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March 11, 2017

Santa Rosa Plateau - Searching for the Chocolate Lily

Back in my Boy Scout days in the PNW I knew these elusive flowers as Mission Bells.  I had not heard of a Chocolate Lilly until moving to SoCal, but with the use of Google I see both names are acceptable with Chocolate Lilly preferred, so I’ll them call that.

From Desert USA – my pictures are not this good 😉

What is fun about finding the Chocolate Lilly is they are always the first of the Spring Blooms in areas where they can be found.  Their abundance (or lack of), as scouts, we viewed that as what to expect in the coming Spring.  Their season is very short, just a couple weeks, but knowing where to look helps!

They are common from Oregon well into Alaska and a few places in SoCal including the Santa Rosa Plateau when conditions are right.  The Santa Rosa Plateau is reached heading west from I-15 on Clinton Keith Road.  The Visitor Center offers a great orientation, a few short loop trails, and many of the longer trails originate from here.

For the hike today I have a loop in mind that will originate near the Vernal Pools.  Note that there is a $4 fee to be in this area of the Plateau, and the Iron Ranger does not give change.  Keep your receipt with you – not in the car.  I’ve never been asked for it tho …  Dogs are permitted in the gray area of the map –not on the trails I’ve used here.



The ‘Small’ pool is quite seasonal and often not here at all.  However the ‘Large’ pool is why it’s good to be here.  Just spend some time on its boardwalk and enjoy life.

From the boardwalk life in the pool can be observed.  On this day there were lots of polliwogs and beetles, a few dragon flies, just one lone snake looking for breakfast.  The brine shrimp and frogs were too shy for my camera, altho there was a shrimp sighted by the Ranger’s group.

Check out that tongue:

Saw a variety of birds, both raptors in flight and water fowl in the pools.  A jack rabbit that was camera shy and a couple little ‘blue belly’ fence lizards doing push ups and hissing at me, one actually on a fence!

I’ll add a few of the wild flowers at the end but have to give credit to the California Poppy, our state flower, it is just brilliant to see.

In a few more weeks there will be lupine and poppy fields.  Across the freeway and 200’ lower elevation Walker Canyon is glowing.

Another from Desert USA as Rufus does not do those dirt roads …

On this hike I’ll drop down to the Historic Adobes on the Vernal Pool Trail.  This makes a good rest spot for my PB&J burrito.  There is limited shade on the trails, take advantage of what is available.  The Adobes are just over this next hill.  There is still plenty of snow in the San Jacinto Mountains.

KaBoom!  Out of the green grass I spot my first Chocolate Lilly!  The lilies are not very tall, often shorter than the grasses they grow in.  But a special find for me as I have not seen them on this side before and they are spectacular!

At the bottom of this trail the Adobes are just a 1/10th of a mile in the wrong direction.  No matter!


After lunch I take the short Adobe Loop Trail to admire the efforts of creating the Santa Rosa Ranch and managing its 500,000 acres.

From here the idea is to follow the Lomas Trail to Mountain Hill and UP yes it is up, the Trans-Preserve Trail to where I expect to find the lilies, thus if they are there I’ll have a reason for a break! 

Just don’t take a break in the poison oak!  Much more this time than a few years ago.  It’s rampant in the shade I wanted to use on the Trans-Preserve Trail.  ‘Leaves of Three …’  A perfect resting spot for the poppies, just be careful!


It’s 84 degrees and 4.5+ miles when I get back to Rufus.  I feel like I’ve run a marathon!  The generator fires right up and the A/C works well, I let it run as my body temperature comes down to something reasonable.

This was to be a day trip, but taking Rufus gives me options.  I decide to try some higher elevations off the Ortega Hiway toward San Juan Capistrano.  There are sufficient campgrounds ranging from free to deluxe.  Free is the Off-Road area, not in the mood for that, Deluxe is on Lake Elsinore a bit costly for an overnight.  I decide to get as high as possible and settle on Blue Jay Forest Service Campground.  But the road is closed in 5 miles and the campground is 6 miles!

So I take the recommended Long Canyon detour.  In an area noted for its off-road trails I sure did not expect fresh pavement!  Guess somebody has to pay for the pavement.  Blue Jay FS Campground is $20/10 per/nite at almost 3500’ it is noticeably cooler.

As far as the campground goes, it is not big-box friendly.  Sites indeed are well spaced but either short or with overhanging branches.  There is no cell service.  However it is clean with lots of potable water available, pit toilets no dump.  Perfect for me!

Tomorrow I have some options on the way home.  San Juan Capistrano has a beautiful Mission.  The Flower Fields in Carlsbad are looking good.  And there is the Leo Carillo Ranch – I’ve been wanting to hike to this for awhile, but just don’t get up here that often.

You’ll find out what was decided in the next post.

Here are some other blooms on the plateau from today.  Rather than load up today’s hike with flowers in chronological order I’ve just tossed them together. 

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