Salt Creek Trail, Death Valley National Park
The Salt Creek Trail is a short 1/2 mile boardwalk trail that is wheel-chair accessible. It leads along Salt Creek and has views of salt marshes and other nearby scenery. There are interpretive signs along the way that tell you about this unique environment. Along the way you may get to see the Death Valley Pupfish, which exists only inside the park. Other wildlife like lizards, birds and lots of insects also reside here.
One of the most interesting residents in the Salt Creek Area is the Death Valley Pupfish. This tiny fish does not exist anywhere outside the park, another good example of how nature can adapt to almost any environment. When I was here in May 2010, there were quite a few of them in the creek. They got the name "pupfish" because one observer noted they "play together like puppies". They were fun to watch; but hard to photograph.
Salt Creek is a surprising oasis on the desert floor. However the water is too salty for human consumption. What is significant about Salt Creek is the rare Pupfish. Ten thousand years ago, Death Valley had fresh water lakes. As the climate began to change to be more arid, the lakes dried up to small bodies of water. The Pupfish became stranded in these permanent watering holes. Over the years the Pupfish evolved into 10 different species. Two have gone extinct and three of these sub-species are listed as endangered species.
The entire trail is a wood board walk. Mostly in good shape. There are many signs directing visitors to stay on the board walk. The creek and marsh is a fragile ecosystem.
The trail is easy and wheelchair accessible. the distance came in at .77 miles on my GPS.
This is an easy half mile loop trail, which leads you along a boardwalk over a small stream. This is a good location for viewing the rare pupfish when they are active, as well as other wildlife. The desert pupfish is a small, silvery colored fish with dark bands on its sides that grows to be about 2.5 inches in length. Feeding on algae, pupfish can survive in desert springs heated to 113 degrees, and can tolerate water twice as salty as the ocean. During the winter months when the water is cooler, or when the stream has evaporated, these small fish become dormant, burrowing into the muddy bottom of the stream. The best time to see the pupfish are in late February through early spring. We were lucky to be there at the right time, and were able to observe these tiny fish. We also saw a number of small lizards.
Heading south towards Furnace Creek, you'll come upon another turnoff onto another crappy gravel road. At the end of this one is a short boardwalk trail (about a half mile loop) that goes through salt marshes. There are a number of placards along the way pointing out some of the geology and discussing the geological history of the area. Of particular interest are the pupfish that inhabit the creek - these little guys have adapted over the years to the heat and high salt content of the water. I was lucky enough to see many schools of these fish in the creek.
Salt Creek is one of the most unique geological features in Death Valley. Wherever you find water in the desert it's special, let alone the lush marshland around it. It's easily accessible via a nice boardwalk. The Park built the boardwalk so visitors can get close to the creek but also to protect the sensitive marshland. "One ugly footprint on Salt Creek can last several weeks or even months", as the Park said.
Today Salt Creek's salt level is about the same as ocean water. Large animals that used to live here all left or died, but pupfish survived. It adapted to the heat, high salinity and intermittent lack of water in Salt Creek's present environment. You won't find pupfish in my photo though. The photo was taken in late November, while pupfish won't be available till February.
The creek was not always salty. It used to be a fresh-water lake long time ago. Fossils found in this area indicate this was home to many large animals including dinosaurs. Then it got hotter and drier. The whole area continued to drop and the lake got smaller and saltier, until no animals can survive.
There were quite a few lizards running around the sparse vegetation at Salt Creek. All of them except this one did not appear to want to be photographed.