On the weekend of May 10th, Friends of the Inyo teamed up with the California Native Plant Society, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and volunteers to document the flora and fauna of Conglomerate Mesa. While preparing for the trip, the weather seemed to want to play their cards close to the vest and hide what was in store for the weekend. A changing forecast of rain, partly to fully clouded skies, to sunshine led us to question whether or not we would make it up to the rugged roads to the Mesa… To our surprise, when everyone arrived Saturday, the sky was filled with sunshine and operation BioBlitz was a full go. Our ragtag group of flora fanatics met at the HWY 190/Saline Valley Rd junction and caravaned to our camping site in Lee Flat. We quickly ate lunch and set off for Conglomerate Mesa.
We stuck to the Keeler-Death Valley historic trail on Saturday with the goal of reaching the saddle and then hiking to some of the historic mining features. The sweeping view of the Mesa was breathtaking as always. We documented many of the usual floral suspects on the land including the indian paintbrush, prickly pear, lupines, barrel cactus, and hoary townsend daisy’s. The Joshua Trees were blooming as well and one of our volunteers, Brian, showed us that you can eat the fruit that comes from the Joshua Tree bud. It tasted like grass. The more you know! Given the afternoon start, we didn’t stay too long and soon made our journey back to camp. The evening closed with everyone sharing stories and chatting about their California Desert excursions. It was clear that this group loved to California Desert. As it tends to do when lost in conversation, the night crept up on us and heavy eyes set in. Like foxes to their dens, everyone curled up in their respective capsules for rest. Some slept in truck beds, others in tents, and some directly on the ground. We all enjoyed the gentle whispers of the desert night. Even with a half moon present, one could make out the Milky Way with ease.
The sun acted as our natural alarm clock, easing us into the day as the dark skies gently grew into pale blues. Today, our goal was a bit more specific; locate the endemic Inyo Rock Daisies and survey the land where the exploratory drill sites are proposed. This would require a bit of scrambling and exploring places we had not yet been. As we trudged up rocks, dodging brush and ground flowers, we found a number of rare species like the California monkey flower. We also found the Inyo rock daisy–some of them very close to the drill sites! Friends of the Inyo’s ED, Wendy Schenieder, became our Inyo rock daisy finding wizard. Her son, Manny, with the help of Amy Patten from CNPS, became the team’s lizard catching guru, using a fishing pole and string to trap lizards. The day flew by before we could recognize it was time to go. A little pink from the sun, we arrived back at our vehicles for a final check in before we went our separate ways.
It is a special thing, making friends through wild experiences. It is doubly special when your time together yields data that will (hopefully) help protect a truly wild landscape. These data should serve a critical role in encouraging the BLM to protect Conglomerate Mesa from an open-pit gold mine. We’re grateful for those who came out and explored Conglomerate Mesa in the name of science. Another log in the desert adventures journal is etched. There will be many more of these adventures to come. We hope you join us.
We used an app called INaturalist to record our findings, which is a platform that allows you to upload pictures with geolocation to officially record animals, plants, and more of a landscape. The app is open-sourced, meaning if you don’t know what a plant is that you’ve located, others will be able to look at your upload and offer suggestions as to what it may be.