Friday, August 17, 2007

New Mexico Day 14 - The Gila Box

The morning following our camp-out was amazing. Gorgeous weather and a fantastic sunrise.

The morning sunlight on the hills surrounding our campsite was perfect.

As we were walking to our first site for the day, we saw a Gila Monster. He/she was just plodding along, mostly ignoring us. They have a really funny walk. I tried to get some video, but, a videographer I am not. But I did get some great photos.

Before we left the campsite, I did take a photo of the tree I sat on the night before.

The canyon where we camped had these really cool rock formations. After completing our work for the morning, and on our way to the next site, we stopped at the base of the cliffs in order to collect some ripe cactus fruits.

After leaving Nickel's Canyon, we headed deeper into the desert to what is known as the Gila Box (as in Box Canyon). Here is view of the canyon from atop a hill. It amazes me how green the desert is near the river.

We had to hike down into the canyon to reach our sample sites. The hike into the canyon was pleasant with nice trails. Again, there were fabulous rocks. My favorite was this rock that only looks like it is falling out. I wonder how long until it does fall.

Once in the canyon, however, getting to the actual sampling plots was pretty gross. We had to walk over huge piles of dead branches, many of which were covered in Prickly Russian Thistle (both dead and living plants). You are probably aware of Prickly Russian Thistle (Salsola tragus), even if you do not recognize the name. Salsola is a tumbleweed, and in fact is THE tumbleweed that Americans associate with the old west. So one of the symbols of the American West is from Russia. And it is prickly. And difficult to walk through. And it was hot. I was really glad to have those plots done.

After finishing the plots, and hiking back up out of the canyon, Q and K wanted to hike around to see scout out the rest of the canyon from up high. I decided not to go because I was pretty tired. No, I was really tired, tired almost to the point of tears (it was a hot day, I was dehydrated). So I decided to sit in the shade of juniper tree until they returned (I really learned to appreciate shade on this trip, it can be a lifesaver). As I was looking down the cliff face into the canyon, I noticed this small opening in the rocks. And surrounding the opening, what looked like man-made walls.

When Q and K returned, we got closer and saw that the opening was man-made. It was probably used as a granary by the Native Americans who lived in the area several hundred years ago. If you notice, the crossbeam has a hole in it, indicating that someone had taken a core of the wood in order to date it. I cannot imagine having to climb all that way in order to store and retrieve food. It was a really cool find, and I would never have seen it if I had not taken the time to sit still.

New Mexico Day 13 - The campout

5 of our research sites were south of Cliff, near the town of Redrock (link is a pdf of a map). Because it takes a couple of hours to drive down there we (Q, K, and myself) camped out on Tuesday night. To get to the sites we drove over the Burro Mountains. As someone who grew up in the midwest, I am always amazed at how quickly the habitat changes as you go up or down in elevation. This is true even if you travel just a few miles. Going up the mountains, we went from pinion-juniper grasslands to Chilopsis forest to Ponderosa Pine. On the other side, we found very desolate and dry conditions - mostly mesquite. After sampling the first two sites we headed over to our camp site in Nickel's Canyon.

After setting up camp, we set off to survey the third site of the day. One the way there we saw this really awesome plant called sand verbena.

It is in the Nyctaginaceae family (the same flowering tobacco family, or sometimes called the four o'clock family). The flowers are not really showy (but I like them).

What really stands out are the fruits. Here are developing fruits and "ripe" fruits.

Apparently, this species was really common last year in the plots, but I did not see many at all (in or out of our sampling plots). Last year it was a much drier year.

Another common plant species that we saw, both in an out of the plot was prickly poppy (Argemone sp.)

We had a visitor at the campsite - a lovely scarab beetle.

Photos of the campsite. For dinner we had tamales cooked over the campfire.

