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Suicide Rock

27 May 2001

By: Maggie Wilson

Idyllwild Amble

Leaders: Byron Prinzmetal, Mars Bonfire
Amateur Naturalists: Ginny Heringer and Sherry Ross
Amateur Geologist: Duane McRuer

What a great way to enjoy Memorial Day Weekend! We literally smelled the flowers on the way to Suicide Rock and felt the great earthly upheaval that pushed rock up over two vertical miles from the desert floor far below to towering San Jacinto Peak.

Normally, I hike and lead with/for the Hundred Peaks Section where the goal is to bag as many peaks as possible in as little time as possible. That doesn't allow much opportunity to look around. Well, this weekend I decided to do it differently.

HPS leaders Byron Prinzmetal and Mars Bonfire scheduled a hike with self-described amateur naturalists Ginny Heringer and Sherry Ross, and self-described amateur geologist Duane McRuer. The plan was to learn about the "stuff" around us as we hiked the Deer Springs and Suicide Trails to Suicide Rock in the San Jacinto Wilderness. It worked!

I wasn't the only one interested. Twenty-four other people showed up, too. We started hiking up the Deer Springs Trail about 10:30 a.m. Well, before we could say Lupinus sparsiflorus, Ginny and Sherry pointed out the slender, blue-lilac wildflower, lupine. The word "lupine" is derived from a Latin word meaning "wolf" because it was once believed that the plant depleted nutrients from the soil. Not so, said Ginny and Sherry. It actually enriches the soil with nitrogen from bacteria living in its roots. All members of the Pea Family, of which lupine is a member, have the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. And sure enough, the pod off the plant smelled just like peas I have snapped in my kitchen. Not all members of the pea family are edible. At least one species of lupine is toxic to livestock. Lupine can be further identified by its leaves. They are palmately compound. Translation: if you were to open your hand palm up, stretch out all your fingers, then imagine that you had fingers all around your palm, the leaves would look something like that.

We quickly moved on to a plant called Lomatium that is in the carrot family. G & S cautioned that all members of this family are not edible. Poison hemlock, another carrot family member, was the death sentence for Greek philosopher Socrates. The carrot family can be identified by a starburst-looking flower, referred to as an "umbel".

Further ahead, we learned the best way to distinguish a Jeffrey pine from other pine trees. It's the smell. Some thought it smelled like butterscotch, others like vanilla. Another way to identify a Jeffrey is by its pinecone. It does not stab your hands when held; therefore, it is referred to as "gentle Jeffrey".

G & S reminded us how to remember buckthorn: See-I-Know-This or Ceanothus. Near the end of the outing, Ginny tried to wash her hands with water and the flowers off of a Ceanothus. Apparently, some buckthorn bloom/water combinations will suds up - this one did not cooperate.

Our naturalists identified black oaks, manzanita, blue dicks (member of the onion family), and penstemon (with five stamens) aka scarlet bugler. The way to tell a red fir from a white fir tree is by rolling one of its needles between your fingers: "Red rolls, white won't." The best smelling plant of the day goes to the Western Azalea. There was a small stand of them in a shady area near a stream. Wow!

Duane McRuer provided us an initial geology lesson on a rocky overlook on the way to the peak, and then at our lunch stop on a large rocky area just below Suicide Rock. Mac explained that our hike to summit was along a section of the Peninsular Ranges province, which is a large block of granitic rock bounded on the San Andreas fault to the east and the San Jacinto fault to the west. The Peninsular Ranges province is 30-100 miles wide and about 900 miles long, stretching to the end of Baja Mexico. The ranges are the continually changing products of geologic forces in the earth's crust, called plate tectonics (a really fascinating area of geology to dive into). These formative forces began shaping the Peninsular Ranges about 90-120 million years ago. Over 25 million years ago, the ranges were about 200 miles to the southeast, in Mexico. Movement, rotation, and elevation of the giant rock block (called a batholith) proceeded to its present location, where it continues to creep very slowly in a northwestern direction. As we viewed the more noteworthy granite domes in the area, such as Lily Rock and Suicide Rock, we appreciated the forces of erosion that helped shape them.

After our post-lunch geology lesson we moseyed down the trail, with just a few, brief botany stops along the way. We arrived back at our cars about 4:30 p.m.

The best way to approach an outing like this is to be relaxed and curious. Don't expect to remember everything you have heard during the day. Instead, learn a few things and build on it on your next outing, then your next, then your next...

Thanks Ginny, Sherry and Duane for sharing your knowledge and thanks Byron and Mars for putting it together!

Post script: HPS and the Natural Science Section co-sponsor moderate hikes throughout the year with an emphasis on learning, enjoying and appreciating the plants, animals and geology that make each journey (and destination) special. In addition to the fun and camaraderie, these hikes also satisfy the natural history requirement for those seeking "I" or higher leadership rating. The next co-sponsored HPS/Natural Science Section hike on July 8 will take you to Mts. Pinos, Grouse and Sawmill, where we will hope to find stands of mariposa lilies and enjoy mountain birds. We'll visit Sugarloaf Mountain south of Big Bear on August 12 to end the summer. Also be on the lookout for HPS/NSS hikes this fall and winter to some unique hideaways and high places including a BLM led tour to Round Mountain and a geology tour of San Antonio Canyon. Come join us.

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