Petunia the Pitbull

Central New York Hikes: Malloryville & Chicago Bog

O.D. von Engeln PreserveO.D. von Engeln Preserve at MalloryvilleO.D. von Engeln Preserve at MalloryvilleO.D. von Engeln Preserve at MalloryvilleO.D. von Engeln Preserve at MalloryvilleSpring has only just sprung around here but Tuna and I have already managed to get in a few nice hikes. The photos above are from the O.D. von Engeln Preserve at Malloryville in Dryden, NY. This little known swath of land located between Cortland and Ithaca is owned by the Nature Conservancy. I’ve lived in this area most of my life and was never aware of this hidden gem until we took a field trip there for my Wetlands class at Cornell. What makes this place so special is that you have more than half of the six wetland types and corresponding plant communities represented in an itty-bitty parcel of land (the preserve is only 35 acres which makes this a super easy hike). As you walk along the well-marked dirt trails and wooden boardwalks, you’ll find a bog with sphagnum mats and pitcher plants, a wooded swamp, groundwater-fed fens and if memory serves me correct, I think there’s even a marsh nearby. The preserve also serves as a fantastic lesson in glacial deposition with its wooded esker trail and kame and kettle topography.

Chicago Bog, Lime Hollow Nature CenterChicago Bog, Lime Hollow Nature CenterChicago Bog, Lime Hollow Nature CenterThe photos above are from our Chicago Bog hike last week. As you can see, there was still a bit of ice and snow happening. I kept my eyes peeled for migrating amphibians and sadly, all I saw was death. One adult spotted salamander was hit in the road and I found these frogs dead in the shallows of the bog. Looks like they had an even worse winter than we did–which I didn’t even think that was possible! I wish I had the motivation to go out at night to help the sallies cross the road. That’s one of those things I prefer to do with a partner because you’re right by the road and you need that extra person if something goes wrong or even just to be more visible to drivers. Anyone want to night herp with me? There’s still time for us to be heroes! For more pics on my previous Chicago Bog and the Lime Hollow Nature Center hikes click here.

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Yellowstone: July 18th, 2013

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“Hey, let me down or I’ll eat you like a fly!”

Deb, Andrew and I got an early start since we had no idea what this catchment had in store for us. All we knew of Gibbon Meadows is that Andy and his crew had to stop surveying when they hit a large, confusing wet meadow filled with beaver dams. Needless to say, we were concerned–me especially since I despise wet meadows with the fiercest of all hatreds. Not to mention that there was an entire page of handwritten directions on the easiest way to get into the site. That never bodes well. Last year, Janine and Scot surveyed it for the first or second time instead of Grebe Lake because of the nesting swans. Normally, this and a few other sites are backups in case crews can’t survey one of the regulars for some reason. By the end of the day, we had decided that this site would remain a backup or be turned into a multi-day backpacking trip–but I’m getting ahead of myself.

First of all, I will preface all of the bad by saying that this catchment is absolutely beautiful. The terrain is breathtaking which made the entire event much easier and kept me in good spirits. However, right from the parking lot we had a tough time. The first thing we had to do was ford a river and that meant either doing a perilous circus act by crossing over a skinny log that was high above the water or wading through the river that was nearly above my waders. We all chose the wading and my waders were minimally filled (Deb had to do it twice because she left her GPS in the car). Then it was a half-hour trek through some nice, flat terrain on an animal path. We, of course, encountered a nesting pair of sand hill cranes who amazingly enough did not eat my face off but certainly threatened to do so. One of them kindly escorted us into the forest…the forest of death (or so it felt). This was nearly two hours of hiking through very intense, rugged terrain. To say the least, it was exhausting and brutally hot. On several occasions I stopped for a drink and remarked on how beautiful it all was and Deb–sweet, always cheery Deb–acted astonished and completely disgusted by the place. You know things are bad when Deb isn’t digging it.

