18 November 2007

Cave Life near the Ghetto in the Meadow

Ben Solvesky and I conducted reconnaissance of five caves west of Flagstaff. Our purpose for the site visits were to (a) identify bat use and (b) identify caves as potential study sites for intensive ecological sampling.

All caves were dissolution limestone with a volcanic stratum above. Fortunately, these caves are not well known. This was evidenced by virtually no evidence of human visitation.

Two of these caves were incredibly tight cork-screw passage that went back five to ten meters and then narrowed to the point where movement by any normal-sized human was impossible. We determined these two caves were not going to be further investigated. This cave was a three meter vertical drop where I had to chimney down. I learned it was much easier getting into this cave than it was getting out. I got stuck near the entrance, and had to cork-screw 360 degrees to get out.

This was one of the caves with a rather tight passage.

This is likely an historic graffiti signature.

Tree-stump Cave was the first cave we investigated. This was the largest of the five caves we visited. This is quite close to Flagstaff and has significant walkable passage. As a result, I was very pleased to see there was virtually no evidence of human visitation. The only evidence was some historic graffiti and a dig at the back of the cave. Cavers often dig in caves in hopes of finding major passage. Ben decided to investigate this dig and went in. It was a narrow belly crawl, and from what I could see (~ 3 meters beyond my vista), the passageway trifurcated and became somewhat of a labyrinth. Based upon Ben’s initial assessment, we decided this tunnel was chaucy, brambly muddy material that was not very stable. Furthermore, it did not appear very interesting from a biological perspective.

We did find three hibernating bats (Townsend’s big eared bats, Plecotus townsendii) within this cave. We also saw extensive but light bat guano throughout most of the cave, heavy porcupine use (not recent), and evidence of small carnivore use (possibly a ringtail cat). Additionally, there was an extensive network of root mats in the ceiling, which will be an excellent place to search for arthropods. I did a quick look within the root mats and didn’t see anything. Also of interest from an arthropod perspective was the cave was wet and contained a mud floor in many areas. We also encountered numerous crickets and hundreds of fungus gnats on the ceiling within the twilight zone of the cave. The combination of active hydrology and the resultant nutrient input (via vegetation from the surface), and the presence of arthropods and root mats, make this an excellent candidate for further research.

We also documented active actinomycete colonies (microbes) on the cave ceilings and walls.

The second largest cave we visited was Sediment Cave. This cave is located about one meter from an unimproved dirt road. This cave clearly receives considerable amounts of sediment runoff during the monsoons and snow melt. The cave was muddy in many areas and the mud was orange (the same color as the dirt road above). The most exciting discovery of the day were two tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum). These cute little critters were observed in the back of the cave in a small room with a mud floor. We also documented crickets, spiders and fungus gnats in the entrance and twilight zone of this cave.

Our final stop was Candycane Cave (aptly named with Christmas right around the corner). This was the third largest cave we visited. As we crawled into the entrance of this cave, we at once noticed thousands of fungus gnats. Several kamikaze gnats chose to meet their demise by flying directly into my mouth.

This cave was rather small and contained two rooms – one directly above the other. It was also muddy with the lower room likely flooding during monsoons and snow melt. The lower room contained a barren mud floor. From my experience of a cave in New Mexico, I know diplurans can occur in this habitat type, so I searched for them. During this trip, I did not encounter any arthropods in or on the mud floor.

Of particular interest were the filamentous bacteria that occurred on the ceiling. If I can get a microbial person in this cave, I’d love for them to collect samples. This cave contained extensive porcupine use, and we saw only crickets and fungus gnats.

Our one-day outing in western Flagstaff provided us with some interesting findings. Overall, our trip was quite successful. We identified one cave containing at least three hibernating Townsend’s big eared bats, one cave containing two tiger salamanders, two caves containing historic porcupine evidence, and all caves had evidence of packrat activity. Additionally of the five caves we visited, three caves contained dark zone and were hydrologically active and contained arthropods. I will be very interested in sampling these three caves intensively in the near future. With two new genera and 10 new species identified from work on the north and south rims of Grand Canyon, I’m looking forward to learning more about cave ecology in my backyard. I hope to begin survey of around 20 caves in the Flagstaff area this summer.

21 October 2007

4th Annual Pines to the Mines Mountain Bike Endurance Event

From left to right, me, Dustin, David and Brian. Credit: Connor Gifford. Congrats to Dustin, David and Brian! They made it on mountain bike from Flagstaff to Jerome.

Yesterday, I attempted my first endurance mountain bike event. It was the forth annual Pines to Mines Endurance Ride. While it did have the undertones of an endurance “race,” Pay n’ Take, the event coordinators, emphasized it was a ride and not a race. Needless to say that didn’t some many of the riders from barreling 80 miles full boar from Downtown Flagstaff to the hills containing the historic mining town of Jerome. The race/ride was capped at 50 entrants, and approximately seven of us did not make it the entire 80 miles.

Credit: Pay n' Take. We started at the Pay n’ Take in downtown Flagstaff and our objective was to ride 60 miles from town, down and off the Mogollon Rim, across an historic bridge over the Verde River and then up a grueling 20 miles through the rolling and steep hills into the town of Jerome.

