Monday, February 15, 2021

Checking Out Lunar Crater, Nevada

We were heading across Nevada on Highway 6, and 75 miles east of Tonopah (near Nye County mile marker 79) made a turn. We took a detour to Lunar Crater, nine miles off the highway on a gravel road. Part of the Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark (designated in 1973), Lunar Crater is a 430-foot deep maar, or volcanic explosion pit.

With several hours of driving ahead of us, I proposed that we get our blood flowing and hike down to the bottom. My husband agreed and the kids had no choice.

We were the only ones there, which didn't surprise us. Highway 6 is one of the least traveled highways in the U.S., so we didn't even see many cars on the highway. The crater looked beautiful. I figured there was a way down, but wasn't sure what the route was.

Fortunately it wasn't too bad, although getting down the cliff band takes a little scrambling. 

In 1972, astronauts practiced picking up rock samples here in full spacesuits. It was part of NASA's program to get the Apollo 16 and 17 astronauts more familiar with volcanic features.

In short time we were down at the bottom.

Desert Boy was even willing to smile!

Over in the corner was an intriguing looking canyon. 

I was fascinated by the buckwheat, a reddish plant growing on the volcanic soil. It would be much prettier in the summer!

Then it was time to start back up!

It was cool seeing the lava swirl by the cliff band.

There are over 20 volcanic features visible from Lunar Crater. Can you spot the one in the background?

From the top was a nice view of Easy Chair Crater to the northeast.

There's a short trail and a bench by the Lunar Crater parking area.

A little plaque under the bench.

Apparently you can make a backcountry loop past Lunar Crater on a scenic byway to get back on the highway. We didn't know, so we went back to the highway the same way we came, seeing a few cows.

We had another nice view of Easy Chair Crater.

Off in the distance, on the other side of the highway, we could see the Black Rock Lava Flow. I've done a previous post about it, and it's another fun stop. Here's more about the geology from the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Looking at this area from the birds-eye view is fascinating. The lava flow really stands out with its black. I like seeing the shapes of all the craters. And there are a surprising number of playas.

And here's a closeup:

If you like seeing some different things, I highly recommend visiting Lunar Crater.

Before I end, let me pose a question. Where do you see big craters?
1. Volcanic areas
2. Meteors (e.g., Meteor Crater in Arizona)

Do you have a favorite crater?

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Snake Valley Christmas Bird Count 2020

 I didn't know what would happen with the Snake Valley Christmas Bird Count in 2020. With numerous Covid restrictions, like no pre- or post-count gatherings and keeping households in their own vehicles, would we get enough people?

I'm the organizer for the count, one of hundreds held between December 15 and January 5. The Snake Valley count started in 1996-97 and has continued every year since then. It includes parts of Great Basin National Park and nearby communities, spanning both Nevada and Utah.

Fortunately, we had lots of interest in the count, from park staff, locals, agency partners in Ely, and birders all the way from Battle Mountain. We ended up with a total of 20 people, an all-time high for this count. How many species did we find? I'll tell you at the end! 

Here are some of the birds seen.

Great-horned owls

Rock pigeons (they are only found in one small area of our count)

Loggerhead shrike

A loggerhead shrike flew in and perched to the left. The loggerhead shrike that was there first was pissed, turned around, and raised its tail.

Look at those eyelashes! 

White-crowned sparrow

American kestrel--I love these tiny raptors!

Canada goose and American coot. Glad to see the international relations are going well. ;)

Mergansers and American coot

A sheepherder was moving hundreds of sheep. I took a break from photographing birds to watch for a few minutes.

It was so strange to see so many sheep moving in unison, it looked like a wave.

Traffic jam!

Rough-legged hawk--note the distinct dark patches on the wings. I jokingly say this bird has hairy armpits, and for some reason rough-legged and hairy armpits goes together and I can remember this bird!

From the topside there's a white band on the tail. (Northern harriers also have a white band on the tail but fly a little differently.)

Did you key in on those hairy armpits? Ha!

Mountain chickadee

Woodhouse's scrub-jay

Northern flicker

Wild turkey-it's blinking. The cloudy looking eye is the eyelid closed.

This wild turkey had something to say.

So many turkeys! They feed them at the Spring Creek Rearing Station, so you can always find them there.

Dark-eyed Junco

Song Sparrow

Well, this post might seem like a lot of bird photos. We ended up with 62 species total, so this post just barely scratches the surface!

It was a great Snake Valley CBC, and I also enjoyed participating in the Ely CBC. Hopefully next year we can get back to some of the more social aspects of it. 

By the way, for our Backyard Bird Count in 2020, we had a record 47 species. I guess being home more often helped get those extra species! For January 2021, we are up to 13 species, which I will update in the sidebar soon. 

I hope you get to see some good birds this year!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Ride and Drive across the North Snake Range

One of our go-to places to visit during the pandemic is the North Snake Range. The roads are rough, a lot of it is Wilderness, and most people tend to go to the more popular South Snake Range, where Great Basin National Park is located. That means we often have it all to ourselves and it feels so wild.

One weekend we decided we would do a combination of motorcycle/drive across the northern end of the range, going up Eight Mile Road on the Spring Valley side and then figuring out how to get down the other side. I had both Earthmate and Avenza (map applications that show you where you are via your phone GPS) in my phone so we could look at the maps as we drove.

But first, we sent Desert Girl off running with the dogs.

Desert Boy is a pretty good dirt bike rider. He was ready for  anew riding challenge.

I had never been up Eight-Mile road, so I stopped a few times to take photos. I enjoyed seeing the cliffs.

The views out to Spring Valley and the Egan Range on the other side were great. A long time ago a shallow lake filled the bottom of the valley. Now we see a playa, or dry lake bed. Very little grows on it. In some places you can even see the old lake shorelines.

Our trusty 2004 Dodge Ram truck was a trooper going up the rough road. It's manual transmission, manual roll down your windows, manual lock your doors by pushing down the locks. It's great, because it's so basic so there's less to break. And it has been very dependable.

We came across this cabin.


We saw several Eldridge initials on the doorstep.

It would be a cool place to hang out.

We even found some cows in this old corral. 

Then it was time to continue on. My husband used to do desert racing on his dirt bike and was top in the state. He took a long break from it while the kids were young but is getting back into it again as a way to exercise and as a hobby he enjoys. He makes it look really easy.

I liked this twisted juniper.

We pondered which roads to take down to the Snake Valley side, and since we didn't know anything about any of them, ended up with a random choice. There are a bunch of small drainages. My husband and Desert Boy went ahead on their motorcycles. If they found something the truck couldn't make, they would come back and tell me. Meanwhile Desert Girl and I listened to the soundtrack of Hamilton as we drove on.

We got down into the canyons, and it was beautiful, with small cliffs and twisting roads.

We ended up in a drainage I recognized from the spring, when I had gone out with some friends to look for new caves (we didn't find any). 

 We followed along this big wash and then came out near Gandy, Utah. It was a fun day exploring and getting to know our "big backyard" better. I'm grateful that we have such beautiful mountains to visit. There's still so much more to explore!

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