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Chaparrosa Peak

4 February 2001

By: Sherry Ross


¿Sucking Rose Peak?
Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, Southern Courtney, Mars Bonfire (HPS),
Ginny Heringer and Sherry Ross (Natural Science)

Twenty-two stalwart desert rats converged at the wide mouth of Pipes Canyon February 4 to experience camaraderie, pleasant temperatures (it was snowing the previous Saturday!), and high desert/low mountain nature on another co-sponsored HPS/Natural Science Section hike. Fearless leaders Byron Prinzmetal, Southern Courtney and Mars Bonfire were supplemented by tag team naturalists Ginny Heringer and Sherry Ross. The aspiring LTC "I" rated student can bag a peak and get credit towards the natural history requirement for their advanced leader rating on these co-sponsored hikes, scheduled throughout the year on selected peaks.

Our destination that day was a local favorite - Chaparrosa Peak - via an 8-mile round trip route. The word "chaparrosa" is an anglicized version of the Spanish word "chuparosa", meaning "sucking rose", referring to a desert shrub that grows in gravelly or sandy soil along washes below 3000'. During the spring, the chuparosa's dull scarlet flowers are much liked by hummingbirds; thus its common name "hummingbird bush" (for you biology nerds, the plant's Latin name is Justicia californica). Our trailhead was at about 4500', so there were no examples of the mountain's namesake to check out.

Chaparrosa Peak and the lower 5-1/2 miles of Pipes Canyon that borders it to the north - over 14,000 acres in total - are held in trust by the Wildlands Conservancy. The Conservancy, formed in 1995 as a non-profit land conservation organization, has acquired private lands throughout southern California to prevent habitat degradation, fragmentation and development. We were fortunate to have one of the Conservancy's rangers, Brad Cadman, accompany us on the hike as an additional naturalist.

The route to the peak wound through the first 1 1/2 miles of Pipes Canyon, following one of the few unaltered year-round riparian (streamside) woodlands in southern California. Two artesian-fed wetlands support cattails, sedges, reeds, willows and cottonwoods, and act as magnets for an incredible array of local wildlife. The south-facing slopes of the canyon showed evidence of a decades-old burn, with sparse desert vegetation of black bush, rabbit brush, and the occasional Joshua Tree or yucca that was spared. The north slopes abounded in piñnon pine, juniper and scrub oak. Fifteen minutes up canyon, Brad showed us faded but visible pictographs, or rock art, created by the local Serrano Indians ages ago. Rock art in this upper desert region (of which there are several known sites) have been dated from several hundred to over 1000 years old.

Several minutes later, we encountered the rock and cement foundation ruins of the old winter cabin belonging to the Olsens, a couple that owned and operated the now-defunct Onyx mine, further up canyon. A short jaunt beyond the ruins and a left turn brought us to an old Indian trail turned horseback and hiker trail coursing south up a scenic gully still patchy with snow from the previous weekend. The bulk of the altitude gain here was interspersed by a couple of stops to naturalize among the piñon, juniper, manzanita and scrub oak. We spotted the feathery remains of mountain mahogany seeds still affixed on the shrub's stems, mistletoe, and delicate horizontal rows of holes in a mountain mahogany left by a flicker, a member of the woodpecker family. The flicker taps holes in the bark to retrieve insects and sap. We pondered oak wasp galls and held a short navigation lesson on the saddle at the top of the gully during a brief break. A democratic vote decided whether to travel cross-country to the peak from there, or follow the trail. It must have been a very lazy Sunday, because we followed the trail to the summit. An outstanding view spread out before us, including volcanic buttes to the north, the sawtooth rocks of Sorrel Horse Canyon and Pioneertown to the southeast, and the back side of the San Bernardinos to the northwest. Some desiccated scat (probably coyote) was pulled apart to reveal remnants of a recent meal - rodent fur and bones, and a mysterious concave, blackish object that looked much like a piece of raven's beak. After a brief lunch at the top, we traipsed down to an old jeep road, transitioning from piñon and juniper to the more characteristic terrain of black bush, yucca, rabbit brush and Joshua Tree. Five minutes away from the cars, a Cooper's hawk with pale tan undersides and barred tail feathers soared by, bidding us farewell till next time.

This was the fourth in a series of Natural Science/HPS hikes organized by Sherry Ross and Ginny Heringer of the Natural Science Section and Byron Prinzmetal of the Hundred Peaks Section. Our previous outings were to Sugarloaf Mtn. near Big Bear Lake, where the route took us up a stream embellished on either side with blooming wildflowers and shrubs. We also explored the high condor country of Reyes and Haddock Mtns. in the Los Padres National Forest. We hiked the transition range from Antimony to Eagle Rest and learned about the wonderful geology and plant life of this very unique area. Our next outing is on March 24 to Oakzanita Peak in San Diego County, where we hope to learn about the vast and beautiful grasslands of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. On May 27 we will visit the Idyllwild area and learn about the meadows on the way up to Suicide Rock. And to cap off the summer, we are planning to visit Mt Pinos on July 8 to view the wonderful display of Mariposa lilies. We'll again return to Sugarloaf Mtn. on August 12. If you are in reasonably good condition, want to learn some natural history and bag some peaks in the process, please join us.

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