ITEM: A DRY WINTER
On my way here I met some beekeepers whocomplained of this being a dry spring. Las Vegas' Radio KDWN has been reporting the same thing. In fact, one big piece of local news is that Lake Tahoe, about 225 miles northwest of here on the Nevada/California line, has dropped to such low levels that at the usual launching places boats can't be floated without first scraping bottom. If more rain had come this winter, maybe now we'd be seeing more spectacular displays of wildflowers. Though the occasional broad, diffuse splotch of yellow Desert Sunflower has been good to see, I really can't say that anywhere we've seen "the desert in bloom."
YUCCAS AND CACTI ARE GONE
During my walks around here I've not seen a single yucca, and the only cactus encountered has been the occasional Silver Cholla, Opuntia echinocarpa. For the first time since entering the desert no single plant lends its unique character to the landscape in an especially interesting or aesthetically pleasing manner. At Big Bend always we had those tall, slender flower stalks of lechuguilla and sotal rising above the Creosote-bushes, In the Sonoran we had Saguaros and more recently in the Mojave we had Joshua-trees and Mojave Yuccas. Later I think we'll have sagebrush. But here the mingled Creosote-bushes and white Bur-sage create a gray-green cover that just doesn't have the pizzazz of our earlier deserts covers.
ITEM: WARMING UP
I haven't felt really cold since leaving Coronado National Forest. Night temperatures dip no lower than 40º. One night in the dunes south of Death Valley the low temperature was 63º. Below l000 feet for the last couple of weeks, the average daytime temperature has ranged between 80º and 94º, the highest coming in the mudflats and sheltered valleys. Judging from talk on the radio, these days may be a little warmer than usual. On the day we cruised through Death Valley an atypical high cloud cover kept temperatures in the mid-sixties. Here at about 3300 feet the dawn temperature was 42º, and the expected high today is 80º. Since crossing the Mississippi River heading west, I've not seen any real rain.
The two common lizard species here are the Side-blotched Lizard, Uta stansburiana, and the Zebra-tailed Lizard, Callisaurus draconoides, which we've seen elsewhere. Usually in any given location one species is more common than the other, but so far I haven't figured out the ecological factors that give one species ascendancy over another. The Zebra-tailed holds its tail arched over its back as it runs. In North America north of Mexico we have 115 lizard species, while about 3000 species are known worldwide.
On the slopes just west of Beatty one wildflower new to us deserves mention because it's one of the most brightly colored species we've met. It's the Southwestern Paintbrush, Castilleja integra, with flowers and upper bracts as red or orange-red as the most garish lipstick. Standing about a foot tall and bearing narrow, unlobed leaves, its flower spikes are visible from 200 feet away. The most common wildflowers here are the already-encountered Rough Fiddleneck, Scalloped Phacelia and Whitebristle Stickseed. Also found here are the yellow-flowered, lacy- leaved Western Tansy Mustard, Descurainia pinnata, of the Mustard Family, and Layne's Locoweed, Astragalus layneae, of the Bean Family. This latter species produces interestingly purple-mottled, sickle-shaped seedpods that are grooved on their undersides. Not a single Layne's Locoweed plant has been found not nibbled on by deer. I'm really astonished at the number of locoweed species we're finding everywhere we go.