Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.
The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)
While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!
Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.
Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.
But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.
The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.
Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.
When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.
19 thoughts on “What Color Would a Death Valley Artist Paint a Pupfish in Love?”
As always, you made me laugh Curt. And, I found this post most educational since I had never heard of pupfish! Lovely photos from Peggy 🙂
Thanks, Sylvia… from both Peggy and me. 🙂 –Curt
That was quite an adventure looking for the pupfish Curt and I must say anticlimactic 😂 but I did love the water reflections you found and all of the great pictures. They are sure little guys. Glad you are having fun you 2 cute pupfish.. now just dye your hair blue 😂😘😘
Thanks, Cindy. Um, I don’t know about the blue hair dye. 🙂 Wouldn’t want anyone to get confused. –Curt
Hahahaha not like you to worry about trivial things but it doesn’t go with your cowboy 🤠 image for sure 😂💕
Great story about the pupfish Curt! I loved hearing all that information. The photos from both of you are outstanding. I remember that one-way narrow road that bounces over hills around corners in the Artists’ Palette area. Love you guys. Hope you are having loads of fun.
Thanks, Crystal. Bunches. Peggy and I are having a blast. But then again, hanging out in Death Valley, Zion, Bryce and at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon plus over the past month, how could it be otherwise. Love you too. –Curt and Peggy
Another new one for me. I hadn’t heard of pup fish. Magnificent colours.
Maybe that goes along with never hearing of Death Valley Days, Peggy. Grin. And aren’t the colors amazing. –Curt
I wasn’t expecting a post from you describing puppy love. But there you have it!
Do you know if they attempt offsite breeding for the more endangered versions?
They have, Dave. In fact they have spent a lot. All with very little luck. Another option is just to send in a few Salt Creek females. That will increase numbers but also create a different subspecies, which is how it works in nature. The purists find that hard to accept but if survival is at stake, possibly half a piece of pie is better than none.
Looking at the pup fish couple having their conjugal embrace I feel the male looks content enough, however the female seems somewhat chagrinned and surprised perhaps of the brevity of it all?
It could be Gerard. Now she has to go off and raise a hundred kids while the male happily awaits for another girl fish.
When I saw that blue-green in your first two photos, my first thought was of copper. I suppose it was because tarnished copper, like on the bottom of kitchen pots, so often shows the same colors swirled together.
I’ve heard of the pupfish for years, but somehow missed knowing anything about them except for the fact that they’re endangered. This filled in a lot of fascinating details, and I really enjoyed it. I guess in the pupfish world, asking a guy, “Are you feeling blue today?” would resonate somewhat differently! It was interesting to learn how they got their common name, too. I don’t think I ever would have figured that out on my own — even though there is a dogfish!
I thought of copper as well, Linda.
I became keenly aware of the pupfish issue when I was running a statewide environmental organization in the 70s, Linda, but it took me all this time to go see them. And that’s even with having been in and out of Death Valley numerous times.
Thanks for this, Curt. You brought back some wonderful memories of one of my early (1978?) cross-country adventures… Placerville to San Antonio in the beloved orange VW… I was mesmerized by the varying colors of the hills going through Death Valley…. it may be where I first got bit by the love of desert back then. But…. oh! the torture of driving in the un-airconditioned bug in early September….
And those wonderful road shots. I could do that while driving back in the day when the traffic was a bit sparse… (or is that the curmudgeon leaking out of me?) 🥴
I can imagine Death Valley being a little warm in September, Gunta. A decade earlier I was wandering around in a VW bug without air-conditioning in Sacramento’s Central Valley with 90 to 100 plus degrees
Those road shots are taken when Peggy is driving, Or she takes shots when I am driving. Grin. However, in a pinch, my small camera can function with one hand. I learned a lot about shooting from the car when Peggy and I re-drove the route of my 10,000 mile bike trek. Peggy drove the whole way so I could. –Curt
There’s something so mysterious about driving through country like you are showing us in this post. I feel as if we’re on the moon rather than in the US!
It is amazing country, Rusha, and has been a favorite of mine since I first visited in the 70s. Peggy and I rarely go by there without stopping. –Curt