Saturday, August 15, 2015

Virgin Mtn Weather Station - Lines of Latitude

I have always had an interest in the weather, computer software development, the out-of-doors, maps & charts, and both tinkering and science in general. It is a mixed bag of interests no doubt. A little while back I came upon the Arduino micro-controller systems and found a way to pull all of my interests into one collective focus. This post is an introduction to my latest DRASTIC (Desert Research And Science Technology Innovative Charting) project.
Over the last year I have focused my spare time and energy on developing, testing and calibrating a weather system that tracks soil temperature at multiple depths, two outside temps, humidity, barometric pressure, elevation, soil moisture, light, date and time. A lot of my time was spent testing different power options and testing them. The result was a combination of the wiring of the hardware, optimization of the code, rechargeable batteries and two solar panels. This allows me to run my system around the clock. I haven’t tested it for multiple cloudy days to see how long it will stay powered but I know that it can run for at least 36 hours if the batteries are full. I certainly could add a larger power bank of batteries however I am trying to keep in small and I am cheap so I am trying to make it as small and inexpensive as possible. Even if it does lose power it will just wake up when it gets enough and start logging again. The flowing chart shows some of the testing of battery life with different code modifications.
(the graph above shows the effect of different modifications to the Arduino on the battery life)

When sitting on my front porch I have a direct line of sight view of the Virgin Peak. This is one of our family’s favorite places to visit, especially in the summer so we thought an experiment to understand the weather patterns on the mountain would be fun. In a relative short amount of time we can be heading up the mountain to cooler temperatures, but we wanted to know exactly what kind of temps we could find.

Last year I did a research project where I calculated the Wildfire risk potential for the Gold Butte region based on historic fires. You can read more about this project here:
As I ran through this project it became very apparent that there are many eco-regions within Gold Butte and micro climates within those areas. Looking at the map you can tell that there are different areas within the general area but I like to be able to classify these areas based on specific criteria. These areas can be generally classified by looking at the relationship between elevation, vegetation,slope, soil and geology. This project is a next step in better understanding the relationship between the different areas within Gold Butte. With this experiment I hope to be able to better classify these regions and understand how weather affects these different regions including precipitation, temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

With this in mind we designed an experiment where we created duplicate stations to run parallel to collect data. We would then put one on the mountain and the other at the house. We wanted to be able to see if there was a direct relationship or formula we could find to calculate the temperature on the mountain based on the temperature at the house. After building and testing our stations the next step was to pick the locations for our stations. After studying the map we found that we could run both stations on the exact same line of latitude on the mountain and our place in Logandale with 21 miles in-between.

With our experiment designed and our stations built and tested we were ready to deploy them and execute our experiment. I brought along both stations on our ride so we could deploy one and then chart the trip as we went. This chart shows the elevation profile of our trip up the mountain. I had the station set to take a reading and log every 30 seconds.

We had an excellent trip up the mountain. We were a little delayed in getting going as we waited for the rain to slow down but going out in a storm always pays off in the spectacle of rain in the desert.

Post Script: After we deployed our station Virgin Mountain bas gotten hammered with rain. I guess I will find out how good my weather proofing turned out this time. The last station that I deployed was back in September up on the Mesa on September 7, 2014 and the next day the area got the hardest rain we have gotten in a long time with record flooding....and my station biffed it after some rain got in my enclosure and shorted out one of my circuits.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I love getting out in the hills. Getting out and about is one way I take a break from the routine of everyday life. There are some places that are my go to spot, I love going there and it never gets old with new sunsets and changing weather it’s always something new.  I also love exploring new places, finding traces of life where something has tried to eke out an existence from some bygone era or seeing some new geologic formation for the first time awakens my sense of adventure. I love cruising new vistas and being reminded of my place in existence and time.  

Part of going out is being prepared, and part of being prepared is studying the map. Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of mapping tools made available with high resolution imagery that is regularly updated. These new mapping tools combined with the good ol’ USGS maps or BLM\Forest Service maps allow us to know where we will be going like never before.

