This must be the place

Morgan Gantz, the Wilderness Planner & Research Coordinator at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, sent me this photo of what I can only describe as Micranthes lyallii heaven. I have never seen anything like it. Morgan said she took it "somewhere east above the Rohn Glacier roughly across from Chimney Mountain in Wrangell-St. Elias Designated Wilderness." Guess I'll have to get back there at some point!

A big thank you

This last week I have been writing final reports for many of the grants I have received for the last three years of fieldwork. I have these grants listed in various places on my website but I thought it might be beneficial to list them all here.

I am extremely grateful for all of the support I have received throughout my field seasons. Seeing my plants in the field provides insight into the natural history of these organisms and is critical for comprehensive evolutionary research. On a more personal note, as anyone in academia can attest to, there are a lot of ups and downs in graduate school. Well, any grant received--no matter the amount--provides encouragement that what you are doing is meaningful and someone besides you, your advisor, and your parents (thanks Mom & Dad!) thinks your research is significant. So with that, I'd like to thank the following organizations for their support for the last three years:

Torrey Botanical Society Graduate Student Research Fellowship, 2016
Arkansas Native Plant Society Delzie Demaree Research Grant, 2016
Cactus and Succulent Society of America Research Grant, 2016
The Explorers Club Exploration Fund – Mamont Scholars Program, 2016
Alaska Geographic Murie Science and Learning Center Science Education Grant, 2016
Arctic Institute of North America Grant-in-Aid, 2015
Washington Native Plant Society Research Grant, 2015
Botanical Society of America Graduate Student Research Award, 2015
NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer Institute (EAPSI) Fellowship, 2015
Davis Graduate Fellowship in Botany, University of Florida, 2015
California Native Plant Society, Natalie Hopkins Award, 2014
Idaho Native Plant Society Education, Research and Inventory Grant Program, 2014
American Society of Plant Taxonomist Graduate Student Research Grant, 2014
Native Plant Society of Oregon Field Research Grant, 2014
Society of Systematic Biologist Graduate Student Award, 2014
John Paul Olowo Memorial Fund Research Grant, 2014

I have provided the links for all of these grants if you would like more information about them. Additionally, feel free to contact me with questions. 

P.S. My friend in Alaska recently sent this goofy picture of me on the third day of a pretty wild plant-collecting backpacking expedition in the Wrangell Mountains (see my post The Micranthes Motherlode). Hooray fieldwork! Thanks Morgan for the photo!

A suitable ending

I spent my last week in Alaska, somewhat anticlimactically, working on my talk for the botany conference happening less than a week after I returned to Florida. It seemed like a pretty silly way to spend my last hours in the far north but I was so anxious about getting my talk done that I probably wouldn't have been able to enjoy a hike if I had gone on one. Additionally, I had found all the plants I needed so I made a trip to Fairbanks, returned my borrowed plant presses, and with help from the UAF herbarium shipped all my specimens back to UF . I couldn't have collected a plant if I'd wanted to - which was ideal for getting work done.

I had a few days in hot, hot Florida, which I used to move to a new house before heading to Savannah for the conference. It was really great to see my friends after being gone for two months and I went to some interesting talks. After the conference I spent a few days back in Gainesville before re-packing all my camping gear and getting on a plane to Seattle. I had received a grant from the Washington Native Plant Society to collect in the state a few years ago. I couldn't go last year because I was in China during the peak blooming season so last week was my only chance to go. I was a bit overwhelmed from the my seemingly constant travel, but - spoiler alert - Washington is amazing. 

Micranthes tischii - Not the showiest of plants but pretty cool nonetheless. One of the best ways to Identify it is by the reddish-green small lanceolate petals in between the sepals. See them?

there was some cool Fauna at Olympic National Park.! Look at that baby mountain goat (aka  kid)!

My main agenda was to collect Micranthes tischii in the Olympic Peninsula. This species only occurs on a few mountain tops in and around Olympic National Park and I was determined to find it. I had my permits set up way in advance (thanks to Olympic National Park for being so supportive of my research) and I figured I'd grab any other Micranthes that I found. Washington seemed like a continuation of my summer in Alaska because Olympic National Park and surrounding areas are vast expanse of wilderness with many elements of the Pacific Northwest Flora being shared between the two states. Basically, it felt like home [again].

