Friday, July 31, 2009

Lizards of the Day: Blue Bellies

On a recent roadtrip through Nevada, on our way to a Geobloggers-in-the-Pub meeting, MOH and I stopped at the West Gate windmill. Lo and behold, after squeezing through the closed gate and walking around to the windmill side of the rock-and-concrete water tank, we saw a couple blue-belly lizards scurrying around on the shady north wall of the approximately six-foot-high water tank.
In fact, we saw two pairs of lizards, possibly mating pairs judging by how closely they stuck to each other. The first pair is in the first photo, the second pair in the second photo.
The first pair had a larger, darker-looking lizard and a slightly smaller, browner-looking lizard; similar coloring and sizing in the second pair was not quite as obvious. This is the larger, darker lizard of the first pair.
In this close up, we can vaguely see the bluish patch under the lizard's chin, and we can see a bit of the blue belly, along the side of the lizard between it's foreleg and hind leg.
This is the slightly smaller, browner lizard of the first pair, hiding between a water pipe and the north wall. Some of its spots are turquoise in color.
And here, he/she has run to the top of the rock wall, and we can see the under-chin and belly patches quite clearly. The blue to bluish turquoise patches on the bellies of these lizards consist of two side patches.
This is one of the lizards of the second pair. The fairly common or typical yellow coloring behind or under both sets of legs can be seen, especially the yellow behind the forelegs.
These lizards, commonly known as blue bellies, blue-bellied lizards, swifts, or Western Fence Lizards, are formally known as Sceloporus occidentalis. The subspecies seen here is called the Great Basin Fence Lizard, or Sceloporus occidentalis longipes. All S. occidentalis lizards are good to have around, as they may help keep ticks free of Lyme disease.

The location of West Gate on this MSRMaps map is marked by the windmill symbol. For more about West Gate read Friday from the Road: West Gate. This post is being submitted to Carnival of the Arid #6, hosted by Chris Clarke at Coyote Crossing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rock and Butterfly

Rock and butterfly: a small white and dark brown butterfly rests on a piece of breccia in our garden. Volcanic rock fragments, subangular to rounded, sit in an iron-oxide-rich matrix, probably hydrothermal in origin.
The rock is from northeastern Idaho; the butterfly is from eastern Nevada.
A good side view of the butterfly, which is now on one of the marigolds.
This same butterfly is now about to fly away from its zucchini leaf, because the camera lens has gotten too close for its comfort.

Heart: Dog and Butterfly

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Trail to 12,350 feet (Or so)

trail When we left off last time, I was at about 12,100 feet on the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail, still below the lower snow bank and the first black knob or hill. Now, about 10 minutes later at 12:45 pm, I've hiked above the lower snowbank and am climbing said black knob.
clouds and rocks I stop for a breather - I mean, to take some pictures of the view, including the one above with quartzite in the foreground and the northern Snake Range in the background to the northeast and in the left part of the photo. The Snake Range d├ęcollement or detachment fault, also seen here, is inconveniently in shadow.
hikers In fact, there are mostly shadows everywhere at this point. Looking to the northwest, I now have a clear view of that lower snowbank, along with two hikers who are ascending in shorts. (Brrr!) The rainy gap in the Schell Creek Range across Spring Valley, is Cleve Creek.
raven Another raven, at 2:55 pm. See "raven zone" here.
rain By this point in this little hike, elevations have become somewhat approximate - can you believe I didn't take a GPS? Well I didn't. It's now 3:00 pm, and I've climbed above part of the upper snowbank and am probably at about 12,320 feet or higher, at the top of the second black knob. [The "knobs" aren't really distinct knobs, but look that way when you are below them looking up.] By now, the two chilled hikers are above me reaching the very top of the middle snowbank, and MOH is just below the upper white rocks heading for the upper snowbank.
more rain It's really raining hard down on the alluvial fans to the northeast. That's Snake Valley beyond the rain.
xloseup of rain Closeup of the rain, which is pounding the hills just north of Lehman Caves.
spring valley The view to the north at 3:05 pm, with a nice bright patch of sunlight shining on a green part of Spring Valley.
storm with rocks Looking back down the trail to the west-northwest, it's now raining in the Copper Creek area of the Schell Creek Range, and also to the south where Highway 50 cuts through the mountains (far left of the photo).
upper shelter At 3:10 pm, I've made it to what I'm assured is the uppermost wind shelter, although I have no way of personally verifying that assertion. This shelter is at about 12,350 feet by my aerial photo - map - Google Earth reckoning, maybe as high as 12,365 feet.

