Saturday, May 15, 2021

Elusive Greenhorn Mountains Flower Hunt

Greenhorn Fritillary

The Greenhorn Mountains are a southern Sierra Nevada sub-range northeast of Bakersfield and west of Lake Isabella in Kern and Tulare counties. This unique range hold several endemic flowers, two of which we were determined to see. Greenhorn Fritillary (Fritillaria brandegeei) has a California Rare Plant rating of 1B.3. The other is Shirley Meadows Star Tulip (Calochortus westonii) has a rare rating of 1B.2. Both are rare within their limited range and threatened by habitat destruction, logging, off-road vehicle use, and climate change. Susan had seen the star tulip many years ago, long before we were serious about this stuff. Neither of us had found the fritillary even after several search efforts over the past few years. We decided to give it another try this year in a new location during the peak blooming season of early May. We hiked off from the car on a closed forest service road in a promising area armed with information from sightings in previous years.

We reached the first point and came up empty. We pressed on to the next location and scored an excellent showing of star tulips. As we cast about looking for the fritillary, Susan came upon two plants that showed great promise, but weren't blooming yet. The plant structure was a match and we were sure we had found it, but we would need to return in about a week and hope the local deer would leave them alone in the meantime. 

Shirley Meadows Star Tulip

a fritillary not yet in bloom

In the intervening week we took another hike in a different location in the Greenhorns. There was little chance for finding these rare plants on this hike (and we didn't), but the area was green and there were other great flowers, even with the drought conditions. Birding was exceptional with many species including several singing Nashville Warblers.

eBird List

Hiking at about 5,600 feet elevation in the Greenhorns

Pacific Dogwood

Common Madia

Common Madia

Purple Fairy Lantern

Purple Owl's-clover


Common Madia

And then it was time to return for our rarities. Our good friends Tom and Liga joined us for the adventure, serious flower hunters and birders themselves. We repeated the hike and went directly to the previous fritillary location, and scored! After soaking up the joy of seeing such a beautiful life flower and having lunch, we continued farther down the road beyond where Susan and I had stopped the week before. And holy cow, what a sight. For the next quarter of a mile each of us found more fritillaries in bloom, lots of them! There were easily a couple dozen plants in this small stretch. Wow! We spent a lot of time looking and photographing. And oh yes, we also found dozens of peak bloom star tulips. It was amazing. 

Blooming Greenhorn Fritillary

Susan, Tom, and Liga admire a fritillary

Susan gets low for close-ups

Shirley Meadows Star Tulip

It was a special day with good friends, fantastic flowers, great birding, and perfect weather. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021


We like looking at old mining junk.  No idea why.  We aren't fans of the big new industrial mining sites, or the concept of the American west as a resource extraction colony, but do enjoy seeing the ingenuity and hard work that created the old mining sites.  One day I stumbled across a Death Valley video that talked about doing remediation at the Skidoo mill in 2021.  Oh no!  This could be bad and the site looks so intact.  I must see it before they remediate it, so off we went.  Why this fear about remediation, well the BLM remediated the Ruth Mill in the Argus, and it went from an intact three story building to a concrete foundation. Yes, they destroyed it.  ARRRGH!  I honestly have no idea what will happen in Death Valley to Skidoo, and assume it won't be that extreme, but better to see it while I can.

Cool NP video explaining the mill operation

The brief text I found on clean up at the mill

We started our day with the everblooming Panamint Daisy.  Why do we call it that?  Cuz it is near the road and we have friends that haul it water several times a year.  And boy does it respond.  It was blooming in November, and is still blooming.  It is a California rare and threatened plant having only a limited range in the Panamints.  It is also a stunning plant.  What a looker.

After our flower fix we headed off to Skidoo.  The townsite has some random junk hidden in the brush and nothing else.  When the mine played out, they reused the materials and moved them elsewhere.  Legend has it that only Old Tom remained in 1922 still trying to eke out a living.

A bit of Skidoo history, gold was discovered in 1906 and was worked until 1917 when the mine played out.  Over time a fifteen stamp mill was installed that was water powered.  Water isn't available at the site, and had to be piped in from near the top of Telescope Peak, at Jail Spring, twenty-two miles away.  The town was called 23 Skidoo, I guess they thought the water source was 23 miles away.

The stamps at the mill were put in at different times.

Love the wooden flywheel.

Part of the water pipe.

Part of what might be remediated, cyanide vats, and the dirt below.

Only had a small group for the day.

Another plant is blooming in this dry year.

Another loading shoot near the mill.

Our luck with the wind was pretty good as it was just starting to come up as we left the Skidoo Mill.  We stopped as one of the old houses along the way back.  Looks fairly primitive to me, but the date in the concrete was 1951.

We also stopped at another mine that had an explosives' locker.  The locker with cinderblocks looked fairly modern, but the inside blew us away, it was lined with 1970's paneling.  Definitely not expecting that.

Our last stop of the day was at a petroglyph site I had found a reference to.  The lines and cupolas were interesting, as was the choice of the surface that was worked.


It was a fun introduction to the area.  Since we barely scratched the surface of things to explore, there will be future trips in the area.