In order to ensure regulation compliance, keep our partners informed, and document GBI’s accomplishments, all of our personnel in the field are required to file detailed written reports. This is our typical routine, but one of our Research Associates took this task to the next level, providing an on-the-ground journal of his experiences. In this journal, which we will be running as a series, vegetation technician Justin Chappelle reveals what it’s like to be out in the field, writing with humor and enthusiasm. We hope you enjoy these musings. Our many thanks to Justin for allowing us to present these insights and experiences.
Justin Chappelle’s Journal
Flume Installation in Pakoon Spring (4/9-11/2018)
The very first day of work, I went on a three day to trip with the MOJN (Mojave Desert Inventory Monitoring Network) field crew to install a flume! A flume was a measuring device that measured the amount of water that was being discharged by a stream or active spring. We traveled to the Gold Butte region in the Parashant National Monument, which was located four hours away from Las Vegas, NV. Traversing through the washes, rocky landscapes, and washboard roads was an interesting experience for my first day! I got to see a number of really cool plants like Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylinderceus), and Mesquite Mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum).
In the early afternoon, we finally reached the field site, Pakoon Spring! This site was located within a burro pasture and had a large spring that people could visit, if they were willing to travel hours on dirt road to get to this location. The spring had a lot of vertebrate and macroinvertebrate diversity! You could see mosquito fish, tadpoles, various Odonates, and snails. Around the spring were basalt cliffs with cacti, mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), catclaw acacia (Senegalia greggii), Joshua trees and mesquite mistletoe. The phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) bird absolutely loved this sort of habitat!
Before we started work, we had safety talks about our working environment. MOJN took their field work and safety seriously. I was very impressed how MOJN cared about my safety as well as everyone else. We were given earplugs, gloves, and other protective equipment. After our preparations, we unloaded all our equipment like the generators, cement mixer, and water pump!
Our first goal was to prepare the site for flume installation. We straightened the spring entrance for the flume, we cleared all the cattails in our work area, and we leveled the bottom of the stream. The most arduous task was to clear all for the southern cattail (Typha domingensis) from the spring entrance. The cattail roots were buried in blue clay that was hard to dig through, especially with all the little root systems. With a crew of six people, we managed to complete these goals effortlessly.
The first night of camping was interesting! I took an hour walk around the area taking pictures of cactus and searching for interesting rocks. I managed to find petrified wood and carnelian agate!! Since we were in a National Monument, I took pictures of the best rocks and put them back. I set up camp after my walk and spent time talking with the MOJN crew! We were telling stories of our past seasonal adventures. When we went to bed, our field leader warned us of the burros in our area and that there will be a Fish and Wildlife employee shooting frogs nearby. I thought our field leader was joking, but he was not. During the night, the burros were letting out the most unearthly noises and I thought they were dying! They were okay; they were just neighing into the basalt cliffs to hear themselves. Around 2:00 AM, I heard the Fish and Wildlife people hunting frogs with a gun.
Our second day was a flurry of activity! We diverted the spring water flow into another area, we laid the cement and installed the flume, and we did last minute cleaning. We did encounter some issues and problems, but we learned fast and corrected the mistakes. The most challenging task to accomplish was to lay the cement. We got quick drying cement, which meant we did not have a lot of time to lay it at the site. After we created the cement, we constructed a wooden structure around the flume to help direct the cement into a dam-like structure. The entrance of the flume would divert all the water into the actual flume and the exit would look like a giant cement runway. The cement runway by the exit was to prevent further erosion of the sediment outside of the flume.
We reminded each other to take breaks, apply suntan lotion, and drink water! During our breaks, we were visited by the Fish and Wildlife hunter. The Fish and Wildlife person looked exactly like Sean Astin with a .22 caliber rifle. I learned about why he was hunting frogs at night. He was specifically targeting American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus). These large frogs would go into the spring areas and eat everything within the spring. Native frogs, toads and macroinvertebrates would be in serious trouble. When I investigated the actual spring, I saw massive quantities of tadpoles. Most of them were bullfrog tadpoles. USFW Sean Astin would lay traps with glowlights at night to try and capture all of the bullfrog young. He was successful! Beyond the Fish and Wildlife employee visits, we encountered National Park Service employees from Parashant and the public.
After cleaning up the site and removing the wooden structures, we finally got to see a fully functional flume! We stopped the water pump and held our breath. We did demanding work for most of the day, and we wanted the flume project to be successful. Within five minutes, we found out that the flume project was a complete success!! The flume was functional and worked like a charm! Afterwards, we started to clean the site and prepare for the final day.
