Science Travel 2014: A Year in Review

I figured I needed to write this post before we were too far down our 2015 paths to really justify reflecting on 2014.  As readers of this blog know, I’m all about conservation, but I’m also adamant about getting out there and enjoying nature and engaging in science for fun.  Life is busy, and making time for these sorts of experiences can be a challenge, but it’s so worth it.  We owe it to ourselves.  

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” ― John Muir

Off the road on Beartooth Scenic Highway – Sept. 2014
In 2014, I hiked, swam, ran, and learned.  Interested in where I went and what I saw?  Read on!  Fair warning, this is a photo heavy post, which is really what I’m most interested when “reading” about nature.

Me and Mer and our boos.  Lake Michigan – Jan 2014

Meridith and I have mentioned our yearly New Year’s Eve get together with our college besties on numerous occasions.  We rang in 2014 with that group of lovely friends from a cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan.  In the afternoon, on the first day of the year, we took a snowy hike down to the shores of the lake.  We went sledding, threw snowballs, and marveled at the vast, frozen body of water. It might have been a little chillier than a new year’s day walk in sunny CA, but I still think it was well worth it!  Walking out of doors is, by far, the best way to ring in the new year.

You can see the ice piling up at the lake shore behind him!

The core NYE crew – Lake Michigan Jan 2014

Napa Tri Crew – April 2014
I think fieldwork ate the rest of January, February, and March.  I was outside and all up in science literally all the time.  This was my first field season, so I hope you’ll excuse the lack of recreational activities.   

In April, I ran my second sprint triathlon with some of my favorite ecologists (and friends!). The Napa HITS Triathlon series begins with a swim in Lake Berryessa, followed by a bike ride beside some beautiful vineyards, and ends with a run through the rolling hills.  I love this race because whenever you start to think “Oh dang, I’m really tired!” you can just look around at the gorgeous surroundings and get energized again.   
During May, Daniel and I traveled a little bit north and west to see his cousin graduate from Sonoma State University (we are so proud of her!).  Point Reyes National Seashore is only a little bit away, and we had never visited the park, despite it basically being in our back yard.  This was part of our effort to hike once a week, which we were still going pretty strong on up until this point.  We had a great time, but I made my classic National Park visiting mistake.  I always forget National Parks are huge!  We were aiming to visit the lighthouse and attempt some whale watching, but when we got to the nearest ranger station, the lighthouse was another 45 minute drive up the coast.  We decided to maximize our outside-of-the-car time and just hike from where we found ourselves (Bear Valley Visitor’s Center).  I did feel like a bit of a liar, I had totally brought Daniel out with the promise of charismatic megafauna.

The meadow along Bear Valley Trail – Point Reyes National Seashore May 2014
Bear Valley Trail – Point Reyes NS May 2014

Either way a really nice park ranger gave us all the options and highlighted the map.  Obviously, Mer and I love park rangers.  We ended up choosing the Bear Valley Trail, which lead to the coast, though we didn’t have time to get all the way to the water.  The trail did pass through several different ecosystems, including a Douglas Fir forest, a riparian zone, and an open meadow (looked like a dry meadow, but not sure).

June was a busy month for me.  I was starting the bulk of my summer fieldwork in July, so while I was prepping for that effort, I was also trying to pack in some fun outings.  We spent one awesome Saturday at a local you-pick place called Clover Leaf Farm.  Cheap, organic, and very pollinator friendly!      

Somewhere around the middle of the month, our local chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB-Davis) sponsored a hike down to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area.  One of my friends, a bat ecologist, lead the hike, and right around dusk we watched thousands of Mexican free tailed bats leave their roost under the bypass to forage.  It was really amazing and the pictures 100% do not do it justice.  

Clover Leaf You-Pick Farm – June 2014
Mexican Free-tailed bat population under they bypass – Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area June 2014


Finally, at the very end of the month, Daniel and I took his cousins (the one who graduated college and her brother who just graduated high school) on a camping trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  I had never been to this park, so it totally counts toward my big goal!  We tried to listen to the USA world cup game on our drive from Davis to Manzanita Lake Campground.  It was a great campground, with a convenient general store and great access to the beautiful hiking loop around the lake.  We took the lake loop before heading back to set-up camp and make dinner.  I’m proud to say that this was a vegan camping trip save the marshmallows the others ate (I ate these, which are fantastic).  

