NANFA Convention 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
LA Pastramis Big Ass Burger.
Onto Ash Meadows arriving at dusk. After a quick look around i realized none of my UPS'd camping gear was available, as it was under lock and key in the Visitor Center. Oh No! Fret and great concern. I did not, could not, would not, lie on the bare desert ground as i was soon told of scorpions, ants, thorny Mesquite, dirt, and all kinds of unpleasantries. Much more fretting. Finally, and saving me, Bruce a fellow camper, offered an old mummy sleeping bag and i found a clean spot, a concrete ramp leading to a small shed behind the shop building. I swept off the sloping surface and pulled from my backpack a last minute addition, a new air mattress. Thankfully, i had calmly watched the Ash Meadows DVD the night before, and it told me, warned me, to take my boots, tent, and this air mattress. I could not have rested well without it, and later it was going to come in handy for Ed as well. Using the shop's air compressor and a found fitting, Scott and i filled the mattress to near plumpness. I slept pretty well the first night though had to put on extra clothes and cover myself with Scott's offered coat to keep the chill out. It had been a long day full of rush and worry but finally relief settled into sleep. An odd smell lay in the low air, reminding me of my Dad's garage but the stars and the Milky Way were visible when i awoke the few times and i enjoyed watching the stars with sleepy eyes.
Ash Meadows & Desert Springs
The next morning i awoke to the early dawn, stood, stretched and peered at a skull and crossbones sign marking the building i was sleeping below. DANGER: Insecticide Storage Area! I instantly recalled the smell of Seven Dust as a boy and quickly imagined a bag being dropped and burst at the building's entrance, then haphazardly swept to the left and right of the ramp. Oh no! Do i feel ok? Cough.
Three propane stoves were going at the improvised outdoor kitchen of aligned tables. Scott, Ed, Bruce, Myself and Doug were busy flipping pancakes, scrambling eggs with dried onions, and Peter microwaved bacon and sausage while coffee brewed. A table full of breads, cereals, fruits, milk, juice was offered and the now arriving folks sat at the various picnic tables and enjoyed the early morning breakfast. We are all here! The adventure begins.
Scott mixing pancake batter and Bruce ready to flip.
After a clean up and organizing of the supplies we broke into groups and with Peter driving, Ed sitting on a cooler in the back, Scott in the 3rd seat and i up front we rode to various springs. The first was Big Spring, and we walked in about a mile through flat scrub land and upon arriving i jokingly began to don my hood, snorkel and mask and posed for a brisk belly flop. Peter said "Not to even Think of it!" as it could jeopardize our welcome, and i finally relented after much posing of feigning despair and immense disappointment. It was beautiful, crystal blue and so very inviting, even luring. To have plunged in would have been bliss. The sky was blue and the smooth surface mirrored the few clouds above, the water was deep and we could see the boil of sand dancing at the bottom. Desert Pupfish raced out, the males reflecting metallic blue and chasing females, then dashing and hiding briefly in the lush vegetation. Peter pointed out several Speckled Dace cruising along the substrate picking at the sandy surface. It was enchanting, near mesmerizing, this life giving pool set in the vast desert plain. We gathered our senses and started the hike out with Peter pointing out a fossil outcropping of freshwater micro snails. The stones were bleached white but even whiter were the tiny shells held within the confines of the tight mineral deposits.
Big Spring . Blue Sky . Blue Water
Ash Meadows Pupfish ( Scott Hein )
We drove to another location, next to an old structure built from railroad ties. We walked and ducked through a bit of wooded scrub to an elevated spring which was hemmed in by a dense and reedy vegetation. Some volunteer personel were minnow trapping and sorting out introduced and exotic fish along with the red pincered crayfish. In our wet hands we held our first Speckled Dace, photographing him quickly before returning it to the cluttered bucket. I saw the first desert lizard and nearly caught it by stealth moves but it soon became wary of my quick snatch attempts and sped away lightning fast. While the others either worked or watched the trapping activity i took a slow walk through the scrub land hoping to see a snake, more lizards or desert critters before the others called me back to the van.
Railroad Tie Cabin
Back for lunch at Ash Meadows, where we had the first round of MRE's, US Military, Meals "Ready to Eat" field rations. Folks were having difficulty with all the packets and heaters but managed and most seemed to enjoy them and the surprised variety they offered. With everyone relaxed and satisfied, we organized for a small caravan to Devils Hole, meeting several others at the parking area below the site. The hole was razor wire capped with all manner of metal fencing and posted with monitors, cameras, satellite links and solar panels. Devils Hole is set slightly up and at the base of a mountain, yet the water surface is low in a slot cut deep into the mountain's edge. In this water lives the Devils Hole Pupfish and a place where Indians and Miners could find refuge and bathe. From standing in the valley one would not guess that water could be found up on the mountain side, but here it is, and found clear and warm in a gashed crevasse that holds the sole natural habitat for the infamous Devils Hole Pupfish.
