Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bike riding and hiking under the almost full moon

 Friday night was the night before the full moon, which means the moon rises before the sun sets. So I got the kids to go with me for a bike ride (while my husband attended a school event, bless him). The moon was already quite high as we started out.

It didn't take long for the mountain shadows to stretch out across the valley and tap the mountains on the other side.

Despite the pending darkness, Desert Girl asked if we could go on an adventure hike down a gully. I couldn't resist. So we took off, trying to wend our way through the brush.

I had Desert Boy pose to hold the moon.

Eventually the canyon got too brushy, so we climbed out and walked on the higher ground. Along the way we found a desiccated rabbit.

It was getting pretty dark as we biked back, and I was able to adjust my camera settings to get a pretty good closeup of the moon. It's so cool seeing the lava fields and craters that are so far away.
 The next few days the moon will be setting in the early morning, and that is always a pretty sight too.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Bat Banding

 Last night was the last night of the Nevada BatBlitz, a weeklong event held annually at different locations around the state. (I wrote about the 2014 one here.) This year it was held in and near Great Basin National Park, and I participated two nights. This night we headed to Rose Guano Cave in the beautiful evening sunlight, scrambling up the rock with a bunch of gear.

This old sign soon will be updated, as recent studies have found that millions of bats use this cave for a night or two as they fly south in late summer. Where do they spend the summer? Hmmm, well north of Rose Guano Cave probably, but only a few locations have been identified, and certainly not enough for millions of bats. Lots of other questions remain about their migration routes (they don't use Rose Guano Cave on their way north in the spring, so where do they go?) and wintering and summering grounds.

Nearby is a beautiful arch. Sometime I'll have to explore it more.

The views into Spring Valley are great. In the distance is a wind farm, Nevada's only wind farm. Wind farms cause a lot of bat mortalities due to the pressure difference as the blades go around. A bat doesn't have to be struck by a blade to die, but the barotrauma (pressure difference) can cause their lungs to burst. Fortunately, the wind farm has tried to reduce bat mortality by turning off the blades when large numbers of bats come out of the cave.

You can smell the cave before you get to it due to the massive amounts of guano in it. That guano attracted attention and a mining claim was filed on it. An adit was built into the guano chamber in 1926, and early miners sold the guano as fertilizer and possibly to make explosives. Guano is high in phosphates and nitrates. The note on the wall below says: Danger Positively No Trespassing Rose Guano Mining Claim.

Located near that wall is this pole with sensors on it. A pole on the other side of the cave entrance looks similar. These sensors send a beam across, and when it is broken, that beam break is counted. There are two arrays on one side so bat egress (exit) and ingress (entrance) can be counted. The data is transmitted real time to the wind farm, so they know when to turn the wind turbines off. These sensors have helped biologists understand a lot more about bat use of the cave.

As some folks were setting up the gear to trap the bats, I ventured into the cave entrance a bit, the first time I've ever done that. We could see a deep pit below us that went down into the dark. The bats go further back into the cave. The smell of the guano was so strong that after a few minutes I was feeling a little queasy, and we weren't even next to the guano! It's amazing that the bats can withstand such high levels of ammonia.

Because so many bats fly out of this cave, only a single trap is used, called a harp trap. Fishing line is strung vertically, and when the bats encounter it, they slide down into the canvas bag at the bottom.

Here's a view of the cave entrance from inside. Before long the bats would start flying and darkness would descend.

Putting some high-tech finishes on the harp trap--pool noodles, to help the bats from getting injured.

Once everything was set up, we just had to wait for the bats to start flying. Folks from Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), BLM, Great Basin National Park, Nevada Natural Heritage Program, Death Valley National Park, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area were helping.

Before long the bats started exiting. One comes out first, circles around, and reports back to the others. Then just a few stream out at a time, and then it can be hundreds per minute. They generally head south, towards the agricultural fields, where they will eat their weight in insects every night. Some will return to the cave for another night, others continue their trip south.

As they fell in the harp trap, those with rabies shots picked them up and determined gender, age (adult/juvenile), tooth wear, and reproductive status. A small metal band was attached to the arm.

Here is one of the banding stations.

It took about a minute or two to process each bat, then it was released.

We banded about 250 bats in less than two hours. This brings the total that NDOW has banded this summer up to 5,000! Wow. Hopefully the bands will help researchers learn lots more about where these bats spend their lives.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Crystal Ball Cave with Kids

 In early August we met up with some friends who were planning on moving out of the area soon. They hadn't ever been in Crystal Ball Cave, a cave I really enjoy (and have blogged about). So we set up a tour for a Saturday afternoon and headed to Gandy, Utah to meet Jerald Bates. Jerald is one of the site stewards for the cave, helping the Fillmore office of the BLM manage the cave. He agreed to lead us on a tour, and we hiked up to the cave entrance. Even our dog Henry hiked up, but he had to wait outside.

