Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Awesome 3.5-Mile Loop in Great Basin National Park: South Fork Baker

 I wanted to do a short hike in Great Basin National Park, so I headed up to the Baker Creek trailhead. My plan was to go 1.6 miles up that trail, then take the cutoff to South Fork Baker and come down that. Altogether, it's about 3.5 miles with some elevation gain (like just about every trail in the park!).

The trail starts through low vegetation, with distant views of mountaintops.

Since it was early August, the flowers were very different from those blooming in June. Here's sulphur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), so bright yellow that it really stands out.

And this little white flower with the long bladder behind it is Douglas' Catchfly (Silene douglasii). I don't see it often, so I was pretty excited.

This buckwheat looks so different from most of the others, and it's found in many places in the park in the 8,000-9,000 foot range. It's Redroot Buckwheat (Eriogonum racemosum). It grows up to one or two feet high, and the pretty pink flowers grow along the stems.

As the trail goes higher, you leave the switchbacks through the sagebrush steppe and enter the riparian area. Aspens line the trail. 

And at 1.6 miles, you come to a sign and a bench. The sign points the way to the South Fork Baker loop. The bench is a new addition this year.

Nestled among the conifer needles on the forest floor is Longstalk Starwort (Stellaria longipes).

Then it was time to cross Baker Creek on the footbridge. The creek has gone down a lot from its peak flow in June.

 It's a steep uphill from the bridge up to some ponderosa pines on the ridge. Then it's a gentle descent into one of the most beautiful places in the park, the big South Fork Baker meadow. The trail runs along the edge of it, dancing into the aspens.

The Timothy (Phleum pratense) looked really cool backlit.


I also noticed this big, blooming bush. I didn't know what it was, but when I uploaded the photo to iNaturalist, it suggested Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), which I think fits. 

South Fork Baker Creek is such a pretty creek. For a short stretch, the creek is right next to the trail. Then it starts cascading down a steep section.

I spotted a glimpse of red, and it turned out to be Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

Somewhere along this next section of trail, I heard a "Hello," looked behind me, and found a trail runner. I stepped to the side so he could pass. He was the only other person I saw on the loop.

This bush was another surprise for me, but fortunately iNaturalist helped me out here, too. This is Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor).

This Fritillary butterfly was hanging out on the sulphur buckwheat.

Near the trailhead I found some Seep Monkeyflower (Erythranthe guttata)--apparently there's been a genus name change. Generally scientific names stay the same and common names can vary. But once in awhile, someone takes a closer look at a group of flowers and finds out that they are in a different genus. DNA analysis has been changing things extra fast over the past 20 years. 

And I'll end with a favorite: Columbia Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum).
This is a very fun trail with lots of variety, and differing wildflowers all summer, so it's worth doing more than once.

If you're interested in using iNaturalist, there's a Great Basin National Park page set up. And I've been impressed with how you can upload a photo of a plant, animal, or insect, and it will give you some best guesses.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Making Apricot Jam

 We've been blessed with a bounty of apricots this year. In fact, more apricots than we can ever remember getting. We've shared with friends and family, as there are so many that we can't use them all ourselves. We've been trying to preserve them, and the kids have been a major part of that this year. Desert Boy kind of likes it, "because that's what survivalists would do." Desert Girl is okay with it if we can listen to an audiobook while processing.

So far we've dried apricots, frozen apricots, canned apricots (I even bought a steam canner, which I like so much better than my old water bath canner), made apricot nectar, made apricot crisps, and made apricot jam. The kids can now do the canning on their own from start to finish (and will be entering some in the county fair). I figured it was time for them to learn how to make jam.

This year I've been using Ball Low or No Sugar Pectin, and I really like it. The recipe is simple: 8 cups apricots, 1 1/3 cups juice (we use orange juice), 6 Tablespoons pectin. Mix it all, mash it, and boil it.

 Then ladle into prepared (sanitized) jars. The funnel makes it much easier.

Put on lids and rings, then put on the steam canner. When the dial on the lid goes into the green zone, we set the timer for 20 minutes (time is dependent on elevation). 

Here is Desert Boy doing his batch. I had them each do their own batch.

The final product! They learned how to check if the jars sealed properly. They still have to make labels, then they will be ready to eat, give away, and enter in the fair.

The kids seem to enjoy working in the kitchen, and I sure enjoy being in there with them. They've done some nice cookoffs. And now we'll be able to enjoy the taste of apricots for many months!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Ashcroft Observatory, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah

 We recently had the opportunity to visit Ashcroft Observatory, run by Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We had checked their Facebook page and saw that they opened at 9:45 pm. The Google map directions were a little off, so we toured the neighborhood a bit, but fortunately found it in the end.

From the SUU Farm, head south on Westview Drive. There's a big turn in the road, with a steep hill going south blocked off with big boulders. Go around the boulders and up the road to the gate.

