In to the Mojave: Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center

One of the advantages of traveling with an educational group is that you can often gain access to areas closed to the public. As I mentioned in my post on Zzyzx, I was part of a workshop organized by the San Francisco-based non-profit PhotoAlliance and lead by Stanford adjunct faculty member Robert Dawson. This pedigree, plus a stack of application paperwork, made it possible for us to visit the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center. The Center was instrumental in the creation the University of California Natural Reserve System (UCNRS) of which it is now a part. Currently the UCNRS consists of 39 sites comprising more than 756,000 acres that include representatives of most major ecosystems in the state.

Sweeney Research Center_MG_2017_03_220687_openWith
Accessable only by a long dirt road and nestled unobtrusively at the end of Granite Cove, the main facility consists of three cabins and a main residence with dining facilities to accommodate up to twelve researchers. Drinking water is collected from a nearby spring. The facility also includes laboratory space, a library and a conference room. Passive solar design is used to keep the facility warm in winter and cool in summer.
View from Sweeney_MG_2017_03_220704_openWith
Ranging in elevation from 3,770 to 6,796 feet, the Reserve includes a wide variety of topography from alluvial fans and bajadas to steep granitic mountains with massive pinnacles and rocky terrain. Habitats typical of the Mojave Desert include woodland, mixed woody and succulent shrubs, springs, seeps, and washes.
Variety of vegitation at Sweeney _MG_2017_03_220690_openWith
The plants found within the 9,000 acre reserve vary primarily by altitude, however local conditions, such as seeps, can cause a variety of specie to be found in a small area.
Plant in rock at Sweeney_MG_2017_03_220702_openWith
Particularly intriguing is the area around the Center where a Pinyon-Juniper woodland is interrupted by cliffs and boulders. Here numerous “boulder-obligate” species are found inhabiting the vertical cliffs, rock-crevices and base of boulders. These include Ericamaria cuneatus, Brickellia arguta, Galium stellatum, Eriogonum heermannii, Keckiella antirrhinoides, Ivesia saxosa, Poa fendleriana, Ericameria laricifolius, Dudleya saxosa, Cheilanthes covillei, and Pellaea mucronata.
Stinson_Rock and Tree at Granite Mountains_MG_2017_03_22_0706_openWith
Seeps and small streams contribute to the variety of plant and animal life in the Reserve.
Cactus at Sweeney_MG_2017_03_220703_openWith
There are plenty of cacti to reenforce our stereotype of the desert!
There are many research experiments scattered across the Reserve’s 9,000 acres, many not nearly as obvious as this weather station and so are easily disturbed. Many of these experiments require that data be tracked over many years. To protect the integrity of the results, access to the Reserve is strictly limited and the reserve almost entirely surrounded by fencing. (Photo courtesy of the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center.)



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