I lost my riding buddies early on. They were stronger riders than me and have been riding quite a bit more than I have as of late. While I thought we were sticking together for the ride, it turned out those guys wanted to ride a bit harder. So, I ended up riding the majority of the course with Tony, a Flagstaff city cop. He rode his commuter bike for the event, which I could not believe. He wore garden gloves and tennis shoes and did not have clips on his peddles. Given all this, he was riding much stronger than me yesterday, but we decided to stick together through most of the ride.

The ride was incredible. The morning started off cold, around 35 degrees and slowly warmed up as we rode towards the Mogollon Rim. In Jerome, it was around 80 degrees at mid-day. We rode through downtown, picked Route 66 for about a mile and turning onto Woody Mountain Road. From Woody Mountain Road, we picked up the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trail, which was single track, and we remained on this for about seven miles. The single track was quite technical in many places. It didn’t have a lot of technical up hill and down hill segments. However, the trail contained large segments of incredibly rocky areas with boulders and loose rubble lining the trail. I was able to clean most of it, but chose to get off and walk the bike on several segments. I knew I had a lot of miles to ride, and didn’t want to get hurt early on. This part of the ride was perhaps the most scenic. We rode from the head of Sycamore Canyon to where it became deeply incised. I tried to take in the scenery as much as possible; however, it was often difficult due to the rough terrain I was trying to negotiate. I did get to see several beautiful natural tanks including the Palmeroy Twin Tanks and a few others that dotted the trail. Once we reached the end of the Sycamore Canyon Rim Trial, we reached our first check point.

Big Jonny and another fella were aiding this check point. Tony and I stopped for a breather, grabbed some fruit, and refilled our water bottles. This was mile marker 30, and I had 50 more miles to ride. I learned from Big Jonny that the rest of the group moved through the check point about an hour prior, and I thought that was great. These folks were cookin’.

2007 Pines to Mines Logo, and 2007 t-shirt design. Credit: Pay n' Take. Art work by Joe Sorren.

I realized at that time, I wasn’t going to finish the ride. I’ve never done an MTB ride bigger than about 20 miles, and at that point, I’ve almost doubled that. I realized I’d probably stop at the next check point, which was the 60 mile mark.

My knees were beginning to hurt (and they are still a bit tender), and my bike was not shifting well. Dustin, Brian and I worked on the bike the night before, and while it was shifting much better than before the tune up, it was still riding rough.

Well, after eating an orange, eating a few electrolyte tablets and drinking more water at the aid station at the 30 mile mark, I was ready to continue the ride. We were riding through the Kaibab National Forest at that point, and the landscape was exceptionally beautiful.

For those who haven’t spent much time on the Kaibab, the forest appears to be in much better shape ecologically than the Coconino. It’s more remote, and hasn’t been subjected as intensively to extensive logging and a long history fire suppression. As a result, it tends to have larger tracks of open meadows with larger ponderosa pines and extensive Gambel oak stands. As I’m riding over 20 plus miles of rolling ponderosa pine, oak forest and open meadows, I recall what Brian told me as he talked me into this race.

“Hey man, it’s a roller for 60 miles and then you pedal uphill 20 miles into Jerome.” I hadn't trained for that ride, but I figured I was in good enough shape to do it. Well, it was no roller, unless you consider rolling up and down hills for 60 miles as a “roller.” I’m not complaining, it was one heck of a ride, and a hell of a life experience.

To make things even more interesting, the winds were completely unforgiving during most of this ride, and during the latter part of the ride, I was riding directly into a head wind.

Another photo of us after the race. I felt it worth including because it has the historic mining camp in the background. Jerome is quite a neat place.

So, after about 20 miles, I reached the edge of the Mogollon Rim and it was time to drop off the rim. Tony had dropped me about five miles prior, and I was riding solo at this point. Downhill off the rim was intense. It was at least eight miles of grueling unimproved road comprised of boulders, loose rock, gravel and sand along the route. On the down hill stretches, which was the vast majority of this eight mile segment, I had to be completely focused on what I was doing. If not, I was going to eat a boulder -- something I really didn't want to do. I had to watch the road ahead, and watch my tire. My eyes oscillated between these two point -- ahead and tire, ahead and tire. As I was riding downhill at ~¾ speed, my whole body was being shaken, my quads were burning from standing in my peddles, my head was rattling, and my arms are in pain from being jostled about.

I could likely endure the first few discomforts the entire time, but by far the worst was the pain in the arms. I had to stop several times just to compose myself. I’d stop, shake out my hands, stretch my arms, and then start riding again.

Map of course route. Credit: Pay n' Take.

Once I got below the rocky portions of the road, I stopped and ran into another rider. His name was Kurt and he is a physics teacher in Flagstaff. I had kept him within eye shot during the Sycamore Canyon Rim segment of the ride. He and I chatted briefly and he indicated he had taken a couple of falls. So, I wanted to make sure all was going well with him.

While taking a breather in the pinyon-juniper, Kurt and I chatted a bit about the ride, and then we continued on. I would occasionally stop to make sure it was okay and making it down hill without injury.

A couple of miles later, I stopped again to chat with him. I told him I was going to the 60 mile mark, and bagging the rest of the ride. He indicated he was going the same.

