Over 40 people visited Ash Meadows on March 19th and 26th to take part in a 2.5-mile interpretive hike from Point of Rocks to Devils Hole. The events were hosted in partnership by Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and Death Valley National Park.
The day began with a Jr. Ranger Program at the Point of Rocks picnic area. Ranger Rose led several young children in a lesson about the wildlife that lives in the Mojave Desert – and what they might encounter along the hike. The kids enjoyed listening to some Native American legends and touching the pelts of a bobcat, coyote, jackrabbit, and other native animals.
Around noon, the crowd gathered at the picnic area and Ash Meadows Outreach Specialist, Alyson Mack, gave a welcome and introduction to the Point of Rocks area. From there, Ranger Rose led folks along the boardwalk and up onto the rocky hillsides for a scenic view across the Refuge. From that vantage point, hikers were able to see the Funeral and Panamint Ranges, between which lies Death Valley. Ranger Rose told the story of how these magnificent limestone mountains and valleys were formed over millions of years, from accumulations along the ocean floor and the great forces of tectonic plates. “This is an incredible place,” she said, “because you can actually see geology taking place before your very eyes!”
Springtime provided a richness of life to explore along the hike. New, lime-green leaves were beginning
to sprout on the leatherleaf velvet ash trees – Ash Meadows namesake tree. Young yerba mansa shoots were emerging from the white, alkaline soils while fresh seep willow leaves lined the gurgling spring-fed streams. A group of teenagers from Las Vegas spent several minutes watching a baby desert cottontail rabbit munch away at the fresh greenery. Budding prickly-pear and barrel cacti dotted the rocky hillsides of the Point of Rocks range, and the bright yellow blossoms of the Ash Meadows Sunray – a federally threatened plant and Ash Meadows endemic – were at the peak of their bloom. Ranger Rose invited everyone to stop for a moment and listen to the melodic whistle of the Phainopepla birds flittering amongst the mesquite trees. Further along the hike, children spotted bighorn sheep and coyote scat, purple blooms of the Mojave aster, the remains of a cow from Ash Meadows’ ranching era, a zebra-tailed lizard, and a beautifully camouflaged horned lizard!
The hike ended at Devils Hole – a disjunctive portion of Death Valley National Park. Ranger Rose told
the story of how Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1984, which wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the Supreme Court decision to protect one tiny fish – the Devils Hole pupfish. “Thankfully, some people before our time had the insight to save the pupfish, and we have gained so much as a result,” said Ranger Rose, “but for all you young people, the choice will be up to you. The future is yours.”
– Alyson Mack, Great Basin Institute Environmental Education & Outreach Specialist