A Desert Ramble

Last week I joined Park Volunteer Naturalist Ted on a “ramble” to Big Spring. Ted knows a lot (A LOT!) about our desert’s natural history, its plants, geology, and ecology. Ted is the real deal and filled our brains with countless interesting facts.

Me? I’m a want-to-be naturalist who is stuck behind a desk for 9 hours every day. I do my best to get out and explore when I can but it’s never enough. So on this outing, I got to ramble. What’s a ramble, you ask? A good desert ramble involves: stopping, inspecting, kneeling down to get a closer look, touching, smelling, and — most importantly — learning.

Big Spring is in desert transitional vegetation in the Tubb Canyon area of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We were able to see different plants than what one would normally find on the desert floor. Parts of this area were burned in a summer fire two years ago. As James Lightner writes in his wonderful book, San Diego County Native Plants, “Natural landscapes recover quickly from fires because of the abundance of seeds in the soil and the ability of many woody plants to re-sprout after a burn. Indeed, fires can assist plant diversity by removing dead wood and renewing the cycle of ecological succession.”

Some plants we saw taking advantage of the newly opened ground were:

Wishbone Bush

Broom Rape

Whispering Bells

Ground Cherry

Desert Apricot Phacelia

Desert Tobacco Lupine

One remarkable plant that we learned about was the Mojave Yucca. Ted told us that there is one specific kind of moth that’s required to pollinate the Yucca, thus creating a relationship that’s mutually beneficial to both partners, one that is vital for the survival of both Yucca and moth. This interconnectedness between species is truly amazing.

We also saw a small plant with a pink bloom called Filaree or Storksbill. This plant’s seed starts out shaped like a slender beak, similar to a hummingbird’s. As it dries, the seed starts to coil, which helps it burrow into the ground. I’ve often found these coiled up seeds stuck to my socks after a hike but never knew where they’d come from—so this was a big a-ha moment for me!


Another thing about a desert ramble is that the more you explore and learn, the more details you notice. And as you notice more details, the more questions you have that deserve further exploration!

For example...

Who made this hole?

What kind of plant is this? Is it unique to desert transition habitat?

Who built this nest? How do they navigate all the cactus spines without getting stuck?

I guess these questions (and more!) will be answered on the next ramble…