So, we continued riding and after a few more excellent down hill switchbacks, I reached the 60 mile mark at the Verde River. A couple of minutes later Kurt arrived. We were hanging out with Anthony, a Pay n’ Take employee who was running the aid station at the Verde. I found out Tony had passed this check point about 10 minutes prior and he was headed for Jerome. I thought Tony was going to make it, and I was stoked.

Kurt, Anthony and I remained at the Verde for a while and then rode (in a truck at this point) back up hill to look for a couple of missing riders. These were the last two in the race, and they had checked in at the aid station at 30 mile. Upon not being able to locate them, Anthony decided he was going to run us up to Jerome.

Town of Jerome, AZ. Credit: Jerome Chamber of Commerce.

At this point, all I was thinking about was Bigfoot Bar-B-Que. They were catering the event, and there would be plenty of food in Jerome. As we were driving toward this little mining town, we saw Tony on the road. He was beat, and ready to call it a day. So, we loaded his bike in the truck and proceeded up hill.

Anthony decided to make a stop to call the race organizers and determine what he needed to do regarding the two other riders. He was instructed to return to the 60-mile aid station and wait. So, Kurt, Tony and I decided we were going to continue our ride to Jerome. We knew it was going to be punishing, but we were ready to get to there. Besides, I knew Connor had been waiting for me for hours, and I felt really bad because I didn’t want her to wait.

So, we continued to ride. As we had anticipated, the road was rough and the winds were howling. We made it only about a mile further before Tony’s wife and kids arrived in a SUV with a bike rack. At this point, Tony’s wife offered to take us to Jerome. Kurt indicated he was going to continue riding, and I decided to ride with him. Then, Tony was in as well.

We then realized the winds were not going to die down anytime soon, the road was incredibly steep, and we weren’t going to make to Jerome until after dark. So…we took the ride.

Once the day was over, I logged 61 miles of the 80 mile route. This was the most I’ve ever ridden on a MTB. Also, it was perhaps some of the most technical riding I’ve done to date. So, I accomplished quite a bit on that day. Image credit: Connor Gifford.

Although I did not finish, I felt I earned the t-shirt. So, I grabbed one. Because this wasn’t a race and I never treated it as one, I didn’t feel bad for having the t-shirt, nor will I feel bad about wearing it. Excluding this race/ ride event, I've never DNF-ed.

I will make my second attempt next year. Barring injury, I plan to finish in 2008!

16 October 2007

Ty-vex, Vanishing Bats and the First Snow on the Malpais

14 October 2007 – Guano Grotto Cave, El Malpais NM, New Mexico (end of 2007 fieldwork)

Image: In front of Guano Grotto Cave and ready to defy the sign! Actually, we do have Monument permission to work in this cave.

Today, we had but one cave on our agenda. We must return to Guano Grotto Cave, conduct our time constrained searches, search for arthropods opportunistically as we move through the cave, process animals within traps and then pull traps.

Image: All the gear necessary for three people to work in a guano-laden cave environment.

From the image above, it is clear we were much more prepared to deal with the extensive guano, the permeating smell and the fungal spores. We had the correct respirators, Ty-vex suits and latex booties to create somewhat of a barrier between us and the guano and possible fungal spores associated with histoplasmosis.

Unfortunately, Ara was not able to accompany us during this trip to Guano Grotto. He could not get his respirator mask to seal on his face. So, erring on the side of caution, he remained topside while Pete, completed the work at this cave.

However, Ara’s time topside proved rewarding on a different level. He was able to witness the first snow of the season on El Malpais. We had watched the clouds set up on the Divide all morning. I was waiting to see if they would produce any precipitation, and they did. Unfortunately, Pete and I were below ground when this event too place.

Image: We encountered at least five of these beetles on the rocks below a skylight entrance in Guano Grotto Cave.

When we went through the section containing bats, we realized the majority of the Mexican free-tailed bat colony had left. They began their migration between 10 and 14 October. We did hear at least a few dozen bats from within several rock cracks overhead. However, we were unable to get a visual on their exact location. I suspect these bats did not build their energy reserves sufficiently to weather the long migratory trip south. So, they would remain at the cave. Unfortunately, these bats will not make it through the winter. They will likely continue to forage until the snow sets in, and then, if they do not migrate, they will starve to death. Death is part of life, and this is, indeed, part of the process. Those “fit enough” will likely survive the migration to the tropics, while those less than “fit enough” will not.

Image: Immature/ juvenile female cricket with missing hind leg. I can tell this is an immature/ juvenile female cricket by its short ovipositor (the middle appendage protruding from between the two cerci on the cricket's tail end). The ovipositor on an adult female is much longer. This cricket will likely get it's leg back when it molts. Once crickets are adults, they do not molt and once a leg is lost, it cannot be regrown.

Well, we did conduct our time-constrained searches, and pulled all our traps and sensors. Our efforts were quite successful. We encountered and collected psocopterans, cave crickets, rhadine beetles, Eleodes beetles, fungus gnats and several spiders.

Image: Mummified Mexican free-tailed bat.

Interestingly, throughout the entire survey of eight caves, we did not observe any pseudoscorpions. There were a few caves where I felt confident we would encounter them. However, we had no such luck.

