Saturday, September 12, 2015
A Visit to Big Warm Spring, Duckwater Shoshone Reservation
This is what the road looked like:
geology. In 20 miles the pavement ended and we went a quarter mile on a dirt road before veering to the left towards these trees and a fence. There we saw a sign identifying the location as the Duckwater Shoshone Reservation Big Warm Spring. I especially appreciated that they stated, "Water is Sacred." The Duckwater Shoshone allow the general public to visit the spring, as long as they abide by the rules.
A little closer to the spring are some interpretive signs, mainly about the native Railroad Valley springfish (Crenichthys nevadae), which has survived for thousands of years after Lake Railroad dried up. They are listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and a host of partners have worked to keep these little fish surviving.
Then it was time to get into Nevada's largest geothermal hot spring. Did you know that Nevada not only has the most mountain ranges of any state (over 300) but also the most hot springs (also over 300)? It's also the driest state in the country, so those hot springs are extra special. Big Warm Spring is about 91-93 degrees Fahrenheit, so warmer than the average swimming pool but cooler than a hot tub. In other words, perfect for just enjoying.
A stairway leads into the spring, and those handrails are helpful as you tread the algae-covered steps. That algae is important, it's one of the main food sources for the Railroad Valley springfish, but it's also slippery.
The water is extremely clear, but at the bottom the sediment is very fine. There's a sulfur smell to the water, a reminder that this spring exists because of heat deep within the earth and the plumbing that is taking this water by that heat.
Not so long ago, the spring faced some hard times, and in 2007 the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Duckwater Shoshone tribe signed a Safe Harbor Agreement to protect the fish and restore the spring. The joint effort led to digging out the pond, placing boulders around it, removing non-native catfish, reintroducing the native springfish, fencing around the springs, and some new diversion structures. (This Safe Harbor Agreement has lots of great information about the spring and area, so is well worth reading.)
We took a little walk to view more of the spring channel. I liked seeing the milkweed, host to monarch butterfly caterpillars.
We could see additional places where water was bubbling up from the bottom, adding to the flow.
A viewing platform was a little farther down.
I also went and checked out the USGS stream gauge. The spring channel is pretty consistently 14-15 cfs year round.
After I returned home I found out if we had continued downstream we would have reached a waterfall. I guess we'll have to go back!
We went back to the springhead and swam. One man came to look for a lost item and graciously took a photo of us. The water is up to about 10 feet deep in places, so I was glad Desert Girl had her life jacket on. Desert Boy has gotten good enough at swimming he was fine without one.
We even took some time for a little swim lesson practice, trying to get his front crawl ready for an upcoming triathlon.
I imagine most weekends are quite busy here, but we were visiting on a weekday when area schools were in session. It made for a very relaxing afternoon. This is truly a special place, and I hope to visit again.