Exploring the wildflowers along the Mishe Mowka trail

I was planning to hike to the top of Sandstone Peak this weekend as part of my five day stint of time alone. It has been on my to-hike list for a few years now but it wasn’t always convenient to get over to that area of the Santa Monica Mountains. I decided today was the day.

However, when I finally made it to the trail, I recalled someone suggesting that I try out the Mishe Mowka trail because of the views and the great wildflowers. Ok! Change of plans… Sandstone Peak will have to wait until another time.


The Mishe Mowka trail is part of a 6 mile loop that includes the Sandstone Peak trail in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. It is rated as moderate, due to some of the larger rocks and slippery inclines. There are a few scenic stops along the trail as well such as Balanced Rock, Echo Cliffs and Split Rock. More on these in a bit.

As soon as I started up the first incline, I noticed plenty of Plummer’s Mariposa Lily (Calochortus plummerae) which I absolutely love. They were everywhere!


Calochortus plummerae “Plummer’s Mariposa Lily

Continuing up the narrow trail, it was a bit more populated than I was hoping for. Surprisingly, some hikers prefer the noise of their favorite music to the sounds of the outdoors and are so generous enough to share it with the other hikers on the trail. There were a few times I decided to stop (photograph some plants) and let them carry on well enough ahead. To each their own, I suppose.

Next up, I found several bushes of woolly blue curls Trichostema lanatum still soggy from the moisture of the morning air (I doubt it rained). These were on the north facing chaparral slopes. The colors and whimsical nature of these flowers always remind me of My Little Pony!

Trichostema lanatum “Woolly Blue Curls”

Further along the exposed coastal sage scrub areas, I encountered more Calochortus, along with plenty of California buckwheat Eriogonum fasciculatum and black sage Salvia mellifera.

IMG_3902The spectacular views were encountered fairly quickly within in the first section of the trail. I kinda felt like this was cheating after hiking to Tri-Peaks two weeks ago but starting at Potrero road with an elevation gain of 2,500 feet before encountering the breathtaking vistas.

After some time along the coastal sage scrub and heading towards the north side of the mountain, the vegetation became lusher and the trail was covered by stands of toyon Heteromeles arbutifolia, redshank Adenostoma sparsifolim and chamise Adenostoma fasciculatum. Of course, plenty of yucca Hesperoyucca whipplei, one which skewered through the flesh of my knee and I’m still in pain now at home while I write this. Seriously, I didn’t do anything to you, my friend, no need for such violence!


The flowers though, are beautiful. These are the plants that you see standing guard over the chaparral with their bright white blooms, asparagus like shoots, and needle like spines at the base. It was used extensively by indigenous people as a food source as well as to make sandals, cloth, and rope. Even though the flowers are edible, they aren’t particularly tasty eaten raw directly off the plant, fairly bitter taste. More about yucca at another time…


Delphinium cardinale “Scarlet larkspur”

Under the shade of the canopy, there was an abundance of other flowers that I hadn’t encountered recently, such as the Scarlet larkspur Delphinium cardinale, a few Yellow Mariposa Lily Calochortus clavatus ssp pallidus, White pincushion Chaenactis artemesiifolia, and further along the Heart-leaved penstemon Kekiella cordifolia were everywhere.

IMG_3842-2At the fork with the option to go down to Echo Cliffs, I encountered a past-its-prime Humbodlt lily Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum. I have not photographed one of these very well in the past so this inspired me to find the perfect one. Even though this one is interesting with its aged texture… Unfortunately, every other specimen I found had it’s flowers torn off.

The one lily I did find that was photographable had been torn off and cast along side the trail so I thanked it for giving up its life and photographed it to share its message with you. Please, hikers, just take a photo and leave the plant alone, it won’t even last until you finish your hike anyways.

Lilium humbodtii ssp. oscellatum “Humboldt Lily”


There was an abundance of ferns, poison oak, mugwort and other shade loving plants as I headed closer to Split Rock. Even a bit of water as I explored along the stream!

At this point, I had been hiking for a few hours (yes, I’m a bit slower when I’m photographing and taking notes) but I realized I was out of water and had forgotten to bring a snack. I could have continued on to Sandstone Peak via the loop, but since I was alone, I didn’t want to risk anything. Looking back now, though, I totally could have done it.

At the Split Rock, there is an unmaintained trail to the right that takes you to Balanced Rock. The trail gets a little confusing though and you can easily get led astray… Especially when the plants are calling you…

A few more plant friends from the trail:

Lepechinia calycina “Pitcher sage”
Dudleya pulverulenta “Chalk Liveforever”
Chorizanthe staticoides “Turkish Rugging”

Overall, the Mishe Mowke trail was amazing… It was a beautiful, overcast day with a temperature under 70 degrees which made it for perfect hiking weather. I highly recommend this trail to anyone wanting to scope out some gorgeous wildflowers and some scenic views along with some crazy rocks.

Until next time…


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