Tag Archives: Travertine Hot Springs

Botanizing the Bodie Hills

A rainy day at Bodie

A rainy day at Bodie

Earlier this year I was asked to contribute an article for the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership newsletter and web site on Botany in the Bodie Hills. That was a tightly edited version for a general audience. Here, for the intrepid reader, is a slightly longer version with more details (and more photos).

The early months of 2019 were uncommonly wet in the Bodie Hills, so the soils were saturated, the creeks were flowing, and the seasonal “dry lakes” contained standing water. Years like this are especially good for exploring plant life in the Bodie Hills. At least 640 (possibly as many as 750) different species and varieties of plants occur in the Bodie Hills. This impressive diversity is due in large part to the variety of habitats and plant communities and other environmental gradients across the area.

Eriogonum on a hill south of Bodie

Eriogonum caespitosum on a hill south of Bodie

Most of the range is clothed in sagebrush scrub (dominated by Artemisia tridentata) and pinyon-juniper woodland (Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma). These plant communities contain much more plant diversity than is apparent at first glance. Moisture and temperature gradients from the west to east sides of the range and from low to high elevations contribute to this diversity.

The western slope and central highlands of the Bodie Hills (facing Bridgeport Valley and the Sierra Nevada) are home to many plants that are common in the Eastern Sierra region. Among these you will find perennials like antelope brush (Purshia tridentata), desert peach (Prunus andersonii), spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius), desert paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), Great Basin wild-buckwheat (E. microthecum), several kinds of milkvetch or locoweed (Astragalus spp.), and others. There are native perennial grasses such as squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), sand ricegrass (Stipa hymenoides), Great Basin wild-rye (Elymus cinereus), several kinds of bluegrass (Poa spp.), and others. In spring and early summer you will see annuals including the bright yellow Brewer’s navarretia (Navarretia breweri), pale blue Wilcox’s woollystar (Eriastrum wilcoxii), and several white-flowered cryptanthas (Cryptantha spp.), and many annual wild-buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.).

Morning in Bridgeport Canyon

Morning in Bridgeport Canyon:
sagebrush scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland

The lower east and north slopes of the Bodie Hills (on the Nevada side, facing the Pine Grove Hills, Fletcher Valley, and Wassuk Range) is home to many other plants associated with desert floras of the Great Basin and northern Mojave. The woody ones include winter fat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), three kinds of saltbush (Atriplex spp.), Nevada ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis), Bailey’s greasewood (Sarcobatus baileyi), budsage (Artemisia spinescens), spiney horsebrush (Tetradymia spinosa), and others. Herbaceous wildflowers in this category include globose springparsley (Cymopterus globosus), Nevada suncup (Eremothera nevadensis), shortstem lupine (Lupinus brevicaulis), and the small but spectacular ground nama (Nama aretioides).

North side of the Bodie Hills, Road NF 128

Low on the north side of the Bodie Hills, on road NF 128

From the “Elbow” bend of the East Walker River to Potato Peak in the center of the Bodie Hills, elevations range from about 5,600 to over 10,200 feet above sea level. Heat intensity and length of growing season vary a lot over these 4,600 feet, so the shoulders and summits of the highest peaks support plants you might not expect to find in the Bodie Hills. Above about 9,800 feet on Bodie Mountain and Potato Peak you will find sub-alpine and alpine plants more commonly seen in the high Sierra Nevada. These include bush cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), Eschscholtz’s buttercup (Ranunculus eschscholtzii var. oxynotus), mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), alpine hulsea (Hulsea algida), and Brewer’s draba (Draba breweri). A few of the highest peaks (Bodie Mountain, East Brawley Peak, and Mt. Hicks) also support small stands of limber pine (Pinus flexilis).

East Walker River at The Elbow

East Walker River at The Elbow (elev. 5,600 ft)

Potato Peak from the north side of Bodie Mountain

Potato Peak (elev. 10,237 ft) from the north side of Bodie Mountain

Snow accumulation sites are common on the steep north and east slopes of peaks and ridges. These areas tend to have sandier soils, extra spring moisture, and shorter growing seasons. At mid-elevations these are often where you find groves of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). At higher elevations (as along the Bodie-Masonic Road), these places may support small stands of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and other plants less common in the surrounding sagebrush, like dwarf lupine (Lupinus lepidus) and Parry’s goldenbush (Ericameria parryi).

A snow accumulation site

Lots of lupines in a snow accumulation site north of Potato Peak

Aquatic plants have limited opportunities to thrive in the Bodie Hills, and in dry years they may not be able to grow at all. In wet years, at places like Dry Lakes Plateau and Chemung Lake (on the northwest side of Masonic Mountain), spikerush (Eleocharis macrostachya) will be standing a few feet tall in the shallow water. Water mudwort (Limosella aquatica) and the tiny smallflower gymnosteris (Gymnosteris parvula) may be abundant around the receding shorelines. As the soil dries out, the bright yellow flowers of tansy-leaf evening primrose (Taraxia tanacetifolia) will light up the lake beds, which may be visible from miles away.

Throughout the Bodie Hills are creeks, springs, and meadows where greater moisture and richer soils provide habitat for plants that need to keep their feet wet. These include many different sedges, grasses and rushes. Common shrubs along creeks and around springs include several different willows (but mostly narrow-leaf or coyote willow, Salix exigua), Woods rose (Rosa woodsii), aspens (Populus tremuloides) and occasionally buffalo berry (Shepherdia argentea). Clearwater Creek and Mormon Meadow, both along the paved highway to Bodie, are good places to explore these habitats.

