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April 26, 2000
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By the time you’ve traveled the 90 miles Northwest from Las Vegas to get to the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, the area beyond the entrance seems unremarkable. That assessment has caused more than a few people to miss out on some notable wildlife viewing opportunities. What you don’t see from the highway are the more than 30 seeps and springs that bring to the surface over ten thousand gallons per minute of crystal clear warm water from deep within the earth’s surface. And with that water come a myriad of migrating birds as well as year round inhabitants. But even more than the springs and the waterfowl there is an attraction here that makes the whole trip worthwhile.

They’re smaller than most of the fish found in domestic aquariums, and yet the Pupfish that inhabit all of the major springs here have had a profound impact on the history at Ash Meadows.

I started my visit, as I always do, at the refuge office. But I arrive well before the office is open. The reason is I want to take a stroll down the boardwalk interpretive trail that takes you out to Crystal Spring. Because this is one of the larger springs I won’t get my best opportunity to view the Pupfish, but for me this is the most scenic of the springs. The sound of the birds and frogs, the contrasting greens along the banks of the creek, and the steam that rises off the warm water’s surface combine to create a serene setting that is the perfect beginning to any day.

After I’ve soaked in all the atmosphere at Crystal Spring I head out to King’s Spring to meet biologist David St. George. In the past agricultural practices here in Ash Meadows were responsible for placing the Pupfish on both the threatened and endangered species lists. But through the hard work like people like David they’re making a comeback.

David Bert ... I saw it before you did the work here and I'm absolutely amazed. This looks like, pretty much the way I would have expected it to look long before man got here.

David St. George, Fish and Wildlife Biologist... Yeah, that's sort of how we based our work off of. We have some photos that were taken in 1949 of what basically it looked like. A small spring pool, mesquite trees around it, bull rushes and stuff. And that's the sort of how we based our restoration work but we did on the spring.

David Bert ... Now this is my favorite pond for being able to just come and watch the Pupfish because its shallow, they're very bright blue here, and you really get a chance to see them quite well. But it's also very attractive for people who want to swim in hot springs or warm springs. But that's just a bad idea here isn't it?

David St. George, Fish and Wildlife Biologist... Yes it is. We've had problems in the past with people swimming in this spring in particular. It is shallow, it's only about 5 ft. deep, so when you're walking across the bottom of the this one you disturb the algae that's in here that the Pupfish are laying their eggs on, and they eat algae as their food source. So it tears all this algae up and it pretty much gets washed downstream. So any of the eggs and stuff that were on that algae have been lost now. So the fish sort of have to start over again, laying eggs again. So it is very destructive to swim in these springs.

David Bert ... As we stand here watching these Pupfish we know as well as they know they're very territorial. Why is it that all of these fish keep going in and out trying to challenge the larger one.

David St. George, Fish and Wildlife Biologist... Mainly there's not enough habitat in the whole spring pool for every male in there to have his own territory. The big large dominant males have their little territory. So you've got all these other pretty much younger smaller males and females and little juvenile fish that are just free swimming in the spring. So they sort of move into the territory get a few bites of food and are chased out to the next territory. So while that male's in one territory chasing fish out, another male is going to come over and try and get a few bites in his territory. So it's a constant game of chasing each other around.

David Bert ... And it is constant. They just never stop.

David St. George, Fish and Wildlife Biologist... Yeah they do. They're constantly on the move chasing each other so that's where they get their name from. Because they're constantly chasing each other around and playing, they look like puppies.

Sitting on the banks of the spring watching the Pupfish defend their territory is more than enough reason to stop here at Ash Meadows, but for the adventurous there are other things to discover and learn. Behind King’s spring are old Native American grinding holes unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Perfectly cylindrical in shape, they look more like postholes than metates. But you’ll have to explore to find them. For the less adventurous you can learn a lot about spring environments by simply reading the interpretive signs along the boardwalk. This may not be the place you’ll plan an outing to, but the next time you head out in the direction of Death Valley, you might want to consider making Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge one of your stops along the way.

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