Nerdy field guides for California/Baja?
November 27, 2013 7:32 PM   Subscribe

I am a biologist moving to San Diego. My work will take me all over the state, including SoCal deserts and Baja California. There are a million natural history books out there - which ones are worth the money? I want a good plant book for sure. But I would also love recommendations for geology, herps, birds, general natural history and anything else an outdoorsy gal might find interesting.
posted by intoxicate to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Roadside/Underfoot geology series is quite good and covers multiple regions of CA.

Also, Fire Mountains of the West

There's also a great natural and local history guide that follows US-395 but I'm having trouble finding it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2013

An Island Called California is pretty great.
posted by fshgrl at 9:01 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

For an outdoorsy person, if you like hiking, you will absolutely want to get Afoot and Afield in San Diego County by Jerry Schad. It is the goddam bible of outdoorsiness here and I do not look forward to the day I have to move to someplace that does not have a similar book written about the area. It's primarily a hiking book, but in the hike descriptions he points out a lot of different things about botany, geology (I think there's even a geological section through the county - possibly only in older editions), and human history along the trails. Many of the trails described go to old native american areas or follow old mining trails or explorer routes.

It's not quite as useful, but I've enjoyed going through The Anza Borrego Desert Region as well.

For field guides, the state has such a wide range of biomes that you may want to break them up by type or region.
posted by LionIndex at 9:49 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can spend a LIFETIME in Death Valley and I hope you Memail me for personal recommendations I would never post publicly.

Lemme go to my book shelf....

I can't find it, but I'm almost sure it is the Underfoot Series edition of Death Valley that I adore!

posted by jbenben at 11:51 PM on November 27, 2013

This is a great book.

There is some interesting natural history in Mike Davis' Ecology of Fear.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:46 AM on November 28, 2013

If you want THE BOOK for California plants, the Jepson Manual is that book.
posted by rockindata at 6:06 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You probably want to check out the Theodore Payne Foundation. I love following their desert wildflower reports in the spring.

Our mission is:

To promote and restore California landscapes, and habitats
To propagate and make available California native plants and wildflowers
To educate and acquire knowledge about California flora and natural history

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2013

Seconding rockindata. The Jepson is not for the dabbler, it is weighty stuff, but it is definitely the single most important resource for California botany.
posted by agentofselection at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2013

Oh yeah, and for herps you probably want Stebbins or Stebbins. Some of the nomenclature and taxonomy is a little out-of-date, but it's still the standard. is a good online resource that keeps up with taxonomy.
posted by agentofselection at 11:23 AM on November 29, 2013

Response by poster: This is a great list! I love having an excuse to buy more books...

Some other colleagues recommended the following:
The Lone Tree mammals guide
Glaciers of California
Books by UCPress:

And everybody seems to agree that I need
Jepson's plant guide (because I AM that nerdy)
Afoot and Afield

Thanks all!
posted by intoxicate at 4:57 PM on November 30, 2013

Once you get out here, the local Sierra Club has something called the Nature Knowledge Workshop, where you spend a weekend out in the backcountry learning to identify local species and their significance.
posted by LionIndex at 3:48 PM on December 5, 2013

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