Sometimes however when you are wanting to go and explore a new area, it nice to know what some of the highlight spots are from other people. In my younger days I would do this by getting out my dad’s old maps and looking for the circles he and my uncle had drawn on the map of the places they had visited. Sometimes I would call my uncle and try and get directions to a place but that didn’t always work as his sense of place and mine were often drawn from different vantage points and the directions didn’t always translate.

With this little history as a backdrop I would like to introduce release 1 of my mapping site . With this first release I am introducing a mapping application that allows you to view and create your favorite spots out in the back country as well as report on the status of that site.  

When you open up the site it will initially zoom to the Whitney Pockets area in the Gold Butte region. At the top right of the map is a search tool that allows you to search all the spots that have been added to the map. This is a wildcard search so if you type petroglyph, then any spot that has petroglyph in the name will come up. After you select a name from the drop down, hit submit and the map will zoom to that particular spot.

The little orange X’s mark where there is a spot that has been added by a user.  Click the orange X to identify that spot and open the information panel. When the panel opens it will give you the name of that spot. Some spots have a link that says, “Click for more info about this spot”. This link will take you to my site where I have more detailed information about that particular spot.  Also in this panel is a checkbox that says, “This is my go to spot”.

After you check the “This is my go to spot” the panel will expand to show a form where you can submit a little bit of information about that spot. Please answer the two questions that this form asks.

If you have a favorite spot but there isn’t a X that marks the spot then you can click navigate the map to your spot and add it. To add your spot click where your spot is and a new panel will open asking for the name of the place and the type of place that it is.

I built this site with a couple goals in mind. I love studying maps so I wanted to create a site where people could access easy to use dynamic maps. Right now I just have the USGS map for the base map but in the future I will change it so you can switch between aerial imagery and hopefully historic maps and other types of base maps. I wanted a place where people could add their favorite spot and view where other people like going for new trip ideas.

I also wanted the application to be a tool that helps improve public lands management. Folks are always asking for ways that they can be involved. I want this site to be a place where after you visit a spot you can report on the condition of that place so if we need to put together a clean-up then we know where to go. As the database builds with user reports I will work with local non-profits like Partners-In-Conservation to ensure we are good local stewards of our public lands.  As reports come in I can create maps to depict where clean-ups need to take place. The map below is a heat map of the current locations that have been added to the map. It shows where people’s favorite places are to visit. This is an example of the types of maps that I can create:

In the next version I am going to start adding roads into the map so you can view different trails and report on their status. This will then help people know when they are planning their trip what the conditions of the roads are and what type of vehicle will be needed to traverse the road.

Please go check out the site and add your favorite spot and report on the conditions of places where you have visited recently. I hope that this site will be a tool that is useful and informative and that you will check back often for updates and to find new places to explore.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mica Peak Vermiculite Mine

I ran across an old mining journal published by the Mackay School of Mines at UNR on the vermiculite mining in the Gold Butte area. While the History of Mining section was small it contained a lot of great information and also grabbed my interest as I have many fond memories of visiting the cabin growing up and exploring this area. It also mentions the owners of the mines at the time, Roxton Whitmore and Laura Gentry who were St. Thomas folks. These historic ties are what keeps the local sense of stewardship for our public lands alive in the local communities.

The best I could do to find a picture of Laura Gentry was this photo which states that she is the little girl looking through the fence. If my Whitmore friends are out there and can let me know whether this is correct or not I would appreciate it.
This is a picture of teh Harry Gentry Genral Store in St. Thomas.

The best I could do for Roxton Whitmore was this picture I have of his place in St. Thomas.

Gold Butte vermiculite deposits, Clark County, Nevada
Mackay School of Mines, University of Nevada 1967

The Gold butte vermiculite deposits are in the central portion of the South Virgin Mountains in northeastern Clark County. They lie within a one-mile-square area of the Gold Butte 15’ quadrangle, in sec. 15 T. 19 s., 70E.. The area is accessible by way of a maintained county road that connects with US Highway 91 at  Mesquite, Nev; the distance from Mesquite to the deposits is 52 miles.