The next morning, I was a little sleepy from the burro activities and bullfrog hunting I heard throughout the night before. We cleaned up camp and visited the flume site one last time. We cleaned all the tools, cleaned the site, put leftover blue spring clay around the flume to make it look more natural, and we took many site pictures. Overall, the project was a success and I helped install a flume!
4/14-15/2018: Lake Mead: Nature Tour
I live in government housing in the Lake Mead area. For a weekend, I decided to explore the trails, landscapes, and washes that were near my house. Spring was in full force, and I wanted to see all of the flowering plants! Along the sides of the road, I got to see beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris), sand blazing star (Mentzelia involurata), and various primroses blooming everywhere. Anywhere water collected in the winter time, you would see an abundance of flowers. Walking along the hills, I saw different Cryptantha species, desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and desert needles (Palafoxia arida). As I walked in the wash, I saw an abundance of tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca), salt cedar (Tamarix spp.), and interesting willow (Salicaceae) species. The smaller washes contained lilac sunbonnet (Langloisia setosissima spp. punctata), climbing milkweed (Funastrum cynanchoides), and desert senna (Senna armata).
In some areas, the dodder (Cuscuta denticulata) was covering all of the Asteraceae flowers and shrubs. The dodder reminded me of orange spaghetti sprawled out all over a plant. The Lake Mead maintenance people decided to control the dodder and make significant cutbacks to their population. This would prevent future dodder takeovers.
The bird life was diverse here! We had a nesting house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) pair near our house. Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii), American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and Say’s Phoebe (Sayornis saya) really liked our backyard! Hummingbirds were bountiful and nested near the flowering trees around our neighborhood. Costa’s (Calypte costae), Anna’s (Calypte anna), and Black Chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) could be seen and heard on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we could not put out a birdfeeder, because it could attract unwanted guests like rats (Rattus spp.), rock doves (Columbia livia), or African X European bee hybrids (Apis mellifera). Hopefully, these bird species would decide to stay the Summer!!
4/16-18/2018: Large Spring Monitoring in Parashant
For the last three days, I went with Carissa out to Parashant National Monument to monitor four large springs. This was during the end of the large spring field season and we had to visit each spring to collect dissolved oxygen levels, pH levels, electric connectivity, flora and fauna of the area. My main job was to identify all of the dominant plant cover species, take pictures of the attributes of the site, and identify all of the fauna in and around each spring.
Parashant National Monument has many unique habitats throughout the park. As you move higher up in elevation, you see different plant communities. When traveling uphill, you notice creosote habitat which transitions to blackbrush (Colegyne ramosissima) habitat. As you go higher, you will notice juniper (Juniperus spp.) and sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) habitat. The highest elevations tend to have ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests. I got view a variety of upland plant communities!!
Each of the springs we did visit were either in a canyon or small hill. The first one we visited was on a hill slope. After a steep hill climb, we managed to make it to a small pool located underneath some sandstone. The study area had a large diversity of shrubs and trees. We saw currants (Ribes spp.), western redbud (Cercis occidentalis), snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), hoptree (Ptelea trifoliate sub. pallida), barberry (Mahonia fremontii), one needle pinyon (Pinus monophylla), and skunkbush (Rhus aromatica). There were interesting mosses and lichens at the site as well! There were spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), juniper titmice (Baeolophus ridgwayi), white crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys), and black chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) in this area as well. I took a lot of pictures and identified as many plants as possible in preparation for future upland plant protocols in the early summer.
For our next spring, we navigated through twenty washes and four hillsides full of cholla (Cylindropuntia spp.) cactus. We were walking through a blackbush community that had an unnatural amount of cactus. I really liked seeing the Utah century plants (Agave utahensis) that were growing on the hillsides. The surrounding area was made of red sandstone and limestone fossils. The entire landscape looked like if Earth plants colonized Mars! As we walked through the landscape, the wind was blowing like crazy! We were supposed to have 50+ mph wind gusts in the evening. Eventually, we managed to locate the second spring. It was found in a cave! The outside was covered with pine tree roots and it was difficult to enter the spring to collect data. The site had some ruins of a house and what looked to be a fenced area. I saw Utah penstemon (Penstemon utahensis), manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and one needle pinyon pine (Pinus monophylla). After we collected all of our information, we quickly moved back to the truck. We were losing daylight and warm temperatures! We managed to find a nice camping site, surrounded by tall Utah junipers (Juniperus osteosperma). The most difficult task was putting up a tent in very windy conditions! Luckily, I managed to put up a tent and started preparations for the next day!
