Saturday, June 16, 2018

2018 National Cave Rescue Commission Weeklong Seminar, Alabama

 One of my hobbies is to teach cave rescue techniques with the National Cave Rescue Commission (NCRC). This year's weeklong seminar was in Mentone, Alabama. At first I wasn't going to go because May is always a crazy month, but Camp Skyline is such a nice location and I really wanted to see friends. So by shaving a day off at the beginning and end of the trip, I was able to make it work.

I arrived late the night before classes started and joined everyone in the cafeteria in the morning for the opening session. Then we split into our individual classes. This year I taught SPAR-X, or Extended Small Party Assisted Rescue. This was our pilot weeklong class. Our classroom was quite reminiscent of many shorter SPAR classes where we've rented out a house for a long weekend.

We didn't spend much time in the classroom. We were soon out on the cliffs practicing techniques that didn't use much gear or many people.

The cliff site worked really well for us, and we even had some rebelays to negotiate with a patient going both up and down.

The extra time also allowed for practicing some more advanced skills, and stacking different techniques to solve different problems.

We also had some gym time, and at one point we had all the students on rope at the same time!

Many evenings involved the math and physics behind what we were doing. Students loved it, and they even enjoyed the homework!

We also had some time in caves, which is always good for a cave rescue class. For our final scenario, we split into three groups, and each group had to rescue a person through multiple problems. This was a fun traverse--not your usual up/down haul.

The groups did great with the rescue practice.

At the last obstacle near the entrance, each group solved the problem a different way.

The group I was with did a very simple haul that was super fast.

A cave salamander watched us all go by.

Here's a slightly blurry photo of our class. We were all smiles after six days of great SPAR-X fun. This is a super class, and if you ever want to learn how to do rescues with minimal people and gear, I highly recommend it.

The only downside was that I brought a hitchhiker back with me from Alabama, a little deer tick. Fortunately I haven't had any symptoms of Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases, but I'm still not out of the woods yet (even though I sort of am!). This tick identification website was really helpful.
At least I didn't get poison ivy! I just need to figure out a way to drop right into the caves, where there aren't so many things to look out for.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Great Pumpkin Growing Contest

I saw these giant pumpkin seeds in the store and couldn't resist. Wouldn't it be fun to try and grow huge pumpkins? I posed the challenge to our local 4-H club. Who would like to participate in a pumpkin growing contest?

Desert Girl eagerly accepted. Perhaps it was because we had just listened to an audiobook, Sweet Home Alaska, that included a pumpkin-growing contest. She named her two pumpkins Laura and Almonzo, the same as the heroine in the story. Almonzo was also the name of the pumpkin in Farmer Boy.

 It didn't take long for the pumpkins to sprout. And a volunteer bean plant, too.

Then it came time to move them to the garden.

Unfortunately the insects haven't been kind. Would the pumpkin plants even make it? We weren't sure.

Fast forward a week or so, and they are growing well. We're looking forward to flowers next!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Spring Plants on the Sagebrush Discovery Trail

The Sagebrush Discovery Trail is a connection of two-track roads along ditches on the west side of Baker, Nevada. The Snake Valley Trails Partnership is working to improve the very rocky roads to make them more suitable for biking and walking. Right now you can take a jarring mountain bike ride or hike over loose rocks, but hopefully someday in the not-too-distant future you'll be able to push a stroller or have a kid ride a bike or an elderly person stroll along and not worry about tripping. On the map above, the purple line is the Sagebrush Discovery Trail, divided into several sections.

I often do trail runs on this trail, and if I have my phone with me, I stop and take photos of interesting sights. Since it's spring/early summer, one of those main things is flowers!

In March, I saw my first flower. For this and all the following identifications, I did my best, but am not 100% sure I'm right. If you know your plants and see a mistake, please let me know so I can learn!
It's not very large or colorful, but it is a flower! This little bit of joy is Ibapah spring parsley (Cymopterus longipes var. ibapensis). 

Something similar, but with a little longer and flatter leaves is wide-winged spring parsley (Cymopterus purpurascens), which is a frequent early plant below 9,100 feet.

It doesn't take long for the Ibapah spring parsley to go to seed, with purple seed pods.

These tiny erigeron pop up in just one place along the trail. They are compact fleabane (Erigeron compactus) and are still blooming a month after I first saw them.

This non-native red-stemmed filaree or common stork's bill (Erodium cicutarium) is much more common. The seed pods look like little swords, and the kids like to pick them and pretend to sword fight. This plant is the geranium family.

Variable Phlox (Phlox longifolia) decorates a few places, but the flowers don't last long.

This tansy mustard (Descurania sp.) goes to seed fast.

I bet you know this one! Good old common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).

It is so pretty. And although it's non-native, the leaves are edible.

There are a number of shrubs along the way, including spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa). The bush gets a beautiful pink glow to it when it's in bloom.

Check out how this spring parsley has pushed so far out of the ground. I've seen it move small rocks as it grows.

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa) is easy to spot. It often grows next to sagebrush.

Mormon tea or green ephedra (Ephedra viridis) is a distinctive-looking bush.

I was so excited to see this flower. I only saw two clusters. This is showy Townsend daisy (Townsendia floriflora).

Willow (Salix exigua) grows along many of the ditches.

Yellow pea (Thermopsis rhombifolia) is easy to spot. And apparently ants like it.

After nearly a week of rain, I went back out on the trail and found a mushroom! Wow, so unexpected.

Also, these beautiful asters (Aster species).

Equisetum or field horsetail (Equisetum arvense) grows right next to the creek. It's such a primitive-looking plant that makes me think of dinosaurs.

The Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides) has little seeds. It's a perennial bunchgrass, and as the name suggests, was used by the Indians.

