Tufa Beds Trails (TUSK) - Trip Notes for 03/28/2018

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This page last updated on 02/28/2018
(Fig. 01)

Directions: There are basically two primary places to enter this area. One is located at the exit of N. 5th Street off of the I-215. Exit and turn north. It abruptly dead ends. Another is from the end of Grand Teton Road (Closed). Because we were on a scheduled tour, our guides had a key to open the gate at Aliante and Grand Teton allowing us to drive to the end of the paved road.
General Description of the Area:  The Tufa Beds lie within and around the Eglington Preserve in an area of sensitive habitat located within the newly established Tule Springs Fossil National Monument. The Preserve area encompasses 300 acres of the Upper Las Vegas Wash which is a primary drainage for the entire Las Vegas Valley and is a major tributary to Lake Mead and the Colorado River. It was initially selected as a preserve because it has a large population of State Listed Critically Endangered Las Vegas bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica) [Las Vegas Bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica)] and the candidate for state listing, Las Vegas buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii) [Las Vegas buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum var. nilesii)]. Today the area is entirely within the Tule Springs Fossil National Monument which is well known for its Pleistocene fossil resources.
Walking over the area there are what looks like a piles of porous brown rock forming a long S-shape winding through the desert. This rock is tufa, a type of limestone precipitated by “algal snot” that only forms in certain conditions. This is evidence that Tule Springs was once a vast desert wetland where springs burbled up from the ground to create meandering streams. That’s what made the region so rich in prehistoric life. Plants grew where the water was, providing ample forage for bison, camels and mammoths. This was a “honeypot” to the local dire wolves, sabercats and other carnivores. The water that set up this food web carried the sediment that later buried the bones of the local creatures.
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Soon the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in North Las Vegas will get its first walking trail (Fig. 02), spanning nearly 2 miles near the future site of the Villages at Tule Springs, a sprawling master-planned community. Eventually, North Fifth Street will be extended north of the 215 Beltway to access the national park. Nearby, housing developer KBS Capital Advisors will spend $5 million to build access roads, a parking lot and a 10,000-foot-long path known as the Tufa Trail — named for the type of limestone naturally found in the area.

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Description of Tufa Deposits: "During the late Pleistocene Epoch (~21,000 to 10,600 years before present), braided streams rich in dissolved calcium carbonate emanated from springs (groundwater discharge locations) throughout the valley. As the streams flowed, calcium carbonate precipitated out of the water forming tufa deposits. These dark brown, tufa deposits have been preserved in the rock record at Tule Springs and because the tufa is harder and coarser than the surrounding sediments it remains while other sediments are eroded, leaving an inverted-type of topography that mimics the flow patterns of the the latest Pleistocene and Holocene braided streams. In many cases the tufa precipitated onto tree branches and limbs that were likely dangling into the river; these features are called phytoclasts (Fig. 3). The plant material is long gone, but the tufa remains as a mold. The tufa has also been found encrusting bones, tusks, and shells. The winding and braided nature of the paleo-channel is observable in the distribution of the tufa and is frozen in time.

(Fig. 03a) - Courtesy of Robert Croke
The tufa formations (Fig. 03a) in the monument exhibit a variety of morphologies (e.g., oncoids, stromatolitic tufa, tufa crusts, tufa coated clasts, cyanoliths, and resurgence features) which is interpreted as a response to different hydrologic environments. Tufa deposits are best exposed near the Eglington Preserve and fault/scarp area where the tufa lag deposits have been thoroughly exposed Fig. 04); in the North Unit, tufa is still in the process of weathering out of the landscape. The paleo-channels in the South Unit were up to several miles long, but have been largely destroyed by urban development and installation of a water line in 2004–2005. There is no evidence that the tufa or other wetland deposits in the Las Vegas Valley were influenced by geothermal heating. Such ambient-temperature precipitation of tufa can be observed at Cold Creek in the Spring Mountains today." -- Geologic Resources Inventory Scoping Summary Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, Nevada -- Prepared by Rebecca Port, October 16, 2015.
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03/28/2018 Trip Notes: The picture in (Fig. 05) above is an overview showing the area of the proposed Tufa Beds Trails. To day Bob Croke, Cindy Pace and myself (Fig. 06) had a guided tour of the proposed area provided by Sandy Croteau VP/On-Site Chairman of POTS. The map in (Fig. 02), top, shows the route of the area that we hiked today. Bob's GPS showed that the hike was about 3.4 miles. As we hike along our guide provide information about many of the plants that we encountered along the way. A geologist provided information about the creation of the topography and the surrounding mountains. Sandy also explained how future development in and around the area will affect future views while hiking around this end of the Tule Springs Fossil National Monument. Figure 02 shows these proposed areas that border the area. We encountered a variety of plant-life including the several examples of the endangered Las Vegas Poppy (Fig. 07). Click here for pictures and information on this rare plant ... Las Vegas Bearpoppy (Arctomecon californica). Though I didn't take any closeup pictures, probably the most prevalent plant was the creosote bush. Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata.  Other plants are shown in (Figs. 08 through 13). Links to pages describing each plant are displayed below each picture. Once we reached the area of the tufa beds, we were able to get some closeup shots of these tufa molds of phytoclasts (Figs. 14 thru 18). Though we were not provided enough time to do any real 'looking", we didn't find any examples of fossils. Besides this shot of a well defined ant hill, I spotted a burring owl nest at a great distance, and several long eared jack rabbits that were running away from us as we hiked. This final shot (Fig. 21) is a picture of our hiking group. The bad news is there really isn't a lot to see on a hike of this area. The good news is that it is always to get out into the fresh air away from the city and enjoy the fellowship of hiking with like minded people. It was a beautiful sunny day in the upper 70's with only a slight breeze.
(Fig. 07) Learn more here ... Las Vegas Bearpoppy

(Fig. 08) Learn more here ... Halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus).

(Fig. 09) Learn more here ... Desert Aalyssum (Lepedium fremontii).

(Fig. 10) Learn more here ... Desert Baccharis (Baccharis sarothroides).

(Fig. 11) Learn more here ... Desert Aalyssum (Lepedium fremontii).

(Fig. 12) Learn more here ... Astragalus.

(Fig. 13) Learn more here ... Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii).

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(Fig. 21) Learn more here ... Astragalus.