Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Death Valley Trip

This past weekend our lab group jam packed two SUVs full of gear and people and headed out to Death Valley to clean up the field site and do some additional data collecting.

I've never been driving through California, Nevada, or Arizona before, so it was cool to get that far out west. I've officially stayed in California now, so I should really update the list of states I've been to as a result of this trip.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US that forms as a result of the damming of the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam

I drove past the Grand Canyon two times during this trip, but yet I have still not seen it. This is unacceptable.

Our main purpose for this trip was to try to retrieve as much field equipment as possible. That included animal traps, wire, and lost i-buttons. Ian, equipped with a map and metal detector, found a good number of traps, but none of the i-buttons. i-buttons are data recorders that are attached to tagged animals, and you get the data back when you trap the animal again. The obvious flaw with this technique is that animals die or get eaten and you just never see them again. The hope was that we would find some lying on the surface, get some additional data, and also save $20 a pop on each data logger. Sadly, that didn't happen. For some reason, a lot of the rocks in the area were setting off the metal detector, so it was a waste of time using that particular piece of equipment. We checked any coyote scat we saw on the surface for i-buttons, but this also turned up nothing.
A panorama of the field site.

Another shot of the field site, the big bush-like things are mesquites.

The other data we collected were branches and thorns and leaves from mesquite bushes. The project was on how the woodrats in Death Valley survive, and they make their middens in these horrific mesquite bushes that will stab you even if you look at them. I've never held so many thorny branches in my life. The idea was to bring back samples to see how much water the woodrats are getting from these plants. This involved carefully stripping leaves off of the branches, and placing the branches and leaves in separate collection bags. We'll weigh and dry the leaves and branches to see how much water they have back in the lab. I think I still have mesquite spines stuck in my fingers.
An adorable young (and healthy) woodrat that was trapped in our campsite!

The whole trip was enjoyable over all. I got to bond some more with my lab mates, and I find camping to be fun in general anyway. However, Friday evening the wind really picked up and it didn't subside for the rest of the weekend. This made every task much harder, and I'm glad I brought ear plugs. Otherwise, I doubt I would have gotten much sleep with the flapping of our tent. In addition to the wind, there was this raven on our camp site that was awake at the crack of dawn making this horrible "warking" noise. It sounded funny but was annoying Fred.

The view from our campsite.

We (as in the Smith Lab girls) proved ourselves to be giggly and upbeat throughout the weekend. Meghan, Fred, and I crammed ourselves into a tent that was really only intended for two people, and hilarity ensued. The first night Fred and I were in the vehicle that arrived early to set up camp, and we had an early dinner with Ian and Summer before calling it a fairly early night. I had gotten a little sleep when the second car finally arrived, and Meghan had her sleeping pad and bag to get into the tent with us. The sleeping pad was more like a raft, and it was a ridiculous effort at first to try and get it in the tent over me and Fred. We had a pretty good laugh about it. Meghan is officially the happiest most excitable person I know, regardless of what time of day it is.

The afternoon of our last full day was spent in Titus Canyon, scoping out midden locations. It was full of amazing geology and I did a lot of climbing around on rock faces looking for little caves.

A fairly large cave on a rock face in Titus Canyon. There was a huge midden inside, and some bones from something that was roughly sheep sized.

View from the exit of Titus canyon. All that tan stuff is dust being blown around by the wind. The wind didn't let up for a full 48 hours.

I took more pictures, but there are more than I want to put up here. I'll probably put them in an online album to share, where the beauty of Death Valley can be done justice.

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