Category Archives: Lost in Nature

Great Basin National Park

It recently occurred to me that, what with all the state and national parks I’ve been to in the last year, people may find it helpful if I described a few of my experiences along with some tips and tricks here on my blog. I’ve decided to start with Great Basin National Park, since I was there not too long ago. Keep an eye out for similar upcoming posts!

GRBA Sign

I’ve actually visited GBNP twice—once when I first moved to the Vegas area and again when I decided to roadtrip across Nevada on The Loneliest Road in America. During my first trip, I mainly paid attention to the fall colors and cool cave structures. The second time around, I finally got to see a bristlecone pine tree, and also Saturn!

Late September at Great Basin means beautiful fall colors (mostly thanks to all the aspens), chilly nighttime temperatures, and ready-to-harvest pine nuts. Truth be told, I had been warned before my trip that pine nuts can be pretty tricky to harvest, so I didn’t even try. Instead, I walked along a couple trails, drove up to Wheeler Peak, and took the Grand Palace Tour of Lehman Caves. I had never toured a cave before and found it fascinating. The Lehman Caves’ claim to fame is a plentiful supply of shield formations (they look like rock chandeliers). Also, people discovered these caves over 100 years ago, so it’s got some human history mixed in there, too.

I spent my first night at Baker Creek Campground. The campground itself was good, but you have to take a gravel road to get there and I have a compact car designed for paved roads. I decided to find a different campsite for my second night. Lower Lehman Creek campground was full and Upper Lehman Creek campground was closed for construction. I decided to set up my tent at Wheeler Peak Campground. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great idea in late September. I had a chilly night, but managed it. I had to leave right away in the morning and didn’t have time to see any bristlecone pine trees during that trip.

Tent at Wheeler Peak Campground

Luckily, I had a second chance several months later. During the week of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I began my roadtrip across Highway 50 at Great Basin National Park. By this time, construction had finished on Upper Lehman Creek campground and I was able to get a campsite there. It was probably the easiest time I ever had setting up my tent—thank goodness for newly-constructed tent pads that haven’t been super-compacted yet! It was one of the few times I’ve ever managed to hammer in all my tent pegs securely. (It’s the little things.)

On Saturday nights during the summer, the park offers a free astronomy program by the Lehman Caves visitor center. I generally try to stay away from astronomy—the sheer size and scale of it all hurts my brain. The rangers did a very good job of explaining astronomic objects and concepts though, so I had a good time. They also have super high-tech portable telescopes. We got to see several celestial objects, but my favorite was Saturn.

The next morning, I braved the drive up to Wheeler Peak. (Have I mentioned I’m afraid of heights? I am.) From the campground parking lot, the bristlecone pine grove is about a 1.4 mile hike away. Much like tortoises, bristlecone pines are adapted to require very little water and grow very slowly, which translates to very, very long lifespans. For many years, the oldest-known bristlecone pine was Prometheus, which was roughly 4,900 years old. Unfortunately, people found this out when they cut the tree down and counted its rings. Luckily, an older tree was recently found in California. The current oldest living bristlecone pine tree known is over 5,000 years old.

 

The bristlecone pine grove is a crazy place if you think about it—if you had been standing in that same spot 2,000 years ago, you would be looking at those exact same trees! And they wouldn’t even be saplings! They would be adult trees! It’s kind of mind-blowing. Luckily, some chipmunks showed up to distract me.

If you continue down the trail for another mile or so, you can see a small glacier. I decided to save that for another day, however, and walked back to my car and the next stop on my adventure.

Glacier Trail HWY 50

 

The Basics:

Location: Baker, NV
Entrance Fee: FREE
Visitor Center? Yes (2–Great Basin Visitor Center & Lehman Caves Visitor Center)
Have I camped Here? Yes (Upper Lehman Creek, Wheeler Peak, and Baker Creek campgrounds)
Camping Fee: $12/night **Some back-country camping is free**
Camping Reservation Needed? No
Number of Campgrounds: 5 (depending on season)
**I recommend Upper Lehman Creek Campground, though Wheeler Peak is fun in the         Summer before it gets too cold.**
Campground Amenities: Vault toilets, campfire rings, tent pads, no hook-ups
Best Time of Year to visit: Mid-to-late summer or during the annual Astronomy Festival
Highlights:

SQUIRREL! …wait…

I was in Great Basin National Park, trying to take a selfie with a bristlecone pine tree.