After flying into Seattle and staying with some friends from my SFSU days I drove my car onto a ferry and cruised across the bay to the Olympic Peninsula. The ferry was quite enjoyable and I saw a whale from the deck during the 40 minute ride. I drove off the ferry, pretending that I knew what I was doing, and drove around the outside of the park and to Hurricane Ridge via Port Angeles. Hurricane Ridge is a pretty popular stop for tourists in the park, but I booked it up the trail and turned off onto a climber's trail (I'm going to be kind of vague about the locations because this plant is rare).  After some low-key rock climbing I found the elusive Micranthes tischii!! Or did I??? It seemed this population was intermixed with the similar looking M. rufidula. So, while clinging to rocks, trying not to loose my balance, I closely inspected the two plants. The differences between the two species are there but they require magnification - luckily as a well-trained botanist (Thanks Bob Patterson) I always have a hand lens on me. I got to where I felt comfortable distinguishing the two and started making my collections and notes, taking extra care to sort them into the appropriate bags. Gotta love when the first time you head to the field you find the plant you traveled all away across the U.S. to get!

Well that first hike set the precedent for the rest of the week! I found all the Micranthes I was looking for and bagged three peaks: Buckhorn Mountain, Bogachiel Peak, and Mt. Ellinor. All were great but Bogachiel Peak ended up being a beautiful 17.5 mile roundtrip hike where I crossed through four radically different ecosystems and found three super cool Micranthes after scrambling down the north-face of the mountain. That night I went to the Sol Duc hot springs for some much needed R & R. I also took a day and drove around the peninsula to the Hoh Rainforest because I had some time to spare with all of the plants I was successfully finding. You may or may not know that the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is home to one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world - the Hoh (part of Olympic National Park). I figured this was a site worth seeing and though it is not exactly Micranthes habitat, as a botanist it was quite the experience.  

view from Bogachiel Peak in Olympic National park looking down at Lunch Lake.

On my last day I was taking the redeye out of Seattle in the evening so that morning I thought I'd run up one last mountain before heading back to flat, flat Florida. I chose Mt. Ellinor because it had some (very old) populations of M. tolmiei recorded from the summit. Now I have multiple collections of this species, but it is one of my favorites so I figured it wouldn't hurt to grab a few more samples. It was a pretty fun hike with good views of Mt. Rainier but when I got to the top there were no Micranthes to be found. Now, this happens to me fairly frequently but this is notable because I had billed this as my last collection of Micranthes ever. You see I am beginning my fourth year at UF and it is time to get serious with my lab work and start getting some results. For this to happen, I need to stop collecting plants so I can finish with my extractions and ship everything off for sequencing. So, this trip to Washington was it; I'm done with [Micranthes] fieldwork. And for some reason I kind of think it is great that on my last hike ever to search for a Micranthes I didn't find the plant. Perhaps suggesting the work isn't completely done.

I have added a photo album of my 2016 fieldwork here  if you want to check them out. 

(Mis)Adventures in Nome

I have had a pretty wild month and I'm sorry I did not write about my travels in Nome earlier. It's been so long since that trip that my review of Nome will be more a collection of pointers for future Nome-bound travelers rather then my normal adventure journal format. 

Where is Nome? It is in the Seward peninsula bordered by the Bering sea. It is only accessible by plane or boat. 

Where is Nome? It is in the Seward peninsula bordered by the Bering sea. It is only accessible by plane or boat. 

The most important thing to know about Nome is that there are exactly three roads out of Nome and you can do each in a day. When first arriving in Nome don't try to find a map at a normal place one buys maps (i.e. grocery stores, gas stations) but instead go to the Nome Visitor Center on the main drag. There may or may not be a person there and if not they may or may not come back that day, but if you do catch it when it's open buy the Wildlife Viewing guide for $10 and you will have everything you need for your Nome adventure. Each of the three roads are around 80 miles long and this wildlife viewing guide has sufficient maps and will list mile marker highlights and fun facts.  And I love fun facts.

There is only one place in Nome to get a rental car and it is this place: Stampede. Just click on that link because words will not do it justice. The rental cars are all $130 a day and although I wasn't thrilled to be paying so much for a rental car I will say that I got a sweet 2016 Ford Explorer for the trip. To save money I just slept in my vehicle every night off one of the highways, and this also helped justifying the expense. Speaking of expensive things you know those gallon jugs of water you can buy for $0.89? Well, a gallon of water from the store in Nome was $5. Here's a local's trick - on two of the highways there are spots with potable water that the residents use to fill up their jugs. So, in theory, you could buy one jug of water and fill it up on the road as need be. Also, because my time in Alaska was winding down by the time I flew to Nome I filled any extra space in by suitcase with some of the food I had stored up to this point, which was good because like bottled water, food was very expensive. It would have been nice to support the local economy more but everything was very expensive, so between living out of the my car and having brought most of my food, I was able to do Nome relatively cheaply. 

Hey there Musk ox. You should now google "baby musk ox" - Your life will be better for it. 

What's That emerging from the fog in the middle of nowhere? oh just a 100 year old abandoned train. 

