Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera)

The Mojave Yucca is a small evergreen tree which flourishes in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Arizona and Nevada. The Yucca’s most noticeable characteristic is its large branches and bayonet like leaves. The rigid leaves are typically dark green in color and can reach up to 4 feet in length. I can also personally attest that they are sharp at the pointy end.

Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave Yucca guarding the Ring Trail, Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Yucca can reach a height of 16 feet and that mass is supported by a trunk which is up to 12 inches in diameter. The Yucca is typically found on rocky slopes and below 4,000 feet in elevation. The plant blooms are very similar the Joshua Tree and it will send up a cluster of white bell shaped flowers from the top of the stem. This cluster is short lived, but can reach and additional 120 cm in length.

Also like the Joshua Tree, the Mojave Yucca depends upon the white pronuba moth for pollination. This moth will deposit its eggs in the ovary of the Yucca Flower and there by cross pollinate the tree. The moth lavae hatch and consume some the the seeds in a wonderful example of natures balance.

The Mojave Yucca also provided utilitarian purpose for the Native Americans. They utilized the leaves as a source of cordage, which could be woven into blankets, rope, hats and mattresses. The roots of the Yucca contains high levels of saponin, and could be made into a pulp and used as soap The flowers and fruit were a food source and could be eaten both raw and roaster. The black seeds could be ground into flour.

The yucca, with its sharp pointed leaves offer wonderful defensive habitat for snakes, lizards, rabbits, birds and other desert animals.

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

The Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a commonly seen resident of the desert southwest and its range includes California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The Barrel cactus gets its name from its short stocky appearance which is said to resemble a barrel. Despite its name, this succulent can grow over 6 feet tall and thrives in gravelly, rocky and / or sandy soils and are typically seen below 5000 feet in elevation.

A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.
A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Barrel Cactus is covered in spines which when new, are straight and red in appearance, and will turn gray in color and curve as they age. This species blooms yellow or red flowers on the top of the plant, which typically happens in the spring. Like its name sake, this desert nomad will swell with fluid during the monsoons to survive the long dry periods of the desert heat.

Some Native Americans utilized this plant as a cooking vessel. It is said that they would remove the top of the plant and remove the pulp from the interior. Hot stones were place inside along with the food. Additionally, the long heavy spins were utilized as needles.

There are fifteen different species of this cactus.

Panamint City California

Panamint City California - 1875
Panamint City California – 1875

Panamint City California is a ghost town and silver mine site located in Inyo County. The town site was built in Surprise canyon in the Panamint Mountain Range which is now located within Death Valley National Monument. Currently, the town is only accessible to hikers. Previously, it was possible to drive into the ghost town, however a series of flash floods washed the roads completely out.

Interest is the area was initidated in 1972, when silver was discovered by three bandits who were hiding out in Surprise Canyon. These bandits were William L. Kennedy, Robert L Stewart and Richard C. Jacobs where in Surprise Canyon doing some prospecting and looking for the Lost Gunsite Mine. The men were wanted for robing the Wells Fargo Stages. The men entered into an arrangement, and sold their claim to Nevada Senator John P Jones. The Honorable Mr. Jones arranged for amnesty for the bandits and they agreed repay the stolen $12,000 from their profits.

Senator John Percival Jones
Senator John Percival Jones

Nevada Senator John P Jones and fellow Nevada Senator William M Stewart created the Panamint Mining Company and bought up the larger mines in the canyon. The location started to boom with the involvement of the two senators.

William M. Stewart. Photo by Matthew Brady
William M. Stewart. Photo by Matthew Brady

Panamint City was founded in 1873 – 1974 and soon the town contained all of the services and stores required to support a town of 2000 people. Mines, Saloons, stores, post office, cemetery and a red light district were all built in the upper end of the canyon and arranged along a single road about one mile long. In general, most of these mining booms towns earned a reputation for lawlessness and Panamint City was no different.

