Search This Blog


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Rocky Mountain National Park

Back from my week away in Rocky Mountain National Park. My husband and I took a short vacation to the western side. We stayed in the town of Granby about a 20 minute drive from Kawunechee Visitor Center. We were able to get into the park fairly early every day so we saw quite a bit of animal activity including:

  • A cow moose and her calf.
  • Two harems with bugling elk
  • Random elk herds, grazing
  • Pikas and marmots
  • Coyote scampering through the marmot area
  • Deer

On day one we hiked and got caught in the rain. Fortunately, we had rain gear with us.

On day two, we hiked the Tundra trail which is where we saw the marmots and pikas.

On day three we  hiked out along the Tombstone Ridge/Ute Trail, a trail above treeline, and had to turn because of an incoming thunderstorm. Only it didn't bring rain, it brought sleet. We made it back to the car about 5 minutes before it started to precipitate. We were hauling, stopping for nothing, not even to take a picture of a blooming Rydbergia which blooms only after setting roots, stems and leaves for 20 years. 

I saw it, though. 

The incoming weather must have been pretty severe as it closed down the visitor center. The weather at the bottom of the mountain of course was lovely. It was so nice we stopped for lunch in Grand Lake and then spent a happy hour doing some window shopping.

I took lots of flower photos, most of which came out well, and lots of scenery photos most of which did not. Rather, they came out but there is only so much you can do photography wise with a phone. We decided to invest in a camera with a wide lens and optical zoom.

I have made it a point to use only my phone to prove that you don't need expensive equipment to have the explorer's eye. The things most of us have at hand will do. But I'm not reconsidering that the phone alone is not always enough.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


I am blogging about the butterfly monitoring for the Adventure Scientists project at Open Explorer.

But I've been neglecting the every day exploration of Earth Explorations this summer because, well, it's been summer.  Now that it is officially meteorological autumn, I feel I should get back to at least weekly entries.

So this makes a nice welcome back post. What should I find in my front yard this morning but a mushroom?

I've not studied mushrooms much and my field guide is somewhat vague. It is a cap and stem with gills, I think. I can't be sure, it's hard to get a look under the cap. I took a picture but the camera didn't focus well.

The mushroom is growing on the edge of the lawn, near where the leaf and needle fall from deciduous and coniferous trees are. It's an adorable little fellow. I feel like it sprung up overnight but I might be that unobservant. I'm headed out of town for a week in a few days so I won't be able to watch its aging progression. Still, I'll keep an eye on it and see what comes of it. You can learn a lot just through intentional observation.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Badlands Butterflies

In my previous post about the Adventure Scientists citizen science opportunity monitoring butterflies in the wilderness I stated that I did not have any photos of butterflies from previous trips to the Badlands. When I wrote that I was consulting my iNaturalist observations rather than my photos because my photos from last year came up with this photo. I did add it to iNaturalist which identified it as possibly being a Variegated Fritallary on a rabbitbrush plant. Upon further review I would agree.

I will be blogging about this opportunity on Open Explorer with occasional hops over to the Adventure Scientists blog.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Adventure Scientist

I have been watching the work of Adventure Scientists for a while. This group equips people who are going on back country adventures with the knowledge and resources to do citizen science. They came on my radar through their microplastic work. Not surprisingly, founder Greg Treinish is a Nat Geo explorer.

Adventure Scientists current campaign is pollinators. They are interested mostly in the Rocky Mountain area but I signed up (and was accepted!) to collect butterfly and butterfly habitat observations using iNaturalist in the Badlands Wilderness area. I have to complete an online training which I will do in the next week.

In reviewing my observations from the field study area, I don't see any butterflies. The only arthropods I've observed are garden spiders and tumblebugs.  I am excited to try my hand at this and contribute to body of knowledge about butterflies.

Swallowtail caterpillar. Not taken in the Badlands but I will be on the lookout.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

More manhole covers

I'm still blogging on Open Explorer for the moment. I popped back over here to share this picture of Japanese manhole covers.

I wrote about the covers I saw in Omaha below.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Open Explorer

I am still blogging about exploration but taking a short break from Earth Explorations while I document an expedition with educators called Exploring Badlands National Park through Science and Storytelling. I'm using the Open Explorer platform which is a National Geographic open platform where anyone can write about their exploration and expeditions.

Once the debrief phase of the expedition wraps up in a few weeks, I'll be back here.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Planet or Plastic

These are the latest additions to the bag that functions as my purse but which is actually an 18L daypack.  They are a to-go ware set of bamboo utensils with a steel straw that I tucked in there and a collapsible Sea to Summit container with leak proof lid. These live in their own zippered compartment along with an occasional stainless steel mug. I am stepping up my efforts to remove single use plastic from my life.

National Geographic has launched a Planet or Plastic initiative aimed at protecting the ocean by reducing the amount of plastic that gets washed into the sea. Since most of the plastic comes from developing countries with insufficient trash and recycling infrastructure I know that my part to reduce single use plastic will have practically a negligible impact on the amount of plastic in the ocean.

And yet. In modeling carrying reusable utensils and collapsible food container as well as beverage container and shopping bags, I am making a difference in my riverside community.