I know I talked about McCarthy being weird (in a good way) but, man, Nome is weird (also in a good way). On multiple occasions I thought I was in a different country. Nome is pretty isolated as is but because I was spending all my time alone out on those highways it just felt like another world sometimes. Also, Nome has a long history in mining and every now and then emerging from the fog was some eerily abandoned mining equipment. I had crazy awful weather the entire time I was out there - dense fog, cold, windy, rainy - so much so that I changed my ticket to leave early. The wildlife was cool (Musk Oxen are so great and I hear Nome is a birder's paradise), the nature was rugged and beautiful (when I could see it through the fog), and I found all of the Micranthes I needed to find. But, three days was enough. That said, I'd recommend if you ever get a chance to go to Nome, definitely go. But write me first and I'll give you some pointers.

I know you have been waiting because I sure have. This is the infamous Micranthes nudicaulis. In all of the world it only grows outside of nome and directly across the bering sea in Russia. And it is just so pretty.

The Micranthes Mother Lode

Flight suit!

On the 6th of July after taking a youth group out botanizing in Denali National Park I drove nine hours east to McCarthy, Alaska. I arrived late at night and was greeted by my new friend Morgan, who works for Wrangell St. Elias National Park. I hastily threw together my pack for a 3 to 4 day backpacking trip in the Wrangell Mountains and tried to go to sleep. I was nervous I had forgotten to pack something, and I was also worried about the fact that it'd been awhile since I had last gone backpacking so I didn't sleep that well. Luckily, the next morning I was very excited for the trip, which kept me energized.

Super Cub landing on the Mountain Plateau in front of Morgan. From the Super Cub website: "The Cub is considered by many to be the ultimate backcountry airplane. It can land and take off where no other airplane dares to go." Yup.

We walked across the footbridge into McCarthy (public cars aren't allowed in the town - more on this later) and we were picked up by Elizabeth, a front country and wilderness ranger (and total badass) for the park, and drove to the airstrip. Fun fact - when flying with the Park Service all passengers are required to wear flight suits á la Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Which makes everything better. We had to fly in this special little plane called a Super Cub because, I was told, we had to land on a very short landing strip. This plane barely held the pilot plus one other person, had huge squishy wheels, and seemed to be mostly windows. I've never really seen, nor been in, anything like it. Since we could only fly one at a time Morgan went first because she needed to survey the area for her job. As an aside, while Elizabeth and I were waiting for our plane to return we watched the airport's mechanic walk over to a different plane and inspect it. I was only half paying attention when I saw him produce a roll of duct tape and apply it to the front of the plane. I looked at Elizabeth and as quietly as possible I asked her to confirm that they were fixing one of their planes with duct tape. She nodded and laughed. Great! 

I flew next. I crawled into the passenger seat located behind the pilot and he gave me a brief safety talk that I will sum up as "if we crash none of this safety talk will matter." We took off pretty quickly and the views were spectacular. I considered being nervous but there really wasn't time and it was more fun just to enjoy the ride. At a certain point it seemed we were flying very close to an upcoming mountain. My default thought was that maybe he didn't want to gain too much altitude, which in retrospect doesn't make any sense. It then dawned on me that we were headed towards a large plateau that could, in fact, pass as a place to land. This thought made me nervous which resulted in me giggling incessantly as the plane neared the plateau. Before I could think anything of it we touched down on the rocky mountain ridge and came to a stop not long after that. The clouds were rolling in so I quickly jumped out and the pilot flipped the plane around and took off in a few hundred feet to go get Elizabeth. The views from the plateau were spectacular and I'd barely explored by the time I heard the plane coming in again with the third member of our team. 

Maybe the best panorama I took while in Alaska. Wrangell St. Elias National Park near Nikolai Pass.

I had a few records of Micranthes from near the plateau so we made sure our packs were bear-secure and left them to go explore. In a very short amount of time I found four Micranthes, two of which I had not yet collected in Alaska! Of the two, one was not even recorded from this part of the Wrangells! I was stoked! Additionally, that area was in full bloom so the botanizing in general was excellent. I made my collections, we regrouped, and schlepped on our packs. There weren't any trails back there so Elizabeth had asked around and she had drawn a rough sketch of where we wanted to hike based on advice from locals who had made similar treks. Many of the locals knew of this hike because it was renowned for the scenery - referred to as Nikolai Pass - so we felt pretty confident in the plan. We started walking towards our campsite for that night covering only a small percentage of this plateau. I mention this only because as a botanist who studies small plants I am constantly staring at my feet -- always aware of the flowers that are nearby (but maybe not the fauna). Well, simply through luck we walked right through a small patch of the next Micranthes I had wanted to find! If we had walked ten feet in either direction we wouldn't have seen the plant! I know this because the three of us split up trying to find more plants and we couldn't find any besides the first dozen. It was such a small population that I only collected one specimen. I had not seen this plant, M. calycina, anywhere else in Alaska so it was an important collection to make. As we continued on to where we wanted to camp I saw three more Micranthes, all of which I already had ample collections of in Alaska so I didn't need to stop for them. By the time we made it to where we were setting up our tents I had seen seven Micranthes in one day - three of which were new collections for me. A personal best for sure.

