Monday, February 24, 2020

Improving the Sagebrush Discovery Trail

Just west of Baker, Nevada is a lovely little trail we call the Sagebrush Discovery Trail. It's about two miles of old two-track road that follows along some irrigation ditches.

 Here's a map, with the Sagebrush Discovery Trail in purple on the top side of the map. As you can see, we had some fun with naming different sections of the trail.

 You can find more info on The Snake Valley Trails Partnership website. Periodic workdays are held to improve the trail, and one occurred last weekend. We wanted to improve the trail where it had flooded last summer and where 1,500 sheep had walked on it. The pathway had gotten a little narrow in places.

Fortunately some raking helped remedy that.

It was also time to move some rocks. The kids excelled at that.

One of our issues is that there are so many rocks. The Snake Valley Trails Partnership has partnered with the BLM and over the next couple of years will be improving the trail with a layer of gravel, interpretive signs, benches, an exercise circuit, trailheads, and more. 

Right now it's a little primitive, but an hour of work made it a lot prettier!

The kids even removed some trash that was in the ditch. 
The trail is easy to access, right next to town, and dog-friendly, so I love taking our dog there. Hopefully as the trail is improved, more people will enjoy this great spot.

Monday, February 17, 2020

New Exhibits at Lehman Caves Visitor Center

Lehman Caves Visitor Center has some new exhibits! The theme is Discover the Dark, and part of it is about Lehman Caves and part is about the dark night skies. Park staff have been working with contractors for the past two years to make this exhibit come to fruition. Funding came from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA).

The exhibits opened February 15, 2020, and I took the family (and a friend) up the next day to see their reactions. The kids immediately stopped for a long time at the cave map, asking if they could touch the 3d model (yes!, but gently).

The girls then saw the flashlights and grabbed them. Then they got distracted by the microscope.

The reason for the flashlights is to Enter the Dark (Ingrese a la Oscuridad---all the signs are in English and Spanish). 

On the other side of the curtains there is minimal lighting, and you can use the flashlights to find cave creatures.

If you listen carefully, you can hear bats squeaking. Take a look up to see some simulated ones!

The tunnel isn't long, but it's fun.

On the other is the mini-laboratory (with my friend Kristin's awesome art of cave critters). The exhibit isn't fully completed, so Desert Girl had fun looking at her fingers under the microscope.

I encouraged the kids to look at the giant cave creatures along another wall.

I don't think they read much, but they had fun touching! The cave creatures are nice and low for kids to be able to reach easily.

 Another exhibit that invites touching is Protecting the Night Sky, which lets you flip a light switch to simulate how light pollution dims our view of the night skies.

And in Cave Conservation, you can touch half a stalagmite. It's already looking shiny after a few days of touching, compared to the protected part under the glass. Hopefully this will show folks how important it is not to touch in the cave! (p.s., That's a photo of some lint cleaning in the cave in the background!)

Over in the astronomy section is a giant planisphere to show you what's up in the sky on certain dates at certain times. 

There's also a guessing game related to animals that are out at night. Mainly the kids just wanted to swirl the circles, though.

Desert Boy kept going back to the 3d model of the cave. He really liked that. (None of them read "How Did Lehman Caves Form?", which is in the background and really fascinating.)

I love that there's a big cave shield prominently displayed. Lehman Caves has so many cave shields! They are currently being counted.  Most are attached to the wall or ceiling, but there are a notable number that rise from the floor.

The Western National Parks Association (WNPA) bookstore has also been redone and looks so good.

The visitor center isn't very big, but there's a lot of cool info there now about the cave and dark skies. Hopefully everyone can learn something new and get a taste of what the cave environment is like! Plus there's more to see that I didn't show (don't want to give it all away!).
The Lehman Caves Visitor Center is open every day, from 8 am to at least 4 pm. Check the Great Basin National Park website for more details. Also, if you'd like to go on a cave tour, it's best to book ahead, as the tours were sold out for President's Day weekend. If you come on weekdays during the winter, the tours are much smaller, and you get some specialized info. Have fun Discovering the Dark!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

2020 Lint Camp

Every winter, deep in Lehman Caves, a group of volunteers gathers to clean lint. What?? Yep, the lint that falls off our clothes, hair, and other gunk gets left behind in the cave. With each person going through the cave leaving about a belly-button full of lint behind, and 33,000 people going through the cave, that's a lot of lint!

Fortunately a dedicated cadre of volunteers steps up to the task of removing that lint. The main tool is a paintbrush or toothbrush and patience.

When lint gets into little cracks and popcorn, tweezers become the tool of choice.

When possible, it's good to start high and then move lower.

Although people walk on the trail, the lightweight lint drifts higher, and removing it from those high spots can be quite a challenge.

It's not all work. Sometimes we have to take a break and see if we can squeeze through a concrete block!

The cleaning also involved getting dust and debris out of the entrance and exit tunnels and near the cave doors. Ideally maintenance will do this weekly throughout the year.

Folks came from five states to attend lint camp. Great Basin National Park provides housing, oversight, and the tools. The volunteers provide dedication and time.

Another reward can be seeing cool cave creatures, like this Lehman Cave pseudoscorpion (Microcreagris grandis Muchmore).

In addition to lint, the volunteers on the second and/or third day can also help restore natural cave floor. This is slow work, pulling out old trail debris from popcorn and rimstone dams, but it's also quite rewarding.

This year we had some strong black lights brought in. Can you see the blue and white lint on this popcorn?

Here are some rocks along the side of the trail. Under normal light you can't see much on them, but the black light shows another story.

After lots of hard work, participants are treated to a trip through the Talus Room, an off-trail section of Lehman Cave.

And it's always fun to get a group photo!
Thanks to the many wonderful volunteers who helped with this year's lint camps!
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