I was having difficulties because bristlecones are wide, but also much taller than me. I also have short arms. And it was very sunny.

Droid 8-20-17 121

I was determined to get a decent selfie, until I was distracted by the chipmunks.

 

I never did get a decent tree selfie.

A Little Bit of Everything

I’ve always loved collages. There’s something about taking separate objects or images and bringing them together to make something new.

The art pictured above is comprised of petroglyphs–images engraved into rock. These particular rocks show superimposition, meaning that some of the art was etched over already-existing images. To see these petroglyphs and more like them, check out the Crystal Wash Rock Art site near Ash Springs, NV.

I’ve been to a lot of cool places in Nevada since moving here over a year ago.
Here’s a collage featuring a few of them:

NV Photo Collage

Pictured locations include:

The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (A.K.A. Mount Charleston)
Great Basin National Park
Cave Lake State Park
Mount Irish 
Nevada Northern Railway Train Museum
Sloan Canyon
Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Valley of Fire State Park
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Hoover Dam
Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas

Another place I’ve visited is the Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas (near Fremont Street). It’s basically a neon sign boneyard. They offer a tour and challenge you to write your name in neon. I succeeded.

Neon Jess 2

And as long as we’re talking collages, who could forget this timeless ensemble:

Ceiling of Wonders--Early

Campus, flyers, ads, candy wrappers, hand written notes–all were welcome on the Ceiling of Wonders.

Road Trippin’

Thanks to President’s Day, I recently had a 3-day weekend in the middle of the week. (I work during actual weekends.) I decided to take a quest to find some wildflower blooms.

I began my journey at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge just outside Las Vegas, NV. No flowers.

DNWR Lizard

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: lizards yes, flowers no

Next stop was Death Valley National Park. Actually, “stop” isn’t strictly accurate. Really I just entered the park via Death Valley Junction and drove south on Badwater Road. There were a couple creosote bushes starting to show yellow flowers, but nothing too exciting.

Creosote Bloom DEVA Mesquite Flats.jpg

The creosote bushes at Death Valley (code Name DEVA) were just starting to bloom.

I left Death Valley through the south entrance and found myself in Tonopah, CA. Now, I moved out West almost a year ago, and ever since Day 1, I have been hearing about China Ranch and their date shakes over near Tonopah. So, naturally I had to check it out.

The shakes were pretty good! Still no flowers, though.

I decided to continue south through Baker, CA to Mojave National Preserve. The Preserve has 2 visitor centers. The closest to Baker is the Kelso Depot, which used to be a train station back in the day. Trains still pass through, but they are all for freight–no passengers.

Day 1 ended at Hole-in-the-Wall campground (and still no flowers).

I began Day 2 with a short hike on the Ring Loop Trail near Hole-in-the-Wall campground in the Mojave Preserve. You basically hike around some rock formations and into a canyon. Then you use metal rings to climb out of the canyon. The climbing part was tricky. I’m 5’2″ and I really could have used a tall person to help me scramble up the top part. I banged up a knee and a pinky toe, and then decided it would be best if I didn’t die. So I clambered back down and walked back to my car the long way around. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is admit defeat.

Hole-in-the-Wall

I still hadn’t found any wildflowers, but decided to try one more spot. I exited Mojave Preserve and drove to Amboy Crater. I spent quite a bit of time at Amboy last year when I was a botany intern in California. There had been wildflowers this time last year, so I figured there was a chance. (Of course last year was a Super Bloom, so it wasn’t exactly the norm.)

Amboy Crater

There were no flowers to be found at Amboy this time around, but it did make a new place to stop for lunch. I briefly considered continuing south to Joshua Tree, but decided to head back instead so I could treat my car to a well-deserved oil change and a wash.

I backtracked through the Mojave Preserve and stopped for gas in Baker. I had neglected to register the day before that Baker happens to be the home of the world’s largest thermometer.

Baker Thermometer

Baker, CA is home to the world’s largest thermometer.

 

As I was driving past Death Valley on my way back home, I noticed a large white “DV” on the side of a mountain. Someone must have painted a bunch of big rocks white and formed them into the gigantic letters.

