. We spent our final evening basking in the beauty and solitude of the Mojave desert.

On our final morning, we stopped at the Kelso Dunes. Birdcage primroses were still open from their evening blooming and the desert dandelions were just beginning to open to the desert sun. Desert marigolds, pincushions, and the impressive desert lily were in full bloom in the soft sand. Just as we were getting ready to finally leave for the airport, Tor found a sidewinder tucked into the sand overnight. From the patterns in the sand, it looked like it had caught and eaten a lizard, then fully from its meal wound up in a tight coil for the night. Seeing the sidewinder in its perfectly content pose was a wonderful way to end our trip.

back to part I


Pictures (click on thumbnail)

A few birds of Mojave Desert
Lizards of the Mojave Desert doing pushups
Red-spotted Toad couple spawns in a shallow spring in the Mojave National Preserve

back to part I

Bird List
Cinnamon Teal D(CC)
Gambel's Quail J,MP
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) J
Eurasian Collared-Dove J
Mourning Dove D,J,MP
Greater Roadrunner MP
Common Poorwill D,MP
Vaux's Swift J
White-throated Swift J
Black-chinned Hummingbird D(CC)
Anna's Hummingbird J,MP
Costa's Hummingbird D,J,MP
Broad-tailed Hummingbird D
Turkey Vulture D,J,MP
Golden Eagle MP
Cooper's Hawk D(CC),J
Zone-tailed Hawk MP
Red-tailed Hawk D
Great Horned Owl D,J,MP
Ladder-backed Woodpecker J,MP
Hairy Woodpecker D
Northern Flicker D
American Kestrel J
Prairie Falcon J,MP
Hammond's Flycatcher J,MP
Gray Flycatcher D,MP
Dusky Flycatcher MP
Pacific-slope Flycatcher MP
Black Phoebe D
Say's Phoebe D(CC),MP
Ash-throated Flycatcher D,J,MP
Cassin's Vireo D(CC)
Plumbeous Vireo D
Warbling Vireo J,MP
Loggerhead Shrike D,MP
Pinyon Jay D
Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay D,MP
Common Raven D,J,MP
Mountain Chickadee D
Juniper Titmouse D,MP
Verdin D(CC),J,MP
Violet-green Swallow D,J
Cliff Swallow D
Bushtit D
Ruby-crowned Kinglet D
White-breasted Nuthatch D
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher D,MP
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher J,MP
Rock Wren D,J,MP
Canyon Wren D,MP
House Wren D
Bewick's Wren D,J,MP
Cactus Wren J,MP
Crissal Thrasher MP
Northern Mockingbird J,MP
Western Bluebird D
Townsend's Solitaire D
Hermit Thrush MP
American Robin D,J,MP
Phainopepla J,MP
House Sparrow MP
House Finch D,J,MP
Cassin's Finch MP
Lesser Goldfinch J,MP
American Goldfinch D(CC)
Chipping Sparrow D,MP
Black-chinned Sparrow D,MP
Brewer's Sparrow D,MP
Black-throated Sparrow D,J,MP
Dark-eyed Junco D
White-crowned Sparrow D,MP
Song Sparrow D(CC)
Green-tailed Towhee D,MP
Spotted Towhee D,MP
Bullock's Oriole J
Scott's Oriole D,J,MP
Brewer's Blackbird D
Great-tailed Grackle D(CC)
Orange-crowned Warbler D(CC),J,MP
Lucy's Warbler D(CC),J
Nashville Warbler J,MP
Virginia's Warbler D
MacGillivray's Warbler J
Yellow Warbler D(CC), J,MP
Black-throated Gray Warbler D,MP
Townsend's Warbler J,MP
Wilson's Warbler J,MP
Black-headed Grosbeak D(CC)
Lazuli Bunting J,MP
Greater earless lizard D
Side-blotch Lizard D, J, MP
Long-nosed Leopard Lizard J
Sagebrush Lizard D
Great Basin Whiptail D, J, MP
Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard D, J, MP
Zebra-tailed Lizard J
Desert Tortoise J
rattlesnake J
Sidewider MP
Black-tailed Jackrabbit J, MP
Desert Cottontail J, MP
Round-tailed ground squirrel Amboy crater
Antelope squirrel D, J, MP
Rock squirrel D
Painted Lady
Common checkered skipper
Morning cloak
Sagebrush checkerspot
Desert marble
California patch butterfly

Notable blooms
desert sand-verbena J
desert rock pea J
Parish's onion J
white burrobrush MP
chaffbush MP
bristly fiddleneck J
woolly bluestar D, J
scale bud J
pointleaf manzanita J
freckled milk-vetch J
Newberry's milkvetch D
smallflower milkvetch D
Palmer's milkvetch J
woolly-pod milk-vetch D
desert marigold D, J, MP
sicklepod rockcress J
bigfoot hybrid rockcress D
blue grama D
desert mariposa lily MP
Mojave sun cup MP
Lewis' evening primrose J
desert paintbrush D, J, MP
Fremont's pincushion MP
fleshcolor pincushion J
fivetooth spineflower MP
yellow cups D, J
brown-eyed primrose J
New Mexico thistle J, MP
ropevine J
bladderpod J
blackbrush MP
sand pygmyweed MP
wingnut cryptantha D, MP
scented cryptantha D
teddybear cholla J
silver cholla J
desert larkspur J, MP
Bigelow's monkeyflower D
annual redspot monkeyflower D
blue dicks J
California shieldpod J
Panamint liveforever J
strawberry hedgehog cactus J, MP
kingcup cactus J, MP
whispering bells J
brittlebush J
Nevada Mormon tea J
narrowleaf suncup D
desert woollystar J
narrowleaf goldenbush J, MP
California wild buckwheat MP
desert trumpet J
Pringle's woolly sunflower MP
woolly daisy J, MP
common monkey-flower MP
desert goldenpoppy D, J
rattlesnake weed J, MP
ocotillo J
hairy milkweed J
star gilia J
spiny hopsage MP
cushion cryptantha D, MP
desert lily MP
bristly langloisia MP
creosote bush J
white-daisy tidytips J, MP
desert pepperweed D, J
golden linanthus MP
California tickseed J
Mojave desert parsley J
Nevada biscuitroot MP
Bajada lupine MP
peach thorn MP
smooth desert dandelion J
white-bract blazing star J
wishbone bush J
Mojave desertstar D, J
purple mat J, MP
desert tobacco MP
California evening primrose J, MP
beavertail cactus J, MP
low cryptantha D
Emory's rockdaisy MP
California bluebell J, MP
notch-leaved phacelia D, J, MP
distant phacelia J
Fremont's phacelia D
cold-desert phlox D
yellow nightshade groundcherry J
Chambers' twinpod D
honey mesquite J
wild almond MP
bitterbrush D, MP
desert chicory MP
pink buttercup D
canaigre dock MP
chia J, MP
paperbag bush J, MP
spiny senna J
desert globemallow D
desert prince's plume J
turpentine broom D, MP
wedgeleaf draba D
Mojave aster D, J, MP
banana yucca MP
Joshua tree D, J
Mojave yucca J, MP

D: Desert NWR - Cabin Spring Road, Deadhorse Road, Hidden Forest Trail, Cow Camp Road, (CC): Desert NWR--Corn Creek (Field Station)
J: Joshua Tree NP--Indian Cove area, Barker Dam Trail, Wall Street Mill Trail, Oasis of Mara, Cottonwood Spring, Mastodon Trail
MP: Mojave National Preserve - Granite Mountains, Cottonwood Spring, Coyote Springs


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page updated: 6/18/23