Last week we headed out to the remote Eureka Valley in the northwest corner of Death Valley National Park to collect data on two endemic species – Swallenia alexandrae (Eureka Valley dune grass) and Oenothera californica ssp. eurekensis (Eureka Valley Evening Primrose) – which are both federally listed as endangered species. It was gorgeous there, but it was also one of the hottest places I’ve ever been! I’ve been told (many times) “it’s only going to get worse”, so I tried to go along with the idea that we were actually experiencing fairly mild temperatures while we were there. Anyway, the views from atop the dunes and getting to work with these beautiful endemic plant species definitely made it all worth it!
We went to three different sites in Eureka Valley – Eureka Dune, Saline Spur, and Marble Canyon. Eureka Dune was absolutely breathtaking! It is the tallest sand dune in the state of California, rising more than 680 feet above the lake bed at its base. At each site we located tagged Swallenia alexandrae and Oenothera californica ssp. eurekensis and recorded data on their growth and reproductive effort; these plants are being monitored over a three-year period, with this being the second year of data collection. Swallenia alexandrae has a dense root system which catches and holds drifting sand, thus forming stable hummocks that can be found even on the steepest slopes of the dunes. Using our GPS units, we traversed up and down dunes searching for our study plants, which were sometimes high up on these steep slopes. It was definitely an adventure!
Happy Earth Day! Thanks for reading!
Las Vegas Field Office, USGS