Newsletter

Issue 31 - Spring 2002

 

Contents:

Flashflood/Fire Hit Spring

SPA Meets With New Park Superintendent

Advisory Commission Meeting

Annual Park Passes Now Available by Mail

Radar Installation Proposed in Valley

Fire Pan Update

Treasurer's Report

Volunteer's Needed

Tips from Igor

Request for Birds and Plants Lists

ELIMINATION OF PALM TREES IN DEATH VALLEY


 

Flashflood/Fire Hit Spring

This past summer, on July 7, a flash flood roared down the Corridor causing much damage and leaving behind mud and debris.

Camp Host Lizard Lee reports that heavy rain that day elicited concern of flooding but then the rain subsided and he heaved a sigh of relief.

Then, about 20 minutes later, he heard a roar as a 4 to 5 foot wall of rushing water hit the Lower Warm Springs. The flood, originating somewhere up the Corridor, had broken out of the wash halfway up to the Palm Spring and roared down a gully to the cold (dog) pool where it split into two parts. One wall of water hit the Camp Host's enclave, almost upending Lee's trailer and carrying away his outside refrigerator, generator, air compressor and many tools.

The other torrent bypassed the Sunrise Pool and Source but broke through the flood-control ditch, inundating the potluck/library and fire-pit area and most of the lawn.  The fire-pit and potluck area were left 12 inches deep in mud while on parts of the lawn it was up to 18 inches deep.Of course, the "settling pond" was filled with mud with the goldfish virtually wiped out.

Lizard Lee, who was alone at the springs at the time, was overwhelmed with the enormity of the mess. It took him weeks of hard work digging out and trying to recover lost equipment.

SPA organized a relief working party for August 3-5; however, short notice and extreme desert heat saw only Silver Bob and North make it in to help dig out the camp.

With a great deal of volunteer effort, the Lower Springs have been returned to order and flood control ditches and berms have been restored.  Shovels and wheelbarrows are available in camp to continue the job of digging out and leveling campsites.

Fortunately, the Palm Spring escaped the flood entirely.

In early September, three people were heard shooting off bottle rockets at the Lower Spring. The Camp Host admonished them about the "no fireworks" regulations and they departed from the springs

It was several hours later that Lee smelled smoke and discovered a fire raging downstream from the settling pond. After alerting Park Headquarters, Lee by himself managed to scoop up buckets of mud and water from the pond and prevent the fire from spreading to the palm trees surrounding the lawn area. In all, about an acre of arrowweed was burned plus a few mesquite trees. Of course, time will heal these wounds but several preferred campsites will be less than hospitable for a season or two.

Fireworks are prohibited throughout Death Valley National Park. The scars left by this needless, destructive incident serve as a reminder that they have no place at the Springs. SPA extends its thanks to Lizard Lee for his quick action in protecting the camp from more serious damage from this unfortunate incident.


SPA Meets With New Park Superintendent

According to SPA's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Death Valley National Park, representatives of SPA are to meet with the Park Superintendent at least once a year to discuss work projects and other concerns for the coming year. SPA Board members met with Superintendent J.T. Reynolds on October 27, 2001. 

Mr. Reynolds (who prefers to be called JT) expressed his support of the MOU.  We discussed ways to improve communications between the Park and SPA, so that the user community can be notified more quickly when significant problems occur such as the July flood and the September fire at the Springs (see separate article).

Other topics discussed included the following:

New Compendium: A revised Compendium of operating rules and regulations for Death Valley National Park is being prepared. A copy of the Compendium will be furnished to SPA when it is ready.
Outhouses: Wayne Badder, the new Chief of Maintenance, has ordered a 2300-gallon pumper truck to service the Park outhouses, but it will not be delivered until Spring 2002.  NPS is working on obtaining a second toilet for Palm Spring, possibly another vault toilet or a composting one.  Digging a pit toilet is not an acceptable option for the Park. If a composting toilet were to be installed, it would require regular maintenance.  SPA suggested that the user community could probably take responsibility for this task as a demonstration project.

Rangers: There is currently no permanent ranger assigned to Saline Valley. The position is being filled by a rotating group of rangers as they are available.

