Out of the Big City and into the Desert

I was psyched to be able to go out into the Great Basin Desert — which is pretty much all of Nevada — for five days, sleeping in the dirt, helping out with some work on field instruments, sampling trees, and meeting a whole bunch of new people, from the director of Great Basin College in Ely to staff and board members from the Long Now Foundation. We even got to hit the annual Labor Day firemen’s picnic in Pioche.

Wheeler Peak (center) and Mt. Washington (far right), Snake Range, as viewed from Cave Mountain near Ely.

The first stop was at Great Basin College, where Scotty Strachan, a Master’s student who works in the UNR DendroLab, began negotiations to install data-receiving equipment on the property, so that two-way communications could be established between the instruments and UNR.

Two of the sites are located on Mt. Washington (the whitish peak at far right, above) — one near the top and one about halfway down. This picture was taken from Cave Mountain, between Mt. Washington and GBC. Permission would also be needed to install repeater equipment on top of Cave — which is why we were up there in the first place.

Scotty on the tower at the montane site (9200'), Snake Range.

We camped in Spring Valley, below Wheeler and Washington, and drove up the mountain the next day to the two weather stations. Scotty climbed the towers (left) and messed with instruments.

Not having that much to do at the stations, Mike and I mostly hung out and enjoyed the scenery.

Mike checks out the rock quality of the limestone cliffs that make up Mt. Washington.

These stations collect precipitation, wind speed and direction, temperature, and solar radiation data. Data are used to reconstruct past climates and attempt to predict future scenarios.

The Long Now Foundation

The properties on which the weather stations sit are inholdings, mostly old mines, near and within Great Basin National Park belong to the Long Now Foundation. It was established in 01996 (they use five-digit dates; the extra zero is to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years) to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking.

One of their coolest activities is the Clock Project, a monument scale, multi-millennial, all mechanical clock as an icon to long-term thinking. Clocks will be installed within Mt. Washington and at other sites.

The Long Now group touring the subalpine site on Mt. Washington, at around 11,000'. Bristlecone pine and Engelmann spruce died in a fire about 10 years ago.

Since climate studies fit nicely into long-term thinking, LNF are partnering with UNR to collect and distribute climate data, and so have allowed installation of data collection instruments on their properties. We toured the sites with staff and board members on a fine September day (right).

on to the limber pine

Sleeping in the dirt for science, White Rock Canyon, Monitor Range.

We headed west toward the Monitor Range to sample low-elevation limber pine that Scotty had heard about and that he thought might reveal some interesting climatic patterns, as limber pine typically grow at elevations of 9,000-10,000 feet. We were there to take some core and trunk samples and record site data to bring back to the lab for analysis.

The DendroLab gang at UNR studies climate and forest dynamics, Holocene processes, and environmental change. Study sites range from Alaska to Mexico, with the Great Basin region in North America as the primary focus.

Scotty cores a live limber pine. Even dead trees can be cored; the ring patterns can reveal secrets about past climate when matched with other trees at other locations.

The science of Dendrochronology allows reconstructions of past environments, processes, and events using records obtained from tree-rings.

We headed back to Reno with a bagful of cores and tree-trunk sections, happy to have been able to drive down the rough back roads and find the trees.

And now, here is a slideshow with scenes from eastern Nevada!

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