Friday, January 11, 2019

Tule Springs Fossil Beds NM (Mammoth Dig) - 1/11/19

Gass Peak from Tule Springs Fossil Beds NM

Remains of Mammoth Excavation

Trailhead at North End of Durango Drive

A Little Interpretative Talk
 Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument was established in 2014. A small brochure for the area reads as follows:

The 22,630 acre Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument begins in the northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley just above Corn Creek and runs along the base of the Sheep Mountains to the east of Aliante Master Planned Community. 

During the ice ages (10K-400K years ago), this area was a wetlands and home to ice age animals such as the Columbian mammoth, ground sloth, camel, bison, dire wolf, saber tooth cat, llama, and North American lion.

Sharon comes through the Tunnel
 The science of Carbon-14 dating was tested here during the "Big Dig" in 1962 when a multidisciplinary team of scientists, funded by the National Science Foundation, spent four months documenting and excavating fossils.

Ed holds a Fossilized Cicada
 The trenches they left behind are now part of a National Historic Register site of 1000 acres. It is also one of the last remaining areas where one can find the Las Vegas Buckwheat and Bearpoppy, which are endangered plant species.

Heading to the Cicada Rock Corner

Cicadas in Rock
 The protected desert tortoise roams the area, as well as coyotes, bobcats, roadrunners, jackrabbits and many other desert creatures.

There is a group of people that call themselves the Protectors of Tule Springs whose email is - . These folks brought the monument to our attention at a recent club meeting and we just had to go out and see for ourselves right away! Ed M. has been volunteering for this organization for a year and knew where to find several fascinating points of interest. So twenty-one hikers gathered at the trailhead located at the north end of Durango Drive for a look-see.

Spring Mountains from Tule Springs
 The monument is huge so this hike of only 4.1 miles is a very small part of it. We started down into the wash in front of us and proceeded to the right.

Landmarks ... there aren't many!
 Along the far wall, there is a short tunnel. We passed through and Ed told us about the fossilized cicadas found ... well, everywhere here!

Indentation where a Tusk was Excavated

A Tusk Tidbit (R) and a Chunk of Plaster used to Remove the Tusk
They just look like 5" mud poos! But, Ed assured us that if you were able to break open one of these cylindrical hard mud covered objects, you would see the cicada inside. After going back through the tunnel, we hiked on down to the end of the mud ridge and saw the end rock was filled with these cicadas.We followed a dirt road through the desert and turned north. Passing a green can as a landmark, we reached a small ridge. Going directly east from the ridge, we found an indentation in the dirt of where a mammoth tusk had been removed.
The Upper Las Vegas Wash of Tule Springs
 Ed explained how the archeologists remove such artifacts with plaster. And, in fact, there were several pieces of plaster lying around with just a few very small tusk chips.

The Group poses at the Mammoth Excavation Site
 Next, we began a short hike to the west-ish. A large pipe laying horizontal on a low hill, and then another one of the same, told us to look east of the second one for the actual excavation site of a mammoth that is now housed in Las Vegas' Natural History Museum. Rumor has it that it is not on display though. We posed for a group photo here.

Desert to Mountains

John W. hikes a Ridge
 Heading west again, we found a spot where we could see stalactites of calcium carbonate forming in the small holes in the walls of the ridges. Exhausting the easily available points of interest in this area, we started just wandering around among the hardened mud ridges and found a great place to sit and have a snack. We found various and sundry holes and tunnels. We saw a jack rabbit but that was the only wildlife today. We were told that "they" have only found and recorded a total of four tortoises in the whole park. It was obvious that there was very little food source here.

View toward Corn Creek
After our break, we circled around one last time and decided to return to the trailhead.

The Group spreads Out
The return route was fairly straight forward on a dirt trail that we saw car tracks on.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds NM

Dennis follows up and over a Ridge
Although it was mentioned that we could have gone straight back to the cars by going over the hills between, we decided to increase our mileage by going back around Cicada Rock Corner. The day started out cool but by the time we finished, it was warm. Lovely hike and very interesting. A nice large group of moderate hikers.

4 miles; 200 feet elevation gain; 2.75 hours; average moving speed 1.5 mph

From Tule Springs to the Sheep Mountain Range

The Group Explores

The Return via a Trail

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