That evening, I had one of those perfect moments in life. The men (Q and K) had decided to hike up the cliffs behind our campsite. I was tired and knew that the next day would be hard. So I decided to stay behind and hang out at the campsite by myself. While they were gone, rain clouds moved in. I took a few pictures, but then it started raining (I have been to the desert twice in my life and it rained both times).

After packing up my camera in the truck, I went over to watch the sunset on a huge fallen cottonwood tree. Sitting on the trunk, with my back against a branch I was probably 5 feet off of the ground. Those moments were perfect - the sun was setting between two hills, the colors of the sky were changing, I could see the rain falling in the distance and feel it falling on my face, and the temperature was perfect. It was a moment of perfect peace, and my favorite experience of the whole trip.

New Mexico Day 12

Not much of great interest happened on Monday. We were refreshed after the weekend off. And work went well. I did see some really cool plants

Evolvulus sp. - A really tough little plant. I picked a sprig and left it in the car. After three hours in the hot car, the flowers were still open and fresh looking. Though after 5 hours, they had wilted.

One of our sites this day was a gravel bar - not a lot of structure, but surprisingly, a lot of diversity. If I remember correctly, between the three plots at this site we had over 75 plant species we found.

Pectis sp. - my other favorite plant of the day.

New Mexico - Days 10 and 11 - The Weekend

After one week of hard, hot, long work days, the weekend off was highly anticipated and welcomed. Apparently, last year they did not have the weekend off, and everyone was really grumpy the second week. I was glad that this policy changed. The plan for the weekend was for Hillary and I to leave the Licthy center, where we had been staying (near Cliff, NM) and meet up with the Lake Roberts crews in Silver City, and then head up to the Lake Roberts cabin for a weekend in the mountains.

Throughout the whole week, I had been delighted by the antics of the dozen or so hummngbirds that frequented the feeders at the Licthy Center. Saturday morning gave me the opportunity to try and photograph them.

After breakfast and packing up on Saturday morning, we drove the hour to Silver City - our goal was to get to the farmer's market. We did make it, but it was a bit disappointing. We did get some squash and few peppers. There just were not many stands.

Silver City is an interesting town. I would definitely go back for vacation (I was completely enchanted with New Mexico and really want to go back). The town of Silver City has a population of about 10,000; Grant county, where Silver is located, about 30,000. Despite this, Silver City is a thriving community with a really nice downtown (Maybe the size and vibrancy of downtown Lawrence, but with a completly different feel). We went to three thrift shops, a coffee shop, a great Mexican restaurant, a yarn shop, and a outdoor outfitter (i.e. hiking and biking). Listed on the Silver City web site are 28 Art Galleries and 33 Restaurants/Bars (only three of which are fast-food chains, thought I think this listing is incomplete). It was a really neat place. In addition to the strong artistic community, people come to Silver for the hot springs.

Some images from Silver City

Even the fences were artistic.

The downtown - highlighting the movie theater.

Some glass art in and on a brick wall.

The public library, which was having a book sale. I got a whole box of books for $7. Including a vintage knitting/needlework book, a book about classic movies, and one by Theodore Dobzhansky

After visiting Silver City, we went back to the cabin in Lake Roberts and rested. We did spend quite a bit of time keying out plants, and organizing data sheets, and things like that. But most of the time, we spent on the porch chatting. It was a cool and rainy weekend (I even had to put my rainjacket on). It there was a great view from the porch. We did take a short walk up one of the canyons to see the pictographs (Believed to be left by the Mimbres people) on the rock walls.

And on this hike I did see lots of cool plants (and while I feel like I should take the time to look up the scientific names, I am going to skip it. I really want to finish the travel log so I can talk about Skyline)

Sunday was a cool and rainy day (I actually had to put my jacket on). Driving across the mountains on the way back to Cliff, it was foggy. Amazing to see the fog lifting over the hills.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Mexico - Days 8 and 9

Days 8 and 9 were the last days of the first work week. More sites, and more scenery. I realize know that I did not take many pictures of the plants that we most commonly saw. Often my picture taking was limited to the hike to or from the site, and even then I did not take many pictures. At the beginning of the day, I did not want to hold up the work. At the end of the day, I was often too tired to care. In fact, I need to get a copy of the species list we created so I don't forget what I learned over the summer.

