A Mojave Desert cactus bloom.Those with expertise in desert plants find the Sandy Valley interesting in that it has areas indicative of 3 different distinct desert ecosystems: the Great Basin, Mojave, and Chihuahuan. In an hours ride you can pass through stands of the sage and salt brush common in Great Basin deserts; then spots rich in creosote bush and joshua trees as common in the Mojave deserts; and then a little ways on see groves of mesquite shrubs and prickly pear cactus most common in Chihuahuan deserts.
Desert plants are remarkably hardy and have developed equally remarkable tricks to deal with low moisture and sparse soils of the American southwest. If you were to pour a few cups of water over a square foot of apparently barren dust higher up on a ridge then return in a few days, you’d likely be stunned at the plant live that suddenly appears as if by magic. Scientists have found that a square meter of such “empty” desert dirt can contain between 5,000 and 10,000 seeds of local plants lying dormant just waiting for their moment.
Early spring (late February into March) is an especially beautiful time in the Sandy Valley as that is when you’re most likely to seen the delicate flowers of the indigenous plants.
Wild daisies growing in Sandy Valley.One beautiful and sweet smelling bloom is the desert primrose. It’s the latin name (Oenothera brevipes) means “shortfoot,” as the primrose keeps its flowers down close to the ground. An especially wet late fall and winter assure a good crop of these beautiful white to light red flowers. They are most common low in the valley. You might also see prince plume, a member of the mustard family with a distinct 2 to 3 foot long stalk of yellow flowers.
Another outstanding bloom is the lovely desert san verbena which you’ll also see in lower elevations of the Sandy Valley. It especially likes to hug the few roadsides in the valley, where it likes to soak up that extra bit of moisture that drains off the hardpack. We’re a tad high for particularly huge spreads of these flowers, but as you drive in from Las Vegas in early spring you might see large carpets of its trumpet shaped, pink flowers each 2 to 3 inches wide. You’ll certainly know if they’re near, even with your eyes closed, as the pungent smell of their perfume in unmistakable.
San Verbena growing in Sandy ValleyAs you climb up the ridges both the number and size of blooms decreases, but never disappears entirely. You might take a moment when off your horse to get down close to the ground and take a look. At the right times of year you will see remarkable little paradises of flowering plants and mosses that are simply out of this world. You might carry a lupe or small folding magnifying glass to better enjoy the remarkable detail of these tiny gems.
So when do the flowers bloom in Sandy Valley? Well that varies from year to year, depending on the amount of winter precipitation, weather patterns, and the like. Generally, late February through mid March is a good bet. Give us a call or send an email for updates from the ranch starting in early February.
Plants and animals have a complex love-hate relationship here in the valley. For on the one hand, both the indigenous vegetarians like the pronghorn antelope and mule deer and introduced animals like our horses are quick to bite the tender little heads off of growing plants. But on the other hand, many local plant species would be sunk were it not for the hooves of these herbivores breaking the hard soil down as they pass by, adding, er, the organic matter essential for plant life to that soil, and by spreading seeds as they charge through meadows as the plant seeds charge through them.
The prehistoric animals that inhabited the Sandy Valley before the last ice age about 10,000 years ago must have been a heck of a sight — and a pretty spooky sight at that: woolly mammoths 16 feet tall at the shoulder, giant ground sloths with Bighorn Sheep found in Sandy Valleyclaws the size of a man’s hand, saber tooth cats with, well, saber teeth! Yeowsa! We don’t think any of us here at the ranch (except maybe for Big Tony) would like to bump one of those beasties in the dark. But no need to loose sleep today, as those species have been extinct for at least 9,000 years. We think…
But there is still plenty of wildlife to see today. Pronghorn antelope are quite a common site in and near the Sandy Valley. Higher up on the ridges, especially on west and north facing slopes, you might see mule deer — once you see one there is no mistaking how they got their name, wow, those ears! A coyote pup Desert bighorn sheep are an endangered species, but sighting on on the highest and most rugged summits is not uncommon in the Sandy Valley. Watch for motion on those rock faces that seem impossible for any creature to climb… you’d be amazed.
