Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Notch Peak, Millard County, Utah - An Awesome Hike

Notch Peak dominates our eastern horizon, with its, 1,000+ foot cliff dramatic along the skyline. 

Fortunately there's a way to get up to the top of it that isn't too demanding, although I wouldn't call it easy. It's about eight-miles round trip, with 2,700 feet elevation gain (and loss). I've done it a couple times before, and this time we camped out with friends the night before (Miller Canyon has lots of options) and then started mid-morning with some cool temperatures. I highly recommend doing this hike when it's cool, as there's not a lot of shade along the way, and it gets very hot on a sunny, summer day.

The road off Highway 6 & 60 to the Amasa Basin junction is good for even regular cars. Then it's high clearance for the next 1-2 miles to get to the Notch Peak Trailhead in Sawtooth Canyon. 

Soon one of the kids had caught a lizard. Fortunately we had a herpetologist in our group!

The kids got a chance to hold it.

What fun!

Then it was on to more hiking, with occasional surprises like beautiful wildflowers.

When we stopped for lunch, I took a closer look at the trees around us. I spotted four different cone-bearing trees. Do you know this one? The "mousetails" sticking out from the pinecone are a big clue.
This is a Douglas fir tree.

I gathered up pinecones from the four trees. Do you know them?
Starting at the top and going clockwise: bristlecone pine (note the bristles on the pinecone), Douglas-fir (with the mousetails), white fir (small and plain), and pinyon pine (large spaces between the scales to hold the pinyon pine nuts, which most likely have been eaten by rodents and birds). 

I also found this snail shell. What? Snails in the desert? Yep! These are land snails, probably of the genus Oreohelix. They usually don't move more than 100 yards from where they came to life, and prefer talus slopes with limestone rock. They hibernate and aestivate (stay dormant in the heat of the summer). This one is dead, it's just the shell.

As we moved up canyon, we found all sorts of obstacles. At one point there were a lot of trees down in the canyon.

We found some rock cairns off to the right (north) and followed them. Big mistake! That scrambly trail is a mess. It's a lot better to stay in the canyon (except maybe in winter). 

This alternate route did go by this cool cliff.

We took a break looking down canyon and watching some other hikers who were as confused as we were about where the trail was. 

Finally we got up to the saddle and had our first glimpse of the amazing canyon down below.

From the saddle you can see the way up to the top. There's not much of a trail, but it's not hard to go through the bushes. And fortunately, that's not a false summit at the top, it's the real summit!

The top then drops away to the cliff.

We looked at the completely full trail register at the top.

Then it was time for snacks and waiting for our entire group to make it up.

Looking down might give you a little sense of vertigo! This is a place base jumpers occasionally climb up and then sail off. 

Here's to friendship! It was so lovely doing this hike with friends. We did it on Mother's Day, as we figured our families had to do what we wanted that day. Ha! It was good to get out.

There's a US Coast & Geodetic Survey marker from 1957 on the top.

We still found some snow in May in places in the canyon.

I enjoyed seeing this maple tree, we don't have many maples around here!

The kids at the beginning of the hike. I wasn't sure they were all going to make it, but they all persevered. We left the trailhead about 10 am and returned about 6 pm. I think with fit adults, you could do the hike in about 6 hours. 

Bonus biology photo: a solfugid, or wind scorpion/camel spider. They're rather uncommon, so I was so excited to see one. 

I highly recommend the Notch Peak hike for anyone who likes climbing desert mountains. Just don't go when it's too hot! Here are some directions. And a previous Desert Survivor post about this hike

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Ten Reasons Scorpions Are Super Cool


I had the opportunity to lead a couple scorpion walks last weekend at the Great Basin National Park 2021 Reptile BioBlitz. I had shown people scorpions before and knew a tiny about them, but decided it might be good to beef up what I could share. The more I learned, the more I was amazed. I can't wait to share some of these fun facts with you. 

10. Scorpions have been living on planet Earth for over 400 million years! That means scorpions were alive when the dinosaurs roamed. And they lived long before that. They have survived multiple major extinction events. They will probably be living long after the human species goes extinct.

9. Scorpions are arachnids. That means they have 8 legs. They don't have antennae or wings like insects. Other arachnid relatives are spiders, pseudoscorpions (literally false scorpions because they don't have a stinging tail), opilionids (aka daddy-long-legs), and solfugids (aka camel spiders, wind scorpions). 

8. Over 2,500 species of scorpions are found on the planet. They are found on every continent except Antarctica. Although most are found in deserts, they are also found in the tropics, on high mountains, in caves, and intertidal areas. You can find scorpions as far north as Canada, in some swampy areas like the Everglades, and even islands such as the Florida Keys. 

7. Scorpions are venomous. They deliver the venom via a stinger on their tail. Out of the 2,500 species, only about 35 can deliver a sting that's potentially fatal to humans. The sting delivered by many is dangerous to their prey, which includes flies (I got to see a scorpion capture a fly one night and it was so cool!), crickets, and centipedes. Some of their predators, like meerkats, grasshopper mice, and desert long-eared bats, are immune to their venom.

6. Scorpions are experts in survival. Some can deal with high radioactivity. Some can go a full year without a meal. Some can be submerged for 48 hours and still live. These creatures are tough.

