Carl Purpus, Plant Collector in Western America On the Trail, with Purpus, in California (Continued)  

Barbara Ertter  

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Other Articles: Purpus' Introductions: 0350  

"A little bit of excitement, often of a rather dangerous nature, is unavoidable on such journeys. The flats and dry foothills of the Sierra teem with rattlesnakes, One must always take care to avoid disturbing one of these dangers, well aware of its lethal weapon, from where it lurks. In the mountains, in addition to the harmless black bear, there is the dangerous grizzly. Encountering one unexpectedly is a distinct adventure. One day as I climbed a slope, I suddenly saw directly above me a large cinnamon bear approaching from one side. I had no weapon with me, so I was of course at first sight startled. I tried to scare the animal away, but without success. The bear held its ground with dreadful rolling eyes, and finally came at me. I was foolish enough to jump at him, whereupon the beast stopped, snarling but not retreating. By now I had become quite uncomfortable with the situation, so I moved slowly backwards, keeping an eye on my furious companion. The animal appeared to pay no further attention to me, and I quietly resumed collecting. Although I still feared an attack at any moment, the beast did not bother me again"
Full Size Image Looking toward Broder Cabin and Farewell Gap, Sierra Nevada, California.  

Locations: Farewell Gap. Hockett Meadows. Little Kern River. Maggie Peaks. Middle Tule River. Mount Moses.  

Purpus survived his first year in the Sierra Nevada and returned the following summer. His description his travels in 1896 are somewhat less effusive, but more descriptive of his actual route. He left Springville with a guide and several pack animals in June and headed up the Middle Fork of the Tule River. They were forced to camp until the middle of June, "... facing the fantastic rock walls of the Maggie Peaks ...," waiting for the snow in the passes to recede. He explored Mt. Moses, where he discovered Echeveria purpusii, according to a letter written to Katharine Brandegee. The camped for ten days in Hockett Meadows, ascending the surrounding peaks, before continuing to the headwaters of the Little Kern River. Many of his collections from this region are from Farewell Gap, between the Kern and Kaweah drainages.
Full Size Image Trout Meadows, southern Sierra Nevada, California. Full Size Image Olancha Peak, Sierra Nevada, California.  

Locations: Golden Trout Creek. Lyon Meadows. Monachy Meadows. Olancha Peak. Trout Meadows. Whitney Creek.  

After a fortnight they headed down the Little Kern River to Lyon Meadows and Trout Meadows, where they were caught in a violent hail storm. They crossed the swollen river and proceeded up Golden Trout Creek, which Purpus called Whitney Creek. Along with the vegetation he described the prominent volcanic craters along the stream and the exceptionally large specimens of Juniperus. Purpus refers to his next major camp and collecting site as "Monatchy Meadows", but because he describes Olancha Peak to the southeast he was apparently in Ramshaw or Strawberry Meadow instead. He climbed Olancha Peak and described his "... fantastic view overlooking the Owens River Valley with the deep blue Owens River Lake ..." One of the plants he collected on Olancha Peak was a Monardella that remained undescribed for over 90 years.
Full Size Image Larrea tridentata. Full Size Image Owens Lake from Olancha Peak, California.

Other Articles: Purpus' 1896 Trip: 0180

Locations: Corcoran Peak. Coso Mountains. Cottonwood Creek Canyon. Owens Lake. Owens Valley.

Letters: 10/27/1896  

Purpus then descended into the Owens River Valley following Cottonwood Creek Canyon. He collected around the alkali lake and surrounding desert, including an excursion to the Coso Mountains, where he was impressed by a magnificent treelike Yucca. He also noted the fascinating Psorothamnus fremontii, "... low, pleasantly aromatic shrubs with sharply bent branches ..." and Larrea tridentata, "... covered with small white-haired fruit ... without doubt the most interesting in western North America." After several weeks in the valley, they began their return trip. Enroute Purpus climbed Corcoran Peak, or "Old Mount Whitney," and collected again around Farewell Gap and the Little Kern River.
Full Size Image Chamaebatiaria millefolium. Full Size Image Joshua Tree Woodland near Walker Pass.

Other Articles: Purpus' 1896 Trip: 0250

Locations: Walker Pass.  

He returned to Springville at the beginning of September, but set out soon after to return to Cottonwood Creek Canyon. To avoid the danger of snow storms in the high mountains at this late season, he took a southern route over Walker Pass. His goal was to collect seeds of Chamaebatiaria millefolium, which he considered one of the loveliest shrubs in the eastern Sierra Nevada: "A more beautiful shrub than this magnificent one cannot be imagined." On his return trip he again explored the Coso Mountains, although most of the annuals were long past. He arrived back in Springville in late October, after a journey he said was "... blessed with perfect weather."

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0010

Locations: Porterville.  

In early May of 1897 he and his companion again headed for Walker Pass, this time with a wagon. Enroute he described "... the small town of Porterville, distinguished by its lovely orange and citrus groves ..." and "... an undistinctive hilly area, part treeless, part forested ..." through which "... occasional watercourses meandered as green ribbons ...," and "... golden wheatfields awaiting harvest [that] stretched for miles ...," all of which still characterize the region.
Full Size Image Blue Oak Savannah, near White River, California.

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0020

Locations: Cedar Creek. Deer Creek. Greenhorn Pass. Linns Valley. White River.  