Intermittent attempts have been made to exploit the vermiculite deposits, but no record of production is available. The first carload of unprocessed vermiculite was shipped to Los Angeles in 1942, and at least several car loads were shipped out later for experimental purposes. A mill was completed in 1945 with a reported daily capacity of 25 tons. The material was mined by open put methods. It is said that no more than 5 tons production per day was obtained, and the operation soon ceased. Failure to clean and size the material properly, lack of capital investment, and extreme difficulties of transportation are probably the chief reasons for the limed production.

In 1962 two cabins and the remains of the wind-damaged mill are the only structures on the property. A mine pit, almost 300 feet long, and waste dumps are present near the mill. Elsewhere, shallow exploration test pits and trenches dot the area. In a well near the mill, the water level has been within 20 feet of the surface in summer. The mining claims are held by Laura Gentry and Roxton Whitmore of Overton, Nev.

If you look to the far left you can see the roof of the old cabin. Next time I go out I will try and get an updated picture from the same vantage point however for now this is the same angle looking from Google Earth.

 This is my dad Jack Nelson out at the cabins at the Mica Peak mine before the BLM torn them down. This picture was taken in about 2001.

There is still a little machinery scattered out in the hills from the old mill.

This map was included in the journal.

Monday, February 16, 2015

In Motion

While I lay under the stars last night enjoying the beautiful back country of Gold Butte,  I couldn't help but feel a peace that can only come while sitting among the hills and sage. It was a beautiful night. There wasn't a hint of a breeze, nor a trace of a cloud and the moon was hours from peaking over the Grand Wash Cliffs so the stars were dense and brilliant. Laying in my bed roll next to my boys in the back of my truck, it would have been hard to feel any more still, however the shutter on my camera tells a different story. It reminded me that things are always in motion.

With the shutter wide open for much of the night my camera captured the motion of the night sky with the star trails glittering by. It is the same with the political landscape of Gold Butte as well. Last week on February 10, 2015 Dina Titus introduced legislation to designate Gold Butte as an NCA. Albeit that is is not the first, second or third time this bill has been introduced it still muddies the waters and undercuts anything positive that could be done for public lands in Southern Nevada.

These bills are not what they seem. It is easy to read into the rhetoric and get caught up in the feel good hook that these wilderness bills convey. The hidden barb that sinks in after these bills get passed are the stories, the history and the landscape that gets swept clean to create a landscape to fit this agenda. These bills are unable to encompass a wide enough perspective to capture a complete picture of our public lands and the stories they hold. Instead they focus on one point in time and disregard any evidence that detracts from this one vantage. It is my history, one of cattle ranching, mining and pioneering that often gets swept aside.

As I travel the back roads of Gold Butte the history emanates from the hills and springs, corrals and mines. There is a story of many people who have passed through this country. It is not a simple landscape that can fit within a narrow agenda nor be captured by a philosophy watered down by money and ego. I will continue to work for protection with access for our public lands and work to conserve every aspect of history that has played out on our public lands.

H.R. 856: To establish the Gold Butte National Conservation Area in Clark County, Nevada, in order to conserve, protect, and enhance the cultural, archaeological, natural, wilderness, scientific, geological, historical, biological, wildlife, educational, and scenic resources of the area, to designate wilderness areas, and for other purposes.

Feb 10, 2015

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My RMP Request

This letter is in regards to the proposed RMP for the Southern Nevada.

I appreciate that you have extended the amount of time that you gave the public to comment on the RMP proposals however the real problem is not the length of the comment period but the content. The proposed RMP does not include a proposal that is acceptable to a better part of Nevada residents and those who enjoy public lands. The proposed RMP sets a path that will drastically alter how the citizens of this beautiful country interact with public lands in Southern Nevada.

What is needed is for the BLM to suspend the comment period while a new practical proposal for Nevadans is created. The public and specifically those communities surrounded by public lands need a better alternative that encompass our uses and perpetuates the multiple-use landscape within Nevada.

