Our first stop on the way back was Tuolumne Meadows. The meadows were wet and lush while the landscape consisted of mountains covered in forests and or rocky slopes with snow that melted away to create streams and gushing waterfalls. We observed a flooded meadow surrounded by lodgepoles who were slowly invading the meadow. We clambered up to Pothole Dome to get yet another glacier lecture and a special talk from our TA, Ranger Jack, about what each of the peak’s names were. The view was spectacular! Our next stop was at Olmstead Point, where we had a terrific view of Half Dome. Max caught his specialty; a Western Fence lizard, and small patches of snow allowed for a final round of snow shenanigans. Some others stayed behind in search of a pika, but instead found the fat and fuzzy marmot. On our way to the last stop, the landscape progressed from a snowy pine forest to a drier pine forest all the way down to the raging and flooded Merced River that was surrounded by tall, vertical, rocky walls. We were absolutely astonished at some rock climbers that even when looked at through our binoculars looked like tiny creatures on this massive rock wall. El Capitan was truly something to behold. It seemed like around every corner there was a majestic waterfall pouring out of the glacier-carved rocky hillsides.
Finally we were on our way back to our homes in Santa Cruz and the landscape once again shifted to chapparal as we drove alongside the Merced River. Some cars were filled with the songs from many pop artists, while other cars preferred to listen to the songs of birds off of Christophen’s iPod. We arrived safe and sound, aware that this was just the beginning.
This was our final, full day in the field as Natural History Field Quarter 2016, and it was a beautiful day indeed! After breakfast, some people went inner-tubing in the frigid creek water, some went to Horse Meadow hunting post-burn wildflowers, and some made it back to Lundy Canyon to revisit the snowy creeks and abundant birds. For all the hours we had to spend in our beloved Mono Basin at the various locations of our choosing, the day went by much too fast. At around 5:00 p.m. we were all back at camp journaling, laughing, talking, as the sun went down, avoiding the realization that this night would (sort of) be our last. For dinner we had yummy sausage, veggies, and rice, and for dessert, as we gathered around the fire in preparation for our final meeting, we ate banana boats: hot, gooey bananas with chocolate chips and marshmallows, melted in tinfoil on the hot fire embers.
The instructors had been mysteriously working on something at camp all day. Their efforts were finally presented to us in amazing and heartfelt closing statements. First they went around and read what they had written to poetically summarize our four trips together and all of the magic they had held. Then Chris and Ryan read each of us a short, personalized piece about who we are and what we bring to the course. Everyone felt seen, appreciated, and understood in the firelight, surrounded by our new community. Abby and Jack shared their meaningful, appreciative thoughts as well and then we all were given the chance to reflect openly in the supportive space on what N.H.F.Q. has meant to us. It was a long, beautiful event of love and reflection, a bitter/sweet evening of goodbyes to F.Q. but also hellos to the rest of our lives. When bedtime came, we were all ready for sleep and excited to drive through Yosemite on our way home the next day.
Today we awoke to a breakfast of oatmeal with a variety of delicious fixings. We departed to the top of Conway Summit in Bodie Hills where maryam gave a fantastic presentation about clouds. We then explored the flora and fauna of the summit. We saw the Boisduval Blue butterfly and the rest of the class did a group key of Lewisia Rediviva, Bitter root. We then traveled to Virginia Lakes Canyon where a majority of us climbed the Virginia Lakes Trail. Some of us stayed as the base of the canyon and explored the local flora and fauna next to the lake, like the Belding Ground Squirrel and the Fox Sparrow As we passed Blue Lake, we saw a mountain morph pacific chorus frog and then paused for an impromptu snowball fight along the trail. We continued trekking along the trail, through snow and snow melt until we reached Cooney lake. Cooney lake is so cold that icicles are suspended in a water. When we scooped our hands into the water we pulled out these icicles by the dozens. A brave few joined the Cooney Lake Swim Team by diving into the lake’s icy waters. Further up the trail we climbed, past the abandoned miner’s cabin, where another snowball fight occurred, until we reached the summit of our hike, on the rock faces on the shore of Frog Lake, at an altitude of 10,400 feet. We took in the birds and the scenery in this alpine wonderland before taking turns sliding down this snowy embankment. Christian brought a yoga mat which served very well as an impromptu sled. Santana pod and Christophen adopted the Jepson Manual to Vascular Plants as a sled. “For the Plants,” they shouted as they launched themselves down the slope. After we had our fun in our alpine winter wonderland, we hiked back down the trail where Profe was ambushed by Mayra and Co., who had stock piled an armada of snowballs and she launched a ferocious attack on Ryan. The attack was short lived as Mayra was unfortunately unable to chase her target down. We then returned to camp for a delicious dinner of grilled chicken sausages and pasta. After dinner we sat out under the stars, shared what nature means to us. After we met as a group, some of us retreated to our tents to go to sleep while others stayed up for a constellation lesson by Chris where we got to look at some of the planets through the spotting scope. It’s amazing how many stars you can see when you look through your binoculars! Now off to get some rest to be ready to soak it all up on our last full day in Mono county and the Sierra’s.