Due to the towns reputation, Wells Fargo refused to open an office in Panamint City. To transport the silver from the town, the bullion was caste into 450 round balls, which were then transported in wagon to Los Angeles, CA

Panamint City Stamp Mill
Panamint City Stamp Mill

Flash floods are a constant danger, and on July 24, 1786, Panamint City experience just such a flood. This flood washed out most of the young town. Inyo county maintained a road into Surprise Canyon until 1983 when a flash flood again scoured the canyon. Currently, there is no vehicle access. Much of the Panamint City Stamp Mill is gone, however the tall brick smoke stake still stands as a sentinel in time to mark the location of the town.

California Poppy ( Eschscholzia californica )

The California Poppy the state flower of California.
The California Poppy the state flower of California.

As the name implies, the California Poppy is that state flower of California. However, this little flower is extremely wide spread and flourishes throughout most of the United States. The flower was first described by a Germain naturalist and poet, Adelbert von Chamisso. Chamisso was travelling on the Russian exploring ship “Rurick”. The “Rurick” was travelling around in the world in 1815, when the ship sailed in the San Francisco Bar Area.

This species of flowering plant with an international pedigree is a perennial and can range in height from 5 – 60 inches. The four petals of the flower are about two inches in size and range in colors from a vibrant orange to yellow, red and in some cases pink. They typically flower between February and September depending upon location.

A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

When in full display, the California Poppy can carpet the landscape in a sea of color as happens in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Such an event is spectacular to witness and will make the local news outlets in Southern California.

The flowers have four petals, which will close each night or when windy and or cloudy. The delicate little flowers will open again each morning to once again showcase this little plant.

Harrisburg California

Harrisburg California is a ghost town is located at 4987 feed above sea level in Inyo County and currently part of Death Valley National Park. Originally, the town was to be know as Harrisberry combining the names of Frank Harris and Pete Aguereberry after the two men discovered gold at the location in 1905.

"Shorty" Harris founder of Harrisburg Ghost Town, photographed in Ballarat.
“Shorty” Harris founder of Harrisburg, photographed in Ballarat.

It is reported that “Shorty” Harris met Pete Aguereberry in Furnace Creek in July 1905. During the scorching hot summer months, the two men pared up and set off to do some prospecting in the cooler temperatures of the higher elevations of the Panamint Mountains. Upon reaching a plateau, now Harrisberg Flats, the two men began searching a rock outcropping.

A piece of rock which was chipped off the north side of a long low ledge, upon inspection by the seasoned prospector, was found to contain free gold. There is some question as to which of two men, actually found the initial claim. The two man continued on the Wildrose spring for water, and upon their return divided up the out croppings between them and each staked their claim.

The camp was named “Harrisberry”, which was a combination of their two names. Shorty Harris was emphasized to exploit his notarity and promote the camp for investors. The two men split up and headed down to Ballarat. In Ballarat, Shorty spred the news of his new find. Upon returning to their claim, the newest gold rush in Death Valley was on. Aguereberry had to reclaim his sites by persuasion and force.

Cashier Mill ruin and Pete Aguereberry, 1916. From Dane Coolidge Collection,
Cashier Mill ruin and Pete Aguereberry, 1916. From Dane Coolidge Collection,

By August 1905, Harrisberry was boasting 20 different outfits within 3 miles of the initial strike. The mining ledge found supporting the Wildrose mining district, Emigrant Springs and the the future town of Skidoo.

As was common with gold strikes, growth in Harrisberry was fast. The population of the camp was 300 strong in September and 200 claims. The cooler temperatures further expected to drain the populations of Ballarat, Darwin and nearby Rhyolite and triple the population of Harrisberry. Both Harris and Arguereberry sought outside investors and soon the Cashier Mining Company was formed with capital investment.

A prolific story teller and colorful character, Shorty Harris started referring to his new town has “Harrisburg” while on a trip to Rhyolite. Each retelling of the story further cemented the towns name as Harrisburg. Eventually the mines production faltered and the venture failed. Aguereberry continued to work the area until his death in 1945.

There are no remains of the Harrisburg California town. The site was essentially a tent city.