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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

An Autumn Visit

I went to Badlands National Park on its 40th anniversary. The weather was not pleasant, blustery, gray, cold. But I enjoyed myself wandering around, looking for new ideas and opportunities to integrate into the course I lead for teachers.

I came up with one idea at least. Find a way to get the teachers into the front section of the park where the geologic activity is.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

National Bison Day!

The first Saturday of November is National Bison Day. I thought it would be fitting to observe the holiday by sharing some of my favorite bison photos.

This is probably one of my best photos. It was snapped, serendipitously, on my way out of Badlands National Park. I wasn't even the one who pressed the shutter button as I was driving. I saw the bison, handed my phone to the passenger and told her to take three or four photos.

A friend of mine who is an excellent photographer, the kind who has high end cameras, noted that the best camera is the one you have with you when the shot presents itself. I would have to agree with him.

This is the bison herd moving to water. I was headed out to White Butte and almost intersected their path. Fortunately I saw them coming and scrambled to the top of the Buttes just as they passed below me. I felt a certain poignancy as this is just a small, small fraction of the herds that roamed this land.

This picture makes me say Awwww as this bison is sleeping. Their short legs in relationship to their massive bodies and heads is so endearing. But don't think you give them a little pat or scratch. They would probably kill you or at least knock you back into last month.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Autumn Elm

You can live a long time in one place and still make discoveries. Yesterday's discovery was just how many American elms there are around here. American elms used to be common as they were the preferred tree for city planting in the 19th century due to their shape and color. And they are beautiful trees, large, majestic, everything a tree should be.

I assumed for quite a while that elms were pretty much a threatened species  well on their way to being extinct thanks to Dutch elm disease which ravaged the population. Dutch elm disease and the monocultivation of elms is Exhibit A in why diversity of planting is a good thing. Diversity provides built in resistance.

I was both surprised and pleased to discover about a year ago that on the grounds of the science center where I work there were not one but two large elms. Outside my window. That I looked at every day. I just assumed they were cottonwoods, the other large, beautiful majestic tree in my ecosystem. It wasn't till I picked up a leaf that I realize oh wow, elms! Once I started looking I found several more in the trees planted behind our center, a space called the Mayor's Grove where a tree is planted for every mayor. 

The elms outside my window have been providing quite the autumnal show. Their leaves turn a lovely yellow orange which is a shade different than the orange yellow of the cottonwood. Maybe it is some combination of the right amount of moisture and temperature this year but I do not recall such a display before. I've been enjoying the view, so much so that when I get stuck on a problem or need a short brain break I go outside and look at the elms.

Yesterday was a golden October day. The leaves were still in full color and the temperature was in the 60's. Knowing such days will become less frequent I took advantage of it and went for a long walk on one of the wooded islands on the Missouri River. My destination was the furthest point on the island, a distance of about two and half to three miles.

It has been a while since I've been on this trail, since spring at least. But it is a familiar trail to me, one I visit several times a year. As I hiked I noticed the leaf color and trees that I always thought cottonwoods suddenly became elms. How could I have not noticed? As with the trees on my workplace campus I suppose you don't see what you don't think you will find.

I hope to find more elms in my knocking about the grasslands. According to the wikipedia article about the American elm, wild elms may have a natural resistance to Dutch elm disease. I hope so as I now feel very protective of the elms.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Earth Science Week

During Earth Science Week (which actually starts tomorrow but I like to get ahead of the rush) I try to post a photo a day on social media to raise awareness about how much earth science surrounds us.

 The photos below were taken shortly after sunset. This time of year there is something of a Stonehenge effect where the sun lines up with the hallway since this hallways faces due west. I can't get the full effect on the actual day of alignment because a neighbor's house is in the way. is a fun website to play with to find where on the horizon the sun rises and sets so you can find other Stonehenge type spots. Lots of learning opportunities there not to mention just a lot of fun to play with.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Autumn in the Badlands

It's been a long week. I needed to get away for a bit so even thought the weather was cool and gray I bombed out to the Badlands for a night. The campground was full ish. Unlike summer when people arrive late into the night and leave out early well before sunrise this crowd was pretty settled. I heard someone leave around 4am but generally the campground didn't stir until after sunrise.

I walked the next day, wandered really, and found myself headed towards the confluence of Sage Creek and the South Fork creek that runs by the campground. This confluence was one of the monitoring sites for the Badlands Monitoring project. I was trying a different route, one that I had attempted before but missed the confluence and ended up downstream at the Creek.  All who wander are not lost, sometimes we are are just trying again.

As always there were new (to me) things to see as I have not spent much time in the grasslands during autumn. Usually by now I move my hiking to the front part of the park with the formations.

The flowers were fewer although there were still a few hardy souls still blooming, particularly in the riparian areas near the creek.

The buffalo currant which is an early bloomer was mostly reduced to branches. The few leaves that remained were deep red. The guidebook says the buffalo currant is a favorite of deer to browse and I would have to agree.

Someone, I don't know who, is doing bioacoustic research. Sorry if my walking by and snapping a pictures fuddles up the data.

A first for me, I saw pincushion cactus. If a cactus can be cute, it's the pincushion.
 Those who know more about photography than I like gray skies for taking pictures since the light softens the colors. I have been trying to take a picture of the yellow mounds for a while and have yet to get one that I think does justice. This one comes close. 
I did do some tweaking on the color filter but only to make the photos look more like they actually did. I took this with my camera phone (I haven't upgraded yet) and there is only so much you can do with that.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

That Moment When...

I have been following the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus for a bit now, ever since I arranged to have a ship to shore remote with the crew during the South Dakota Discovery Center's water festival.  It's been both exciting and enlightening to see exploration done real time.

The other night, I tuned in to the Nautilus live feed just because I do that sort of thing. (I also watch a lot of Currently, the Nautilus is mapping the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument to learn more about the seamounts (or underwater mountains) and the biological communities that live on them. This is a relatively unimpacted area of the ocean as it not fished by trawlers. I wrote about my first hand experience with trawlers when I went to Seattle. The upshot: they are massive.

I enjoyed listening to the scientists' commentary as the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) sailed through the depths. I was impressed how scientists could identify corals at a glance. These weren't the reef corals I was familiar with but rather delicate looking things straight out of a Dr. Seuss illustration.

The area where they worked was not the deepest area of the ocean like the Marianas Trench  but it was deep enough, beyond the photic zone where sunlight penetrates. I freely admit I don't know much about this zone so everything was an oddity to me.

And even the scientists weren't familiar with everything as evidenced by this moment when the ROV came upon a strange critter.  I suggest watching that moment here on You Tube  so you get the full effect then read the story at National Geographic

And what a moment it was. The BBC and the Washington Post (and probably several others by now) picked it up and reported on it.

I was so impressed by that moment that I immediately went on Twitter and Facebook and announced to the world that they should start watching Nautilus. I think I inspired a few people to tune in, hopefully on a regular basis as there are still yet to come many more moments when...

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 back 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 as we hiked, 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 severe as it closed down the Alpine visitor center at the top of Trail Ridge Road, the highest visitor center in the National Park system and close to the Tombstone Ridge Trail. As we drove back down the mountain, the weather quickly turned and remained 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. After a lot of discussion and soul searching on my part, we decided to invest in a camera with a wide lens and optical zoom.

Why the soul searching? I have made it a point to use only my phone camera 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 now reconsidering that the phone alone may not always be 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.