Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Vernal Pools of South and Western Hemet (Anza Expedition extra)

Winchester History: Newport Rd before Diamond Valley Lake
When I first moved to western Riverside County back in 1981, it was a world away from where I came from. Still extremely wild and where populated very rural feel about it. After 20 years of living there I never ever thought I'd move back to San Diego County where I grew up. But I did for 5 years prior to moving over here to Sweden which is even more mind blowing in visualizing where you'll end up later in life. I moved up to Idyllwild, but still worked in San Diego County, so I commuted through Hemet to Temecula via Winchester on Hwy 79. Almost all side roads off Winchester Road looked like the one about, the majority of which now is buried under the water of Diamond Valley Reservoir. The countryside was mostly wild nature to grazed ranch land. Temecula was mostly still old town with it's upstart competitor on the opposite side of Hwy 395 (now I-15) called Rancho California which was nothing more than a shopping center with a couple of small housing tracts. An interesting natural geological feature about this part of western Riverside landscape is it's flatness. This makes for prime Vernal Pool creation and unique ecosystem development over time. Unfortunately Vernal Pools are probably one of the least understood and most likely under appreciated type wetlands in the west. The reason is of course for this is that most of the flatland the occupy is generally targeted by some commercial developer's pet project. I mean let's face it, there are no trees of worthy note and the land generally looks waste most times of the year from most human observer's point of view. So why not ?

Photo by Mike Wilson

Warren Road in western Hemet & San Jacinto Valley

This is Warren Road on the very western border edge of Hemet Valley and the lake with the small mobile trailers around it is the recreational facility of Reflection Lake. The worst flooding I have ever seen here in the early 1980s was almost complete and close Warren and other roads for a few months into early summer. I saw water inundating this area of west Hemet Valley so badly that flloding was almost complete from the Ramona Expressway to the north of this photo all the way to Winchester areas to the south of this same photo. Follow the line I photos by scrolling down here. Anza and the other journal recorders were not in any way exaggerating when they spoke of the mucky miry conditions in which they had to travel through this valley. Flooding would have been more complete on the 2nd expedition which took place in January 1776, but in 1775 on the second journey through the end of March when they came through this area would have revealed a much deeper wildflower display. The journals and/or diaries kept by these men at least through this point on the map here was dead on accurate. Take note of the milk dairy farm on the right hand side and the transformation below ?

Farm Scenes with San Jacinto Mtns in background

This photo here is taken on the hills west of Warren Road called Juniper Flats and the same location as the famous petroglyphs known as Maze Stone. Notice the same Milk Cow Dairy Farm shown in the photograph above here where Reflection Lake campground and picnic area is located on Warren between Cottonwood Ave and W. Esplanade Ave. This region always floods big time, but when the waters recede, the entire area is wildflowers if not plowed under by farmers. Unfortunately now this region is becoming housing tracts and concrete lined flood control channels are being constructed to never allow water to form the Vernal Pools ever again. Below is a picture of hills. These hills are between the scenery just viewed around reflection Lake and Hwy 74 to the south. Those two large drinking water storage tanks were constructed before I left for the housing boom which is infiltrating this western Hemet location.

Image: Google Earth

This is western Hemet on Florida Avenue (Hwy 74) west of Warren Road and the Hemet Auto Mall. This is what this area now normally looks like. It is now plowed and usually planted with a winter wheat crop by farmers. Take special note of the small Hills in the background and the two water tanks in the saddle. These type of hills with saddle backs or singles are common on these flat valley floors around here. Fray Pedro Font did describe many of these surrounding hills. Notice the historical contrast some years back when the area was allowed to be more wild with the Vernal Pool formation below. 

photo by Richard Cummins 

West Hemet Valley on Hwy 74 looking north towards the San Bernardino Mountains above Beaumont & Banning
 in the background & Warren Rd at the foot of those small hills north of the Hemet Auto Mall which would be out of photo  on the left side. Every winter this would be a lake and every Spring it would always turn into Goldfield Wildflowers. This would be also repeated on the south side of Hwy 74 all the way to Winchester California. Again, when it rains here there is very little place for water to go. This particular picture above was of flooding here in February 2005, nothing compared to what is was in the early 1980s. 
When I went through here during the big flood events of that time, it was one solid shallow lake which even crossed Hwy 74 which sometimes had to be closed until it could drain off. From Hwy 74 to Winchester is was one large mosaic pattern of meandering lakes which slowly drained westward or not at all. As the lakes or pools dried, masses of wildflowers like Goldfields would replace where the water once stood just like the lake on Cahuilla Indian Reservation. I use to drive west on the dirt road part of Stetson Avenue from it's Jct at Warren Rd west of Hemet Ryan Airport. Driving the back way towards Winchester and I'd park the car along the roadside near the west irrigation canal which ran south to Lake Skinner. The photo above is not an enhanced exaggeration. It is so blindingly bright that you actually did need sunglasses to take in the view. The powerful fragrance in the air around there was always that of the intense fragrance of Honey. 

