Outdoor Nevada S4 Ep4 | Camping on a Sky Island over a Mojave Yucca
Today on Outdoor Nevada, we visit the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. There we meet up with U.S. Forest Service's Jonathan Stein to learn a little more about the 300,000-plus acres of forest and available recreation.
From there I get a refresher course in campsite etiquette, and later I learn about familiar desert-dwelling plants, their importance to our environment and how we can protect them. All that and more today on Outdoor Nevada. ♪♪♪ Nevada: It's an adventure waiting to happen.
Waiting for you. What do you say, you ready? Because I am. ♪♪♪ (John Burke) If you love the great outdoors and camping in Southern Nevada, then you have to put the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area on your bucket list. It's an absolute must.
You know, there's a way to do it, and why do I say that? That's why we're here today. ♪♪♪ Being in the Spring Mountains is such a sharp contrast to the Mojave Desert. The trees, crisp air and the views are invigorating. Today I met up with Jonathan from the U.S. Forestry Service.
He's one of the many who look over this area. So John, what's your official title? (Jonathan Stein) Officially I'm a natural resource specialist with an emphasis in recreation. Here on the Spring Mountains, I'm the developed recreation director. -I'm guessing with a title like that, you probably went to college for that. Where did you go? What happened? -I did. I went to the University of Idaho. My degree is in resource, recreation and tourism, and I have a minor in parks, protected areas and wilderness conservation, so pretty much exactly what I'm doing.
-It sounds like you knew you always wanted to do this; is that true? As a kid, is this something you got into? -Yes. I've always loved to be outdoors. I grew up going camping, fishing, hiking. I was in the Boy Scouts.
I just always loved being outside and it just progressed through high school and into college, and here I am. -What do you like most about it? -You never know what you're going to run into. You can always find something new every day. The trees, the animals, the weather. You never know what you're going to find on any given day.
-This may be a dumb question, but Mount Charleston, Spring Mountains, same thing? -Yes. So the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is an approximately 316,000 acre chunk of national forest system lands that are here in Southern Nevada. Mount Charleston is kind of a slang term most likely used by locals. Charleston Peak is our dominant feature here on the Spring Mountains and is the highest point in Southern Nevada.
But the entire landmass is the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area that was designated as national recreation area by Congress back in the early 1990s. Before that we were the Las Vegas Ranger District. -So you use the word recreation area. What's happening up here? What is there? -You name it. We have camping, we have hiking, we have hunting, we have mountain biking, we have off-highway vehicle use. We have just driving for pleasure.
You can come up and see wildlife. Unfortunately, we don't have any fishing for you, but we have all kinds of things that want you to get outside and enjoy your natural environment. -Let's talk more about the wildlife.
What about the species that are here? -Yes. We actually are very fortunate here on the Spring Mountains. we're a very unique ecological area; we're kind of a sky island. We're so high elevation compared to everything else around here in Southern Nevada that we have over 20 species that are only found here in Southern Nevada, both plant and animal. -Bears? -We don't have any bears, but part of that sky island is bears just never evolved to be here.
In order for one to get here, it's going to have to cross the Mojave Desert, and I don't see a bear doing that anytime soon. -And when you're up here, you really get the feeling of-- it just feels clean. The air feels clean, the area is clean. What would you like people to know about coming up here and keeping it this way? -Yes, we just want people to be good stewards of the environment. That means pack it in, pack it out. Take what you brought with you.
Make sure you're thinking about the environment when you're recreating. That's taking care of the trees, staying on trails. All those things you would do at your home to keep it in good condition, we'd ask that you do up here as well.
It's a little different environment than your home, but it is your public land as a citizen and it's always great to come out and enjoy it and use it and leave it for the next generation similar and the same as you found it. -You know, a place like this needs a good curator, and that's where you come in. So John, just thanks. Thanks for your passion and everything that you're doing up here.
Really do appreciate it. -Thank you. Without people coming up, I wouldn't be here so I really enjoy having everyone up enjoying the national forest. -Now, I have an appointment with Taylor, who's going to show me a good way to set up a campsite.
Will you point me in the right direction? -Of course. ♪♪♪ Taylor, hey. -Good morning. -How are you? -Good. How are you? -Well, you got the fire going. I'm doing great now. -Yes, right. -Hey, what is your title here? What do you do? (Taylor Tims) I'm a recreation technician, so I'm a steward for the campgrounds and picnic areas here.
-And how long have you been doing that? -Five seasons including this winter. -What do you like about it? How did you get into this? -I got into this by chance. I really love the outdoors and everything so being able to work outside, it's just something I kind of gravitated to, and I learned about it when I was going to school. -You know, I think if I wasn't doing what I'm doing, I'd want to do what you're doing.