Chasing these herd animals are our largest local carnivores, coyotes and mountain lions. And while coyotes do on occasion pull down a deer or antelope by working together in a pack, most of their diet is made up of smaller fare like ground squirrels, desert wood rats, kangaroo rats, their junior cousins kangaroo mice, even grasshoppers. Now you won’t too often see these little coyote snacks when out on the ranch — because if you can see them, brother coyote certainly can see them, and if that happens they’re usually toast.
If you are out in the cool of the morning or at dusk with one of our wranglers they can often point out a coyote or two heading out or back from a night of hunting. Seeing a mountain lion on the ranch or anywhere in their range is a rare treat indeed, as they are so stealthy it seems they can appear and disappear at will. But every so often our staff and guests do see them.
A bobcat in Sandy ValleySmaller local carnivores include bobcats, gray fox, and the endangered kit fox. Foxes are much smaller than most people who have not seen them expect, in fact most could fit in a big guys hat. They are also far more wary than coyotes, not surprising as the coyotes will make a quick snack of them if they can, though they almost never can.
Bobcats are such masters of apparent invisibility as to make even mountain lions look clumsy and easy to find. Here again, we know from tracks and the occasional sighting that they’re here among us, but even the best of our local trackers would be unlikely to take on a wager to find one in a hurry.
We’ve got many species of birds in the Sandy Valley, some rare or endangered in much of their range but relatively common here.
Turkey vultures abound in Sandy ValleyLarge local raptors include the bald eagle, turkey vulture, western burrowing owl, and red-tailed hawk (also called buteos locally) — the hawks renowned for their haunting shrill cry. Surprisingly, you’re as likely to see one of these magnificent birds sitting on a fence post alongside the road as you drive in as anywhere — for they’re as smart as they look and are quite happy to let you dispatch their lunch for them with your vehicle. Hey, why work up a sweat?
One especially interesting bird is, well, not a bird at all — though like most you’ll likely have a hard time believing that when you first see one. We’re talking about sphinx moths — the most common local species being the white-lined sphinx moth. These large moths emerge at dusk from their hiding places and feed on the nectar of flowers just as hummingbirds do. They beat their wings extremely rapidly just like hummingbirds, are the same size and light color as the female of many common hummingbird species. Heck, they even have what appears to be the long thin beak of a hummingbirds — but this is what gives them away, if you watch carefully enough. For their long “beak” bends, you’ll even see it on occasion roll right up in a ball at the moths mouth. Bird beaks don’t do that, now do they.
Where’s the geology? You’re standing on it…
As you travel out of Las Vegas on your was to Sandy Valley, look north of the highway and Mountain ranges in Sandy Valleyyou’ll see red sandstone cliffs of the the Red Rock Canyon area. These sandstones are part of the Kaibab level (same as at the top of the Grand Canyon) and date back about 200 million years ago to the Jurassic period (yes, your kids are right, “Just Like Dinosaurs!”). As you get closer to Sandy Valley you’ll notice more frequent intrusions of a gray limestone called Good Springs dolomite. This rock is significantly older — dating from the Devonian period about 350 million years ago — but was pushed over the top of the younger Jurassic period red sandstone around 150 million years ago by movement along the many fault zones found just west of the Sandy Valley.
A meteorite found in Sandy ValleyThese nearby fault zones, including the major Bristol-Granite, Garlock, Nipton, Cedar Canyon, and San Andreas faults, pushed and pulled and essentially mixed the geology of the Sandy Valley into a veritable wonderland of interesting geological sites. There are a dizzying number of outcrops made up a dozen or more layers of the earth’s crust, made up of dozens of different minerals. This explains the many mine sites, most now abandoned ghost towns, in the area. Places where early settlers dug for silver, lead, gypsum, even talc. On highway I-15 just west of the Sandy Valley, you’ll see mine shafts up high on the the red rock mountainsides. These are old gypsum mines which were abandoned early in this century. But gypsum is still mined on a very large scale at the nearby Blue Diamond Mine.