Eventually, we made it to the sites in question and we could definitely appreciate Andy’s predicament. The beavers were having a field day in this site. They had built dams every fifty meters or so along the stream, yet we never saw a lodge. Some areas were completely flooded, some were still dry but certainly wouldn’t remain that way for long, there were thermal seeps, and the once dry forests were now dying from the inundation. This wet meadow was an ever-changing landscape that defied our ability to characterize it in a way that would make any lasting difference. Next year, this place would be a habitat completely changed from the one we were seeing–perhaps an even better one for amphibians.

We found some potential sites to survey and even some spotted frog tadpoles to assure us that we were on the right track. Then we continued up the wet meadow for another 200 meters to see if we found any other potential sites.  Basically the entire meadow was either a stream, a wet meadow or a thermal seep. It would take several teams to even come close to completing this survey in a day. Andrew and I met up at the stream and headed back to find Deb. We chatted for a second and then in one fell swoop Andrew scooped up an adult female boreal toad that was hanging out by his feet. He proudly displayed his catch without even skipping a beat in the conversation.  I thought that seeing an adult boreal toad near all of these warm seeps that they love to breed in would be a great indicator of habitat suitability but Deb didn’t seem to think it meant much because they’re known for being impressive travelers. They can cover distances you’d never expect them to. They’re rather Olympic in that respect!

The way out was equally hellacious but Andrew’s quirky conversational abilities and chosen topics kept things light. I ran out of water but luckily Andrew’s steri-pen saved the day. That thing’s magical! Just before the car, I managed to fall into the river while trying to gracefully pounce over some logs. The cool water felt good though, especially on my torn-up feet (I wore the wrong shoes) so there were no complaints from me, just some embarrassment. Enough with the bad though. I will bookend this Gibbon Meadows experience by saying another nice thing: there were relatively few blood-sucking insects. Thank goodness! It may seem like a small thing (pun intended) but a lack of bugs is a major relief after being constantly devoured by them for the past few weeks.

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This is where I fell on the way back.
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He clearly has no problem getting across–unlike me.
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Deb & Andrew happily heading back to the car.
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The trees dying from the beaver inundation.
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Look at that physique!
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An adult boreal toad.

My last night in Yellowstone was spent eating, drinking, and swapping stories in the employee pub with Janine, Scot, Deb and Andrew. This was our last big hurrah of the season. We signed our names on the wall under those of previous amphibian field crew members. This is our lasting legacy…at least until the place is torn down or painted over. Oh, and we played pool and I actually did okay. I love it when I pretend like I can do something well and then the fates align so it looks like I actually know what I’m doing. That rarely happens so I definitely sit up and take notice when it does.  I will miss this place so much. I already do.

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Yellowstone: July 11th, 2013