Communications Array at Devils Hole
Returning to Ash Meadows many volunteered to cut down cattails, and using orange Friskers shears they waded in the soft silty spring outflow, however, and to us given special permission, my calling was to snorkel the origin of Crystal Spring, a 20' deep pool, ringed by vegetation and overlooked by an arced boardwalk with railings posting habitat signs. Wow. Crystal clear, as appropriately named, the water with a beautiful prismatic shimmer reflecting the sky above, the gently oscillating vegetation below and hundreds of Pupfish working the fine sand substrate rippled into a delicate pattern of subtle ridges. I nearly filled my camera's first card with video and stills while watching the parading views of Pupfish, foraging Crayfish and multicolored Mollies swimming midstream. Introduced Gambusia patrolled the surface, always eager to harass others, nibbling at their fins or eating eggs, an unwelcome addition to the Pupfish's ancient home. I decided to dive down and grasp the overhang at the springs source, my ears popped and held my breath tight as i peered into the darkened crevasse that the water flowed up from. Ed, Scott and others arrived and gently entered the outflow and were soon snorkeling the reedy perimeter where both of them caught sight of a Green Sunfish, an introduced predator, a glutton of Pupfish and now marked for death.
Crystal Spring . Cool Blue
Chin Deep Scott
Ash Meadows iridescent male Pupfish
I rode into Longstreets with Konrad for a dinner of chicken enchiladas and the company of fellow NANFAns. We relaxed and chatted, catching up on our adventures, sharing stories. I was glad to see so many folks attending and some that i generally only get to visit once a year. Being satisfied with the relaxing meal and fellowship we returned to the shed, where our fellow campers were drinking beer and mixing tomato Marys, chattering and watching Yellow Sky, a black and white movie featuring Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter. The western film was shot in this desert and the surrounding region. Ed prepared and gifted us with crackers spread with cream cheese, a dollop of jalapeno jelly and all topped with smoked Salmon fresh from his Alaskan travels, delicious. After watching of his Tennessee minnow parade and other fishy videos we called it a night and my fellow campers retired to their critter exposed lair, while i to my concrete. Konrad, Ed, Scott and Travis, along with the long time Ash Meadows volunteers; Doug, Bruce and Steve, made up the group of exposed ground sleepers of the desert outback.
Stacked Cool, Hot & Smoked
I again swept off the concrete pad and decided the surrounding area was generally clean and unpoisoned and may even keep the creepy crawlies at bay. I moved the air mattress a couple feet down to the lower edge of the ramp and laid out my now retrieved and unpacked sleeping bags. I was set and content for another night. The site was convenient being located behind the shed and with an easy access side door, it was quiet, fenced to the corner to keep the yelping coyotes away and the best point being located next to the soothing sound of the culverted Crystal Spring's outflow. This 2nd night was cloudy and a bit unpleasant, being warmer and with a few too many mosquitoes at my legs, arms and ears, but soon cooling with a slight breeze that kept the tiny blood prickers aloft.
No Bugs . No Coyotes
Devils Hole, Refuge, Grill & Auction
Another good breakfast, our cooks and egg crackers were getting very skilled at their work. Cheese was added to the scrambling of the eggs along with extra spices and seasonings. Afterwards i cleaned up the dishes, pots, pans and griddle gear in the dorm kitchen while the others organized for the day. We, being the entire group of 40 or so, headed back to Devils Hole as on this morning we were provided a guided access and could descend down to nearly touching the water's surface. Kevin Wilson, of the National Parks Service, provided a mini lecture to small groups of 7 or 10 that could traverse the stairs into the tight crevasse and he answered our various questions with enthusiasm. While outside of the enclosed area, Jeff found and handed me an owl pellet he picked up along the fence. It was bleached near white by the sun and i could clearly make out a skull and several bones within it. Owls cough up these indigestible clumps after feeding and my youngest daughter had recently dissected one at school. It was the perfect souvenir to bring her from the desert, well, either that or a t-shirt. Everyone enjoyed the surroundings, some even climbing the ridge for an over view of the valley beyond. We could see the thin, reflective surface of the reservoir in the far distance, fed by the outflows of Ash Meadows' many springs. It was a beautiful place to stand.
Photograph: BreakfastGang, DH-RangerBob, DH-UpStairs, DH-JeffGate, DH-Above
A Breakfast Gang
Looking down to the Devils Hole
In Devils Hole
Ascent out of Devils Hole
Jeff leaving through Hell's gate
Peter took a small group of us over to Jackrabbit Spring, another clear, lush spring in the lowlands of Ash Meadows. The perimeter was bordered on the far edge with tall reeds, and then counterclockwise to the outflow and low rise. To the right of our stance was a marshy area where we could kneel and immerse our cameras for a fish eye view. Immediately several Pupfish and Speckled Dace raced to our camera, inquisitive of the new objects decending into their pristine world. This spring had been pumped dry years ago by farmer's unquenchable thirst, desiccating all life in the tiny pool. Today the desert species had been reintroduced along with several invasive species, inadvertently.