Today we woke up to the delicious smell of hot chocolate chip pancakes that the Brick Squad prepared for us. After a fulfilling breakfast and an easy morning under the Aspen Grove, we headed out to meet with Ryan’s brother Nick Carle a.k.a. The Grub. The Grub works for the Forest Service and specifically manages the water levels and its distribution throughout the network of waterways leading to Mono Lake. We met up at Wilson’s Creek where we learned about the management strategies of diverting the creek’s water to various ponds such as DeChambeau pond. At DeChambeau pond we got to observe one of the largest colonies of yellow-headed blackbirds. We watched the territorial males stand tall on the marshy cat tails while the duller colored females expended energy catching aquatic insects. At DeChambeau pond we also saw swarms of California gulls, a pair of Cinnamon-Teal ducks, Gadwalls, an American Coot, a Black-crowned night heron, and more violet-green swallows. After our lovely morning birding with The Grub, we headed to Mill Creek to eat lunch under the cottonwoods and took a dip in the local swimming hole.
After lunch, we headed into the small town of Lee Vining where we stopped at the Mono Market for ice cream and to fill up the vans on gas. Some of us headed to the local bar for a quick celebration for Teagues 21st birthday! Apparently there was a Dr. V encounter at the gas station by Maryam and Joslyn. He had a white long flowing beard, a beer in hand, a Subaru Hatch back and he had said “Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, drinking and dancing under the stars.” Once we were fueled up on sugar and gasoline, we headed to a recently burned forest within Bohler Canyon. We were set free to explore the canyon at our own pace. Many of us who were on the hunt for the Black Backed woodpecker were disappointed to find none, but there were many mountain bluebird sightings and beautifully quilted-patchwork hills of wildflowers. It was so interesting to spine the wheel about the forest fires and the parallels of life and death represented by the new growth and decomposition of the burnt trees.
Back at Camp, we had filled up on spicy bowls of chili and gathered around the fire pit under the aspens for Nature Notes. Once it got dark, we joined as a tribe to have a dance party in the driveway for Teague’s birthday. We ended the night huddled in a clump in the meadow to star gaze as Profe (pronounced: pro-feh) taught us astronomy.
Today was a beautiful day, tromping around the fairy tale lands of Lundy Canyon. After our morning routine at camp, we headed out to the beaver pond at the bottom of the Canyon. We looked at the network of dams and logs made by illusive beavers and gazed into the rocky mountain sides, searching for Bighorn Sheep. Mayra spotted one! The rest of us missed it, but did get to see a Bald Eagle and a Golden Eagle Nest, nestled in a distant rock face; magical. We ate lunch a little farther up the road at the edge of another pond and listened to Ryan’s mom tell us about her experiences being one of the first women to work in national parks. What an amazing woman! After lunch, we were let loose to explore and spin the wheel on our own. Some of us walked the trail, parking at various serene locations along the way. Some took the trail all the way to the end, finding ourselves at the roaring foot of Mill Creek’s main stretch of waterfalls. We could trace the water all the way up to it’s snowy origins, melting in this spring heat high above us.
Twisting, gnarled aspen groves lined the trail in some places, evidence of the weight of winter snow. In other areas dandelions and grasses invited us to sit by still pools of glacial water. The lazy afternoon felt like a dream. Many of us got a chance, at some point or another, to take a dip. The ice cold, clear water was revitalizing to say the least. Also, painful, but yes, revitalizing. Chris spotted a herd of Bighorn Sheep on the South facing slope! There were five, all males. Their huge curling horns were so majestic. Most of us got a chance to check them out through the spotting scope before it was time to leave around 5:00pm. Back at camp we battled the no-see-ums and ate Mingo’s yummy spaghetti special. Around the fire afterwards we learned Edeli present on the Paiutes who had travelled and flourished in their region before the gold rush. Tonight the stars are bright, this beautiful day is behind us and we’re ready for another one tomorrow!
Today our group made our way to a few of the Mono Lake tributaries and discussed in more depth the history of their use and abuse with Bartshe. He talked to us about peak flows and their role in restoration efforts, the people responsible for the continued existence of Mono Lake, and how people should continue to protect it. Halfway through, we swam in Rush Creek and later stopped in the diversion ditch at the head of Rush Creek, where Grant Lake reservoir was located and got a visual for spatial orientation. Towards the end of the presentation a swarm of bees heading North flew through our group; while I was busy swatting at Blue-tongued punkies and small black ants, which were incessantly nibbling at my toes. We later explored the South tufa region and learned about its history as a bomb testing site for the Navy. Afterwards the class headed home for grub,where we all munched on some lentil soup and were blessed with Breck and Martha’s presence. Breck later described to me how when he first took F. Q. in its second year of existence, before it was a 15 unit class and before UCSC had established an ENVS department, that he had dropped one class and flunked the other in order to fully immerse himself in the course. That evening, Corey led a philosophy discussion around the fire for his presentation, which transitioned into a few of us giving an interpretation of the new Star Wars.