2013-07-11 14.09.222013-07-11 14.09.462013-07-11 14.09.532013-07-11 14.10.35Oh Craig Pass…why? WHY!? Once again, we had another doozie of a catchment. Previous teams had set up seven navigation points to get us, the easiest way possible, to the wetlands. Well, Andrew and I both want to tell those people off. The navigation points led us through the worst forest known to man. Painful hours later, when we finally made it to our first site, it was a large lake. The entire day was one large lake after the next with a few dried up wet meadows containing a few adult frog hot tubs thrown in there for good measure. Surveys of that size are a lot of work but we hustled. This has been a two-day catchment in all years but one but Andrew and I both agreed that there is no way in heck we were doing this another day. So we blazed through as best we could. Overall, the breeding habitat was actually pretty spectacular and we found chorus frog tadpoles, one spotted frog tadpole and by glorious god we saw lots of neotenic spotted salamanders. Yes! They’re so cool! Their gills look like big frilly clown collars and they swim so fast. The way out was much easier because we completely ignored the terribly misleading navigation points and instead chose to follow the stream bed. It was relatively smooth sailing once we decided to buck the trend. I fell a few times, of course; I was poked so hard by a fallen log that it split my skin; surefooted Andrew even fell; he split his walking stick right up the middle; Andrew’s forehead was so badly eaten by mosquitoes (even through his hat) that it was inflamed and lumpy for the rest of the night; and both my hips and knees were shot. Basically, it was the status quo for the week. On the bright side, it was much cooler and not as sunny so we weren’t desiccated husks (we often net the desiccated husks of damselflies and dragonflies and wonder how cool it would be if humans left behind perfect little husks like that). As fate would have it, that was the only day that Andrew carried enough water with him. Now he probably doesn’t think he’ll need to carry as much next time since he still had some leftover this time. Ahh…I see a vicious circle forming. While we were still in the forest, I exclaimed that I could see the road peeking through the trees. Andrew all of a sudden sings “Let’s go there. Let’s make our escape.” like Scott Stapp of Creed so we entertained each other by doing our best Scott Stapp impressions until we reached the car. Then it was no-holds-barred Creed’s greatest hits on full blast. If our neck’s weren’t hurting before, they certainly were after our one-hour extravaganza of head banging, dashboard drumming and air-guitaring. I’m so glad he’s my field partner. He’s funny and happy even during our worst moments out in the field. Our styles are perfectly balanced: in the mornings he has a positive outlook on the day whereas I’m poo-pooing everything and by the end of the day he’s wanting to die and I’m telling him that things are looking up. Hah! When things get tough, we both turn inwards and get quiet but eventually the jokes always start back up. Even better, he’s equally out of shape so I never feel like I’m lagging behind. I don’t think the gal who was supposed to be with me would be anywhere near as much fun. Sometimes we try to imagine what she would be like. She would be a snobby, extremely fit aerobics teacher and she would make me survey every wet meadow, even if it was dry that year.

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Yellowstone: July 9th, 2013

Day two of the Shoshone catchment. This is the day we surveyed the rest of the sites in this wetland complex. Site 13 was way too remote from the rest of the wetlands to survey all in one fell swoop so it was broken up into two days and two vastly different experiences. It’s been three or four days since Andrew and I surveyed this site and I’ve already blocked it out. I can’t really even give you the details of this experience other than…

* it was extremely low-quality amphibian habitat
* it took about 2.5 to 3 hours (each way) to get from the wetlands to the car
* the terrain was brutal: non-stop mountainous terrain with steep valleys, plus mature downed trees with thick re-growth that will gladly stab and puncture you with every painful step
*Andrew ran out of water near the end and was near insanity
* it was blazing hot (95 degrees)
* the insects were awful
* my left hip was completely rubbing and nearly out of socket–bone on bone
* my left knee was strained so I had a badass limp happening

It was basically twelve hours of climbing mountains, climbing over or under logs, getting stabbed and sliced, being devoured by insects, sweating profusely, getting fried to a crisp by the sun, and being completely unprepared for extreme thirst…all to find a handful of tadpoles with no decent breeding habitat to speak of. It was a stark contrast from the day before. We returned back to the dorm near death. Instead of washing our gear and prepping for the next day, we both made a B-line towards any physical relief we could find. I laid on the couch and Andrew sat next to me in the chair and we immediately passed out. We only woke up because my snoring scared the crap out of the both of us. Eventually, I was able to scrape myself off the couch to call Deb and tell her we made it back in semi one piece. Her day of surveying was equally trying with the exception of seeing two white wolves. One of the wolves was so surprised to see Deb that it dropped what it had in its mouth and ran away. Upon inspection, the item dropped was a deer head. How freakin cool is that?! Andrew and I never see cool crap! I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Andrew about it because he’s been dying to see a wolf. Yellowstone will be a letdown if he doesn’t see at least one. Hopefully, we can make it back in time tomorrow to go out to Hayden Valley with the wolf men. Since they’re studying the Lamar and Hayden Valley wolf packs, they’re the guys to go with for a guaranteed visual and they’ve invited us along. When my broken body finally laid down to sleep that night, I couldn’t find any relief, despite the copious amounts of Advil in my system. I kept dreaming I was stuck in Shoshone and couldn’t find my way out. I literally only slept for four hours that night and I haven’t slept well since.