Look, there be another Speckled Dace
Scubby Jackrabbit Spring
We broke into groups and ours headed to Kings Pool, a very pretty, lush spring that was boardwalked and enhanced with sculptured markers, signs and placards, and the spring outflows bridged with Dace and Pupfish patterned grates. Betsy was able to get some nice video reaching from the water's edge, these underwater cameras have really opened up bonus opportunities for fish happy folks. We hiked off the end of the boardwalk and gained advantage of several beautiful views to the expansive valley beyond. Just below us was another refuge, a manmade concrete pool sheltered by covers and a security fence to provide a back up population of the Devils Hole Pupfish. It was fed by another spring but this population had been lost several years earlier, genetically altered by the inadvertent introduction of an Ash Meadows Pupfish, although no one knows quite how it happened. Climbing the hard and sharp hillside was pleasant in the cool temps and we were all grateful for the fine weather, however in the summer heat it could be a brutal and a difficult undertaking as the rocks spoke of pain if anyone was to slip or fall.
An Inviting Path
A Pair of Rusty Speckled Dace
Clear Kings Pool
A Refuge for the Devils Hole Pupfish, a ways below.
Back to the facility for a lunch of self made sandwiches and then a presentation in the shed presented by the Ash Meadows personnel. Cristi Baldino of the Fish and Wildlife Service provided a history and recovery of the various Pupfish with the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. With all the attendees gathered in the now enclosed shed it soon became much too hot for comfort and i had decided this trip was to be one of minimal suffrage, so i visited the air conditioned office and visitor center, purchased a few souvenirs and admired the displays. I snapped several nice photos of desert critters to amaze others with my discreet though deceptive, stealthy close up skills. I called home and left a message for the family and talked with my friend Brent regarding business concerns, and checked my voice messages, all from a cool pavilioned table looking out beyond, to a ridge set high with a pair of terraced breasts to the east.
All the fixings for a do it yourself lunch.
Gathered in the soon to be sweltering shed.
Desert lizard, holding steady.
Just about Everyone
After the presentation, folks fragmented into groups but i had overheard that some of the staff had attempted to spear the Green Sunfish that had been spotted the day before. Being certified with spear, i volunteered and was handed a Hawaiian Sling to eliminate the Pupfish eaters. The long spear proved unwieldy in the pool so i leaned it against the edge and dove or pulled myself into every crevasse, dark shadow and dense stand of cattails available. The lucky Sunfish had avoided my peering and probably headed downstream, so i became content to just relax, observe and shoot a bit more video in the calm flow. Unfortunately it does not take much motion to stir up the silty substrate, and break algae strands and debris loose, which soon marred the Crystal Spring's crystal clarity. Others arrived, some gawked and teased from above while the remaining enjoyed paddling with the Pupfish in the cool spring water. After an awkward, contorted, crawling exit from the spring's steep bank, and then standing in the slight breeze on the elevated boardwalk, the dry desert air would flash the moisture off your body and cool it to a bone shivering chill. Brrr!
Travis and myself ready to fetch a Sunfish.
Briskly walking back and trying to warm in the low sun i suggested a visit and possibly snorkel at the reservoir. Though only introduced species such as Bass and Sunfish were said to be in the reservoir, i thought it might be an interesting snorkel experience being able to view the vast mountainous distance from a crisp water line, chin deep. Travis offered a ride and we headed over to look, but the water was unappealing with its low sloping shallowness, probable dense siltation and multitude of birds floating about in the distance. And finally, concerns of a parasitical itchy rash that could take weeks to recover from, had been spoken of, and in my inquires several victims spoke directly of experienced and with distinct knowledge of the discomfort. After mulling over the potential unsavory consequences we headed to Longstreet Inn so Travis could check his email while i relaxed and watched the locals gathering for their Friday evening's activities. Longstreet Inn & Saloon was so named for Jack Longstreet, one of the first homesteaders of Amargosa Valley and by the time he died had built up quite a reputation as a miner, gambler, gunslinger, saloon keeper & family man marrying a local Paiute woman and becoming an advocate for the Indians. I was still dressed in damp snorkel gear and did not quite fit into the native wild west attire that was prevalent at this Nevada saloon, and feeling slightly disoriented and out of my normal environs, i stood still and quietly observed several of the tight laced and big breasted dance hall ladies as they ruffled by. I also noticed a couple feather hatted ladies walking arm in arm with bowlegged men sporting handle bar mustaches and wide brimmed hats. A few characters seemed to be awkwardly posed at distant gambling tables, unmoving in the back area's shadows. I saddled up to the bar, winked at the lady next to me and ordered an iced coffee, extra mocha please.
Back at the camp the grills were blazing with Mesquite and charcoal. Chilled rib eye steaks had been pulled from the iced coolers, were well seasoned and three grill masters wielding tongs and knives began to work by fire, head and lantern light. Scott, with watch at hand, was calling out times, seven minutes per side. Orders of rare to medium rare were requested but one concerned parasitologist asked for his well done, near charred for digestive safety. Baked potatoes, grilled vegetables, beans, bread, and salad were presented and Lisa was to be commended for a great job in preparing these in the dorm kitchen. It was all mighty fine in the near Texas tradition.