After camping at Deer Creek, they passed by White River: "Gold mining had once been attempted here, but the venture was not very productive". They camped at a spring in Linns Valley, where " ... hill and dale were clothed in a glad green ..." From here they followed an "... excellent, well-shaded trail [that] led rather steeply uphill to Greenhorn Pass ...," stopping partway up at Cedar Creek, "... a small, crystal-clear mountain spring ..." One of the shrubs he notes in this area is a Garrya laden with fruit, which he says is called "quinine tree", "... because all of its parts contain a terribly bitter substance."
Full Size Image Erskine Creek drainage, Piute Mountains, California. Full Size Image Yucca whipplei.

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0080

Locations: Erskine Creek. Hot Spring Valley. Isabella Lake. Piute Mtns.  

On the eastern side of Greenhorn Pass Purpus was treated to "... a beautiful view of the green valley where the North and South Forks of the Kern River meet, bounded by steep, rather bare, rocky mountains ...," now the site of Isabella Lake. They crossed the Kern River and headed south to Hot Spring Valley. His goal was the Piute ("Pah-Ute") Mountains, where he planned to spend a few weeks botanizing. They proceeded up Erskine Creek, following "... the crystal clear creek upstream ... to where it flowed out of a narrow glen ... The glen eventually widened and the slopes were not as steep ... The chapparal was only on the north slopes of the mountains ... The south slopes were characterized by sparse shrubbery interspersed with quantities of Yucca whipplei, a lovely sight with its huge inflorescence of large bell-like flowers rising above its leaves."
Full Size Image Forsellesia nevadensis.  

Locations: Laura Peak.  

Purpus camped on L. B. Hobson's ranch at the foot of what he calls Piute Peak, which from all indications is probably present-day Lookout Peak. He also explored Laura Peak, a distinctive limestone peak in a generally granitic region, where he found an isolated population of Forsellesia, otherwise unknown from the Sierra Nevada. Among the new species he discovered in the Piute Mountains was the lovely Delphinium purpusii Brandeg. In a letter to Katharine Brandegee dated May 23, he describes "... an other Echeveria, which is alltogether different from E. purpusii it grows on Granit and limestone rocks and has smaller leaves and stroh colored flowers ..."; this is the plant that has recently been described as Dudleya calcicola Bartel & Shevock. His published travelogue mentions a Cupresses he did not recognize, an obvious reference to the endemic Piute Cypress.

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0180

Locations: Indian Wells.  

Purpus left the Piute Mountains mid-June and proceeded through the valley of the South Fork of the Kern River to Walker Pass. He describes the stand of Joshua tree that span the pass, which "... presented a very interesting, remarkable sight, and gave the landscape a southern character ..." After camping at a willow-shaded spring on the east slope, they headed to Indian Wells. He writes:

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0200

Locations: El Paso Range.  

To the left rose the wonderfully sculptured peaks of the Sierra, bare of sparsely forested with Pinus monophylla. To the right were the dark, volcanic ridges of the El Paso Range, and to the northeast, the bare peaks of the Argus Mountains and part of the Coso Mountains. Between the reddish gray mountains rose a dark red to black extinct crater, very characteristic of these mountains. The places where lava had flowed down the mountain slopes and poured forth onto the plains were very interesting. It looked as if such areas were shaded by clouds while the lighter parts of the mountains were in the full glare of the sun.
Full Size Image Argus Peak from the west.

Other Articles: Southern Sierra, Argus and Madurango Ranges (1897): 0220

Locations: Argus Peak. Argus Range. Maturango Peak. Mountain Springs Canyon. Panamint Mountains. Salt Wells.

Letters: 12/19/1896  

From Indian Wells they crossed the desert to the east, arriving that evening, tired and thirsty, at Salt Wells. The next morning they continued north to the Argus Range: "... Although the mountains appeared to be close to us, it took eight hours to reach them ..." Purpus explored the Argus Range until the end of June, based first at the mouth of Mountain Spring Canyon and then at the foot of Argus Peak. He also visited Maturango Peak, admiring the view east to the Panamint Mountains. According to Purpus, the Argus Range derives its name from the numerous scattered shrubs, which give the range the appearance of having a hundred eyes.
      On his return trip, Purpus backtracked to the Piute Mountains, where he collected for two more weeks. He then returned to Springville for a month-long recuperation, after which he collected around the headwaters of the Kaweah, Little Kern, and Middle Tule rivers until late September. In a letter to Katharine Brandegee [8 September 1897] sent from Broder's Cabin in Mineral King, he writes:


Letters: 9/8/1897  

I had a very bad experience with Capt. Gale who is superintendent of the Park, as he was about ready to turn me and my man, who helps me collecting out of the park, although I had a letter of introduction to him by the General from last year.
      It sounds as if Captain Gale were more effective in keeping botanists out of Sequoia Park than sheep, based on a letter from the previous year [19 December 1896]:
Full Size Image Sheep near Stampede Reservoir, California.  

Letters: 12/19/1896  

It is of no use to go a third time into these Mountains, because I think I have collected almost everything worth collecting and because the feed in that big sheep pasture - the Sequoia park not included - is getting so scarce, that it is quite impossible to stay in one place for more than three or four days. It was worse this summer, than I ever have seen it before and I would not have been surprised to see some of those Basks with their flocks on the very top of Mt. Whitney; They pretty near reached the top of Old Mt. Whitney though, and when they had cleanded [sic] out every grass spot in the so called reservation - that name is nothing but a mockery, the[y] went into the Sequoia park allthough protected by soldiers of the U. St. Army.
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Date and time this article was prepared: 6/7/2002 7:32:38 PM