Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge And Death Valley Adventure November 10 to 19, 2014

23 Nov

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was named after the galleries of ash trees described in expedition notes from 1893.  This desert oasis, a very rare and unique ecosystem, is where I was from November 10 to 14 and where I learned a lot about a Mojave oasis.

            Top reasons to visit Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge!

  1. It’s the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert.
  2. Nearly 30 species of plants and animals that don’t exist anyplace else on earth (referred to as endemic species).
  3. Ash Meadows has the highest concentration of endemic species in the United States.
  4. See relict species of desert fish that have existed here since mammoths drank from these very springs.
  5. Have you ever heard of fossil water?  The water here is known as fossil water because it comes from melted ice from the last ice age.
  6. This is a photographer’s paradise where ice blue spring pools are a stark contrast against the harsh desert landscape.
  7. Ash Meadows is recognized internationally as an important wetland.
  8. The mysterious Devil’s Hole over 500 feet deep and the bottom has never been found.
  9. My college buddy and roomie, Gale Ritter, is working/volunteering in the Visitor’s Center and invited me to visit her for a few days.

    Gale and me in the Visitor's Center

    Gale and I in the Visitor’s Center

Gale had to work in the visitor’s center the first full day that I was there, so I took her dog, Sissy, with me to check out some of the highlights of the Refuge. What a great place! You’d never know it was there if you were zooming along the highway and didn’t take time to go on some dirt roads.  We went to see Point of Rocks Boardwalk and Kings’ Spring where some Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish live. They are often referred to as living fossils because they have survived a landscape changing from a moist and sub-tropical climate to a desert and have adapted to very harsh conditions such as heat, salt and poorly oxygenated water.

Kings' Spring is perhaps 20 to 25’ in diameter and hosts some of the pupfish as well as crayfish and other predators of the pupfish.

Kings’ Spring is perhaps 20 to 25’ in diameter and hosts some of the pupfish as well as crayfish and other predators of the pupfish.

 This picture has a crayfish in the lower left corner along with a greenish pupfish and the males that have a blue tinge to them. I thought it was pretty exciting to see these fish that have survived so many challenges.

Look for the reddish crayfish in the lower left corner along with a greenish pupfish and the males that have a blue tinge to them. I thought it was pretty exciting to see these fish that have survived so many challenges.

Native Americans lived in Ash Meadows for thousands of years, settling around spring pools and meadows. They hunted big horn sheep, cultivated crops and gathered pinyon pine nuts in the mountains.

Old mortars in the rock near the spring that the Indians had used to grind their seeds and so forth. The brown plants near the mortar are wild grapes.

Old mortars in the rock near the spring that the Indians had used to grind their seeds and so forth. The brown plants near the mortar are wild grapes.

Our next stop was Devil’s Hole where the Devil’s Hole pupfish have lived for 10,000 to 20,000 years. They primarily feed and spawn on a small rock shelf near the surface of a non-descript hole.  One cannot get close to it because there is a cage around it now to prevent people from trying to capture or kill the fish.  I don’t know why people would do stupid things like that.

Devil's Hole cage with a bridge to walk on to see the actual hole

Devil’s Hole cage with a bridge to walk on to see the actual hole

Devil's Hole sign

Devil’s Hole sign

Sissy and I then drove to the Longstreet Spring, an area settled by Jack Longstreet, a frontiersman who settled there with his wife in 1895.  He built a stone house in front of a cave in a spring mound.

Jack Longstreet's stone house with the fossil spring mound to the right

Jack Longstreet’s stone house with the fossil spring mound to the right

The back of Jack’s cabin is built into a low white hill known as a fossil spring mound. Slow flowing springs trap wind-blown sediments in the surrounding mud and plants. A mound forms. Water pressure forces the spring to the top of the new mound. The cycle continues and more sediment gathers so the mound grows taller and taller. Eventually the spring’s pressure is not enough to overcome the mound and the water stays underground and comes out elsewhere.

Sissy and I with the Longstreet Spring in the background

Sissy and I with the Longstreet Spring in the background

Sissy and I also traversed the Crystal Spring boardwalk near the visitor’s center. I thought this and the other boardwalk areas were very well done in explaining what is going on with the flora and fauna of the area. As I said, I learned a lot while at Ash Meadows.

Crystal Spring out of which flow 2800 gallons of water every minute

Crystal Spring,  out of which flow 2800 gallons of water every minute

Crystal Spring is about 15 feet deep and is a pretty blue because of dissolved limestone in the water that reflects more blue light.  This water has been slowly collecting in limestone bedrock for thousands of years, forming an aquifer. The water from Crystal Spring flows about 2 miles to Crystal Marsh, an important feeding ground for migratory birds. Nearly all the Refuge’s underground water eventually joins the Amargosa River to Badwater Basin in Death Valley, supporting plants, wildlife and people along the way.