Steaks on the Grill
The auction items and accountings were organized by our dedicated treasurer Tom with assistance from Jim Forshey and again Phil stepped up to auctioneer and motivate attendees into opening their wallets and bank accounts for the offerings presented, all in the name of NANFA's good deeds. Bob Wright had worked diligently to acquire donations and the attendees had plenty to pick from. Books, prints and photos, much ichthyological plunder, with a plethora of fish food and gear were held aloft by out volunteer Vannas. I was the high bidder for Leo's Long's lure, a hogsucker while someone else acquired the de-tuberculed Stoneroller. Sea monkeys and mermaids were rabidly bid warred over but the highest bids were for the books, signed copies of the desert wonders such as Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West, the high bidder Scott.
With the bidding frenzies over and a clear night beckoning, Ranger Bob, Betsy, Travis, Scott and i drove to the reservoir and looked at the multitude of stars spread overhead while back at the auction shed Tom diligently tallied the total. Later, from my sleeping site and binoculars held to my eyes, i am pretty sure i saw the comet Bob spoke of, barely discernable near Cassiopeia, but it just a soft blur and not to be remembered.
Death Valley, Conference & Dante's View
Another fine breakfast with no rushed clean up till that evening. Death Valley awaited, an awesome drive north with Peter and Scott and jangling folded chairs, very scenic, unusual rock formations and strata layers exposed. Great flood washes creating vast endless plains of sediment and gullies tore through rocky cuts creating new torrential routes and ravines. After unloading our gear, introductions, and announcements followed by our first round of speakers, started the conference. A few too many indecipherable charts cluttered my brain but all the speakers were entertaining and brought much enlightenment to the perils of desert fish. Jon Sjoberg, of the Nevada Division of Wildlife spoke mostly on razorback suckers and their successful spawning in new locations and the annual monitoring of them doing so. Razorbacks are a unique shaped fish and is one of many featured on the Fishes of Nevada posters that were passed out, all illustrated by the amazing Joe Tomelleri. Steve Parmenter, of California Fish and Game, spoke of the Owens Valley pupfish, while Kevin Wilson, who had talked to us the day before at Devils Hole, provided some additional historical information and various accounts including a motion camera image of a tethered capture basket someone had thrown over the razor wired fence trying to trap a Devils Hole pupfish. Shame shame, diabolical, but ingenious.
All kinds of Desert Fishes to be found in Nevada.
Gathered in the Assembly Hall.
A lunch break was called for and MREs were provided outside of the speaker hall in the canopied shade and patio garden, most of the folks seemed to grasp the heater packet routine much better on this go around. After my hassle free, but unheated "Meatballs in Italian Tomato Sauce", someone spoke of a Roadrunner being seen on the other side of the auditorium. Quickly getting to the grassy area i was able to watch the Roadrunner and even was able to crawl very close to Wile E's demise and snapped several pictures of him standing erect and proud with his crest held high, in fact i thought he might challenge my presence or rush me as he was very intense in his hunt mode of stalking, stealth rushing low, then springing up to snatch red dragonflies from the air, a very fascinating and successful behavior.
Alert for Dragonflys, Beep Beep.
Returning to the conference center, a drawing of the multicolored raffle tickets was performed, awarding 2 books to attending members and another one far away. Scott had done a fine job of organizing and promoting the raffle and most of us had taken a chance to win one or all of the fine books offered, my desire being the Mexico book which Nick won with a single pluck from the basket. The talks resumed with Alex Schubert, from Wyoming and a Fish and Wildlife Service employee, speaking on the Kendall Warm Springs Dace and the habitat found and its history. I would enjoy snorkeling there one day as the area was quite inviting and i have always yearned to visit Casper, Wyoming and to see my name plastered on all the government buildings, city hall, library, pawn shops and plumbing supply houses. David Ward, of Arizona Game and Fish, spoke a bit about his work at the Bubbling Springs research facility as well as some experiments and techniques he has developed relating to the various native fish breeding. We were impressed with his ingenuity, and creative and frugal use of materials such as fiberglass rocket canisters gleaned from government surplus sites. Bob Muller gave a very fine and articulate talk on the merits of NANFA participation in government funded breeding programs and much advice was offered from our membership, some of which enlightened the speakers to unbeknownst techniques.
David Ward promoting igenuity
Bob and the speakers at the round robin.
The talks completed and the 2010 Nevada Convention banner signed by all, a gift to Peter's office wall, featured Dave Neely's outstanding image of the world from a Pupfish's perspective. We began the reloading of jangling chairs, leftover MRE's and assorted convention paraphernalia, packing carefully into Peter's van. Time running tight, we bypassed Badwater and instead drove to Dantes View, looking out over Death Valley and the flats of Badwater, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and beyond to the high of 11,331 feet at Telescope Peak. I had remembered reading an account, perhaps in National Geographic, of a pair of adventurers who hiked from the lowest point to the highest within Death Valley over several days. It was an amazing story. From our vantage and with the sun darkened low behind the mountainous ridge we could see tiny pin lights far below, distant cars returning to the tourist and service community in Death Valley.
A trio staggered at the newly gouged gorge.