While we were waiting for the gate open, we used our binoculars to look at Jupiter and its Galilean moons (the four moons found by Galileo hundreds of years ago). We also checked out the moon, about half full. Surprisingly, even with it so bright, I was still able to capture a little Milky Way over the observatory (see photo above).

Our big group (about 25) was split into two, and we joined the first group into the observatory, which sits about 12. Our guide then showed us some wonders of the night sky with the 14-inch Celestron telescope. I loved the rotating roof! We saw Jupiter, Saturn, the ring nebula, and a globular star cluster. He said that on nights with fewer people, they see more objects. I didn't mention to him that at Saturday night's astronomy program at Great Basin National Park, 200 people showed up and the lines at the telescope were really long!

After we saw those objects, we traded with the other group and went outside. We got a close-up look of craters on the moon and then also a constellation tour. Despite a few clouds, it was a good night to be outside.

The Ashcroft Observatory is not a research observatory. Instead, SUU partners with the Great Basin Observatory in Great Basin National Park. You can see some really amazing photos on their website. They also publish quarterly newsletters, After Dark.

If you have a chance to visit the Ashcroft Observatory, it's a fun experience! And it's free!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Return to the Black Hills of South Dakota

 In late June, I put the kids on a plane to Massachusetts to spend two weeks with cousins. Then I headed to a different plane and went to Rapid City, South Dakota, to spend a week in the Black Hills. The occasion was the 200th mile Reunion for Jewel Cave.

Jewel Cave was my first National Park Service job, after my sophomore year of college. It changed my life, making me want to continue a career with the NPS and continue caving.

I got to the cave in time for a special tour led by Rene Ohms, one of the explorers who has discovered an incredible amount of cave.

During the tour, I was reminded how beautiful a cave it is. It had been 23 years since I had last been in--way too long!


I also admired the in-cave telephones--something we'd like to get for Lehman Caves.

The next day I went to Custer High School, where there a bunch of activities. In one room was the map of Jewel Cave. It's huge! There were also some stats on the wall, and I saw that I had been through a tiny passage called the Miseries three times. I had only remembered two, so I guess it's true I really do forget the parts of caves that are not so pretty.

Speaking of tiny passages, the Pahasapa Grotto had a squeeze box for anyone who wanted to see just how tiny a passage they wanted to squeeze through. This brought back memories of my bruised sternum for doing such a thing in Texas in February. Wow, we cavers sure know how to have a good time, ha!

The talks were great. I didn't get any photos of talks on Saturday, but on Sunday morning I did get a photo of Five Jewel Cave greats who were up on stage: Rene Ohms, Mike Wiles, Dwight Deal,  Jan Conn, and Art Palmer.

The reunion ended at noon, and afterwards I joined some folks for rock climbing. I got on the rock briefly, but then a huge thunderstorm rolled in.

After a delicious group-cooked homemade meal, we looked through some old papers. I loved the scale and north arrow on one of the Conn's maps.

I had a few extra days to spend--the kids were happy with cousins, my husband was taking care of the animals, and my plane ticket was the same cost no matter how long I stayed. So I went on a 20-mile run through the Black Elk Wilderness.

Near the end I went up Harney (Black Elk) Peak. I had been up it several times during the two seasons I worked at Jewel Cave.

On my last full day, I wanted to see some old sights. I took a quick peek at Wall Drug with the awesome Jackalope.

And then I went to Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  This is right off the Interstate and commemorates the 1,000+ missile silos located across the Great Plains ready to be launched during the Cold War. Several hundred still exist. Oh, my. I started my trip at Delta 09, and luckily arrived when a volunteer was doing a program and so got to ask lots of questions.

They've taken the nuclear warhead off, but the missile still stands in the silo. 

Next I went to Delta-01, but I hadn't reserved a ticket weeks in advance to look at the Launch Control Facility. Tours are limited to just six people at a time. A reason to return!

Finally I went to the Visitor Center (all three sites are at different Interstate exits). It was quite crowded. The exhibits were fascinating. There were also some tongue-in-cheek, which I appreciated. 

I needed time to digest some of that content, so I headed south, through a tiny part of Badlands, then through the National Grasslands. Everywhere I was seeing fields of yellow, which turned out to be sweet yellow clover, a non-native.

I did a quick stop at Wind Cave, but the elevators were broken so I couldn't go in. But I could see the prairie dogs.

That night a new acquaintance was playing at the Custer Beacon. Before he went on, a ukulele band played. 

My last day I went on the Little Devil's Tower hike in Custer State Park. It was great!

I also went on the Needles Highway and watched while this full-size tour bus took over half an hour to go through this narrow tunnel. The people waiting on both sides were not happy.

It was great reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and revisiting sites that I had faded memories of. I hope to be back again soon, to help with some cave exploration and also in 2022 for the NSS Convention. Woohoo--the kids will get to go on that trip too, and I look forward to showing them this amazing place. 
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