Friday, May 7, 2010

Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things: Another Trip to Wheeler Peak

So, with some of my current field work complete, and with MOH fortuitously on his seven days off, we took a trip out to Wheeler Peak yesterday. I browsed through some old photos and found that this year's early May trip was the earliest of any year, except for trips that I would place into snowshoeing or other winter categories.
Consequently, although these first two photos are similar in location and orientation to several I posted last year as snow comparison photos, they are earlier than those by at least three weeks. Nevertheless, they do show that Wheeler Peak has more snow on it in early May, 2010, than in late May, mid June, or late June of previous years. No surprise there, really.
The Great Basin National Park website correctly reported that Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (the paved road that goes to 10,000 feet) was open to Mather Overlook... we drove up and walked around the rocky point, which is at the end of a short dirt road and not far above the 9,000-foot elevation sign.
I was fascinated by how the snow highlights a fracture set across the face of Wheeler Peak, the fracture set being sub-parallel to the ground surface on the right (north) side of the peak. Enlarge the photo to see these fractures, and also to see the rock spire standing above and behind the foreground trees, also on the right side of the photo.
We walked around, finding plants and birds and rocks and things.
Plants included a lot of sweet-smelling, unusually tall and somewhat twisted Mountain Mahogany, manzanita, small Ponderosa pine trees (I think), distant leafless aspen, and distant limber pine.
We saw and heard a few birds, including a small group of Clark's Nutcrackers, a raven or two, and at least one chickadee.
As for rocks, they were everywhere, in roadcuts leading up to the overlook, forming whole hillsides and slopes across the way, scattered all over the ground over which we walked, and jutting out as cliffs to make good foregrounds for pictures and good sitting spots between meanderings. The rocks at Mather Overlook are probably part of the late Precambrian McCoy Creek Group. They come in a variety of whites, pale greens, and purplish grays, with occasional other colors like this nice orange. The metaquartzites are shiny, sugary, and show swirled to laminated bedding.
This pale green metaquartzite is cut by a sugary, white quartz vein, probably a metamorphic sweat-out vein. This type of vein most likely doesn't contain gold, but given the proximity to the Osceola gold district located on the west side of Wheeler Peak, one never knows.
The ground, besides being littered with loose rocks and rock outcrops, was turning green with grass and soon-to-be wildflowers. The air was crisp and refreshing at 36° F (2° C), and the views into Utah were spectacular.
We finally turned away from the mountain, walked back to the Prius, and drove down the hill to the 6,825-foot elevation of the Lehman Caves Visitor Center. We were glad to find that the NPS website was incorrect about the Cafe and Gift Shop operating hours. We went inside and had lunch with chocolate milkshakes.


Garry Hayes said...

Very nice post! It brings back pleasant memories of Great Basin NP. Strangely enough, the strongest memory you brought back is the odor of Mountain Mahogany. I miss it a lot out here in California!

Silver Fox said...

Thanks! Mountain mahogany has a disctinctive odor, which reminded me once again of rhyolite. (But there isn't any at Wheeler.)

coconino said...

Nice description! Makes me want to be there - that park is one of my faves, as is the hike to Wheeler Peak. Thanks for sharing.

Silver Fox said...

Almost like being there. Almost. It's such a cool place to go in the middle of a hot summer (still a little wintry up there, will be for another month and a half).