Tell me a little bit about the campsites up here at Mount Charleston, the Spring Mountains. How many are up here, roughly speaking? -We have five areas that we consider campgrounds full time, and then we have seven areas that are day use or what we call picnic areas, and that's all pretty much inclusive between Kyle and Lee Canyon and then where we're at here on Highway 158. -Do you need a reservation if you're going to use one? -Yes. So you can do it either way. The most secure way to get your campsite is if you book it on recreation.gov, and what that does is basically it allots you your spot for the certain amount of days in the future so you're pretty much guaranteed your spot.
The second way you can secure your campground is you come up on what's called a walk-in site or first come, first serve, which is something that you would do if there's availability the day of, camp ready. So you'd have to come up ready to camp and see if there's something available. -Okay. So let's say you come here and you decide to start camping. You want to make a fire. Tell me, there's probably certain times when you could do that and certain times you can't.
-Yes. So definitely, definitely we always preach that you know before you go. So fire restriction is subject to change, and what that means is basically you need to know whether or not you can have a fire. You can see like-- make sure you bring enough water to put it out, things like that.
-How do you find out that information? -You can go online to our forest website, or you can call the Forest Service office or our visitors' gateway number. All of those can give you information, or every single campground or picnic area has an information kiosk as you enter that has all the important information you need to camp respnsibly. -Oh, that's good. That's convenient. What about burning wood here? -So anything that's dead and down on the ground is available for you to use.
We do not want people pulling down green branches from trees because obviously it's still alive. But if you're just walking along, actually all the wood that we found here today, we just found going around picking stuff up off the ground. -So if you want to be safe, you can pick up some wood on your way into the campsite and you can use that, but if you find something that's dead and down, you can use that as well. -Yes, and that's another thing.
You can go to a different area, maybe like Deer Creek Picnic Area, something like that, pick up wood there and bring it to your campsite to use. It's just important to note that you cannot take the wood off of the forest. So anything you pick up that's dead and down has to be used while you're here. -It's a chilly morning, and I got to say, you make a great fire. -Thank you. -I want to talk more because I love camping.
I love hiking, I love camping and mountain biking. But I really want to talk about etiquette and setting up a camp the proper way, and I know that you've got a tent set up. Let's go look. -All right.
-You know, Taylor, I noticed here you have a lot of walkways. Those are not just for decoration, right? -No, they're not just for decoration, good observation. You're actually doing that-- we have those so you can walk up to your area. We don't really want people going off trail so much just because it does like deteriorate after a while, so like our pathway here takes us to our tent pad. -All right. Let's talk about the equipment because a large part of the enjoyment of camping is having the right equipment.
Do you recommend the pad that goes under the tent? -Yes. What that is called is a footprint. This particular tent does not have one, but it is a good idea to have because it does protect the bottom of your tent from the elements which here is this gravel. -And then what about inside the tent, do you put another pad when you go camping? -So personally I do.
What it's called is a sleeping pad, and there are multiple different kinds like foam or blow-up. But a sleeping pad is definitely recommended for both comfort and to protect you from the bottom, the ground, because obviously in this weather, it'll be very cold. And then the last component I'd say, especially for the tent, would be probably your sleeping bag. Sleeping bags do have different ratings depending on how cold the weather actually is. So when you are looking or in the market for a new sleeping bag, make sure you pay attention to the rating. -And it will tell you what temperatures it's appropriate for.
-Yes, exactly. You'll want a different sleeping bag for right now when it's in the teens and 20s at night versus during the summer when it's a lot nicer. -Now, this right here just looks like an accoutrement, you can go without it, but I will tell you firsthand, having the cover over the tent can be a really big deal. I've made that mistake in the Canadian Rockies.
It started raining, and I had to get out and try and put one on. These are recommended as well, right? -Always recommended, and always make sure you put it on before maybe you get caught in a sticky situation because not only does it protect you from the elements, even if it's nice out and there's sun but it's freezing, it actually insulates you a little bit as well. So this will keep you a lot warmer than if you didn't have it. -A big part of camping, I think, is the etiquette.
There's a lot of unwritten rules really, I guess. You know, there's quiet hours and you want your sound to be low. Tell me about that. -Yes. All the campgrounds here at least
have quiet hours from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. What that means is you want to keep your conversations quiet, turn your generators off, and then you also don't want to have any music playing just because again, part of the experience out here is being out in nature where it's quiet and peaceful and tranquil and you don't want to interrupt other people's enjoyment outside. -Yes, and that includes light as well, right? -It does, yes. Light pollution is a thing, so like I said, part of the experience is being able to stargaze and see how beautiful it is at night. So, you know, in a site with 35 campground sites, you don't really want light pollution. If you keep that to a minimum, you'll see a lot more of what there is to offer out there.
