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

Take the Bus! Good for the Environment, Your Wallet, and Your Wanderlust

And now for something a bit different!

We’ve been writing a lot in the past few weeks about life as a graduate student or some of the things we are learning while on our respective doctoral journeys.  However, if you will recall, we also love to go on journeys in general.  Meridith and I have always been avid travelers.  We have visited numerous other countries together (South Africa, Costa Rica, Panama, England, Aruba…) and separately (Kenya, Argentina, Ireland, Thailand…).  While traveling overseas is, literally, one of the best things ever, one of my favorite bar questions to ask people is, “What are the top 5 locations you want to visit in the United States?”  I think we spend a lot of time fantasizing about getting to far-off, exotic locations, and that can cause us to overlook the beauty in our own backyard (so to speak). (Editor’s Note: This is so true! One of my big epiphanies from my summer traveling Europe – by bus and train! – was that I had totally under appreciated all there is to see in the good ol’ U S of A.)  And while I might get to visit friends or make new friends when traveling overseas, getting a co-conspirator for your State side adventuring is a bit easier.

As Mer is one of my all time favorite partners in crime, she and I have always made a point to visit one another regularly.  Our college roommates (and often an all-star cast of their amazing boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/pals/siblings) make a point of gathering for New Years Eve.  That’s always a treat, and usually involves doing a multi-city flight out of California, to home, to the NYE destination (Boston 2015!), and then back to California.  While well worth it, that gets expensive.  If you add onto that a trip home during the summer and plane travel really starts to take a bite out of your budget.  So, what’s a budget-conscious, environmentally-minded person with a severe case of wanderlust to do?  Well, you can hop on the Greyhound and get to a regional destination with little money, hassle, and C02 wasted.  When I was living in Long Beach and Meridith was in Las Cruces, we were frequenting the Greyhound route between Long Beach and El Paso on a semesterly basis!
NYE 2014 Crew
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Rachel.  Take the bus? I have a car!”  Yeah? Then find a bunch of friends and pile into the car.  Carpooling is great, and sometimes it is the most logical option.  But, maybe you have a more flexible schedule, you’re traveling solo, or you really want to cut your carbon emissions.  In that case, you should really be looking up the local Greyhound and Megabus schedules.  I’ve written about my internal conflict concerning the environmental impacts of travel here, and I’d suggest you check it out.  For those unwilling to read my previous ramblings, my conclusions are simply that bus travel is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way to transit regionally.  Since writing that post over a year ago, I’ve had numerous conversations with people who just can’t seem to get over their bus hang-ups.  Maybe this isn’t the most glamorous way to move about the world, but if you are a reasonable traveler who keeps their wits about them, you have very little about which to worry.

Maybe you’re willing to give it a try?  I’ll give you a few tips from my numerous Greyhound adventures and misadventures to make your first bus trip a breeze.                     

Cat Bus.  The best kind of bus.
First, and foremost, put your patient pants on.  Unlike plane or train travel, hitting the open road on a Greyhound requires a little less coordination on the part of the company.  This might also be part of the “you get what you pay for” part of this equation.  I’ve been on some very punctual bus trips…I’ve also waited and waited for my connection.  Really though, I’ve slept in plenty of airport chairs waiting for my connecting flight when it was delayed.  So, meh, I’d call this a wash really.  I just tend to expect the bus to be a little behind its time. (Editor’s Note: For most people this goes without saying: double check your departure time AND date. I’m going to share my most shameful Greyhound experience because I love y’all. I’m not even sure if I ever told Rachel this, but last NYE my partner and I bussed to/from Chicago and I totally made us miss our bus because I was in charge of the tickets – we were still new and he didn’t know yet how horrible of an idea this was – and got the dates mixed up. So when we were leaving to catch our bus, I took our tickets out and realized that our tickets were for the day before. Cue full shame meltdown and us having to buy a whole ‘nother set of tickets day of, which meant paying full price.)

Once your bus arrives, where you sit matters a little bit more than where you sit on a plane.  Really, you don’t want to sit near the bathroom.  Obviously, right?  You should also choose your seat mate (if you have to have one) with at least a little care.  My brother has a theory that, when you’re on the bus, you’re much less focused on how you might die than when you’re 10,000 feet above the ground.  So, I have (unscientifically) concluded that people are generally less inhibited on the bus.  For this reason (or something), I’ve had a lot more interesting and friendly conversations on buses than I’ve ever had on planes.  If you want to chat, look for the person who looks like they want to converse.  Want to sleep?  Look for a fellow napper.  In my experience, there is generally at least one bus occupant who really needs to drop the mic; I would suggest not sitting with them.    

Mer took a 12 hour bus ride so we could surprise our friend
on his birthday!
Seat selection handled, now it’s time to occupy yourself.  If you’re doing a regional tip, you can try to choose an express bus that has wifi.  The wifi on buses is free, unlike on planes.  You probably won’t be able to stream Dr. Who, but you can check your email, access gDrive, and generally get some work done.  There are also, often, power outlets so you don’t have to worry about your computer or tablet crapping out on you.  This is my problem on, literally, every flight.  Why don’t I learn?  I’m not really sure if there is a cause and effect situation here, but I have found it much easier to get work done on the bus than the plane.  Again, maybe because I’m still on the ground?     

Normal travel tips apply on the greyhound as well.  Climate control can be something of an issue on the bus.  Consider your relative hot/cold scale when choosing an aisle or window seat.  Wear layers so you can add and subtract as needed.  Also, you really do want a blanket and a pillow.  There will be no smartly dressed attendant to hook you up with one if you forget.  Bonus points, you can bring liquids on the bus!  Beverages, peanut butter, hummus, and anything else delicious and spreadable is totally allowed.  This makes it way easier, for me at least, to avoid the pull of buying weird airport or plane food that is strange in my tummy and wrapped in a bunch of obnoxious, ultrathin plastic.

Night bus.  Also a good option.
How long will your bus adventure be?  The longest I’ve been on a Greyhound trip, to date, was 20 hours from El Paso to Long Beach.  It was a haul.  And as stifled and dehydrated as I usually feel getting off a plane, I felt downright stinky when I disembarked in Long Beach after a 20 hour coach trip.  You’ll feel way better if you can brush your teeth, change your shirt, and apply some deodorant during a layover.  Do yourself and the person receiving you at the end of the line a favor and stay fresh.    

Last tip?  Don’t be a douche-bag…or something like that.  The most common argument I hear from those reluctant to travel via bus is that it isn’t safe.  Not to sound harsh but, these may be the same people who want apps on their phones to keep them out of “bad” parts of town.  Get out of the bubble and give yourself a chance to not be afraid of others.  I’ve met some friendly, sad, unnerving, and genuinely hilarious people on Greyhounds.  And you know what?  I’ve met the same set of people in so many other places!  See my original statement above, be a wary traveler, but don’t be afraid of other humans who are just trying to get from point A to point B.  As Patty Griffith would say, “Grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us, till there are no strangers anymore.”    

There you go, now take the plunge!  Your wallet, the environment, and your wandering soul will thank you!  (Editor’s Note: Benjamin and I are planning on taking a train from Boston to NYC then Megabusing back to State College! Yes, it’s more time-consuming and we’ll have to chill in the cold while waiting for the bus, but the money saved is going to be so worth it!)

Hiking after one of my bus trips to visit Meridith in New Mexico.