Here is the third and final installment of our series presenting vegetation technician, Justin Chappelle’s journals, which offer a wonderful personal view of GBI field work.
Part One can be found HERE.
Part Two can be found HERE.
Parashant National Monument: IU Protocol- First Impact 5/14-21/2018
Our first trip was to explore the central region of Parashant National Monument in BLM Land. We had to ground truth 17 sites and see if we were to accept or reject any of them. A majority of the time, we spent most of the time traveling on rocky roads. Parashant had some of the worst roads in the Lower 48 United States. There were some roads that were known as tire destroyers. At the end of our first journey, we could see the wear and tear on the tires.
As we visited and ground truthed each site, we saw many amazing vegetation communities. Unfortunately, none of those communities were dominated in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). For the first few days, we encountered blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) communities. They are like sagebrush, but they belong to a different family and plant community. We did encounter a plant community populated by Utah Agave (Agave utahensis) with substantial amounts of biological crusts. Overall, the first few days of ground truthing, we ended up rejecting every site we encountered. LandFIRE was the only vegetation map we had of the area, but it had a high amount of inaccuracies. At first, we were very worried if we were to find any site with sagebrush.
On the third day, we traveled to the eastern section of Parashant. When we arrived at our first site, we let out a sigh of relief. We finally encountered a sagebrush dominated community!! Later in the week, we accepted four more sagebrush sites for future monitoring efforts. Sadly, out of the 17 sites we visited, we ended up rejecting twelve sites. We have three more weeks of ground truthing before we start our main monitoring project. Hopefully, we would accept 35 sites before that time.
On a side note, Parashant had many beautiful flowering plants! We encountered blooming paper daisy (Psilostrophe spp.), larkspur (Delphinium spp.), various Opuntia, many penstemon species, Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), coyote willow (Salix exigua), globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua), and desert paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia and Castilleja linarifolia). My favorite flower belongs to the Utah Agave! They had massive blooming flowers that attracted bees and hummingbirds! Beyond the forbs, I loved encountering new shrub species. Parashant had so many shrubs, I was overwhelmed with trying to classify them all. I encountered many leafless, thorny shrubs that all look the same. When I used any plant taxonomy book, they talked all about the flowers and leaves, but not about the actual shrub. I had to take many samples back to the office and use shrub specific books and websites to identify all the shrubs. I learned about Lycium andersonii, graythorn (Ziziphus obtusifolia), sweetbush (Bebbia juncea) (I know, I know….it is everywhere and I should’ve known this one), various Atriplex, and rabbitbush (Ericameria/ Chrysothamnus) species. Most of the shrubs were easy to identify in the juniper forests, but when we encountered a wash, bizarre looking shrubs popped up everywhere! We were able to identify most grasses, which was awesome. I was surprised the BLM used Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum) and Smooth brome (Bromus inermis) in their seed mixes after fires. They were not the best grasses out there and they were considered invasive in other regions out West. I guess if you need fast growing grass for forage and erosion control, these were the best grasses to choose.
One story of note that I should mention occurred on the third night of camping. I noticed creatures crawling and scratching the bottom of my tent at night. At first, I was very frightened by the noise and movements. I thought the mice were trying to scratch their way into the tent. I was puzzled on why they wanted to come in, even if I had no food. I decided to exit the tent and investigate. When I picked up the tent, I found out they were not mice! The mystery creatures that were making the noises were Darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae Family)!! They were everywhere! Apparently, they loved the conditions under my tent. Most of them were mating, so I guess it was darkling beetle mating season in Whitmore Canyon!
Bat Detector Installation: 6/1-8/2018
During this week, I had the opportunity to go out with the Program Manager, Allen, to install different bat detectors throughout Lake Mead National Recreation Area! We had to install eight detectors around different washes and springs and fill out very detailed data forms regarding the installation process.
