Saturday, May 30, 2020

Quick Trip to Crystal Peak, Millard County

With distant trips cancelled, it was time to head to nearby attractions. One of my favorite places to go when the weather is mild is Crystal Peak, a whitish mountain made of volcanic tuff. In the afternoon light it glows when approaching from Snake Valley, but on this particular day, we were heading there in the morning, and it didn't look that impressive as we approached it.

 As we got closer we saw a sign indicating that the peak is in part of the Wah Wah Wilderness Study Area. Wah Wah means "good, clean water" according to Utah Place Names. A Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is an area that is wild, uninhabited, retains primeval characteristics, is a roadless area of at least 5,000 acres, and has opportunities for solitude and/or primitive recreation. WSAs are managed as wilderness areas (no motorized vehicles allowed, generally no development allowed) until Congress decides to designate the area as wilderness or not.

Desert Boy had been to the top of Crystal Peak before (see this 2014 trip), but Desert Girl hadn't.  We parked on the northeast side, just off the road in a little campsite. No other vehicles were visible. We hiked slightly towards the peak, but mostly south.

Although it's easiest to stay on the Kanosh Shale that borders the south side of the Tunnel Springs Tuff, we couldn't resist a little scrambling. The strange-looking pockets are called tafoni.

There are thousands of them on the mountain.

 We headed up the Kanosh shale, going around juniper trees until we reached a large rock cairn. Then it was time to head north.

In hindsight, we should have tied up the dogs at this spot, as they would have had shade, and it got a lot steeper after this point.

We needed to follow the ravine and then veer a bit to the right to make the summit. There are many false summits on this mountain, and I've been to more than one!

The kids did a good job hiking fast. 

The dogs made us laugh at times!

Here's the view looking south. You can see the little ridge where the tuff meets the Kanosh shale. In the background are the Wah Wah Mountains.

Looking to the west, we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Snake Range just peeking above the horizon.

We had a little detour, but then we made it! Hurray!

 Looking north from the peak you see the Crystal Peak Road. On the other side is the mountain range that contains Fossil Mountain.

Next it was time to get down. This isn't a good place to go if you're afraid of heights!

Desert Girl is quite interested in geology and found some fossils.

Many of the fossils in the Kanosh Shale are broken as it was a windy beach area as sea creatures accumulated, but there are still interesting things to find.

We made it back to the vehicle and didn't dally, as Desert Girl had something to attend. 

Except I did have to pause to take some photos of pronghorn. They are such cool desert creatures that I will be doing a post all about them soon.

The cloud pattern on Wheeler Peak and adjoining Doso Doyabi Peak was really cool.

And then we saw lambs! They were so cute!

This area is used for winter sheep grazing. In the summer they head to Park City, UT.

For more on the geology of Crystal Peak, and how it formed in a giant explosion 33 million years ago, was covered up, and then eroded away (plus how it will disappear in a million years), see this cool GeoSights post by the Utah Geological Society.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What Social Distancing Looks like in Baker, Nevada

It was mid-March when things started getting weird fast. On Friday, March 13 Millard County Schools announced that they would transition to online school, starting Monday, March 16. We went to Ely on the weekend, including a stop at the grocery store, where the run on toilet paper had already started (fortunately we had gotten lots of supplies at the end of February when we took a trip to Salt Lake City).

On Sunday, March 15, White Pine County Schools announced that they would go to online schooling starting Monday, March 23. All the announcements were for two to three week periods, but it didn't seem likely that the Coronavirus would be over that fast.

I started doing mostly tele-working, but one day when I went in to get files, I found a co-worker all geared up to clean restrooms. This was the very start of going to lots of PPE. 

We had an all-employee meeting outside. This was the start of social distancing at work.

On March 17, Lehman Caves and the Visitor Center closed. For about a week, rangers would meet visitors outside, making them stay behind a six-foot distance line and answer questions. Later they just had people phone in if they had questions.

On March 25, the campground closed along with restrooms.

Viewing scopes were bagged to keep people from touching them and possibly spreading germs.

People were encouraged not to touch the pay phone.

Desert Girl puts out a monthly newspaper and gave a schedule of what life was like under stay-at-home time aka quarantine.

