Discovering the Nature of Nevada

When I lived in the southeast, I spent a good bit of time immersing myself in the nature of the Great Smoky Mountains. That included becoming a Certified Southern Appalachian Naturalist (SANCP), through a program that gave me the opportunity to understand the intricacies of the natural environment there.

Then I moved to Nevada. Other than the basic concepts of plant and animal identification and behavior, there’s very little that translates between the lush forests of the southeast and the high desert where I now live. That means I’m now starting from scratch to keep my inner naturalist satisfied.

Unlike he SANCP program I completed in Tennessee, there really isn’t a Nevada naturalist program that serves my purposes in the northern part of the state. That leaves me piecing together my understanding of the environment here on my own. As you can imagine, that takes some effort which means I was delighted when I discovered the Nevada Native Plant Society. It’s an active, engaged group that offers a lot of field trip opportunities around the state.

My first foray with them was to visit the area that will become the Walker River State Recreation Area. The park will be a phenomenal 12,000 acres, but most importantly, that includes 28 miles of riparian habitat. In a desert state, protecting the waterways that are our lifeline is crucial so this acquisition into the Nevada State Parks system has many implications beyond recreation for you and me.

In the field

I couldn’t pass up the chance to join knowledgeable naturalists on a visit to the area while it is still in its infancy as a budding park. These folks really know their plants and I love soaking up their naturalist mojo. For a newbie, the word jumble of unfamiliar plant names gave way to trying to grasp the broader picture of the types of plants making their way in the high desert.

The biggest take-away for me was understanding how to see the hidden treasures of the desert. This is a completely different world. I’ve spent a good bit of time in the desert but not in this context, in which I’m trying to understand it at the same level I got to know the Smokies. It requires recalibrating from the frequently obvious blooms and features in lush forests to learning how to spot little beauties smaller than a pinky nail in a vast open landscape.

nevada native plant society - val in rea life
Searching for desert gems. Believe it or not, they were everywhere. You have to know how to look for them though.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
This seemingly dainty flower somehow manages to survive in the harsh Nevada landscape.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
Looking out across the high desert, you wouldn’t think so much would be hiding.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
Thick leaves and luscious color, but small! I’m completely smitten with the tough little survivors of the Nevada desert.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
The rugged Nevada landscape seems no place for delicate beauty, yet what you can find here is astonishing. This exclosure was built to study the impact of grazing on the plant life.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
One of the larger flowers, the lupine.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
Lunch break in the Nevada version of an oasis, a cottonwood-lined stream.

 

nevada native plant society - val in real life
I loved discovering how alive with color the desert is.

Mad love

I was thoroughly blown away by the collective knowledge of the people in the group. They are dedicated to their craft. The folks from the Walker Basin Conservancy have been working relentlessly to protect this area. For those of us on the outside of this process, we often take for granted our existing parks. Hanging out with these inspiring people reminded me how much energy and dedication goes into making a new park. I’m very grateful for their efforts. I’m looking forward to enjoying the fruits of their labors.

In the meantime, I’ve got a LOT to learn about Nevada’s ecosystems! See you in the field.

nevada native plant society - val in real life
It’s heartening to know there are dedicated people working to protect our lands and provide a way for us to enjoy it in the form of a park.

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