I did see a new Helianthus species - Helianthus ciliaris, common name Blueweed. I am always excited to see new Helianthus. Though I should have gotten a picture

Most of the pictures I did take seem to be either of scenery, or special events.

Cool Rocks up close

Clouds building up behind the mountains

One of our research sites

A special event - On Thursday, after picnicking under the shade of a huge cottonwood tree, we decided to take a brief nap (about 15 minutes). While I was laying down, I hear rustling in some rocks about 20 meters away. And it was this little lizard eating some food. With my zoom, and by laying really still, I was able to snap this shot (the picture has also been cropped and enlarged).

More scenery - mesquite bushes.

Another one of our sites. Many of our sites were like this - a few shrubs on cobble/gravel bars. The gray-foliaged shrubs are rabbit brush - Ericameria nauseosa, though I am not sure what is nauseous about this species. I thought it actually smelled quite nice.

Special Event - Friday was special because of the wildlife we saw - namely rattlesnakes (which was later ID'd as a Black Tailed Rattlesnake). Below is the first one I saw. I had put my backpack down in the shade near a downed cottonwood log. After doing this, I noticed the snake. Though it was not rattling, I still jumped back about a foot. Luckily, my camera was with me and not in my backpack, so I was able to snap this picture (I have a great optical zoom on my camera, so I was not really all that close). We then got a big stick to retrieve the backpack. Though the snake was calm (not even rattling), I did not want to test its patience with me. It was nice to know where the snake was, and I would check on him/her from time to time to make sure he/she had not moved.

We did see two other rattlesnakes that day, in a different plot. One rattled at me as I was placing a flag on a tree branch. It was not all that close, but I had jostled a stick that was near it. This snake was also hanging out in the cool shade of a downed cottonwood. Later in that same plot, as I was writing notes in the shade, I heard rustling from a nearby log. When I looked up, I saw a rattlesnake coming out from the log, straight at me. So I asked him/her to please stay where he/she was as we would be leaving soon, and we did not mean to bother him/her. Once the snake realized I was there, it curled back up and went to sleep. Several people, particularly people I know who are not biologists, have asked me if carried a gun so I could shot these snakes. And my answer is no. Even if I had a gun, I would not shot the rattlesnakes. They are not aggressive, and really just want to be left alone. The rattles is a warning to let you know they are there. It is only if you don't respect them and continue to bother them that they will bite you. I really enjoyed seeing these snakes, and in fact would have been disappointed if I had not seen any on this trip.

Cool Cloud

Monday, August 13, 2007

NM Day 7

Another Day, another site. This time we had a long drive, but the scenery was gorgeous. Notice the cloudy skies in the picture. We were in NM during their monsoon season. Every afternoon for the two week I was there, the clouds would build up behind the mountains, and eventually it would rain somewhere. Though we never got rained on while doing field work, the cloud cover and the rain cooled air were welcome. I never looked to see what the temperatures were at our sites. A part of me did not want to know. But we baked, especially when working on the gravel bars. I really learned to appreciate shade and these afternoon storms. We stayed in the shade whenever we could (if you are standing around looking at plants, you might as well start in the shade).

Juniperus deppeani - called alligator juniper because the bark resembles alligator skin.

Sotol - Dasylirion wheeleri
This was one of my favorite plants in NW. I love the tall flowering stalks (about 12-15 feet tall), the provide an interesting structural component to the scrub land. This species is a relative to Agave. It has been used to create an alcoholic beverage called sotal, which is supposed to be very strong.

Many of the agaves were blooming. They were also amazing. The flowers, when open, drip with nectar, but I never did find one that was open.

Finally - a smaller plant, a tansy aster (Machaeranthera sp.)