Another year of field work completed

On Friday, after a 9 hr drive and a two hour stop in Fort Collins, I returned to Logan from my summer field work in Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Forest. The field work went amazingly well but it was hard being gone for three weeks when I have so much data analysis to do this summer.  Doing “real work” after a day of field work was difficult and usually I spent my evenings making raw/paleo dessert with my field tech, reading the ” A Song of Ice and Fire” series, or trying to work on the sweater that I am knitting myself.  As my first post back, here is a pictorial summary of how I spent the past three weeks. Enjoy!

View from the Mt. Bierstadt trail

I was sent to Arapahoe-Roosevelt National Park as part of a transportation study. My main role was to map all of the visitor-created impacts along the designated trails at key, popular trailheads.  Overall, the work was straight forward and something that I could do in my sleep. There were a few twists that made mapping interesting. The high elevation was more of a factor than I thought it would be. Annie (my rockstar field tech) and I are in pretty decent shape but no matter how long we spent at elevation, hiking at 11,000 ft + while mapping was pretty exhausting. I was shocked how quickly my muscles would ache from lactic acid buildup and even on our last day in the field, I felt like I could never get enough oxygen.

View from the summit of Mt. Evans (14,265 feet)

Daily, afternoon storms and an early season monsoon were also something that I was not used to battling when mapping. Annie and I would start the work day at 6am and usually be getting back to the car to head home around noon or 1pm.  When you are hiking with an antenna attached to a meter long metal pole sticking out of your backpack, the last thing you want to be doing is running from a thunderstorm above treeline.

Storms rolling into on our last day mapping at Mt. Bierstadt (14,065 ft)

Despite the environmental conditions that we battled, the views, the wildlife, and the wildflowers were stunning. We saw moose, elk, deer, goats, bighorn sheep, pikas (which I was very tempted to kidnap), marmots, and tons of birds (white-crowned sparrows, yellow warblers, hummingbirds).  Tundra wildflowers are my absolute favorite wildflowers and although I think I arrived past their peak they were still amazing.  I took this summer as an opportunity to learn some of the wildflowers that I had failed to learn in Rocky Mountain National Park. By the end of the three weeks there were only a few species that I could not identify.

Bighorn Sheep (and babies!) along Guanella Pass

Tundra Wildflowers at Square Tops Lake

Early mornings meant that Annie and I had time in the afternoon to relax (this is when I should have been doing work). Annie would usually go for an epic run or bike ride (I told you she was a rockstar). I would usually do some yoga and try to work on other projects. But, one of our favorite ways to spend our afternoons and evening was to “bake”.  In the past, when Annie and I worked together, we would over encourage each other’s sweet tooth. In Rocky Mountain National Park we would make almost daily visits to town for fudge or ice cream or cookies or pie. We hike enough at elevation that the extra calories did not matter – I always come back from the field season a couple pounds lighter no matter how I eat. However, this field season Annie was eating a raw food diet (essentially eating nothing that needed to be cooked) and I was trying a paleo diet. So our normal sweets were not an option. Instead, we used the internet and the cookbooks that we had each brought with us to come up with creative ways to satisfy our sweet tooth with desserts made mostly from fruit and nuts.

Paleo and Raw cheesecake that Annie and I “baked” – made from cashews, dates, coconut, strawberries, and walnuts (sorry, it’s blurry, I could not contain my excitement to eat this deliciousness).

This field season was a bit bitter sweet as it will probably be the last time that I work with Annie. My advisor hired Annie to work with me my first summer as a graduate student. I had never met her before I got to Rocky Mountain National Park but we ended up getting along amazingly.  Since that first summer, Annie has worked with me on two other projects as a field tech and was a lab tech for my research lab as well.  Over the years we have become good friends. She is an incredibly sweet and kind person who never (well, rarely) complains and does excellent work. She is amazing company on the trail and off the trail; she has such a warm, up-for-anything, and funny personality. There is no one quite like Annie and I wish that I could hire her for every project I work on from now until I retire.  This summer Annie temporarily quit a part-time job to spend another few weeks with me in the field. However, this upcoming spring her husband will begin Physicians Assistant school and she may be moving to California.  I suspect this may have been our last summer working together. I cannot thank her enough for her hard work, friendship, and patience over the past 4 years (although I am knitting her a hat…so hopefully that will help show my appreciation). Thanks Annie!

Annie and I on the summit of Mt. Bierstadt – couldn’t ask for a better field tech and friend!

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