Water is the most important element for life on earth. It is highly evident in southwestern Arizona desert ecosystems where the average yearly rainfall is about 18 inches. Most of the rainfall falls during the monsoon, which traditionally starts on June 24th Dia de San Juan and ends on September 15th. Half or more of our yearly rainfall falls during this time period. Many plants, including the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantean), bloom during this time and wildlife, including humans, depend on it. Spanish explorers that colonized the area turned the start of the monsoon into a celebration known as el Dia de San Juan.
The story goes that in 1540 the Spanish arrived in a drought stricken land here in southwestern Arizona. Worried for their European crops and livestock the Spaniards prayed to Saint John the Baptist for rain. Shortly after and on St.John’s Day rain started to fall. Since then, the coming of the monsoon season has become a celebration of water. It’s celebrated with cold beverages or foods, water filled activities, a bonfire, and prayer. The summer rains are always welcomed here in southwestern Arizona.
Upon reflecting about Dia de San Juan and the importance of water in nature I remembered listening to stories about the celebration from family members. When they were younger they mentioned how it would rain on the day of Dia de San Juan and would rain almost every day until September. Today it seems that the monsoons start later in the year. I wondered if it’s possible that climate change may have changed the timing of the monsoon and how that might affect life in the southwestern Arizona desert. I have not yet found any data that supports my hypothesis but Arizona temperatures are higher in 2017 than previous years and drier. Yet, the celebration of Dia de San Juan will never change because here in the desert the monsoon is always needed and welcomed.
I was able to spend my days looking for caves at Craters at the Moon that have yet to be explored. I had one particular cave in mind. It wasn’t just any old cave I was looking for though, it was the Big Enchilava (yes that is its real name). Armed with a GPS unit, youthful enthusiasm, enough lights to light up the western hemisphere, and my caving buddy Lucy, we set out on our journey. Each mile we drove closer to our entrance point seemed to anger the very sky. The wind began to howl, clouds rushed in to darken the sky, but at least it was dry. The terrain we had to cover seemed less than hospitable, bringing images to mind of the black vomit it was once described as so long ago.
Even still, we were on the hunt so out we went. The journey was difficult at points but we made good progress. And then the rains came. Clambering over the brittle and sharp a’a lava flow we made our way gamely on, heads bent against the sheeting rain, watching the GPS as we got closer and closer to our cave. Eventually we reached our destination, geared and ready to explore this mysterious cave known as the Big Enchilava.
Within one foot of the cave coordinates is where disappointment struck. No visible caves as far as the eye could see, not even a small burrow entrance that could have been mockingly referred to as the Big Enchilava. Our hearts sank, but it had been a long trek so we decided to explore the area.
Our desire to find this unexplored cave led us on a merry hunt, covering as much ground as possible in the hopes of stumbling upon it. Windswept and soaked through, we had to give up the hunt. We were beaten that day, but the disappointment of not finding our cave left a smoldering desire to find, map, and explore this elusive cave fondly referred to as the Big Enchilava.
In reality, we had fruitless but exciting search for this cave. My resource management partner Lucy, and I, spent a cold but exciting day out on the lava searching for this cave that was at one time tagged on a GPS unit but has yet to be explored. It is always good to have a sense of humor when working in the field and your day doesn’t go as planned. I hope you enjoyed this little insight to my week and hope I can share a blog post in the future describing my locating and exploration of the elusive Big Enchilava.
EcoLogik has begun! Ecologik is a 2.5 week full immersion program that fuses nature and technology. This program seeks to connect young women to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) opportunities. We invited 25 students, ages 9 to 15, to join us this summer to learn how to collect data, make biomodels, 3D print, computer program and much more.
In one week’s time, these young scientists became acquainted with the National Park Service and developed their own opinion of what it truly means to be a “scientist.” Through the power of science communication, these students teamed up to create 13 different 1-3 minute videos on the rocky intertidal using the video editing software, iMovie. After getting familiar with the term ocean acidification as a byproduct of climate change, these young scientists realized the importance of long-term monitoring through hands-on data collection. These young scientists then brought the rocky intertidal indoors by creating 3D printed octopus biomodels. To finish off the week, these students got up close and personal with the natural world at Cabrillo National Monument. They learned personally from a nature photographer that with each beautiful form in nature comes an evolutionary function. It is hard to believe how much they have absorbed in only a week. Now let’s see what we can accomplish in two weeks!
After a week in the field, it is time to get back to the office. If you read my last blog post, you know we just did the biannual tortoise monitoring at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL), where I tagged along to deploy the tortoise radio tracking project. However, here at the Gulf Coast Network (GULN) of Inventory and Monitoring Program (I&M) office there are many projects rolling at the same time. The GULN is one of the thirty-two networks part of the Inventory and Monitoring Program of the National Park Service (see picture below). As the name suggests, the networks of the I&M program do inventories of the natural resources. They plan, design, and implement an integrated long-term monitoring program for the park vital signs. Vital signs are a subset of physical, chemical, and biological elements and processes of park ecosystems that are selected to represent the overall health or condition of park resources.
Our network, GULN, is responsible for eight national parks: Big Thicket National Preserve, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Natchez Trace Parkway, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Padre Island National Seashore, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and Vicksburg National Military Park (see picture 2). I was able to “visit” all of them through the data entry of one vital sign, water quality. Well, to be very specific, PAAL does not have water quality monitoring, but because I literally just came back from there, I am going to say I visited them all.
Data entry is not the most exciting activity to do, but nevertheless, it is of much importance. All monitoring projects collect data in field sheets, however to be of any use the data needs to be added to the project database. Data entry is the first step for the information collected in the field to be turned into knowledge about the park. It was very interesting to see a snapshot of each park water quality status. I also learned about the differences of the monitoring schedule for our parks; some have every month, some bimonthly, and some quarterly. You can learn more about water quality monitoring for the GULN’s parks at https://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/guln/monitor/water_quality.cfm