We started getting used to Zoom meetings. Here's a 4-H meeting, where we still managed to show off an animal!

We started baking more, even trying our hand at donuts (they were a little flat!). We also gladly participated in getting carry out from our local businesses, such as the Border Inn, Kerouac's and Salt & Sucre catering. It's such a mood booster to look forward to some different cooking!

On April 15, Great Basin National Park totally closed. By about this time, it was obvious that schools would not be reopening for the spring semester.

It was weird seeing the barricades at the park entrance.

Signs at the visitor center gave some safety announcements.

On May 9, the roads and trails in the Park reopened, although the campgrounds stay closed during this Phase 1 of reopening.

The restrooms with plumbing soon reopened, although with alternate days so that any bad germs would die.

In the meantime, people were boosting each other's spirits. Whispering Elms put these lovely messages on their windows.

Chalk art appeared at the post office.

Humor showed up at the post office bulletin board.

We're still all asking what this skeleton at R&R Reststop wants to know, "Quarantine How Long?"

It may still be quite awhile before Great Basin National Park and local businesses are up and running like usual. But seeing the small things people do to improve each other's lives is like seeing the rainbow. It's beautiful and reminds us that even the bad things will end.

We can get through this together.

Monday, May 11, 2020

What's Blooming and Singing up Strawberry Creek, Great Basin National Park

We've been glad to get out and stretch our legs while still doing social distancing. A good place for that is the Sage Steppe Loop Trail, a 1.3-mile loop at the end of the Strawberry Creek road in Great Basin National Park. There are options to make the hike longer.

I wanted to see what flowers were blooming and what birds were singing. So here's a quick look at what the trail looks like in early May.

When the snow melts, one of the first flowers to emerge is snowy buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis). 

 Another yellow flower, not as pretty, but more widespread, is creeping barberry, also colloquially known as Oregon grape (Berberis repens). The leaves turn a beautiful red color.

This next flower is extremely tiny, the small-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parvifolia).

We hadn't come far by this point, we had simply crossed the foot bridge and entered the large meadow.

Many of the flowers were unobtrusive, like this carrotleaf desert-parsley (Lomatium foeniculaceum).

This tiny clover, hollyleaf clover (Trifolium longipes) is easily overlooked.

Here's some Nevada biscuitroot (Lomatium nevadense).

In 2016, a lightning strike started a 4,500-acre wildfire in the Strawberry Creek watershed. The sign survived, but the hillside behind it burned. I like seeing how the landscape is returning.

The sagebrush bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia) were just starting to bloom.

Continuing up the trail. The kids had decided I was taking too long and were way ahead of me. We were the only vehicle in the parking lot (good thing, as it's not a big parking lot!), so I didn't mind them going ahead.

Then I started seeing more color--arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata).

And a little long-leaf phlox (Phlox longifolia).

This tiny flower is slender phlox (Microsteris gracilis).

This West Coast Lady butterfly seemed to like it a lot.

Desert Girl had waited for me, so I pointed out some flowers as we crossed the creek and headed back through the forest to the vehicle. I had challenged the kids to find at least five different flower species. They were not interested. Sigh. At least they were outdoors!

A variety of birds were also out, like this male Mountain Bluebird.

A green-tailed towhee fluttered into the shrubs. I like the red tuft of feathers on the top of his head. I also saw lots of chipping sparrows flitting about the ground.

A yellow-rumped warbler stopped for a moment.

A female mountain bluebird isn't nearly as bright, but is still beautiful.

A female Cassin's finch is a bit non-descript; the males have a bright red head. The females of many bird species are more camouflaged so they can sit on a nest and not attract attention.
The kids like the sage steppe loop as they know it's short. When they were little it would take a couple hours to do. Now we can do it in way less than an hour--unless I'm looking at all the birds and flowers! It will be fun to visit periodically as the flowers will change notably through the season.

On the way out of Strawberry Canyon, we noticed a large herd of elk in the fields across the highway. We've seen the elk on both sides of the highway in this area, so be careful traveling through here.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief glimpse of what's going on in this corner of the world! Have a good day!
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