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Yellowstone: July 1st, 2013

Today we tackled the Rock Point catchment. We assumed it would be a piece of cake since most of the wetlands were just off the side of the road and didn’t seem to take previous crews a long time to survey. Some said it was a half day of work, some said it was a short full day. So we figured it would take us–the dream team– a half day, easily. However, the only snag would be three naughty little wetlands: two about 600 meters in and one over 1 km in from the road which had been dry in 2011 & 2012. Okay, so you know how this is going to go already, right? The lesson here is don’t assume anything. The teams that went before us were right about the wetlands near the road, they were super easy to get to and easy to survey. We had them finished in two hours. Our next task was to hit the 600 meter-away wetlands and then  the farthest one. We started out super cocky with 100% certainty that we’d get them knocked out in time to enjoy a half day. That’s when we realized that there were steep ridges between us and these next wetlands. Added to that was the forest became extremely dense with enormous spider webs everywhere you walked and tons of fallen dead trees to either climb over or under. Every step was a challenge and we had too many to go. We eventually surveyed the two wetlands and then we had to literally climb a mountain to get to the remote one. The mix of climbing and having to navigate over/under fallen dead trees is nothing less than torture. It took us two hours to get there, just to find it dry, of course. We cursed the world and headed back down the mountain and ridges for another two hours of being scratched and scraped by dead tree limbs. The only thing that made the entire experience bearable was Andrew’s sense of humor. The things he says are totally hilarious. I’m so lucky to have him as my partner. However, this hike made it abundantly clear that I have a gift for choosing the path of least resistance, while Andrew picks the hardest route imaginable. For example, the GPS will tell him to go directly northwest so he walks in a straight line in that direction which will invariably lead us directly into one impossible tangle of dead trees after the other. I’m always taking a second to look at the entire landscape to see possible routes that will take us over the least amount of deadfall. By the end of the walk, Andrew was following close behind me and we came out of the forest right where the car was parked. Never once did I have to check the compass or GPS. Yes! I have so very few talents and I certainly wouldn’t rely on this one but it’s still nice. Since we completely underestimated this catchment, neither of us took enough water, so by the time we got to the car, we were a little nuts. I had rationed my water so I had one sip left and Andrew drank all of his at the last wetland. Andrew did have a water bottle in the car which was now super-heated and not refreshing whatsoever. Overall, we still managed to finish at 3:30 pm, which was not too shabby considering what we went through. Ever since Rock Point, I see it as my duty to report the complete truth as to how a catchment treated us on the field data sheet. Previous years seem to just report where to park and the length of time it takes to hike in and such. But you have no idea what the conditions are like during the hike. You may get one helpful soul that tells you to beware of biting flies and thermal areas, but that’s it. Not me. I wrote down all of it so people know and are fully prepared for one heck of a rough time.

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Yellowstone: June 27th, 2013

DSCF2381DSCF2381The morning was spent reviewing our data quality with Deb. Nez Perce was a disaster in more ways than one. The GRYN whippersnapper data was a mess, but luckily that wasn’t our doing. Otherwise, we hadn‘t screwed up anything too bad. We said a final goodbye to zee Germans, exchanged contact info and I, of course, sent them on their merry way with some soap to remember me by. Awe! Alex was blown away that my last name was Hazard and that I didn’t make a point to tell him earlier. He was certain that I was lying to him, but luckily Deb and Andrew were there to back me up. He felt completely robbed of several weeks worth of teasing me about my last name. Perhaps from now on, I should just introduce myself as Hazard and drop my first name completely. That way no one will ever feel deprived of humor again. Then we hopped into Andrew’s car, head-banged to Metallica’s …And Justice for All for an hour and we were back at the trail head of our five-star catchment, with Deb in tow. This time we surveyed the sites furthest away, which was a 2-hour hike in. It was our warmest field day thus far–an unexpected 85 degrees–and by the time we arrived at the first site, I was completely overheated and parched. These particular wetlands were like old friends to me. I remembered every one of them from back in 2006 and my site drawings were still being used as a reference. You could tell that I enjoyed these sites back in 2006 because I took my time trying to capture all the little details I loved about each one–in my own third-grade way. I’m sad to say, many of the wetlands are dried up now and very likely will never come back. There were two sites across the Lewis River that Polly and I swam to back in 2006 that no one has attempted to swim to since. Looking at that river crossing made me incredulous. Sometimes, I can’t believe all the crazy stuff that I’m willing to do. We really laid some impossible groundwork in 2006 that no other team could sanely replicate. No tadpoles or frogs were found in any of the wetlands surveyed today. Ugh! All that hard work for nothing sometimes feels like an enormous letdown. The hike back was awesome though. A male and female osprey were nesting near the Lewis Lake beach and good gracious did they have some words to say to us. They were not happy sharing their beach and I can’t blame them. Their spot is sweet! During our surveys we also saw two ravens who clearly had chicks because there was the ruckus of hungry babies coming from the nest. Mom told them to shut up whenever we came too close to their tree and the babies obediently listened.

