Mt Diablo–Spring Wildflower Hike

May 12, 2014


We began at a trailhead on the steep north side of Mt Diablo Saturday and we hiked up Donner Canyon along the fire trail. Jennifer very nearly stepped on a juvenile rattlesnake, taking the sun on the gravel path and nearly indistinguishable from it. Until not. When the pit-headed viper writhes away with its few rattles just uplifted. Baby rattlers pack all the venom and are less predictable than adults, so it’s best to pay attention.

MtD 51014 mustard
The lower ridge separating Donner and Back canyons was so thick with mustard that it appeared pollen-dusted against a blue sky.
We’d crossed Donner Creek along a single-track and were ascending the eastern ridge before Karen spotted our first mariposa lily. On the return along this route we saw so many more lower that we must have been blind not to see them. Or, perhaps we just see what we expect to see, which may be only a small fraction of what’s out there. You can understand why they’re call “mariposa,” or butterfly in Spanish, with such detailed magenta patterning against the white petal.
MtD 51014 mariposa 3
Even with the variation you’d expect in size and color, each blossom has a kind of inviting fingerprint on each petal and at base individual triangular patterns fit together to form a mesmerizing rectangular chamber around the pistil and stamens.
Should a pollinator miss the head-on pattern, here’s another inviting one when approaching from the stem.
MtD 51014 mariposa 4
Other than mariposa lilies, Mt Diablo fairy lanterns attract the spring hiker to this stand-alone, Inner Coast Range icon. The yellow petals clasp to form ethereal globes hanging low to the ground along the stem. Where the petals imperfectly meet you can see a furred, Velcro-like texture to the inner petals
MtD 51014 tumblers
Alright, enough. I could describe salmon-colored Indian paintbrush among thick bushes of pale mustard sticky monkey flower, or rare, four-orange-petaled poppies with dark centers amid tiered, blue-blossoming ground lupins and scarlet larkspur, but nature–on a good year in its anarchic abundance–has little sense of proportion and color. It’s all too much.
Happy spring!


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About Paul Backhurst

Paul is a writer and local outdoor enthusiast as well as avid bicyclist. He lives in Oakland near Lake Merritt and owns a portable kayak.

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