Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bryce, and then some

We had issues at work on Wednesday. We left the office all bright and cheery, ready to zap and count fish. Unfortunately halfway through the fish zapping and counting process our fish-zapper (technically called a backpack electroshocker) had a bit of a temper tantrum and would shock no more. Those sculpins and brown trout aren’t going to count themselves!!!
Suddenly finding ourselves as a field crew without functioning field instruments we had a team huddle and proceeded onto Plan B: Windshield Biology. We spent the next several hours scoping out access to streams that we were supposed to survey in the next week. The current bone-dry nature of those streams raises doubts about their resident fish population. Moral of the story, you can’t find threatened fish in streams without water.
Thursday was far more successful: our stream had water and our shocker worked. Our presence must have been the most exciting event in the area because we had a very attentive audience of small children for the length of our sampling stretch. Into our normal regiment of catch, measure, weigh, release we inserted an extra step. A surprising number of fish ended up in the waiting hands of future biologists, where the scaly specimens received careful inspection before bouncing back into the stream.
After work on Thursday I headed down to Bryce National Park with two of my coworkers, Matt and Heather. Bryce Canyon is incredible. In the south west corner of Utah, at 9,000 feet, it sits above the desert. A combination of geology and weather (high number of freeze-thaw days) have eroded the canyons into armies of orange tinted pillars (hoodoos they are called).
Ten years ago we passed through Bryce on a family road trip. It was December, and I clearly remember my dad dragging us out of the warm car, pointing out into the blank screen of snow and informing us that this would be a spectacular site, if only we could see it. Visibility was not an issue this time and it was incredible. Pinnacles and walls in washes of pink, orange, and white stood in stark contrast against the cerulean blue of the sky. Ponderosa and Bristle Cone Pines dotted slopes and perched precariously atop eroding spires, roots curling around air where rock once stood.
We camped in the park, and froze our butts off. Despite our college degrees and designation as “biologists” none of us made the intellectual connection that it might be cold at 9,000 feet. It was a wonderful 75 F in the day and an unpleasant 45 F after dark (hats, sweatshirts, gloves…. all at home in 100 F Provo, UT). In three days we hiked all but one of the main trails in the park (the park is actually not very big) and went on a trail ride. Matt had never been on a horse so Heather and I thought it would be quite entertaining to get him on one. We spent 2 hours meandering around into, and then back out of, a canyon. The horses, well trained in the etiquette of trail horse, were on both auto-pilot and cruise control, concerned only with keeping their nose in the tail of the preceding horse. Matt, on a mule named Chubby, brought up the rear. We all survived our weekend adventure; however, I suspect the Native Aquatics field crew might be moving a little slower than usual come Monday.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Utah adventures continue

Generally speaking, a lack of blog entries can either be attributed to a lack of noteworthy events or too many noteworthy events in my life. If there is nothing blatantly exciting in my life I have no inspiration. If life gets too exciting I have no time. I would say that my current literary dry spell is due more to the latter, coupled with a healthy dose of extreme laziness.
I am sure I filled June with noteworthy adventures, but none are swimming to the surface of my mind, so let’s just jump to July. What a month!

Red Kayak, White Water, Blue Lake…
In celebration of the 4th of July, a coworker, Heather, and I hijacked (with permission) a pair of kayaks that had been collecting dust and spiders in the lot behind the Division of Wildlife offices. After informing us that these were “lake” kayaks my boss asked us where we were taking them….. Utah Lake, Utah Lake via three miles of the Provo River…
By “lake” kayak my boss was referring to the length (14 feet), completely flat unstable shape, and lack of spray skirt. None of this would have been an issue except we launched ourselves down a narrow (ish) river, with current and riffles. I spent the next 2 miles exploring ways to submerge myself in knee deep, 50 degree water. In the more stable 12 foot kayak Heather seemed to have none of these problems, and spent a significant amount of time watching me wrestle my boat and chase down escaping hats and water bottles. We eventually floated to the edge of the lake where bucolic scenes of beavers, muskrats, and mutant feral ducks were replaced by screaming jet skis, wakeboard boats, and Utah’s standard sized monster trucks. In Utah, entertainment value is directly proportional to the size and decibel level of the motor.

Meanwhile, at work (yep, I actually work 40 hours week) the frog chasing season is coming to a close and I am settling into my new role as professional fish zapper. Electroshocking is a standard method for surveying fish populations. Simply put, to implement this survey technique you jump into a stream and apply an electrical current. Wait! Electricity and water! Woah!
It’s not as sketchy as it may sound. We wear waders (no skin-water contact) and use nets to chase down the fish. The fish are zapped just hard enough for them to momentarily jump and freeze; giving us only a moment to scoop them up before they swim off. It’s fun, like that gopher bopping old-school arcade game, and when you mess up and stick your hand in the water… Zap!

In other news, I went rafting down the San Juan River in southwestern Utah, and it was AWESOME!
Here are some photos:
River House ruins.

The flotilla, I captained the small blue one.

Rana pipiens (leopard frog)not actually from this trip, but I thought it was a neat picture.

donkeys in the desert.

Me, displaying some awesome river fashion (I lost my big hat on the 4th of july adventure and was trying to make do with a bandana)

I spent half an hour watch a half dozen lizards use an ant's nest as an all-you-can-eat buffet. The winged reproductives (alates) were leaving and the spiny and side blotch lizards were going nuts. I was sitting two feet from the nest and they hardly looked my direction as they snatched up tasty little ant snacks.

...toad... awww isn't it cute?

Pottery shards, the crunch of history in a footstep (just kidding, but we did see a lot of these, and if you weren't careful you could definitly walk right through them with out noticing)

Monarch's cave ruins

Petroglyphs at procession panel. The one in the middle nicely portrays my feelings I think.

Jon demonstrates proper use of binoculars- for lizard identification.

The Leopard lizard was a little irked that I noosed it, so it chomped the noose.