Pokémon Go, made available for download in America on July 6, 2016 (and adding new countries every day!) enables collection, training, and battling of the first 150 Pokémon. Individual Pokémon collection and observation is now possible, and Pokémon trainers will be venturing into their communities and the wilds that surround them in record numbers as they strive to catch ‘em all. By virtue of collecting and learning about (albeit augmented, virtual) animals, people will also rediscover their attraction to the natural world. Through Pokémon Go, trainers will develop a keen eye for their surroundings, patience for tracking, quick thinking in anticipation of Pokémon behaviors. And what better place for young and old alike to hone their PokéSkills but the expansive wilderness of America’s greatest natural treasure, the National Park system.
The iconic U.S. National Parks have provided access to both nature and natural sciences to visitors for 100 years. Combined annual attendance to these natural wonders registers at a whopping 305 million people each year, attracting visitors from all over the world. Our National Parks span the landscape of the United States and her territories, ranging from the remote reaches of Alaska to the bustling east coast parks, like Shenandoah-a quick drive from several major cities-and hop entire oceans to appear in far pacific lands like Hawaii, American Samoa, and Guam. Sometimes, these parks pack a hefty admission fee, up to $30 in some of the most famous parks. The fees go toward necessary maintenance and upkeep of the most pristine natural environments in the country, preserving the experience for the next generation of visitors. Don’t be scared by the entry fees; reasonably priced annual passes and special free events can make access extremely affordable! In fact, I planned a trip to Shenandoah National Park this past weekend for both my sister and me as a respite from the rigors of academia. However, once we got the news dropped of the long-awaited Pokemon Go release, our plans quickly adapted to incorporate some Pokemon collecting into our adventure.
We knew leaving Arches NP and Moab that our destination would be vastly different than our origin. I was more than happy to finally be trading the sand, sun, and rock formations in for the soul refreshing mountains, trees, and streams. Such an eventful day of driving deserves to have its own road trip mix. We’ve jammed to all of these songs on our drives.
Rachel’s Ramblings: I was a bad invasive species ecologist for the first few stops on our trip. Meridith and I had discussed out travels before leaving and both agreed we wanted to minimize our impact on the parks we visited. One of the major challenges facing many ecosystems on the planet are invasive species. If any of you have been with Meridith’s blog for the long haul, you know over her spring break she came and profiled my (and my lab’s) work on wetlands in California. If you’re just now following her, the short version is this: I study the impacts of invasive species on ecosystem processes, usually applying potential impacts of invasive to food web structure within a certain community. Invasive species are, by definition, any organisms non-native to an area which cause some sort of harm by their presence. Thus, I’m uniquely concerned about my own ability to spread the species I study around the different areas I work. To keep this from happening, because, really, how embarrassing would that be, I take some pretty simple precautions. So, why do I feel I was bad for the first few stops on our trip? You see, Meridith and I had developed a plan for avoiding spreading seeds, spores, or small critters between parks, but we failed to implement it until we were traveling from Arches NP to Rocky Mountain NP. I justified it because Carlsbad, Zion, and Arches were all pretty similar ecosystems with lots of species overlap. That aside, we didn’t follow the plan, and we should have, but now we are, and you can too! I’d like to point out before going on, that this method is really more my opinion and based on conversations I’ve had with other scientists. I haven’t looked up these things in the scientific literature (though I know the literature exists, and I would love it if you sent me some!). However, I think these steps are practical and that they do help, or at least they certainly don’t hurt. I would encourage everyone traveling between ecosystems, especially those known to have invasive species, to take similar steps or do their own research on the topic. A Few Simple Tips to Avoid Being a Vector for Invasion:
Clean your shoes between locations. Seeds, small mollusks, fungal spores, and lots of other things can cling to the bottom of your shoes, or get stuck in the tread of your boots. If you can, make a bleach solution and soak the soles of your shoes. If you don’t have access to bleach (like we don’t) give the soles a good scrubbing, then spray them down with 409 and let it sit for a little while (remember this is what the ranger did to our boots at Carlsbad Caverns NP).
Wash and dry (preferably on high) clothes worn in one area before wearing them in another area. You know how plant parts love to stick to your socks and pants and everywhere while you are hiking in the woods? Plants are clever, but you can outwit them.
It’s the whole “take only pictures, leave only footprints” thing, this is just one more application of this really important advice. This goes a little without saying, but we have heard the Junior Rangers at each park promising to leave the pretty flowers they see so that other can enjoy them (so cute!). Another good reason to not pick flowers, buy seed packs from areas outside your home region, or otherwise transport wild plants or animals is to avoid the spread of invasive species.
Question of the Day: Will you adapt any of Rachel’s tips to help stop the spread of invasive organisms?
Las Cruces to Carlsbad – Desert Rainstorm. Photo by Rachel
Las Cruces to Carlsbad – Guadaupe Mnts. Photo by Rachel
Day Four Albuquerque to Zion NP Total Miles Hiked: 0 (14.6 overall)
Albuquerque to Zion – Entering Navajo Nation Photo by Rachel
ABQ to Zion – Crooked View of Wahweap Bay, UT Photo by Rachel
During the winter of 2010 (20Dime for those in the know), I finally got around to reading a book my father had lent to me about a year previous. It was a daunting, historical tome, my dad’s favorite type of book, but I had never successfully gotten into the genera. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose was not only entertaining and informative, but really provoked my imagination. I loved picturing all those brave men and their one female companion, Sacagawea,paddling up river with all their supplies until they reached the continental divide and the rivers changed directions. I thought about how much I would have loved to be on that expedition. I was even more excited the story also involved one of my favorite historical figures, Thomas Jefferson (T.J. for short, we’re that tight). His major reservation about acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, which was a steal of a deal by the way, was that it would make America too large. How could one government possibly oversee such a big area? Thus, Lewis and Clark’s mission was exploratory and scientific. What did we just buy, and how can we connect it all? One thing they really noticed was how many different plants, animals, rock forms, and ecosystems they passed through in their journey. Lewis studied with renowned scientists of the day just to prepare for the trip. He knew how to technically describe, identify, and preserve specimens. Cool guy, right? My favorite thing about the book was the experts from Lewis and Clark’s diaries (which they were both required to keep and hoped to publish). They both described the changing landscape around them with such vivid 19th century pizazz.
ABQ to Zion – Train through AZ
“The day cold and fair with a high easterly wind: we were visited by two Indians who gave us an account of the country and people near the Rocky Mountains where they had been.” ~Meriwether Lewis
ABQ to Zion – The Big Sky of the Hopi Reservation Photo by Rachel
That’s what has been running through my head as Meridith drives and I snap pictures out the window of the car. How cool and huge is our country? How many amazing and diverse ecosystems will we be passing through? We’ve already seen the low and high desert, the myriad ecosystems occurring at different elevations along the Navajo Sandstone within Zion, and soon we will be heading north, then to the Pacific Northwest where (spoiler) the USA houses it’s very own rainforest. While we make our journey, I will be documenting the amazing things we see along our drive. I know not everyone has the time to go on an epic road trip, but when you are driving from destination to destination in your daily lives, take the time to look out the window. And remember what Woody Guthrie said. This land was made for you and me.
Question of the Day: What are your favorite roadside attractions and distractions?