At Cabrillo National Monument we have a few ambassadors that are typically behind the scenes. Every Thursday this summer at 1:30 pm, our ambassadors get to demonstrate to the public why this preserved and protected land is so significant in our urban San Diego community.
Wildlife Biologist, Ranger Stephanie Root, along with other park biologists represents our snakey co-workers and help communicate to the public on their behalf. All of our snake ambassadors are native to the San Diego Region and have be rescued for various reasons by the San Diego Herpetological Society.
Meet the Team!
Salvador: Northern Three-Lined Boa – Lichanura orcutti (Formerly Coastal Rosy Boa)
He became an ambassador in June 2014 and is approximately 7 years of age. Sal is the most comfortable with visitor interaction. He particularly enjoys hiding in shoes and hooded sweatshirts. A Northern Three-Lined Boa has a lifespan of approximately 20 years.
Agnes: California Kingsnake – Lampropeltis californiae
She became an ambassador in August 2014 and is approximately 17 years of age. Along with being the oldest of the ambassadors, she is also the largest. A California Kingsnake is known to live up to 50 years in captivity.
Summer: Albino California Kingsnake – Lampropeltis californiae
She became an ambassador in August 2014 with Agnes and is approximately 8 years of age. Because of her pigment, her veins can be seen through her scales (especially since she recently shed her skin in these images).
Wilson: San Diego Gopher Snake – Pituophis catenifer annectens
He became an ambassador in February 2017 and is approximately 4 years of age. He is the timidest of the ambassadors, but warms up after a while, particularly with Ranger Adam Taylor. A San Diego Gopher Snake typically lives 12-15 years.
Even though all of our ambassadors are non-venomous, be aware all snakes have the potential to bite and may mistake a finger near their face as a yummy treat. We encourage visitors to gently touch the base of their body with one or two fingers. Remember our ambassadors are key members of the Cabrillo National Monument Staff, and they shall continue to be treated as such.
Over the past decade, the Rocky Intertidal Zone at Cabrillo National Monument has been overrun by an invasive brown seaweed known as Sargassum muticum. This marine plant, native to Japan, is believed to have made it’s way to San Diego over 30 years ago through the ballast waters of ships. Invasive species, such as Sargassum, are hypothesized to lower the biodiversity of an area by outcompeting the native biota and overtaking all other available space. Therefore, Cabrillo Biologist and our lovely volunteers have been working on slowly removing this species from certain plots to better answer our question about the effects of invasive species on biodiversity. Our hope is that in the next 5 years we can revisit these sites to see if the brown wire weed does or does not influence biodiversity.
During the summer in San Diego, the tides shift and it is difficult to experience a low tide during appropriate work hours. Cabrillo Biologists and I went out on the morning of July 12, 2017 at 6am to begin another phase of Sargassum removal. The process of removal is tedious and difficult to witness change overtime with the continuous growth of this perennial brown alga.
However, the benefit to this process is by far the creatures you inevitably get to see when you look a little closer into the intertidal zone. A fan favorite this week was this vibrant nudibranch (sea slug), Chromodoris macfarlandi. Remember to always keep exploring, even when working!
9,000 Ft., that was my elevation for one of the days that I spent in the field this past week. We were on the search for Whitebark Pine trees. This type of tree is currently under the attack of a disease called blister rust and by the Mountain Pine Beetles that are attacking them and using the trees as food and a place to live also. We also started taking tree cores for my independent research. These tree cores sampled can show the age, and the conditions of the tree. Its really awesome to see a tree`s history. During the following weeks will be continuing the same type of work. I am excited to continue my research on Whitebark Pine!!!
In the broadest sense, nature is our world in the physical, material and natural form. It is everything not made by the human race. For me, nature serves as a place of tranquility, worship, culture and love. At the same time though, it can be frightening, intimidating and humbling. Nature is, hands down, a force to be reckoned with.
