A tiny geological treasure can be found in the San Bernadino Mountains of southern California: the “Pebble Plains.” Located near the famous ski town of Big Bear Lake, this 92 square-mile area exhibits a soil type found nowhere else in the world, a combination of clay and quartz fragments left behind by a glacier lake that existed during the Pleistocene Era. Over the last 10,000 years, these ingredients have been subject to repeated swelling and shrinking from the freezes at that altitude (6000-7500 feet) and the sun’s heat at that latitude (34° North), resulting in a unique composition.
Tiny botanical treasures are also found there, collectively called, “Belly Plants” because they are so small you have to get down on your belly to see them. About a dozen of these plant species are found nowhere else in the world, having evolved there in isolation, adapting to the unique soil.
Like many other ecosystems worldwide, this one is at risk from the effects of Climate Change. According to the Big Bear (California) Grizzly newspaper, “lower-than-average snow pack [in 2013] reduced water levels in the pebble plains clay and caused problems for several of the plant species”. The water situation has worsened during the intervening two years; snow packs and winter precipitation in 2015 were at all-time lows in California.
The Pebble Plains are within the San Bernadino National Forest and a portion of them are protected within the boundaries of the Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve. The Reserve features a half-mile loop trail where you can see many Belly Plants. Admission is free-of-charge. Some of the same plants can also be found at nearby Doble Trail Camp, which is just steps off of the Pacific Crest Trail, and where we stayed for one night.
April through June is blooming season for most of the Belly Plant species. I visited with a fellow plant-geek friend in early April and we were thrilled by what we found. This slideshow gives the highlights. (Big thanks to Michael L. Charters’ website, califlora.net. His post about his field trip to the Reserve furnished me with nearly all the plant IDs in this post.)