Image: Google Earth

The photograph image above from Google Earth is a complete turn around from the above Google Earth image on the same Hwy 74 in west Hemet Valley looking north. This is now looking in a southerly direction from Hwy 74 southwest towards the slow water movement flow direction towards Winchester, Menifee and points west beyond. Notice that hill which is scarred by the bulldozed track road leading to the top of that small hill on the upper right here in the photo ? I remember when the guy who owns this did that. It seems like every land owner in Southern California who owns a piece of acreage with a potential view for dream home or future resale speculation has got to play Joe Six-Pack and carve his or her initials into the landscape leaving a permanent scar. Yes I know it's not my land, but look at what this area used to look like before Farmers bulldozed drainage canals and plowed the wildscape from the photograph below. Yes I know, the farmer has rights too !! Below that photo I have copied what was said about this very site by the EPA on the subject of Hwy 79 realignment.

Image: EPA


"In another case in the Southern California city of Hemet, the Federal Highway Administration, Caltrans, and Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) proposed a new alignment for State Route 79 that would have impacted a 1,000-acre alkali vernal pool complex. EPA’s extensive early interagency coordination on this project focused on the need to avoid impacts to vernal pools. In response, Hemet’s city government updated their general plan to remove this alignment as the locally preferred alternative, and the draft EIS will no longer include this alignment. EPA’s coordination on this project prior to the release of the draft EIS led to avoidance of the vernal pool complex."

Image: Google Earth

Looking directly west on Warren Road across from the entrance to the Hemet Auto Mall

I believe the original alignment through Hemet Valley called for a four lane highway which would run along side the existing concrete lined California Aqueduct canal which does go through the middle of this region from Gilman Springs to Diamond, Skinner and Vail lakes if I remember correctly. I remember all this so clearly because at the time I worked at Jack Gosch Ford & Hemet Toyota which were two of my clients with my auto restoration work back around early 1990s. I remember the smart alecky snarky comments from many of the Car Salesmen & women because of the controversy of saving that landscape across from the Auto Mall. 

Map Animation by Federal Register

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Revised Critical Habitat for Navarretia fossalis (Spreading Navarretia)


 Vernalpool Pincushionplant Navarretia fossalis
The map of course is the area in question north and south of Hwy 74 (Florida Ave) in west Hemet California. The preservation of the area was fought for the saving of a mostly tiny mostly obscure plant that most people have never heard of and/or for that matter could care less about even when they see it. This was the point of criticism by the Car salesmen at the Hemet Auto Mall and other Hemet Business interests who were mostly pro-unrestricted growth back in the late 1980s. Oddly enough the beautiful flowers were never really a major part of that fight because it could be argued that they are so common everywhere in other valleys and most of the hillsides of SoCal. This is true. But what is in danger is the massive display which boggles the mind and inspires awe in people. Antelope Valley for example wouldn't have had a chance were it not for it's remote location. Flat Valleys within the sphere of industrial commercialized Southern California had no such luck as preservation. The photos I have posted here mostly show the common Goldfield Wildflowers, but you should also know that other wildflowers such as the orange  California Poppies and especially the Purple Owl's Clover which would be present in a mosaic of very large patches here and there among the Goldfields. The poppies however were mostly on surrounding hillsides and other low knolls or hillocks. Below is an aerial picture of this same region I've just described above. You will be able to clearly see the small group of hills north of Hwy 74 with water tanks at the upper left with Hemet Auto mall and Hemet-Ryan Airport below that.   

Image by West Coast Sharon on Panoramio

This zoom feature is amazing and fun. You can zoom in an grasp a closer look at this area I have been describing. The actual zoom in and out controls will be in the upper left hand corner of the linked image on Sharon's Panoramio page. In your mind's eye, eliminate all the human infrastructure like roads, canals, railroad right-of-ways, housing and industrial tracts. Add in their place a large mosaic of Vernal Pools and other seasonal shallow lakes everywhere as far as you can visualize on that valley floor. with extremely slow meandering various branches of streams snaking in and out of pools here and there. In between these pools add in all the flower bright yellow colours as a mass carpet, don't be frugal and hold back thinking you'd be exaggerating the scene. Don't forget the great variety either of other flowers colours like the
purple of Owl's Clover. To the north at the San Jacinto River Valley add in old growth riparian forests mostly dominated by the large mushrooming heads of Cottonwoods stretching from east to west or left to right as dense as anything you've seen along the Corona Freeway Hwy 74 as you pass the Prado Basin Wetlands Preserve. Those line of hills on the north side of the SJ Valley called North Mountains, paint them completely orange as they would appear during heavy year's rainy season with California Poppies. All long time residents there know exactly what I'm talking about. Here and there with other parts of the landscape fill it in with the lush green colour as is normal for this area in Spring Time. 