-I think sometimes this happens a lot. You set up your campsite over a day, two days. It begins to expand, right? -Yes. That's something-- so the campgrounds are actually designed to have the amount of people that they're supposed to be for. You can see this one has two tent pads, so it's allotted for, you know, probably up to eight people.
You do see however some people tend to encroach onto other sites. Just after a while you invite your friends and things like that, and this is really meant to kind of keep it to a minimum. It's just camping etiquette. -Yes, and just be aware aesthetically of what your campsite looks like, right? I mean, you don't want a lot of stuff going on. -Yes, and that's double-sided as well because not only do you not want a lot of things going on and you want to keep a tidy site, that also keeps like animals from getting into your food or when it's windy, your things blowing everywhere. -You hear this a lot: Pack in, pack out.
-Yes, that is a huge motto here. You want to be able to-- anything you bring up to the mountain, you don't want to leave anything behind. So if you bring something up here, including your garbage, it has to go back down with you, right? We do provide trash receptacles in our developed areas, but we recommend to just practice packing it in, packing it out. -And dead and down for the firewood does not mean you can peel it off the tree. -Exactly. Actually, if we want to, we do have an example here where people were hatcheting at a tree and pulling bark off of it, and this actually over time can kill the tree.
So like you said, dead and down, you can burn that. You can't take it home, but you can burn it just like we were doing earlier, but it prevents people from doing this right here, right? So you can either come prepared with wood that you brought up here yourself or just go scavenge. Take a walk and find things that are dead and down to burn. -Speaking of taking a walk, that's one of my favorite things to do when I go camping is go hiking, and that's what I'm going to do right now. But first I want to thank you for being a rock star. I mean, what you're doing is really important for everybody, so thank you.
-Thank you. Yes, I appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy your day. -I will, and I'll stay on the path. -All right. Thank you. ♪♪♪ Look at all this. This is Nevada just giving you its gifts.
But you know, there are certain things that you can do to enhance this experience for you and the others around you. One, be prepared. Have the right equipment.
If you pack it in, pack it out. Make sure that you keep your voice down. Keep your lights down low so that everybody can enjoy this experience for themselves. And last but not least, try this tip. I've learned this personally: If you really want to enjoy this experience, try coming during the week.
Make your reservation for that. I won't say that you'll be alone, but it's close enough to bring all this to a whole new level. ♪♪♪ The Mojave Desert is something that is easily enjoyed from the comforts of your vehicle. You can drive right through and enjoy the beauty and the splendor and be inspired, but I think it's important every now and then to stop, look, listen and learn about the fragile ecosystem here, and that's exactly what we're going to do.
♪♪♪ Today we met Lara. She's a botanist for the Bureau of Land Management and loves her job. She spends most of her time on restoration and environmental review of plants in the desert, and what that boils down to is that Lara is a protector of the Nevada desert and its ecosystem. We all need to do our part to help her. That's why today she's going to introduce us to the plants we see every day and help us learn more about them. Tell me why you love your job so much, because it's obvious you do.
(Lara Kobelt) Yes. I love working with the plants out here. I like what I get to do, which is a lot of research and trying to figure out how to make sure that these plants are around for the next generation. -Why is that? That's really important to you, isn't it? I mean, it's more than just studying plants, you're about conserving this for other generations.
Why is that so important? -I think because I love this place so much. I want it to be around in the future not just for people, but also for the wildlife and the plants that live here and the really cool diversity that exists in the Mojave. -Were you always like this as a kid? Were you always planting and checking out plants or did it just click for you? -I was always running around outside, but really when I was in college and took some botany classes, that's when it really was like oh, there are-- I mean, I've been looking at these plants my whole life, and now I'm realizing how many different kinds of plants there are.
It made me appreciate the world a lot more. -Hey, there's a Joshua tree right here. Let's step over here because I got a lot of questions for you about this. Now, the Joshua tree, is it only in the Mojave? -Yes, it's endemic to the Mojave Desert, so that means it only grows in the Mojave and none of the other deserts. There's actually two different species of Joshua tree. One of them is mostly in Nevada and in the north part of the Mojave Desert in California, and the other species is in Southern California.
-So when I look at these trees, I've always-- I just realized I look at them and go well, that's got to be thousands of years old. How old are these trees? -So these trees are probably on average around 150 years old, but a lot of the big ones might be older than that even. -Isn't that amazing, though? I mean, we're looking at this tree.
That's 150 years of growth right there. -I think it's really cool, especially when you think about the human lifespan, you know, maybe 75, 80 years on average. I mean, these plants are living twice as long as that in an ecosystem where none of us could imagine surviving.
