National Park in a Day: Yosemite

I like to think of STS as a Science Lifestyle Blog, or basically a mash-up of my two favorite types of blogs to read.  This is a slice of life, outdoor travel essay.  If you enjoy seeing this sort of content on the blog, please let us know!  

The end of spring is always a busy travel time for me.  The bulk of my dry season field work is done in July and August, so I often find myself traveling home or to fun destinations (thanks wedding season!) to celebrate and visit with friends and family in late May or early June.  This year has proved no exception, as my husband and I spent two weeks traveling for various family events, squeezing in visits with friends and working on projects remotely along the way.  If you’re interested in the full escapade, you can check the highlights on my Instagram.  We are both on the introverted side of the scale, and after nearly two weeks of almost constant social interaction, even though it was tons of fun, we decided a break to recharge our batteries was in order.  What better way to do that than to escape into the great outdoors?

Deer grazing near Lukens Lake

We had originally planned to take our first couple’s backpacking trip, as D has never been backpacking and we have plans to go during part of our honeymoon next summer.  However, by the time the end of our two week trip actually arrived, we were trashed tired.  We also decided we really needed to be adults and get home a day earlier than we had originally planned due to work concerns.  That left us only one night and a day.  In the end, we opted to visit Yosemite National Park.  D had never been, and I was itching to see the look on his face the first time we entered Yosemite Valley. Continue reading “National Park in a Day: Yosemite”

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

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!