Our first night camping in the wrangells. Epic.

We camped in the most beautiful place ever (see photo) and had a nice, yet very windy, evening. The next day began with us side hilling on a scree slope. We were all worried about how dangerous this was going to be but the slope was more stable than it looked and we made it to the next ridge without incident. The ridge walk from here on out was mellow and we bagged a small unnamed peak along the way. We made it to the end of the ridge to begin our descent down to the creek. And the descent was gnarly. It was steep, brushy, dangerous, hot, and dusty. I'll spare you the details but when we made it down to the creek we all had to splash water on our faces, sit in silence, and regroup. From there anything was an improvement and though we had to walk in the creek in wet boots with water cresting our knees for over an hour it still seemed better than our descent. By the time we made it to a good camp spot for the night we were all exhausted. That day it took us nine hours to cover six miles (six miles normally takes about three hours for me) and when I told Elizabeth this she laughed and remarked that those times sound about right for a "true Alaska hike". We all slept great that night. 

Collecting Micranthes Spicata in Wrangell St. Elias National Park. This species has not been recorded from the park, nor even this region of Alaska. I am covered from head to toes  because the mosquitos were terrible. Worth it for this plant!

At this point we just had to walk along the McCarthy River back to town. Sounds easy right? Wrong. We either had to be bushwhacking up and over riverside bluffs or walking in the river, which at points was deep and moving fast. It was far from easy-going but we made the best of it. At one point after walking in the brush for awhile we emerged out to the river and about 50 feet away was a rock outcropping covered in plants with long-petioled basal rosettes. I just presumed it was a Heuchera or some other member of Saxifragaceae, but I went to check it out anyhow. Much to my surprise it was Micranthes spicata - which is not recorded from Wrangell St. Elias National Park at all and not even anywhere in that region! I was shocked and elated. I had been looking for this plant off and on for the past few weeks and I had begun to think I was never going to find it. It is a microhabitat specialist and it was going to have to be pure luck if I was ever going to find it. And that is exactly what happened. It was a large, healthy population of plants, though limited to a very specific rock-outcropping, so I quickly made my collections while swatting off mosquitos before hitting the trail again. We eventually made it back to town and I knew that I had found my people because as we neared the main street Morgan mentioned really wanting a beer so we agreed to head straight to the bar with wet feet, packs, and all. We had beers and burritos (well not Elizabeth because she was in a National Park Service uniform so no beer for her) and it was one of the tastiest beers ever.

Kennecott mine.

That night I went to the Golden Saloon in McCarthy and mingled with the locals. McCarthy is a bizarre and wonderful place. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that - there is a reality tv show filmed there called Edge of Alaska. There aren't any public vehicles allowed in the town so every time I entered I rode a borrowed bike across the foot bridge. There's also a shuttle and lots of people use ATVS; one of my favorite sights was two women in their 60s/70s blazing through town on a 4-wheeler together. McCarthy arose in the early 1900s in conjunction with the Kennecott copper mine which holds the record as the most lucrative copper mine in the world. As the story goes, because alcohol was forbidden in Kennecott, McCarthy grew as an area to provide illicit services not available in the company town. Then when the mine was abandoned (it's now a ghost town managed by the Park Service) McCarthy almost vanished into oblivion but interests in the area resurged in the 70s by those seeking adventure/isolation and was solidified when Wrangell St. Elias National Park was designated in the 80s. In present day, McCarthy is still very isolated, yet it is filled with a diverse grouping of people who choose to live pretty far removed from the rest of the world. After our night out Morgan and I had a delicious breakfast at the Slow Down Cafe, which I highly recommend next time you are in McCarthy, and we walked through Kennecott and hiked out on a glacier! I've never been that interested in ghost towns (too touristy) but Kennecott was really interesting, and it's fascinating to think of the amount of man hours that went into making such an elaborate and expansive operation so far removed society in the early 20th century. You also have to walk through it to get to the Root Glacier - which is probably one of the coolest things I've done in Alaska (no pun intended). 

I'm so good at changing tires. An important part of being a botanist.

