Fish swimming in Death Valley? A bonafide salt marsh in the middle of a very dry desert? Boy, that sounds strange! Is this really true or have we been out in the sun to long! We found out just how true it was while visiting the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, located approximately 15 miles west of Furnace Creek Campground, off CA 190.
As we leisurely strolled along the flat 1/2 mile, easy, ADA accessible, wooden boardwalk, searching for any signs of life in the water, numerous interpretive signs provided information about how the marsh was formed and what types of life call the extremely harsh environment of Salt Creek home.
Death Valley during the Ice Age was part of Lake Manly, a massive inland freshwater lake.
As the ice receded and the lake dried up about 10,000 years ago, springs and water holes were left behind, leaving a remnant of that original lake at Salt Creek where the freshwater was converted to saltwater.
During the summer, Salt Creek becomes a dry, desolate landscape with the brittle remains of plant life much like the rest of Death Valley but everything quickly changes with the onset of the winter months, when the air temperature drops and flowing water returns. Pickleweed plants spring to life along the banks sucking up much needed life restoring water, birds can be seen wading in the shallows and macroinvertebrates crawl and swim under the water’s surface. Birding enthusiasts enjoy visiting this spot because migrating birds during the fall and spring seasons can often be seen congregating near the water.
But the most excitement occurs in spring with the return of the endemic Salt Creek Pupfish, a small, 1 inch blue fish that is found nowhere else and has adapted to the unique habitat of Salt Creek, tolerating the harsh conditions and high salt concentrations that are several times that of sea water. During spawning, in the cooler months, their playful puppy-like behavior is what earned them their name. With a lifespan of one year or less, these fish are in a hurry to feed and breed. When summer approaches, they retreat up the creek toward its spring-fed source to avoid perishing in the drying pools.
Interesting to learn that the pupfish once swam throughout the entire water basin. But as the climate became more arid causing the lake to dry up, these small fish became stuck in permanent water holes scattered across the desert. Amazing how they adapted – the original species evolved into ten distinctly different subspecies with their own shape, markings, habits and survival strategies. Unfortunately two of the subspecies have already gone extinct and three more are federally listed as endangered.
Sure, all the signs said that the best time to see the pups was in the spring, but couldn’t there just be one naughty one swimming to his own schedule just so we could see one? Rob thinks he did, well sort of, while filming some of the other critters in the water there was a quick moving but clear outline of a small fish in the frame – we think it was a shadow, but it certainly looked like a fish! And as far as we know there are no other fish in these limited waters, so it must be a pupfish right? Check out the video below and you decide:
Not only was it a perfect day for a walk but it was an educational one as well! The wonders of Death Valley never cease to amaze and there’s still more to see!