Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Places I'm Visiting: Grover Hot Spring, Near Markleeville, California (May 28-30, 2011)

Spent the long weekend camping at Grover Hot Springs, in Alpine County, which is in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 30 miles south of Lake Tahoe. The trip was booked in February. Who would have expected snow? That's what we got--about three inches. Had to use chains to get to the campground. The high over the weekend was about 45, the lows were well below freezing. It reminded me of may days as a Boy Scout, camping in the winters of southern Ohio. It was cold, yes, but nothing a good campfire, friends, and a few bottles of wine had trouble curing.

I was able to do a little walking by myself, getting up on the last morning at about 6:00AM to see what birds might be around. The highlight was getting to see a pair of American Dippers--a fairly uncommon and elusive bird, a life bird for me that brings my total to a modest 334. Bizarrely, Dippers swim underwater, using their wings the way penguins do. They can dive to as much as 20 feet and walk along the bottom of swift streams moving with enough force to knock a person down. They seemed quite content to hunt for the insect larvae they feed on in water that would have been frozen if it hadn't been moving. They have specially adapted nostrils that close underwater and a third eyelid that protects the eye under water. When a Dipper blinks, its eye appears to turn white momentarily. Very interesting to see these birds diving and swimming and zipping up and down the river channel at high speed. The Dipper even sings with a wren-like voice that was audible over the roar of the rushing water.

Here and there amongst the pine needles I kept seeing red blobs that turned out to be plants poking up out of the ground. I looked them up. They appear to be called Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea), uncommon and native to conifer forests of the Northwest. It is called Snow Plant because it typically appears as the last snows are melting. Snow Plant is mycotrophic. That is, it has no chlorophyll of its own. Instead of synthesizing its own food, as most plants do, Snow Plant gets nutrients from the mycorrhizae (or "fungus roots") that many conifers have--essentially, very fine mycelia (fungus filaments) that bring nutrients to the tree, which in turn provides food for the fungus. Snow Plant taps into this system. My photo shows a Snow Plant just pushing up through the leaf litter. This "bud" will open up into a stalk about a foot high with tightly packed bell-shaped flowers, each with five fused petals. This plant is in the Indian Pipe family (Monotropaceae), related to the heathers (Ericaceae).

1 comment:

  1. Snow provides some good ambiance, no? The chill that feels like a bite on the body makes one appreciate warmth, the flavor of good liquor (for adults), and a good fire. Hot springs are fine too, providing comfortable warmth as you enjoy the scenic winter environment.


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