I got a bee in my bonnet to hit the road that night so I retrieved my fixed flat tire (did I mention that I, unsurprisingly, had a flat after driving way too fast down the gravel road leading to McCarthy? Luckily there is an interesting character who fixes flats in town so for a reasonable fee and some light discussion about how we live in a dictatorship my tire was fixed in less than a few days!) and I left the magical town of McCarthy. I drove south for an hour to Thompson Pass just north of Valdez, AK and set up my tent among the grand Chugach Mountains. I meandered around the pass finding three Micranthes that I had not collected in the park. In total, between the Wrangells and Thompson Pass I saw 11 species of Micranthes in five days! I'm not sure I will ever have that much collecting success ever again. 

I'm currently sitting at the airport in Anchorage waiting for my flight to Nome, Alaska. Look up Nome on a map - it is out there. There are quite a few Micranthes in the Seward Peninsula (where Nome is) but I have one plant there - M. nudicaulis - that in the entire world only occurs around Nome and directly across the Bering Sea in Russia. If I find it I will officially have every Micranthes in Alaska. Wish me luck! 

Micranthes ferruginea at Thompson Pass in the Chugach Mountains.

 

 

To the North!

Out botanizing with the Alaska Native Plant Society. I'd like to think I'm pointing at a neat flower in this photo but I'm probably just talking to one of the dogs. Canwell glacier in the background. Thanks Jeff for the photo!

Another great week in Alaska filled with excellent scenery, flowers, botanists, and adventure! During the last weekend in June I met up with the Alaska Native Plant Society for a weekend long camping trip east of the Richardson Highway in mountains sometimes referred to as the Delta Range (it's south of Delta Junction). The first day we hiked up towards the Canwell Glacier. It was really fun to be out hiking with well-versed Alaskan botanists - we saw lots of really cool plants (including a few Micranthes). That night we all camped together which was a nice departure from my normal camp set-up--in addition to just being with other people we had a campfire, homemade cookies, a delicious watermelon, and to top it all off, one of the people there was a talented musician so we had live music! The next day in the rain we took a route up a different canyon and saw many new plants including a coralroot orchid and a vibrant pink primrose. That afternoon I gave a ride to one of the women on the trip back to Fairbanks. It was great to have the company for the drive (she is a biologist who has lived and traveled around the entire world for 50 years!) and then when we got to Fairbanks she offered me dinner, a shower, and a place to sleep at her family's home! I couldn't even being to recount all of the offers of hospitality I have received from Alaskans in my five weeks in the state, but as a nice midwestern-raised girl I never want to impose so I rarely take them up on their offers. Well, this layover in Fairbanks right in the middle of my nine-day trip was a treat for which I am very grateful (I had no real plans on when my next shower would be...). Also, in addition to the warm and welcoming nature of Alaskans I have yet to encounter an Alaskan who doesn't have a good story to tell. It's just something about Alaska I guess.

Driving down the Haul Road. I'm somewhere north of the Arctic Circle at this point. You can see the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the corner of the picture. 

The next morning after homemade sourdough waffles (I mean, really, how did I get so lucky?) I drove north on the infamous Haul Road. The Haul Road parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline all the way to the Arctic Ocean and is considered "one of the most isolated roads in the United States." I've never seen the show but it's the road where the TV show Ice Road Truckers is filmed. The drive itself is kind of brutal because the road is mostly unpaved and you have to deal with lots of large trucks. But, it's worth it. For one, it's pretty wild to think that I drove, hiked, and camped north of the Arctic Circle. I had delayed this trip by a week to give everything more time to melt out and I am really glad that I did because the flowers were in full bloom. In one day I saw six Micranthes, collected four, and two were new species for me! I also bagged Mt. Steere and stopped by the Toolik Lake Research station (at 68° 38' N). When I walked into the dinning hall at the research station the first person I saw was a researcher from UF who was in Alaska to collect moss...because of course I'd run into other researchers from University of Florida in the Middle of Nowhere, Alaska. I stayed for a delicious dinner and returned back to my camp around 9:30 pm. It was a long, but great, day.

Micranthes razhivinii (with buttercups) on Mt. Steere just east of the Haul Road. 

The next morning I got an early start back down the Haul Road, made it to Fairbanks, and turned sharply east towards the Steese Highway for my second attempt to find Micranthes on that road. If you recall I first went down the Steese in early June and it was a frozen tundra with very few plants blooming. This time was much better and there was generally good botanizing but after a 16 mile hike I, disappointingly, didn't find any of the Micranthes that I was seeking. I was also cold, wet, and tired by the time I returned to my car. I did have a fun encounter with a rather brazen hoary marmot but that was about all I have to show for that hike. I decided to hit up the researcher housing at University of Alaska Fairbanks where for $25 I was able to hang my tent out to dry, shower, and get a warm night of sleep. The end of this post brings me up to July 1. I'll note that I had a really fun Fourth of July in Denali with some of my new Alaskan friends and I was feeling pretty rejuvenated for my next epic trip. Which will follow in the next post! 