Today we began our day hiking in small groups by DeChambeau Creek and old Highway 395. We got hand-lens-deep into the Mono Basin plants, many of which reminded us of desert plants from the Mojave. After we passed the cottonwoods in Thompson Meadow, we encountered MELT YOUR FACE OFF BIRDING! We watched three American Kestrels, one of which had a lizard in its mouth. After we carried on, we saw a parliament of two juvenile and one adult Great Horned Owls. We watched the owls through our binos and spotting scopes as they napped and watched us with their adorable but angry looking faces. One student claimed she was having a “birdgasm”! We carried on to Mono Lake County Park where we ate lunch on the field. Ryan and Chris talked to us about bird songs and language. During lunch we also saw a group of mule deer. Later we walked down the boardwalk and watched many birds, including an osprey, Canada geese, CA gulls, Gadwall ducks, and Violet-Green Swallows on the edge of the lake flying and perching around the tufa. We were given a short presentation by Ryan’s mom, Janet, abut how the Tufa towers are formed by the salinity of the lake and sodium bicarbonate springs to form limestone formations. We then hopped into the vans and drove to the Mono Lake Tufa reserve old drop off where we went swimming. We enjoyed floating in the algae induced, mountain dew colored water and looking at the brine shrimp. After swimming and trying our best not to get the salty water in our noses and eyes, Liz gave a presentation on the ecosystems of Mono Lake. We drove up the road to the Lee Vining Creek where we washed the salt off our skin in the fresh and refreshing creek. We then got back in the vans and drove back to our home camp where we enjoyed some down time before our delicious dinner. After dinner, Stacy, Jeanette, Pachamama, and Sarah told the epic story of the water management of Mono Lake. Overall it was a great day filled with fantastic birding and many other sights!
Today, we would be heading towards our new home at Mono Lake. We made multiple stops along the way and people were allowed to wander around and naturalize, or do what they wanted to. The first stop was at Chipmunk flats where, despite its name, no chipmunks were seen. Ryan had to let his van running because this morning its battery had died and to jump start it, we borrowed jumper cables from our camping neighbors. People spread out and observed the different species of pines in the area, went birding, or stayed on the lookout for any possible mammals in the area. Our stay here was short and we quickly got back into the vans and headed off to our next stop at Sonora Pass. It was here where we had several presentations and got to play around in the snow. It was also here where people got to see the alpine chipmunk, and several species of birds. Despite wanting to stay for a little longer in the snow, we continued to our next destination because we were headed towards the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport.
It started raining along the way but that didn’t stop people from jumping in and getting friendly with the locals already in the springs. Some of us chose to go birding instead and we got to see several cool species along with two more chipmunk species. Our final destination was Simis Ranch at DeChambeau Creek in the Mono Lake Basin. This was the final stretch and everyone in Chris’s van was talking about how I would lose it if I saw a bear just after leaving the springs. Just before coming into view of Mono Lake, I saw an american black bear in a patch of aspen trees during the drive and I lost it and almost cried. It was still raining when we had arrived at the creek and once again had to set up camp in the rain. After camp was set up and everyone had their dinner, a group of us chose to go for a late night walk in search of a of a common poorwill, and failed.
CA: Alpine Co: Carson- Iceberg Wilderness: Disaster Creek Trail
Today we drove out to the end of Clark Creek Road and had student presentations near the border of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. After presentations we were given the freedom to explore the area.
One group went up the Disaster Creek Trail and had some fun with snow patches. Other groups formed together to look for birds, some went and sat under trees in the meadow to contemplate for forest, and others went on a mission to key plants. Throughout the day big chunks of clouds were drifting through the valley over us. Only once did we get enough rain drops to warrant moving to more tree cover in attempt to keep the Jepsons dry. Once we got back to camp, individuals continued to naturalize while some others formed a small bird-crew hunt for Sierra birds.
CA: Alpine Co: Stanislaus National Forest: Clark Fork Rd.: Fence Creek Campground
Yesterday we arrived at our camp spot here at Fence Creek Campground. When we were first driving around the campground there were little drops hitting the cars, but as soon as we picked a spot and started setting up camp the rain really started coming down. It even started hailing! After dinner it died down enough for us to have a fire and five minutes of sunlight before the sun hid behind the mountains and the fog engulfed us.