Looking down into Badwater at sunset.
We drove back to Ash Meadows in the darkness, watching distant glows of lights and finally stopped at Longstreets so Peter could talk to Tom regarding a bit of NANFA business. We decided to stay for dinner and i had another round of Chicken Enchiladas and Black Russian iced coffee with a small group of fellow NANFans. Some of the Nevada locals were taking their turn at the microphone singing cringing karaoke but dang there was our very own Wyoming Alex crooning one of those western desert tunes, and impressively i might add. With an enthusiastic round of applause and not to be outdone i was urged and tempted to squall Sabbath's "Into the Void" but didn't have my black trench coat nor purple glasses at hand.
Eat, Sleep, Drink & Gamble
Back at camp i packed gear, the few remaining NANFA shirts and still too many desert hats, my auction booty, family gifts and assorted oddities and even washed a load of dirty desert clothes. Content and mostly organized for the Sunday departure, i walked outside and sat with our small camping group and Peter, and his friend Rich, mostly teasing one another with past memories while Ed, Scott and Travis enjoyied the sparring. Two of the trio of volunteer campers had left from Death Valley as it was closer to their homes in California, Doug was missing and Konrad must have already relinquished to his pup tent. Cloudy tonight and cooler and then a gentle misting of rain toward the morning. I had caught a glimpse of the stars about 3 am but could not find the blurry comet again, perhaps shifted in its celestial wander. When the misting rain turned to consistent dampening droplets, Scott and i moved inside the shed to the concrete floor and then myself back outside after the rain ceased as the chainsaw and oily shop smells were quite unpleasant.
Comet Hartley, as i would have liked to see it.
Roger's Spring, Valley of Fire & Rain
Our last outdoor breakfast, fewer diners attending this time as most were checking out of the Inn. Someone finally broke open the box of requested Cocoa Crispies and i shared of them mixed with a bit of creamy coffee. Our small group cleaned and organized the facilities, shed, bathroom and supplies and gear. We packed Peter's van tight leaving just enough room for Scott to sit behind the driver and myself in the passenger seat.
The caravan of 10 or so vehicles headed to Rogers Spring, an exotic filled, warm spring pool, set just above Lake Mead. Danger signs of parasites, Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba claimed responsible for several deaths each year, cautioned me away, while others wondered of the Snorkelmiester's true dedication, but i knew better full immersal options lay ahead. A floating green Triceratops, commandeered by Rich's daughter Anjuli, was noted and markedly and accurately IDed by Nick, but an accounting of numerous skin rashes by curley headed Travis, our first plunger, is yet to be announced. I like when the younger NANFA members step to the forefront!
Should we Heed the Warning?
Rogers Spring & Linda
Nick High on the Hill.
The Unconcerned Snorkelers
At The Springhead
Can Dinosaurs Really Swim?
We detoured into and through the fantastic Valley of Fire. Awesome, incredible views, boulders, rock formations, all pigmented with a bright, rich, brick red mineral. Lots of pictures and at every turn another perfect composition offered itself. We drove to different viewing stops and made short hikes into the towering structures down and along winding paths. A bit delayed at one, i struggled after the group in deep soft sand and was met with approaching winds of stinging grit before i could reach the crest. The others had already descended into the steep ravine where ancient petroglyphs adorned rocks and old movie sets faded away. I was content to read the display of all the movies filmed here including young Raquel Welch wearing her fur bikini and then to photograph the tower of red stone from several angles. I also documented the list of movies to fill my NetFlix queue, agreeing the Valley of Fire was ideal for many genre of themed movies. Storms approached from the distance with lightning stabbing the horizon, coming ever onward, whipping the hair into my eyes and blowing sand past us. Concerns were expressed as we watched from atop the high ridge, waiting for our skin to tingle and our hair to raise with swarming electrons. Incredible beauty, this place is mesmerizing, enchanting and i would embrace a stay here and yearned to explore for days while camping and wandering amongst the many formations, watching for dinosaurs to peer from behind dark red bouldered walls and mysterious lights to appear in the sky above.
The hikers headed to the crest.
Alex in the wind, and the gathering storm.
Leaving the Valley of Fire in twilight and rain we arrived late in Overton and quickly checked into our motel, then drove north to Logandale in quest of culinary Chinese cuisine. Being shuttered on a Sunday night we returned to Overton and found a nice restaurant that others had already gathered in. I moved to Fritz and Rudy's table, with Rudy telling me of dietary concerns while i now only somewhat enjoyed the $10. evening special of brisket, mashed potatoes, both well slathered with rich gravy, but also a healthy fresh salad alongside a rich, creamy, and as Rudy pointed out, fattening tomato bisque soup. Delicious. Did i mention the homemade Ranch dressing? When we walked back outside rain was falling and i asked a local couple peering out into the rain how often it occurs... they responded... "Rain, is that what this is?"
The motel was nice and clean and my roommates and i enjoyed a comfortable night resting. I was too tired for evening socializing and in the morning was told that the fishhead gathering in the lobby was soon dispersed because of our president's loud laughter, but being falsely accused, Fritz pointed out the true culprit, our auctioneer Phil Nixon and i do know his boisterous laugh and i would support the motel management in their decision!
