Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge Adventure March 7-13, 2016

17 Mar

This is the account of my first adventure to the southeastern portion of Nevada. I joined my good college buddy, Gale, who is camp host this winter at the Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge campground that is alongside US 93 highway.   It’s about an hour and a half northeast of Las Vegas and 3 miles south of Alamo, NV.

The journey began in Minden on a cool morning that became colder as I drove south on US 95. I stopped for a short break in Tonopah, where silver was discovered in 1900 and mines remained in operation for about 50 years. There is a little mining happening these days, but the town carries on with tourism and being a midpoint stop between Reno and Las Vegas. I like Tonopah for its old buildings and supposedly haunted Mizpah Hotel. The elevation is 6,047 feet and it was darned cold when I stopped there. It was trying to snow, sleet, rain and whatever it could do weather-wise, so I zipped into the Mizpah Hotel to use the facilities and have a snack for lunch. Didn’t see any ghosts or spirits. Darn!

You will have to double click on many of these pictures to get more detail or read text.

One can see remnants of mines, head frames and other items all over Tonopah. You can even visit a mine museum with large equipment all over said museum. I didn’t go because it’s outside and I was cold in the wind.

One can see remnants of mines, head frames and other items all over Tonopah. You can even visit a mine museum with large equipment all over said museum. I didn’t go because it’s outside and I was cold in the wind.

I turned east at Tonopah and the farther east I went, the worse the weather turned. I finally got into snow and sleet, but it didn’t last long. I turned south on to Hwy 375, which is significant because it goes by Area 51, the U.S. Air Base that the government has denied exists for years. It’s also an area where aliens and UFOs are said to frequent and some people claim to have been abducted by ET aliens here.

Evidence of this (or perhaps a jibe at those folks) is a highway sign.

Evidence of this (or perhaps a jibe at those folks) is a highway sign.

(For those of you who don’t know, Open Range means there are no fences and drivers must be careful not to run into a cow wandering on the road.) You can see how far the road stretches into the horizon. It just seemed to keep on going. Such are Nevada roads between the many mountains ranges. Another FYI is that Nevada has more than 230 named mountains ranges within the state’s boundaries making it the most mountainous state in the USA. (NV Historical Society Quarterly, 2015) I know, I know. Too much info.

I arrived at Pahranagat (Pah-ran’ a-gat) mid-afternoon and was greeted by this sign.

The seven diamonds are a tribute to the seven local Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi)tribes or bands in the local area.

The seven diamonds are a tribute to the seven local Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi)tribes or bands in the local area.

Large thermal springs provide water for lakes and wetlands, making Pahranagat a precious habitat for migrating birds, deer, coyotes and other critters.   Water is stored in Upper Pahranagat Lake (where the campsites are) and released as needed to nurture habitats in the central and southern portions of the refuge.

Upper Lake at the Pahranagat NWR

Upper Lake at the Pahranagat NWR

Pahranagat has significant importance to the Paiute (Nuwuvi) people and has been historically utilized by native people for thousands of years. Gale took me to a restricted area (for regular tourists, but she has permission) see some petroglyphs.

Nuwuvi petroglyph

Nuwuvi petroglyph

I climbed up a pretty steep slope to get close and personal to these etchings and they were very impressive. I didn’t realize how high I had climbed until I turned around to look to wave at Gale.

She's pretty far down there!

It was kind of scary particularly when she hollered to me that the nearest hospital is 90 miles away! Oops. Needless to say, I was very careful.

She then took me on a nice drive back into the mountains just east of Pahranagat to see what we could see on what was primarily BLM land. Mostly we saw a few cattle, some ravens, small birds and the weirdest thing was a pink skeleton of a cow or horse or some large animal. People do the darndest things. The bones were painted with a fluorescent pink paint and they were scattered among other sun-bleached bones.   Actually, there were several skeletons…some pink and some white.   Gale thought that someone had been butchering and just dumped the bones in the mountains, not far from the highway.

No pink elephants here!

No pink elephants here!

