"Fly fishing is my passion, hunting is my weakness, and mules are a perplexing addiction."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

San Jacinto Mountains Centennial Survey



In May of 1908, Joesph Grinnell and Harry Swarth, sponsored by the University of Southern California led an expedition into the San Jacinto Mountains of Riverside County to study its biology. There, they would stay, exploring the area until September, studying the flora and fauna of this unique mountain range.

Traveling throughout the area, from the valley floor of the desert to the mountains' summit, the team collected mammals, plants, insects and birds, taking copious notes and photographs, and ultimately publishing their results (Grinnell and Swarth 1913). This expedition is one of the cornerstones of understanding for Southern California's biology and because this group did such a thorough job, it is considered the gold standard. This was also the only intensive study done of the area, thus, the expedition of 1908 stands as a unique benchmark, giving us the longest historic perspective possible on how the wildlife of southern California is responding to environmental change.

One hundred years later, Phillip Unitt, from the San Diego Natural History Museum, led a similar expedition into the San Jacinto Mountains in an effort to replicate Grinnell's 1908 effort and thereby establish a comparison. As Grinnell himself wrote, concerning the benefit of his work: "This value will not, however, be realized until the lapse of many years, possibly a century, assuming that our material is safely preserved. And this is that the student of the future will have access to the original record of faunal conditions in California and the West, wherever we now work."

On November 16th, 2008, my wife, Cathy, and I along with a number of other packers from the Back Country Horsemen of California were honored to be asked to help with our animals to pack this historic expedition into one of the original 1908 camp sites located in a remote area of Palm Canyon called Little Paradise. The eight biologists, each specializing in a different area of expertise were loaded for bear, as it were, with traps, cameras, specimen containers and a myriad of other scientific equipment they would need for their week-long stay in the canyon.

Our group of packers managed to guide the expedition into the canyon and on to the group's intended campsite at Little Paradise where, believe it or not, we were able to get all their equipment transported safe, sound, and mostly intact.

We returned a week later to pack the group and their gear back out and they were obviously looking forward to getting back to civilization and a hot shower. This was a great adventure shared with a terrific group of people.

After the snows melted on Mount San Jacinto, in June and July of 2008, we again packed this same group and their gear up into the high country to Taquitz Meadow and then a week later on up to Round Valley to complete their expedition.

We have since packed this same group of biologists and researchers into Palm Canyon again to continue their study of the area. The interesting thing for me is that this is an ongoing study, and we, (the packers) are fortunate to share in the biologist's studies and successes by continuing to pack them into some the more remote areas.

Over this one-hundred year period since 1908, some things have changed, and while time doesn't permit me to list the findings and differences in the two studies you can discover them for yourself on the museum's website at http://www.sdnhm.org/research/sanjacinto/index.php Some of the area's changes are attributed to the difference in time of year the two groups visited the same site. One group visited the area in the spring, the other did their studies in the fall. Some of the differences are no doubt due to the proximity of man and nearby Palm Springs as it pertains to evasive species in the area. And some of the changes may be attributed to climatic changes.

Whether you believe Al Gore's prophecies of doom and gloom and feel the need to rush out and purchase your carbon credits to save the planet, or maybe you side with those scientists who maintain these changes are simply part of the earth's natural cycle, you'll certainly find the San Diego Natural History Museum a fascinating, educational, and entertaining glimpse into our region's past, present, and possibly even our future.

For my part, these have been enjoyable pack trips into a rugged area that is seldom visited. This canyon has its own unique beauty and I highly recommend the trip to hikers and horsemen alike.