 

Adventures in the tundra

My last post ended with me in the Kenai Peninsula. I recently heard that is where all the good salmon fishing is happening this time of year so I may need to head back there (which I would have no qualms about). In the past week I have gone on two of my favorite hikes so far this summer, went on an overnight river trip on the Nenana River as part of a plant hunting expedition, and found some very cool Micranthes.

View from Reed lake near hatcher Pass. Looks like the eastern Sierra huh?

This weeks adventures begin on the road to Hatcher Pass between Palmer and Willow. I knew I was in for a long drive that day so I stopped at one of the many trailheads I was passing to burn some energy. The hike I chose was to Reed Lake and wow was it a magnificent hike--Stunning views and big granite mountains. Admittedly part of the reason I liked this hike so much was, as I got deeper into the mountains, it looked just like the Eastern Sierra. Additionally, part of the trail was boulder hopping, which if I'm not tired or in a hurry, is one of my favorite things to do. Though it was an out-and-back hike the scenery was great in both directions and I found some cool plants including a genus in the Saxifragacaeae I'd been wanting to see -- Leptarrhena pyrolifolia.

View from the raft headed down the Nenana at a calm section of the river. 

After my hike I attempted to drive up and over Hatcher Pass (as recommended to me by multiple people around Alaska) but the road was closed for construction so I drove down and around through Palmer and continued on my way back to my home base in Denali National Park. The next day I hopped on a raft trip with some new friends from the area on the Nenana River. I mentioned that I might have some plants in a marshy area along the river, so we spent the night at a secret river guide campsite before hiking out the next day to plant hunt. We didn't find the plant but how cool is plant hunting via raft on a class 4 river? 

I laid low the next day and did some office work because that night (Friday) I was the invited speaker for the Murie Science and Learning Center Science Speaker Series. It was a fun audience and I think the talk went as well as it could have, which is not always how I feel after giving talks. The next day I ventured into the park for the first time. I had been trail running on some of the dirt paths around the visitor center but I hadn't really explored the park yet. So, I drove to Savage River, the farthest into the park personal vehicles can go, and started down the River Trail. That trail was awfully mellow so I quickly left it and headed straight up towards Primrose Ridge. The first part of the hike, well, sucked. I was traversing up the ridge, not following a trail, and it seems I did not chose the best route. I was swamped in willows, on steep terrain, and moving very slowly. I eventually picked my way out of the woods and was relieved to find myself in tundra. From there it was a pretty easy, but super windy, jaunt along the ridge line to the nearest peak, Mount Margaret. Along the way I found four(!) Micranthes and ended up really close to a group of Dall Sheep. I strolled down the other side of the mountain, which was a much more chill route, and caught a park bus the few miles back to my car. Two of the Micranthes I collected were new to me, so between new collections, bagging a peak, and a sheep encounter it was another really, really great Alaskan day. 

Dall sheep on Primrose ridge above the savage river with the Alaska Range in the background

Dall sheep on Primrose ridge above the savage river with the Alaska Range in the background

Micranthes hieraciifolia. The petals on this species can be red or green so I was thrilled to get a picture of this one with its dark red petals. 

I felt obligated to thoroughly celebrate summer solstice because the longest day of the year is really, really long when you are this far north. And when else am I going to experience needing sunglasses at 3 am? So, after recovering from that I decided to squeeze in one last hike yesterday before hitting the road today. I quickly made my way up towards Mount Healy via Bison Gulch. This is a popular hike but I did it in the evening (remember it never gets dark) so I didn't see too many people and the botanizing was excellent! As I crossed the 4000' mark I found quite a few plants that were new to me in Alaska and I enjoyed trying to identify them. I didn't make it all the way to the top because I wanted to get back to my car by 9:30 but a great hike nonetheless.

Poppies on Mount Healy. I've seen poppies before but I've neer seen poppies that are Dayglo yellow! Papaver Macounii.

I'm heading out today for a pretty long stretch. I'm driving the Denali Highway and meeting up with the Alaska Native Plant Society this weekend for a botany field trip in Red Rocks Canyon. I'll then head up to the Haul Road and maybe check out Eagle Summit again. I am very excited. 'Til next time: happy trails!

