Sunday, April 5, 2015

Goodbye, Death Valley!

We're on the road to Yosemite, having already spent two nights outside Bakersfield and tonight in Fresno. If it weren't for today being Easter and therefore Costco's not open, we would be at El Portal today, but will go tomorrow - after my Costco fix.

I can't believe I got Yosemite on my own, without help from my friend Richard at Petrified Forest, or anybody else. It's an iconic park and I'm still somewhat a lot shocked that I got a place there. A couple of months ago I sent out cold-call emails to North Cascades, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Grand Teton, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon, telling each one what I'd done at each of the parks I've volunteered at, and started getting nervous because I got no response. I also emailed the volunteer coordinator at the Grand Canyon because he'd put up a posting for a librarian. This time the job would be on the South Rim. He responded that the job was removed from right at the time I emailed him, but asked that I fill out (yet another) volunteer application and he'd pass it along to the park librarian.

I was getting nervouser and nervouser. Then I got an email from a park that will not be named, saying they'd love to have me come but had no RV site for me; however, there is a private park down the road but I'd have to pay for it myself. I wrote back saying I have a policy, which I do, that as much as I'd love to spend time at any particular park, I don't volunteer my professional services and pay for my site myself. I heard nothing else from them.

Then the floodgates opened a crack. Grand Teton's superintendent is on detail assignment at Death Valley and I had a chance meeting with her, whereupon I told her I'd sent an email about volunteering but hadn't heard back. She told me to pay her a visit if another few days went by without word and she'd resend my email from her park account. Good news.

Almost immediately after that I got an email from Yosemite's librarian, asking me to call her. Instant friend! She's another Drifting Grace person. She's new on the job and has started a list of projects she wants done. Yes, I can do them, any of them.

Then I got an email from Mount Rainier. Then an email from the "image guy" I did all the scans for last summer at Grand Canyon. He, like the curator at Mount Rainier, dangled tantalizing projects in front of my nose. After I nailed down with big spikes a confirmation from Yosemite that I indeed was going there, I had to turn Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier down. Not that I don't want to go to Yosemite - who wouldn't?! - but it would be great if I could have gone to both of them and Grand Teton as well. So many parks, so little time.

So, in order to start at a new park, blog-wise, I thought I'd post a last one from Death Valley, at least until we return next winter. I'm not done with that place yet.

Here, in no particular order, are random photos from my explorations around the park. 

Here is is bighorn sheep skull and vertebrae that a few of us found when we were crossing an alluvial fan on our way into a canyon. I've also felt like lying down and never getting up when going across those fans, so I totally get this sheep.

A butterfly that rested for the longest time. It must also have just crossed a fan.

Radial spines on a cactus and below it, a close up of one of them, looking remarkably like a sea urchin shell.

Charcoal kilns at the Wildrose Trailhead. It's the only trail I've had to bail on. It starts at about 5000 feet and ends four miles later at 9000 feet or so. I just couldn't do it and headed back down at a little past the halfway point. When I topped a rise, saw an immense mountain ahead of me, and realized that the incline I'd just slogged up was nothing compared to what lay ahead, that was it. Quits for me.

I skulked back to the truck with my tail between my legs and just about freaked out when I saw this in the next car over. It was my penance for weenie-ing out on the hike, I know it.

Here is a chuckwalla scoping out danger.

Here is the same chuckwalla in an unthreatened pose. When threatened, they puff up their bellies and wedge themselves between rocks. The Timbisha Shoshone have a sharpened stone tool that they use to pierce the puff, so to speak, to pull the critter out.

My friend Deb. She left a week before we did and was the place lonely without her.

This series, below, was and remains an amazement to me. It comes from a short hike, the Gnome's Workshop, that I saw described on a website called Panamint City. It's more of a nondescript stroll, not a hike, through hills and valleys of salt deposits, and with not a lot to recommend it:

Then I started noticing stones and rocks cleaved like slices of bread.

I thought this phenomenon might have been caused by heat and pressure but I'm no expert so I looked on Google. A quick search produced a book, Desert Geomorphology, by Cooke, Warren, and Goudie, where they describe the rocks' appearance as "sliced-bread weathering," and say these split rocks have been described in most deserts. They're a fascinating geological scavenger hunt.

Another hike, to find Little Bridge Canyon, which resulted in a lot of wandering around, choosing routes based on eenie-meenie-miney-moe, but no Little Bridge, did lead a few of us to some neat-o fossils. Once again, I'm no expert, so I have no idea what they are.

Some kind of nautilus thing?

Also some interesting rocks,

and a gorgeous view of Mesquite Sand Dunes in afternoon light.

More Death Valley survivors from various hikes: an unidentified lizard. Love the blue-green!

I call this one Kermit the Lizard.

A few of us were slogging over a fan and saw a rabbit run like a, well, rabbit, streaking away from us. This one remained and did not move. I cautiously circled around at a distance to get a better photo and this is the result. We think this one stayed to mind a nest and the other one ran to distract us.

During our orientation we were shown some photos of vandalism of cultural resources in the park, including this one that a couple of us later found by accident while exploring a canyon a few weeks ago. Someone tried to chisel it out of the rock but luckily gave up before destroying the bighorn sheep petroglyph.

Ubehebe is a volcanic crater 600 feet deep and a half-mile across, possibly only 300 or so years old.

Last time I showed a trumpet flower, the one that has inflatum in its name. This is what it looks like a year later, even better than when it's green.

New wildflowers:
Desert tobacco, Nicotiana obtusifolia.

Unknown. Maybe a gilia.

A kind of paintbrush.

