Ash Meadows Info
Over 30 springs and seeps support a rich diversity of endangered fish, invertebrates, and plants. Ash Meadows contains over 20 plants and animal species found nowhere else in the world.
All these species have adapted over thousands of years to a harsh environment. They can survive in thermal springs or in salty, parched soils.
Why Preserve Species? Every wild plant and animal gives something special to our world. Some provide food, and others we haven't decided if they are worth saving, but better safe than sorry.
Mesquite groves at Ash Meadows support southwestern birds, such as the Verdin, Crissal Thrasher, and Lucy's Warbler. The trees provide shade, nesting places, and an abundant supply of insects for the birds to feed their nestlings. These songbirds help control insects, including beautiful butterflies. Other birds, like quail and sparrows, disperse a variety of seeds, including mesquite, weeds, and flowers.
Large tracts of mesquite woods have been lost to agriculture and development. As a result, many birds that depend upon this habitat have declined in numbers throughout the Southwest. By preserving these mesquite groves, we help the birds.
Crystal Spring feeds a small, but important stream that is home to a variety of wildlife. Species such as the Ash Meadows pupfish and gumplant rely on this constant source of water - a rare necessity in this desert habitat. Ash Meadows Pupfish eat the algae, toads lay their eggs in the pools, birds such as the Marsh Wrens, Song Sparrows, and mice find shelter in the streamside vegetation. Hawks and coyotes prey on these small animals. People, too, are drawn to this beautiful place, and the opportunity to watch a greater variety of wildlife.
Fire and burial pits in the sand dunes tell us that ancient people lived here more than 1200 years ago. Their lifestyle centered around - and depended upon - the abundant resources here. Not only where the people attracted to the springs, but the dunes and marshes provided abundant plant and animal foods. Mesquite and ricegrass grew well in the sand dunes, which rapidly absorb and store occasional rain, releasing it slowly. Ancient peoples also burned marshes to gather mice and other animals, such as water birds, for food.
From the styles of arrowheads and pottery found at Ash Meadows, archaeologists know that Anasazi people, and later Paiutes, once lived here. Archaeological investigations also tell us how the climate and habitat changed over time. Ancient packrat nests found in nearby hills reveal juniper seeds. The presence of these trees at a much lower elevation than they grow today indicates that the climate then was much cooler and wetter than it is today. Dune and marsh excavations also reveal layers of peat moss - further proof of a wetter past.
You are in the Mojave Desert, which receives, on average, only four inches of rain per year. Yet here you stand before a clear spring which discharges 2600 gallons of water per minute. Crystal Spring is one of 30 springs and seeps on Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge that together discharge over 10,000 gallons of water every minute.
Why is all this water here and where does it come from? During the last glacial era (12,000-20,000 years ago), much of the southwestern United States was covered by large lakes interconnected by rivers. After the climate began warming, the glaciers receded. The lakes and rivers slowly dried up, leaving only springs as habitat for aquatic species.
The green mats on the bottom of the spring are algae, the pupfish's main food. Algae also helps determine the fish's life cycle. During the summer, algae grows in abundance. This provides pupfish with food energy needed to reproduce. In winter, the algae's growth slows. With less to eat, the pupfish population declines. Their numbers increase when the seasonal cycle repeats itself.