Las Vegas, Nevada
The Mojave Desert is the driest region in North America, characterized by sparse vegetative cover, climatic extremes, long periods without precipitation, high evapotranspiration, and wide diurnal and seasonal variation in surface temperatures. Rising from the desert floor at 2000 ft are the Spring Mountains of southern Nevada, which reach nearly 12,000 ft in elevation. These mountains are of interest for the many endemic plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
The city of Las Vegas, renowned for its gaming attractions, is surrounded by a variety of parks, rugged mountains ranges, and unique habitats. These include large sandstone formations, a series of gypsum formations, high elevation limestone cliffs, and one of the largest lakes in the world.
This foray departed from the normal pattern of wilderness retreats in the SO BE FREE tradition, with the group staying this year at the Silverton Hotel south of downtown Las Vegas. This arrangement allowed us to visit a greater diversity of habitats in the southern Nevada region.
The Saturday foray was to a high elevation limestone area in the Spring Mountains, at approximately 8,000 feet. The northeast slopes of the mountains offer an incredible transect of vegetation types ranging from creosote bush scrub through pinyon-juniper woodland, ponderosa pine forest, and into a subalpine forest, with large limestone boulders, cliffs, and running streams with aquatic mosses. The Sunday foray focused on the sandstone formations in the southern region of the Spring Mountains, within the Red Rock National Recreation Area. These narrow canyons are home to several disjunct populations of bryophytes, and the scenery is superb. For those interested, Monday morning was spent venturing to a unique series of gypsum formations, on which the endemic Las Vegas poppy grows along with the rare Didymodon nevadensis. This area is north of Lake Mead, within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Saturday night Lloyd Stark, the organizer, hosted a backyard barbeque overlooking the bright lights of Las Vegas, and Sunday evening we convened on the campus for a microscope session and an informal mixer. Taken all together, this trip was a diversely enriching experience!