Image: City of Hemet

Instead of this sign above, it could have read something like this, "Welcome to Anza Expedition's World". There are many such great expansive wild regions that still exist on the Earth with such grasslands, streams and pools on Earth as described by Anza and other expeditionary members, but they are mostly found in remote inhospitable areas like Arctic Circle or Mongolia. Such places have no real human economic value and the majority of humankind find those climates undesirable. The San Jacinto and Hemet Valley's only curse is it's geographical location in the pathway of so-called human progress. Still, people should take special note that this area wasn't always a desert-like hot dry dusty environment. Present generations truly have no clue as to what once was. So-Cal's deforestation and general vegetation removal for progress changed all those climatic moderating mechanisms which made possible the landscape which no longer exists. The San Jacinto, Hemet and Winchester Valley vernal pool sites do not have the notoriety of other well known sexy celebrated sites such as the Santa Rosa Plateau or the Miramar Mesa locations where Burrowing Owls are being used to save such seemingly dull & mundane locations which the general public views as nothing more than worthless vacant lots which impede economic progress. Despite being mostly dry at times, once filled with water, these vernal pools teem with life. Much like the dry dull dark gray brown Mosses on granite boulders which spring to life at the presence of moisture. Anza and his party only saw the incredible raw expansive beauty of the wildflowers everywhere they looked. Modern Science has reveal far deeper riches and details about such sites, and yet with such increase of knowledge and deeper appreciation of our truly rich natural world, this hasn't meant a thing to the majority of humankind with the exception of a handful of people. I dare say if humans don't get a handle on this climate change issue, the disappearance of Vernal Pools will be the least of their worries.
Update April 30 2014 after publishing a couple hours ago:
If anyone is disinterested in Vernal Pools, then please don't follow this post. I did not write this for self interest, phishing, spam purposes nor did I plagiarize anything, these are strictly my own comments and observations as I observed them after originally reading these Spanish Explorer Journals back in 1981. I am disinterested in the present petty jealousies, childish squabblings & generally ideologically infected controversies which plague our world today. I would never have even shared my thoughts and opinions in the first place to anyone on this subject had I not moved to such a miserably cold wet climate such as Scandinavian which for the most part has kept me indoors. 

Much of the so-called scientific studies commercial developers pay for I find to be greatly lacking anyway and the end research provided to be tainted & coloured by those who provided the funds for such in the first place. Most environmental impact studies prior to approvals for a development, especially where Vernal Pools are located may never even be conducted during important rainy periods of any given year. This creates a loss forever. There are other related ecosystems in southern California which are generally never discussed and/or associated with Vernal Pools and those are the hanging Garden ecosystems found in various dry washes at the base of chaparral mountains where the water course may undercut a bank and create a type of grotto which slowly bleeds water over a period of months after a heavy wet season. Most folks have zero clue or idea that the very same plant inhabit these grotto walls within some canyons.  One such grotto canyon was on Rattlesnake Mountains near the valley floor where rainy season moisture seeped for months after winter rains. The study was done in summer and nothing found, no kidding! The region is buried now by tons of fill and housing now exists where once a natural unique feature once existed. 

Again, if you dislike the subject here, please don't read and especially don't comment.



  1. Vernal pools are near and dear to my heart. My Master's Project discussed the ecology, threats, and mitigation measures of California vernal pools. It's true, many people do not know what a vernal pool is. I love fairy shrimps!

    1. People truly have no clue as to the necessity and benefits of Vernal Pools. Firstly, there are numerous aquatic and/or other insects along with amphibians which cannot make a living in what people consider a normal riparian system with countless predators which would make existing for some impossible, Secondly, when it comes to pollinating insects, the mass displays of native wildlfowers which follow up a drying pool actually benefits millions of varying species of insects in the bee, wasp and fly family which helps out generally speaking in other areas. And lastly those fairy shrimp which can provide food sources for a number of other critters.

      As you stated and so did I above, such locations are prime developer habitats.

    2. Great blog, with tons of interesting observations! I recently moved to the area and am in the process of exploring and learning about its history. Thank you for the time and energy you put into enlightening the public and, above all, thank you for caring!

    3. Funny, I was in San Diego again for a three week visit in April 2018 when you wrote a comment. Sorry for no reply until now. I'm looking back at the moment at past postings and looking for pics of these vernal pools that no longer exist. I'm writing a post on how quickly things change through human activity. Thanks for your reply.


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