Moby Goes to Colville Ridge

May 2014

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.

A warm May day at 8000 feet
A warm May day at 8000 feet.

Although the highest point on Colville Ridge is lower than the campground, to get there you have to go down and then back up.

Larry leads the way while I goof around taking pictures.
Larry leads the way while I goof around taking pictures.

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.

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.

Native American sleeping circle?
Native American sleeping circle?

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.

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus Magister)
Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister)

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).

Dinner time! Want a bite?
Could you eat a meal bigger than your head?

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.

Mormon Tea (Ephedra  genus)
Mormon Tea (Ephedra nevadensis)

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 (

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” (

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. (

Mormon Tea's flowers are actually male and female cones.
Mormon Tea’s flowers are actually male and female cones.

This cute little flower grows where most plants can’t. It prefers washes and gravelly slopes . . . or in this case sticks and stones.

Yellow Frocks (Eriophyllum ambiguum)
Yellow Frocks (Eriophyllum ambiguum)

The Greek meaning for ambiguum is “uncertain” because the first describer of this flower was uncertain of its taxonomic position.

How hot do these black rocks get in August?
How hot do these black rocks get in August?

No Death Valley hike would be complete without the Prickly-Pear . . .

Mojave Prickly-Pear (Cactaceae)
Mojave Prickly-Pear (Opuntia erinacea)

. . . or the Mojave Mound Cactus.

Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
Lit by the evening sun.
Lit by the evening sun.
Cactus and snags and rocks (with a little color enhancement ).

Back at Mahogany Flat Campground, we watch the sun go down.

Sunset from camp.
Good night.


11 thoughts

  1. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  2. You really have an eye for photography, Janene. I love the blue lizard and the cacti. I learn a lot by reading your blog!

  3. Nice pictures! I have had tea made from the stems of ephedra (many years ago), it is a nice tea, but of course very stimulating – presumably why the Mormons, who did not drink coffee (?), liked it.

    1. When I was at BYU (in a previous life) I went camping with a friend and her family in the mountains near Salt Lake. I remember the friend’s mother pointing out Mormon Tea and telling me how great it was. Don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a cup. How’s the taste? Maybe I’ll make some next time I come across that plant.

      1. I remember it as similar to black tea in taste with the same astringency. The color is like a green tea. You used to be able to buy it at health food stores- I don’t think so any more.

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