Our ancestors were far more in tune with nature than we are today. With so many distractions in the modern world, it has become increasingly more difficult to access nature. The more we become disconnected, the less attentive we will be. Therefore, I believe it is every individuals responsibility to make the effort to break away from mainstream society, at least once in their lifetime, and become one with nature.
I recently was able to reconnect with nature when a group of high school students from Texas stopped by the Florissant Fossil Beds for a visit. Whitney, my education partner, and I led the group of students and their chaperones into the woods on a nature walk with a specific exercise in mind. Upon reaching the most dense part of the forest, Whitney instructed the students to write down what nature is using their five senses. Given that the students were in the age range of 14-17 years old, I was expecting to hear laughter and gossip, and not see much writing going down. However, the students fully participated and even the chaperones were jotting down their thoughts.
At the end of the exercise, Whitney had the students recite their favorite interpretation of what nature is, however, replacing the “Nature is…” with “I am…”. As you can imagine, some were rather humorous, while others were incredibly poetic.
After the nature walk, I had the students and chaperones participate in the paleoclimatic reconstruction activity I put together for the Geo/Paleo Camp. It was incredible to witness the students draw their own conclusions on how the Florissant valley, during the Eocene, exhibited drastically different climatic conditions than today. The biggest take away for me, and I hope for the students and chaperones as well, is that in addition to making connections with nature on a mental and spiritual level, everyone is also capable of making scientific connections. There is no requirement of a masters or PhD to make that scientific connection. The only requirements are patience, curiosity and an open mind.
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.
The feeling of slowly being swallowed by the many mouths of a salt marsh is quite a humbling experience. It is humbling because it’s something that no one has any control over. It is in these moments that you truly recognize, “Yeah, humans are definitely not the only ones calling the shots on this planet.” A marsh does not mind if you struggle through its goop and it will ignore you if you ask it to stop swallowing your boots whole. You just have to accept that the marsh can get hungry sometimes and then learn to be one with it.
I was able to reunite with a fellow University of Virginia alum, Janet Walker, while helping her in the field. And you guessed it. Her experiment was in a salt marsh in Bolinas, CA called Bolinas Lagoon. She is a PhD candidate at UC, Davis and is researching the impact of burrowing crabs on the native salt marsh plant communities at three different sites throughout California.
It was an absolutely beautiful day out in Bolinas Lagoon. With the help of a volunteer who recorded data, my task was to survey the vegetation in the 25 open-air cages that Jan has put in place throughout the site. This involved maneuvering around the marsh, which was a wonderful adventure. Jan mentioned that after some practice one develops “marsh legs”, which she and her intern have certainly acquired. Jan and her intern were able to gracefully glide through the marsh as though they were deer prancing through a field of their favorite greens. I, on the other hand, plopped over a couple of times and even stepped out of both of my boots allowing my socked feet to have an intimate encounter with the marsh’s goop. It was truly awesome, and I’ll be joining Jan in the field again later in July!
Above is the lovely marsh crew with me and Jan, my fellow Wahoo, in the middle. I highly recommend venturing out to a salt marsh with someone who has already acquired “marsh legs”! They are beautiful ecosystems that provide a plethora of vital ecosystem services and are home to incredible plants, critters, birds, and more. Hooray for salt marshes!
Hello once again. My time here at Craters of the Moon continues to expose me to new and valuable experiences in the field of conservation. This past week I went on a 5 day hiking trip, aiding the park’s wildlife biologist in invasive species removal. The target is a plant know as Dyer’s Woad that, if left unchecked, has the potential to outcompete and reduce native plant population numbers. So armed with that knowledge and a 30 pound spray pack we ventured across the lava fields at the southern end of Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Days consisted of hikes ranging from 6 to 12 miles, following previous GPS data points that indicated potential plant hotspots. Some areas were devoid of Woad, others brimming with the vibrant green and yellow plants.
In the end, we sprayed and removed the seed pods from thousands of plants with the goal of reducing and minimizing the spread of the invasive Dyer’s Woad. The resilience in fending off all attempts to stop the spread of it is both amazing and terrifying. Hopefully, with increased awareness to the plight of our native landscape and continued removal efforts this invasive can be managed over time The experience is one I (and my shoes) will never forget.
It was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver today! The Get Outdoors Colorado event was a success. I was able to connect with many people focused on accomplishing similar goals, to diversify audiences in outdoor settings. Meeting the Urban Rangers of Denver was definitely a highlight. For those who don’t know, the Urban Ranger program is a partnership between the National Park Service, Environmental Learning for Kids and Denver Parks and Rec. Urban Rangers are high school and college students that teach environmental education programs to underserved youth in the greater Denver area. Seeing these incredibly young folks working hard to complete their mission is inspiring!
On the way back home from Denver, my supervisor and I decided to take the scenic route. From Morrison, we took CO-67 S to Woodland Park. Although most of the drive had a speed limit of 30 mph, it was worth it. Views of the South Platte River off CO-67 are incredibly serene.
Back at the ranch, progress on the Geo/Paleo Camp is rolling along. My brown bag presentation on Friday was lengthy but productive. One of the most significant changes we are making to the schedule is to have the camp run from Tuesday to Saturday, as opposed to the traditional Monday through Friday format. The reason for this is we believe it is incredibly important to provide parents with the opportunity of attending the last day of camp. Not only would the parents be present at the graduation ceremony, but they would also be exposed to the mission of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the National Park Service. Most of us can agree that parents serve as the role models for our youth. Therefore, if we can instill a sense of stewardship in our youth’s parents, they will, in return, pass it on to their children.
This week, we traveled to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in Big Horn County Montana to do vegetation monitoring. The purpose of vegetation monitoring is to determine whether vegetation composition, structure and condition are changing over time due to climate and/or in response to a management intervention. I learned how to I.D. several grasses, trees and shrubs, along with how to determine cover class percentage. We camped at the Ewing Snell Historic Ranch Site. Big Horn Canyon was absolutely breathtaking. Everything from the wildlife to the landscape was mesmerizing. It was an honor and a privilege to have been able to work in such a beautiful place. I had a very close encounter with a black bear and her two cubs. After a long day of monitoring, we returned to our campsite, and these three bears walked right behind our tents! We also encountered wild horses, scorpions, antelope, and a rattlesnake which I nearly stepped on while surveying one of our plots! I have learned so much in such a small amount of time and I owe it all to the supportive, passionate and knowledgeable staff with whom I work. There hasn’t been a dull moment since I began this internship and I look forward the adventures and experiences yet to come.
Hi my name is Malik Robinson and I am from a place called Waldorf located in Southern Maryland. I am currently a rising junior at the amazing and illustrious North Carolina A&T State University. While attending this college I am studying Sustainable Land Management. For those who do not know what that major is about, it is the science of soils and vegetation and learning ways to improve soil quality and plant growth in a safe way. Both of these places Waldorf and Greensboro (where A&T is located) are very city like and without much nature to view. When coming to Montana for this internship I really didn’t know what to expect, this was my first time ever flying, so that’s really what I was concentrated on. However when arriving to the airport in Montana all worries were out the window as soon as the plane became lower than the clouds all I saw was this great beauty that I have never seen before!
Its like a completely new world I have never seen such beauty and such enormous mountains so up close before. Therefore I love it here its amazing !!! It has only been a week since we arrived here and I already feel at home. For those who do not know I am currently completing this internship for the monitoring and inventory of Yellowstone Park. I am currently staying on campus at Montana State University in the town of Bozeman. In Bozeman there are so many nice people so it became easy to get settled in and also every where you go or any direction you look, you will see a mountain in the background its simply amazing! Since we have arrived I have learned so much from types of plants, names of mountains, reading maps, learning GPS systems, safety in the parks and forest`s and have seen animals from big Bison and Elk, to little field mice. So far my favorite part has been traveling to Hyalite Canyon which was just beautiful and loaded with amazing scenery. There we climbed and got to about 6,256 Ft!!!
So far its been an amazing week and I can tell this is going to be an amazing internship experience to never be forgotten!!! I can`t wait for next week!