We got back to the dorm and started the arduous task of disinfecting our waders and nets and downloading catchment data from the pda and camera. After that, I spent the rest of the day in bed. The Germans were now gone (sniffle, sniffle), the Wisconsinites were still away, Andrew had left for Casper, Deb had left for Jackson, and the sociologists were entertaining family members in the kitchen. I had no one to play with. There was nothing to do but read and sleep and that was more than okay with me.

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Yellowstone: June 25th, 2013


Bison love Fishing Bridge.
This is cutthroat spawning habitat.
Fishing is no longer allowed off the bridge.
A view of the bay from the bridge.
Another beautiful view from the bridge.

The second day of the Tanager Lake catchment was not quite from hell but it sure wasn’t a good time either. It was filled with several nightmare worthy wet meadows, which are my absolute least favorite wetland to survey. I have perfected a technique to deal with wet meadows as swiftly as possible so you can get out of there fast and forget you ever had to contend with one. I like to call it the rowing method or the walking net scoop. You walk a few steps, row or net scoop and look at what you’ve caught as you simultaneous walk a few more steps and prep yourself for another scoop. This is all one continuous movement that gets you the heck out of there fast. I’ve also invented the BAZZ method or the Big Ass Zig-Zag. Technically, we’re supposed to survey the perimeter of a wetland and perhaps do a transect if it isn’t too deep. Since many wet meadows don’t have really defined perimeters, I just do one big ass zig-zag across the entire meadow and call it a day. That way I’m surveying  a  portion of the perimeter while simultaneously surveying many various water depths and little kettle holes that are hidden throughout the meadow. I , of course, managed to fill my waders very early on in the day. All was fine and dandy until I found the one hole in the meadow that led to the center of the earth. One moment I was on solid ground and the next I was up to my waist in muck. I made it out before Andrew had to throw me a rope and pull me out (I think he kinda wants that to happen so he can use the rope). So I did the rest of the wetland surveys in my sneakers, which I actually prefer. Wet sneakers weigh far less than wet waders and my hips have been killing me from all the intense hiking, hurdling over dead trees, and constant lifting of mucky waders. And the idea of sticking my feet and legs into mucky wetland soils where a ferocious damsel fly larvae could nip my leg off at any second doesn’t bother me at all. Plus, I’m delighted to know that my two dollar, second-hand, North Face field pants dry in about two to five minutes depending on the temperature outside. That fabric is amazing! Never will I fear peeing my pants again…just kidding!

