Monday, July 13, 2015

Wildflowers and Wild Weather Tales


  

Photo-adventures at Gabbs Valley Range


While the monsoon season was in full force, I took a day trip over to one of my favorite wildflower locations, the Gabbs Valley Range.  Located in the Great Basin Desert at 38°40'19"N 118°11'07"W, this area seems to have its own micro-climate and always gets more rain. 

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In the desert by the middle of July the wildflowers have all dried up, but in the higher elevations some of the flowers get a late start. A short drive up to the summit on SR 361 just past my turn-off to the left and I began to notice yellow accents of Prince's Plume. 


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Golden Prince’s Plume is a perennial that grows in alkaline soil and absorbs high concentrations of selenium which makes it poisonous to livestock and also humans.  Regardless of its dark side, it sure lends beauty to the dessert landscape.


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I saw a wide and level wash so I stopped for a walk back toward the rugged, Badland scenic mountains.

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After a short distance, the small white flowers of a Fourwing Saltbush caught my attention that was loaded with blooms.   A member of the goosefoot family, the seeds are wind-pollinated and also edible.  Flour was made from its seeds by the Navajo. 


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Around the bend and before the wash started to narrow, I came upon a nice arrangement of yellow Prince's Plume pared with a flowering Indigo Bush. The desert indigo bush is a legume and was used by the Native Americans for dye.


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At this point, I decided to turn back and not take a chance on surprising a rattlesnake that might be warming in the morning sun. As I turned, the purple flowers of Desert Sage stood out on the narrow bank of the wash. This was the plant referred to in Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage


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Looking up at the western sky, I noticed more clouds settling in and realized that I had better continue to my next location which was on the dirt road and up higher in the juniper and pinyon pines.  

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Further north on the dirt road were more indications of the localized storms that had brought so much rain to the area.  Flood waters are always a concern when cumulus clouds begin to gather in the desert.   Even though the storm may be miles away, water will take the path of least resistance to flow down through the washes and across the roads.


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An accent of blue in the sand  on the west side of the road was a healthy grouping of Silver Lupine.  The endangered Mission Blue Butterfly larvae feed on the leaves of this poisonous plant.  The butterfly then becomes toxic and gives off a bitter taste, to ward off predators.  Because the plant is a danger to livestock, it is cleared from range-land, therefore eliminating a crucial food source for this butterfly. 


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In just a short while, I saw cumulus clouds growing and towering to the east that very soon would become a thunderstorm.  It was time to head back and hope that I could out-run the potential dangers of wind sheer, flooding rain and hail.


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Descending down to lower ground from the higher elevation, the sky was looking more ominous to the east and thunder was starting to rumble in the distance.


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The sky to the south was not looking any safer and a micro-burst was starting to let go in the dry lake a short distance away. 


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A last glance back to the north and I had to stop for photos of the clouds that were creating such interesting patterns.  


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This was the second time that I raced for home with storms gathering all around and again I barely got in the garage before the rain and hail started beating against the back of my truck.  Once the storm cleared, the clouds rolled back to reveal a snow-covered mountain range to the south. 


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With my Nikon and tripod, my goal is to recreate the scene as it appears in nature, to preserve in a photographic image the awesome, yet simplistic beauty of the scene that waits around a bend or over a hill. Sometimes it's a colorful landscape, and many times I'm allowed in the presence of the numerous creatures that adapt to life in the wild.

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