5. There's even a scorpion in the sky! The Babylonians are said to have even put a scorpion in the sky, the constellation. It was later recognized by Ptolemy. The story goes that the mighty hunter Orion was boasting about being able to kill all the animals. Artemis was not pleased, so went to the earth goddess Gaia and asked her to do something. She sent a scorpion. Orion reportedly picked up his big club and bashed the scorpion, but before he did so, the scorpion managed to sting Orion. It was a fatal sting, and the mighty Orion fell to his death. They were both put up into the sky, but on opposite sides. Once Scorpius arises, Orion falls away, and when Orion is seen, Scorpius is absent. They are continually chasing each other around the night sky.

4. They have a mating dance. To mate, a male and female scorpion do a promenade à deux (French for "a walk for two"), where the scorpions grasp pincers and dance around. The male will deposit his spermatophore (sperm packet) on the ground, then help get the female positioned over it so it can be taken into her body. This process can last minutes to several hours.

3. Scorpions give live birth to their babies. The mama scorpion puts her pedipalps under her body and catches the little ones. Then she puts them up on her back and carries them around until their exoskeleton hardens and they get a little bigger. Scorpions can give birth to 3 to 100 babies, and they carry them on their backs from 5 to 25 days, depending on the species. (I really want to see a mama scorpion with babies on her back this summer!)

2. Scorpions usually live 6-10 years (if they survive the first year), but can live up to 25 years. They molt (crack open their exoskeleton and leave it behind and let a new one harden) about 6 times as they grow up. That puts a new twist on growth spurts. This covers a span of 6 months to 6 years, depending on the species. So you might say that some scorpions spend a long time in the "teenager/almost grown up" period!

1. Scorpions fluoresce under blacklight! A part of their exoskeleton makes them reflect the UV light, which makes them super easy to find at night. In fact, dozens of new species have been found in recent years because handheld blacklights have become so easy to obtain. If you've never gone out with a blacklight, I highly recommend it. It's like an Easter egg hunt looking for scorpions. And when you finally are ready to take a break from looking at the ground, look up into the sky and see if you can find Scorpius. 

p.s. I recommend adding your photos to iNaturalist. You'll get a possible identification and also be able to see what other scorpions have been seen in the area!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Exploring Northern Tule Valley, Utah

Are you ready to visit northern Tule Valley? Most likely you haven't even heard of it. Square miles: 940. Population: 0.  Paved roads: 1, Highway 6 & 50, through the southern end. It's located in both Millard and Juab Counties in the West Desert of Utah. You can find where Tule Valley is on this TopoZone topo map.

Tule Valley turns out to be a great place to go recreate responsibly. There's just no one there. And with a little common sense, your chance of getting injured is extremely low. So what can you do? We're going to focus on the northern section in this post. Southern Tule Valley is more well-known, and you can find past blog posts on Ibex Crags (bouldering and rock climbing) and Ibex Hardpan (bike riding, airplanes, and aliens).

In northern Tule Valley, on the east side, there are some tiny sand dunes, just right for kids and kids-at-heart.

I don't think they get more than 40 feet tall, but they show awesome patterns.

In the background you can see the pointy Tatow Knob. If you're into hiking, you can see bristlecone pines on the way to the House Range's tallest peak. The most popular peak to hike is Notch Peak, and the view of it from Tule Valley is amazing. We couldn't see it from where we were, but a bit farther south it is great. Painter Spring, with rock climbing and cool minerals is also farther south.

Rabbit tracks in the sand.

Tule Valley has the House Range to the east (photo below), the Confusion Range to the west, the Fish Springs Range and Great Salt Lake Desert to the north, and the Wah Wah Valley and Mountains to the south.

At night the stars are marvelous in Tule Valley.

We'll have to go back for more Milky Way photos. In May just after sunset, the galactic core hasn't risen yet.

One of the biggest features in northern Tule Valley is a huge dry lakebed. With only 8 inches average precip for the entire valley, there's not enough water to go anywhere. Plus, Tule Valley is in the hydrologic Great Basin, which has no external drainage. All the water that falls either enters the ground or evaporates. During really wet periods, water does accumulate on the playas. And from about 21,000 to 15,000 years ago, this area was under water when the massive Lake Bonneville extended down this far. Ancient shorelines can still be spotted (check out this video about how lake levels fluctuated). Sometimes it's fun to pretend that we're scuba diving and what creatures we would see in the lake with us.

Hardpans or playas are just so much fun. You can go where ever you want! I wrote a fun post about playas and their many uses in 2012.

I was attracted to the patterns on the playa.

Meanwhile, back on the dunes, Desert Boy was still sleeping.

So much of Tule Valley is dry. But in the middle of the valley, Tule Valley springs bubbles. The word "tule" means large bulrush.

It was fun walking around Tule Spring.

In Upper Tule Spring, not far from the corral, we even caught a Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris)! Even more reason to protect the scarce water out there. But you might not want to go for a swim--from researching this blog post, it looks like there might be leeches in the springs, too!
Those are a few things that make Tule Valley a special place. We still would like to check out the stromatolites on Chalk Knolls. Here's a video of someone going to the lowest spot in Millard County, which happens to be in Tule Valley, at 4,308 ft! Someone could hike from the lowest to the highest spot in Millard County and basically stay in Tule Valley. Do you know of any other cool things to see in Tule Valley? If so, please share!

Tule Valley isn't for everybody, and that's a good thing. It's quiet and isolated, remote and subtly beautiful, hot in the summer and freezing in winter. We look forward to visiting again.
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