Carl Purpus, Plant Collector in Western America Report By C. A. Purpus On His Expedition To The Desert Areas Of Southern and Western Nevada, Northern Arizona, And Western Utah (Continued)  

C. A. Purpus

Translated from German by Barbara Ertter  

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Original Title:

Bericht des Herrn C. A. Purpus uber seine Tour in das Wuslengebeit des sudlichen und mittleren Nevada, nordluchen Arizona und westlichen Utah.

Mitteilungen der Deutschen Dendrologischen Geselischaft Nr. 7. 1898


Locations: Monitor Valley.  

The next day we departed toward Belmont, the seat of Nye County, once a lively mining town but now consisting for the most part of ruins. Enroute there, our way led over a steep rocky ridge, past grotesquely shaped rock formations, and down the other side into a very dry valley, covered with Artemisia tridentata and bounded to the west by a mountain range with numerous peaks [Toquima Range]. We spent the night at a spring in the vicinity of the pass, in sight of remarkable rock formations ascending to the west. Our path on the following day went steeply uphill to the summit of the pass and just as steeply downhill, westward into Monitor Valley. The valley is west of the Monitor Range and adjacent to the Jefferson Mountain [= Toquima Range], whose peaks, some of which were over 10,000' still showed patches of snow.
Full Size Image Ruins at Belmont, Nevada.  

Locations: Belmont.  

We arrived at Belmont toward evening, by means of a straight, rather good route that led through the parched valley, where the wind spawned moving dust clouds at brief intervals. Eurotia lanata Mocq., an abundant shrub in the eastern Nevada desert regions, covered entire flats here in association with Artemisia tridentata.

Locations: Saratoga Spring.  

We camped near the small town and continued on toward San Antonio the following day. The way there led us through a sandy waterless desert, covered with the already repeatedly named desert shrubs. Around evening we reached a spring, the so-called Saratoga Spring, where we spent the night. I found Shepherdia argentea Nutt. Here, which I had already noticed near Belmont. We continued the next day enroute to San Antonio past highly interesting formations consisting primarily of columnar porphyry. To the left rose the dark brown to black San Antonio Range, contrasting with the blue sky. To the north rose a barren mountain range [apparently the south end of the Toiyabe Range], distinctive in its hornlike peaks and deep reddish brown coloration.
Full Size Image North up the Big Smoky Valley, Nevada.  

Locations: San Antonio Desert.  

From here we proceeded through a sixty-mile-long desert named the San Antonio Desert‚ [this would be Big Smoky Valley]. In the center an old well and a spring were to be found. The desert was covered in large part by shrubby Chenopodiaceae. Dry lakes extended for a considerable circumference in the center, appearing to be covered with water, which, however, receded upon approach and thus proved to be a mirage. Of particular interest here were the sand mounds, which rose above the white flats as low ridges, cones, and tumuli. They often showed a great similarity to termite mounds; others looked just like Indian tepees. We spent the night by the well, near a totally barren, volcanic, reddish-brown mountain.

Locations: Silver Peak Mountains.  

After continued travel the following morning, we found ourselves at the base of the Silver Peak Mountains. Near the small mining town of Silver Peak we passed a deep, black, wonderfully cone-shaped crater, and later a very extensive playa whose perimeter was rimmed with effloresced salts in many places, so that we felt like we were travelling through snow. This playa encompassed almost the entire valley [Clayton Valley] on whose upper end lay Silver Peak. Major springs in the area teemed with fish.
      That same afternoon we continued onward and camped in the desert west of Silver Peak in Mono County, California [inaccurate; they obviously did not arrive in Fish Lake Valley until the following day].

Locations: Oasis.  

We departed fairly early in the morning. It was uncommonly warm, and dark clouds appearing to the south indicated additional rain. Our route led us over the Silver Peak Mountains, which were connected to the south to the Palmetto Range. On the slopes I encountered a very interesting small shrub, Menodora spinescens A. Gray, next to the larger Purshia glandulosa [P. tridentata var. g.] and the beautiful suffruticose Penstemon floribundus Brandeg., a new species. Yucca brevifolia grew everywhere, to elevations above 7000'. During our descent on the other side, we were surprised by a rain shower that soaked us completely, so that we arrived cold and wet in Oasis, where we had previously rested for a day in May.

Locations: Mount Magruder.  

The skies cleared that evening. The following morning we travelled to Palmetto, where I had thought to spend a few days collecting. On one of the subsequent days I climbed Mt. Magruder, which I had not explored earlier in the year. On the summit I found a magnificent shrubby Eriogonum and a Monardella, and on the rocks Spiraea [Petrophytum] caespitosa as well as assorted Bigelowia. In addition to these shrubs I saw Cercocarpus ledifolius again. Between 10,000’ and l1,000’ was an Opuntia similar to O. rutila, evidence that Cactaceae can at times ascend to very high elevations, and are therefore not as sensitive as we often take them to be. On another excursion several days later, I came upon the beautiful Echinocactus [Sclerocactus] polyancistrus, growing at an altitude of nearly 8000', in association with Cereus mojavensis, which I had not expected to find occurring at this elevation.
Full Size Image Northeast end of the White Mountains, Nevada and California.

