Our 4-Day Death Valley Photography Adventure - In Search of Salt Creek Pupfish

7:57:00 AM

We were in the middle of a desert...and not just any desert, but one of the most hottest and driest places on Earth...and we were looking for fish.  

Yes, you read that right, people.  We were looking for fish.  
And not just any fish, but an extremely small and rare species fish called the Salt Creek Pupfish.  These tiny little creatures are leftovers from the ancient Lake Manly.  As the freshwater lake dried up, it left behind salty isolated pools of water.  Amazingly, these little fish learned to survive for tens of thousands of years in the harshest of environments....water 3 times as salty as the ocean with temperature fluctuations between freezing in the winter and over 100-degrees F in the summer.

Some 30 species of pupfish can be found in and around the Southwestern United States, and in Death Valley they can be found in Salt Creek, one of those isolated remnants of  Lake Manly that flows year round between the Panamint Mountains to the west and the Funeral Mountains to the east.   The turn-off to the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail is off of Rt. 190 about 12 miles north of Furnace Creek.

After driving about a mile down a well-maintained gravel road you will find the parking lot, where there is a toilet and picnic tables, and the entrance to the boardwalk, a 1/2 mile loop around the marsh area of Salt Creek.  There are also some information kiosks and many signs reminding people to stay on the boardwalk, as this area is a delicate ecosystem.

In the spring the creek is teeming with water and life.  The day we went...well...finding pupfish was going to be more work than I thought.  

But I had read that even in the middle of summer you can find small pools of water and pupfish here, obviously otherwise they would go extinct, so I was determined to find them.  Armed with bottles of water and foolhardiness, we were off.

The further we went along the boardwalk, the more doubts I had.  Even so, the scenery was beautiful and surreal.

Even though temperatures soared into the triple digits, if you looked hard enough you could still find desert creatures, like this zebra-tailed lizard.

But still no signs of water to  be found at all.  

Then, finally, we found some water.  But no matter how thirsty you are, this is not water you want to drink!

And then we saw them...PUPFISH!  

In clear water they look like this, which is hard to tell from my photos above:

Cute, huh?

After we got some pictures, we continued walking around and taking pictures.

We also enjoyed looking for wildlife tracks and trying to identify them.  Apparently not everyone pays attention to the stay on boardwalk signs around here!

The more we walked, the more I was reminded of scenes of Rey from Star Wars The Force Awakens, as she ran around the desert wasteland scavenging for spare parts among the starships that had crashed on the planet Jakku.

More water, but no Pupfish here.

As we made our way back to the parking lot, there was another exiting discovery, and not just the fact that there were two other human beings on the trail with us...there was a jackrabbit!

We also saw more wildlife tracks.

And another zebra-tailed lizard.  He was a friendly little guy.

While going through our pictures of the Salt Creek Trail I was reminded of what an incredibly special place Death Valley really is, and how it's one of the most fascinating places we have ever visited.  It's simply mind-boggling how anything, especially a little fish, can survive in such an unforgiving climate.  But they do, somehow, and I am glad we got to see them and look forward to returning one day!

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  1. Ah, those fish are adorable, as is the lizards and rabbit! That scenery is beautiful but makes me want to drink a gallon of water!

    1. Believe me, we drank at least a gallon of water a day each while we were there, plus gatorades!


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