Gale’s campsite has only sewer and electric hookups. So she has to haul water in about once a week from the Visitor’s Center, about 3 miles away. She is so efficient in hooking up a water trailer to her government issued truck, getting the water, hauling it to her camp site and then pumping it into her fifth wheel potable water holding tank. I was very impressed.

Uploading H2O

Uploading H2O

We had a campfire that night even though it was cool…as you can tell by our jackets. It was fun sitting out there; telling stories, and watching the stars come out.

We had a campfire that night even though it was cool…as you can tell by our jackets. It was fun sitting out there; telling stories, and watching the stars come out.

Of course, Gale’s dog, Sissy, was right there with us. She was hoping someone would throw her Frisbee, another toy, scritch her head or perhaps give her a bite of something even though we weren’t eating anything. The white spot on her nose is gravel from playing fetch.

Of course, Gale’s dog, Sissy, was right there with us. She was hoping someone would throw her Frisbee, another toy, scritch her head or perhaps give her a bite of something even though we weren’t eating anything. The white spot on her nose is gravel from playing fetch.

The next day, we headed up to Cathedral Gorge State Park, about an hour north of Pahranagat. This area was once home to the Fremont, Anasazi and Southern Paiutes and now is an area for visitors to camp at and enjoy. It became one of Nevada’s first four state parks in 1935. The original picnic areas were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s and are still in use today. I always like to learn about CCC projects because my dad was in the CCC and I think it’s interesting to learn about the various projects they did.

The spires and cliffs are the result of geologic processes occurring over millions of years; volcanic activity, fractures in bedrock, flooding and erosion. Silt, clay, and volcanic ash combined to make Bentonite clay and eroded to make the formations we saw in the Gorge.

The spires and cliffs are the result of geologic processes occurring over millions of years; volcanic activity, fractures in bedrock, flooding and erosion. Silt, clay, and volcanic ash combined to make Bentonite clay and eroded to make the formations we saw in the Gorge.

The erosions caused some caves to be made and we could walk in them. Walk we did and they were really impressive. We could see the sky out of some of the caves and I think the walls were more than 30 feet tall

The erosions caused some caves to be made and we could walk in them. Walk we did and they were really impressive. We could see the sky out of some of the caves and I think the walls were more than 30 feet tall

Gale and I had no information on the Gorge, so we tried to figure out how the walls for formed and eroded and came pretty close to the real causes.

Gale and I had no information on the Gorge, so we tried to figure out how the walls for formed and eroded and came pretty close to the real causes.

I imagine the first explorers to see this gorge were duly impressed.

I imagine the first explorers to see this gorge were duly impressed.

From Cathedral Gorge, we drove to the old mining town of Pioche developed in the 1860s by a Frenchman F.L.A. Pioche. Supposedly, it was the “baddest” town in the West. Perhaps it was. I have read several sources that claim 72 people died from “lead poisoning”(gun shots) before the first person died of natural causes.   We visited the Pioche Boot Hill that has recently been cleared of weeds and such by local citizens. I think I would tend to believe the accounts after reading a few of the wooden headstones.  A Pioche web site said “Murderer’s Row of more than 100 killers was fenced off from graves of the more respectable occupants of the cemetery.”

A portion of Boot Hill

A portion of Boot Hill

One of the things that intrigued me was the ore bucket tramline that appeared to go from one side of a mountain down to the valley below to what looked like a smelter or some type of ore processor. I had to “borrow” this shot from the web site because mine didn’t show what this one does. This tram went over the “Murderer’s Row” graves.

One of the things that intrigued me was the ore bucket tramline that appeared to go from one side of a mountain down to the valley below to what looked like a smelter or some type of ore processor. I had to “borrow” this shot from the web site because mine didn’t show what this one does. This tram went over the “Murderer’s Row” graves.

I’d like to go back to Pioche some day to spend more time and see the old buildings that still cling to the mountainside.

Speaking of clinging. Pahranagat is home to the Western pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat in the USA. They weigh between 0.1 -0.2 ounces and their wingspan is between 7-9 inches. One was roosting in the eave of the main door to the Pahranagat Visitor Center and looked like a tiny brown blob in the corner. They like to eat swarming insects, such as mosquitoes. So we like them to be out and about and we don’t have to be concerned about them biting us (which bats don’t normally do anyway).