The map shows where some of the watershed is as well as little towns I will speak of.

The map shows where some of the watershed is as well as little towns I will speak of.

The next day, Gale needed to disperse Ash Meadows brochures in various areas and I tagged along. We visited places with names like Pahrump, Shoshone, and Tecopa. We had a filling lunch at Shoshone in The Famous Crowbar Café/Saloon.

Tasty, comfort food is served here

Tasty, comfort food is served here

The Shoshone Museum (an ancient gas station) is next door and sports a lot of local history. I liked the display of local ore that is/was mined in the area. They had hunks of ore with a nice explanation of each rock.

Gravel Fanglomerate is mined and used a lot in Nevada. We called it DG (decomposed granite)…at least it looks about the same.

Gravel Fanglomerate is mined and used a lot in Nevada. We called it DG (decomposed granite)…at least it looks about the same.

On the south side of Shoshone, we discovered Dublin Gulch. We drove back in a small canyon a short way and discovered caves that miners had dug and fashioned into houses in the 1920s. They even had smokestacks coming out of the top of the caves.   The black things in the foreground are rusted tin cans. One guy even had a garage dug into the dirt.

Dublin Gulch caves with smokestacks on top

Dublin Gulch caves with smokestacks on top

On the north side of the little canyon was a cemetery, still in use.

Usually, one sees rows of graves, but this was laid out in a linear fashion. There were perhaps, two graves beside each other before coming up against the canyon wall.

Usually, one sees rows of graves, but this was laid out in a linear fashion. There were perhaps, two graves beside each other before coming up against the canyon ridge.

Then we drove to the China Ranch Date Farm outside of Tecopa. This is an amazing place. One that I never would have guessed would be in the desert. We drove down a dirt road through a slot canyon that eventually opened up into a lush oasis-like valley. The owners grow organic dates and sell them at their gift shop along date shakes and tasty date-nut bread. We toured the ranch a bit and then hiked along one of the many nearby trails. This place is not far from the Old Spanish Trail and John C. Fremont camped in the area in 1844 on one of his expeditions. He is said to have remarked that the grazing in the valley was perfect.

I didn’t get pictures of the lushness of the ranch but did get this arch/hole in the wall on our way out of the slot canyon.

I didn’t get pictures of the lushness of the ranch but did get this arch/hole in the wall on our way out of the slot canyon.

 On our last day together, Gale and stayed mostly in the Ash Meadows area and did a bit more exploring.

On our last day together, Gale and stayed mostly in the Ash Meadows area and did a bit more exploring.

An alkali meadow with colorful mountains and strata in the background

An alkali meadow with colorful mountains and strata in the background

 Sissy and I played with the Frisbee a bit. I really enjoyed that and I think she did too.

Sissy and I played with the Frisbee a bit. I really enjoyed that and I think she did too.

I really enjoyed being with Gale and Sissy but all good things must come to an end. It was time to drive about an hour to Death Valley to meet the family and join their campsite at Furnace Creek.

The original plan was to go to Darwin Falls and do a major hike there but plans were changed and I arrived in time to join them in going to Hole in the Wall just off Hwy. 190. I was very glad that we had 2 trucks with 4 wheel drive as my car would have bottomed out within the first mile of going into this area. We drove almost 4 miles on a rough dirt/rocky road that was on an alluvial fan/river bed just to begin our hike.

Hole in the Wall gap

Hole in the Wall gap

We guessed that water rushing down from the mountains kept washing and eating at that ridge you see and eventually made a cut through to make the gap. We parked at the base of that ridge and began to hike up an enormous alluvial fan (Sometimes I think that Death Valley is made up of alluvial fans. They are everywhere!) to the base of the Funeral Mountains. From there, we made a left turn into what looked like a box canyon.

Hiking up to the Funeral Mountains

Looking back toward our starting place.

 

Jason, Dalan and Scott checked their hiking guide and determined the route to go.

Jason, Dalan and Scott checked their hiking guide and determined the route to go.

Allan and I pooped out at the mouth of a faux box canyon but Jerri and the others kept on going. The box canyon made a sharp turn and kept going into a slot canyon with 9 rock falls (meaning it was just rocks and no water at this time). Jerri and Jolee got to the first one but the boys kept going to the 6th fall. That involved a lot of climbing that Jerri and Jolee didn’t want to do. They didn’t return until almost dark which caused the rest of us a bit of consternation as it was a pretty rugged area. But they were fine and had a great time.

The first rock fall after the faux box canyon

The first rock fall after the faux box canyon.  Not something that I would have wanted to climb.