Wilderness Boundaries: The internal wilderness boundaries in the Park are still being defined, with Park personnel resolving boundary issues on the ground. The project is about 3/4 done, and JT hopes it will be completed within Fiscal Year 2002.

Fees: JT asked how the user community would feel about a camping fee being charged at the Springs.   SPA pointed out that according to the Code of Federal Regulations, camping fees cannot be charged in a campground that does not provide potable water. A more immediate and practical approach would be to have Springs visitors pay the $10 Park entrance fee, or preferably, obtain a $20 annual Death Valley Park Pass. SPA said it would encourage Springs visitors to pay the Park entrance fee (see separate article).

Site Plan: It will be some time before the Park can begin preparing a site-specific plan for the Springs.   Ultimately this plan will involve input from all interested parties and members of the public.  In the interim, JT asked SPA to develop some options for a site plan, including such things as camping areas, flow of traffic and people, community areas, and flood control.  SPA welcomes this opportunity to document the current "lay of the land," and to provide suggestions for a working plan that will keep the Springs safe, welcoming, and user friendly for all visitors.

Signage: JT requested immediate input from SPA on a plan to inform visitors of regulations and Springs etiquette without contributing to "sign pollution."  SPA agreed to develop a proposed signage plan that would convey necessary information in a friendly and positive way.

Pet Control: JT asked SPA to remind Springs visitors that pets must be kept on leashes. He recommended that all pet droppings be collected by the owners and taken out of the Valley for disposal.
Burros: A burro collection was done in October, with 113 burros removed from the entire park and a total of 12 removed from Saline Valley.  The remaining burros will be difficult to round up with helicopters and wranglers; water trapping of burros may be attempted in 2002. JT said that once all the burros have been removed from Saline Valley, the fence around the lawn can be taken down.

Timbisha: The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is moving forward with its plans for development at Furnace Creek.  With regard to "cooperative management" of Park resources,  the Tribe will be entering into an agreement with the Park for a pilot project to use traditional management techniques on small selected groves of mesquite (at Furnace Creek) and pinyon (at Wildrose), to see if such techniques can produce healthier, more productive plants. The Timbisha Tribe will be a participant in developing the official site management plan for the Springs. SPA expressed the desire to work cooperatively with the Tribe to protect sensitive cultural and natural resources.

Volunteerism: Throughout our discussion with JT, SPA emphasized that volunteerism has been a successful approach to maintaining the Springs for decades.  We expressed our desire to work cooperatively with the camp host, Lizard Lee Greenwell, and to coordinate volunteer workers to supplement and support Lee's ongoing efforts.


Advisory Commission Meeting

Two members of the SPA Board attended a meeting of the Death Valley Advisory Commission on October 31, 2001.  Among many agenda items, there was a discussion of the current status of the Saline Warm Springs.  Park Superintendent JT Reynolds reported on the October 27 meeting between himself and SPA.  Commission members expressed support for SPA's request for a second outhouse at Palm Spring. 

Superintendent Reynolds has encouraged SPA to work directly with his trusted staff members. SPA made contact at the meeting with key NPS personnel who will be able to facilitate cooperation between the user community and the Park. 


Annual Park Passes Now Available by Mail

Since Saline Valley is part of Death Valley National Park, visitors to the Springs are technically required to pay the $10 park entrance fee. Currently fees can be paid only at Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek.  Even when the new entrance stations are built (still a couple of years away), they may not be at locations convenient for Valley visitors.

SPA encourages all Springs visitors to pay entry fees or buy annual passes, since this will help to forestall possible camping fees at the Springs.  Single-entry passes and $20 annual Park passes will soon be available at the Interagency Visitor Center in Lone Pine.  Annual Death Valley passes can also be ordered by mail.  Send your request with a $20 check to: Fee Office, NPS, P.O. Box 1235, Beatty, NV 89003.

 


Radar Installation Proposed in Valley

Saline Valley is part of a special military-use airspace complex where low military overflights are permitted for training purposes.  In order to provide adequate radar coverage of Saline Valley, a solar-powered radar installation has been proposed by the Air Force for the Valley floor, with the preferred location in the area of the Artesian Spring.  Two other locations, on BLM land, are also being considered.  The proposed installation could pose problems concerning wilderness and appropriate use of national park lands.  The proposal will go through an environmental review process, with the opportunity for public comment. An Environmental Assessment will be issued in February 2002, and public information workshops will be held in the Death Valley Area.  To be placed on the notification list, call Robert Shirley at Edwards Air Force Base, (661) 277-1473.


