13 October 2008

Return to El Malpais National Monument

Originally Drafted 07 October 2008

The Malpais.

The purpose of my return trip to El Malpais, western New Mexico is to continue my dissertation work. This objective of this work is to inventory cave biodiversity at lava tubes in this Monument. Ultimately, I will be comparing cave biodiversity at this Monument and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, northwestern Arizona. Kyle Voyles, my esteemed colleague and dear friend of the past several years, was able to obtain a 10 day detail to assist with this work. We have worked together and made many discoveries on Grand Canyon-Parashant National Mounument. For details about this work, go to my popular press page on my website.

We met with park officials, obtained data and maps. It was really great to see Kayci and Jim. It had been a year since we last chatted. Among other things, we discussed the project’s objectives, and finished at Park Headquarters around mid-morning. Thereafter, we fueled up the vehicles, and then determine our plan of attack for the day.

Because we started a bit later than I had anticipated, we decided to start at two caves near the Zuni-Acoma Trailhead. This afforded us a much easier and closer access than some of the other caves on the monument.

View of surface from within Zuni Cave. Credit: Kyle Voyles/NPS.

Today, we learned a valuable lesson in geographic projection systems and GPS. We reviewed the cave reports before going into the field. However, there was no mention of projection system. If one does not know the projection system that is used (e.g., NAD 27, NAD 83), it can be incredibly difficult to locate a feature as small as a cave on the landscape. We were using NAD 27 (the standard projection for the National Park Service), and the coordinate data for the cave was collected in NAD 83.

Unfortunately, there was no mention of this on the cave reports. When this occurs, there is as much as a 600 foot error. So, we had to spend some time looking for the cave. Despite this spatial error, we were ultimately successful in locating our study site.

A small dark hole, one of many on the Malpais.

This resulted in us arriving at the cave late in the afternoon. Consequently, all we were able to do was lay out our sampling stations within this cave. This took us about two hours to complete. Thereafter, we went to Bandera Ice Caves to camp for the night.

The Bandera folks have been very nice to me over the years. They have permitted my team and I to camp on their property. This is quite a luxury for us because we have a secure camp where we can leave gear, and conduct our work without the worry of activities conducted by those with less than honest intentions.

Once we had set up camp, I drove back to the Ice Caves parking lot to use the wifi connection. This is the only wifi hotspot within 20 miles of here. En route, I saw four beautiful mule deer foraging on a hillside. When I stopped the car, they all froze and looked at me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me. I got out of the truck, and walked to the back to get my camera. I thought to myself, I bet they are going to think I’m going for a gun. When I walked back to the front of the truck with my camera, they were long gone. I reckon I was right.

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