Tag Archives: Mineral County

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.

Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2021 Edition!

Cover of the March 2021 edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills

The 2021 edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills is now available as a free PDF on the Downloads page.

This new edition is at last more of a proper “Flora” than an “Annotated Checklist,” because it now includes keys to all of the species. It includes keys to families and genera too, except for two (not so minor) exceptions: the key to dicot families (class Magnoliopsida) and the key to grass genera (family Poaceae) are still in progress. These are both very challenging technically, whether they are built up from scratch or simplified down from existing keys that encompass many more taxa in a much wider area than the Bodie Hills. I hope to add those last two keys in a future edition.

Adding numerous keys and several more species has stretched the document to 116 letter-size pages. Note that you have 2 options for how to use it: 1) load the PDF onto a mobile device or 2) print the PDF yourself.

  • Using a mobile device: I’ve found the PDF to be quite readable on my iPhone 8+ (in the Books app), although it helps that I’m near-sighted. It’s even easier to read on an iPad, other tablet, or laptop. A phone or tablet is pretty easy to carry in the field, but you may want to secure it with a lanyard or wrist strap. (Personally, I like the ones from PodFob.)
  • Printing the PDF: You can print the PDF yourself or at a local print shop, but I highly recommend printing it 2-sided to conserve paper and reduce bulk and weight in the field. A comb or spiral binding, binder clip, or other binding will hold it together.

Your additions, corrections, comments, or questions are always welcome.

Happy botanizing!

Flower field west of Lakeview Spring. Dunderberg Peak and other high Sierran summits in the distance.
Amelanchier utahensis (Utah service berry) on Masonic Mountain.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.

Of Bear Poops and Rose Hips (or, Carnivores and Ungulates) in the Bodie Hills

Bear poop

I’ve seen some bear scats in my years of rambling the Sierra Nevada, but none as massive as the ones I encountered on Coyote Springs Road, in lower Bridgeport Canyon, in the Bodie Hills last fall. For sheer volume (8-10 inches wide and about 4 inches high), abundance (at least 6 of these in the space of a quarter mile) and colorfulness (bright red), these take the cake. Contents: no scraps of plastic, ripstop nylon, or snack bar wrappers, as you sometimes see in Yosemite. No, sir, these beauties were almost entirely rose hips.

Bear poop

Sensing their freshness and knowing that this road sees little vehicular traffic, I immediately looked around for paw prints. And there they were: dozens of bear-sized footprints, with clear impressions of soles and toes, wandering north in the shallow dust of the road.

Bear print

Bear track on Coyote Springs Road (with 6-inch ruler)

Since we’re sharing poo pix, I’ll add just one more. Not from the Bodie Hills, but close enough. This cougar (mountain lion) scat was found on Dobie Meadows Road (a.k.a. Deep Wells Road or 3N01), right at the summit between the Mono Basin and Adobe Valley drainages (same place as the Pleistocene spillway from Lake Russel into Adobe Valley and the Owens River). Big cats definitely roam the Bodie Hills too, but they are few and far between. Many years ago, after making a solo ascent of Potato Peak, I was informed by a BLM biologist that a mountain lion had been seen (perhaps denning?) near the summit.

Cougar poop

Mountain lion poo on Dobie Meadows Road


All of which might lead one to ask: What other native large mammals occur today in the Bodie Hills? Or, let’s just include all of the carnivores, some of whom are relatively small. And let’s exclude the non-natives: domestic cattle, hoofed locusts (domestic sheep), and feral domestic horses. Aside from my meager observations, the list below is based on Mammals of the Mono Lake-Tioga Pass Region (John Harris, Kutsavi Books 1982), observations on iNaturalist, and a query of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) database.

Order Carnivora (Carnivores)

  • Canidae (Dogs, Foxes): Coyote are common throughout the region. Grey fox are likely also present: a road kill was identified at Willow Springs and there’s a 1980 report from the southeastern Bodie Hills.
  • Felidae (Cats): Mountain lion have been seen on Potato Peak and could occur nearly anywhere in the Bodie Hills. They are to be expected wherever deer occur. Bobcat (lynx) may also be present.
  • Mephitidae (Skunks): Striped skunk is probably in the area, favoring meadow and riparian habitats. The more nocturnally active spotted skunk may be present too, favoring drier, rockier habitats.
  • Mustelidae (Weasels, Badgers): American mink have been seen at Bridgeport and along the East Walker River. River otters are also present along the East Walker River. Long-tailed weasels probably occur near water sources in the Bodie Hills. Short-tailed weasels have been observed at Bodie and in pinyon-juniper woodland in the southern Bodie Hills, but they are more typically found in lodgepole pine forests of the Sierra Nevada. American badgers are to be expected throughout the area. Dens appearing to be those of badgers and a partial skull, possibly of a badger, have been seen near Chemung Lake.
  • Procyonidae (Raccoons): Common racoon may be present along Virginia Creek and the East Walker River.
  • Ursidae (Bears): American black bear (and their scat) have been observed throughout the western Bodie Hills.

Badger Den

A presumptive badger burrow near Chemung Lake

Order Artiodactyla (Even-toed Ungulates)

  • Cervidae (Deer): Mule deer are common, at least in the vicinity of meadows, streams, and woodlands. The East Walker and Mono Lake mule deer herds migrate through the East Walker River corridor and the southern Bodie Hills between their winter and summer ranges.
  • Antilocapridae (Pronghorn): The Bodie Hills pronghorn herd (a.k.a the Bodie-Wassuk interstate herd), winters in Mineral and Lyon Counties, and summers primarily in the Bodie Hills in Mono County. The herd was originally established in 1946 when 32 animals obtained from Lassen County were reintroduced north of Mono Lake. As of about 2012, the Bodie Hills herd was estimated at up to 150 animals and the population was considered stable (source).
  • Bovidae (Cattle, Sheep, Goats): Desert bighorn sheep have been observed at the north edge of the Bodie Hills, near “The Elbow” in the East Walker River. The southeast portion of the Pine Grove Hills (north of the river) has been mapped as “Bighorn Sheep Occupied Habit“.

Mule Deer

Mule deer near Murphy Spring

Pronghorn

Pronghorn in the central Bodie Hills

Desert Bighorn

Desert bighorn sheep just south of The Elbow

Those are the “large” mammals, plus the other not-so-large carnivores. A much greater number of “small” mammal species (moles, bats, rabbits, and rodents) occur in the area. Apart from a few studies focused on pika, small mammals are even less well surveyed and documented than the larger species, so it’s difficult to compile a list with much certainty. I’ll leave that list for a later post.

Overall, there are few well documented and confirmed observations for most of the mammal species expected to occur in the Bodie Hills area. Opportunities abound to observe mammals large and small in the Bodie Hills and contribute data to iNaturalist or your favorite university MVZ!

Too Many Sheep

Too Many Sheep (Mormon Meadow)


Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.
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