Saturday, March 23, 2019

Found: The Relocated and Reassembled Streetlights of the Dismantled "Vermonica"

When it was first installed in a parking lot at Vermont and Santa Monica in 1993, the "Vermonica" streetlight installation—featuring 25 antique street lamps from the LA Bureau of Street Lighting—was only supposed to last a year.

Vermonica, circa 2016

Designed in response to the LA Riots, the public art display remained longer than anyone ever expected—until being unceremoniously dismantled and removed in November 2017, just after the 25th anniversary of the riots.

At first, the fate of the streetlights was a mystery to all—even to the artist who created it, Sheila Klein. But then they turned up in the most obvious place: back at the Bureau of Street Lighting, three blocks and 0.3 mile east on Santa Monica Boulevard.

It's nice that the public can still see them...

...and that they seem somewhat artfully arranged...

...but the art has been drained out of the aesthetics of the display.

The lights don't mean anything more, even if they're nice to look at.

Of course, since no one told Sheila Klein that her "Vermonica" was being dismantled, no one consulted her on the relocation or reinstallation of the streetlights, either.

At least this array of streetlights is less crowded than the one in front of LACMA.

And as it faces the street and is easily visible from the sidewalk, it's a lot more convenient to view than the Streetlight Museum at the Downtown LA bureau.

Now, it serves as a kind of composite for the wide variety of streetlights that you'll find in situ throughout LA.

I'm always looking up at them, wherever I go. But I suspect most people don't notice them.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: An LA Museum for Streetlight People (RIP Vermonica)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Photo Essay: Dispatches from the Superbloomin' Anza-Borrego Desert

There was one surefire way I could tell that this year's wildflower season was a superbloom.

I saw it from above, as we pulled over from the Montezuma Grade and looked down at the valley floor of Borrego Springs.

And when we got up close to those patches of yellow (mostly desert dandelion), they did not disappoint.

But unlike two years ago, when everything in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park bloomed pretty much all of the same time and blanketed many fields with flowers, this year's superbloom is more of a "growing bloom."

That means we encountered just one really great field during our weekend there (except of course for the poppy-filled Cactus Loop Trail).

But there will be more great fields for those who go after me.

Superbloom or not, I always love this time of year in Anza-Borrego, even despite the crowds that descend upon California's largest state park every year.

The creosote bushes are all abloom in yellow, not having formed their little white puffy balls quite yet.

This year, the sand verbena (Abronia villosa) was particularly showing off in the sandy roadsides (and pretty much everywhere else we looked, too).

And we got some desert chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana) for some nice white contrast, too.

I told my companion to keep her eyes out for the desert lily (Hesperocallis undulata), since it's so uncommon that I had to go birding on the golf course to see any last year. This year, I saw three.

But even common wildflowers, like the blue phacelia (a.k.a. wild heliotrope, Phacelia distans), are pretty special when you get to see them.

And one of the best places to see them—as well as purple chia sage (Salvia columbariae), whose flower balls hadn't all fully blossomed—was at the Anza-Borrego park visitor center.

During a superbloom, the park headquarters is probably the busiest place of all—if not for its wild landscaping (and blooming barrel cactus), then for its public restrooms, maps, and volunteer-provided information.

So on our second day, we went a little farther off the beaten path and drove down the road that cuts through the Ocotillo Forest and dips between fields of yellow poppies (a.k.a. the Texas Dip).

I've seen—and drip-irrigated—plenty of red ocotillo in my day, but I've never witnessed such a dense concentration of them.

And they all appeared to be green-leafed and blooming red.

Among the desert flora I've ever encountered, I never get sick of red ocotillo.

But I did want to see something new, so we headed farther east on Highway 78 than I've ever been (save for driving through Brawley) to check out Ocotillo Wells.

The area is best-known for its off-roading, but the Discovery Center offers a really nice interpretive trail for plants.

And this time of year, it was full of goldfields and Arizona lupine, among others.

But Ocotillo Wells is also where I could envision the end of the superbloom coming quickly—because that was where we witnessed several caterpillars of the sphinx moth.

And once those start munching away, it's like a death knell for wildflower season.

I'm glad we went when we did.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Yellow Poppies Take Over the Cactus Loop Trail in Anza-Borrego
The Worst of the Superbloom, At Walker Canyon
A Desert Reappearance
Photo Essay: Birding Anza-Borrego During the Superbloom
Dispatches from the Butterfly Boom

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Photo Essay: Yellow Poppies Take Over the Cactus Loop Trail in Anza-Borrego

Every wildflower bloom may be super, but some are better than others.

And every year's bloom is a moving target—where it was busting out all over the prior year or the year before that may be barren this year (and vice versa).

When I went to check out the "superbloom" in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park this year, my first thought was that it didn't seem as good as two years ago.