It's not only the oceans that have too much plastic in them. There's too much of it everywhere including right here. Below is a picture of the plastic I picked up during a 5 minute walk in the park along the river yesterday.

5 minutes! I didn't have to stretch or scramble for them, either. It was right there on the ground a few steps off the path. This is an example of where thinking globally but acting locally will make a difference locally.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

John Muir, journaler

John Muir, the founder of the Sierra club, explorer of Alaskan wilderness, champion of Yosemite park, was a journaler.

The University of the Pacific maintains many of John Muir's papers and has made them accessible by putting the digital images online. They have invited the public to participate as citizen curators and assist with transcribing the journals to make them more accessible.

From the university website:

Word-for-word transcriptions open up many more possibilities for researchers and the general public to find, read, and understand Muir's thoughts as he experienced them. It also facilitates online searching to locate information by specific topics. Volunteers can transcribe an entire journal or even just a single page. Even transcribing one or two pages increases the discoverability for historians, Muir enthusiasts, students, or anyone searching the internet.

I spent the better part of a Friday evening recently trying to decipher two short sentences from Muir.  Between the faded ink and the sprawling script, the challenge was real. I ended up projecting the journal entry I was attempting to transcribe onto a TV screen and lying on the living room floor, looking at it for about 10 minutes. And then, like that, I saw the words.

Most of them, anyway. I thought his journal said "changeabul world" but the professor in charge of the project wrote it as changeful world and on second inspection I would have to agree.

What John wrote on the last page of his journal on a trip to Yellowstone and Columbia Park:

In all our pilgramages through this changeful world whichever betide, in poverty or wealth sickness or health
May we all grow gray in peace & love.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

In a Seattle state of mind.

I traveled to Seattle for a few days between my last post and this one. This was my first visit and according to the locals I was there during a stretch of especially nice weather, sunny with temps in the 60's and 70's. Indeed, I expected more rain and Starbucks.

My work required staying on a ship which did not sail anywhere. The ship was docked in the port of Seattle next to massive fishing trawlers that were so huge that I did not take a picture because I knew I could not do justice to their size. My colleague on this trip, John Mitchell, wondered at the biomass these trawlers take out of the sea.

One of the trawlers in port was the SS Ocean Phoenix. At 680 feet long, it is as long as city block. I don't know how tall it is but 10 stories at the highest point above the pier feels about right to me. It can hold 4,200 tons of what its owner Pacific Premier calls product or the all the different forms of Pollock it fishes and processes. I suppose this helps answer the question about biomass.

With numbers like these, I better understand the pressure this could put on an ocean fishery. I have never really liked fish but after hearing of the overfishing of our oceans I am less likely to eat it. I now only eat fish if I know where it comes from which usually translates as someone I know has caught it. For those that enjoy seafood, there are apps to help you eat in good conscience. I've heard good things about the Seafood Watch app from Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Overfishing is a thing. I learned this on my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship expedition when we stopped at Siglufjörður, home of the Herring Museum. The town was the site of a herring processing plant until the fishery collapsed due to overfishing in the early 1960's. The fishery never recovered and the town lost its livlihood. The fishermen were convinced that they knew the herring better than the scientists.

And to be clear, I don't know if Pacific Premier or the SS Ocean are complicit in overfishing. But after seeing these trawlers I have a much better idea of how overfishing happened. My hope is that Pacific Premier and all sea food companies are part of a movement to establish aggressive management of fisheries.

Alarm about trawler size and overfishing aside, I enjoyed my time on ship. Even though the ship didn't sail, it still moved after a fashion, rising and falling with the tide. When I went to bed at night I was eye level with the bottom of the pier (my cabin was on the second to lowest level). When I awoke the next morning, I could see under the pier and by mid day the barnacles were exposed on the pier pilings.

Twice I saw a heron that liked to perch on the rocks under the pier.  I dithered about this because what if the tide came up quickly and the heron got trapped under the pier? Can herons swim under water?

This did not happen the two days I observed the heron. Like I said, I dithered.

But back to the barnacles.

I have noticed how the barnacles stop attaching at certain rung on the pier ladder in the picture. There are a few scattered individuals above that line but the demarcation between good barnacle habitat and not good barnacle habitat is pretty clear.

I don't know enough about barnacles to explain what makes a good habitat and what doesn't. If I'd had more time to just observe barnacles and do nothing else, I probably could have developed a working explanation. Instead, it will remain a mystery until I either return to a place with barnacles or get a chance to look it up. Past experience has taught me to leave plenty of time for such work because a quick internet search can turn into an hours long self-created mini-course.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Trace of an Explorer

Being an explorer means being responsible. It's not just me saying this, it's National Geographic. Responsibility is one of the attitudes of an explorer, an essential attribute of the explorer's habit of mind and approach to life.

In case you are fuzzy about what being responsible means allow me to clarify. When I spoke to the middle and high school girls Women in Science conference I told them that responsibility meant being respectful of everyone, having integrity, and—this is the big one—to do no harm to and help where you can, both people and the Earth.