By now it's definitely raining, though I no longer remember exactly when the rain started. I take off my daypack to get water and some protein-carb bars. And to rest.
peak1 Here's Wheeler Peak from the upper wind shelter, looking southeast up the final part of the ridgeline.
peak2 And Wheeler Peak again, this time looking more to the south, with the beginning of a large talus slope on the right.
talus upper Talus slope.
talus middle1 Talus slope with a storm in the background (gee, what a surprise).
talus middle2 A little lower on the same talus slope.
talus lower Here, I'm standing beyond the western edge of the wind shelter, looking down the talus slope, over a steep, rocky ledge.
up I look back up the slope. Far ahead of me, MOH is crossing the upper snowbank, headed for the summit.
down By 3:25 pm, MOH has gone beyond the upper snowbank, I have put on extra fleece along with my rain jacket and pants, and I have turned to go back down.

There are no pictures from the trip down, which was a trip of rain, wind, sideways rain, and sideways hail. Not long after starting back down, the top of the peak was socked in from clouds and rain, and visibility was rapidly deteriorating. The sideways hail stung my legs all the way to somewhere below the shoulder area, below 11,900 feet. At the shoulder area, I considered using the double wind shelter, even going so far as to walk over to it. I had to consider the cold and the real threat of hypothermia, though, and continued downward. Everytime the trail turned into the wind, I had to put a hand over my face to keep my face and eyes from being stung, even with glasses on. And I had to constantly wipe my glasses with wet wool gloves so I could see the rocks and slope in front of me. Fortunately, the wet rocks under my boots didn't seem slippery.

Amazingly, MOH made it to the top, took a verification photo, turned around, and caught up with me on the way down by the time I reached the waterfalls area at about 11,100 feet. The shorts guys made it to the top and passed us going down, not far above trail's end in the upper part of the Wheeler Peak campground. They said the sideways hail was painful, but were in good spirits.

MOH and I reached camp six to eight hours after setting out at 11:00 am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Year Ago Today: Clouds with Hints of Smoke

One year ago today, I was out and about, probably checking on drill rigs. It was early morning, the sky was blue, and stratocumulus clouds scattered themselves across the eastern and northern skies, blocking the rising sun, and making wonderful rays.
Wispy bits of smoke leftover from the early summer fires mixed in with the clouds and added depth to the sky's landscape.
I ran across these photos a few days ago, and was amazed at the blueness of the sky, and also the shaded blues of the distant mountain ranges. This last photo looks northeast across the low hills of the Egan Range, past the somewhat higher Duck Creek Ranges, to the distant, higher peaks of the Schell Creek Range.

This summer, we haven't seen anything like last year's thick smoke, which blanketed the state from Reno to eastern Nevada for weeks. We've had a little haze from smoke, but so far it's been minimal.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Garden Status at 7 weeks

Here's our garden at 7 weeks: flowers are blooming and vegetables are growing. Compare 0 weeks, 3 weeks, and 5 weeks.

The garden is about to get a timed dripline installation. The lines are out and mostly connected, with only a few details to finalize before setting the timer and turning on the water. The drip system will allow us to get away from the garden for more than 1 to 2 days at a time, and will probably use less water than our current soaking method.
Marigolds are going nuts with flowers; this one is being visited by a skipper butterfly.
Peppers have a lot of little white flowers.
We've got one tomato almost red enough to eat, and another one or two getting that way. (Yay!)
We have some very happy chocolate mints (and two that aren't as large as this one, which are mainly growing from roots after some large-leaf die back, and one is still indoors, generating roots).
And we've got more than one white cabbage butterfly laying little white eggs all over the kale. Don't know what to do about that. I presume the eggs will hatch and turn into leaf-devouring larvae. Yuck.
The zucchini squash are also doing well, with several blossoms and a few small zukes.

