Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Oasis in the Desert

Northern Nevada is a different kind of desert from that of most people's imagination. The only cactus I've ever seen there is the one I tried to grow in our greenhouse window as a kid. I killed it by overwatering it. I think I watered it once a week. Ungrateful little cactus.

I grew up 12 miles north of Reno, in a community called Stead (technically in the Reno city limits), half a mile or so from the Stead airport, where the Reno air races are held. The land is mostly brown dirt, and the main vegetation is sagebrush (this is our neighborhood around 1988, shot by my stepfather from a glider).

Stead from Glider ca 1988

Sagebrush smells incredible in the rain, but as you can imagine, there's not a lot of rain in the desert. I am sure that experts would tell me that there is a lot of life that I don't see, and I am sure they'd be right, and certainly the mountains have a lot of beautiful trees. But that's what the Nevada desert is to me. Dirt and sagebrush. I think it's beautiful. But it isn't what I'd call lush.


Stead and the surrounding area have grown substantially since I moved away in the early 90s, so much so that the last time I flew into Reno after dark, I had no idea I was flying over my own neighborhood. The lights of Stead had more than doubled and the whole mass of lights had changed shape, from a long recognizable strip of populated land to a shapeless blob (these are some of the new houses).


A lot of that growth is warehouses; for whatever reason, the area seems to hold appeal for large national companies, perhaps because the land is cheap, or because there is a railroad spur out there, already in place. So imagine my surprise when my mother, on my road trip, insisted that there were wetlands out in the desert. And she drove me back behind some warehouses, which cover the land where we once went dirt-bike-riding.

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I knew there were no wetlands out there. It's the desert.

I was wrong.

These two photos are walking distance apart.

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Thanks to the Nevada Army National Guard, the Bureau of Land Management, the Lahontan Audubon Society, and a host of other organizations, there have been 1,800 acres of wetlands out there, known as the Swan Lake Nature Study Area, since 1999. The marsh was already there, it seems, unknown to most and therefore unappreciated, and in need of some protection.

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28_Swan_Lake_Marsh (0)

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It is quiet, and peaceful, a true sanctuary.

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More than 150 species of birds have been spotted there.

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So let me please take this opportunity to say I am really sorry about the "indiscriminate use by dirt bikes." I had no idea we were disturbing the birds. I really had no idea there were any birds.

Thank you to those people who worked so hard to conserve an incredible resource. (The world could use more people like you.) As much as I love the dusty majesty of the high desert, it is sweetly enchanting to know there is this secret greenery tucked behind the warehouses and the sagebrush.


carolyn said...

I love the Nevada desert, I used to horse back ride through it during summer holidays when the american side of my family lived there, I was in my teens and to me it was heaven. I now live in the Fens an area rich in marsh land.

Merisi said...

It feels so good to know that somebody out there protects these wetlands and the wildlife out there from overzealous development.

CaBaCuRl said...

What an amazing little jewel you've revealed to us. I think deserts are a little like that...they demand very close examination to reveal their secrets.

barbara said...

Great photos, Alison, it has been damp now and raining today, so I will deeply inhale the wet sagebrush smell just for you!

tongue in cheek said...

It is a wild wide place Nevada.
I enjoyed these photos in contrast to the one in your posts up above...Thanks for showing us the beauty of America's landscape.