Over the past month, we started working on a new project out here in the Mojave Desert–one that actually took us out of the desert and Las Vegas, and up to the Colorado Plateau! We’re assessing the vegetation and soil recovery on old oil drilling sites, from a wide range of timespans and in a couple geographic areas. We spent about two weeks in Utah measuring these sites, and it was definitely a change in scenery, from the dry and muted landscape of the Mojave:
Or the sandy dunes of Eureka Valley in Death Valley National Park:
To a landscape of bright reds and greens and scattered with canyons:
We were looking at sites mostly dominated by blackbrush (and sagebrush sites will also factor into this project), but recorded any perennials we found on our transects, which of course meant looking up a whole new batch of species we hadn’t encountered in our normal work in Nevada. There were also some familiar genera, like Sphaeralcea, that had different varieties or species up there for us to key out.
While our primary focus was on plants and soils, we also did get to say hello to some wildlife while there:
The geology of the area was also super interesting–it took us about 6-8 hours to drive from the Las Vegas Field Station in Henderson up to the general Moab, UT area, depending on the sites in question. On the way I read the entire Utah Roadside Geology book at least twice, and inflicted most of it upon my fellow car-mates, whether they cared about the rocks or not. Seeing all the different formations and knowing the vastly different landscapes that produced them (huge fields of aeolean-driven dunes, shallow seas, tidal flats, and more) and just how long it takes to create even a few feet of sedimentary rock–it really puts the geologic timescale in perspective in a very tangible way.
Above is a mysterious blue member within the Entrada formation, at one of our Campsites, near Tombstone Butte/the Needles… my best guess is it was anhydrite/gypsum, but as to why it stops so suddenly, I can’t say. The grains were too large for it to have been an ancient lake sediment, so maybe a narrow tongue of a tidal flat is my best guess.
Anyway, as a photographer, the vast array of landscapes I’ve been able to experience while out west has been truly inspiring, so I will close by leaving you with some of my favorite photos I’ve taken while here. These were shot in places all around Nevada, California, Utah, and Arizona.
– Jessica Mikenas
US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center