Fire Pan Update

SPA is well into its second year of furnishing steel fire pans for use at the Warm Springs camping area. Community acceptance has been good, and most campers now use a pan instead of building their campfire directly on the ground. By doing so, and hauling out leftover ash, unburned charcoal and wood, we’re able to keep the area cleaner for all users.

            These pans don’t last forever. Those in the most popular sites are rusting through from use. The flood in July washed some away. We’ve even seen one that made its way across the valley and is now being used in another popular camping area.

               SPA volunteers will be bringing another batch of new pans in before Presidents’ Day Weekend. Unfortunately, our ability to furnish these fire pans exceeds our ability to deliver them! If you are traveling through Carson City on your way to the Springs, and you have some extra room in your vehicle, it would help immensely if you could carry a few of the pans in with you. To arrange pick up, call “Silver Bob” at (775) 884-3758 during business hours. Your help will be appreciated.


Treasurer's Report

The SPA Treasury started 2002 with an opening balance of $4,833.19. The approximate cost of printing and postage for this newsletter will be about $800. That leaves us a remaining balance of $4,033.19.


Volunteer's Needed

SPA needs your help. As a volunteer organization, we depend on members of the community to assist and support our efforts. Your monetary donations have been generous, and SPA entered 2002 with more money than we’ve ever had. At this point, what we really need is contributions of labor.

            We’re looking for people with the time and energy to help with the production and mailing of the newsletter, to help maintain and update our web site, and to organize and participate in various approved work projects.

            The SPA Board has recently undertaken the task of preparing a suggested Site Management Plan for the Springs. Members with this type of experience could be very helpful. It’s also been suggested that we get involved in the BLM’s “Adopt a Cabin” program to prevent the cabins in Beveridge Canyon from being razed. This would require regularly scheduled work parties, as well as emergency response in the event of a major problem. When you add this to the ongoing dump site clean-up, fire pan program, Advisory Commission meetings and general SPA business, you begin to see a lot of opportunities for increased community participation.

            If you have the time, and you think you could contribute some of that time to the types of projects outlined above, please feel free to introduce yourself to any SPA Board member, or write us at: PO Box 1603 Inyokern, CA. 93527.


\Tips from Igor

Travelers should have an understanding of the risks inherent in backcountry travel. County roads into the valley, as well as other non-maintained back roads are subject to floods, landslides, snow, infrequent maintenance and other conditions which may make them extremely hazardous. The following guidelines may be of assistance in preparing to travel on roads into the valley.

1.       Roads into the valley are long, and sometimes infrequently used. A distance of 60 miles may take many hours. Plan your trip so that you need not rush. Time is never saved when breakdowns occur.

2.       Carry necessary provisions. These may include but not be limited to:

      Spare tires and jack equipment

       Extra water (Sodas, beer, and ice do not substitute for a good water supply.) An extra 5 gallons is recommended.

Extra food (Even if you make it to your destination, it is a long way to the store, and road conditions may prohibit your leaving when you had originally planned.)

Proper clothing and footgear for any situation

      High clearance vehicles in good operating condition are always recommended.

3.       If your vehicle does break down, stay with your vehicle. Your vehicle may provide shade, and you will be more easily located if you stay with your vehicle. If you choose to ignore this advice, and choose to leave your vehicle to walk for help (many have been lost this way!!) DO NOT leave the road to travel across country. The risks of hypothermia, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke are great, and the chances of anyone being able to locate you are slim to none.

 

For that pesky leak in your radiator on the long lonely Saline Road, add black pepper to the coolant for a temporary fix.  Although some have extolled the virtues of oatmeal for this purpose, Igor prefers that you eat oatmeal to control your cholesterol. It makes a real mess when you try to drain your radiator.

You say you don't like the washboard?  What's the fastest you've made it in to the Springs on the Saline Road? If you drove more than 25mph, you contributed to the washboard problem.  And please, don't try to skim along the ridges at high speed -- you can easily lose control of your vehicle.  If we all observe a voluntary 25 mph speed limit on the dirt roads, it will be a more pleasant drive for everyone.


