Chapter 3: Ash Meadows
The Leatherleaf Ash tree once flourished here (and is currently making a comeback), and so humans eventually named this area Ash Meadows. Ash Meadows is an extremely rare and unusually large, desert oasis. In fact, it’s the largest oasis in the Mojave Desert.
It’s a complex of more than 30 seeps and springs. The water is very pure, and thought to be thousands of years old, having originated from the glaciers of the last ice age. Hence, it’s called “fossil water.”
The fossil waters flow from Ash Meadows into Carson Slough. This empties into the underground Amargosa river, which transports the waters to the Lake Manly aquifer, thousands of feet below Death Valley’s Badwater Basin.
Plants and animals discovered Ash Meadows long before humans. Here evolved the Ash Meadows sunray, the Ash Meadows blazingstar, the Ash Meadows milkvetch, the Amargosa niterwort, and the Spring-loving centaury.
Hopping about among all these native plants is a unique rodent, called the Ash Meadows vole. Moving more slowly are unique snails that evolved here also, including the Crystal Springs snail, and Fairbanks Spring snail.
Unique fish evolved here, which we know as the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish, Devils Hole pupfish, and the now extinct, Ash Meadows killifish.
The Ash Meadows killifish was first documented in 1893. It was last seen in 1948 and likely went extinct sometime during the 1950s. This was due to all the damage in the name of progress that humans had inflicted on this area by that time, and also by introduced species, like crayfish, mosquitofish, black mollies, and bullfrogs, that preyed on the killifish.
Within the sand and gravel covering the beds of springs and streams (but not bedsprings, thankfully) is the bizarre Ash Meadows naucorid. This is considered to be a true “bug,” with fangs that can bite into and suck the juices out of its victims. The Ash Meadows naucorid is a relative of bedbugs and aphids. But it’s the only true bug in the world that can’t fly, and that is fully aquatic.
It’s smaller than a grain of rice, and prowls the bottoms of a few streams at Ash Meadows, hunting and attacking prey. It also bites the feet and ankles of humans who wade in the streams, who are warned by signs that the bites hurt. But don’t worry. This fearsome bug cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, but here.
The immense acreage and abundant water of Ash Meadows attracts birds from all over, including migratory birds. Before it was severely damaged by farming and ranching, it attracted many more migratory birds than current days. But it’s still a birdwatchers paradise, who have spotted nearly 300 different species of avian at this lush oasis. These include sapsuckers, wrens, cuckoos, swifts, warblers, thrushes, sparrows, swallows, swans, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, and sandpipers.
And there are also plenty of resident birds to keep a birdwatcher’s binoculars busy, such as roadrunners, quail, thrashers, rails, eagles, falcons, and hawks.
With all the water, shade, plants and animals, Ash Meadows is a paradise. It’s a sparkling jewel in the midst of a vast, barren desert. And for much of its history, the unique plants and animals that visit and reside here, have been protected by its remote geography. Protected, that is, from one particularly destructive species of animal. A wild, cruel animal we know as the human bean.
This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 4: The First Humans. Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.