Wildlife Hitch3 started off right after 4th of July break, with a bang! By the way, it’s quite challenging to find any open car-garages to get auto repairs; for that reason, I was late as hitch-leader, so my crewmate, Jenna took over and Megan subbed. The gals got 2 out of 3 assigned forest-service roads surveyed before I could make it back to trade spots. Being GPS-novices, we temporarily “lost” some of aspen-points they took, so we needed to retrace their steps in order to take duplicates, which later became a confusing mess we’d have to sort in the office. But in the field, I learned Jenna has amazing eyesight for wildlife, and could spot an elk hidden amongst crowded conifers while driving (carefully) on our way to scout near a beautiful alpine lake. We ended up inventorying aspen on an adjacent forest-service road (total of 29 stands after hiking about 8 miles). Camping near the river meant we were eaten alive by mosquitoes; there also happen to be inadequate windbreaks when a thunderstorm came through, thus our tent poles were bent by high-winds, but at least we stayed dry! We also had some time to explore the campgrounds, where we watched fish, found a tree that smelled of pina-colada, played horse-shoes and hooted at an owl that later responded with a screech! While coming back to base for the weekend, we saw a small herd of bighorn sheep!
Over the break, I decided to prepare meals a head of time instead of just surviving on cheese and “in-town” food, so I cooked way too much curry and pasta-sauce, but it was good to have free “real” meals and plenty of leftovers.
For the first few days of part2, we were blessed with Megan’s company again, who helped us eat some of that extra food, but more than that, she helped spot the driver turn around in narrow roads and together, we removed several obstacles along the route. I think she also appreciated my frequent stops to admire the local flora. Because the landscape was mostly steep scree slopes, we could only take 7 non-inventory points of aspen stands along 5miles, and then drove past an old forest-fire atop the summit, where there were epic views, white-pines, and tons of wildflowers from the recent snow-melt. After some gate-code mix-ups, we headed to a ridgeline, but our outdated maps didn’t show the many branches of fire-access roads; this led us to explore a dead-end before we took what we believe to be the right road and hiked over 3miles along almost entirely lodgepole dominated post-burn forest. Suddenly the weather changed, and we were pelted with hail as lightning flashed in the not-too-distant landscape. It was refreshing but definitely got the adrenaline going to help the rush back to the vehicle. This time we camped at higher elevations, so we weren’t bothered by insects as much. However, I learned free-range cattle can moo all night…and eventually begin to sound like fog-horns when drifting off to sleep. I also discovered my crewmate’s pyro-talent, and lovingly gave her the title, smore-technician; also, turns out, Nutella makes a tasty alternative to hershey’s chocolate! The rest of the hitch was spent doing office work, like uploading GPS data, photos, and organizing files, as well as running some SCA errands before heading back to home-base. Of course, we had to make a pit-stop to look at 4 different species of penstemmon.