I will be returning to the Monument between early August and September of next year to complete the survey. So, perhaps we will find pseudoscorpions. Also, we will continue our search for water bears. There are two additional caves where I plan to sample upon my return.

Water Bears, Roots and a Lava Bird Bath

13 October 2007 -- Four Caves in one Day; a new record.

Here I am contemplating the genesis of several dry-laid stone features on the Pahoehoe flow. I am featured sitting in front of the entrance to one of them. There was little evidence of prehistoric or historic use. These features are apparently the foundation of a housing structure, but used by whom? I do not know. Image Credit: Ara Kooser.

As I am typing this blog, I’m sitting next to a campfire underneath the star-filled New Mexican sky. My fingers are growing numb from working in the cold autumn air.

We had a successful field day today. I met Pete and Ara at the trail head this morning. I returned late from Albuquerque last night, and I stayed in a hotel in Grants.

Today, we had to pull traps from Bird Bath, and return to Roots Cave for some additional opportunistic invertebrate collecting. We also wanted to search for another cave we had difficulty locating on day one of this field stint.

Image: The elusive entrance to Roots Cave. If you do not have the coordinates to this cave, you would walk right by it. Fortunately, we do.

Image: Two spider egg masses. Note the soil and small rocks used to create a protective casing over the eggs.

We spent about one hour at Roots cave. We collected springtails, a few new spider species and centipedes. I am definitely looking forward to intensively sampling this cave. Once we completed this effort, we returned topside to each lunch.

Image: The namesake for Roots Cave. Notice the mychorriza (white nodules on the roots) and the microbes (silver spots on the walls).

From there, we headed out to look for the cave we were unable to find on Saturday. Today, we were able to find this cave. I concluded this cave is much warmer than many of the other caves I’ve visited on the monument. Also, while I do not think it will contain the species diversity like Bird Bath and Roots, this cave is still worth surveying. Also, it will be a good complement to the other caves already studied in this region. I found a light deposition of guano in several areas within the cave, and pack rat activity was evident in many areas near the multiple entrances of this cave.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I encountered in this cave was the lava speleothems. While they are not arguably not as beautiful as karst speleothems, these are still quite beautiful and certainly fascinating.

Getting comfortable and taking notes in Bird Bath Cave. Image Credit: Peter Polsgrove.

Once this was done, we headed back to Bird Bath Cave to pull traps. We did not find many invertebrates in our traps. We had only four crickets in one of our traps. Fortunately, two were males and we collected them for identification. We released the females. Once we had pulled all our traps, we decided to conduct another opportunistic search of the area below the roots, as well as within the roots. We actually collected two specimens of the little white bug that evaded capture four days prior. We also collected a few springtail specimens and one mite.

While the opportunistic collecting may not be of value from a statistical perspective, this information will be most helpful in characterizing the biodiversity of all caves studied. So, I do see there is much value to this aspect of the inventory.

As we were driving across the monument, I saw two mule deer at a water tank. By the time I got my camera ready, only one remained. This is a picture of the buck.

Finally, our day ended by returning to camp at Ice Caves. However, before we went back to our campsite, we went to the Ice Cave (the tour cave at the Bandera Ice Cave) to collect algae samples. During this time of year, the big ice sheet at the entrance of the cave is partially thawed and there is algae growing throughout. I am hoping I will find tardigrades within the algae. We shall see!

Driving in Albuquerque during Fiesta

12 October 2007

Well, today I did not get underground. Pete and Ara conducted a web search on Histoplasmosis and realized our respirators did not contain the proper filtration. So, unless we find the right equipment, we cannot return to Guano Grotto to pull traps.

I spent the day looking for either respirators or cartridges with a 0.2 micron filter (meaning it filters 99.98% of the particulates in the air). Our cartridges were 0.3 microns. I called numerous safety businesses in Albuquerque. Fortunately, I was able to find a place that carried the respirators with the correct cartridges. Safety Flare, Inc. in Albuquerque, NM.  is where I found the equipment. They are an incredibly helpful bunch of folks who were willing to stay open after 1700hr so that I could pick up the respirators. Thank you very much, Rhonda, Abbey and the rest of the helpful staff there!

Albuquerque is a town of about 500 thousand people, it is more than doubled during the annual hot balloon fiesta. I haven’t seen this many crazy drivers on the road since I was driving in Veracruz, Mexico. When I drove through last, it consisted of an unmarked four lane highway. I was almost sideswiped by crazy drivers twice! Needless to say, I was rather glad to get out of town.

Pete and Ara went to pull traps at Spotted Pavement Cave. Much to my surprise this cave contained numerous invertebrates. They collected Rhadine beetles, springtails, and crickets.

15 October 2007

More Batty than Usual

11 October 2007 El Malpais NM, New Mexico -- Tres mas cuevas

This is a maternity/nursery roost of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis). You can actually see the "free-tails" on several of the flying individuals in this image! I estimated this roost around 3000 individuals. I was surprised to see so many bats so late in the season. I had specifically chosen to conduct biological inventories in early to late fall to avoid disturbing bat maternity and nursery colonies. Fortunately, all the pups associated with this colony are now vagile (they can fly), so our presence does not place the pups at risk of being knocked off the ceiling.

