Tag Archives: Vegetation

A Fen in the High Desert

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

There’s a tiny fen (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. It’s a “mound fen” — 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 peatlands 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 fen 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 fen 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 these acidic fens, 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 Travertine Hot Sprigs, 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.

Green Creek in 1894

It’s always interesting to compare  a photograph taken a century or more ago with the same view today. Aside from the built features, like roads and buildings, it’s interesting to look at changes in vegetation and ask why that may have changed. Here’s an example from Green Creek, 13 miles west of Bodie:

Green Creek Power House in 1894

Above: The Green Creek Power Plant, source of electric power for the Standard Mill in Bodie, as shown in an 1894 article by Thomas Leggett. This was probably taken in late spring (notice the patches of snow and the leafless deciduous trees along the creek). Notice too, the scarcity of pine trees near the power house. Below: Green Creek from the same location, in March 2015. Water for the turbines came via ditch and penstock from Dynamo Pond, behind the pines near the left edge of both pictures.

Site of the Green Creek Power House in 2015

The power house is gone, but its foundations remain, near the center of that stand of aspens that haven’t leafed out yet. Clearly, far more aspens and conifers (both Jeffrey and lodgepole pines) are present today than in 1894. I presume more were present also before the mining era, when many trees throughout the region were cut down for building materials, mine shaft shorings, and fire wood. Were the pines felled to build the power house? Apparently not. Piatt (2011) says workers “erected a powerhouse with materials from the recently abandoned Bulwer-Standard mill.”

Power Plant foundations
Remains of the Green Creek Power Plant.
Dynamo Pond
Dynamo Pond today.
Dynamo Pond historic marker
Historic marker near Dynamo Pond.

Leggett, Thomas H. 1894. Electric Power Transmission Plants and the Use of Electricity in Mining Operations, pp. 413–455 in Twelfth Report of the State Mineralogist (Second Biennial,) Two Years Ending September 15, 1894. California State Mining Bureau, J. J. Crawford, State Mineralogist. (link to Google Books)
Piatt, Michael H. 2011. Developments in Electricity and Bodie’s Long Distance Transmission Line. http://www.bodiehistory.com/power.pdf

Copyright © Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.