Ash Meadows NWR – 11/06/2014 Trip Notes

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(Fig. 01)
(Fig. 02)
Geologic History of the Area: Though it seems hard to envision, thousands of years ago this area was full of large lakes and river systems that were all connected to each other. However, as the climate became hotter, the lakes and rivers began drying up, leaving only isolated springs and small pools and rivers. Most of the water you see bubbling up from these springs today, many at a rate of 2,800 gallons per minute, is the result of rain and snow melt that has traveled from the Spring Mountains, located many miles to the east. The water has been slowly collecting in limestone bedrock for thousands of years, creating deep underground aquifers (Fig. 02). When it runs into underground fault lines it is forced to the surface, creating a natural spring. Warmed by the earth’s geothermal energy, it comes out year-round at a temperature of around 87-degrees.

As temperatures continued to rise over thousands of years, these small desert wetlands caused endemic species (specifically the pupfish) to rapidly evolve in order to adapt to the harsh climatic conditions. In the summer months, much of this fish’s habitat dries up as daytime temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, yet it still thrives, as it has for thousands of years. Known as the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish, these fish can live in waters up to 92 degrees and can survive in water that is only a half-inch deep.
11/06/2014 Trip Notes: Even though I had been here on a previous visit, this was the first time that the rock-hounds from the Heritage Park Senior Center has made this a destination. We made our first stop at the Point of Rocks Springs, along the eastern most side of the valley – Note(1). Next we drove out to Devil’s Hole – Note (2). Because you cannot hike down into this area due to the high protective fencing that surrounds it, I found this to be kind of a uneventful stop. Before heading to Crystal Springs, we stopped at the Crystal Reservoir – Note (3), the largest body of water on the refuge. With time running out for our long journey home, we made our last stop of the day at the Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center next to the Crystal Springs Boardwalk – Note (4). After walking the boardwalk we decided to have lunch in the picnic area next to the visitor center before starting the long ride home. Even though I think that early spring is the best time to visit here - more flowers and birds - today still made for a nice outing.
Note (1) - Point of Rocks Springs: Set almost up against the mountains that bound the valley to the east (Fig. 03), its long stream supports a large variety of grasses and vegetation as it runs southward. A meandering 3/4 mile boardwalk follows a relatively long outflow stream that provides a tranquil walk broken only by the sounds of running water and some fluttering birds. Located near the far end of the boardwalk, its vividly colored spring was provided opportunities to view the rare Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish (Fig. 04). At the top of the Point of Rocks Boardwalk at the very end of this hike is an amphitheater with telescopes for viewing (Fig. 05). If the timing is right, they give visitors a chance to get a closer look at bighorn sheep and other refuge wildlife.
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)
Note (2) - Devil’s Hole: Devil's Hole is a limestone cave located at the base of the mountains on the east-central boarder of the refuge. It is home to the Devil's Hole Pupfish, found nowhere else on earth (Fig. 08). Its spring pool is located approximately 50 feet below the ground surface (Fig. 07) and has a temperature of 93-degrees (F). It descends more than 450 feet into a myriad of mostly unexplored chasms that make up a large underground aquifer. In an effort to protect people and the endangered pupfish surviving therein, Devil's Hole is surrounded by a high steel fence (Fig. 06) to prevent public access. In 1952 President Truman declared Devils Hole, and the rare Devils Hole pupfish, part of Death Valley National Monument. In 1963 the Devils Hole pupfish were officially listed as endangered and was on the very first official listing of endangered species.
(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
Note (3) - Crystal Reservoir: This large clear body of water has a low earthen dam (Fig. 09) along its western and southern sides. This dam makes for a good, elevated place to walk and look for birds on the water and in the thickets below the dam, although we didn’t see hardly any on today’s visit. Most of our group walked the reservoir’s eastern shoreline (Fig. 10) while I decided to walk along its northern edge (Fig. 11). The view in (Fig. 11) is looking toward the southern end of the reservoir. There are cattails and bulrushes, and a few other shrubs here and there on the northern end of the lake where the waters from Crystal Spring flow into the reservoir.
(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
Note (4) – Crystal Spring Boardwalk: Crystal Spring is a  warm-water pool of clear, blue-green water, maybe 9-10 feet deep and 25 feet across, with a white sandy floor and some bright green algae (Fig. 12). The outflow stream from the spring runs along the .4 mile Crystal Spring boardwalk that leads from the refuge office to the spring through fairly open, fairly flat desert landscape (Fig. 13). The stream, running along the boardwalk is surrounded by a few trees, lots of shrubs, and grapevines as it goes through an open area with scattered screwbean mesquite thickets, various species of desert shrub, and a carpet of saltgrass. The bare areas are covered with a crust of salt, which almost looks like a blanket of snow. Crystal Spring gets its name from the ‘crystal’ clear water that it omits. There is a viewing platform at the spring (Fig. 14) allowing one to take the time to enjoy its beauty and watch the waters as they flow out of the spring (Fig. 15). The changing colors of the trees and shrubs (Figs. 16 & 17) surrounding the spring were a stark contrast to the drab, barren desert that surrounds this area. While walking the boardwalk as it followed the outflow stream we spotted dozens of dragonflies, some crawfish, and a few speckled dance. This outflow runs across the desert down to a point where it feeds into the Crystal Reservoir.
(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 13)
(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15
(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)
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