The Drive to Eureka Dunes

Writing a blog is a tricky art. I could easily compare it to balancing a herd of cats. Try to write a little bit about everything that has happened since the last entry, and you  end up writing a bullet point summary fit for a lab notebook hidden in a cobweb filled basement. Get too creative or introspective and you end up writing a “Dear Journal” entry that you soon realize should have not been posted for public viewing, but rather taken to your therapist.  With that said, let’s see how this goes!

With a long drive ahead of me from the USGS Biological Research Division location in Henderson, Death Valley’s Eureka Dunes, I cracked my back, jogged in place and with much reserve got into the car that was to be my prison for the following five hours.

As my brain slowly melted into a state of hibernation, dreaming of the beautiful white powdery snow left behind in Chicago I was startled by the vision of a snow covered mountain. Could it be? I looked again, this time coaxing my mind into full alertness and persuading my tongue to move around its coffee infused cavern and ask Sarah, one of my mentors, about the apparition. Luckily for me, Mt. Charleston was no mirage but rather the tallest peak in the county. Who would have guessed that a mere 35 miles from Las Vegas a relatively majestic(?) peak such as Mt. Charleston could be found.  Part of the Spring Mountain Range, it is one of the eight highest peaks in the state, standing at a solid 11,912 ft. It seems my dreams of snow have been answered.

Now, fully awakened by the exciting realization that there is more to this area than sand, I was glued to the window like a kid looking into a candy shop. With NPR playing on the radio and images of hiking with micro-spike in Nevada, I hardly noticed the odd flying airplane like things occasionally visible on the horizon as we approached Creech Air force Base. The vast expanses of land in Nevada have attracted a lot of military activity. The Creech Air force base has been active since the 1940’s. This site is home to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Battle Lab. Seeing many different flying vehicles pass over our research sites, I wondered to myself whether the pilots and handlers practice by spotting how many freckles cover the faces of researchers hiding in remote areas of Death Valley ….  As I pondered this thought, I look up again only to find myself looking at Mercury.

Mercury is the location of the Nevada Test Site. THE SITE where nuclear weapons were tested. I could not believe it. I was driving past THE site where most of the nuclear testing was done in the 50’s!  I think this topic may deserve a whole separate blog (especially since they do have tours) but for now I will leave you with the image of the blue exit sign that usual shows services, gas stations and food, empty at mile marker HM-165.

With a sigh, and a much needed readjusting of my stiffened legs, I look out the window again. This time thinking back to all the times I had driven from Chicago to Champaign.  The drive is generally considered bland and straight. These adjectives are in fact accurate; however I have an odd obsession with hay bales and was always hopeful for a glimpse. Round hay bales, square hay bales, and heaps, all placed in dizzying arrangements on the field from which they were collected.  Staining my eyes to see any signs of hay bales, though not really expecting to see them in this landscape, I saw a tumble weed crossing the road, right as we hit it. Pshh, typical, exactly what I would expect in a desert. Voicing my observation, I was quickly corrected and informed that tumble weeds are not native! Though a lot of different plants can get up and tumble away (especially in the gusty sand blasting winds that we were facing), the most iconic tumble weed comes from the plant Salsola tragus, more commonly known as the Russian Thistle, a common weed in disturbed areas, that arrived from Eurasia years before! Who would have guessed!

 

And there she was. Eureka Dune.  A very appropriately named dune, for she, out of nowhere just appears. With a sigh of relief, I realized five hours pasted with a blink of the eye.

 

I need to thank Sara Scoles-Sciulla for showing me all these points of interest

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