DEVA Rock Initials

So I did not fulfill my quest to see lots of wild flowers on my President’s Day road trip, but there was still plenty to see!

Desert Living

Hello, Beautiful People!

I’ve been out here in the desert for 7 months now! While I definitely admit that less than a year of experience doesn’t exactly make me an expert, here’s some mixed media advice on how to have fun/survive the wilds of Nevada.

 

happy-trails

Getting lost IS sometimes fun, but the sun can be brutal out here.

tracks

You know the tracks on the bottom are from a lizard because of the long trail left by its tail.

rock-dragon

There’s lots of weird stuff out here in the Mojave.

 

 

cactus-flowers

Cactus flowers are awesome.

Today’s blog post was vaguely inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “Instructions“, a poem in which he offers guidance to anyone who might himself or herself inside a fairy tale.

Sunning

I’ve posted before about sun-dying, but really how could you expect me to move to the desert and not post about such awesomeness? This time around, I decided to make some stellar tote bags instead of t-shirts. Here are a few of the results.

Bubblegum Lattice

Method: Lots and lots of painter’s tape.

Tortoise Tote

Method: Negative transparency, painter’s tape, stencils

Total Baller

Method: 8×11 Label & xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and painter’s tape

Flower

Method: 8×11 Label and xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and a negative transparency to add depth/texture

I also experimented with a few fabric fragments:

Table Runner

Method: Painting sponges

Found Objects

Method: Placed rocks & dried cholla cactus on previously-dyed (but undeveloped) fabric; the black garbage bag was very important because it prevented the sunlight from developing the white parts during transit.

Rare: Cacti

Check out the Matted Cholla Cactus (Grusonia parishii). It also goes by Dead Cactus, Club Cholla, and (my personal favorite) Horse Crippler.

Grusononia in Veg State

This low-growing cactus is a bona fide actual rare plant in California–a 2B.2 (Rare in California, but common elsewhere; moderately threatened in California).

Grusonia parishii

For most of the year, the Horse Crippler looks gray and dead, but in the spring it develops reddish spines and even delicate yellow flowers. I only saw one bloom all summer–that’s rare in my book.

Grusonia parishii Bloom

BLUE CATERPILLAR (2)

As an added bonus, here’s a photo of of a Desert Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha chlorantha) in bloom. (California Rare Plant Rating 2B.1–Rare in California, but common elsewhere; seriously threatened in California).

Corpyhantha in Bloom

 

The Mysterious Clicking Noise

So there I was,in the heart of the Mojave Desert, minding my own business searching for rare plants. When I heard a sound. At first I tried to convince myself it was just the hum of power lines, but no. It wasn’t a hum–it was more of a click, and it seemed to be emanating from the nearest creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Actually, now that I was listening for it, I realized that most of the creosote bushes around me clicking away as well. A number of explanations floated through my mind: sentient trees, maybe I’d finally found my way into Narnia, bowtruckles, dehydration?, maybe my field partner was punking me, or it could be an insect.

Occcam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is the most likely, so while I was really hoping for Narnia, I decided to go with the idea of an insect. To test my theory, I picked up a rock and threw it at the bush. I expected a grasshopper or something to hop away and that would be that. However, rather than silencing the creosote or scaring away an insect, my actions caused a renewed volley of even louder clicks. Great, just great–I made it angry.

Fascinated, I grabbed another rock. A little further experimentation confirmed that the initial result held true for the bushes in the immediate surrounding area. At that point, my field partner Kate found me accosting the local flora and demanded an explanation. Without any further details to go on, we did what any self-respecting millennial would do–we Googled it.

According to Google, the most likely sources of the mysterious clicking were Desert Clicker grasshoppers (Ligurotettix coquilletti). Apparently, a male Clicker will likely spend most of its adult life on a single creosote bush. They are extremely territorial for both feeding and mating purposes–the word on the web is that shrubs are more desirable if they have a lower concentration of the protective phenolic compound nordihydroguaiaretic acid. (I guess the leaves taste better.) That explains why, rather than scaring the grasshopper away, a rock to the bush incited verbal reckoning.

I guess I learned my lesson!

**In reference to the title: Remember the Harry Potter Puppet Pals?