In the morning of June 5 we continued down Higgins Creek toward Lost Valley Creek.
After several creek crossings we arrived at the open meadows of Lost Valley and lost the trail entirely.
Since we knew the direction we needed to go we decided to bushwhack our way. This involved pushing through dense chaparral vegetation and occasionally crawling under it. The hillsides in this area consisted of mostly dark gray gravel (basalt?). It was amazing to see the coulter pine, Pinus coulteri, Eastwood’s manzanita, Arctostaphylos glandulosa, and chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum, thriving in such sun-baked, lean soil.
At one point we came upon a snag of a sugar pine, Pinus lambertiana. This pine is most common in the Sierra Nevada but has an isolated presence in Ventana. This lone specimen succumbed to the drought, I suspected.
While scaling one of the steep hillsides we discovered a small population of California milkweed, Asclepias californica, blooming generously in full sun. This species often grows on exposed hillsides. The white, densely hairy leaves could not have stood in greater contrast with the dull black substrate. The magenta flowers – perhaps the showiest among California’s milkweed – presented presented brightly in this barren setting.
Eventually we scrambled our way to Lost Valley Creek, and spent most of the day exploring the riparian areas near its confluence with Higgins Creek. We proceeded through Lost Valley at the end of the day, admiring the Scarlet bugler, Penstemon centranthifolius, growing in the gravelly soil.
We slowly worked our way up the Lost Valley Creek drainage and completed our hike in heavy darkness. Crossing the divide between Lost Valley Creek and Arroyo Seco Creek involved pushing through numerous stands of interwoven chamise while keeping watch on the trail by the light of our headlamps. We eventually pushed through and spent the night near the confluence of Arroyo Seco Creek and a small tributary.
Our final day began at the base of the hill ascending into Escondido Camp. We were greeted at the camp by a population of Kotolo milkweed, Asclepias eriocarpa, growing in open spaces among Coulter pine and interior live oak.
Escondido Camp is accessed from the south via Milpitas Road, which runs through fort Hunter Liggett. The road proceeds north from Escondido Camp as Indians Road, running the full distance to Arroyo Seco, though it’s closed to vehicle traffic shortly beyond the entrance to Escondido Camp.
Near the entrance to the camp we discovered several large silver bush lupine, Lupinus albifrons, woolly blue curls, Trichostema lanatum, and California buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum. These would be common and in full bloom along the full length of the trail.
Indians Road runs along mountain ridges for most of its length, so the predominant plant community was chaparral. As we saw throughout our trip, the chaparral was in dramaticl bloom. Woolly yerba santa, Eriodictyon tomentosum, was common, often growing among blooming stands of California buckwheat, and Deer weed, Acmispon glaber.
The deerweed was particularly common on the pathway of the trail. We waded through hundreds of yards of bright yellow.
We were lucky enough to happen upon a few large stands of chaparral pea, pickeringia montana.
One often encounters this plant in mountain habitats, often near the ridge line in exposed places (e.g. near the summit of Mt. Umunhum). The stands along Arroyo Seco were thriving with generous growth and bloom. One could wish that such a hardy plant, with an eye-catching bloom, would thrive in cultivation. Unfortunately, chaparral pea has proven difficult to work with and may only be enjoyed in the wild with rare exceptions.
A first for us was a California flannel bush, Fremotodendron californicum. Although common in cultivation, it is rare in the wild, at least in the areas we frequent. This specimen was finished blooming for the year and must have been a show-stopper based on the number of drying flowers.
About midway along the road we entered the Hanging Valley area. The trail sides were covered with Sonoma sage, Salvia sonomensis.
We had recently identified this native sage near the summit of Fremont Peak in San Benito County where it was growing in an identical setting: sunny openings in chaparral with gritty soil and little competition from other plants. This carpeting sage is spectacular in bloom. Unfortunately, like the chaparral pea Sonoma sage is difficult in cultivation (though often available).
Rare along the trail was the bush poppy, Dendromecon rigida. The gray leaves of this fire-follower seem impervious to the drying sun and heat of its chaparral home. We were glad to see several in full bloom, often in concert with yucca and woolly blue curls.
After a full day we arrived in Arroyo Seco with forty two miles of trail behind us. This loop traverses the heart of the Ventana Wilderness, and I recommend it for anyone looking for a wilderness challenge in an outstanding botanical setting.