And then on a lark, I ended up on the Cactus Loop Trail across from the Tamarisk Grove Campground on the Yaqui Pass—an area I don't think I've ever visited before—and found myself drowning in Parish's poppies (Eschscholzia parishii).

And here we thought we were just going on this hike for the cacti.

The photos don't do the landscape justice. I know everybody says that, but it really was breathtaking.

Maybe it was just the surprise of it.

But watching those yellow poppies flutter in the afternoon desert breeze was just mesmerizing.

We were also treated to purple mat (Nama demissum) amidst the succulents.

The Cactus Loop Trail afforded one of those rare opportunities to be surrounded by wildflowers without having to trample them...

...since the interpretive trail follows a ravine that's lined with them on both sides.

We timed our visit just right—completely by chance, of course—to get the doubly whammy of wildflowers and cactus flowers.

The beavertail and cholla had just begun to sprout buds...

...but the California barrel cactus, with their elongated bodies reaching skyward...

...had already started the show, with yellow blossoms covering their crowns.

Eventually, the wildflower display subsided, as the trail looped around the rocky hillside and began to descend along a deep, floodwater-carved trench.

We were the only hikers we'd seen to go that far. Others had bailed when the trail got really steep and either double-backed the way they came or took a shortcut down the sandy wash.

Thankfully, I'm a completionist—otherwise I wouldn't have come across the fishhook cacti, a new one for me (I think).

But towards the end of the loop, there they were—growing between rocks, reddened with desert varnish, hiding in the shade of larger cacti, starting to bloom like all the others.

I decided to stop hiking for the day at that point. I wanted to end on a high note.

Stay tuned for superbloom dispatches from the rest of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. 

No wildflowers were harmed for this post. 

Related Posts:
The Worst of the Superbloom, At Walker Canyon

Monday, March 18, 2019

Dispatches from the Butterfly Boom

This was supposed to be my year for monarchs.

I'd driven up north to Pismo Beach and Morro Bay this winter to see their migration.

But this year, there wasn't anything to see. The monarch population is down 80% or more.

What used to be millions of butterflies has been reduced down to thousands.

I didn't even see hundreds along the Central Coast. I barely saw a few stray individuals.

So my butterfly dreams were dashed—or so I thought.

And then after the wettest (or maybe second-wettest) winter seemed to draw to a close, a different butterfly came up to SoCal to visit from Mexico.

It looks like a smaller monarch, but it's actually the painted lady butterfly, heading all the way up the West Coast to Oregon (though some say they've seen them as far north as Alaska).

There are millions—or perhaps billions—of them making their way through Southern California.

They're not as picky as the monarchs are when it comes to feeding time. Pretty much all that's green and yellow and white and blooming and dripping with nectar will do just fine for these little ladies.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was stuck in stop-and-go traffic heading south on the 405, just past the 101 interchange, when I saw a mass migration of them literally crossing the freeway.

I don't know exactly where they were going, but it appeared to be westward—maybe towards the Pacific Ocean.

It was the one time I was glad that freeway traffic was just crawling, because I got to actually see them and enjoy them from behind my windshield.

And I didn't have to worry about any of them smacking into my windshield as I cruised at a steady 72 mph. They can handle car speeds of around 40 mph and actually catch the updraft—but anything faster than that, and they're toast.

We witnessed that this weekend driving along Borrego Springs Road through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, rising up and over the Texas Dip, yellow pollen streaks splattered on the windshield and the front bumper.

First there was one painted lady caught in the car grill, still alive. We tried to free her, but I think we just made it worse.

Then there were two.

This is the reality of nature. Millions may be migrating, but none of them will make it the whole way.

Even if they survive the traffic, their adult lifespan ouy of the cocoon is just two to four weeks (not days, thank goodness!). They've got to mate and reproduce as much as possible along the way.

And when the caterpillars get their wings, they've got to continue the relay.

The sight is both heavenly and apocalyptic. It's an in-your-face display of nature that you don't often get to see. And when you hear stories about mass migrations of insects—plagues of grasshoppers, the cicada season—it sounds like a horror story.

But these butterflies are beautiful. And they go where the flowers are.

The sight of them together is quite moving.

It's heartbreaking, however, to know how doomed they are.

And then you wonder what the point of it all is.

Why go up to Oregon at all? Just for more food? What's the point of eating if you're going to die in two days?

Is it really just about the survival of the species?

Leave it to me to overthink something like this and not just enjoy the show.

When something so unusual happens, it's hard not to try to find meaning in it. Of course people throughout history have seen events like this as a sign from God.

For me, it's just another way that California keeps me guessing. Just when I think I get it and I've got the routine down, the game changes.

But frankly, I'm grateful for something so beautiful to chase (and document).

And I know their populations will be thinning out here pretty quickly, but the onslaught sure was nice while it lasted.

Related Post:
A Deer Sighting in the Valley of the Bears
Pinning It Down