We have three caves on today’s agenda. We will conduct time constrained searches and pull traps at Dipulran Den and Dead Snake Caves. Once this was completed, we were going to Guano Grotto Cave to deploy traps.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Dipulran Den and Dead Snake Caves are heavily used by tourists. They are also characterized as ice caves. Thus, I did not anticipate finding much in these caves. In Dipluran Den we collected only one cricket. Fortunately for us, it was a male and we could use this specimen for identification. However, we did encounter one big brown bat and at least five hibernating Townsend's big eared bats roosting within the cave.

Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) in a torpor within the twilight zone of Dipluran Den Cave.

This Townsend's Big Eared Bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) is most likely setting into hibernation for the winter. During the cave detection research, I've counted upwards of ~100 hibernating Townsend's bats within the dark zone of Dipluran Den Cave.

We did not encounter one arthropod in Dead Snake Cave.

Once we were done with these two caves, it was time to enter the Guano Grotto. This cave was another world. This cave is aptly named. The guano is so extensive that we had to wear respirators while working in this cave. Respirators are required to protect us from histoplasmosis . This is caused by a fungus that can enter the lungs and grows on the alveoli as polyps. In most cases, this condition is not fatal, but if you get it, you may wish it was.

Over 90 % of this cave was covered in a thick carpet of bat guano. As we walked through this cave, the floor felt as if we were walking on a padded floor. The walls were covered in guano and in some places there were actually stalactites of guano. Pete believes there is mycelium (a type of fungus) binding the guano and decomposing material together. This is probably how the guano was forming stalactites on the walls.

As we were pulling tape to mark our stations and getting deeper into the cave, I heard bats. Once I rounded a bend in the passage, I realized there were a significant number of Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) still in residence. I estimate the colony at approximately 3000 bats.

Image: Ara and Pete pulling tape to establish our sampling stations. Pete is featured in the image.

The nutrient loading due to the presence of these bats and the deposition of guano has resulted in one of, if not the, most biodiverse cave on the monument. We collected numerous spiders species, Rhadine beetles, Eleodes beetles, crickets and fungus gnats. I expect we will find numerous additional species through the trapping effort. We will learn of our success when we pull the traps on Sunday.

A Bird Bath of Molten Lava

10 October 2007 El Malpais NM, New Mexico -- Three caves in a day.

Image: Ara standing above one of the entrances to Bird Bath Cave.

Today, we are going to visit three caves: Cedar Still, Bird Bath, and Roots Cave. Our plan is to pull traps from Cedar Still Cave, and deploy traps at Bird Bath and Roots Caves.

When we pulled traps from Cedar Still, we were not at all surprised to find there were absolutely no invertebrates. We suspect the cave is simply too cold and perhaps too extensively disturbed to support life.

This cave has been extensively used by humans. From what I can discern from this cave, it appears front portion was used prehistorically, while the back part of the cave was used historically to contemporaneously.

Root mats from Bird Bath Cave. Also, in the bottom right of this image are gold colored microbes. Dr. Diana Northup and Jessica Snider at University of New Mexico-Albuquerque are currently studying these cave microbes.

Once we pulled traps, our next stop was Bird Bath Cave. The synonym for this cave was drawn from a large lava formation within the cave dark zone that actually looks like a bird bath. This cave contained roots and was also characterized by heavy invertebrate activity. Once we had deployed traps within this cave, we conducted an opportunistic search for invertebrates. We spend most of our time searching in the root mats overhead. We collected numerous spiders, springtails and attempted to collect a ovate white bug about 5 mm in length. As I tried to catch it, it jumped from the root mats and escaped.

At the back of Bird Bath, we found a fully articulated small carnivore skeleton. This is most likely a ring-tailed cat. I'm going to compare cranial specimens to make this determination. Once I do, I'll update this blog accordingly.

Our opportunistic searches continued once we arrived at Roots Cave. Unfortunately, we arrived at this cave too late to deploy traps, so we chose to opportunistic collect instead. Roots cave is aptly named -- I’ve never seen so many roots in one cave. The nutrient loading associated with these roots is what is fueling the entire ecosystem within this cave. The organisms occurring with this cave is tied to the presence of these roots – without the roots, there would be few invertebrates within this cave.

This cave contained far more invertebrates than Bird Bath. However, I expect a large extent of activity to be constrained to the ceiling. Thus, it seems the opportunistic collect will serve to compliment our systematic trapping. Also, when we do this, I plan to collect a portion of the roots and use a Berlese funnel to extract these organisms.

Image: A small natural arch over the trench that contains Bird Bath Cave. Notice the small sandstone marker in the bottom left of the image. Sandstone markers are common out here and are often associated with prehistoric human use. There is a trail across the Ah-ah lava flow on the Bandera property that is lined with these sandstone markers. Jeff suggests this is an ancient Anasazi trail. The question is...did the Anasazi leave this marker?

Another March Across the Ah-ah

09 October 2007 -- Breakdown Basement and Spotted Pavement Caves

Image of me standing above Spotted Basement Cave. Image Credit: Ara Kooser.

