One great thing about Death Valley National Park is that you can change the weather by changing your elevation. Too hot at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level)? Go higher. It will be cool on Telescope Peak (11,043 feet). We hiked Colville Ridge (7730 feet) on a too-hot-in-the-valley day. There’s no real trail to follow. Just grab your map, walk north from Mahogany Flat Campground, and pick your route.
Although the highest point on Colville Ridge is lower than the campground, to get there you have to go down and then back up.
As always, there are interesting things along the way. Colville Ridge and surrounding area hosts stands of Pinyon Pines. The nuts from these trees was an important food for Native Americans who would have congregated here during harvest season. We found this pile of rocks and wondered if it’s a burial site.
This area has many rock rings like the one below. I think they’re what’s left of a shelter. There are reports of a wikiup and petroglyphs in this area, although we didn’t come across them today.
In addition to Native American objects, there were also cool animals like this lizard with bright blue scales. I think he’s really a very small dragon and can probably breath fire, too.
This lizard was so busy with his meal that he let me photograph him quite closely (I don’t have a telephoto lens). Notice how much darker this guy is than his pal above. The Desert Spiny Lizard has a wonderful trick: it changes color according to temperature–darker when it’s cold and lighter when it’s hot to control heat absorption (called metachromatism).
If we hadn’t seen a cottontail run under this bush after Larry nearly stepped on it, we’d have never spotted it. It stayed absolutely still while I took its picture.
The plants were also wonderful on this hike. By May, most of the wildflowers are gone from lower elevations, but many are still blooming in the mountains.
Apparently you really can make tea from this plant. Chop up some stems and steep in boiling water for about 20 minutes. As a child growing up in Mormonism, this plant was part of my pioneer heritage lore although it now seems that Mormons weren’t exposed to this plant until long after they settled Salt Lake City (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55428417-78/tea-mormon-brigham-plant.html.csp).
Mormon Tea also goes by the name Whorehouse Tea because it was used as a cure for syphilis and other STDs and was “standard fare in the waiting rooms of whorehouses in early Nevada and California” (http://www.gcrg.org/bqr/7-3/mormon-tea.htm).
Even stranger, according to WebMD, people today still drink Mormon Tea for syphilis, gonorrhea, colds, kidney disorders, and as a spring tonic. WebMD seems skeptical that it works, however. (http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-569-mormon%20tea.aspx?activeingredientid=569&activeingredientname=mormon%20tea)
This cute little flower grows where most plants can’t. It prefers washes and gravelly slopes . . . or in this case sticks and stones.
The Greek meaning for ambiguum is “uncertain” because the first describer of this flower was uncertain of its taxonomic position.
No Death Valley hike would be complete without the Prickly-Pear . . .
. . . or the Mojave Mound Cactus.
Back at Mahogany Flat Campground, we watch the sun go down.