Sarcobatus Flat

Wildflowers: Mojave aster, Fremont pepperbush, and pincushions.

Joshua tree.

Desert Solitude

Sarcobatus Flat is the definition of the Nevada Outback. A wide open alluvial basin with playas and very few roads.

North of Beatty and Rhyolite, the history of this vast plain and surrounding mountain ranges is closely connected with Rhyolite Ghost Town.

Strozzi's Road as the locals call it, is a dirt track that crosses southern Sarcobatus Flat from US 95 to Strozzi's Ranch.

Higher alluvial fans in Sarcobatus Flat are covered in Great Basin sagebrush.

Strozzi summered in a small ranch in a canyon in the Grapevine Mountains, now in Death Valley National Park, which contained springs and timber. View of Strozzi Canyon looking eastwrds out across Sarcobatus Flat.

Strozzi Ranch historic buildings, Grapevine Mountains.

Western Joshua trees dot the Sarcobatus Flat landscape.

Pronghorn antelope inhabit Sarcobatus Flat, and expand in range during rainy springs with wildflowers, which they specialize in eating.

Pronghorn antelope in Sarcobatus Flat.

Wide open spaces with desert and Joshua trees, Sarcobatus Flat.

A shrubby wildflower called Prince's plume blooming in Sarcobatus Flat on a rainy year.

Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus)

The scientific name Sarcobatus comes from the Greek for "fleshy bramble," a good name. A shrub of alkaline flats, playa edges, and seasonally wet basins of the Mojave Desert and Great Basin, Greaswood grows from Mexico to Canada. The "wormy" shaped leaves are deciduous in the cold season, and appear bright green in the spring. In fall the leaves turn yellowish, giving a seasonal look to the wide open spaces where it grows. The branches are spiny, but this does not hinder cattle, elk, antelope, ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and quail from nibbling on them.

These amazing shrubs have deep taproots to get to the groundwater in arid basins, and they survive the salty soils by accumulating the sodium and potassium salts in their roots and leaves along with water -- taste a leaf to get an idea of how salty they are.

The Shoshone and Paiute used the tough branches for arrows, digging sticks, cradleboard edges, and sometimes the seeds for food. The wood is so hard that people also used it for arrowpoints and fishing spears. Hopi favored it for throwing sticks to hunt rabbits. The Ute smoked hides over a fire of greasewood to color them yellow. Navajo people chewed the leaves and applied them to bee and ant stings.

According to William Dumnire and Gail Tierney in Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners (1997, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe): "Fifty years ago a pharmaceutical company found that greasewood contains an effective antioxidant, and for a short time this was being extracted on a large scale in southern New Mexico. Antioxidants are now manufactured synthetically" (p.151).

Desert collared lizard.

Pocket mouse, a seed-eater. There are at least two species present in Sarcobatus Flat.

Sunset camping at Sarcobatus Flat.

Sarcobatus Flat experiences dry years and droughts regularly. Dust devils on the basin.

But then the rains come in other years, re-awakening life in the desert. Notheastern Sarcobatus Flat rainshowers.

Then the wildflowers grow lush from the hidden seedbank in the desert soils. Broad-leaved gilia.

Desert pincushion flowers explode into bloom in Sarcobatus Flat after a rainy winter and spring.

Sarcobatus Flat superbloom: Mojave dandelion, apricot mallow, and desert pincushion wildflowers.

Mojave aster.

Broad-flowered gilia.


Purple mat.

White-stemmed blazing star.

Desert chicory and gilia.

Broad-flowered gilia.


Linanthus color variations.

Desert star.


Broad-flowered gilia and Fremont phacelia.

Broad-flowered gilia.

Fremont phacelia.

Bird's beak.

Prince's plume in Sarcobatus Flat.

Cushion buckwheat.

Desert larkspur.

Lace-leafed phacelia.

Annual buckwheat.

Joshua trees on Sarcobatus Flat.

Mixed scrub of sagebrush, saltbush, spiny hopsage, and cottonthron in Sarcobatus Flat.

The far northern end of Sarcobatus Flat merges into the foothills of Gold Mountain. After a rainy winter in 2017 the desert was green.

Undisturbed flats with sagebrush and a variety of other shrubs.

Wide basin of Sarcobatus Flat approaching sunset.

Under certain conditions, the shadows of the highest peaks in the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west in California cast very long shadows as the sun sets behind them. Mountain peak shadows across the sky over Sarcobatus Flat looking eastwards.

Looking up the spine of the Grapevine Moutains, which forms the west boundary of Sarcobatus Flat.

Grapevine Mountains looking east across the playa in Sarcobatus Flat. The Shoshone had late summer camps up here to collect pinyon nuts.

Bent Joshua tree in the Gold Point Mountains, looking southwards to Bonnie Claire Dry Lake and Sarcobatus Flat in the far distance. This is a truly wild land.

Hills looking southwest across Sarcobatus Flat and its playa to the distant Grapevine Mountains.

Deep in the Grapevine Mounatins along the crerst of this range inside Death Valley National park, looking eastwwards down Phinney Canyon and to Sarcobatus Flat beyond. The range is densely clothed in pinyon-juniper woodlands.

Long-flowered snowberry bushes grow in shady rock outcrops and cooler mountain ranges here.

Joshua trees on mesas along the eastern side of Sarcobatus Flat.

Rock formations in the foothills of the Grapevine Mountains, along the western edge of Sarcobatus Flat.

Spiny hopsage, in the Amaranth Family, shows off reddish bladder-like seed pods in summer.

Winterfat, a hardy shrub with fluffy seeds, so named because livestock could survive grazing on it during tough winter months.

Extensive Joshua trees occupy the sbrublands of Sarcobatus Flat. We estimate in places the density is 30 per acre.

Desert horned lizards are well camouflaged.

Red racer snake. They are not toxic, and prefer to race away from people.

Sunset colors in Sarcobatus Flat looking northeast.

Desert spiny lizard on rock outcrop in Sarcobatus Flat, Nevada.

A colorful Western fence lizard climbs a screen at Strozzi's Ranch, showing off its blue belly.

Strozzi's Ranch historic structures.

Small herds of burros dwell in Sarcobatus Flat, descendants of the mining past of Beatty and Rhyolite.

Joshua tree in Sarcobatus Flat.

Joshua trees with the Grapevine Mountains in the background.

Camping in Sarcobatus Flat, sunset view.

Venus and New Moon over Sarcobatus Flat.