Today, our mission was to deploy traps at two caves. We arrived at our first cave and we decided not to sample there. I’m calling this cave Breakdown Basement Cave. This cave was characterized by large person to car sized boulders littered on the ground as breakdown. This cave contained extensive dry and deflated guano, but I did not observe any recent guano deposition. Because of this, I concluded this cave was not a good candidate for survey. Additionally, we went to the first part of the cave where it constricted narrowly and the team decided the breakdown surrounding the passage was unsafe. The lack of nutrient availability coupled with potential safety hazards resulted in us deciding not to sample at this cave.

Once we made the determination this was a less than favorable cave to survey, we proceeded across the lava flow to our second cave. I’m calling this cave Spotted Pavement Cave. This cave was maze-like with a pahoehoe ribbon floor and contained multiple braids along one major passage. We decided to sample within this cave. While our initial time constrained searched did not reveal any invertebrate activity, we deployed baited pitfall traps.

Chrystal formations observed at ground level at the back of Spotted Pavement Cave.

I documented a light deposition of bat guano throughout the front half of this cave. I believe nutrient availability may limit cave diversity. I expect our additional survey when we collect traps will likely provide us with valuable insights into the diversity of this system. We know from previous work there were several invertebrates inventoried from this cave. However, I think many of these species were surface dwelling organisms, and thus were not cave-adapted or limited.

Over the past two years, I have studied this cave as part of my cave detection research. I’ve observed bat maternity activity within this cave. It contains a summer roost of Townsend's Big-eared bats. While conducting our surveys on this trip, I did not record any evidence of recent use of this cave as a Townsend big-eared bat maternity roost.

Also, on two occasions during the cave detection research, I’ve observed Rhadine beetles in the cave dark zone. I am quite eager to find out what occurs in this cave. In four days, we will return.

12 October 2007

White “Bugs” of the Mud Room

08 October 2007 – Dipluran Den and Dead Snake Caves, El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

A cave-adapted Dipluran in the Mud Room, Dipluran Den Cave.

Today we deployed traps in Dipluran Den and Dead Snake Caves. Pete and I stayed in Grants on Sunday night so we could meet and pick up Ara Kooser and Bennett Barthelemy. Ara is going to be pursuing a PhD under Diana Northup at University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

This morning after grabbing breakfast at El Cafecito (definitely the best place to eat breakfast in Grants), and running a plethora of errands, we headed for the caves.

Dipluran Den is a cave quite close to the parking lot and is perhaps the most heavily visited cave on the monument. We needed to sample this to determine what is within the cave to better aid the monument in managing for this resource. We conducted our time constrained searches at each sampling station and didn’t find anything until we reached the “Mud Room” at the back of the cave. Here, is perhaps the only cave-adapted organisms on the monument. These tiny Diplurans are subjected to a fairly consistent regimen of disturbance from humans. I don’t expect the back of the cave receives as many visitors as the front half of the cave. Nonetheless, the “Mud Room” was covered with foot prints and scarring on the mud surface.

In addition to deploying baited pitfall traps using a systematic sampling design throughout the cave, we are also conducting time-constrained searches at each sample station. This is an image of me searching for invertebrates. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

This is the cave-adapted dipluran. This critter was originally identified by Drs. Cal Welbourn and Diana Northup during their surveys in the early 1990s. This is most likely a new species and possible a new genera. At the time specimens were collected, there was no taxonomist available to properly identify this organism.

Once we completed trapping at Dipluran Den, we went to Dead Snake Cave to deploy traps. I’m calling this cave “Dead Snake” as a synonym for the actual cave name because some unenlightened visitor to the chose to kill a gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) within the cave. It is illegal to kill any animal on National Park Service lands.

Image: The vista on our approach to Dead Snake Cave.

At the entrance of this cave, we found evidence of pack rat. We also determined this cave was once heavily used by bats. We found deflated guano almost throughout the entire length of this cave. However, aside from night roosting (probably Townsend's Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus townsendii), there was no new evidence of bat roosting activity.

Ara and Pete (from left to right) gearing up to enter Dead Snake Cave.

That Ole Copper Kettle

07 October 2007 -- Cedar Still Cave, El Malpais NM, New Mexico

This is an image of a partially frozen pool with a pipe and ladder protruding the surface. Jeff Alford, a good friend of mine, and manager of Bandera Volcano Ice Caves told me this cave was used, for many years, as a whiskey still.

Well, today was much better than yesterday. All day yesterday was spent looking for caves we were unable to locate. I’m not certain if we wrote down incorrect GPS coordinates, or if the projection systems were not the same, but we did not find two of the caves we were to survey.

It was still eventful nonetheless. We walked across a massive pahoehoe flow interspersed with ahah flows, and the landscape was absolutely stunning. I also was able to watch as a grey fox climbed straight up a rock face to exit a collapse trench. We also had to cross the lava in complete darkness at the end of the day. This made for a great journey back to the truck.

Today, we deployed traps in Cedar Still Cave. We called this cave Cedar Still because rumor suggests this was once home to a whisky still. The cave floor was covered with a thick deposition or ash, charcoal and wood. There was also a lot of metal workings within the back of the cave, suggestive of this type of use as well.

Interestingly, this is an ice cave and contains the most significant amounts of year round ice. This cave has two ice pools and several large ice walls. When we pull traps on Wednesday, we will also be sampling the pools for tardigrades (water bears).

