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  Entomology Department > Field Trips > Pacific Northwest 2002

Natural History of the Pacific Northwest

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Extended Field Trip 2002

Western Fence Lizard

(text by Andrew Wiewel, Mathew Dornbush, and Greg Courtney; images mostly by Greg Courtney)

Bright and early on the morning of August 1, fourteen brave souls set out for the diverse vistas of the Pacific Northwest. The group consisted of T.J. Benson, Christy Cherrier, Dr. Greg Courtney, Amber Denton Johnson, Matt Dornbush, Vicente Faria, Aspen Garry, Laura Jesse, Wei Liu, Andres Lopez, Jeff Noll, Chris Olson, Allison Shaw, and Andy Wiewel. The interests of the group were varied and included aquatic biology (both freshwater and marine), botany, cryptozoology, entomology, forestry, geology, herpetology, ornithology, and mammalogy.

By the end of the first day, we had crossed the prairies of Iowa and Nebraska and the scrublands of southeastern Wyoming. That night we camped in the Snowy Mountains of Wyoming's Medicine Bow National Forest at an elevation of over 10,000 feet. The campground's alpine meadows were surrounded by patches of Englemann spruce and lodgepole pine. After some brief photo opportunities in the Snowy Mountains, day two found us back on the road, traveling through the Rockies, into the Great Basin near Salt Lake, up onto the Columbia plateau, and back down into the northern Great Basin. Our evening's destination was Malheur Field Station in southeastern Oregon.

Day three exposed a serious rift in the recreational ideology of the group. Team EEB, consisting of six (perhaps foolish?) members, participated in the Steens Rim Run, a 10K race up the brutal slopes of Steens Mountain. The race began at an elevation of 7,835 ft and finished nearly 2,000 ft higher. Andres led Team EEB by placing third in his age class, and every member of the team finished the race, an accomplishment in itself. Meanwhile, the remainder of the group enjoyed a leisurely morning of birding and botanizing in the big sagebrush, greasewood, and rabbitbrush habitat of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. During this outing, they were fortunate enough to witness a pair of coyotes cooperating to capture two mallards. That evening, after sitting out some intense thundershowers, we moved to Page Springs Campground, near Frenchglen. This would be our "home" for the duration of our visit to the northern Great Basin.

The following day was devoted to driving the loop around Steens Mountain, where we examined the mountain's glacially-carved valleys and rich plant and animal communities. After a brief botanizing stop at Fish Lake, we ascended through the tree line at around 8,000 feet and entered a windswept alpine ecosystem. Memorable stops included Kiger Gorge, East Rim, and Big Indian Gorge. Commonly observed plants and animals included: buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.), yellow and purple monkey flowers (Mimulus spp.), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), the endemic Steen's Mountain thistle (Cirsium peckii), golden eagles, prairie falcons, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and unique aquatic insect larvae (Blephariceridae). That night we returned to Page Springs, where Greg introduced us to black lighting, a common method for sampling local insect diversity. Black lighting became a nightly routine throughout the rest of the trip.

On day five the basin and range geology of southeastern Oregon was apparent as we contrasted the uplift of Steens Mountain with the low-lying Alvord Desert on its eastern flank. The flat, vegetation-free ancient playa tempted the group to set an ISU 15-passenger van land- speed record. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. The group took short hikes at Pike Creek, Borax Lake, and Cottonwood Creek. At Borax Lake, we searched for the endangered Borax Lake Chub, a minnow endemic to Borax Lake, its outflow, and Little Borax Lake. We also explored some of the many hot springs of this geothermally active region. A short stop at Cottonwood Creek allowed us to view the northern range limit of the primitive gymnosperm genus Ephedra.

The next day we traveled to Newberry National Volcanic Monument (http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/Newberry/Locale/framework.html), on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range south of Bend, Oregon. On entering the mountains, the vegetation changed from the sagebrush-dominated Great Basin habitats to the towering ponderosa pines and thin, sparse grass cover of the Cascade's east side. The volcanic history of the region was evident from the many obsidian flows, the 6,000-year-old Lava Cast Forest, and the caldera of former Newberry Volcano, which now holds Paulina and East lakes. The great climatic variability of these western mountains was manifest in a brief snowfall during our visit to the top of Paulina Peak. After the chilly experience, we descended back to our base camp at McKay Crossing Campground on the banks of Paulina Creek.

The next major stop on the trip was Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake was formed approximately 7,000 y.b.p. following a massive volcanic eruption that blew the top off of ancient Mount Mazama. The surface of the lake sits at an elevation of around 6,200 ft. The lake has a maximum depth of 1,943 ft, making it the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. Among the many striking features of Crater Lake is its brilliant azure color. Other notable events included a stop at Vidae Falls, our first encounter with large mountain hemlocks, and the capture of a gray jay by T.J. and Wei. As we completed our day at Crater Lake, smoke from the Florence/Bisquit forest fire blew in from southwestern Oregon, severely obscuring our last views of the lake and reminding us of the many fires burning throughout the west.

Before heading to the coast on day eight, we made one last stop at the base of South Sister where we hiked to Moraine Lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. The hike, approximately six miles roundtrip, followed a steep mountain stream through coniferous forests, meandered around the flank of an ancient lava flow, and eventually led us to a crisp glacial lake. From there, we had spectacular views of South Sister, Broken Top, and several other peaks in the wilderness area. After completing the hike, we returned to McKay Crossing to break camp. The remainder of the day was spent traversing the Cascades, the Willamette Valley, and the Coastal Range en route to the Pacific Coast at Newport.

During our two days on the coast, we stayed at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, where we toured their facilities and learned about various research programs. Early morning low tides provided an opportunity to observe and explore Oregon's tidepool flora and fauna at Boiler Bay and Strawberry Hill. A few notable species were: green- and red anemones, peanut worms, various polychaete worms, gumboot- and other chitons, green-, red- and purple urchins, various sea stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, sea lemons and other nudibranchs, purple shore crabs, gooseneck barnacles, clingfish, various sculpins and blennies, pigeon guillemots, black oystercatchers, and harbor seals. The diversity and spatial structure of these coastal habitats impressed everyone, and stimulated continued discussion of these issues long after we had left the coast. Before heading back inland, Greg made sure that everyone sampled the local cuisine - clam chowder from Mo's in Newport.

The final leg of our journey took us to H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, on the mesic west side of the Cascade Range. Along the way, we added the final member to our group, Dr. John Nason. Our base in the Andrews was Gypsy Camp, which is located in an old-growth forest along Lookout Creek. During our first full day in the area, we traveled up and over McKenzie Pass, to Sisters and the headwaters of the Metolius River. We then returned via the McKenzie River and Clear Lake, the latter of which contains a 3,000-year-old submerged forest. Our last day in the Northwest included a tour of Quartz Creek, where Oregon State University's Randy Wildman described stream restoration and the essential role of downed woody debris in Cascade stream ecosystems. Later that day, we hiked through a classic stand of old-growth forest at Mack Creek. Large Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock dominated the overstory, while the forest floor was carpeted with fallen logs and a lush, continuous cover of moss. Other activities included salamander collecting, stargazing, botanizing, bird watching, and swimming.

Leaving the Andrews marked the beginning of our marathon 37-hour drive back to Ames. We returned to Ames on August 14, tired, smelly, and slightly cranky. However, after a shower and good night's sleep we were able to fully appreciate the previous two weeks, and how the EEB Extended Field Trip provides an amazing opportunity to improve friendships, to witness and explore a diverse array of ecosystems, and to create memories that will last a lifetime.

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© 2005 Iowa State University Entomology Department. Last modified 7/11/05 by John VanDyk.