Other Articles: Collecting in the Sierra Nevada: 0400 On the Trail…: 0510

Locations: White Mountains. Palmetto Range. Sand Spring.  

I collected in the Palmetto Range, botanically an extremely fascinating area, which I explored for a single day before returning to Oasis. Our next camp was at a lovely clear spring named Sand Spring, located in the sandy waste on the north[east]ern base of the White Mountains. From here I undertook a short exploration of the White Mountains, whose pyramid-shaped reddish white peaks rose above the thinly forested or completely bare foothills west of camp. On the cliffs I found Brickellia microphylla, shrubby Haplopappus, Eriogonum, Bigelowia, etc.

Other Articles: On the Trail…: 0520

Locations: Belleville. Excelsior Range. Teal Marsh.  

From Sand Spring we proceeded westward to the Sierra [inaccurate; the route described first leads northeast]. Our next camp was further along the waterless desert near a small railroad that ran from Keeler to Carson. From here we travelled northward to Belleville, a totally abandoned mining camp in a dry deserted area. From here we crossed a pass between cliffs to Teal [Teels] Marsh, a plain at the [south] base of the Excelsior Range. After a short rest we headed over the Excelsior Range, at first through a desert-like region, then uphill through a rocky canyon on strenuous neck-breaking paths. At middle elevations we made camp. The next morning we continued to the next waterhole, on the [north?]western slope of the mountain.

Locations: Walker River. Location Anchor: "NVWhiskyFlat" not found in tblLocations  

From here we went downhill into a waterless desert and along a dried streambed to Whisky Flat, at the base of a high mountain belonging to the Sierra Nevada system [inaccurate; he is obviously referring to the southern tip of the Wassuk Range]. We camped near a small creek and set out the next morning to cross the mountain [perhaps via Powell Canyon?], which took us two days. We were treated to a great deal of especially interesting scenery. The forest here consisted primarily of Pinus monophylla, ascending to the highest peaks. We reached the summit of the mountain range without accident and descended into the valley the following day. After several hours of travel we managed to reach the springs [possibly Mud Springs?] on a branch [Rough Creek?] of the Walker River‚ before evening. The desert was now behind us.

Locations: Bridgeport.  

We crossed the river first thing the following day and followed it toward Bridgeport, on the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada. The Walker River Valley presented a beautiful, green, well-cultivated landscape in its mountain setting. On one of the next days we reached Bridgeport. From here a pass [Sonora Pass] led across the Sierra Nevada toward Sonora on the west side of the range.
Full Size Image East side of Sonora Pass. Full Size Image West from Sonora Pass, California.  

Locations: Deadmans Canyon. Stanislaus River.  

We spent the night at the foot of the mountains and proceeded the next day across wooded slopes. The forests consisted primarily of Pinus jeffreyi and Abies concolor. The mountains here reached the respectable height of 11-12,000'. Small snowfields occurred in clefts of the rocks. After a strenuous hike we reached the pass at 9000'¬ where I noticed Pinus flexilis as the sole conifer. On the other side, the route went steeply downhill on a neck-breaking path to the breath-takingly beautiful Deadman's Canyon, one of the wildest and most imposing landscapes that I have ever seen. Above us rose a rockwall about 1000’ high, and above it soared dark blue-black mountains with jagged or crested peaks. Down the cliffs plunged a rushing mountain stream, the source of the important Stanislaus River, along which our route led. To the left rose a gigantic granite wall, on which clambered a green thicket of Alnus viridescens, Populus tremuloides, Rubus species, and so on. We camped here and spent a very cold night.
      Early the next morning we continued downward, following a very steep, dangerous route. Along the river magnificent Populus trichocarpa occurred, and on the cliffs grew Arctostaphylos pungens, Prunus emarginata, Garrya fremontii, and assorted Ceanothus. Below our camp I noticed Pseudotsuga douglasii, which is not found in the southern part of the Sierra. In contrast, Sequoia[dendron] gigantea was lacking.

Other Articles: On the Trail…: 0530

Locations: Porterville. Sonora.  

On one of the next days we reached Sonora, the seat of Tuolumne County. From here the route continued through the hilly region forested with Quercus douglasii intermixed with Pinus sabiana. After travelling three days we reached the valley, through which we proceeded to Porterville, from whence I had set out on my journey in April. We had traveled approximately 2000 miles by wagon, without suffering a single mishap.
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Date and time this article was prepared: 6/7/2002 7:32:19 PM