Great Basin, June 2015

In mid June 2015, I made a quick trip out to Nevada and California. I flew in to Reno, NV and had lunch with my brother Chris. Then I spent two days in Tahoe City, CA, at the National Nuclear Physics Summer School. Next I spent two days exploring around the Great Basin in Nevada. Finally I spent a day in South Lake Tahoe, CA, with my brothers Chris and Curt, and their families. On the last day I had Father's Day breakfast with Chris and his boys and then flew home.

Parts of Lake Tahoe are really beautiful. The area is heavily developed.

A Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) outside the door of my room in Tahoe City.

Great Basin desert in NV.

Walker Lake in NV. This is one of several closed-basin lakes in the Great Basin that is losing ground due to water diversions for irrigation. Of course, literally speaking, it is actually gaining ground...

Great Basin desert in NV.

I thought this road might be good for finding snakes after dark, but I did not have any success here.

Straightaways are common in this region. Probably not a very exciting place to be a highway engineer...

I stayed in Tonopah, at the Mizpah Hotel. It was built in 1907 and has been recently restored. It was quite nice.

I did succeed in finding some snakes. This is a young Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) that I saw.

I was hoping to see some rattlesnakes on this trip. Unfortunately, the only ones I saw had been run over by cars: one Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) and one Panamint Rattlesnake (Crotalus stephensi).

A sobering sculpture in Tonopah. The plaque reads:

"Big" Bill Murphy
This statue depicts Big Bill Murphy, hero of the tragic Tonopah Belmont Mine fire that killed 17 miners on February 23, 1911. Murphy went down in the mine cage a number of times to bring up stricken miners. One the last trip, he did not return.

Statue designed and built by Adam Skiles. Dedicated May 28th, 2005.

After I photographed the sculpture, a lady appeared and said she was glad that I appreciated the sculpture. Then she proudly mentioned that her son had made it. Cool.

A cool mural in Tonopah. The F-117A, aka Stealth Fighter, was based out of the Tonopah Test Range in the early days (1980s) when it was top secret. It's also pretty cool that there was a B-24 Liberator named "Mizpah" in WWII. I looked into to it a bit; the Mizpah was a B-24J with a gun turret in the front. The mural depicts an earlier version.

A statue commemorating the Stealth Fighter.

In the morning I did some lizard looking.

A Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana), with a stubby tail.

A pretty male Great Basin Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores). It was a very cooperative photo subject and seemed to be very curious what I was up to. At one point, it scampered off the top of the rock and hunkered down. I was wondering what I did wrong for a bit, but then I realized there was a hawk overhead and it was staying out of its sight. As soon as the hawk passed, it went right back to the top of the rock. Pretty cool how the lizard was more worried about about a distant bird than me standing four feet away...

Another look at the Collared Lizard.

Another male Great Basin Collared Lizard, proudly basking.

A basking Zebra-tailed Lizard (Callisaurus draconoides). It is lacking the zebra tail because its tail is regenerated.

Desert Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

A juvenile Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), that was flitting from rock to rock.

Another basking male Great Basin Collared Lizard.

A female Great Basin Collared Lizard. The females lack the dark throat and are less boldly patterned.

A Great Basin Whiptail (Aspidoscelis tigris tigris), on the prowl.

A Leopard Lizard (Gambelia wislizenii).

Distances are vast in the Great Basin. This is a mere 12-mile straightaway on U.S. Highway 6 between Tonopah and Ely. Speed limits are generous out here as well.

When I was around 18, our family had the brilliant idea to drive through the night on our vacation trip to Wyoming. Our truck broke down somewhere on this stretch of road sometime after midnight. Needless to say, we were on our own. We slept in the truck until dawn. Dad had deduced that the problem was a faulty thermostat, so in the light of day he removed it (I always wondered why he brought the toolbox). And we were on our way.

A scruffy looking pronghorn doe (Antilocapra americana).

A cactus bloom.

Higher elevation in the Great Basin.

An interesting Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) that I saw. The usual pattern is significantly reduced. I wish I would have taken some more time photographing it.

Another look at the Gopher Snake.

A Long-nosed Snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei).

Now back civilization in South Lake Tahoe.

Chris and Curt and their families at South Lake Tahoe.

Chris with Nick and Kyle.

Father's Day breakfast in Carson City with my brother Chris and his boys, Kyle and Nick. Chris is an amazing dad!

It was a good trip, although bit on the short side. Everything felt a bit rushed: my time at the summer school, exploring the desert, and visiting with family.