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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

MERCED NWR: Wildflowers at the Merced NWR’s Arena Plains Unit Provide Visitors with a Colorful Display

Region 8, April 13, 2013
Spring wildflowers at the Merced NWR's Arena Plains Unit are the focus for an annual special guided tour for the public.
Spring wildflowers at the Merced NWR's Arena Plains Unit are the focus for an annual special guided tour for the public. - Photo Credit: n/a
Weather conditions, this year, conspired to create a more subtle wildflower display at the Arena Plains Unit, but one that nonetheless managed to engage visitors for hours as they leisurely strolled among the wildflowers to discover nature’s botanical gems.
Weather conditions, this year, conspired to create a more subtle wildflower display at the Arena Plains Unit, but one that nonetheless managed to engage visitors for hours as they leisurely strolled among the wildflowers to discover nature’s botanical gems. - Photo Credit: n/a

By Madeline Yancey

Ten high school students from Dos Palos and Planada, Calif. joined about 30 other visitors on a special once a year trip to the Arena Plains Unit of the Merced National Wildlife Refuge on April 13, 2013.

Arena Plains is a special area in California’s northern Merced County that protects unique communities of flora and fauna associated with its shifting wind-swept sand dunes and vernal pools. It is the largest remaining block of undisturbed sand dunes, wetlands, and vernal pools remaining in the San Joaquin Valley – nearly 2,500 acres of land that managed to escape the plow. When the winter rains, temperatures, and bloom times are orchestrated just right, Mother Nature seems to pull out all the stops to put on a spectacular display of wildflower colors and textures, the likes of which John Muir described when he called the San Joaquin Valley, “the floweriest place on Earth.”

Weather conditions, this year, conspired to create a more subtle display, but one that nonetheless managed to engage visitors for hours as they leisurely strolled among the wildflowers to discover nature’s botanical gems. The high school students and others enjoyed trekking from patch to patch oohing and aahing, learning the names of, and photographing a dozen or more wildflower species including goldfields, purple owl’s clover, tansy phacelia, blow wives, blue-eyed gilia, and vast fields of chamomile. Tiny patches of the beautiful purple downingia were even discovered in the already parched bottoms of the vernal pools.

Refuge staff were apprehensive that this year’s absence of spectacular waves of wildflowers would leave visitors disappointed and wanting more. Mother Nature knew better. Visitors relished the opportunity to be a part of this once-a-year visit to a place relatively unaltered by human activities. To get outdoors in the sunshine and walk, head down, step by slow step, through the dunes discovering, and appreciating natures colorful blooming treasures that are literally – here today, gone tomorrow.

Madeline Yancey is a Pathways Student Trainee at the San Luis NWR Complexe in Los Banos, California.

Contact Info: Jack Sparks, 209-826-3508, jack_sparks@fws.gov