Moapa, Alamo & Crystal Springs
Beautiful, star filled Valley of Fire postcards and prints were available at the checkout desk and i selected a couple and then sat down for a breakfast of a single boiled egg and big pastry while Peter hovered above and rushed us along. We headed north through Logandale, past the abandoned Chinese eatery and towards Alamo. These drives, though long, were scenic and Peter continued to provide Scott and i geography and historical lessons of what passed before us. Vast alluvial plains, enormous sedimentary deposits, reaching far beyond our view, driving through purple mountain majesty flanked to our distant right and left, and descending deep into canyon cuts then plunging abruptly back out into vast expansive valleys. Peter's narration was enjoyed as harsh scrub land lay in all directions, and as we approached distant water sources the land would begin to fill with green flushes of Cottonwood, foliaged trees, irrigated fields of alfalfa with cattle grazing, damp low reedy flats and finally open water, reservoirs formed by a series of levees.
Our first stop on this day was at the Moapa River visitor center. It is a beautiful site and populated by man planted and fire burned black trunks of towering Palms capped with a flush of waving green fronds. At one time it was a Las Vegas style mini resort owned by Howard Hughes but had been purchased in 1989 by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the first national wildlife refuge created specifically for fish. The highlight was a stream that had been routed behind acrylic so that one could view the Moapa White River Springfish from a standing position. The water was warm and we were able to take many pictures, some reaching over and into the warm water while others enjoyed the lush vegation surrounding us. Several walked above to a ridge overlooking the oasis below, and i continued higher and then along a descending ridge where i meet up with Nick and Ed who had seen a covey of crested Gambel's Quail.
Moapa Holiday Palms
We stopped for lunch at a garish yellow building stenciled with black "Eat Here" letters and other handmade signs. I enjoyed my lunch of fried fish and shared the sweet potato fries passed around. We were near Area 51 so i purchased an Alien driver's license authorizing my use of a K3 39 Starship and several other interstellar vehicles we hoped to encounter.
Onto Ash spring, a hot tepid spring, too hot to lay in long while snorkeling. A nice, bricked in and several degrees hotter pool was set higher at the piped in spring head, and it had beckoned several Nevada travelers, but a quick check confirmed no fish and perhaps not even desert fish could have survived those temps. This water was uncomfortably hot for full immersal and perhaps even dangerous as some folks were cooked a pretty pink when rising out of the steamy water. Another spring nearby beckoned and i took advantage of an early departure and rode with Jim Forshey and his family to get a first one in dip and to photograph in maximum clarity before the assorted monster muckers arrived. Some folks gently float while others sink, treading furiously stirring up vast clouds of opaque silt. I started a little lecture session to teach others snorkeling etiquette but perhaps the distribution of NANFA stenciled ankle floaty wings would be more effective. Big Nick was prone to high dives and then sinking his full body into the swirling depths of the sand boils raising a cloud obscuring all, the great beast of thrash though i tend to exaggerate when reaching the edge of despair. Moments before it was the most beautiful spring, also aptly named Crystal Spring, as is the one in Ash Meadows, and conveniently located just off the Alien jerky stand near the extraterrestrial Highway. Lush red ludwigia populated the immediate margins turning green as it reached the surface. A pretty waterfall above, at the spring's source, cascaded into the cool refreshing water forming a wide pool from whose depths bubbled boils of dancing sand and gravel, flowing even more clear, cool water to the life filled body. It was beautiful, full of Springfish, and other species including introduced crawfish with red pincers held wide, black and white Convict Cichlids guarding their fry, Mollies of all variation and coloration and Mosquito fish patrolling the surface. The pool was brimming with life and we estimated just in this pool alone were probably 1000 Springfish. With Konrad's direction i attempted to access and snorkel far downstream but was meet with deep silt, thick masses of reeds and oncoming cloudiness from the snorkelers above. Introduced Asian burrowing snails, the long and pointy Melanoides, were covering the soft surface, but the going was to difficult, my arms sinking to the elbows trying to pull myself over, but resulting in through the soft sinking sand and i soon relented climbing out to return to the main pool above.
Hot Water Sauna at Ash Spring
After one of the most intense snorkels of the trip we drove to Windmill Ridge, a restaurant and bakery corralled by red roofed, wooden cabins, western themed. Very nice but a wee bit on the expensive side, but shared by 2 and a guest it was comfortable, and affordable. Peter's 30 dollar deal for 3 down the road was the bargain crash pad but ours was decorated in the finest of western lore and named the "Saloon". Scott checked us in while Ed and i balanced our wet snorkel gear on the round rails and decided there was enough time to take advantage of the afternoon and a desert walk. Several of us caravanned back to Pahranagat and i walked the cobbled levee to the hilly, sparse scrub lands beyond with Dr. Joe, his wife Maurite, Nick, Linda, and Jim Forshey and family along with the Scott. Out sprung a black-tailed Jackrabbit seemingly as big as a small antelope, startling me wide eyed. That is one big rabbit and the ears and hind legs were even bigger. I urged Nick to flank left, hoping to gently urge the Jackrabbit to the ridge before and perhaps a fine photo opportunity, but the long eared rabbit was unnerved and though Nick sped up, the rabbit quickly outskipped him, hopping over a low ridge behind us, bouncing high and confident in his evasion. Nick pointed out that during my continual pointed urging of him to flank and move faster, and ever quicker, i did not move a hair. All this occurred while Peter sat in his van reading an issue of National Geographic about polygamists and Patagonia, probably a little tired of all the excitement and activity of these touristy eager types.