We conducted our time-constrained searches at all sampling stations and found no evidence of invertebrate life. This doesn’t mean there isn’t arthropods in this cave. It simply means, we did not find any evidence of arthropod activity. We will have to wait and see what we find in our traps on Wednesday.

Also, the front portion of the cave was littered with moth (Order Lepidopteran) wings. This suggests bats (probably Townsend's Big-eared Bat Corynorhinus townsendii) are using this cave as a night roost.

Upon our return to camp, we drove past a flock of 11 wild turkeys watering at a tank. Pete and I watched as the turkeys cross the road. This was an excellent way to end the evening. Unfortunately, the batteries in both Pete and my cameras were dead. So, we didn’t get to photograph them as they crossed in front of us.

When Bats are Smarter than Scientists…

28 September 2007 -- Environmental Ecology (ENV 326) Bat Lab

This is a shot of me speaking with my students about how to sample for bats. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

I've fallen a bit behind on my blogs. I'm posting this from a blog that I wrote the weekend of 28 September 2007.

In an attempt to give my students more exposure to actual field techniques, fieldwork, and perhaps place them in contact with researchers who may be able to provide them with summer job opportunities, Moran (my TA) and I decided to overhaul the ENV 326 lab. This will entail bat, cave, bird, vegetation and climate change labs.

The first on our agenda was the bat. I was able to convince one of my good buddies, Ben Solvesky (School of Forestry M.S. candidate in bat ecology), to lead the lab. We decided upon a pit in Sedona to mist net and conduct emergent counts of bats. Ben and his girlfriend, Summer, had gone out the night before to determine if the pit actually contained bats – somewhat of a prerequisite for a bat lab. If bats were present, his plan was to determine how many, and figure out which way they exited the pit. The latter point being critical to setting up the mist net – we needed to set the net within their flyway, otherwise the work would be all for naught.

Ben and Summer estimated at least 50 bats and determined they were exiting to the north. So, gravid with this information, Ben and I felt confident we would catch plenty of bats for the lab and thus be able to demonstrate the capture techniques with the students, and also give them the opportunity to view a bat in the hand.

Friday rolled around, and it was time to catch some bats. Ben, two of my students and I arrived early to set up. The rest of the students and Moran, would be showing up about an hour after we arrived.

It was a beautiful evening in Sedona. It was warm, around 70 degrees and overcast. The latter would prove to make for a beautiful sunset. So, we set up mist net, the bat processing station (this is the area we would actually measure bats), and the exit count station. This is where we had a video camera with Night Shot capabilities, an IR light and a pair of IR goggles. Now, everything was ready to go.

Moran and the rest of my students arrived shortly thereafter, and now all we had to do was wait for the sun to set and the bats to emerge. Ben had predicted the bats would emerge at exactly 1833hr – exactly 1833hr.

The first bat emerged at 1836hr! So, old Ben was wrong! Ever sense he had made that statement, I had wanted the bats to prove him wrong – and they did.

The bats continued to get the better of us that night. We didn’t catch one bat. Every single bat flew over our net. All we needed was one bat for show my students. However, the bats chose not to cooperate.

I'm holding a praying mantis. This was the only thing we captured in the mist net on that night. Image Credit: Bennett Barthelemy.

Fortunately, the night was not completely unproductive. All the students were able to count bats as they emerged from their roost using IR goggles and/ or a video camera with an IR light. We had two groups for this operation. One using the IR goggles, the other were viewing bats through the video camera. I totaled each count and took the average. There were two species totaling ~64 bats.

After the bats exited the roost, we hiked back to the vehicles and headed home.

17 September 2007

The Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life 50K Run

Well, Saturday AM came early on 15 September for Team SpadeFeet and Team Forest Rain. We got up at 0230hr and caravanned from Flagstaff to Walpi Village on the Hopi Reservation. We were running the

Hopi Paatuwaqatsi Water is Life Run

, and the race began at 0600hr. Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Our caravan consisted of five very tired people. We had two three person relay teams for this event. Team Spade Feet consisted of me, Ethan Aumack and David Hartly. Team Forest Rain consisted of my girlfriend (Connor Gifford), Bruce Higgins and Tom Sisk. Dave was fortunate enough to spend the night on the Hopi Rez, so he was able to sleep in.

Looking toward First Mesa and Walpi as the sun rises on Hopi Land.

This race is ancient, and may very well be the first ultra running race in Arizona, and perhaps North America. This 30 mile run circumnavigates the three mesas which represent Hopi Land. This is a prayer run and race organizers emphasized this is not a run to win, but a run for life. Its purpose is to run to promote the health and continued flow of the springs upon which the Hopi rely for growing their crops. But in a larger sense, the race is to promote love and compassion and the recognition that water is life not just for the Hopi but for the Planet. The Hopi are intimately familiar with this fact. They understand the importance of respecting Mother Earth, and that sentiment was effectively conveyed throughout the day.