Request for Birds and Plants Lists

 

Park naturalists have asked SPA whether any Springs visitors keep track of bird and/or plant sightings.  Needless to say, we answered affirmatively, and have already arranged for two bird lists to be provided to the Resource Management staff. 

The user community's love and knowledge of the animals, plants, and geology of the Valley is a valuable resource, and serves to demonstrate our long association with the area.

If you have a list you'd like to share, please send it to SPA, either by mail or email, and we will get copies to interested Park staff.


ELIMINATION OF PALM TREES IN DEATH VALLEY

Tim Croissant, Biological Science Technician

Death Valley National Park

Many people associate palm trees with desert oases.  In movies about the old west and in cartoons, oases always have palm trees.  Here in Death Valley, many of the isolated springs have palm trees growing around them, which would seem to confirm that palms have always been there.  Despite that, Death Valley National Park has an aggressive program to eliminate palms throughout the non-developed parts of the park.  Why is that?

 We know that there were no palm trees in Death Valley until about 1930.  We have confirmed this through the records of various groups and botanical expeditions that visited Death Valley through the years, and by checking historical photographs.  This includes the Colville expedition of 1891 (botanical surveys and photographs), and photographs from the construction of Scotty's Castle and the Cow Creek area.  This means that palm trees are not a natural part of the Death Valley ecosystem.

 There are currently two types of palm trees growing in Death Valley -- Fan Palms, and Date Palms.  Date palms are not native to North America, and did not exist here until brought over by European settlers.  Dates were originally introduced in the date plantation at the Furnace Creek Ranch, probably in the 1930s.  Since then, coyotes and ravens have spread the seeds, starting feral date groves in the Furnace Creek Wash, Texas, Travertine, and Nevares Springs, and several other locations around Furnace and Cow Creeks.

Fan Palms are native to the Sonoran Desert (south from here), but did not exist in Death Valley until they were planted as ornamentals at Scotty's Castle in 1930, and at Cow Creek and Furnace Creek a few years later.   Like Dates, the Fans escaped cultivation and spread into the desert springs.  Fans spread much faster than dates, and there are now feral groves throughout Death Valley, some of which have more than 200 trees.

 Palm trees use a lot of water.   It is estimated that a single large palm tree can consume 300 gallons of water a day.  They can drastically change the environment of desert springs in a short period of time.   A dense grove of palms growing in a spring can eventually cause the entire spring to dry up.  The thick growth also crowds and shades out native plants, and prevents wildlife from reaching the water supply.  These springs are few and far apart, and are extremely important to the plants and animals of the desert.  From a natural resource perspective, palms are very destructive.

 In 1983, Death Valley National Monument decided to start trying to control palms, but didn't make much progress.  About four years ago, Lake Mead National Recreation Area began developing more effective and less labor intensive methods for treating palms, and began applying those methods to the palms here at Death Valley (which became a National Park in 1994).  As a result, a total of about 200 palms have been treated in the last two years, at Furnace Creek Wash, Cow Creek, Nevares Spring, Lower Vine Ranch, and between Texas and Travertine Springs.   The Nevada Conservation Corps provided most of the labor on this project.

Native plants provide more food and better habitats for native animals than palm trees do, but it takes time for the native plants to regenerate after the palms have been killed.  For that reason, the vast majority of the palms are killed and left standing dead.  Dead trees provide as much, or even more habitat than live trees, and can provide a home for wildlife while the native plants regenerate.  We are currently developing a revegetation program to speed up habitat recovery.

 It's important that we clarify which palms we are going to remove.  Any palms that have cultural or historical significance will not be removed.   This includes palms in the various housing areas, at the Castle, and in the Cow Creek and Headquarters areas.  We try to determine if they were planted or grew on their own, and if they were planted, we don't treat them.  The only palms we do remove are those that are growing wild in the non-developed parts of the park.

Palms growing in the developed areas are treated as ornamentals, and are kept or removed based on landscaping, maintenance, or cultural priorities, rather than natural resource priorities.  Removing trees from housing areas requires approval from the occupant of the residence the tree is located at, the chiefs of Resources and Maintenance, and the superintendent.

 Although it's not very popular, the palm tree removal effort is essential to the well being of the desert environment which we all work to protect.