The second day, we ventured into the Grand Canyon in search of the last springs! For the third spring, we ended up traversing down a very steep and rocky hillside. We had to watch out for cactus and loose limestone rock. Eventually, we made it down safely to the dried up wash. We had to climb down limestone terraces to the spring! We discovered that previous flash floods changed the spring location, so we had to re-establish our worksite. There were three pools that were formed by the spring. The surrounding rock piles had calcite crystals and fossils! There were not many plants within the area due to the constant flooding, but I did find rabbitbush (Ericameria spp.) and fernbush (Chamaebataria millefolium). The pools had some unique macroinvertebrates. There were caddisfly (Trichoptera spp.), red water mites (Hydrachnidia spp.), and small aquatic worms. The only bird species I heard was a Broad tailed hummingbird (Selaphorus platycercus) flying through the canyon. After we were done collecting our data, we headed up the cliffs to our truck. The hike was very enjoyable until I accidentally grasped a calico cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) while climbing up a hill. No worries, I managed to save my hand in time!
In order to get to the last spring, we had to drive over questionable roads and through fallen timber. Last night’s wind storm really wreaked havoc on the old ponderosa pines. We had to leave the truck and walk to the spring, because of fallen trees. Carissa and I walked on difficult terrain until we got to a basalt cliff. The spring was found in an outwash and the most recent flash flood changed the entire area. We had to reestablish the plot again! We found a very small pond that was formed by the spring. This pond was 2×2 feet. Within the pond was a rich community of clam shrimp (Class: Branchiopoda), aquatic worms, mosquito larvae (Culicidae spp.) and red water mites. The clam shrimp were everywhere! They had their own highway systems and gathering places. There must have been a thousand of them! There were many active birds in the area like ruby crowned kinglet (Regulus calendula), American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Clark’s nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana), Woodhouse’s scrub jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii), red breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), canyon wren (Catherpes mexicanus), and white crowned sparrows! On the basalt cliff, the plants were not numerous, but we did find an interesting assortment lichen and moss! We collected our data and navigated back our truck in the early evening. Hiking all day was great, but it was very exhausting!! We found a nice camping area amongst large sagebrush. We did not experience any windy conditions, but we did have below freezing temperatures! I planned ahead of time and wore warm clothes and had an arctic pad sleeping bag.
The next morning, my water bottle was frozen solid and I had to quickly put away my tent before my hands froze! Carissa and I packed up early and headed back to Boulder City. When we got to the Las Vegas area the temperature was perfect! Helping Carissa with large spring monitoring helped me gather an idea on what to expect with future monitoring projects Parashant National Monument!!
4/22/2018: Black Mountain Trail
I decided to go hiking on Black Mountain over the weekend. This area overlooked Lake Mead, Boulder City, and Las Vegas! My main goal was to explore and identify as many plant species and fauna as possible! The trail had a sharp elevation gain, but I was prepared for the short expedition.
The hike was supposed to take three to five hours, but I accomplished the entire hike within two hours! On the way up the Black Mountain Trail, I saw many unique cacti, lizards, and forbs. In the lower elevations, I saw teddy bear cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) that was purposely planted. This plant was very beautiful, but it loved to attach itself onto shoes and clothing. Indigo bush (Psorothamnus arborescens var. minutifolius), Mojave aster (Xylorhiza tortifolia), and lilac sun bonnet (Langloisia setosissima spp. punctata ) were amongst the creosote (Larrea tridentata) and burrobush (Ambrosia dumosa) at lower elevations. Side blotched lizards (Uta spp.) and regal horn lizards (Phrynosoma solare) were common near the washes. The side blotched lizards were obsessed with doing push-ups, unfortunately the nearby females were not impressed.
As I made my way up the mountain, I saw calico cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), and Fremont’s pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii). One of the most bizarre plants I encountered were the range ratany (Krameria erecta). The bush had flowers that looked like an orchid!! At the very top of Black Mountain, I got an incredible view of the surrounding area! I had a lunch and continued looking for cactus around the sounding area. Calico cacti were the most dominant species.
Keep an eye on this space for further installments of Justin’s journal.