4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Ghost flower tricks bugs

A little surprise awaits you in Little Surprise Canyon

The pale yellow flowers of the sand blazing star can occasionally be found at the base of the canyon walls.
The pale yellow flowers of the sand blazing star can occasionally be found at the base of the canyon walls.

According to former State Park Superintendent Mark Jorgensen, this canyon “is a surprise during good wildflower seasons and holds many species of blooming plants in its shady confines.” It is the canyon commonly recommended for a short stroll by the Visitor Center volunteers during the wildflower season. Who actually named this little canyon is a bit of a mystery. It being relatively short, at least part of the name seems clear. And, indeed, it is surprising that such a small canyon has such a rich habitat. If you have ever hiked from this parking area to Maidenhair Falls via Hellhole Canyon, you may be surprised to learn that you have missed the beginning of this diminutive yet fascinating little canyon.

This hike can be done either as an easy out-and-back, which is well suited for children or adults with some mobility issues, or as a more challenging loop hike with a bit of boulder scrambling over a few dry waterfalls. No matter your route, it is well worth spending an hour or two investigating Little Surprise Canyon as either an addition to a trip up to Maidenhair Falls or as a stand-alone exploration. Few places in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park will give you a better feeling for the beauty of the desert than this. The best time of year to see wildflowers is between February and May, with March and April often being the peak flower season. However, the timing and quantity of the bloom is highly dependent on rain and other environmental factors. Daytime temperatures from June through October may make desert hiking unwise except for the early morning or evening hours.

To start your hike, simply step behind the vault toilets and head in a southerly direction into the canyon. Even with such a short hike, the desert is not a particularly forgiving place, so be sure to bring plenty of water and don’t forget a hat to shade you from the intense desert sun. While hiking boots are not required for this hike, at a minimum be sure to wear a good pair of closed-toed tennis shoes.

Sponsored
Sponsored

In wildflower season, you will almost immediately begin to discover an amazing variety of desert foliage in bloom. Common plants here are the red tubular flowered chuparosa (Justicia californica), a favorite of hummingbirds, and the pale purple bristly langloisia (Langloisia setosissima). While most flowers have yellow pollen, the pollen of langloisia is a startling blue. A less common inhabitant here is the pale yellow sand blazing star (Mentzelia involucrata). This plant has a floral mimic, the ghost flower (Mohavea confertiflora), often found in the same area. The mimic saves energy by not producing any nectar to attract pollinators. Rather, it relies on its resemblance to the sand blazing star to fool insects into visiting its flower, where they receive no reward for their pollinating efforts.

Continuing on for about 300 feet will bring you to a fork in the canyon. Follow the right (west) fork for a longer and more interesting path. It begins with a mostly flat sandy wash, but soon the canyon walls grow higher and the trail becomes increasingly rocky. Take a moment to consider the dual forces of wind and rain runoff from the San Ysidro Mountains in the shaping of this area. If you come to a section that is more challenging than you wish to tackle, simply turn around and retrace your steps.

If you do continue over these rocky sections, you will eventually come out of the canyon and find yourself close to S-22. The vegetation on this more exposed section, such as indigo bush (Psorothamnus schottii) with its deep purple flowers, attest to the drier environment outside of the more protected and shady canyon. You may now choose to either retrace your path back down into the canyon, or look for one of the trails that will take you on a more exposed ridgeline route just to the east of the canyon. Looking over the edge of the ridge and down into the canyon gives a birds-eye view of your earlier trek.

When you reach the canyon floor, continue north and back to the parking area and your car.

(Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website. Hike descriptions are also found in Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.)

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Confessions of a San Diego Amazon Flex driver

Boxbringer
The pale yellow flowers of the sand blazing star can occasionally be found at the base of the canyon walls.
The pale yellow flowers of the sand blazing star can occasionally be found at the base of the canyon walls.

According to former State Park Superintendent Mark Jorgensen, this canyon “is a surprise during good wildflower seasons and holds many species of blooming plants in its shady confines.” It is the canyon commonly recommended for a short stroll by the Visitor Center volunteers during the wildflower season. Who actually named this little canyon is a bit of a mystery. It being relatively short, at least part of the name seems clear. And, indeed, it is surprising that such a small canyon has such a rich habitat. If you have ever hiked from this parking area to Maidenhair Falls via Hellhole Canyon, you may be surprised to learn that you have missed the beginning of this diminutive yet fascinating little canyon.

This hike can be done either as an easy out-and-back, which is well suited for children or adults with some mobility issues, or as a more challenging loop hike with a bit of boulder scrambling over a few dry waterfalls. No matter your route, it is well worth spending an hour or two investigating Little Surprise Canyon as either an addition to a trip up to Maidenhair Falls or as a stand-alone exploration. Few places in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park will give you a better feeling for the beauty of the desert than this. The best time of year to see wildflowers is between February and May, with March and April often being the peak flower season. However, the timing and quantity of the bloom is highly dependent on rain and other environmental factors. Daytime temperatures from June through October may make desert hiking unwise except for the early morning or evening hours.

To start your hike, simply step behind the vault toilets and head in a southerly direction into the canyon. Even with such a short hike, the desert is not a particularly forgiving place, so be sure to bring plenty of water and don’t forget a hat to shade you from the intense desert sun. While hiking boots are not required for this hike, at a minimum be sure to wear a good pair of closed-toed tennis shoes.

Sponsored
Sponsored

In wildflower season, you will almost immediately begin to discover an amazing variety of desert foliage in bloom. Common plants here are the red tubular flowered chuparosa (Justicia californica), a favorite of hummingbirds, and the pale purple bristly langloisia (Langloisia setosissima). While most flowers have yellow pollen, the pollen of langloisia is a startling blue. A less common inhabitant here is the pale yellow sand blazing star (Mentzelia involucrata). This plant has a floral mimic, the ghost flower (Mohavea confertiflora), often found in the same area. The mimic saves energy by not producing any nectar to attract pollinators. Rather, it relies on its resemblance to the sand blazing star to fool insects into visiting its flower, where they receive no reward for their pollinating efforts.

Continuing on for about 300 feet will bring you to a fork in the canyon. Follow the right (west) fork for a longer and more interesting path. It begins with a mostly flat sandy wash, but soon the canyon walls grow higher and the trail becomes increasingly rocky. Take a moment to consider the dual forces of wind and rain runoff from the San Ysidro Mountains in the shaping of this area. If you come to a section that is more challenging than you wish to tackle, simply turn around and retrace your steps.

If you do continue over these rocky sections, you will eventually come out of the canyon and find yourself close to S-22. The vegetation on this more exposed section, such as indigo bush (Psorothamnus schottii) with its deep purple flowers, attest to the drier environment outside of the more protected and shady canyon. You may now choose to either retrace your path back down into the canyon, or look for one of the trails that will take you on a more exposed ridgeline route just to the east of the canyon. Looking over the edge of the ridge and down into the canyon gives a birds-eye view of your earlier trek.

When you reach the canyon floor, continue north and back to the parking area and your car.

(Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website. Hike descriptions are also found in Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.)

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Heroic fictional soccer coach bumps up against real-world football villainy

Lasso-Faire?
Next Article

Jesse Daniel Edwards returns, Taz Taylor shoots, Swive performs, Sara Petite revues, and Roger! stays home

Upcoming Little Italy, Ramona, San Carlos, and Solana Beach concerts
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close