Life through a headnet

As some people know about me I am not a big fan of driving. If given the option I will ride my bike or walk, but I accept the fact that most of the best adventures are not in my backyard, so I'll hop in my car to find cool stuff to do. Well, that said, I love driving in Alaska. The scenery is simply spectacular, I don't encounter many other cars or people, and I stop fairly regularly to botanize and take photos. Last Monday I took off down the Steese Highway northeast of Fairbanks. The road is mostly unpaved and quickly rises above the tree line providing great views and plant life. Additionally, as I was driving along I could tell there was something special about this highway but it took me a bit to place it - there wasn't a single billboard or power line for 100 miles! It was amazing. I should note this wasn't just a joyride - I have a bunch of plants documented from the highest pass on the Steese...but it was still a frozen tundra up there and flowering plants hadn't yet popped. I did stop a bit lower on the highway to check out some tundra flowers and was thrilled to find Micranthes nelsoniana. It is a pretty common plant but this made for my first collection of this species in Alaska (I did collect it in China) so I was excited. 

 

Looking out over the Steese Highway from Eagle Summit. 

I next drove south down the Richardson Highway towards Delta Junction. I didn't think it could get better than the Steese... and then it did. I stopped at one point to search around a rather obscure lake for Micranthes hieraciifolia. I didn't find that plant but I did see a pair of tundra swans in the wild! It never occurred to me that I would see a wild swan, so, though botanically speaking, that walkabout was not fruitful I'll take my cool fauna sighting. 

I pulled over on the Denali Highway to snap this photo. Just a typical drive. Not that different from Florida really...

I didn't think it could get any better than the Richardson Highway... but then I drove the Denali Highway! The Denali Highway was the first road to Denali National Park but now it is just a lightly-used dirt road running 135 miles east-west between Paxson and Cantwell. And it is spectacular! It was a bit too early for my flowers but I stopped around mile marker 100 and went for a job on the road. It was one of the best runs of my life - epic mountains all around, crisp air, and no traffic. Also, the road had these, um, what's the word? Oh yeah "hills" (we don't have those in Florida). I enjoyed it so much - and it was probably helpful it was 30˚F cooler than I am used to - I ran some of the fastest mile times I have run in awhile.

The next day I swung back to Denali National Park to meet with a group of park employees and participate in a flower walk. That wasn't until the afternoon so I had an enjoyable jaunt up towards Sugarloaf Mountain outside of the park. There isn't a set trail up there so it was fun to pick my way up the side of the mountain. There were tons of Micranthes reflexa in bloom along the way but I already have three collections of that species, so I left that population untouched for future generations. There happened to be a bluegrass band in town that night so I enjoyed some excellent live music  (BrownChicken BrownCow String Band) before hitting the road again the next day.

On Friday I made my way south towards Palmer, AK. For fun I decided to hike up the seemingly ironically named Lazy Mountain. There is nothing lazy about it - there are no switchbacks, it is just straight up. It was a great hike and I'm counting it as my first peak bag of the summer. There were interesting flowers the whole way including northern groundcones (Boschniakia rossica). These plants are holoparasites meaning they are a non-photosynthetic flowering plant that parasitize the roots of alders and other woody plants. Cool stuff huh? 

View from Lazy Mountain. Probably one of my favorite photos so far. 

Parasitic northern groundcone seen on the way up to Lazy Mountain.

I've spent the last few days in the Kenai Peninsula, and holy geeze, if you get one shot at Alaska I'd recommend driving the Seward Highway south of Anchorage and spending a week exploring this part of the state. Yesterday I hiked ten miles and found three different species of Micranthes, I chose a campground on a whim and it just happened to have spectacular views, and today I hiked to a glacier. The glacier hike included a great bear sighting = close enough to get a good look, far enough away to not feel threatened/be threatening. It was a black bear mom and cub climbing up a tree. What more could you want in an Alaska trip?!?

This Friday I am giving a 45 minute (!) talk at the Murie Science and Learning Center at Denali National Park. If you happen to be in the area come check it out! As a final note, for at least the last five years whenever I am on a very long hike and I start to get cold or my feet hurt or I'm just ready to be done hiking I compose haikus to help pass the time. So, I'll be concluding today's post with my favorite haiku from last week:

Look at those rocks
From permafrost upheaval
Micranthes lives here

Morning view from Trail River Campground in Chugach National Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

Watch out for moose (and other advice)

So far Alaska has been epic. My very first hike at Granite Tors (east of Fairbanks) was 15 miles through beautiful, rugged terrain filled with scenic views and lots of wildflowers. Oh and I found my first Micranthes!! I'm now realizing this species (M. reflexa) is very, very common - I already have three geographically disparate populations of this species - but finding the first Micranthes in Alaska was definitely a happy moment. 

Cotton grass in foreground, Granite Tors in Background, Alaskan glory everywhere.