An informational post at the center.

This picture was taken from an informational post at the center.

The Visitors Center is very well done and so informational. I particularly liked how the Paiute culture is interwoven with the wildlife story of Pahranagat. Generations of Nuwuvi valued the desert and water resources and maintained strong tied to the living landscape of which people, wildlife and plants are all an integral part.

Pahranagat petro reproduction

Locals call the little guy the Pahranagat Man

An Upper Lake picture on display at the Visitor Center

An Upper Lake picture on display at the Visitor Center

Observation from a local Paiute

Observation from a local Paiute

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” Chief Seattle, 1855… and the white man called the First Americans primitive.

I’m including this picture because behind those mountains lies Area 51. At night, we could hear quite a few jets flying over and sometimes sonic booms. I was glad Gale warned me about that because I probably would have thought the world was coming to an end.

I’m including this picture because behind those mountains lies Area 51. At night, we could hear quite a few jets flying over and sometimes sonic booms. I was glad Gale warned me about that because I probably would have thought the world was coming to an end.

Gale took me to another refuge called the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It was created to protect the Moapa dace, a tiny endangered fish. For thousands of years, the Nuwuvi lived and thrived in the area along with the Moapa dace. There are warm springs in the area (averaging about 88 degrees) and those springs became a resort for folks from Las Vegas. They had rv parks, chlorinated pools and snack bars. Additionally, they planted thousands of palm trees, which suck up 500 gallons of water each day! By 1977 only a few hundred dace remained. The Feds bought several hundred acres in 1979 and began the restoration. Work continues at the refuge and will for many more years.

Million year old water is emerging from the springs here.

Million year old water is emerging from the springs here.

You definitely have to double click on this to see the text

You definitely have to double click on this to see the text

Interestingly, the resort people didn’t dispose of their trash in a proper manner because “It’s just desert. Just dump it over there.” They did dump their trash in a small canyon out of sight from the tourists and did so for many years. One can see this site and see the layers of tin cans, soda bottles, and early pop top beer cans. Because of the extreme summer heat, some of the glass bottles have melted into strange looking Salvador Dali-like shapes.

This can't be removed until the antiquities people come to check it out to see if the dump has historical significance

This can’t be removed until the antiquities people come to check it out to see if the dump has historical significance

Some desert flowers were in bloom but my pictures did not turn out at all.  But many Joshua trees grow in the Pahranagat area and many were in bloom.  I like their weird shapes with their arms reaching to the sky.  Technically, they are not trees, but that’s their name, so we’ll go with that.

Mormon Pioneers named the Joshua Tree

Mormon Pioneers named the Joshua Tree

Not all Joshua trees bloom each year. It depends upon the rainfall and just right temperatures.

Not all Joshua trees bloom each year. It depends upon the rainfall and just right temperatures.

Sadly, my time with Gale ended too soon and I had to go to Las Vegas to join family to watch my great nephew, Dalan, compete at the state gymnastics championship meet. I hadn’t been to Vegas for many years and this was surely an eye opener. We stayed at the Rio, a resort off the Strip. I soon learned that this is not really a place for me. Too many people, too noisy, and just too much, period. We were out at the pool area (4 different ones, I think), just chatting when we all heard a loud thump. An inebriated guy was walking in a wet area, slipped and fell onto the back of his head. My nephew-in-law, Jason, being a paramedic/EMT, jumped up to help the guy. He stayed with him until the LV paramedics arrived as the guy was bleeding and not up to speed in knowing what was going on. Jason was our hero for the day.

That evening, Dalan competed and we were all very proud of him when he qualified to compete in the Western Regionals to be held in Santa Clara, CA at the end of March.

You go, Dalan! We are so very proud of you!!!

You go, Dalan! We are so very proud of you!!!

One Response to “Pahranagat Wildlife Refuge Adventure March 7-13, 2016”

  1. Jolee March 30, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

    I am so glad you were able to attend the State Championship. We loved having you there! I love the pictures from the refuge.

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