The run was epic! First we were able to watch the sun rise on Hopi Land. And once the race began, we were able to experience the stark beauty of the Hopi Reservation. There were sights to behold along each 10 mile leg – not to mention challenges such as running through deep sand and bouldering up and down First Mesa. The first leg consisted of running up and down hills of sand and through the ancient village of Walpi (the longest inhabited village in North America), the second leg consisted of running through MORE sand, hills and scenic views, and the third leg consisted of running up and down First Mesa twice and then ultimately ending at the bottom of First Mesa containing a Walpi satellite settlement. The race course in its entirety consisted of running by many of the sacred springs of Hopi Land. As part of this run, we were encouraged to stop by the flowing springs give thanks and honor the water that gives us life. For all Humans and All Organisms - water is life.

A view of Second Mesa.

Bruce and I were shuttled out to the second transition point at around 0700hr. It was already getting hot, and I continued to seek any shade available by laying under parked trucks. While I was laying there, in a relaxed quasi-meditative state, I was soaking it all in. In mid-September on Hopi Land, it is hot with little to no shade (save for what I could muster underneath a truck with several other runners) and the sun beats down on you relentlessly. Water keeps us alive in the desert without it we would not survive long. Water is life.

I throughly enjoyed my time with the Hopi People. I was honored to share this day with them. I learned we share a common thread -- the Hopi are a running culture, and I am a runner. While I awaited for Ethan, my team member running the second leg of the race, I was chatting with the Hopi and other runners about races, qualifying for marathons, what we eat to prepare for runs, where we run, how we train, etc. The camaraderie at the transition point was great, and I enjoyed my time there as I was trying to hide from the sun.

A random shot of runners and spectators directly after the ultra-runners started.

Around 1000hr, Ethan finally arrived, and it was time for me to run the third and final leg of the race. I was the lucky one on my team – I ran the hottest leg of the day. Despite this, it was absolutely beautiful. Hopi Land is a magnificent place, and I was honored and blessed to participate in this event. My leg of the run started by traversing up and down sandy hills and then climbing up onto First Mesa; as I was summiting the Mesa, I passed my first spring. The spring was replete with cattails and I stopped at the water source momentarily to give thanks and peer into the water. There were literally hundreds of bees and wasps at the waters edge. These critters were likely collecting water for their nests and hives. Water is life.

Once I was atop the mesa, I picked up my pace. I realized I would run faster on the flats and down hills and speed hike the up hills. By the time I crested the mesa, it was probably in the mid-80s and climbing, and once again…there was no shade! Granted this is a prayer run, but whenever you safety pin a bib on your shorts it becomes a race! I was mindful my entire time out there, and I stopped at each spring to give thanks. This being said, when I was on the trail, I was pushing myself all the way to the finish line.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I encountered during this race was running the ancient trails along the mesa top. There was a foot path carved into the stone from generations of runners using this trail. I was actually on a trail which was carved into the limestone over hundreds, if not a thousand years, of use. I was most humbled by this experience. I also ran through carpets of broken pottery and several ancient Pueblos. As I was running along this ancient running trail, a raven joined me as the wind picked up. He soared on a thermal along the edge of the mesa and I ran along. Although he may not have known why we were running, I’m sure he knew where ever spring was on that mesa, and he knew, albeit perhaps only instinctively, that water is life.

An additional benefit of this race is its tranquility. During my entire run, I only encountered three people on the trail. I stopped to help two ultra-runners along the way. I gave one some salt tabs and water, and I helped another find his way back onto the trial. I also got dropped by one relay runner, who was far more conditioned than I for running in the heat. I did focus on him and declared him my “rabbit” -- he remained in my sights, and relatively close by up to the finish line.

Team SpadeFeet, Ethan Aumack, Dave Hartly and me (from left to right). Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

Once I reached the finish line, it took me about half an hour to cool down to where I could eat – but I really wanted food! The Hopi had prepared a massive traditional feast for everyone. So, once I had cooled down, I gorged myself on chile stew, beans and hominy, squash, watermelon and piki bread. I ate a lot of watermelon!

I’m still waiting to hear back from the race organizers, but I believe Team SpadeFeet placed either forth or fifth; however, I’m fairly certain we placed fourth. We had one problem during the race. Our first team member to run, Dave, got lost and ran and additional one to two miles. I reckon Dave wanted to put a more good running vibes on the trail for the springs! The running course can be quite confusing and Dave was one of many to get lost. So, we’re not holding it against him!

Team Forest Rain placed second in the three-person relay and finished first overall in mixed gender teams. Congratulations to Connor, Bruce and Tom!

Team Forest Rain at the Awards Ceremony, Bruce Higgins, race organizer Mr. Bucky Preston, Tom Sisk and Connor Gifford (from left to right).

Bringin' it on Home! Image Credit: Connor Gifford.

On this day, we did bring the rain. As I was running along First Mesa I could see the rain moving toward me from Second Mesa. Once I dropped down off the mesa and was running in 90+ degree heat, I was really praying for rain. Well...the rain didn't come until after I had crossed the finish line. First it rained lightly. Thereafter, the winds picked up and brought a sand storm that could choke a camel. The sand storm was intense, and I don’t recall being in a sand storm of this intensity before. After the winds abated, the rains did come, and we received a nice little reprieve from the heat. It was cloudy and rainy the rest of the afternoon. It was an excellent ending to a beautiful day.

Hopi Land is an amazing place. It was humbling to run ancient trails with these People, to share in their culture, and to honor and pray for that which is sacred. Water is life.