Botanizing Tonopah Junction

Tonopah Junction simmers in the summer heat of the vast and nearly uninhabited Soda Spring Valley in Mineral County, Nevada. In the southern, lowest part of the valley lies the crusty and mostly glaring-white bed of Rhodes Marsh, which is itself a remnant of Pleistocene Lake Rhodes. US Highway 95 skirts the lake bed, a little north of half-way from Hawthorne to Tonopah.

So, why botanize here? Twice this year I’ve stopped near the intersection of US-95 and NV-360, curious to look at the sand dunes southwest of Rhodes Marsh to see if Dune horsebrush (Tetradymia tetrameres) or other interesting dune endemics might be found here. Neither early April nor late August were botanically optimal times to visit. June might be the time to find the greatest number of plants in bloom.

Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus). Smoke from fires in the Sierra Nevada are obscuring the Candelaria Hills.

This is not a tall, impressive dune system, though it covers about 1.5 square miles. The dunes are all low and stabilized by vegetation. In spite of (or maybe because of) these characteristics, such dunes can provide habitat for some interesting plants (and invertebrates). The dunes near Tonopah Junction are all anchored beneath greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus); many also have Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra) on their sides or in swales between the dunes. I believe I saw one Naked spiderflower (Carsonia sparsifolia) seedling in April, but it was far from flowering yet. I would expect to find Nevada wormwood (Euphrosyne nevadensis) here during the summer. In late August, an acre or more of the distinctive skeleton-like remains of Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) was seen. I’ve yet to find Dune horsebrush there, but remain hopeful.

Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Nothing is left of the historic Carson and Colorado Railway and station at Tonopah Junction apart from an eroded roadbed and some debris. The only attraction left here is the ruin of an old stone house, now sadly filled with trash and defaced by graffiti. This was apparently part of Sully’s Tourist Camp, started by C.E. “Sully” Sullivan of Hawthorne in 1937. It looks as though the project was never completed—which is sad, because I think this would be a delightful place to rent a rustic cabin, tepee, or yurt for a few days. There’s hardly any information about Sully’s on the internet, but Tami, at the the Gouge Eye Chronicle blog, has unearthed a few details.

Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction

Anyone looking to make useful contributions to the documentation of biodiversity in the Great Basin on iNaturalist might consider an expedition to Rhodes Marsh, Teels Marsh (in the next valley to the west), and the surrounding hills. Very few observations or collections have been made in this area.

Tonopah Junction and Sully’s Tourist Camp (Source: Google Earth, 2021)
Other-worldly patterns in Rhodes Salt Marsh (Source: Google Earth, 2021)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.

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