Fall colors are out in the Juniper Flats Area.
Last week I visited the Juniper Flats Area with my husband to find some fall colors. Looking at the hills south of Apple Valley you may think it a strange place to look for fall colors. If you just drive the roads you are likely to miss the hidden valleys where water collects and where the vegetation changes into a ” riparian zone“. In fall, many of the riparian zones are magical places. The sun splashes through the trees and the colors dance and change as you watch. Add a little breeze and you may imagine water gently flowing.
A riparian zone is the green ribbon of life alongside a stream.
Even though there may be no surface water during the summer months, the vegetation contrasts dramatically in these zones from the surrounding hillsides. Riparian zones in the Juniper Flats Area vary greatly from tall lush trees and bushes, to sparse vegetation wide washes that does not thrive on the hillsides.
We began our hike at the kiosk on Coxey Truck Trail. After entering through the cattle fence on the east side of the road, we followed a faint old trail. This took us past the cattle corral and we walked up a hill to the left. Once on top of the ridge we walked in a more or less northerly direction. There are beautiful views of the valley and hills from this ridge. We descended the hill towards Elderberry Spring, crawling under the cattle fence (actually my husband was able to go over the fence).
Some years ago, we named this spring because we were quite surprised to find a lovely Elderberry Tree that graces the spot with its presence. Here you will find a greater variety of plant species which offer shade, food and shelter for an abundance of fauna. You may not see any animals at first, but wait and look around. You may hear some birds and catch a glimpse of a lizard or two. At night, dawn and dusk larger animals come to find food and shelter. Look closely nearby and on trails that lead to the stream and you may find scat, tracks and other signs of bobcat, mountain lion, mule deer, coyote etc. The thick grass that we passed seemed to have been a recent bed for a deer or other creature. From here we climbed a short but steep hill for more views before a walk above Arrastre Creek.
Rare and Endangered Plant in Arrastre Canyon
Just before we turned onto a small trail (N34 23.211 W 117 06.374) above Arrastre Creek I noticed the seed pods of the Mojave Indian Paintbrush. This is not the brilliant red Indian Paintbrush that many are more familiar with, but a rather drab looking grey variety. However, I was quite excited with the find earlier this year as it is included in the California Native Plant Society Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants. Some years ago, Friends of Juniper Flats hosted a Rare Plant Treasure Hunt for the California Native Plant Society. It would be fun to host another Treasure Hunt!
Earlier this fall, we tasted some ripe wild grapes near this same spot.
The importance of desert riparian zones cannot be over emphasized!
The outer riparian zone acts like a sponge, soaking up water as it runs off the hills and then releasing it slowly into the stream. The vegetation and associated “litter” (fallen branches, leaves etc.) closer to the stream help to reduce erosion and regulate the flow of water in the stream. This helps the overall health of the watershed thus increasing the number and variety of plants and animals in the area. We enjoyed trying to identify the trees and bushes – Velvet Ash, Cottonwood, Willow, Coffee Berry, Rabbit Bush, Cattails, Wild Grape , Fremontia, Elderberry etc.
We finished our hike by descending to Arrastre Waterfall. This requires a bit of boulder hopping above the Waterfall. But it is well worth it! There is an easier way to reach the Waterfall! If you have a 4×4 you can drive there. For people without a 4×4 vehicle, this requires a short hike (just over half a mile one way). From Bear Valley road in Apple Valley, drive south on Central. Then left (east)on Ocotillo to Bowen Ranch Rd (county graded dirt road). Continue south on Bowen Ranch Rd for about 2 miles to the junction with Coxey Truck Trail (N34 23.690 W117 07.500). Take Coxey Truck trail and look for a parking spot near the power towers. They are located on JF3330 (aka Powerline Road). Continue on foot along JF3330 heading east to Arrastre Creek. At this point Arrastre Creek was flooded in 2005 and the road has not been repaired (N34 23.621 W117 06.950). You will see a footpath with a step-over in the fence. From here it is a short distance along the stream to the waterfall.
The Magic awaits