Andrew and I arrived back at the dorm and I immediately headed out to the Fishing Bridge general store to purchase some sweat pants and more delicious Bitch Creek beer. I finally broke down and bought some sweats because I had apparently packed for a trip to Florida or the tropics or somewhere hot. I brought very few pants and most were lightweight and gross from field work. No, I needed some thick, cozy sweats to keep me warm because I’ve been freezing since I got here and my wader-filling day just made things worse. So beer and pants it was. The beer situation has been great. I’m a huge fan of Grand Teton Brewing Company’s Bitch Creek beer and Yellowstone has been the only place I’ve been able to find it. In fact, the first thing I did when I arrived in Yellowstone was to park my car at the dorm, walk to the Fishing Bridge Store and purchase a 6-pack of Bitch Creek. When the cashier looked at my New York id, I told him that I came a long way for this beer and he was certainly impressed. I wasn’t lying either. That beer is a large reason I came back to Yellowstone for a second round. I happily trotted past the bison and tourists with Bitch Creek under my arm, all the way back to the dorm feeling finally complete again. I’m going to have to stockpile the stuff for my trip back home. However, Alex (one of the three German hydro geochemists) discovered a beer I like even better at the Canyon general store so I may have to re-prioritize my love for Bitch Creek.

After the pants-purchasing, I arrived back at the dorm to a homemade enchilada casserole made by Patsy, our mother/sociologist studying bear jams. Andrew doesn’t eat real food and we all jump at every chance to rag on him about it. His wife makes him eat better when he’s at home but his field diet consists of hot dogs, ramen noodles, cookies, doughnuts, chips, packaged cheese and crackers, soda, coffee, and his favorite, ginger beer.  I’m not sure what this casserole of real non-processed food did to his plumbing–and I don‘t really dare venture a guess–but I’m sure his body was perplexed with what to do with things like vitamins and minerals and such. The entire crew, sans the Wisconsinites who were still car camping north of Yellowstone, sat around the table and enjoyed Patsy’s delicious cooking and good company. I’ve been really hungry for hearty food lately but we’re hours away from the nearest restaurant (the norovirus is going around Yellowstone so I’m avoiding eating in the Park). It doesn’t help that my cooking is inedible and I’m living on PB&J’s. I’m ravenous but I have no appetite for anything that I have in the fridge so it’s kind of like slow torture.

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Yellowstone: June 19th, 2013

IMG_20130619_170252Welcome to my 16-hour day from both heaven and hell: Nez Perce starting from the west side of the Mary Mountain trail. Andrew and I woke up at 5 am to meet the GRYN crew at the trail head by 7 am. The dorm is almost in the center of Yellowstone, between Fishing Bridge and Lake, and it takes about 1.5 hours to drive to many of our field sites. It’s also about 2 hours from the nearest exit out of the Park. We had a 7-mile hike to the catchment ahead of us with about 15 wetlands to survey (one being a 1.5 hour survey in previous years) and another 7 mile hike out, none of this includes the wader-clad hikes between each wetland. The goal being to turn this mother out in one day so we didn’t have to re-live the hike the next day (giving Andrew and I a four-day weekend, yes!). The hike was really nice, aside from our brutal, break-neck pace. You have to remember, I’m hiking with a bunch of young, fit dudes. My stride measures 0.4 meters and theirs on average is 0.8 meters. So for every one of their steps, I had to take two and by God, I kept up! In some spots I even outpaced them. There were some thermal features along the way and some stream crossings to content with–not to mention the fresh bear scat and enormous grizzly bear prints (sadly, no long-distance sightings though). Two and a half hours later we made it to the catchment. Andrew and I were split up because we were the only ones that knew how to work with some of the data collection equipment. We split up into two groups of three: two people to survey and one to spot for bears and collect habitat data. Surveys went fast and easy. I worked with Andy, the project manager, and perhaps the laziest young fella I’ve ever met. Andy and I would be surveying for amphibians and we would look over and he would be snoozing under a tree. I wanted to smack him but Andy and I worked so efficiently that he didn’t hold us back any. Andy is an absolute hoot! He’s a few years older than me, has the accent and laid back attitude of Matthew McConaughey (I would be shocked if there wasn‘t any naked bongo playing in his past or future), and bonded with me over our love of 80s hair bands.  Needless to say, we got along famously.