After packing up a wet tent and resupplying in Fairbanks (everything in Alaska is really expensive and so far all of the produce is from Mexico) I was stoked to find an open campsite at Denali National Park. It was still raining so in lieu of dinner I chose my warm, dry sleeping bag. I fell asleep easily to the sound of rain on the tent but awoke around 4 am to a loud tromping in the woods between me and the next campsite. After a brief internal debate I unzipped the rainfly and looked out (remember at 4 am in Alaska the sun has already been up for an hour) and about 20 feet from me was a mom and baby moose. The calf hung close to the mom's side, was probably about three feet tall, and was as cute as you are imagining. I was honestly too groggy to be afraid so I looked at the mom and she looked at me, and then she walked off in the other direction. It was all pretty great.

The next day still reveling in my moose sighting I drove just north of the park to Bison Gulch to meet up with the Denali National Park botany crew for a flower walk. We spent a few hours walking up towards Healy Mountain but due to our high latitude we quickly entered the alpine zone. And oh man was it awesome! The botany crew leader was identifying every plant we saw with fun facts and even identified some of the lichens and a Selaginella! There is really magnificent botanizing up here and being with a group of people who knew the flora so well was quite a treat. I learned a dozen or so new species and was happy that I recognized most plants to family and genus probably as a result in my interest in the floras of California and the Pacific Northwest. 

Barnacle Saxifrage (Saxifraga eschscholtzii) seen in Bison Gulch north of Denali National Park.

Alpine Meadow Rue (Thalictrum alpinum) seen in Bison Gulch North of Denali National Park.

I spent the rest of the day meeting various employees around the park and distributing fliers for the Denali Flower Finder Project. That night, which was Friday, I had researcher housing at the Murie Science and Learning center which equals a dry place to sleep and a hot shower. After this successful day was winding down I realized I had officially been in Alaska for one week  -- so to celebrate I checked out the 49th State Brewery outside of the park, chatted with the locals, and listened to bluegrass. 

On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining a group of teachers on a retreat to the Teklanika field campus in the park as the guest scientist. We went on two wildflower walks and I talked about my research with Micranthes and the Denali Flower Finder Project. They were a really cool group of people and I greatly enjoyed sharing my love of plants and science with them. 

View from near the Teklanika field campus of the Teklanika river and alaska range.

It's now time to hit the road. It still feels a little early for most of my Micranthes but at least it will be sunnier up north! Until then, remember you do run from moose but you don't run from bears. 

On my way!

I'm sitting on the plane about halfway between Florida and Alaska (oh hey Canada!) and I figured I should start my blog. I hopefully have three (yes three) bags of camping gear below the plane and I'm excited to get back to my roots and into the field. My love of being outdoors is how I got started down this whole botany path [re: trail crew in Iowa when I was 21 and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and had never slept in a tent. That summer, living and working outside, I figured it out]. Although I love my lab at UF, and we do a lot of cool science, it is time to go hiking. 

I'll be spending the next few days in Anchorage to stock up on supplies: bear spray, camp stove fuel, nonperishable food items, etc. Next, I will head to University of Fairbanks to work in the herbarium for a few days. I am serious when I say I really enjoy herbariums, so I am excited to see their specimens and annotate some Micranthes; this will also be the first time I see some of these high-latitude Micranthes. The anticipation is almost too much. There is a lot of cool research happening at UAF so I hope I get a chance to talk to some of the researchers and grad students. I'm sure they will have a few pointers for me too. I really need to talk to someone who has been to Nome, Alaska but more on that topic later. 

I'll attempt to update this blog as much as I can through out the summer, but I think it is fairly safe to presume that my internet time will be limited. That said I'll be doing some cool stuff, so I'll make a valiant effort to stay in touch. Speaking of staying in touch I should thank Nico, my advisor, for buying me one of those emergency satellite locator beacons for the summer and my labmate Cody (check out his research here: www.codycoyotee.com - and I thought I did cool fieldwork!) for being "my person". I'll be checking in with him every day so all you worriers out there (family - I'm looking at you) should know I have safety precautions in place. Hey I'm a scientist - I plan ahead! 

View from the Plane somewhere just north of Juneau, Alaska. I am so excited.

View from the Plane somewhere just north of Juneau, Alaska. I am so excited.

Tree of Life

My co-advisor Doug Soltis gave a TEDx talk about  the first phylogenetic tree of life. I figured this is a good place to start my Fieldwork 2016 blog because a lot of what Doug says can be applied to my research too (just on a MUCH smaller scale). I realize my website is mainly about my adventures doing fieldwork each summer but with my research I hope to contribute to the understanding of the evolution of plants, which is why I enjoy coming into work the other three seasons of the year. 

Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qXz9X-rltE#action=share