Tag Archives: Great Basin

What we found on Highway 6.

Driving from Baker, Nevada to Mammoth Lakes, California took most of the day, and filled our vision with wide views. Pippin took the picture above showing one fine example.

We stopped within a few minutes to take pictures of clouds. Scout rode with me for a while, long enough to tell me stories of third-century Rome, especially of the tetrarchy of the the emperor Diocletian. When we pulled over for car and human fuel Ivy took his place, and for about an hour we didn’t have enough of a mobile signal to listen to a book together, so I asked her to tell me about The Black Stallion, which she read very recently. She is a good storyteller; I think she remembered more details from her first reading than I even noticed the last time I read it.

As soon as possible, we started listening to The Call of the Wild, which she chose from my Audible library. I hadn’t read it since I was just a little older than she is now. We finished the whole book during our drive, and Ivy paid close attention. The next day on the trail, she was composing poems as we hiked, one of them about a husky dog in the northern wilds.

We saw plenty of mountains in the distance as we pushed on toward California, but the plant life seemed thin. Only when we parked our cars along a wide spot in the road in the Stone Cabin Valley did Pippin and I see the truth. Darling and diminutive flowers in a rainbow of pastel colors were scattered all over the gravelly sand.

The Professor was amused at the sight of our happiness in what many would call a “godforsaken place,” as we scanned the ground for just one more version of what the Seek app told us was “Saltlover.” Here is the picture he took of us:

What we learned later when we were able to research it online was surprising and a little sad. This plant Halogeton glomeratus is not a native plant but was introduced from Russia and China; it is a noxious weed of the amaranth family in rangelands of the American West, because of what it does to livestock and to the soil. Grazing sheep are especially vulnerable and can be killed by the high levels of oxalates it contains, and the mineral salts it excretes into the soil make it hard for other plants to survive. Two different species of plants have been introduced that tolerate the salts and might compete under the harsh conditions of that territory. The seeds of Saltlover “have the ability to germinate within one hour after being exposed to water.” That is vigor!

A bright orange flower stood up above these little spires in a few places, the Desert Globe Mallow:

And colorful rocks also caught our eye. I wanted to take this big one home,road but after I dislodged it I could see it was too large and heavy:

Not to worry, several other smaller ones were just as brilliant, and before we piled in our cars again and continued on our journey, I had squeezed a few in the back of my Subaru. I told the children that when I die, they should be sure to take these rocks out of my garden and keep them as their own continuing memorials to the time Grandma came along on their mountain and desert explorations.

The Secret Pass to the Ruby Valley

I took this one last picture from the campground, and shortly afterward we left Lamoille and drove north and east and then south for several hours. The first hour and more were on gravel roads with miles of washboard bumps and billows of dust, but they all passed through spectacular expanses of wild country that shared some qualities of other arid lands, but were different in the shapes and colors of the mountains, and in the varieties of plants. Soon enough these lonely roads took us over the Secret Pass to the eastern side of the Ruby Mountains.

Ivy looked over the barbed wire fence at the view above and said, “It looks like wild horses should be running out there.” We had stopped our cars on the shoulder of the highway, and all six emerged to stretch our legs and look, and take pictures. But immediately Pippin said, “Oooh, the smell of the sagebrush….”

Broom Snakeweed

She had been riding with me, and I’d had the windows closed so we could hear each other talk; the sudden breaking into our senses of the warm and sweet aroma of the deserty plants, with the pungent dominance of Common Sagebrush… that was what I wanted more than any photograph, to put in a bottle and take home with me.

As we were standing there breathing and trying to take in everything, a big pickup appeared and stopped in the middle of the road, and a gray-haired man spoke to us through the window, with his engine running. “Welcome to the Ruby Valley,” he said. He told us that the little valley we were looking up at higher in the mountains, with splashes of yellow aspen, and some other plants turning red and orange, was named Joe Billy Basin, and his brother runs cattle up there.

He himself has a hay and grain business in the valley, and he hospitably invited us to “come back anytime.” We were still talking the next day about the unusual meeting and human warmth we had experienced in those few minutes — a person who loves his place and feels such ownership of it that he can spot a few souls who are kindred enough to be obviously appreciating what he also doesn’t take for granted.

This trip across Nevada might be called a Great Basin journey. The Great Basin is an area of the western United States most often defined hydrologically as in the map below, an area where the waterways do not flow to the ocean. We had now arrived on the other side, the east side of the Ruby Mountains, which, to answer Martha’s question from my last post, are said to be named after the garnets that early explorers found.

The family are camping in Great Basin National Park, and I have been staying 2,000 feet down the mountain in Baker, Nevada. My husband and I came to this place with our children when they were small, and I am thrilled to explore again with one of those children now that she is grown up and camping herself. The campground by Baker Creek has forests of wild roses, now covered with hips, and their leaves turning yellow and orange.

Jamie drew in his nature journal a picture of the rose hips, and a dragon making a meal of them. Ivy and I explored the creek, which runs right by the campsite. I collected sand for my collection in a snack bag, and while I was taking pictures of thistles she spotted a coyote by the creek.

