National Geographic : 1970 Jan
iodine bush to the snow-loving limber pine. Most majestic of Death Valley's animals is the desert bighorn sheep. Rams weigh 170 pounds and more, and grow thick three quarter-curl horns as much as 30 inches long. Their huge almond eyes can spot a man a mile away, and they generally keep to the steep ridges and rocky flanks of mountains. We sought in vain for a glimpse of one. We had no trouble, however, finding one of Death Valley's smallest creatures-the cur ious pupfish-which in its way is equally im pressive. This stubby fish, rarely exceeding two inches in length, lives in tepid streams Whiskers stay clear of the action as "Fiddlin' Ct Waer saws out "Turkey in the Straw" to the accompar of foot stompers. Other fiddlers at the 49'ers' Encam render such favorites as "Flop-eared Mule," "Boil Then bage Down," and "Tomahawk." Some 5,000 people cl the program held under the stars. "Looking out acre dark valley, I could almost see the flicker of long-ago fires and hear the echo of long-silent fiddles," said the a 100 and salty pools (page 95). Biologists agree that it probably survived from the Ice Age lake, when mastodons roamed the valley. Pupfish by the hundreds darted past our bare feet as we waded the lukewarm waters of Salt Creek, the only year-round stream that rises in Death Valley. "The secret of the pupfish's survival," Dr. James E. Deacon had told me, "is that it can tolerate extreme ranges of temperature and salinity." Dr. Deacon, Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has studied Cyprinodon salinus extensively. "In a marsh area at Saratoga Spring, we've recorded water temperatures from 111° F. down to 390, and the pupfish show no ill effects. From our labora tory work we know they can survive readings as low as 33°, and we sus pect that this fish may be able to tol erate water as much as five times saltier than the sea." Mystery of the Roving Stones After the pupfish, I was ready to believe anything about Death Val ley's natural wonders. Except maybe the mysterious rocks that move. Chief Naturalist Dwight Warren took me to see for myself, up through a 4,900-foot pass forested with Josh ua trees to a mountain-cupped 23/4 mile-long playa, or dry lake, called The Racetrack. The rocks that move, from pebble size to several hundred pounds, lie at random on the playa, mostly near the south end, where they have tumbled down from a steep hill. They rest at the ends of long shallow tracks on the clay surface (page 77). Some tracks run straight; some curve, zigzag, or even double back on themselves. For an explanation, Dwight ad vised me to contact Dr. Robert Sharp, Professor of Geology at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Dr. Sharp had keyed the location of 25 of the rocks, he explained, in order © N.G.S. to chart movements. The keying to harlie" numbered stakes was done in May iment 1968, and since it was assumed that pment Cab- the rocks seldom move, the professor leered was prepared to wait for years. ass the Then examination last spring re camp- vealed that movement had taken uthor. place, and Dwight phoned Dr.