2014 Reflections, Resolutions, and Round-Up

Hello, 2015! Rachel and I are living it up with our lovely friends in Boston. This year has been wonderful thus far, but we wanted to take a few moments and reflect on the great things that 2014 brought to us.  One of the most rewarding things for us, in the last year, was starting this blog.  From the launch of our Tumblr blog in January of 2014 to occupying this space in May, we feel so blessed to have this space to share our experiences as travelers, learners, and burgeoning female scientists!

Starting the new year sharing the same physical space is always a blessing for us as a creative duo.  We’ve been discussing our ideas/hopes/dreams for the future of Sweet Tea, Science, and you can rest assured that we are cooking up some exciting content for 2015!

We are so thankful for all of our fantastic readers and everyone who has read and shared our posts in 2014.

The top five STS blog posts from our inaugural year are as follows:

  1. STS and the Super Science Side of Tumblr’s TA Tips 
  2. Getting a Motivational Makeover
  3. Tricks of the Trade: LaTeX
  4. Ten Tips for Tackling that Thesis!
  5. What’s in Her (Field) Bag?
What’s in Store for 2015:
  • More guest posts
  • Rachel getting married!
  • The continuation and conclusion of our Amazing Besties National Park Road Trip Series! (About time, right?)
  • Meridith’s qualification exams.
  • Tons of photos of Rachel’s quality time in the marsh!
  • More science travel and conference visits!
  • Lots of Tumblr posts all week long in addition to weekly blog posts on Tuesdays! 
Thanks for the love and support this year. We’re also eager to hear all about your plans and motivation for the future, so make sure to drop us a comment/note/tweet/carrier pigeon! 

Bison, and Mosquitoes, and Shriners, Oh My!

Lost Lake
Day 14
Yellowstone National Park
Miles Hiked: 10 (80.7 overall)


Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!


Ecologist in action
After a day of full on touristing, it was time to get serious.  Our alarms went off at 4am, and we slithered out of our sleeping bags.  We dressed and washed up in a bleary haze before piling in the car with blankets and binoculars.  As per the recommendations of Jim and Dot (the adorable park ranger couple), we drove the 35 miles from Bay Bridge to Tower Falls and hung a left.  Along the stretch of road between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth, we found a pull off parking spot and were in position just as dawn broke over the sagebrush and meadows.  Wolf watching.  The wolves of Yellowstone get my scientists imagination running.  During the mid-90s the National Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves (mostly from the Canadian population) to Yellowstone, and the ecological impacts we are seeing appear to be profound.  For an excellent look at why top predators are important, check out this piece by Estes and colleagues.  Beyond the science, I think the mythos of these carnivores really plays on some of our most basic, primal thoughts.  What I really want to say, is I’m a stereotypical, hippie wolf-lover.  Seriously, wolves, wolves, wolves.  
Swimming Lost Lake

So, we arrive at our spot, we ate some granola.  We chatted about how hard core we were.  We covered up with blankets, because it was still cold, even inside our car.  More snacks.  And then…I totally fell asleep!  I know, it’s potentially the lamest thing I’ve ever done.  Lucky for me, Meridith is not so easily deterred and kept a keen eye out for any sort of non-Bison esque animal.  In spite of Mer’s proven ability to manifest rare wildlife, no dice.  Around 5:30, I was reanimated and we watched the frosty Bison graze as more people appeared to enjoy some wildlife watching.  A beautiful, if slightly disappointing morning.  But you know what soothes such situations?  Doughnuts.  We gassed up the car, consumed some well deserved sugar, and headed toward Roosevelt Lodge.
Sage and Skirts

We met up with the Lost Lake trail head behind the Lodge and began our first hike of the day.  This trail was a 4 mile loop, which doubled as a horse trail.  We wound up through trees, sage, and wildflowers until we came to Lost Lake.  This is a really beautiful little lake, at about 6,700 ft above sea level.  Little known fact about me, when I see a (clean) body of water, I generally want to be in it.  Meridith hung out on the shore, writing and enjoying the flowers, while I waded out past the lily-pads for a morning swim.  Shortly, we continued on around the loop and soon came upon one of Yellowstone’s petrified trees.  This ancient redwood signals just how different the plant communities and climate conditions once were in this area of the world.  An art student was also on hand with an antique camera, attempting to recreate period photographs from around the park.  Yellowstone.  It really attracts everyone.  Back around the hill and we were down at the Lodge again where we took a few moments to enjoy our afternoon sammies on some rocking chairs on the front porch.