There were a few sites that really stood out to me. One area was known as Grapevine Canyon, which had a huge amount of grapes (Vitis spp.)!! Another interesting part about this area were the petroglyphs that were seen along the rocks! My favorite petroglyph had bighorn sheep jumping over the sun. There was another spring area north of Lake Mead called Roger’s Spring. Many people released exotic fish into this spring! There were tons of cichlids, mollies, and mosquitofish. In the isolated bodies of water nearby you could find the incredibly rare leopard frog species that has been rediscovered in the area. We had to be careful when walking through the spring vegetation, there could be snakes! D: Another danger we encountered during the installation process was the heat! One day it reached up to 113°F! I was completely fine with the heat, so long I drink 2.5 gallons of water a day! 😉
The bat detector installation was very straight forward. We had a box with a recording device inside. We attached an open microphone to the recording box and tied the microphone to a tree pointing out over the wash or spring. We told the recorder to listen for bats between 7:30pm to 6:00am. We would leave the box out there for four days and then pick it up again. After we collect the boxes, we would return them to the data managers for processing. Also, I would enter all of the field data forms regarding the installations in a BAT Microsoft Access database. I found this installation process very interesting and it provided a new opportunity for me. If I were to install bat detectors for my future job, I have the skills to get the job done!
(On a side note, we had to put American flag stickers all over the bat detectors. This would be to prevent anyone from finding the boxes and shooting them with a gun. This had been a problem in the past and Allen found out the only way to prevent this was to use American flag stickers. No one wants to shoot the American flag!)
Parashant National Monument: IU Protocol- Second Impact 6/11-18/2018
The second trip to Parashant National Monument would be extremely important. MOJN was supposed to investigate the IU sites that were in the National Park region along the North Rim. This time Alex and I were joined by Nicole and Jen on this expedition. Our main goals were to calibrate with each other, establish plots, and solidify future protocol.
Our trip was very productive. We managed to visit eight sites in total! We established five plots, rejected two plots, and accepted another plot that we did not have time to measure. Along with site visitations, we all calibrated with each other, so our data could be very accurate. The best part about this trip was visiting various sites along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some of my favorite plants could be found in a single plot. Winterfat (Kraschninnikovia lanata), Utah century plant (Agave utahensis), crispleaf buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum), Stanbury’s cliffrose (Purshia stansburiana), and green ephedra (Ephedra viridis) were commonly seen in all of our plots along with big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).
One of my favorite SOPs to do was the tree and invasive plant encroachment (SOP12). We would all line up in a row and scan the area for juvenile or adult trees that were in the plots. Some of the junipers were so small, we would find them later and add them to the tally. Line Point Intercept (SOP8) was my second favorite monitoring protocol. Unfortunately, we could only write the USDA plant codes for shrubs and invasive species. If we found a forb or grass, we had to give them a generic code. (I would secretly identify the plant anyways. >_> )
Another cool feature about this trip was the night sky. I was blown away by its beauty! For the first time, I could clearly see trillions of stars, shiny planets, and the entire Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way was actually a bright cream color in the sky! I would purposely go to bed at 7:30pm and wake up around 1:00-3:00am to watch the night sky. I have seen the night sky in multiple isolated locations around the world, but this was my first time seeing the night sky without any existence of light pollution! Unfortunately, the night sky did not show up on the camera…
Mt. Charleston: GLORIA Preparations 6/22/2018
Next week, I would go with the MOJN crew to Death Valley to look for alpine plant species for a monitoring program called GLORIA. I wanted to prepare and acquaint myself with high elevation flora. Going to Mt. Charleston was the right choice. Not only was this area full of high elevation plants that I may see in Death Valley, but they did have many white pine species that could be found throughout the Mt. Charleston loop trail! (Getting acquainted with white pine species would help with pine monitoring in the future.)
