Friday, April 4, 2014

Golden Eagles, Bowling Pins and Rainbows

March 28th through the 30th, I was ever so eager to return to my study site. This time Joy England, a Master's student conducting a flora in the Upper Rock Creek Watershed, joined me in the field. I was glad that Joy agreed to assist me with collecting. She has a beautiful study site in the high Sierra with alpine plants and riparian splendors (including trout). Inhabiting the desert for a couple of days would be a new experience for her. It sure was quite the trip. We experienced some of the harshest obstacles the desert has to offer (gale force winds, cold nights, warm afternoons, nighttime rain). Despite all of that, the Wilderness gave us a lot to walk away with. I can't believe how well the Wilderness is doing. Each time I return, new fields of wildflowers cover the ground.

Sage Canyon. 
For this trip we decided to explore the southern canyons. My last trip out with Sarah De Groot proved that the southern end of the Kiavah Wilderness is where its at.

Day 1
Friday, March 28th

Joy and I are not morning people. In fact we are very similar in many ways. We both work in the herbarium and we work well together. Waking up at 6:00 am is not easy us but we did it, for the sake of the Scodies. We jumped into the field vehicle and set off into the sun-rise towards the Wilderness.

I returned to Cow Haven Canyon to see if Phacelia was in flower. When we reached our destination I immediately noticed illegal tire tracks and a broken wilderness boundary signs. I'm getting tired of seeing this over and over again. It seems to be worse this year.

Joy holding a broken Wilderness sign. Tire tracks
within the wilderness boundary
We marched on and hunted for new flowering plants. On the drive up, I explained to Joy that we might see golden eagles. I wasn't certain but I had a strange feeling we would see them. The last time I saw a golden eagle in the Kiavah Wilderness was June 2012. About fifteen minutes into the hike looking down at the ground, I picked up my eyes and saw a large golden eagle soar 50 yards overhead. I exclaimed, "GOLDEN EAGLE!" Joy looked up and was awestruck . We could see its golden nape with our naked eye. The eagle must have noticed that we locked in on it and it jetted out of the canyon. This was the first time Joy had seen a golden eagle. She said it was on her list of birds to see. In fact over the next couple of days in the afternoon we would periodically spot the eagles riding the jet streams.

Can you spot the two species? I promise there are two different
 plants in this photo
Cow Haven Canyon had many botanical treasures for us to discover. We documented the flowering species and moved on to Sage Canyon.

Sage Canyon is aways full of surprises and bowling pins (ok, it's not full of bowling pins. But we did stumble upon one. I wonder how we could fit that onto a herbarium sheet). It was my favorite canyon last year because of its sheer beauty. I have a soft spot for this canyon. I was excited to find plants in it this time.
OMG. I have no words for this rare find 
Diplacus aurantiacus. Weirdo blooming early
Crassula connata! I was excited to finally find this little one 
What are you doing Cuscuta growing on Gilia!?
Phacelia fremontii in dense patches
 After a full day of exploring we setup camp, ate dinner and hit the hay.

Day 2
Saturday, March 29th

In the morning we packed up camp and headed to Horse Canyon. Horse Canyon is very large. There is a lot of territory that I have not yet covered. I've had my eye on Horse Canyon Spring since last year.  I was glad that I finally had a reason to venture to it. We hiked up an old road and found even more in bloom.
Parking at the wilderness boundary, Horse Canyon Spring here we come
How could this be a California desert?
Prunus andersonii in full flower
Joy taking a break on the job
After we explored the spring we decided to go to the top of the canyon. It was time to see what the conditions were like higher up in the mountains. To my surprise there were plants in bloom! Microsteris gracilis blanketed the ground and vibrant red Castilleja were in full flower. This wilderness is seriously messing with my mind.
As the temperature dropped and the wind pummeled us to exhaustion, we decided to call it a day and setup camp.

I can usually sleep anywhere without a problem. However, this particular night will forever be known as the night I tried to sleep but never did. The wind beat against the tent all night. It never let down. I listened to the rainfly flap about in agony and all I could think about was sleep. Finally I said out load, "I can't sleep." In which Joy replied, "me too." I was shocked to hear her voice clear as day. And then it started to rain! Rain was falling! It was a strange mix of sleepless emotions. Hooray! Rain in the Scodies! Ugh, I'm so tired. Yay, rain! And then we felt water seep into the tent. That was our cue to pack up camp and sleep in the field vehicle…. at 2:00 am!

Day 3
Sunday, March 30th

My plans to collect on Sunday were hampered by the weather. It was COLD and windy and COLD. The clouds hung over the Scodies in defiance. They weren't going anywhere but the rain had stopped. Joy and I started the vehicle at 6:15 a.m. and began our drive out of the Wilderness. Then we looked back into Horse Canyon and saw SNOW on the mountains! It was beautiful! I couldn't believe my eyes. Then a rainbow appeared! As if things couldn't get any better. The rainbow arched over the entire Wilderness. I wanted to yell, "WHOA. What does it mean?" In reference to the viral youtube video, Double Rainbow. (I can say that I totally understand his heartfelt emotions over a rainbow)

Socked in snow capped Scodies. A nice light dusting 
"What does it mean?" 
A rainbow arched over the scodies
This trip was filled with adventure and new discoveries. We got to experience golden eagles soaring overhead, crazy plants doing crazy things, and a beautiful morning rainbow after the rain. Joy was a delightful field assistant. I'm so glad she was with me on this trip. Even though we experienced some rough desert conditions, she was a great sport about it all. I can't wait to go to Rock Creek to assist her in the field.

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