Petrified Redwood Tree
As our day had started at 4am, we were getting a bit sleepy.  We drove the few miles up to Mammoth Village where we napped in the grass, enjoyed some staff internet, and wrote several more adorable postcards.  Apparently, composing haikus recharged our batteries, and we set off for the Beaver Ponds trail.  The initial climb and views were great, but as we neared the ponds themselves, we quickly renamed the trail, Mosquito Ponds.  We tried really hard to appreciate the wetland-pond complexes as we hiked rather quickly along the latter half of the trail.  Still no moose sightings, which had been our secret hope.  


Road Haikus
We took a few minutes to wind down from our speed hike by exploring the terraces around Mammoth Hotsprings.  I often get caught up in the challenge of hiking.  I love to go far and climb high.  So, it’s good for me to explore an accessible, interpretive trail.  It reminds me of the educational mission of the parks, and I always learn a lot from the signs!  By the end of the road trip, we had a running joke when we didn’t know the answer to a question.  “Where’s my interpretive sign?!”  I also really love when the wild and weird things about nature drawn the public in, and Mammoth Hotsprings are certainly something unique.  The smell of sulfur and the strange microbial mats were fascinating.  We couldn’t help but imagine what early visitors to the park must have thought of these crazy thermal features.  


Beaver Ponds Trail
Beaver Ponds Trail 
Early visitors to the park?  That reminded us, we had seen an advertisement for a lecture happening that evening at Mammoth Lodge (nerd alert).  We filled our water bottles and found our seats just as the lights went down before the lecture.  What followed was a delightful trip through early Yellowstone with a family of Shriners. The presenter explained that he found a trip scrapbook in an antique shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and spent a few years tracing the history of the book’s contents.  The Shriner couple had explored the park in horse carts, ate dinner in large dining tents, and sat in bleachers to watch bears feed on the scraps leftover from the kitchens at Mammoth Lodge.  The intersection between personal history and park history was compelling.  I especially loved the pictures of the women’s hiking clothes!  I was about 1000% certain I was going to fall asleep as we walked into the room, but I was happily alert the whole time.  


On the drive back to our campsite, we watched the sun set over the Bison and chatted about the history of the American West.  As we pulled into camp, I set my alarm for 7am.  The theme of day two had been water.  Tomorrow, the theme was mountains.

Mammoth Hotsprings

Joining the Ranks of Tourists and Fangirls in Yellowstone

Obligatory “NP Sign” Photo

Day 13
Yellowstone National Park
Total Miles Hiked: 3.5ish (70.7 overall)

After the rain

Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!

Yellowstone, the Disney of U.S. National Parks. America’s first national park welcomes over three million people each year, and Rachel and I were certain we wanted to be part of the excitement during our adventures. When we were first planning our trip (which was a very exciting and motivating time during that spring semester) we knew we wanted to take our time exploring this particular gem. Three days seemed adequate, but I’m sure we also could have spent the entire summer there hiking and learning. Even after all of the hiking we had just completed at Rocky Mountain NP, plus arriving at Bridge Bay Campground at 2 am, we couldn’t wait to explore this national treasure!

Right on time!