I left 3:00am in the morning, because I wanted to have a head start before the temperature becomes a nuisance. As I ascended up the mountains, I noticed an abundance of flowers like Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Shooting Star (Dodecatheon redolens), Lewis’ Flax (Linum lewisii), Clokey Thistle (Cirsium clokeyi), Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii) and Cliffbush (Jamesia americana var. rosea) blooming. There were even quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) found in the narrow ravines on the east side of Mt. Charleston. As I weaved through the trails and ascended to higher elevations, I noticed the abundance of bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) everywhere. I always thought this type of pine was fairly rare, but on Mt. Charleston, they were quite common.
Eventually, I reached the meadow and talus slopes of Mt. Charleston. These areas had very interesting flowers like Utah Columbine (Aquilegia scopulorum), Pussy Toes (Antennaria rosea), Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa) and Western Roseroot (Rhodiola integrifolia). The sun was intense, so I took breaks every fifteen minutes. Thank goodness I was in good shape, this trail and its elevation gain would wear out a large amount of the American population.
As I walked towards the summit, I noticed many insects and arachnids walking all over the rocks. I guess this was their season to thrive. There were many checkerspot (Chlosyne spp.) and Icaricia butterfly species flying near the columbine. The red mite/ harvestman type arachnids were covering the rocks in search of….whatever they search for. I even witnessed red rumped bumblebees (Bombus spp.) living in the rock piles!
From the summit of Mt. Charleston, you can see Las Vegas, Pahrump, and the surrounding region. I even got to see the Panamint Mountains in the distance, which was where I would be doing the GLORIA monitoring!! Overall, this hike was a success. I learned about high elevation flora and white pine species. I got to see the surrounding region of Southern Nevada, which was quite the sight. On my way to and from the summit, I did not see a lot of people hiking. When I did see someone, they regretted the idea of hiking up the mountain…which was a shame. They might have had a better experience if they packed more than a small bottle of water. Stay hydrated!!!!!
Death Valley- Panamint Mountains: GLORIA Monitoring 6/26-29/2018
MOJN had the great opportunity to travel to Death Valley National Park for GLORIA monitoring. GLORIA stands for Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments. We would be working with the GLORIA Great Basin group. Their main goal would be to survey alpine summits and assess the global distributional shifts in alpine species due to climate change. Almost every continent has a GLORIA group that would survey alpine summits and almost every major mountain range. Every five years, the Great Basin GLORIA group would visit the same site and monitor for plants species, soil factors, and groundcover. This year, they were going to visit Death Valley and the White Mountains.
Nicole, Alex and I attended this event to help out with plant monitoring and to learn new plant species. As a bonus, Nicole would scout the Panamint Mountain area near Telescope Peak for future white pine monitoring areas for MOJN to visit in the future!
GLORIA had four sites in the Panamint Mountains. There were two lower mountain summit sites near Roger’s Peak, Bennett Peak was a site, and Telescope Peak was the last site we had to monitor. A majority of the areas we were working in were located in a high elevation zones, surround by metamorphic skree rock. The temperature got up to 85°F during the day, so we would have to take it easy when hiking between sites.
6/26/2018 GLORIA Day 1: The Arrival of the Legends
When the MOJN group arrived at Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley, the giant thermometer read 127-128°F in the sun! Yikes! The environment seemed pretty hot, but I was fine with the temperature! After our short break, we drove up the Panamint Mountains to our campsite at Mahogany Flats. On our way to our campsite, we stopped by the charcoal kiln structures. They used these buildings to make charcoal!! When we got to the campground, we set up camp and waited until the GLORIA group came back from that day’s monitoring efforts. When we did meet with the group, we found out a majority of them were volunteers, students, National Park staff and professional botanists! Everyone was friendly and very welcoming.