Dalan is holding a fossil that I found on the sort of trail we were following. We left it there because it’s against the rules to take anything out of the park (except for the dust in our shoes). Allan thought it might be a vertebrae from some long ago critter.

Dalan is holding a fossil that I found on the sort of trail we were following. We left it there because it’s against the rules to take anything out of the park (except for the dust in our shoes). Allan thought it might be a vertebrae from some long ago critter.

Looking from the box canyon mouth to try to show how much we had climbed from the base of the ridge in the background.

Looking from the box canyon mouth to try to show how much we had climbed from the base of the ridge in the background.

Jerri’s four legged boys were waiting for us a camp. Buddy and Max (Maxwell von Biddle when he’s in trouble).

Jerri’s four legged boys were waiting for us at camp. Buddy and Max (Maxwell Von Biddle when he’s in trouble).

We just found out that Max is not half Great Dane, but rather he’s a black mouth cur mixed with lab. Whatever he is, he’s a sweet dog who thinks everybody loves him but scares some folks due to his size. Buddy is a full-grown lab and you can see how Max sort of dwarfs him.

Another indicator of his size is his attempt to get on the bed with Jerri.

Another indicator of his size is his attempt to get on the bed with Jerri and Allan

We spent time at the Furnace Creek Resort pool that is just heavenly to swim in. It’s filled by a warm spring and isn’t chlorinated. The water is exchanged every 24 hours. We love it!

The big kids enjoying the pool.

The big kids enjoying the pool.

Megan loves to swim in it too but seems .to always want something to eat afterwards. Here she is enjoying some ice cream

Megan loves to swim in it too but seems to always want something to eat afterwards. Here she is enjoying some ice cream

 Dalan loves to be at Death Valley too. He enjoys golfing, riding his bike, swimming and playing his video games.

Dalan loves to be in Death Valley too. He enjoys golfing, riding his bike, swimming and playing his video games.

Allan's roasting the perfect hot dogs

Allan’s roasting the perfect hot dogs

Jerri getting ready to enjoy the hot dogs

Jerri getting ready to enjoy the hot dogs

We had a campfire every night at Jolee and Jason’s trailer and enjoyed some s’mores as well as other treats. Mark, Jason’s brother-in-law, brought his telescope and we all got to enjoy checking out the heavens. It was amazing to me what we could see many light years away. Mark has a great way of explaining what we saw in terms we could relate to and understand. I’m hoping to get more lessons from him one of these days.

Jerri, Allan and I toured Scotty’s Castle and were amazed again at the story told by our guide. Albert Johnson made ingenious use of hydropower that allowed the Castle to have electricity and refrigeration, making a comfortable home for everyone who lived and visited there.

The Castle is truly a treasure of Death Valley.

The Castle is truly a treasure of Death Valley.

My last full day in the Valley found us at the top of Dante’s View. Wow! What a view! Not only could we see Badwater, the lowest place in North America, but we could also see the peak of Mt. Whitney, the highest place in the Lower 48.

Looking down on Badwater in the center right of the photo

Looking down on Badwater in the center right of the photo

Jolee, Jerri and I hiked a bit around the 5475’ peak. It was fun, but a bit cold and breezy. Of course we got to fooling around a bit and had to have some pictures taken.

The Hoff sisters

The Hoff sisters

And it would not be a trip without Scott’s Pose that we all stole from him. Jolee got to laughing, thus adding more levity than usual to the Pose.

And it would not be a trip without Scott’s Pose that we all stole from him. Jolee got to laughing, thus adding more levity than usual to the Pose.

That afternoon, Allan, Dalan, Jason and I played golf on the lowest course in the world. It would have been more fun if I could have putt, but the golf holes were pretty and we saw a lot of wildlife.

I got within 20’ of this very well fed coyote when I took this picture. I wish I’d been able to get a picture of the one that ran right by Jason as he was teeing off on the 8th hole. Never a dull moment!

I got within 20’ of this very well fed coyote when I took this picture. I wish I’d been able to get a picture of the one that ran right by Jason as he was teeing off on the 8th hole. Never a dull moment!

Both sections of my adventure were fun, amazing and enlightening. It’s a kick to be able to do these things with friends, family and dogs and enjoy the good life.

2 Responses to “Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge And Death Valley Adventure November 10 to 19, 2014”

  1. janishaag November 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    What a wonderful trip! As always so good to see all your fine photos! Love the one of the two Hoff sisters on Dante’s View. And what great dogs, especially Sissy with the two-tone face!

  2. Barbara Allen November 24, 2014 at 4:37 pm #

    Hey, Buzzard! I LOVE reading about your adventures….quite exciting!! And your pictures are super!

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