In the book Physics and Philosophy by Werner Heisenberg he states, “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” What you, as the BLM have created are proposals in response to your method of questioning, leaving the residents and communities of Nevada obscured. The agency has employed tools that present only a myopic view of public lands while turning a blind eye to many of its current and historic uses.  This is done to implicitly limit our ability to comment. You cannot disagree with what has not been included and you can only comment on what’s been included. You as the BLM have refused to expand your method of questioning to include the everyday citizens and how they interact with public lands and its resources. You as the BLM have taken years to gather information using a process designed to give you exactly the results you needed and then given but a fraction of time to comment on slanted and narrow proposals.

I request a deferment to the comment period while the BLM develops an alternative proposal that better reflects a multiple-use landscape which is representative of Nevada residents and its historic uses.

Dustin W. Nelson
Logandale, NV

Please send in your comments Email:

This is a time lapse where I tried to capture the snow melt on the Virgin Mountain on New Years day


Friday, December 5, 2014

BLM Contact Information RMP

Please contact the Southern Nevada BLM office and request, if nothing else, at least a 1 year extension of time to the RMP


I would also suggest contacting your congressional representatives and asking them to tell the BLM that they need to reevaluate their RMP and come up with alternatives that fit with the values of the people who enjoy and recreate on public lands.

Lee Kirk, Planning and Environmental Coordinator for the Las Vegas Field Office, is the primary public contact for the Resource Management Plan Revision (RMP) and leads the interdisciplinary team that is developing the RMP and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 

Gayle Marrs-Smith is the Field Manager for the Las Vegas Field Office, which manages public lands in Clark County, NV.

Deborah MacNeill is the Field Manager for the Pahrump Field Office, which manages public lands in southern Nye County, NV.

The above three people are located at the BLM Southern Nevada District Office:
Bureau of Land Management
4701 N. Torrey Pines Dr.
Las Vegas, NV 89130

Telephone: (702) 515-5000
Fax: (702) 515-5023

BLM's RMP Website:

Below is a time lapse the boys and I took today while out and about. It was taken up on Whitney Pass on the Virgin Mountain

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hemmed In

The BLM is once again stirring up a storm. This time it is a bit more muted, while working to fly under the radar with their paper work but nonetheless, dramatic in its long term effects on Clark County.

Living in rural northeast Clark County, public lands are a part of all our lives. All of our communities are surrounded by these lands. Some of us own property that bound public managed land. Some of our livelihoods depend on access to our public lands and all of us depend on utilities to deliver electrical and water services that cross these lands and most of us recreate in one form or another on this government managed land. With so much dependency on these lands it would be assumed that both parties would be thoroughly involved in designing a management plan. However as precedent has proven, this is never the case.

The BLM has released their latest management proposals for the Southern Nevada region. These proposals include changing the status for over 250,000 acres of land.  For residents of the Virgin and Moapa Valleys the impact hits close to home. The Mormon Mesa between the two valleys is greatly impacted, Gold Butte stands to take even further alterations as well as almost every other hill, valley, wash and mesa stands to get some designation or label of one kind or another.

The BLM has asked for the public to comment on their proposal and has given but a short window to do so. The closing date for comments is January 7, 2015. They are not asking for our feelings or how it will impact our lives but critical analysis down to the page and section that we think is faulty or where they have made flawed analysis. The irony of it all is that the document is heavy on fluff and light on substance and actual data to sink your teeth into. They don’t even have decent maps by which the public can scrutinize what is happening in their back yard. 

With the timeline given to review the documents the BLM is in essence saying “trust us”. However this is a hard pill to swallow since all the agency has done since 1976 FLPMA is erode the relationship they once had will the people.

If the BLM doesn't even have the courage and decency to come out to the rural communities that they are hemming in with their latest proposal, then I think there should be and extension of time at least until they can come out and give detailed presentations on their plans with decent maps, the science behind their rationale and how this will directly impact the rural citizens of Clark County and all those who frequent the back country. They have said this proposal has taken them almost six years to produce, well I think at least a year to review the said documents accompanied by presentations to the communities and widely available maps with clear information should be the least they can do.

The BLM’s latest proposal to so narrowly manage our public lands clearly, reveals that this agency is disoriented and adrift, readily succumbing to the political breeze spilling over the Potomac.