Both teams converged on the enormous pond/lake wetland for one final survey. Four people surveyed and it took 1.5 hours each. I found 115 chorus frog tadpoles, 2 spotted frog tads and an enormous neotenic tiger salamander. It took every ounce of restraint I could muster to not kiss that chubby sally on its grinning little mouth and put it in my pocket! In the process of catching the sally, I was nearly attacked by a sandhill crane. Apparently, I was too engrossed in my netting to see that I had nearly trotted upon the crane sitting on her eggs. I was only a few feet away when she flew towards my face. For the rest of the survey she was verbally abusing me from a nearby tree. Eventually, she landed back in her nest to sit atop her two or three enormous eggs. It was kinda neat, besides her almost eating my face off. A storm rolled in just as we were finishing up. Luckily, we only experienced a brief period of hail and extreme cold. On the way out we surveyed a new site the we found earlier and then started our long trek back. It was rather amusing being amongst a group of young guys. I forgot how awkward and undeveloped they are. Some of the stories they were telling, like getting busted for drinking under-age and denying it to a police officer or sustaining severe head trauma while riding home form the bar drunk on your bicycle, were proof positive that our brains truly don’t develop until our early twenties. Nevertheless, they were amusing. The hike back was difficult and painful, to say the very least. Andrew sustained some minor foot injuries and we were all beat from the day. The last ¼ of the trek was by far the most agonizing. I could no longer keep up with the whippersnappers and Andrew was doing as bad, if not worse than I was. By the end, we could barely walk. We did our best to hide our pain in front of the rest of the crew. It took every ounce of cool we had to bid them a causal goodbye. As we turned away from them, on the walk back to Andrew’s car, we promised each other to never tell the whippersnappers how much we hurt. Our pride was the only thing we had at the moment. As soon as they pulled out of the parking lot, we poured ourselves into the car (crying out in pain with every movement), whipped off our wet socks and compared our sores and blisters. I won the prize for largest, angriest looking blister, sadly. The trip home was both funny and agonizing. We told stories to lighten the mood but laughing hurt. The simple act of breathing felt like a steaming hot poker. Our pain was so bad, we saw a tourist excitedly running to her car and just the visual of her running made us both recoil in horror. By the time we reached the dorm, our bodies had seized up to the shape of the car seat. We both considered sleeping in the car because we didn’t want the pain that comes along with bending and standing and certainly not walking. We arrived at the dorm at 8:30 pm and at 9 pm we made it inside. As soon as we opened the front door and made it through the threshold five minutes later, Andrew collapsed and the phone rang. It was Deb, asking how the day went. I quickly and prideful reassured her, got off the phone, walked by Andrew’s lifeless body and was greeted by three amused forest ecologists from Wisconsin, three geochemists from Germany and one sociologist from Laramie, all enjoying our show. They were in hysterics! They had assumed we were hammered when we stumbled in. We pathetically recounted the hike for their enjoyment. Andrew was such a hilarious mess, he pulled up a chair to cook his staple–ramen noodles–because standing was out of the question, then he couldn’t eat them because his body hurt too much, then he left to call his wife but completely forgot to turn the stove off (is this how fires get started in Yellowstone?). Oh we certainly were the nights entertainment! At some points, there wasn’t a dry eye in that kitchen. One group of researchers, who will remain nameless, admitted to faking an animal jam earlier on in the day. They all got out of their car at a roadside pull-off and just started pointing out into the valley. That’s pretty much all you have to do to test the gullibility of human nature: just point into the trees and the suckers begin pulling over and the cars pile up behind you in no time flat. I must admit, I was overly amused and more than a little jealous, I’ve always wanted to do that. After the laughter, I creeped and creaked to bed as soon as my body could get there and slept like a log.

