By the time youve 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 dont 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 earths 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.
Theyre 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 wont 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 waters surface combine to create a serene
setting that is the perfect beginning to any day.
After Ive soaked in all the atmosphere at Crystal Spring I head out to
Kings 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 theyre 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 Kings
spring are old Native American grinding holes unlike any youve ever seen
before. Perfectly cylindrical in shape, they look more like postholes than
metates. But youll 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 youll 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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