Leave No Trace or LNT is an excellent organization that equips you with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do no harm to the Earth and be responsible in both the back and front country.  I think their training should be required for everyone who considers themselves an explorer because being LNT competent and compliant helps protect and conserve wild places.

And even if you don't think of yourself as explorer, even if you are "just" someone who likes to get outside to a local park, get aware about how to do this responsibly. As Jane Goodall says, we all have an impact. It's up to us to decide what kind of impact we will have. Becoming Leave No Trace aware (or even better trained) means our impact will be positive because it will be minimal on the outdoors.

Full disclosure, I have yet to go through an in person training. I've done the online awareness class and repeated it to brush up on my LNT knowledge. As I head out for another season of hiking, camping, and even just walking through a park I want to make sure I am on my A game for responsibility.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ant struggles, the updated score

In my post below I talked about the struggle of an ant to remove a small sprout of vegetation near the opening to its nest. I promised I would return the next day to give an update.

Well, the next day was rainy and cold and I got busy. You know how it goes.

I did go back the day after the next day. The first time I went back it was about 10am. A sprout was there... but it looked like it was in a slightly different place. I could not tell if it was the same sprout or a new one. After all, we've had a lot of moisture lately and all that warming. A new sprout was possible.

As an aside, this is why EXACT siting is so important in research. The human memory is not that good at precision recall.

I decided to call it uncertain, determined to be more precise in the future. I returned a few hours later, around 1pm, and noted a completely sprout free surface around the ant nest.

Regardless of whether or not the sprouts were the same or different, they were gone.

Ants - 1 (or maybe 2). Sprouts - 0.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ant Struggles Are Real

I read Thoreau's essay ant war in high school, or maybe it was first year composition in college— more than a few years ago—but the essay topic was sticky enough that throughout my adulthood I have stopped and watched ants whenever opportunity and time presented themselves. 

I had a happy confluence of both on a walk yesterday. I came upon many ants, Harvester ants, huddled around the hole with a few busily scurrying in and out carrying small pebbles.

I don't know what the huddlers were doing (beyond huddling, though I doubt that is the proper ant behavior term), nor why. I suspect it had something to do with this being early days of ant activity and just coming out of whatever dormant state they enter during the winter.

The huddlers while interesting were not as interesting as this stalwart little ant in the video who was determined to cut down a sprout of vegetation. Harvester ants clear the areas around their holes of any vegetation and I imagine this ant was tasked by genetics and instinct with removing the offending greenery. 

While perhaps not as dramatic as an ant war, you can see the struggle is real for this ant. I didn't stay long enough to see which prevailed-ant or plant-or assuming the ant prevailed how it actually played out. I will return to the nest to get a literal on-the-ground update.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Really Good Badlands Day

My first real trip to the Badlands for this year. I hiked around with a friend on this sunny, fine day of spring; a treat as I usually go by myself. The grass was just beginning to green up and we saw this little plant which I know as wild parsley but the guidebook calls desert biscuitroot.

Interesting facts from the guidebook:
1) When you crush the leaves it smells like celery. I did not try this so I can neither confirm nor deny.
2)Men of the indigenous Plains people used the fruit in love charms. Again, I cannot confirm nor deny since I am not a man of the indigenous Plains people.

You can tell the wild parsley/desert biscuitroot is a plains plant because of the wooliness of the leaves which minimizes the impact of the heat and wind. Many plains plants have this adaptation. The hairs minimize direct contact with the air which slows evaporation and creates shade. Having been on the Plains during the scorch of summer, I know how vital this is.

Close up of a leaf and stem wooliness

Wild parsley is one of the first forbs to be bloom and indeed there were no other flowering plants. We saw some sort of cool season grass, I'm not good at grass ID so I can't tell you what it was, that was starting to green up but everything else was dormant.

Animal wise in addition to prairie dogs, we saw many big horn sheep, deer, a few bison in the distance and two burrowing owls hanging out at prairie dog holes.

Any day spent at the Badlands is a good day but when there are owls, it's a really good day.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Cumulus clouding

Cumulus cloud!

A cumulus cloud is the true sign of spring. Cumulus clouds are formed by convection, heat radiating from the Earth. Cumulus clouds only form in the warm weather since in the cold weather the Earth simply doesn't put out enough heat.

I snapped this several days ago. As I write this, a huge spring snow storm is bearing down on us and already impacting much of the state. Clouds are nimbostratus, bringing some icy now.

I know the sun will prevail and eventually the Earth will warm enough so it will feel springlike. But until then, I will semi-stoically endure more cold and snow.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sicangu Oyate

 I went to the land of the Sicangu Oyate, known more commonly to those who are not Lakota as the Rosebud Reservation. I was invited by Sinte Gleska University, a tribal college, to facilitate a special seminar on water and environmental education.

We were busy. Project WET, GLOBE protocols, the GLOBE Observer App, and the National Geographic Certified Educator Phase 1 training.

I won't lie. I'm tired and I imagine so are the participants.

I am always honored to be invited to the reservation. It's not a particularly comfortable trip since you are confronted with the impact of decades of the genocidal policies of the US but it is always an honor.