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.
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.
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.
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.
EARLIER THIS YEAR I posted a preliminary checklist of plants in and around Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in northwestern Nye County, Nevada. I’ve expanded that list so that it’s now the first edition of a “guide” to the flora there. It’s intended to help visitors who are curious about plant life in the area recognize some of the rich biodiversity of this park and the central Great Basin region. This is a free PDF you can obtain from my Downloads page.
Native and naturalized plant species are listed by major taxonomic group (Gymnosperms, Dicots, and Monocots), then alphabetically by family and species. Each plant is described very briefly with regard to its habitat and/or location in the park, plus a few prominent identifying characteristics. I also prepared a new map of the area, derived from USGS topographic quadrangles (edited in Adobe Illustrator, with Avenza MAPublisher). Sorry, no illustrations yet. . . perhaps in a future edition.
This is still a work in progress. Some identifications may be incorrect and some are uncertain for plants that should keyed again with better flowering or fruiting material. Additional plants not yet included are to be expected, especially among the grasses and the annual dicots. (Please let me know if you have additions or corrections!)
Not surprisingly, the genus genus Astragalus (Milkvetches or Locoweeds) appears to be the most diverse genus in the area, with at least 7 species. Penstemon (Beardtongues) and Eriogonum (Wild-buckwheats) come in a close second, with at least 5 species in each. The largest plant families include Asteraceae (Sunflower family) with at least 20 species, Brassicaceae (Mustard family) with at least 13 species, and Fabaceae (Pea family) with at least 11 species.
Looking west from Berlin (Ione Valley and the Paradise Range)
Over the last couple of springs and summers I’ve made an effort to become more familiar with the flora of the central and western Great Basin, east of Mono County and the Bodie Hills. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, in northwestern Nye County, has become a favorite destination. Searching the internet for information about the flora of this area turned up very little, so that was reason enough to focus on compiling an initial catalog of plant life in this very pleasant and remote unit of the Nevada State Parks.
Trail near the campground
Berlin-Ichthyosaur sits at about the 7,000-foot elevation on the west slope of the Shoshone Range, overlooking Ione Valley. The park features the remains of Berlin (a mining town active from about 1863 to 1911), a large fossil shelter housing in-situ fossilized remains of several Ichthyosaurs (the Nevada state fossil), a campground, several trails, quiet solitude, and much plant and animal life to explore.
Were it not for the pandemic, I would be there again this month, looking for additions and corrections to my list. Later this year, I hope. For now, though, there’s enough in the list to make it worth sharing as a first-draft work-in-progress. I hope readers will find it interesting, take it as a challenge to find more species, and contact me with corrections, additions, or comments. You can find this first edition (a 2-page PDF) and any subsequent revisions on my Downloads page.
Photographs of many of the plants in this list (and a few other life forms) can be found here, on iNaturalist.
All photos, maps, and text are copyright Tim Messick 2015-2021, except where other sources are given credit. All rights reserved. No copying or modification without written permission. Links are welcome. Thanks!