IMG_20130619_175907 (1)The worst part of all this, and I was pondering this on that last ¼ mile back to the car, is that seven years ago, Polly and I did a three-day, 15-mile (each way) back-country hike with 50-pound packs each. It was an absolute hellacious experience that I can’t believe we lived through. We forded several rivers almost getting swept downstream and soaking our packs. We set up camp in very active bear country, got devoured to near anemia by mosquitoes the entire time, starved to the point that we ate mac & cheese that contained more mosquitoes in it than macaroni or cheese, and were hammered by freezing rain soaking us both to near hypothermia. I remember being so exhausted and delusional half way through the 15-mile hike back that I crumbled on the trail and begged Polly to leave me there so I could happily be eaten by a bear. Yet after all that, I came back for more. This year, I specifically signed up, looking forward to more of these “adventures.” I’m here all but tempting the Gods of nature to hit me with their best shot. This leads me to question everything about myself.

Travel, yellowstone national park

Yellowstone: June 18th, 2013


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Antelope Valley with snow-capped mountains.
Antelope Valley
The Beartooth Highway in the background.
Deb & Andrew enjoying the view.
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Deb with her binoculars.
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Beautiful sunshine.
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The wildflowers are starting to bloom.

If you ever get the chance to visit Yellowstone, you have to take the winding ride from Dunraven Pass to Mount Washburn to Tower to the Lamar Valley. When I wasn’t white-knuckling it in the back of Deb’s car –praying her sight-seeing gaze didn’t stray too far, too long and send us toppling off a cliff–I was totally awestruck by the sweeping views of the Beartooth Highway and Antelope Valley. On a cliff side in Tower, overlooking the falls, is the Park’s only population of chimney swifts. Deb described them as cigars with wings, due to their svelte little bodies. The entire ride was glorious. We met the GRYN crew at the Specimen Ridge trail head (Specimen Ridge contains a petrified fossil forest that I have yet to see) and almost too briskly walked several brutally hot, uphill miles to our catchment. Aside from the large bison herd, there were pronghorn antelope along the way. They’re behavior was a little incongruous when you consider normal ungulate behavior in an ecosystem where they are considered prey animals. A group of three of them nearly walked right up to us, full on. And another group, turned away from us and back-stepped towards us, kind of like we wouldn’t notice their butts getting closer and closer. Presumably, there were babies hidden nearby so they were fully prepared to chase us away if need be. There is also a known wolf pack in the area that we were not lucky enough to see. Once my tired, overheated, parched ass arrived at the catchment–far behind the young whipper-snappers–we got to work surveying what was left of the wetlands. Over the last few years, these wetlands have been drying up at a rapid pace. It’s interesting to look at the data and site photos from previous years to compare. The wetland loss has been obvious throughout the Park due to this being a dry year, but the amphibian breeding habitat loss at this catchment has been staggering. Most sites were entirely dry. Nevertheless, we found tiger salamander larvae, chorus frog tadpoles and a few toad tadpoles. And every step we took between wetlands, there was always and adult chorus frog or two at our feet. I have complete faith that they will figure out the breeding habitat loss situation before we humans do. The walk back was a breeze and so enjoyable since it was all downhill. Such views are truly indescribable. Once again, we drove back from whence we came and it was equally gorgeous on the way home–it wasn’t just a mirage born from fear of unintentionally being driven off a cliff. I got home, cleaned my waders and net, read for a bit and was asleep by 10:30 pm. We had to be up at 5 am the next morning to tackle the dreaded Nez Perce catchment.


Crystal Bench
Andrew trying to escape me.

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More antelope butt.
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Interesting place for a tree.

I’m grump-diddly-dumpcious

DSCF1527I’m in a dreadful mood today so to spare you from the dark place I’m in, I’ll share with you some photos that I took a few weeks ago of our romp around the property. We were looking for migrating amphibians but at that moment we were a little premature. That would not be the case anymore since just yesterday I saw some adult red-spotted newts swimming around a vernal pool and some large egg masses. They’ve been busy these past few weeks! Most of the vernal pools are already dry which doesn’t bode well for the spring and summer months. Perhaps it’s good that they got a little bit of a head start on breeding. Anyway, enjoy the pics and I will try to adjust my attitude before my next post. Strangely enough, the photos are kind of dark and dreary, just like how I’m feeling. There’s no intended connection there, but irony always has a way of creeping in.