Ash Meadows & Devils Hole
Feb 17, 2014
|Today we drove about 30 miles out to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which also includes Devils Hole, a small, non-contiguous portion of Death Valley National Monument. We made four stops distinct stops and a loop drive along the reservoir and marsh, driving dirt roads and fording at least one spring.
Warm water from underground bubbles up through white sand into clear pools, 3 of which we visited: King Spring, Devils Hole and Crystal Spring. Silvery blue pupfish, which are endangered and one type is nearly extinct, dart between swaying strands of bright green algae. Streams, nearly hidden from view by reeds, brush and trees, gurgle down small inclines in places, and run silently along to the next little elevation change. If it hadn’t been for the occasional gurgle of water, often we would not have been aware the stream was right next to us along the boardwalk.
Lizards scurry along the white, snow-like alkali covered soil. Birds chatter and flit around on the boardwalks and in the Mesquite and Ash trees and brush.
Water is the key resource which makes Ash Meadows a unique ecosystem in the dry Mojave Desert. The water comes from over 100 miles to the northeast through a vast underground aquifer system. The water is called “fossil water” since it takes thousands of years to move through the ground from the surface to the aquifer back to surface. A geologic fault deep underground acts as a dam partially blocking the water flow and forcing it through other fault crack lines up to the surface. There are over 50 seeps and springs in this area. All together, about 10,000 gallons per minute of water flow year round from these springs.
The water from Crystal Spring runs to and is captured in a man-made reservoir. At one time the area was farmed: alfalfa hay and cotton and cattle. Then the area was going to be turned into a city, Calvada. But the endangered pupfish put a stop to development in 1976. Ash Meadows became a refuge in 1984. Dad, you were right: there was farming near the Pahrump area, and it wasn’t just in Amargosa Valley as I had suggested.
At Crystal Spring we could actually see the fossil water motion as it bubbled up from the bottom of the clear pool, making obvious currents, clearing the white, sandy bottom area of small gravel, and setting the nearby algae into motion.
We could see the minnow sized pupfish at both Crystal Spring and King Spring. However, at Devils Hole, the pupfish are so endangered, they, and the pool, are protected from the public by tall fencing and barbed wire.
The Devils Hole is really interesting, though not in any aesthetic sense. It is a large hole, or gouge in the earth on the side of a hill surrounded by rocks with not a bush or tree any where. It’s just a hole in the ground with steep rock sides. You’d never think to go over to the hillside to find a pool. Were it not for the parking lot directions, we would not have known it was even there. What we saw from the dirt road parking lot was a highly fenced compound up against the hill.
The hole is at least 500 feet deep, but scientists are not sure how deep it really is. The hole is not large on the surface: maybe about 30 feet long by 8 feet wide. But it goes down, down, down toward the aquifer. Because it is on such a large aquifer, major earthquakes as far away as Japan have caused tsunamis in the pool. Once such tsunami happened while scientist where there taking readings from their project equipment. The earthquake happened in Mexico in March 2012, and was not felt by the scientists at the Devils Hole. But the water sure reacted. You can view the video, taken on a cell phone, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6h82PIi_-0
Also, here is more info, from the NPS, about the Devils Hole: http://www.nps.gov/deva/naturescience/devils-hole.htm
The average rainfall in Ash Meadows is three inches per year. The most common tree is the Screwbean Mesquite. The tree gets its name from the coiled, screw-like pods found in thick bunches on the ground and in the trees. Native Americans cured the pods, which are very, very hard, and ground them into a very highly nutritious flour.
Ash Meadows has the greatest concentration of endemic life in the US. That means plants and animals found here and nowhere else on earth. Approximately 10,000 years ago this part of Nevada and California was part of a salt sea, and at other times was a large lake where rivers were common. As the waters dried and receded, isolated pockets of life left species which adapted to the changes and became those endemic species of plants and animals.
Because the water from the aquifer has so much mineral in it, it reflects a very turquoise blue in the pools and in the reservoir. It was a wonderful refuge to visit. It’s supposed to be spectacular in April, May and June when all the migrating bird species have arrived and all the wildflowers are in bloom and the butterflies and bees are there en masse. Of course, it will also be many degrees warmer then than the perfect mid-70s when we visited.