Mormon Meadow

Mormon Meadow (before the sheep move in)

Additional plant diversity is made possible by variations in geology throughout the area. For example, Travertine Hot Springs, a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern just east of Bridgeport, has extensive wet, alkaline soils and crumbling travertine crusts that support plants uncommon or absent elsewhere in the Bodie Hills. Older sites of ancient hydrothermal (hot spring) activity have altered soils (often white or yellow in color) that absorb more water and support isolated patches of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi).

Travertine Hot Springs

Arrowgrass (Triglochin) at Travertine Hot Springs

High on Masonic Mountain, which is mostly granitic, you will find a spike-moss (Selaginella watsonii) and Torrey’s milkvetch (Astragalus calycosus) which are common on high Sierran granites, but rare in the Bodie Hills. Chalky white Miocene lakebed deposits are exposed several places in the eastern Bodie Hills, north of Aurora. At least one uncommon species of wild-buckwheat (Eriogonum alexanderae) is found only on these soils.

Masonic Mointain

On Masonic Mountain, looking toward the summit

But listing and naming these plants can’t possibly convey the delight of finding them in the field. So, during your next visit to the Bodie Hills, make an extra stop or two at a meadow, hilltop, aspen grove, or any bright splash of color in the sagebrush, and see how many different plants, flower colors, and growth forms you can find. Notice the insects that visit them and the geology under foot.

You can download the free PDF annotated checklist of plants in the Bodie Hills HERE. To see what plants and wildlife other people are observing throughout the Bodie Hills, visit www.inaturalist.org/places/bodie-hills.

Mt Biedeman and aspens

Mt. Biedeman and a grove of aspens


Copyright © Tim Messick 2019. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST

Juniper Galls in the Bodie Hills

Juniper galls

Back in May, while skittering down a slope of trachyandesitic scree near Travertine Hot Springs, I encountered a Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) with anomalous growths at the ends of a few branchlets. Having recently read up on some galls on oaks at Grover Hot Springs, and galls on sagebrush beside the East Walker River, I thought another wasp or midge might be at work here.

Who did this? Sources I’ve found on the internet suggest it’s a still undescribed species of Juniper gall midge (Walshomyia sp.). See CalPhotos for another image (and another). Gall midges are tiny flies (Order Diptera) in the family Cecidomyiidae, subfamily Cecidomyiinae. Walshomyia includes the Juniper urn gall midge (W. juniperina), whose gall I’ve seen on a juniper at Grover Hot Springs, and the Cypress gall midge (W. cupressi).

At a glance, I can’t tell if these galls are developing on the apical buds of branchlets or on the young seed cones of these trees (normal growth shown below).

Utah juniper fruits

Below: Juniper gall midge habitat on a hill between Travertine Hot Springs and Bridgeport Valley. Buckeye Canyon and Flatiron Ridge in the background.

Junipers on scree


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST

 

A Botanical Treasure Hunt

The Bodie Hills are well known for the mineral wealth extracted at several locations, especially Bodie Bluff. There are more riches in these hills than just gold and silver, however. Numerous plants occur in the Bodie Hills that are limited in distribution to relatively small areas of eastern California and western Nevada. Some of these are restricted to unusual soils or microenvironments. These plants have no known “uses” or monetary value to people, but they are treasured elements of the biological diversity of this area.

I recently joined some friends from the California Native Plant Society for a “Rare Plant Treasure Hunt” in the Bodie Hills. Our quest was to confirm the continued presence of some of these plants at previously documented locations in the Bodie Hills. It was late July, a time when many of the mustards, annuals, and other early-flowering plants had already dried up and broken apart, no longer identifiable to species. So we explored the higher elevations on Bodie Mountain and the perennially moist areas at Travertine Hot Springs.

Bodie Mountain

Bodie Mountain

On Bodie Mountain, one of our party was looking for Valeriana pubicarpa (Valerian), collected in this area (probably near where Geiger Grade crosses Rough Creek) by Annie Alexander and Louise Kellogg on July 2, 1945. It hasn’t been seen since, although the similar Valeriana californica is also in this area. The valerians had finished blooming for this year, though, and I didn’t see any.

Several other interesting, locally uncommon plants were doing well on the steep, rocky, northern slopes of Bodie Mountain. These slopes are colder, wetter habitats than the surrounding sagebrush, because they accumulate more snow during winter and thus have a longer, cooler spring season than the rest of the mountain. More about this another time, but one very characteristic plant of these areas is Heuchera parvifolia (Little-leaf alum-root).

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

Back in the day, these plants were recognized as a related, but separate species, Heuchera duranii, with a distribution limited to the White Mountains and other high ranges of the far western Great Basin. With more collecting throughout the Great Basin in recent decades, though, H. duranii has come to be considered within the geographical and morphological limits of H. parviflora, and H. duranii has faded into synonymy.

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

The next day we strolled around Travertine Hot Springs (see also the previous post), looking for Mentzelia torreyi (Torrey’s blazing star). The larger-flowered Mentzelias, the “blazing stars,” are summer-blooming plants, so late July was exactly the right time to be seeking this one.

Travertine Hot Springs

Biologists at Travertine Hot Springs

We found numerous small, widely scattered patches of M. torreyi. It seems to be doing well here, mostly undisturbed by visitors coming for a dip in the hot spring pools.

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Torrey’s blazing star is known from several other locations in eastern California and at numerous locations across central and northern Nevada. Another variety (M. t. var. acerosa) occurs in southern Idaho.

The much taller, larger-flowered, more common and widespread Mentzelia laevicaulis (Giant or Smooth-stem blazing star) also occurs at Travertine Hot Springs, sometimes within yards of M. torreyi. But you will find it in other rocky and disturbed places, such as washes and road cuts, throughout the region.

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis on a road cut north of Aurora

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis at Travertine Hot Springs

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST