Yosemite National Park had an amazing snowfall for the winter of 2016-2017. By April, there was still over 100 inches of snow in areas like Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. This major snowfall and the resulting flooding conditions rendered the high country unaccessible for park visitors and park employees. Because of this, the Aquatics crew’s high country aquatic restoration sites were still frozen over and unsafe to hike to. Tioga Road, which connects the west of the Sierra Nevadas to the east of the range, remained closed up until late June because of damage from flooding and snowpack. I was pretty bummed at the beginning of this summer to not be able to experience some of the high country since I had never been above about 7,000 feet in elevation before. Where I’m from, Georgia’s highest point in elevation is only about 4,700 feet, and here at Yosemite, some of the high country sites reach 11,000 and 12,000 feet! I was still pumped for the other projects I would be able to join in on like turtle crew and bullfrog crew, but knowing I wouldn’t be able to experience the high country was much of a bummer.
A couple weeks ago during our 6 days off rotation, I had planned to just spend the time hanging out in the front country and doing random day hikes in the Valley that I could access and taking a breather. I got a message from someone on the crew saying, “Change of plans. Some people on the crew are heading to the East side tonight and want to go to Mammoth mountain tomorrow for skiing/snowboarding. If you want to go.” How could I pass up this opportunity to take a trip towards the high country? I said yes, instantly because I knew this might be my only shot to see it.
And boy, am I glad I did it. I felt like a kid in a candy shop! Every turn on Tioga Road yielded breathtaking views of valleys thousands of feet below or white-capped mountain peaks or acres of precious meadows. A major highlight was the newly cold temperatures I was experiencing from the elevation, as the front country site where I live for the summer has been experiencing heat wave temperatures of 110 on some days! Our first full day on the East side, we hit up food trucks, June Lake to swim and paddleboard, and even managed to squeeze in watching Moana with all of us crowded around a couple laptops. The next day we headed over to Mammoth Mountain to do a half-day of skiing/snowboarding. I’ve only ever skied before in slushy, fake snow in North Carolina, but this was the real deal! The temperatures on top of the mountain were even in the lower 70s, as people were skiing down in tank-tops and shorts. One of the employees on the Aquatics crew used to even be a ski instructor, and he gave me the courage and confidence boost to join them at the top to ski my first real Black Diamond slope down. Would I do that slope again? Probably not. Do I regret it? Absolutely not! Another bucket list item checked off. We ended our trip with some live music that was going on at THE Mobil, which is a gas station/restaurant destination spot that has become famous for its great view of Mono Lake and amazing atmosphere. I could finally see what everyone was talking about, and why this place was amazing.
I never would have thought I could see places so beautiful and jaw-dropping, as I did while experiencing the high country. Our trip to the east side was filled with June Lake swimming, Mammoth Mountain skiing, live music at the famous Mobil stop in Lee Vinings, and a great time with great people from the Aquatics crew. I’m so lucky to know these people that come from different parts of the country (and even world), but all have such a large passion for wildlife and habitat restoration at Yosemite. This internship has awarded me new skills, friends, experiences, and memories that I won’t ever forget.
With practice, I have been getting better at identifying different species of butterflies. With some skippers, the first step to take is to make sure it actually is a butterfly. I learned an easy way to sometimes distinguish between a moth and butterfly. The coloration isn’t what gives it away- many skipper butterflies have similar dull color patterns as some moths however, some moths have distinct hairy antennae. This was a dead giveaway when trying to identify this one:
However, not all moths will have the easily distinguishable hairs on their antennae.
This one is missing the distinct hairs on the antennae but I also read that butterflies tend to have a little bulbs on the tips of their antennae. This moth is also missing those slightly thicker tips on its antennae. I am still going to look through the butterfly identification book I am using to be sure it is not a butterfly but for now it most likely isn’t.
This is an example of a thought process I go through while being out in the field walking the transects, looking through binoculars, and flipping through the identification book to be able to say which species of butterflies are present on the field.
And just because I thought it was really awesome, here is a picture of me standing next to a milkweed that was basically the same height as I am (5’3″). The monarch butterfly solely relies on milkweed as their host plant so it made me really happy to see this one growing so well!
Last week the river was dry but teeming with life all waiting for a single summer storm to bring water back to the river. Then, on July 8th around 9pm a storm hit the upper Santa Cruz River valley, the first storm of the monsoon. The rain gage I have at home registered 0.35 inches of rain. On my day off, July 9th at around 2pm, a storm hit the border towns of Nogales Arizona and Nogales Sonora producing a massive flood. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported a gage height of 7 feet in the Nogales wash. It has rained around the area everyday producing beautiful clouds and lightning strikes.
Check out the USGS water data here:
I was excited to return to work on Tuesday and take a hike to the river. I wanted to know if the river had water and the extent of the flood damage in the cottonwood habitat. As I hiked the Anza trail leading to the river I noticed all kinds of wildlife. Birds were chirping in every tree. Lizards rustled in the leaves and bushes as they ran away from my incoming feet. Tiny flying bugs were seen clumped in the air enjoying the morning breeze. Once I arrived to the river I noticed the same frogs I saw last week. They were enjoying their new source of water.
The river was no longer dry! The rains that occurred the last few days returned the river to life.
It is always nice having a long weekend to wind down and go exploring. Especially when it involves family. Luckily, my family was able to stop by for a visit to Colorado this past weekend. I was able to spend a few days with them in Denver meeting other family members of ours, and show them around central Colorado and the Florissant valley.
The downside to having a long weekend is that the following work week is short and generally hectic. Such was the case here at the Florissant Fossil Beds. With meeting after meeting and visit after visit, there was never time to catch a break.
There was a lot of planning going on at the monument this past week. Most of us have been incredibly occupied with preparation for the Preserve America Youth Summit coming up next week. I was in charge of putting together a virtual tour of the paleontology lab, which will premier at the summit next week. Preparing a script, testing GoPro equipment and running several takes with the crew took up much more time than I expected. However, the end results were amazing and I am looking forward to running the tour this coming week.
Also in preparation for the Preserve America Youth Summit, my supervisor, Dr. Herb Meyer, and I worked together on putting together a PowerPoint presentation where he will be covering the incredibly intricate history of the Florissant valley and the vast array of fossils found here at the monument and the geologic processes responsible for creating an environment set up for fossils.
I think what counted for me as a “break” this week was the visiting Girl Scouts group from Kansas. Dr. Sarah Allen and I spoke to this group about how we came to work for the National Park Service and what steps we took to get here. After our brief introductions, we took the group on the Petrified Stump Loop trail and did an activity on stratigraphy. At the end of the hike, we had the group split into three small groups and discuss what they think happened in the Florissant valley 34 million years ago. The groups were able to draw very similar conclusions to what our scientists have concluded occurred in the valley during the Eocene. I believe this young and aspiring group of students are on the path to success. And I am confident many of them will go on to become scientists!
Yesterday, a day camp group came to visit the monument and we took them on a nature walk. I was able to snap some pictures of many of the flowers in bloom. I normally never take the time to admire the wildflowers in the monument but due to the frenetic environment we had this past week, it felt incredibly appropriate to stop for a moment and really take in the beauty the wildflowers add to our community here.
“You have the coolest gig!”
A teenage boy yelled this in my direction after I gave him and his friends directions on my morning rove in the Bear Lake corridor area. Roving has quickly become one of my favorite parts of this job. A rove, by definition, is “to travel constantly without a fixed destination; wander.” Yet, it is this wandering that is such an important part of my days here and role as a park interpreter.
Sometimes my job is to wander. That is crazy to type out; actual hours I spend hiking to beautiful destinations is of value to my division and the Park visitors, enough so that I get to do it multiple times a week. When I first began this internship and received my master schedule, I was unsure how fulfilling it would be, especially coming from New York and such a crazy, demanding and over stimulating work environment. Would I really be happy with this much “down-time?”
Roving to me has become more than “down-time” – it’s something I routinely look forward to, excited by the places I’ll go and the people I meet. It felt that almost out of nowhere, my roves have become something uniquely rewarding. Now when I speak to visitors of places in the Park, I know them on my own; not in the abstract, and not through photos. I can tell them that I love Sandbeach Lake because of the trickling waterfall that will convince you it’s a true ocean. I can warn them about the steep climb to Gem Lake or the spot I always catch a glimpse of marmot at Forest Canyon. When I send people to the tundra, the locations of my favorite blooming wildflowers guide me, not the road. In learning this Park, I’m becoming its ambassador, and hopefully, sharing some of my own emotional connections to it with the visitors.
When I walk, I stop and talk. I’m friendlier than I’ll ever be while I hike on my day off (I’m often trying to avoid visitors those days anyway), stopping and chatting, handing out extra park maps. I’ve gotten good at roving, which means I always have trail maps, junior ranger booklets and badges and golf pencils in my pack and a pencil and highlighter in my pocket. It feels extra but providing resources for visitors, informational or tangible, has been the best window into conversation. Suddenly, I’m engaging them in a deep conversation about what this place means to them or how the Park handles wildlife management or conducting an impromptu geology class for kids at the Alluvial Fan (I swear this happened). Or maybe I’m simply clarifying signage. Either way, somehow I know I’ve made an impact even if I don’t quite yet know what that will be.
It was hard for me to realize that regardless of the hours and research I’ve put into my educational and interpretive programming, not every visitor will want to stop by. I can’t reach everyone or be the best interpreter by staying at my scheduled post or my advertised programming – maybe, I’m doing the most I can when I do my “downtime.”
That boy is right – I do have the coolest gig.
Bears are often viewed as an iconic symbol of wildness. Though there a people who can say they have actually seen a bear in the wild, there are people who cannot say they have. Bears located in National Parks attract a lot of attention. Bear sightings cause traffic jams, and in some cases, cause people to get into accidents because of senseless and reckless behavior to see wildlife. Bears also attract the attention of wildlife researchers who have careers studying this iconic animal.
Bears have been observed rubbing their backs against trees. It looks like they are scratching to get that unbearable itch, but they often rub their backs on trees to communicate with one another. Rubbing their backs on trees leaves their scent so other bears can know they’re in their area. Scientists suggest that they also rub trees to get a good scratch or to cover them with sap, which is used as a bug repellent. When rubbing against these trees, they often leave a significant amount of hair on the bark. Researchers find and collect these hairs because they contain a variety of information such as: species, gender, individual identity, as well genetic relatedness/diversity within and between populations. This information can then be used to study distribution, abundance, movement patterns as well as evolutionary history.
Finding the trees that bears rub against can be a bit difficult due to the plethora of trees in their habitat, so bear biologists create hair snares. They tie barbed wire around four trees to make an area of about 5×5 meters. The wire is about 2- 2 1/2 ft off the ground so the bear can get to the middle of the square which is baited with something to attract the bears. I helped the researchers re-bait these hair snares using a fish blood concoction. The scent draws the bears in, but they have to get past the wire, so they often get hair snagged while passing through to the middle to investigate the scent.
Cannot believe that 150 bee specimen have been pinned so far. How did I do it? So many tiny insects to pin correctly. Don’t get me wrong, I like pinning, but you know when to call it a day when there are tiny dots on your thumb from poking yourself so much. With time running by and the ending of this internship within sight, how can I accomplish everything. Summer is a short frame nowadays when you are just scratching the surface of a topic. Showing people what I have done so far feels like an accomplishment to me because someone sees my project for what it is to further understand pollinators. Many visitors do not get to experience what I am doing, but they can if given the opportunity. The last project of this internship will be writing a proposal to the park to set up transects at heavily visited sites along trails for visitors to get involved with pollinator counts. They will have the chance to learn about the different pollinator species by recording the number they see on flowers along the trails . This project would serve as a type of citizen science opportunity for people to collect data to help the park know what type of pollinators are out there during the season. Data collected can help resource managers understand how pollinator activity correlates with the blooming times
of flower species when restoring areas. The picture below is a cool moment with folks from two different internship organizations in the same room coming together to learn about each other’s experiences.
First off, Happy Latino Conservation Week (July 15-23)!
I absolutely love the fact that I have been exposed to so many new and exciting marine ecology field techniques, data synthesis methods and being a part of the park’s social media team. Some weeks I work on a single project while others I work on a Hodge podge of different research. This is exactly what I hoped to experience from my Mosaics In Science internship, just a whole lot of different awesomeness.
(Photo credit: Michael Spaeth)
Coding in R was my main focus of the week. With much help from my supervisor, Ben, and several R books, I have written some sweet codes that actually produces graphs! This was an exciting breakthrough. As mentioned before, we are trying to produce graphs that show Harbor seal population variation over time by seal colony, of which there are eight. Hopefully, I will also have the time to analyze Harbor seal population variations with sea surface temperature changes and during El Nino years.
Why do we care about seals?! The presence of seals is a good indicator of food quality, ocean health, and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas. They are also apex predators, which means they feed towards the top of the food chain. Essentially, the local marine trophic structure would be completely imbalanced if Elephant and Harbor seals were not at their current, healthy population levels.
Unrelated to the seal project, my role on the social media team had me captioning several of our videos on Facebook and YouTube. They were mostly interviews of different people that have been working for the park for years and are an integral part of the thread that holds this magnificent park together. If y’all have a few minutes to spare, you should definitely check out these interviews on the Point Reyes National Seashore Facebook page!
And finally, I rejoined my fellow Cavalier friend, Pam, on her PhD work in the salt marsh of Bolinas Lagoon! One of her lab members, Ben, also joined us for the wild ride through the marsh. We collected pore water samples from the enclosures, measure crab length, and counted the number of burrows within the enclosures. It was an especially soupy day out there. This time, I only stepped out of my boot and into the marsh once. A true success. My goal for next time is to not step out of my boots at all. 🙂
A foggy Saturday morning, we arrived hands full of boxes, cables and misting machines. “Why a misting machine, when you have mother earth right?” We all low key panic, but smile and walk to our set up tent. “All the planning put into this event and a little fog might ruin it” I think to myself “Stop, you have to stay positive” — Sail Boston had arrived and the weather was not really on our side.
Sail Boston is a tradition that welcomes crews and cadets from all over the world to the Boston Harbor. About fifty six sail boats from thirteen different nations had embarked in a long journey to the harbor, but the weather conditions were so bad that their arrival was delayed. Nevertheless, we began setting up our engagement tent in the pavilion of the Charlestown navy yard. We prepared a series of fun family activities, a scavenger hunt, button making(as a prize for completing the scavenger hunt), a relay station , kite making, write a letter to a sailor, message in a bottle, and cork boats.
Throughout the day, I was really interested in seeing how engaging the stations would be, and I tried to keep track of which station worked for what age group. To my surprise, I noticed that our most engaging station was the kite making, followed up by the cork boat making station. Also kids of all ages really engaged with both stations. I believe that the reason why these stations were so popular is that the kids could see, touch and keep their end product. It made me think about how a project might work in a similar way. The story map I am creating, that will share the experiences of the summer connections program, will help the kids leave Thompson Island with an “end product” like the kite or cork boat. They can share this story map with their friends, teachers, and family, and be proud and excited to show off what they learned and where they went. I hope my final project actually accomplishes this goal and I will keep you guys updated on the progress of that! For now I will continue to work on it and learn more and more about base-placed learning.
Rain has many benefits which I appreciate but I don’t specifically enjoy being stuck inside when I work at a national park. Unfortunately, it rained for a couple days here in Virginia during our work hours so we were not able to go out into the field. This wasn’t any ordinary rain, it was what I would call a downpour. The water under the stone bridge in the park had risen more than halfway up the bridge structure and the roads surrounding and in the park looked more like rivers than roads. Even surrounding major roads were blocked off because of flooding and the quarry nearby had waterfalls in it! It was pretty fun going around and seeing parts of the parks and taking photos for records of how high the water gets under the bridge. We even helped maintenance alleviate the flooding around our building and headquarters because the water was pooling near doorways. I’ve never experienced a rain like this with so much of an impact but it was exciting to say the least.
Despite the rain, I still managed to learn a lot. There is a flowerbed in front of headquarters which is next door to our office and the other intern and I were put in charge of designing it and picking what native species we want planted there. It was really interesting to learn about all the species we see in the park that are actually native as we looked up different flowers we had seen around to look into. Once we picked species and designed it we all went to a huge plant nursery and got to pick out and buy all the species we wanted. It was a really fun experience and we are going to plant the garden on Monday so I will share pictures of it next week! Also, I got the chance to look more into my project that is my focus at the park this summer. I will be helping to create and improve a management plan for the Quail species and the grassland habitat they utilize. I spent a lot of time reading through some research papers and past plans and the impacts that have been recorded in the park. I am getting really excited to put together information and create my own plan with the help of our team here.
I got the chance to go pick up my card that will allow me computer access at my park on Friday! My supervisor was out so she let me and one of the other interns go into D.C. to pick it up and then spend the day visiting other national parks in D.C. which was a lot of fun! We went to a lot of the monuments including the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial. We even went to the Department of Forestry building which has a small museum area you can go see where I got to meet Smokey the bear! Here are a few pictures of me picking up my card, at the monuments, and with Smokey!