Sheep Range Walk '94

It was in December of 1994 that I took this little walk into the Sheep Range, I did not yet have a digital camera, and I had the intention of walking quickly up to the crest of a saddle in the range and taking photos on the way back.  

Bad idea: it got dark before I could reach the top of the saddle and to keep from being in the dark for very long had to come back.

So this is an abbreviated walk that I do want to repeat sometime in the future, but maybe not alone next time: 8 hours without seeing a soul, and with no cell phone reception at all, is not a recipe for good health, perhaps.  Now that I am in my 60's all of a sudden these types of thoughts are coming into my head, strange and unpleasant thoughts, like I am no longer invincible!  .

This first photo shows my car at the turnoff to "Hidden Forest,"  and if you look above the sign (dark, but it is there) and then look at the horizon just above it, you can see the 'mummy' of Mummy Mountain, second highest peak on the Spring Range at about 10,500 feet above mean sea level, lying there with its feet to the left and belly along the ridge providing the high point, and then its face to the right.  I say "it" not out of any disrespect, but I really can't tell whether it is supposed to be a male or a female mummy.

The Spring Range lies west and north of Las Vegas, the mummy is about 45 miles from the city.  The Sheep Range is an east-west trending range that lies north of Las Vegas and reaches up to 9,912 feet above mean sea level in elevation.  The Sheep Range and the Spring Range are the only two ranges in Southern Nevada with significant tree-stands (forest), above 6,000 feet.  The Sheep Range is a protected area, all of it, dedicated to the preservation of Desert Bighorn Sheep.  And there are lots of them on the Sheep Range, I could tell be seeing their resting/nesting area in grass and brush nearer the top.  They are also on the Spring Range where I have seen them.  I saw none this day.

So my idea for the day was to drive to the primitive area barricade and then walk as far as I could up the canyon to hopefully reach the saddle and see over the top to the south (can't see Las Vegas from there, but would see the Vegas Range, another east-west range that forms the northern boundary of the Las Vegas Valley, which reaches 6,943 feet elevation and has no trees at all (a few Joshua Trees on the northern slope is all).

By the time I reached the barricade, I had a flat tire which I decided to fix now so as to make my leaving easier. This caused an unwelcome delay, but a welcome delay is hard to imagine right here and now, so I had to settle for it.  Note the very nice Joshua Tree stand (Yucca brevifolia) on the slope, it is at about 5,000 feet elevation.

Finally I started, and here is the barricade reminding you that you are a guest in a primitive area and are not to leave anything behind.  Next few hours were spent walking up this gentle abandoned dirt road that leads to an old game warden's cabin.  It is no longer in use but can be used by anyone desiring to as long as they clean up after themselves of course.  At one time this range saw some considerable use, hence the need to guard its wildlife against poachers.  In addition, Mormons late in the 1850s were exploring the range for minerals and timber.  They did establish a sawmill and develop a spring now named after them but abandoned it in short order because of the difficulty in getting the wood anywhere from here, they did not find minerals on the Sheep Range, but on the western flanks of Mt. Potosi (the southernmost part of the range) they did find lead and mined it for two years until they sold it in 1858, it was worked by various owners until the end of World War II.  (Some local lore: the Potosi site where the workers lived temporarily became the first Nevada ghost town, in case you care).

The snow in the shadows promised a walk that would not be too hot, although it was near 60 F in town this day.  I decided to not take a lot of pictures on the way up, but to get as far as I could and then take pictures on the way back.  (If you have ever gone somewhere with a picture-taker you know it takes time.)

But I took one picture on the way up when I began to see pinyon pines on the slopes:  I was up to about 6,500 feet elevation at this point

And one picture very close to the crest of the pass, in the hidden forest where there actually were Ponderosa pines aplenty (the taller ones with the reddish trunks).  Biologist friends have told me this stand is maintaining itself in the current hot and dry climate, but it is not spreading.  It got started during the last ice age, from ~22- to ~10-thousand years ago, spread beyond its present boundaries and contracted again over the last 10,000 years while we have been in an interglacial climate.  It will spread again when the next ice age comes.  During an ice age, summers are about 10 degrees F cooler and rainfall/snowfall is about double what it is today, on average.  So this hidden forest is a "relict" forest.  Relict, according to the US Geological Survey, means: "Persistent remnants of a formerly widespread species in certain isolated areas."  So it will spread again, and when the next interglacial comes, it will contract again.   Being a tree on this mountain is a tough life.

I was going to plow on and up, but then looked up and was surprised to see signs of sunset already.  I did not want to be on the trail in the dark, so turned around.

So I turned around and caught several more views with the last rays of the sun in them

I hurried from this point on, and then, as I approached the end of the canyon where I was parked, it was dark except for the sky itself, which got pretty for just a few minutes and then faded to black.

So why bother with these few photos?  To allow me to post a few nice links with many more photos, obviously. And also to give myself the impetus to get my old butt in gear and go back and do it again, this time with more daylight!  So stay tuned, it will happen this year, promise.

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