Manzanita Lake Lassen Volcanic National Park – June 2014

The next day, we took two short-ish hikes.  First, we took the 2.8 mile round trip hike to Paradise Meadows.  I was pretty into wet meadows due to a wetland review paper that I was helping to put together, so I talked everyone’s ear off about these cool ecosystems on the way out, and was super intense about other people who were walking out onto the meadow when we arrived.  Even a little annoyance couldn’t compete with the view though!  Next, we headed to a very unique ecosystem via the Bumpass Hell trail.  This 3 mile round trip hike lead us to a landscape of hydrothermal features.  It’s a volcanic national park after all, and this is one of the main places where steam vents out from all the heat belowground.  I always wonder what was though when people first discovered natural features like this (poor Bumpass must have been freaking out!).  The team called it a day after this and demanded sustenance.  

Paradise Meadow Lassen Volcanic National Park – June 2014

Bumpass Hell Lassen Volcanic National Park – June 2014

On our last day, we started with a 2.4 mile round-trip hike to Kings Creek Falls.  This was by far my favorite hike.  The vistas were out of control!  If you ever take this trail, don’t be faked out by the not-waterfall-waterfall about 2 miles in, keep going!  In the afternoon, we had planned to hike Mount Lassen, but the crew was pretty tuckered out.  Instead, we opted for some lunching by the river and a trip to the main visitor’s center.  This trip was one of my favorite summer memories.       

 Kings Creek Falls Lassen Volcanic National Park – June 2014
Family at Cave Run Lake KY – July 2014

I traveled home to Kentucky in July for my cousin’s wedding.  Maybe you don’t know this, but a summer trip to Kentucky isn’t really complete without a river or lake visit.  Almost my entire immediate family got to spend time out at Cave Run Lake swimming, snacking, and generally goofing around.  It was a super fun time.  

In August, Daniel and I took our NYC Engagement Trip.  You can read all about that in a previous blog post, but suffice it to say much (science related) fun was had!

During September, I took a weekend trip to Montana to visit one of my best friends from high school who was about to move overseas to Spain.  It was a truly great weekend, and I feel so blessed to have been able to spend that time with her before she was gone.  She was staying with her sister and brother-in-law in Bozeman, MT.  If you’ve never been to Bozeman, you should really check into it.  She picked me up at the airport, we got some food at the local co-op, then we headed out on a hike.  Seriously, my kind of town.  

My girl Emily!  Beartooth Scenic Highway – Sept. 2014
Bozeman MT – Sept. 2014

 For the next two days we traveled through northern Yellowstone National Park (near Mammoth) and back up the Beartooth Scenic Highway.  I had been to Yellowstone before when Mer and I visited on our Amazing Besties National Park Roadtrip in 2012, but it was interesting to see the park in a different season.  The geothermal feathers were fascinating, as always.  We also hiked along several rivers and streams with my buddy’s family before we took off on our own.  We took in the great views along Beartooth highway, and even pulled off the road for a quick hike through the alpine tundra (my crush of an ecosystem) to a high elevation lake.  It was a great send-off for a friendship that has lasted 14 years.

A high elevation lake off Beartooth Scenic Highway – Sept. 2014

For the rest of September and all of October and November I prepared for my qualifying exams.  I studied, ate my weight in cookies, did enough yoga to keep me from chewing my fingers off, and was otherwise completely sessile.  I think I only ventured outside to tend my garden, and I think I even neglected that in November.

December 4th was judgement day, and I passed!  I spent the following day (Friday) in my PJs in my bed, glorious.  But by Saturday afternoon, Daniel and I were on the road for Santa Cruz and some time to reset in nature.  If you’ll recall my previous post about the novel Flight Behavior, you’ll know I was super excited about the idea of viewing one of the migrating monarch butterfly populations.  Lucky me, just a little bit over an hour down the road at Natural Bridges State Park there was a monarch roost.  We walked along the wooded path to the population, and while it was really beautiful, it was impossible to photograph with my little point-and-click camera.  There were only a few small remaining clusters of butterflies as the rain earlier in the week had dispersed many of the individuals.  We oohh-ed and aahh-ed, and this elderly park ranger let us check out the colony through his spotting scope!  We then took the path up and around, through a freshwater tidal and a salt marsh, then out to the coast.  The water was cold, but you always have to put your toes in, right?  The day was still young, so we got some coffee and took a 30 minute drive up the road to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Parks.  You can never go wrong with coastal redwoods, and I’ll just leave it at that.

Natural Bridge’s State Park CA – Dec 2014
Natural Bridge’s State Park CA – Dec 2014

I love recap posts like this, because I really didn’t think I did that many fun outdoor things this year, but I obviously did.  I also discovered a ton of pictures when I was reviewing from hikes and walks in the local Davis area.  What a year!  I cannot wait to see what adventures 2015 (20Upgrade!) has in store.

What about you?  What fun science/nature adventures did 2014 bring you?  Any big plans for the new year?

Henry Cowell State Park CA – Dec. 2014

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