-So tell me about their growth, and if one gets destroyed, maybe even inadvertently or there's some off-roading going on, what does that mean? How is it going to come back? What happens then? -So the thing about Joshua trees, and this is why they're actually protected in the state of Nevada, is because they're so slow growing, it takes a really long time for them to reach the size of this one. So if you had some kind of event like a fire that came through, you wouldn't see these Joshua trees back for maybe another 100 years. -That's tragic if one gets destroyed. That's just 100, 150 years of loss. Tell me about some of the other plants that we're standing amongst right now.
Some of these are invasive and not natural. -Yes. The grasses you see here under the shrub, this is red broom and this is an invasive plant. So this plant you can see, that's a lot of what's between the shrubs. That's not normal in the Mojave.
Any of our native annuals dry up and blow away. So these stick around, and that can be a big problem. -Why? -They can both carry wildfire, which is really bad for the Mojave Desert; it's not adapted to fire.
And it's also not good for the Mojave desert tortoise. -So some of these are a problem, but some have been here for a long time, right? -Yes. A lot of the shrubs here, especially some of these upland shrubs like black brush, are thousands of years old as opposed to hundreds of years old, like the Joshua tree. -It's so funny; we say that so casually. Oh, it's a thousand years old. But that's really an amazing thing, isn't it? -It's a really long time to be alive, yes.
-And does that feed your desire to educate people about how delicate this is and how historic all this is? -It does. I think when people understand the life history of these plants, that they do live so long, that means they don't grow or reproduce very quickly, so that means that we have to protect what's here because if it got disturbed, it could take another thousand years to come back. -Do you think the public is understanding that? -I don't think there's general awareness of that, and I don't think that-- part of why I love being a botanist is it's so cool to look down at the ground and see that there are, you know, probably 10 different species we can see right now right here.
And then the annual plant community, which is seeds in the ground, there's probably 100 more. So I think if people appreciate that more, they would do a better job of protecting the desert that surrounds them. -I want to get into some biology of this, so will you help me find a pod and we can talk a little more about that? -Sure. -Okay. Let's look around. ♪♪♪ All right. So we have some here.
-Oh, these are pods. -Yes. So these are-- they fruited over the summer, so they're pretty dried up now but what's cool is if you look inside, you can see that there are these seeds that are left. You can also see there's this-- that's what we call frass, which is insect droppings. So the pollinator for the Joshua tree, which is the yucca moth, will lay their eggs within the Joshua tree pods. They'll eat some of the seeds when they hatch, but they don't eat all of them, so it's a really cool Mojave Desert mutualism. -Wow. So when I look at all these thousands
of trees, I don't know, they look happy to me. Would you say this is a happy climate? -Yes, I think this is a really good spot for them. They've got a high elevation, there's a decent amount of rainfall in this area for the Mojave, so they're doing pretty well. -What are some of the other plants that we have around? This one, that one, there's so much going on. Now that I see it through your eyes, the world is so different.
Tell me about some of these other ones. -This is a Mojave yucca. This is actually really closely related to the Joshua tree we just looked at, just another species of yucca. So you'll see these also throughout the Mojave at somewhat lower elevations. -And how old would this plant be? -They're probably at least as old as the Joshua trees, 100 to 150 years old.
-Wow. And what about the cacti next to you? -So this is a cholla. Any of the cacti that have cylindrical branches like this are cholla. These are something you don't want to get caught up in, obviously, in the desert. But these probably are also pretty long-lived but not as long-lived as the Mojave yucca or the Joshua tree. -You get people that recreate out here and they do it properly, what does that mean? What's a good way to come out here and enjoy this without tearing it up? -So the most important thing is really to stay on existing roads and trails.
If you see a trail or a road that's starting to go back in the shrubs, don't drive down that road. We've got thousands and thousands of miles of trails in Southern Nevada so you don't need to create a new one. I think that's the biggest thing the public can do to help. -You know what's amazing is that I look at this, I see beauty but you see it on about four different levels. So thanks for taking the time to spend with me today and teaching me about this and helping me help other people understand the value of what we've got here and how fragile it is.
-Thank you. ♪♪♪ -Isn't it interesting. The more you learn about something, the more you come to value it, and that's where Lara and all her work comes in. So I hope the next time you come out to the Mojave to enjoy yourself, you'll bring all this knowledge with you and maybe help out a little bit. Enjoy yourself even more.
♪♪♪ Support for Outdoor Nevada comes from Jaguar Land Rover Las Vegas. ♪♪♪ Inspiring the spirit of adventure with confidence in any terrain or condition. We're proud to help introduce a new generation of adventurers to the diverse experiences that our state has to offer. Information at jlrlv.com.