Our day was mostly consumed by an experience I didn’t get in this park on our last visit, a hike to the Bristlecone Pines that have grown here for millennia, and to see a glacier! Other joys of the hike were various species of conifers that we adults are always trying to learn better and distinguish from one another, the local ones in this case being Limber Pines, Bristlecone Pines, Piñon Pines and Engelmann Spruce.

By the way, the Seek app we have found of no help, unless you are someone who is happy enough to be informed that the tree you are looking at is a Conifer. Here Pippin is holding a Piñon pine nut cone, in which all the nuts seem to have either not developed, or been eaten by some insect. She foraged through many cones and nuts under these trees but never found a good nut.

The talus below the active glacier, along the three mile trail that climbs up to the glacier, is the most colorful and lovely you could ever see. I may have to do a post of only rocks, to show you what variety there is. Pippin and I could not stop taking pictures of the marble-like slabs and blocks that came in blues, purples, orange and pink, often striped and patched with contrasting colors composing the most sublime abstract designs, not modern but as ancient as the mountains.

As we climbed up the rocky trail to over 10,000 feet elevation, we were surprised to see flowers still in bloom. Occasionally drops of rain began to fall on us but we didn’t actually get wet; some of the pretty rocks got prettier by the moisture. Below, the active glacier a the top of the moraine can be seen by the lines of white to the middle right of the picture.

Above, one of the weathered Bristlecones that are thousands of years old. I wrote about my visit with my late husband to see these trees in the White Mountains ten years ago; here in the national park is the only other place in the Great Basin where trails have made viewing of them possible.

My back and knees are a bit strained from the various exertions of the last few days, but I’m eager for the mountain adventures yet to come, and grateful also for my readers’ vicarious enjoyment with me. I hope to be back soon with more!

Lamoille

I am in Nevada with Pippin’s family. We met last night in Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains, after they had driven one long day to get here, and I had taken two shorter days. I arrived less than two hours before them, because I dawdled so much on the way — which was, after all, what I had made provision for by traveling in a more leisurely way.

But did you know that the speed limit is often 80 mph in the wide open spaces of Nevada? Though that aspect of my journey might not seem leisurely, I did very much enjoy the hours of passing through ever-changing magnificent rock formations and groupings of different colors and textures of sage and other scrub brush. I had lingered over breakfast with friends in Reno yesterday and appreciated being able to take my leisure at high speed.


I wish I could write one of my leisurely travelogues, too, but I prefer to give my time to gawking at monoliths, studying beaver dams, and walking up Lamoille Creek to the place where the grandchildren have their fairy houses and boats (built for toy dragons nowadays).

But  I’d like to show you enough pictures to make a proper representation of this glorious place. I am staying in an Airbnb lodging on a cattle and chicken ranch with a view of those Ruby Mountains out my bedroom window. I can see the stars from my bed at night, and it takes only 15 minutes to drive up to the campsite where the rest of the group are staying. Their campsite looks very much like the one that our family used more than 30 years ago, and Pippin does remember being here.

We’ll be in Nevada for a couple more days, and I hope to post again about my expedition.

We return to the secret Warners.

Jess Valley in the Fall

I was sitting on a log with my husband, in the middle of a tall forest. We were on our way back to the trailhead and not in a hurry to leave. “It’s so quiet,” I said. “You can’t hear a clock ticking, or a car on a road…”

“But you can hear pine needles falling on the ground,” said my companion.

That deep quiet is one of the things we love about the Warner Mountains and this whole corner of the state, Modoc County and much of Siskiyou County. You might go for several hours, as we did, and not see another soul.

“The Warner Range is not part of the Sierra Nevada range or the Cascade Range, but part of the Great Basin Ranges,” you will learn if you read the very short Wikipedia article on them. The Warners extend into Oregon, as you can see from the map at right.

This area is like a secret treasure. The forest and blue sky (we were hiking at over 6,000 feet elevation) seemed to belong to us alone. And it is true that few Californians have been here or even know anything about this hinterland.

Warner view 2003

Ten years ago we came here for the first time, with some of our children, and camped in the summertime. We hiked on the same Slide Creek Trail, out of Soup Springs Campground. I’m posting some pictures of that visit, when the main difference in the scenery was the source of yellow highlights in the views. Earlier in the year it was fields of mule’s ears (Wyethia) that made the bright splashes, but now it is aspen trees turning color.

Mule’s Ears Summer 2003

The mule’s ears have thick leaves when they are green, and after they are dried up, before they lie down on the ground, they clatter sharply in the wind. The aspens make a more whispery noise.

Jess Valley 2003

In 2003 we had stopped in Jess Valley at the corner of Road 64, because the setting of the farms between mountain ranges was perfect for taking pictures. I recognized the spot when we went by and we stopped again for more.

The air is so clean up there, it makes you want to breathe deeply and refresh every cell in your body before you have to go down to the valley again.

by Mill Creek
What the mule’s ears look like now

Our hike wasn’t the only thing worth remembering of last week’s trip, so I will try to write again soon on the culture and events of this out-of-the-way part of our fair state.

Two Glad girls by Mill Creek – 2003