Diablo Recovery

On Mount Diablo, Springtime in the Summer Heat

July 30, 2014


This article is part of a monthly series of photos and articles on the transformation of Mount Diablo following the 2013 Morgan Fire, funded by special donations from Bay Nature readers. You can find our stories, as well as event listings, iNaturalist sightings, and magazine features, at baynature.org/diablo.


ount Diablo hillsides are typically golden in the summer. But despite the worst fire and drought in decades, the mountain’s southern and eastern slopes are tinged with green. The air is filled with the sweet smell of tar plant. Oat grass meadows are bleached blonde. Pine trees are black.  So are the skeletons of shrubs such as chamise and toyon.

dried whispering bells
Whispering bells, dried to a crisp by heat and drought. (Photo by Joan Hamilton)

But at the base of many of those shrubs is an explosion of bright green shoots a foot or two tall. Between those shoots is a sprinkling of smaller plants such as chamise and poison oak sprouted from seed. The temperature rises to well over 90 degrees these days—hot enough to bake many small plants.  The star lilies, soap plant, and whispering bells that covered these slopes a few months ago are a crispy brown. But the little green shrubs have just begun to stage their comeback. It’s springtime in the chaparral.

greenery in August
Chamise sprouts and the slopes leading up to North Peak are tinged with green — despite it being August in a drought year. (Photo by Joan Hamilton)
About the Author

Joan Hamilton is producer of Audible Mount Diablo, a podcast for people who love the outdoors and want to know more about the plants, animals, and history of the Bay Area. Her interest in fires was sparked by the 2013 Morgan Fire in Mount Diablo State Park. She wrote two articles and numerous web posts for Bay Nature about nature's recovery from that conflagration, and has been a fire follower ever since. Most recently, she's been working on Diablo Range Revealed, a series that explores life in the inland coast range after the SCU Lightning Complex fire. You can find evidence at savemountdiablo.org/learn/diablo-range-revealed/.