The Backyard Science group regularly features the Daily Bucket. We hope you will add your own observations of the world around you. Flowers blooming? Berries ripening? Slugs wiped out your vegetables? Please tell us about it. Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds, and more are all worthy additions to the Bucket. Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, your location. Your impressions support our efforts to understand the enchanting cycles of life that are quietly evolving around us.
In every river, water allies with gravity, and struggles to unite with the sea. Yet in vast reaches of the western states, climate and geology conspired to trap several rivers. Those rivers disappear, not because of a Penn & Teller magic trick, but because they have not yet overcome their challengers.
The Sierra Nevadas, other mountains, and sun and sand confine those rivers in what’s termed the Basin and Range region, roughly between Reno and eastern Utah. Instead, multitudes of wetlands and square miles of open waters suckle on those rivers’ flow.
Meet the largest of those rivers in the Basin and Range region of the western United States, the Humboldt River of Northern Nevada. Beginning in muddy mountain meadows near the eastern Nevada/Idaho State line, the Humboldt meanders for about 600 miles, while advancing just over 300 miles to the west.
The Humboldt gathers strength from several tributaries; Marys River, Bishops and Lamoille Creeks, and its own north and south forks. Its flows spread, making the River 50 feet across, as it courses west through the Nevada desert.
Some Rivers escaped the Basin and Range. The Columbia and its tributaries, over and over, tens of thousands of years ago, overflowed from Lake Missoula in Montana, smashed down mountains, and muscled its way to the ocean.
The Green River dodged its way through Wyoming to merge with the Colorado, which snuck down a route to Baja California. The Rio Grande cut a path from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.
But after the Humboldt had struggled West for hundreds of miles, gathering water from every stream in sight, it began to lose water. The Little Humboldt and the Reese River reach out with their gallons, but they usually dries up short of the Humboldt, which enters what is called its “losing” stretch, where its flows lessen every mile. More water sinks into the porous River bottom, than flows in from the tributaries.
Finally, it winds down into the Humboldt Sink, a boggy area an hour east of Reno. Yet the Humboldt Sink isn’t far from the Carson sink, where the Carson River also vanishes, and the resulting lakes and bogs create vital habitat for the Pacific Flyway, which migratory birds have utilized annually for hundreds of thousands of years.
One hundred-seventy years ago, western-bound settlers probably fell onto the Humboldt with relief, thinking it an aquatic paradise, after trekking through Utah. California-bound settlers followed the Humboldt through Nevada, feasting on the trout, that they caught themselves, or obtained from local tribes.
Those trout have occupied the Basin and Range for about seven million years, according to fossil records. The most recent trout colonized the Basin tens of thousands of years ago. When glaciers melted, mammoth lakes formed that connected to the ocean, and trout spread everywhere. As glacial waters receded, the trout remained in the Humboldt. I wonder if those trout, in their collective memory, recall a path to the ocean.
I’ve been near the Humboldt Sink. Some of that area has dried up, and is now a large salt flat, a dazzling and pure white image, although geothermal upflows have formed surreal sculptures within it. Geothermal power plants sprout on the horizon, their stacks imitating the Crusaders' castles' turrents on the path to Jerusalem. Petroglyphs enlighten the cliffs in the hills above.
They say when folks first crossed the land bridge between Asia and Alaska, that glaciers blocked their progress south, and they had to detour east. That could mean the first people here wended their way down the east side of the Sierras, and into the Basin and Range.
Maybe they strode by that very spot, where the Humboldt and other Rivers disappear, in the days when those Sinks were mammoth great lakes, with shores beyond human sight.
"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!
After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series. As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."
"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page. Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.