Date and time of main garden photo: July 21, 2009, at 7:30 am. Larger photos - except for the tomato and zuke photos that were taken today - were taken on July 15th and 17th.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Trail to 12,100 feet

below shoulder On the last part of our Wheeler Peak trek, MOH and I had made it to about 11,600 feet, or about 300 feet below what we call "the shoulder." This section of trail, like most sections above tree line, is rocky, and when the snow is still melting, it's occasionally wet to barely muddy. Here, up ahead of me (as usual), MOH is about to crest this rise and saunter on to the shoulder.
double shelter One great thing about the shoulder: it's the flattest thing around! I mean, it's barely uphill, and to each side, east and west, it's downhill! (Well, it's always downhill if you turn back around.) On this map, the shoulder is the distinctly flatter-than-everywhere-else ridge more or less north-northwest of the word "Foot." For a barely uphill section, however, it could be longer, in my opinion.

Views from the shoulder are generally nice to spectacular, starting with a great view of Wheeler Peak, seen in the photo above. One of the several wind shelters on this section of trail is barely in view on the left part of the photo. This is a particularly nice double shelter; we walked over and had lunch, a lunch of protein and carbohydrate bars with water, if I remember correctly.
lakes Like I said, great views - this one looking north, with Stella Lake on the left, Teresa Lake on the right, and the northern Snake Range in the sun beyond the shaded forest. Both lakes are tarns.
lake A closer view of Stella Lake.
storm We arrived on the 11,900-foot shoulder at just about 2:00 pm. I dawdled around as much as possible, not sure if I was going onward. MOH was sure he was going to the summit, but I wasn't sure at all. One thing that was starting to concern both of us was the thunderstorm to the southeast. We had already experienced a little wind, but nothing like the wind for which the wind shelters were designed, which is is a wind strong enough to knock a small- to medium-sized person sideways. I say this from personal, though later than this post, experience.
flowers Everywhere flowers! These are more of the skunky-scented polemonium, with some white phlox. I didn't take many flower photos at this point, figuring that I'd get them on the way down. Ha!
onward By 2:25, I decided to go onward, despite the storm, which is clearly the same one darkening the skies over Wheeler Peak. MOH is just a dot beneath the storm cloud on the right. The cairn in the lower right is there to mark the trail in case of minimal to zero visibility. Many of the cairns also mark the wind shelters, which are off trail and downhill, left of the cairns when going uphill.
ravens MOH is about to leave the shoulder area for higher and steeper realms, and has entered the raven zone. I can't say that these ravens are here all the time, but they were out in full force on this day, using the updrafts for some great soaring. The backdrop for this picture is composed of those looming, dark and stormy clouds.
trail At 2:30 pm: the trail goes upward, and varied green mats clump the ground between the quartzite rocks.
storm2 The mats include large ones made mostly of the yellow-flowering plant (Geum rossii) we saw lower on the trail. Spring Valley and the Schell Creek Range south of Highway 50 are getting dumped on by our storm.
trail2 I never said the trail wasn't steep at times, always rocky, winding to switchbacked.
middle shelter I've made it to another wind shelter. Here you can see the general build of these things: rather horseshoe shaped with the highest walls to the west to protect hikers and climbers from the wind. This one has a narrow entryway built opposite the highest part. The shelter is at about 12,000 feet.
rocks Rocks and rain.
storm3 More rocks and more rain. This photo looks more or less to the southeast, into that same storm. Does it look at all threatening to you?
trail3 At 2:35 pm and about 12,100 feet, the trail goes on. I'm still below the lower snowbank; MOH is just a dot above the right side of the lower snowbank. He's heading for the last wind shelter. The clouds are not dissipating in any way...

During this relatively short section of trail, my eyes were mostly focused on the rocky trail. More views next time!