Exploring the High Desert

high desertI knew with all the rains the high desert and it’s rolling hills would be turning beautiful shades of green. And yesterday I had the opportunity to explore an area of the high desert I’ve been meaning to get to for some time.

The drive up to Agua Dulce was uneventful, other than the winds attempting to blow my vehicle sideways. The winds are fairly predictable, however. Mornings and afternoons are typically much more windy as the sun’s rays warm up the air hovering  just above the earth’s surface. The warming air then rises and is displaced by the cooler air that sits higher in the atmosphere. This is what causes the winds. As late afternoon approaches and the temperatures drop, the sun no longer warms up the air as it did earlier in the day and their is no warm air to rise causing winds. [I digress]

As I drove to my destination, just a coupe of miles from Vasquez Rocks, I was enamored with the richness of the surrounding areas. Indeed everything was turning green as far as the eye could see.

After parking my vehicle, I set out to explore the area. Though it was chilly (I was there fairly early), there was a nice mixture of the warming sun with cool winds.

The flora, for the most part, is not the kind I normally come in contact with on a daily basis, but, still, I recognized and knew what the vast majority in the area were.

Of course there was the ever present Spanish Bayonet (Yucca whipplei), though not as hardy as it’s lower desert siblings. Regardless, it peppered the landscape as far as one could see.

Yucca whipplei make for an amazing fiber which can be twisted into an amazingly strong cordage. Mahuna, Kawaiisu, and Digueno tribes would routinely use this Yucca in their basketry.

Once the Yucca begins to die, it starts growing a central stalk which was a rich and delicious food source for many tribes. Cahuillas would dry and ground these stalks into a flour then mix with water to make cakes. On my outings in the spring, we selectively and respectfully gather one or two stalks and douse them with a bit of salt, pepper and lemon and eat them raw. They are extremely tender and taste like jicama.

The young flowers of the blooming yucca are quite delicious and have a silky texture and sweet taste. They are delicious as part of a salad or parboiled and mixed with other foods.

The stalks, once old and hollowed, make great containers or quivers.

The Yucca also produces some of the best lathering natural soaps, due to its high saponin content. A few shreds of leaf fibers mixed with a little water will produce an incredible lather.

Chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) is not a plant I usually run into, but up here it propagated the landscape as far as I could see. It’s hard to see how this twisted woody shrub could have any appreciable use, but in fact it had several by some tribes.

Cahuillans would make a decoction of the leaves and branches in a bath to soothe infected, sore and swollen areas of the body. In addition they would use the branches to build ramadas and the large roots used as a favorite firewood. The Cahuiilans, along with the Coastanoan and Luiseno would use the wood to make arrow foreshafts.

an infusion of the bark and leaves was used for syphilis. [ Conrad, C. Eugene. 1987. Common shrubs of chaparral and associated ecosystems of southern California.]

The late Paul Campbell had beautifully crafted arrows often outfitted with chamise foreshafts.

Chamise begins to regrow rather quickly after a fire, quickly disguising the burned scars left behind by the fires of the area.

Overall the trip was pleasant. It was the perfect dose of  soul recharging I needed to prepare me for the remainder of the week.

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2 comments on “Exploring the High Desert
  1. Your blog and pictures are further evidence that human’s can and will survive and thrive in all regions of the world. I have known the Yucca grows a long stem at the end of it’s life, I did not know it was a food source. Great information!

  2. admin says:

    Thank you, Jacques

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