At dark i took the opportunity to call home using Scott's phone as AT&T service was not available here. A nice dinner was had, country fried steak, a green bean and corn blend and a steaming slathered baked potato, while sitting amongst a fine group of fishy folk at the Windmill Ridge restaurant. Rudy was in the other room so i had the entire menu as an option tonight. I sat next to Jim's pretty daughter, Anessa, and Rik to my right spoke of his Peace Corps days and meeting his wife overseas. Dr. Joe is an ophthalmologist, an eye surgeon who will soon have his own cataract surgery, i was much impressed with him and Maurita's active health and love for one another. Later after tossing another pebble onto Nick and Linda's red roof and avoiding the potentially wild west party, dance and shootout at Cabin # 12, the so named "Saloon", and my current residence, Nick, Linda and i took a flashlight and headlight stroll back to the afternoon hike location, Pahranagat, say it fast! Pa RAN a GET ! We entered again at the upper lake levee but saw nothing, except for a stunning bright green meteor, though perhaps it was something more, a spent fuel cell vaporizing from an intergalactic cruiser is always a likely occurrence here.
Spewing Stellar Debris
Checking out of the Red Roof Cabin Inn.
Hot Creek, Spearing of the Bass & Crystal Spring Snorkel
A rushing morning with coffee and free muffin in hand we drove past Crystal Spring and the Alien Jerky stand through canyons and stretched low vast scrub lands to Hot Creek, a 20' deep warm spring with a reedy hot stream outflow. Several access points were available and soon big Bob Meyer was treading above the deepest spring, then diving down for a better view. Here were Morman Springfish and many were visible in the reeds and vegetation along the sides. I was able to video several nice colonies in the clear water and they were eager to approach and parade before my nested camera. Bob called out he had seen a big green fish, nearly a foot long, and i pushed into the reeds along the deep spring perimeter hoping to glimpse it. I explored several of the boils along the bottom of the run and found little pockets i could ease into for canopied views. Lots of the Morman Pupfish would hide in these reeds but come forward when i would stop and ease back. Heading upstream i saw the green fish, a bass distinctly marked in a brassy green pattern. He was lounging against an overhung ledge and i approached him slowly as he eased backwards, a bit nervous. I assured him everything was fine and would return with a surprise.
Gathered at the Last Turn.
Diving Bob descends into Hot Creek's Origin.
Getting out of Hot Creek was another cold flash freeze, but with a determined plan i briskly walked the 1/4 mile back to the parking area where most everyone had gathered and were contemplating lunch. I was trying to find or access a stout stick or any object a couple feet in length and to then to rig, using a multitude of rubber bands, my Swiss army knife to an end, when Doug offered the weapon of choice, a spear gun, short and with a point sharp, from the trunk of his car. I did not see into Doug's trunk but am now curious as to what else Doug carries on his road trips. A quick detanglement of odd rigid line, a terse lesson, cocked double bands and i was briskly heading back to the Bass's lair, hopefully the fish still at ease, calmed by my pleasantries. From the bank i gently rolled into the spring and pulled up into the run above and just beyond, and there he still was. Easing forward and with soothing thoughts projected, i slowly aimed and pulled the trigger, but it was still locked, with the wonky designed and ill-marked twisty safety. The bass' nerves were unsettled with the twitching of a sharp point inches away and in my slow contorted efforts in twisting the safety to a new position he tailed downstream, me following, and finally pulling the trigger at the last 5' broadside opportunity.
With great swagger and found confidence i headed back with the trophy presented high on the spear and we set upon the bass with knives and dissected the beast upon the alter stone, exposing 3 partially digested Morman Springfish. No more paradise for him was proclaimed by Ed. Peter was impressed as were all with lots of composed desert assassin pictures and a favored kiss from Maurita. Lunch of leftovers and peanut butter for me tho a 10 minute immersion in a MRE heater pack, with a little salt, may have made the bass palatable.
The Bad Ass Bass ( Scott S. )
Upon the Alter Stone, guilty of 3 digested Morman Springfish.
