28 April 2011

Spring Valley

The part of Nevada in which I was working recently consists of a series of mountain ranges and valleys oriented north to south. The small town in which we stayed, Ely, is located in Steptoe Valley. To the west of Steptoe Valley is the Egan Range, and to its east is the Schell Creek Range. The highest point on both of these ranges is approximately 11,000 ft. Spring Valley, where we spent most of our days, is to the east of the Schell Range; the Snake Range borders Spring Valley to the east. The highest point in the Snake Range is Wheeler Peak, at over 13,000 ft. This is the highest point in Great Basin National Park, and the highest peak in Nevada. The highest point in Nevada is Boundary Peak on the Nevada-California border; this point is technically not a peak because the peak of the White Mountains (to which Boundary Peak belongs) is actually on the California side of the border.

Welcome to Spring Valley! Some of the more common plants throughout the valley include Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens), Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), Yellow Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), Winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), and Fourwing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens). Unfortunately, very little was in flower when I was there.

During my stay, I took numerous photographs of this sagebrush desert valley with mountainous backdrop.

By the end of my trip, you couldn't take more than a few steps without seeing one of these reptiles darting into a burrow. This is a Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus), also known as a bluebelly because of the blue coloration on their undersides.

With all of the thorny, shrubby vegetation in the sagebrush desert, Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) are right at home, and by the end of my trip were one of our daily observations. These predators hunt insects, lizards, small rodents, and other birds, and then impale them on thorns as they tear them apart for a tasty meal.

Spring Valley is a windy place. We were battered by relentless winds nearly every day. As a result of these winds, dust devils like the one above are a common site.

Wheeler Peak was almost always in clouds or haze. Above and below are a few photos of Wheeler Peak when it was most visible.

In my last post, I mentioned that we watched the Burrowing Owl from 6:30 am to 7:00 pm. This gave us the opportunity to watch the sun go down on Spring Valley, and provided me with some interesting photo opportunities.

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