I hope we don’t need to remind you folks, but on our Awesome Besties National Park Roadtrip we weren’t messing around. We went on an early morning jog along the Natural Bridge Trail (this was when we were being extra amazing…I don’t think it lasted all summer), which was both invigorating and a prime opportunity to try and spot a moose!  Post-jog and granola hoovering, we struck out toward the epicenter of all that is Yellowstone: Old Faithful. And wow, the crowd here couldn’t have been more different from others we’d seen at the previous parks. People of all ages, itty little dogs on leashes, bikers, hikers, photographers, families, and us were all milling around until the next eruption time. Conveniently, eruption timers were plastered all over the viewing area. Old Faithful really did live up to it’s hype and was spectacular to view.

As per usual, we sought out the park ranger that looked like they had the full low-down on the park, and, as per usual, we were not disappointed. A lovely old couple took turns answering our questions and suggesting possible itineraries (Editor’s Note:  Jim and Dot are the business!  Go find them!). We explained we had three days, and while we wanted to hit up the major tourist attractions, we were also quite badass and wanted to do some tougher hikes and see some wildlife. Pausing only to insist we go check out another geyser about to erupt, this couple quickly outlined where we should adventure, and and passed on an important safety tip. Apparently, up until this point in our trip we had been walking bear lunches and didn’t even realize. My thoughtful, well-meaning mother bought me a Bear Bell to attach onto my pack to ward off bears. How sweet!  However, according to our newest ranger friends, these bells acted more like dinner bells than warding off bells. Good to know; acquiring bear spray was necessary.

Meridith’s idea of heaven

Luckily, we could mosey on over to one of the many stores scattered around the park by way of the the largest log structure in the world. Thanks to my love for science documentaries I was able to give Rachel the briefest of overviews of the famous, historic Old Faithful Inn. The highlights: super fantastic craftsmanship and the ice cream shop we found. Rachel treated me to an ice cream cone, and I was in heaven. But, as my luck would have it, heaven was about to get even better. As we wandered back into the lobby, we noticed a man at a small table, which seemed to be set-up for a book signing. Recognition washed over me as I felt my face flush with excitement and sudden anticipation. There, seated before us, was one of my personal heros. The dude who writes the “Who Pooped in the Park?” books. Gary D. Robson, in person. Rachel was kind enough to let me fangirl a bit and we went up to get a photo. If you’ll take a moment to imagine a grown woman, possibly with ice cream smudged on her face, trying to contain her excitement whilst in line among a sea of young children, waiting to meet a gruff older man sitting at a table with scat samples covering it….well, then you’ve pretty much nailed the scenario. I managed to resist elbowing a few 8-year-olds out of my way before getting to the front of the line.

Our second Grand Canyon together!

Still star struck, we battled the brewing rains to finally get to the gift shop with bear spray. I was a little dumbfounded at the steep price, but I suppose if you are investing in your personal safety that price is well worth paying (Spoiler Alert: we never needed the bear spray so now when not out on hikes with me, it lives on the rack behind my apartment door where it waits for State College’s unluckiest home intruder.). I honestly don’t remember the entire conversation, but I chatted up the sales clerk while purchasing the bear spray and through some combination of comradery and the ol’ Meridith charm, I walked away with the staff password to the wireless internet in addition to the bear spray! SCORE! We waited out the rest of the afternoon rain while bingeing on stolen…borrowed internet.

You know, just hanging out on top of a mega-volcano

Now you might think that it was a total bummer to have rain on our first day of visiting Yellowstone, but it was actually quite beneficial! The afternoon storm scared off the majority of people so we were able to hit up the major tourist highlights without dealing with the crowds! We were treated to amazing experiences and sights at the various geothermal elements, artists paint pots, and even the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Even more, we got to enjoy a pretty sunset and several of the majestic bison! One even was sweet enough to pose stoically in front of the setting sun before ambling across the road right past our car. Being the responsible and safe park goers that we are, we kept a safe distance from the wildlife and stayed inside the car in a designated pull off area. (Excuse me while I side-eye and judge everyone else not as responsible as us). All in all, it was a perfect first day in Yellowstone. We tucked in early because we knew that day two was sure to hold ever more excitement!

Magestic