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Spanish Springs Peak: Wildlife, petroglyphs, vistas
by Ira Hansen
Aug 30, 2008 | 2726 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Looking east from the housing tracts rapidly filling up Spanish Springs Valley, the highest mountain dominating the skyline is Spanish Springs Peak, 7,405 feet high.

I live in the southeast corner of the valley about 3,000 feet below the peak. I have been on top of it on horseback, and one time my brother Gavin and I hunted deer up there. But I had never started at the bottom and climbed to the top on foot before, so I decided to take the challenge.

As an amateur naturalist the whole hike was a treat, but for a reader of this paper perhaps the most interesting aspect would be the rich Indian (politically incorrect terminology) artifacts found in the area.

Petroglyphs, Indian writings carved into the rocks, are abundant in several areas southwest and west of the mountain. There is much speculation as to why these carvings exist, most focusing on some sort of religious symbolism. Personally, after observing them closely, I suspect they mainly represent “doodling,” something a bored person did to pass the time. Most are various geometric shapes, circles, ladders, stick people, etc., but my favorites are the animals, all of which in this area are of bighorn sheep. I had previously found only two, out of several dozen, that were clearly bighorns. On this hike I came across three more, full-bodied drawings about the size of your open hand, easily identified by their horns curled back behind their heads.

Also common in the area are what I believe are campsites; generally a circle of rocks in front of a large boulder. The Indians would clear the rocks out using them to perhaps hold down brush or tree limbs for shelter. Also common are smaller circles I’m certain were used as blinds by hunters. Their locations are in obvious ambush spots where a hunter using a bow and arrow or perhaps a spear would hide.

Also fairly common in the area are manos and metates, the grinding stones used to crush the various seeds used so heavily by local Indians for food. Most of these are broken ones left by artifact hunters but I have found several pretty good specimens still intact. Arrowheads are very rare but chips in the camping locations are common.

Wildlife in the area is also common. I saw “blue belly” and collar-neck lizards and “horny toads” along the hike, a few cottontail rabbits, several jackrabbits, a turkey vulture, several smaller hawks, a small herd of antelope, about two dozen chukar, a dozen or so California quail, dozens of doves, ravens, Pinyon jays and one mountain bluebird. Normally I also see snakes, the most common being bull snakes, followed by rattlesnakes, rubber racers, common king snakes and, very rarely, mountain king snakes. No luck this trip, however.

As long-time readers know, I’m a commercial trapper and after many years in the field have learned to observe wildlife not by direct observation as described above but by “sign,” or what animals leave behind: tracks, droppings, kills, etc. Coyote sign was abundant, deer sign was actually fairly rare on top of the mountain, and bobcat sign was found in the expected spots in the saddles and ridges in the tree belt. I have, over the years, seen groups of sage hens on the mountain, but nothing this trip.

The one thing lacking in the entire area is water. Most large mountains in Nevada have springs and occasional tiny streams, but the only spring here is on the east side near the valley floor of Palomino Valley, two or three miles below the peak. This is a large spring known as Wildcat Spring, easily identified from a distance by a large cottonwood tree growing there. On the west side of the mountain the only water is again at the bottom in the valley, an artesian well of sorts named Spanish Springs, once a stagecoach stop but now the location of the Red Hawk Resort in Wingfield.

On the south side at the base of the mountain there are several dry lakes, giant mud puddles really, and about an acre of water was present in one of them last week. In wet years I have seen these completely full, amounting to at least 100 acres of surface water. These lake beds are also the site of much of the Indian activity described earlier.

For botanists, the area is typical of the Great Basin. On the sandy valley floors the big sage dominates, with a scattering of rabbit brush, horse brush and spiny hopsage. In some areas, notably those whose soils are more alkaline, greasewood and shade-scale predominate. Snakeweed and budsage are also common. Junipers are common above about 5,500 feet, and bitterbrush and gooseberry are found sporadically around the peak. Various native bunchgrasses and forbs are abundant on the more protected northern slopes, while cheat grass and other alien species are also unfortunately common.

On the very peak a BLM benchmark dated “1956” is embedded in a stone, and the usual large pile of rocks is there. I added a couple for good measure. The view from the top is beautiful, especially looking west at the Sierras. The hike took a total of about nine hours, which wore me out, but for someone interested in wildlife and plant communities and Indian lore, it was a rich experience. For those seeking a strong physical workout as well as some spiritual rejuvenation, a hike to the top of one of our local mountain peaks is hard to beat.

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing.
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