Category Archives: Lost in the Desert

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?

 

Magic in the Mojave

J.K. Rowling recently announced that there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry on the East Coast. However, after spending several months in the Mojave Desert of California/Nevada, I have started to suspect there may be another school for budding sorcerers out West–or at least a lot of magic. Here is a list of my reasons:

  1. The Mojave, like Hogwarts and Ilvermorny, is a remote place with lots of hard-for-Muggles-to-access locations. It would be easy to hide a giant castle here.
  2. Hermione mentioned in Goblet of Fire that Muggle electronic devices go haywire around Hogwarts because there’s too much magic in the air. Based on how difficult it can be to get cellphone, CB, or radio reception out in the middle of the desert, this seems par for the course.
  3. There are basilisks. Sort of. Say hello to the beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris)–affectionately nicknamed basilisk due to it’s Latin name. It may not venomous (or poisonous) and you would die from looking at it, but you definitely don’t want to touch those fuzzy little spines! Also, if you stare at a picture of its bright magenta blooms for too long, you’re likely to be seeing spots for a while.
  4. Okay, so there may not be “real” basilisks, but there are plenty of dangerous snakes. And a whole mess of unusual wildlife like Gila monsters, jackrabbits, and the formidable Desert Clicker. Who’s to say there aren’t any magical creatures (or plants) somewhere out there?
  5. And the spiders! My field partner and I found this one hillside in particular that was dotted with these funnel-shaped webs. The webs extended out from a small burrow where the spider would lie in wait until something got snagged. Little tiny Aragogs!

    Mini Aragog Lair

    A normal funnel-web spider or something more?

  6. A lot of the rock formations around look a little to much like sleeping dragons to be coincidence, if you ask me.
  7. The Mojave may not have any Whomping Willows, but I personally would never want to get on the wrong side of a Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia). They may look scrawny, but those yucca leaves are sharp!

    Joshua Tree Wonderland

    Welcome to Joshua Tree Wonderland.

  8. The creosote bushes have clicking guardians that get angry if you get too close. I know Google told me it was a grasshopper, but what with all the mounting magical evidence, I suspect bowtruckles.

    The Angry Creosote Buh

    Don’t let the calm exterior fool you. That creosote bush was not very happy with me!