Friday, February 22, 2019

Leaving Las Vegas

Our time here at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge is coming to an end.  As always, we’re glad we had the opportunity to work here, but also happy to move on.  After all, we’ve sampled just about every restaurant within an hour’s drive!  This has been a truly memorable experience; the vast refuge (1.5+ million acres), beautiful visitor center, and welcoming staff and volunteers provided memories that we’ll never forget. 

It seems that every place we visit experiences their worst weather in ten years.  Here we may have exceeded even that record.  This morning we awoke to the second snowfall in the last two weeks.  Although it’s been just a few inches, the snow has paralyzed the city and closed the airport for a time.  While they only recorded a trace, they have zero snow removal equipment and so 55 flights were cancelled.  Tonight’s local TV news reported 56 automobile crashes today.  Folks here need to spend a few weeks in Grand Forks or Minot to get acclimated!

Places that have never been snow covered now resemble the Rockies.  Here at the refuge the view of Gass Peak, right on the edge of Las Vegas, is remarkable:

If we have one regret it’s that we didn’t have more time to explore the back roads extending through the refuge.  The government shutdown kept us from checking out a refuge truck with 4-wheel drive, a vehicle needed on the remote roads.  As we tell people at the visitor center who are interested in hiking into the mountains and camping, “there is no cell service, the back country is not patrolled, and you should bring supplies for extra days if the weather turns”.  But surprisingly, for most people this is an attraction.

This area is home to many fossil beds, one of which is right alongside one of the refuge roads.  Here the rock is studded with hundreds of prehistoric marine mollusks (ammonites): 

Looking across the Yucca Forest, you can see what looks like the head of a crocodile:

One of our most common birds inhabiting the riparian area behind the visitor center is the Phainopepla; a pretty bird that I’ve come to think of as the “Mistletoe Marauder”. 

The Phainopepla feed primarily on the berries found on the Desert Mistletoe.  The seeds don’t get digested and pass through the bird, which seems to enjoy pooping on branches.  The undigested seed is sticky, forms roots, and grows into the tree, usually the Honey Mesquite, our most common tree.  This parasitic bush is found everywhere among the refuge Mesquite trees, in some cases it is difficult to tell what type of tree it is covering. 

Our time here has been everything that we look for in a volunteer position – new places to explore, new things to learn, and new friends to keep in touch with.  And with the Spring Mountains covered in snow, who could ask for a better backyard view?

We’ll be traveling back to the Oregon Coast for a a month or so and are looking forward to seeing friends and visiting some of our favorite places, so check back for updates!