6/27/2018 GLORIA Day 2: Roger’s Peak
The first day of monitoring, we worked on the second highest peak near Roger’s Peak. Nicole, Alex and I had a crash course in the alpine botany of Panamint Mountains. Luckily, I studied all my plants, so I knew a majority of them already! After our crash course in botany, we were split up to help out with monitoring. My job was supposed to be a field botanist. I was supposed to locate and identify all the plants in the plots. There were three types of plots that were installed at each cardinal direction. We had three meter, five meter, and ten meter plots. The three meter plot recorded plant species and ground cover composition. The five meter plot recorded the plant densities with ground cover percentages. The ten meter plot looked at the species composition overall.
Monitoring on Roger’s Peak was fairly easy and many of the plants were easy to identify. I saw many new species like Clokey’s Fleabane (Erigeron clokeyi var. pinzliae), Rothrock’s Keckiella (Keckiella rothrockii var. rothrockii), and Panamint Mariposa Lily (Calochortus panamintense). Whenever we saw a wavy leaf desert paintbrush (Castilleja applegati ssp. martinii), we would call it apple martini! When identifying some shrubs, we had to be careful, especially amongst the sagebrush species. We had both Black Sagebrush (Artemisia nova) and Mountain Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. vasyana). Luckily, I have had experience with both shrubs and I was able to identify them easily. By mid-afternoon, we completed the Roger’s Peak upper plot! We were so efficient at monitoring that we were done earlier than expected! We began to set up our next plot at Bennett Peak and began monitoring until the end of the working day.
6/28/2018 GLORIA Day 3: Bennet Peak and Telescope Peak
The next day, we started working on Bennett Peak! This mountaintop was covered with Mojave Prickly Pear (Opuntia polycantha var. eriacea), Sulphur Flowered Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum var. versicolor), and Squirreltail (Elymus elymoides ssp. elymoides). One thing that was frustrating when identifying plants was that we had to use the older latin names. For example, if we found Indian Ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), we had to call it Stipa hymenoides on the data sheet. Surprisingly, we only found one Red Brome (Bromus rubens) grass, which was immediately pulled and noted in the data comments section. We finished up monitoring in the early morning!
After Bennett Peak, we moved onto Telescope Peak. We traveled a few miles up the Panamint Mountains. Some parts of the trail were very steep, but we were able to navigate to the top with ease. On our way to Telescope Peak, we saw many potential white pine monitoring sites. A majority of the pine trees we did encounter were Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis), but we did manage to find some Great Basin Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva). When we reached the top of Telescope Peak, we found out it was lunch time. I was first to summit the mountain and I filled out the guest book before I had my lunch. I took some amazing pictures and I was able to talk with visiting hikers about what GLORIA was. When I had my lunch, I gazed across the horizon. I could see Mt. Charleston and the Sierras from Telescope Peak!! I noticed near the summit Tufted Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa ssp. crinita) and Fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) growing. Apparently someone spotted Gilman’s goldenbush (Ericameria gilmanii), but I was skeptical of the sighting.
The Telescope Peak site did not take long to monitor! We were able to find all the species with an addition of four new species that were not found previously at the plot before. By the end of the day, half of the group stayed and camped on top of Telescope Peak, while the other half decided to head back to Mahogany Flats. I decided to head back, because I did not have the appropriate amount of water for an overnight stay. At the end of the day, we saw the moon rise over Mt. Charleston. The moon was red due to the smoke from the regional fires. Overall, the GLORIA group was very successful and managed to be a day ahead of schedule!!
6/29/2018 GLORIA Day 4: Final Day
We were supposed to monitor Telescope Peak today, but we accomplished that mission yesterday. Alex decided to camp overnight at the peak, so Nicole and I had to wait for him to hike down during the early morning. During this down time, I decided to explore the local Pinyon pine and juniper forest plants. I noticed a few plants that were very interesting like Bridges’ Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus), Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum var. diffusum), and Pink Alumroot (Heuchera rubescens). Also, I managed to practice some crocheting! When Alex did arrive, we packed up camped and headed back to Boulder City, Nevada!!
Once again, we offer our thanks to Justin for allowing us to present his first-hand field experience.