The buds look like shredded evening primrose, but the flowers say it's not. They look like pinwheels.

Zabriskie Point is one of the most popular places in the park. It's on the main road coming into the park from Pahrump, is an easy walk to the viewing point, and is just plain gorgeous. It was closed for repairs when we got here and wasn't scheduled to reopen until the end of March, but the project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. You don't hear of that kind of thing anymore.

These next four are scenes from Zabriskie.

A view of Gower Gulch, an unlovely name but a spectacular view.

Finally, the sky.

I left work one day to find the sun sending streaks of light through the clouds to spotlight the hills and fans of the nearby Panamint Mountains.

Rain in the desert is welcome anytime.

Low clouds and fog add fantastic depth to the mountains.

A brilliant sunset, unusual even with the dust that's frequently blown around and suspended in the air.

One last tower of clouds to say so long to Death Valley. I was so very lucky to spend time here.


Thought of the day:

It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. - Ernie Harwell, legendary announcer for the Detroit Tigers for more than 40 years

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Last wildflower hunt

I went on my final wildflower hunt on Sunday. This is my last week at work and we hope to be on the road to Yosemite by Sunday at the latest. I don't regret leaving here now as much as I would if it were cooler, but when the temp is in the high 90s and I don't want to be out in it, it's time to move on. I look forward to Yosemite bringing its own crop of wildflowers.

When I found the first big crop of flowers several weeks ago, they were at sea level. The sphinx moth caterpillars have wiped out the sand verbena, according to the park's Facebook page, and what the caterpillars haven't eaten the heat has killed off; March 27 saw a heat record here, at 105 degrees. The air conditioner in the house goes nonstop; I tell people I live in a tin can and it's never more apparent than when the sun makes its way overhead.

Oh, and the a/c? Last week, when HH was in the hospital and family had come for a visit at the same time, and while I was shuttling between the park and Las Vegas, the a/c went out. Not one of the first half-dozen or so shops I talked to would come out to the park. For various reasons I couldn't take the house to them, but I finally found one guy who would come, at $3 a mile just to get here ($225), and then add shop charges of $85 an hour. He arrived, went inside, moved the switch to Air, and I heard it start up. I have witnesses that it wouldn't start for me except for a low hum that lasted less than a minute before shutting off. Two hours later (you do the math) I had a functioning air conditioner and all I know about what was wrong was that there was a bit of loose wiring in the thermostat that I replaced a couple of months ago. So he says. Why it worked all that time and then decided to quit, only to heal itself when faced with a guy with a screwdriver, is one of the mysteries of the ages. That was the excitement for the week.

Sunday I went up the road toward Dante's View, to an elevation of between 2500 and 3500 feet. Some of the flowers there were also on the Valley floor, but there were also some new ones and I am missing the names of just a couple.

First, though, I am fascinated by what I call ants with burdens. I've seen these tiny critters moving, with single-minded focus, objects much larger than themselves - mesquite pods, twigs, a stem from a maraschino cherry, and now flowers. You just have to admire them.

This one was moving fast. I could hardly track it fast enough to get two shots off.

All right, on to the flowers. Keep in mind that almost every one of these is less than a half inch across, even as small as a sixteenth of an inch. The very low growing ones are known around here as belly flowers because you have to get on your belly, hopefully with a magnifying lens, to appreciate them.

This is purple mat, Nama demissum.

I love this little one so much I have three photos of it. I think it's called desert star, Monoptilon bellioides.

When I saw desert dandelion a while ago, it was an isolated plant. This week, I saw them in wide, arcing bands of yellow following the curve of the road, and caught like snow drifts between shrubby plants. Here's a reminder of how pretty they are.

Pebble pincushion, Chaenactis carphoclinia, is a complicated dome of open loops and orchid-like flowers.

Like the dandelions, desert chicory, Rafinesquia neomexicana, was in good numbers here. The petals are interesting - see how they're fringed in sets of two and three fingers per petal?

This is a new one to me, possibly humble gilia, Linanthus demissus.

This is one of the smallest flowers. It is broad-flowered gilia, Gilia latiflora.

This daisy-like flower is larger than many of the others but is still only an inch or so across.

This is desert gold poppy, Eschscholzia glyptosperma.

I thought this was lesser mohavea, mojavea breviflora, but it's not. The fierce-looking spines are soft. I've read that fuzz helps to protect the plant from heat.

This looks like a forget-me-not but is called Fremont phacelia, Phacelia fremontii here. It's also very small, about 1/4" across.

This is a mystery.

As is this one, but it could be a newly-flowering dandelion.

This is a phacelia that's past its prime. The stems of some phacelias will curl into a spiral as they die. I couldn't find any of those but this one is also interesting.

Mojave asters, Xylorhiza tortifolia, are luminous.

Like asters I found on the North Rim, their petals curl like ribbons as the flower dies.

One heck of a different kind of plant - desert trumpet, Eriogonum inflatum. I like the inflatum part of the name. The flowers are at the end of slender stems and are no bigger than a speck, as if they know they can't compete with the attraction of the inflatum.

Masses of globemallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, are showing up along the roads. They were ubiquitous at Petrified Forest, too.

Finally, beavertail cactus, Opuntia basilaris. It looks a lot like prickly pear but has tiny barbed spines instead of the spikes of the prickly pear.

I have a few more flowers from the park, but this is what I found on Sunday. It's all the fun of a treasure hunt when I drive along the road, looking for colors and shapes that I haven't seen before. Regardless of what I find, I always come away with the gold.

Thought of the day:

Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Blue flower, red thorns! Oh, this would be so much easier if I wasn't color-blind! - Donkey, Shrek