Monday, April 15, 2019
The Desert Five-Spot (Eremalche rotundifolia) has to be one of my favorite desert wildflowers. I don't see it often because it is rarely blooming during my customary visits to Death Valley National Park in February. It's mysterious because it always seems to be hiding its five spots in a globular-shaped bloom that doesn't seem to open out entirely. For these reasons, our visit at Death Valley National Park was extraordinary. We saw some of the Five-Spots in all their revealed glory.
These are plants at the cusp of existence. They arose out of some late storms that provided the water needed to germinate, but it is a only few short weeks before temperatures soar and the desiccating winds begin to blow. Life will once again go into hiding to wait out the searing months.
Saturday, April 13, 2019
We started our exploration of the valley with the glorious panorama from Tunnel View (top photo). We could see El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, the Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Falls. It is hard to imagine another place in the world with such imposing cliffs and towers in such a small confined valley. We talked about the discovery of the valley by people, both thousands of years ago, and in the last 170 years by the usurpers and colonizers of this incredible landscape.
We then drove to the parking area on the valley floor where we could look at El Capitan in one direction, and Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls in the other. We were able to talk about hanging valleys in the presence of one of the greatest examples in the world. We also talked about how Yosemite Falls the 5th or 7th highest in the world, and yet is not even the tallest waterfall in Yosemite Valley.
|Ribbon Falls at Yosemite Valley|
That is the gist of our day, but more than anything else, I wanted to share the images of the day with all those who can't easily get there. It was a stunning day in the falley.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
And being a microcosm of our valley environment, I'm hoping to see lots more creatures making the outdoor nature lab their home!
Saturday, April 6, 2019
Although the fault motion is primarily lateral, some warping and deformation has lifted a mountain range on the north side of the fault, the El Paso Mountains. The mountains are composed largely of older Paleozoic metamorphic rocks. The rocks had been quite deep in the crust, but were brought to the surface and eroded, and by around 12-15 million years ago had been eroded to a fairly flat surface. This surface was eventually covered by terrestrial sediments deposited in alluvial fans, grassy plains and ephemeral lakes that would remind a person of the African savannah. The comparison is apt, because the sediments contain fossils of a diverse fauna that included ancient camels, horses, antelope, elephants, and a number of predators including to the forerunners to our modern cats and canines.
Our highway turned north, crossed the Garlock fault, and entered Red Rock Canyon State Park, which preserves the Neogene sediments containing the fossils mentioned above. Millions of people have seen Red Rock Canyon, but not necessarily in person. The brightly colored cliffs have been used as the backdrop for hundreds of Hollywood movies (they were the cliffs of 'Snakewater', Montana in the opening scenes of the original Jurassic Park).
We found that many of the Joshua Trees were blooming. The trees are a defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert and are found primarily in east California and portions of Arizona and Nevada. The trees are a potential victim of global warming. Their seeds once were spread in the scat of giant ground sloths during the last ice age, but the sloths are gone, and with the increasing heat, the trees (actually lilies) are unable to propagate up slopes where they can thrive. Ironically, the trees may disappear entirely in the national park that is named after them.
Monday, April 1, 2019
PS: I'm late to all the great April Fools stuff today, but the caterpillars I saw this weekend in Death Valley are quite real and quite voracious. They will eventually metamorphose into a massive flying creature called the Sphinx Moth. And they do consume a lot of greenery! More information on these interesting creatures can be found here: https://www.desertusa.com/insects/sphinx-moths.html
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
We are currently about 93 million miles away from the sun at this point, but our orbit is currently carrying us a little bit farther away. By July 4, we'll be about 94.5 million miles away, the aphelion. We are the closest to the sun, about 91.4 million miles, on January 3. That day is the perihelion. If that relationship seems counterintuitive, it's because the seasons having nothing to do with our distance from the sun. It is the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis in relation to the sun.
The day was distinguished by a second celestial event, a full "supermoon", the first time the two happened in the same day in nearly two decades. It won't happen again until 2030. There's nothing mysterious about a supermoon, it's just a time when the moon's elliptical orbit brings it closer to the Earth so that it appears 14% larger and 30% brighter. It's called the Worm Moon because this is the time of year when worms begin emerging from the ground as the days grow longer. We had a stormy day so our view of the moon was wreathed in clouds tonight.
I hope you will enjoy our coming journey away from the sun!
Monday, March 18, 2019
The Red Hills are wet from months of above-average rainfall, and the plants are growing fast, and will be blooming in profusion in the next few weeks. If you can spare a moment, head into the hills and give the ACEC a chance to impress. It is a truly unique environment found nowhere else in the world.