Woods' rose (Rosa woodsii) is the only native wild rose in the area, so it's easy to identify. And it smells so good! Just watch out for those thorns.

 Morning glory (Convulvulus arvensis) is a non-native plant that drives me crazy in my garden. It apparently also grows when there's less moisture.

The bright orange globemallow (Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia) always makes me smile. We don't have many orange flowers, so this one is easy to identify. It occasionally blooms later in the summer if we get a lot of rain.

Ready to get out and see some of these flowers for yourself? The trail is on the primitive side, but it's beautiful!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cave Management Training at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

At the end of April I had the opportunity to travel to Mammoth Cave National Park to help teach an interagency Cave Management class. I chose to stay in one of the historic cabins in the park.

It was a nice space.

But this warning about the Kentucky Woods Mice eating anything left out gave me pause. I didn't really want to share my room.

I was one of the first presentations up, talking about cave management plans. Hopefully I managed to make the subject entertaining!

The class was held in a classroom in the morning, field trip in the afternoon, and optional activity in the evening style. Our first afternoon we went and toured the historic section of the cave.

The Mammoth Cave historic entrance is impressive. There are many more cave entrances to the longest cave in the world, at over 400 miles long.

We checked out their decon stations. Visitors cross these on the way out of the cave to help avoid spreading white-nose syndrome (WNS). WNS has been found in the park.

I was also very interested in their trail restoration, which included new hardened trails and lint curbs to keep the lint from people's clothes from spreading throughout the cave.

We saw the tuberculosis huts, which were created to help cure that disease. The experiment didn't go so well.

We also visited the bathrooms. Yep, bathrooms in a cave. It was a strange juxtoposition.

That evening we went over to nearby Diamond Caverns, a privately-owned show cave. Owner Gordon Smith gave us a warm welcome.

We split into two groups for cave tours, and I joined owner Stan Sides' trip. Diamond Caverns is really well decorated, with nice infrastructure including LED lights and lint curbs.

They just built the National Cave Museum and Library on the property. I was at the groundbreaking 2.5 years ago during the National Cave and Karst Management Symposium. It was exciting to see so much progress! The museum isn't open to the public yet, but they let us in.

Here's one of the many rooms. I started wandering around and found a couple boxes dedicated to Nevada. I asked if I could look through one and was granted permission.

Inside I found a booklet entitled "Unrivaled beauty of Lehman Caves." I was so excited, I had never seen this before! I asked for permission to look at it and take photos, and Gordon was so kind to permit that.

Here's the first page:
A horseman rode across the hill
And cursed his luck which was so ill
Thought he "indeed I seem to be
The larget of adversity."
Just then a miracle was wrought
As though in answer to his thought
His horses hoof had broken through
The hillside's shallow crest.
The loyal broken-legged steed
Fell helpless on his breast.
The man knelt by his horses side
The rock and turf away he pried
And through the opening in the ground
Here's what our gllant hero found.
Of volume great, a spacious room
Enveloped in a twilight gloom.
As on and on he winds his way,
For naught his footsteps hold can stay
Our hero stands in black amaze
At what now meets his anxious gaze
Let's follow him, our trusty guide
And see what Nature doth confide.

The booklet goes on in verse for a tour of the cave.

There were other pamphlets about Lehman Caves that I had never seen before. This museum and library is certainly a treasure trove!

One day we focused on cave inventory and mapping. After the classroom sessions, we went over to Dixon Cave, a gated cave near the historic entrance, and practiced inventory. It was nice to go down near the gate and feel the cool air. This was once part of Mammoth Cave, but the collapse at the historic entrance cut it off. Now it's home to many bats.

There were so many flowers blooming. This dwarf iris was near Dixon Cave.

Then we went into a section of Mammoth Cave and practiced using a compass, clinometer, tape, and later a DistoX to do cave survey. In the evening, several cave mapping gurus showed off cave maps and explained the process and software they used to make them. Two of the presenters had drafted over 500 caves each!

One day we talked about cave restoration and then took a field trip to Crystal Cave, once a tourist cave and now part of Mammoth Cave. The parking area is near an old cabin and the ticket window.

We descended a long staircase that went past a rock engraved with Floyd Collins' name. Crystal Cave is a bit off the main track, so he was trying to find a cave closer that he could develop and get rich with. While he was in Sand Cave, a rock shifted and trapped his foot. The ensuing media circus lasted for weeks, but unfortunately he didn't survive. The book Trapped by Roger Brucker covers this memorable occasion.

We were greeted inside Crystal Cave by a lot of cave crickets.

I wasn't kidding about a lot!

We saw lots of broken formations and gypsum crust along the way. The cave had been vandalized by a local rock shop to sell speleothems. Rangers discovered the speleothems and shut down the operation. The speleothems have been brought back into the cave, some still with prices on them. Lots of great restoration has occurred, but there's still lots more to do.

That night we went to a different entrance of Mammoth Cave and learned how to do cricket inventories. It was quite interesting, plus we saw Frozen Niagara, a very beautiful part of the cave.

Their pillar of moral support (Lehman Caves also has one).

Our last class day included cave safety and practicing vertical caving skills.

We finished with a round of cave management Jeopardy, which was quite entertaining.

After a fun Mexican dinner, we went to Hidden Canyon Cave in Horse Cave, Kentucky. The cave goes right under downtown, and it was incredible thinking about how polluted the cave had gotten and then how much it had been cleaned up. These caves are so connected with the surface.

A few other sights from the trip:
I loved this shower timer.

The old railroad that went to Mammoth Cave.

I went on morning runs and saw the Echo River resurgence.

And the River Styx.

And the Green River, which I canoed with my family a few years ago.
It was a beautiful trip. Watch out for ticks, though, they are thick and carry so many diseases. And the class was just really great to attend.
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