Crystal Spring Springfish ( Scott S. )
Feeding Springfish ( Scott S. )
Begging Peter we headed back to Crystal Spring for a last pristine snorkel while the others continued north 30 miles to Lund and Preston Springs, their final stop on our desert adventure. Beautiful boils of sand and gravel awaited me and i was again mesmerized by the wonderful view of abundant life. In the crystal clarity i captured the images i had sought after the day before and after several minutes, i was content to share the pool with others as they arrived. With Keith, Becca, Peter and Scott we all took turns easing into the waterfall's outflow where the light streamed in and illuminated the fish, plants and substrate. I felt as if i was gently drifting among small, finned desert creatures suspended above the delicate pebbled scrub lands of Nevada, no water, only air. Fully content, but shivering, and with a yearning plea to warm myself at the hot sauna of Ash Spring, we headed south with a long drive ahead back to Vegas and our next residence, Bally's. A motorcycle response officer fine tuned our directions and Peter soon dropped Scott and i, along with our luggage and assorted boxes, at a Bally's bellhop's cart, and with Peter defending our spot from the upset authority in charge, we quickly unloaded everything. A $3. tip for 16 boxes and luggage and another $5 to be delivered, found us in our nice room, relaxing, and when Ed and Rik arrived, a dinner with Ranger Bob and Betsy was arranged downstairs. Not so good, messy, fat, gristled ribs, but 2 tasty BBQ wings from Ed's platter was my plate, while chips and salsa were shared and Margaritas drank, two for one from Bob's coupon. Rik flew home, a late flight, and we took an evening stroll and watched the white fountains dance high while loud, obnoxious sound blared from distorted speakers and thus dazed, and still culture shocked, i near stumbled into a cornering wide limo but was pulled to safety by a Memphis Germantown Elvis saving my life, Thank you very much. A full day had by all, our trio headed back to the 11th floor for a dark curtained sleep blocking out the never ending luminous glow of Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, Culture Shock & Jubilee
A late sleep in till 10 am by all three of us. I lounged, organized and gave 6 boxes to Janet of UPS's pickup service for return shipment to Chattanooga, freeing myself of a burden but another $5. to the baggage handler. Ed spoke of an all night purging of the TFC, not KFC, but TFC being code for "That F'ing Chicken", those BBQ chicken wings still fresh in his memory and worn gullet, but i wonder if it was something else, perhaps a virus, as i had two wings myself, so began to worry and rub my belly. He felt bad, exhausted, his stomach still a knotty queasy roll and tinted above with a bit of fever. Scott and i, nonetheless hungry, headed downstairs and walked through the artificial world of a mimic Paris skied with painted blue and airbrushed clouds above, birds drawn frozen in flight and the four Eiffel tower legs jutting upward then sheared at the arched ceiling. A Las Vegas showgirl appeared, a photo opportunity for Scott which pleased him. The feathered pretty Russian passed us coupons and pointed the way to a Brazilian eatery. Wow. $20. Endless trims of Roast Pork, Ham, tasty Pineapple, rare Beef, Bacon wrapped Turkey, Sausage and finally Chicken, all on long steel skewers plucked from a rotisserie at regular intervals and offered consecutively to patrons of this fine establishment. Interesting condiments, vegetables, salads, marinated items, and bread where offered on the buffet and we were all satisfied.
A short walk back routing us behind the service entrances of various hotels, while missing the oncoming view of the giant Harley wheel, i returned to Bally's and bought a Jubilee ticket for the 10:30 pm show. Still worn and sore from the week's endless desert activity i went back to the room and checked on Ed, chatted, relaxed and faded into a long nap with curtains drawn. Ed was still feeling queasy, but spent some of his time studying his VW options on the Internet, as a plan was needed for his predictament.
With the night upon Las Vegas and feeling refreshed i got another refill of my Black Russian Slushee and headed to the show and a tiered front row seat. There were plenty of beautiful ladies in erect, full feathered plumage glistening with sparkles and shiny wide smiles, and they pranced proudly on awkward high heels as various skits were interspersed throughout the show. Contorted Chinese comedians, a trio of Russian drum dancers whirling bolas cracking the stage, Samson, sheared bald by Delilah, and the sinking of the Titanic were all experienced in a short span of one and a half hours. Now midnight i grabbed a $2 Nathan's hotdog and played $21 on a poker machine, Jacks or better, 5 card draw for a correctly perceived minimum of awarded points. 25 cents a play, $5 equals 20 plays and only 1 point for a pair of Jacks. 1 point equals 1 play, not a good return. Hard to decide what to do with a pair of 7s and 1 King. Finally after a couple hours of pushing buttons and mental math i succumbed to a 2:30 am deep asleep.
Flight Home to Tennessee
Awoke by a phone call from Ranger Bob at 8 am, a final rush pack with Scott and i meeting him and Betsy at 9 downstairs for a car loading hustle. Ed was still organizing in our room for a later 2 pm flight back to Tennessee. Much confusion at the airport with a faulty machine check-in, lack of printing obvious boarding passes, then losing my pass during my body scan, carry on search and boot removal, but thankfully easily reissued at the boarding station. Whew! An on time departure, but then delayed in Atlanta for one hour. I read Desert Shadows during the flight, an account of Charles Manson's Family and their plans for Helter Skelter, the oncoming Apocalypse, while hiding out in the bottomless pit, its location still unknown in the depths of Death Valley. Brent picked us up about 10 pm and Bob and Betsy got back to Kingsport about 1:30 am.