Plants of Hot Springs Valley: a New Checklist

Phlox diffusa

A couple of years ago, at Grover Hot Springs State Park (in Alpine County, California), I asked if they had a list of plants in the park. “No, but we would sure like one!” So I Googled the topic and found that a botanical survey had been prepared by a group from UC Davis several years earlier, focusing on the flora and plant communities in the meadows and adjacent forest within the park boundaries.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

Near Hot Springs Creek, in the middle of Hot Springs Valley

The field surveys were conducted in 2010 by Ellen Dean and colleagues from the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity. The report was submitted to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2011. This survey was very thorough, but it didn’t encompass all of Hot Springs Valley, some of which is outside the park boundaries, within Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Most of the trail to the waterfalls at the west end of the valley (a popular hiking destination) is outside the UC Davis survey area.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

Hot Springs Valley and the alkaline meadows below the springs

I wanted a list for the whole valley—covering as much as possible of the areas commonly seen by visitors throughout Hot Springs Valley. So over the last couple of summers I’ve explored the valley and added a few dozen species to the 278 taxa listed in the UC Davis report. I contacted Ellen Dean, who kindly agreed to review and co-author the combined list, providing some other additions and corrections.

Map of Hot Springs Valley

I also prepared a new map of the area. Elevation contours are from the USGS Markleeville quad; trails, roads, and lower Buck Creek are redrawn from Google Earth.

The printed list is available at the park (unless they run out), or you can download a PDF to print yourself, right here. (It’s also on the Plant Lists and Floras page at the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity—go see what else they have to offer.)

Grover Hot Springs is nearly a two-hour drive from Bodie, but these places are connected: they are the two oldest California State Parks on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, the Friends of Grover Hot Springs is a branch of the Bodie Foundation, and over a period of many years, numerous staff have worked at both parks. Now you can also download plant lists for both areas from the same web page.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

The pools at Grover Hot Springs


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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Another Swarm of Quakes

Late last December, three moderate earthquakes hit Fletcher Valley and rattled much of the eastern Sierra Nevada. An historic stone building at Ninemile Ranch was seriously damaged, and brick walls all around Bodie were tested for their strength. Every day since that event, very small aftershocks have continued to jiggle the valley east of the Bodie Hills.

2017-04-14 Fletcher quakes map

This week, another concentrated swarm of very small quakes (magnitude 0.1 to 2.6) has appeared under Alkali Valley, about 10 miles southeast of the Fletcher Valley epicenters, just east of Mt. Hicks, at the eastern corner of the Bodie Hills. The aftershocks have been tapering off in Fletcher Valley (only 28 in the last 7 days), but Alkali Valley has felt 120 tremors in just the last 2 days. The maps above and below are from the US Geological Survey’s “Latest Earthquakes” web map of the area (to which I’ve added some place names).

2017-04-14 Fletcher quakes context

Will Alkali Valley experience a stronger event soon—one that people in the area could actually feel? Maybe not. We’ll see. The region east of Mono Lake and the Bodie Hills is part of a seismically active region along the west edge of the Great Basin, known as the Walker Lane. Just 4 miles north of the Alkali Valley tremors is the most recent volcanic feature adjacent to the Bodie Hills—the late Pleistocene (less than 100,000 years old) trachyandesite lava dome of Mud Spring. Earlier in the Pleistocene, Lake Russel (the much larger ancestral Mono Lake) actually overflowed northward from what is now Alkali Valley, into Fletcher Valley and the East Walker River. Volcanism and uplift in the Mount Hicks area eventually raised the outlet higher than the fluctuating lake level, and a different spillway developed later, southeastward into Adobe Valley.

This is an actively evolving terrain, even on a human timescale. That’s just one of the reasons I love the Great Basin and eastern Sierra Nevada landscape.

UPDATE a week later: 204 quakes in the Alkali Valley area during the last 7 days. The strongest, magnitude 3.1.


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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A Peat Bog in the High Desert

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

There’s a tiny peat bog (about one-half acre in area) within a somewhat larger meadow (about 1 acre) in Cinnabar Canyon in the Bodie Hills. The most abundant and characteristic plant in this meadow is a Sphagnum, or peat moss (possibly S. fimbriatum, but this needs to be checked using the most recent keys). The peat growth is deep and spongy wet, even late into the dry season. Water seeps slowly from a spring at the highest point in the meadow. Vascular plants in the meadow include abundant Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Tufted hair grass (Deschanpsia cespitosa), with a few very scrawny Swamp laurel (Kalmia polifolia) plants. The Kalmia was probably more robust and much more at home here during the cooler climate of the Little Ice Age (circa 1300 to 1850).

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Sphagnum sp.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Kalmia polifolia

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Carex and Deschampsia

This place fills me with questions, but skimming through the on-line literature about peat bogs in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada reveals very few answers.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Why is this bog here? What is it about the geology, hydrology, or history if this place that led to the formation (or persistence?) of a bog here, and not in any number of other seemingly similar meadows? Why aren’t there more peaty wet meadows in the Bodie Hills? (There is a suggestion in the literature of just one other that I haven’t seen, near Dry Lakes Plateau.)

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

How long has the peat bog been here? Peat deposits at other locations in the Great Basin and beyond (some actively growing, some not) have been examined to determine the relative abundance of different kinds of pollen and diatoms at various depths. The peat deposits can be dated at various depths with the aid of identifiable volcanic ash layers. These findings are used to infer changes in vegetation and climate over centuries or millennia. I’m not a palynologist, but I would love to know what a few core samples might tell us about the history of this place.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Are there invertebrates that favor peat bogs, and are they present here? Is there anything unusual about the chemistry of the water in this spring? The water feels cold, but how does the hydrology of this meadow relate to the band of hydrothermal activity (some still active, some long dormant) extending from roughly Cinnabar Canyon northwest to near Bridgeport?

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

The spring

Unfortunately, the meadow is not in the best of shape. I wish it could be fenced. Trampling by sheep has disturbed the surface and shallow subsurface of the growing peat layer. (But it looked about the same 35 years ago.) This trampling probably reduces the abundance of some plants, degrades the habitat for some invertebrates, and introduces nutrients unfavorable to some of the flora and fauna here.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Trampled peat

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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