Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Summer (break) is finally here!

The semester ended on Friday, May 18th, and how did I spend my first weekend of the summer break?  An hour after my last class for the year, I immediately headed straight to the Scodies! One year down, one more to go! Grad school is not a joke. I am really looking forward to getting as much fieldwork in as humanly possible.

The scanning electron microscope. I put many hours into fine focusing. Farewell SEM, hello Kiavah!

Naomi Fraga was my field companion this round. We planned to go on an overnight backpacking trip into the heart of the wilderness. Since Naomi knew of a safe route to access one of the most remote portions of the wilderness, she prepared the maps in her GPS and I gathered the collecting supplies. On Friday, we drove to Ridgecrest and stayed the night at the "oh so fancy" Motel 6. This was a great idea, because I needed time to sort though my gear and pack my backpack.

At 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning we bolted from our cozy motel and drove straight to the wilderness. We parked on the side of the highway, left a note on the dashboard, letting the authorities know the car was not stollen and that we would return for the vehicle on a certain date. Then Naomi led the way into the Kiavah Wilderness. We had to cross-country hike the entire way.

Naomi geared-up and hiking hard
Did I mention that this was my first backpacking trip into the wilderness? The Kiavah Wilderness does not have many or any reliable water sources. All water must be packed in. The route we took would not lead us to any water. It was a warm day, leaning a little on the hot side. The hike to our destination was a little over two miles, with a 2,000 ft. elevation gain. Yes, I typed that correctly, 2,000 ft. elev gain! We were headed towards a dry meadow just north of Pinyon Peak.

First major ascent up the hillsides, over 1,000 ft. climb. Facing west
As we ascended the first major part of the hike, we reached a ridge where we were able to see a large portion of the Kiavah Wilderness. We were looking west towards the large vast plateau. It was beautiful. I cannot wait to collect in that area.

Up and over these humps, we would eventually reach the dry meadow
After five hours of intense hiking we finally reached the dry meadow and set our backpacks down. This was where we would setup camp and venture on in our collecting.

The dry meadow
Once we set our packs down and geared-up, we explored a very dry exposed site west of the dry meadow. This spot was exploding with amazing miniature plants. We collected as much of the diversity possible. Naomi was pointing out and collecting the tiny individuals with excitement. This is where we made a collection of a beautiful Lewisia.

Naomi digging
Naomi holding our prize
We named this area the "badlands"
After making many collections from the "badlands" site we headed westward, along a dry wash. A lot of Gila were collected from the dry wash and the rock formations were spectacular.

Naomi heading towards the west side of the wildneress
We walked and walked and walked, collecting many different types of plants. We were destined to reach the end of the drainage, hoping to catch a different drainage that looped back to the dry meadow. However, our day-light was running out and our plan to loop back was crushed. We did reach the end of the drainage which lead us to a steep drop-off. The hike to our end-point was about two miles in from our campsite. As we were nearing the endpoint Naomi calls out, "Erika! Is that a black oak!" Yes, indeed! It was a small grove of black oaks, Quercus kelloggii.

Black oak grove at the end of our hike, 6,600 ft.
Quercus kelloggii
We clipped branches and collected acorns. Then we decided to turn around and head back to camp. Back at camp we ate dinner, then sorted and pressed our collections in the tent. On our first day we collected over 80 different taxa! Not bad for a dry year.

Pressing and sorting under headlamp light
The next morning we ate breakfast, geared-up and explored the ridge northeast of the dry meadow. Naomi had the waypoint for a collection of Oreonana vestita collected by Eve Laeger in 2002. We were hoping to find it. Unfortunately we were unable to locate it. We did reach the location and it was here where we found a new population of Nemacladus calcaratus!!

Site near Nemacladus population
We also vouchered Penstemon newberryi in the rock outcrops near the Nemacladus collection.

Penstemon newberryi
Naomi collecting Penstemon
After spending a considerable amount of time in the rock outcrops we decided it was time to press the collections, pack-up camp and hike out. We collected on our hike out too. As we were collecting, I noticed that we documented over 100 unique taxa in less than two days! It was a great feeling to know what we got so much accomplished in the little amount of time we had. Hiking out was somewhat easier, since we weren't carrying so much water out, but the steepness going down was pretty rough.

Packing up 
Heading out
After four hours of descending the mountain side we reached the car. It was then that I found out that the car was unlocked! I left the car unlocked. Fortunately, nobody tampered with it. Next time, I will be sure to check all doors before heading into the wilderness. I think I got so excited to collect I forgot to check.

Overall, it was a productive and exciting backpacking adventure. The solitude in the wilderness is unbelievable. I am really grateful to Naomi for aiding me in this trip. Her botany skills are out of this world. I really learned a lot from her. I hope that one day I too can spot and identify plants like her. To celebrate, we did some "carb-loading" at John's Pizza and Homemade Ice Cream in Ridgecrest. Then we headed home.

Pressing the remaining specimens at Rancho