Willow Creek Spring Monitoring

“Spring Monitoring” really doesn’t conjure up the adventurous nature of what Ann and I do this weekend. The objective sounds simple: visit locations where a spring is suspected to exist and gather data about it. The practice draws on many of our favorite skills and activities.

We start with an evening drive to the Black Rock desert where we spend the night on the remote and expansive playa.

Sundown on the playa

In the morning more driving on roads that stay good for a surprisingly long time brings to our first spring, Willow Creek Reservoir. This is an excavation-dam combination, or impoundment as we later learn. There are large, long-clawed canine tracks in the mud at the edge – but not quite big enough for me to cry wolf.

Willow Creek Reservoir

Canine Tracks

That’s the practice run – the points that really pique our interest require cross country desert hiking. Smokey Creek Canyon provides a good combination of basalt cliffs, rosebush thickets, cattle trails, willow brush, and one magnificent great horned owl. He flies past us up the canyon, and watches us watch him as we approach again. His eyes are like kaleidoscopes to me.

We’re a bit disappointed when we find no spring at our first destination.

No Spring

What we do find are ticks. This sage land resident is a familiar parasite, and we shift into frequent tick-check mode, knowing they commonly crawl around for hours before digging in.

The next site is much more satisfying – a marshy spring on the side of a rocky canyon. We happily gather our data and eat lunch.

Spring Overview

Our day continues like this until our last spring near a road. We’re getting tired. Ann knows better, but in her fatigue moves a rock while sitting down. Shortly afterward, still in hyper tick-awareness, she feels a tickle in her armpit. When she grabs her shirt there she feels something much larger than a tick. In a moment of inspired deftness she unbuttons her shirt one-handed without letting the creature go. Once free she drops it to the ground, revealing this:

Scorpion from Ann's shirt

It’s our first serious encounter with a scorpion. We later learn that a scorpion sting here is usually about as dangerous as a bee sting. Not knowing that at the time, Ann gets a good adrenaline rush out of the encounter.

The rest of our day and night is peaceful, and we’re ready for some more after sunrise.

Another nonexistent spring awaits us above the cliffy McConnell canyon, along with a rattlesnake and nice views.

Ann cross country hiking

Above McConnell Canyon

Top of McConnell Canyon

One more spring is just a memory with a trough and small dry impoundment.

Defunct Trough

I finish the trip off with a run along the road out, followed by Ann in the camper. We arrive back in Reno with just enough time for me to make a quick pinhole projector for viewing the annular eclipse between a few drifting clouds. I think the eclipse might be reflected more clearly in my eyeball than in my pinhole projection.

Casino flyer pinhole eclipse viewer

The weekends have been feeling full, and I think will continue in that vein this summer.

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