Just inside we were awestruck by the amount of spar covering the ceiling and walls and even floor in places. It is partially translucent, and Desert Boy was awed by it. Walking into Crystal Ball Cave feels like walking into a geode. It is so crystal-filled and beautiful.

I was trying out a new cave light, a Manley20. I was really happy with the neutral light and broad, even lighting it provided.

I wasn't the only one taking photos! Deanna has been really supportive as I've delved into selling some of my photos over the past year and a half. She's also been encouraging me to try more manual settings and experimenting with some cave photography.

At one time Crystal Ball Cave was wired with electrical lights, but those have since been taken out. All visitors now have to bring their own lights and good footwear for the rough trail.

An iconic stop on the tour is the old ladder, which they put up to explore a dome. The dome didn't go far, but the ladder stayed and makes a great talking piece. The cave isn't super large, but large enough to be quite interesting.

Superimposed on the spar are some other speleothems such as stalactites and stalagmites.

Did I mention I had fun taking photos in the cave? Oh my goodness, I think I took over 300. Fortunately I won't post that many!

I think Jerald had a good time sharing his expertise--and his jokes--with the kids.

He allowed the kids to crawl a bit and they liked it so much they decided to keep crawling, even when the passage was plenty high.

More kid exploring while parents enjoyed the beautiful cave from a more sedentary position.

The cave has a number of domes, so in the middle of the cave you have to walk stooped over, but then you reach a dome and can suddenly stand up and look up and can't always see the top of the dome.

The spar continues throughout the cave, although it's character changes quite a bit. The colors vary, as well as the amount of erosion.

Near the end, we paused to learn more about the amazing paleontology in the cave. (If you'd like to learn more, check out Timothy Heaton's in-depth paper.) Bones in the cave have included those from Smilodon cat, a new species of skunk (now extinct), two species of horses (much smaller than the kind that came from the Old World), and camelops. It sure was a different world around Crystal Ball Cave at one time.

Here's a closeup of a horse hoof, along with some other assorted bones.

Then it was time for a goofy photo of all the kid cavers. Hopefully we can all go caving again at the July 2016 NSS Convention in Ely.

Leaving the cave didn't mean the fun ended, though. We had great views of the westernmost arm of Lake Bonneville. It's hard to imagine a lake filling most of the valley when today it is so dry.

We were ready for some more water, so we headed to the southern part of Spring Mountain to Gandy Warm Springs (the Utah Geological Survey has a nice write-up about it).

The water was running quick and clear and at about 81 degrees. In the late afternoon light it was gorgeous.

The wetness allows ferns to grow. It is such a special spot!

And of course every trip that involves water is a great one!
p.s. If you ever go here, sit with your back in this little waterfall and you'll get a free back massage!
p.p.s. For more about the cave and warm springs, check out my book!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Looking for Lichens up Mount Washington

 I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to travel with Dr. Brad Kropp from Utah State University to look for lichens up Mount Washington. He's doing a lichen inventory for Great Basin National Park.

What are lichens? They are pioneering organisms that are a mix of fungi and algae. I always learned it as "Freddy Fungi took a Lichen (Likin') to Alice Algae." Lichens can grow in soil, on rocks, and in trees, and last year some researchers found about 50 different kinds at the top of Wheeler Peak. This year Dr. Kropp is looking all over the park. One of the target areas was the limestone substrate of Mount Washington.

The weather forecast was for 70% chance of thunderstorms, so we didn't think we'd get much time on top of the mountain. During the morning the clouds sped over us.

I learned some basics about lichens. They come in many sizes and shapes. Some only grow a millimeter or two a year, so they can be hundreds or even thousands of years old.

Color, shape, and location are clues to what species of lichen it is. Many, though, have to be examined under a microscope.

In the photo below are endolithic lichens. Endolithic means "in the rock." Most of the lichen is in the rock, and just a little is showing. How cool is that?

Dr. Kropp scraped off lichens to take back to the lab to examine. He noticed that there were a lot fewer species on Mt. Washington than on Wheeler Peak.

Speaking of the two mountains, in the foreground is the white limestone of Mt. Washington, and in the background is the Prospect Mountain quartzite of Wheeler Peak. Also in the foreground is Holmgren's buckwheat (Eriogonum holmgreni), a plant endemic to the Snake Range. It's not found on Wheeler Peak, but is found from Pyramid Peak south. The clouds sped past, but no thunderstorms emerged.

It was a fascinating day looking at lichens, and I realized how much I had overlooked them in the past. Most likely over a hundred species live in the park, and it's only over the last year that they've been given much attention.

Over the next months Dr. Kropp will identify the different lichens and then make a guide to them.
 If you'd like to learn more about lichens, here are two interesting websites:  Rocky Mountain NP page and Yosemite NP page .
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