13 October 2008

Staying Dry on the Malpais

Originally drafted 11 October 2008

A to-be-identified spider in Roots Cave. Credit: Kyle Voyles/NPS.

Today was an incredibly rainy day on the Monument. This created a little bit of chaos for the team. One valuable lesson that all field scientists must learn is that things do not always go as planned. Thus, one of the most important rules when working in the field is to be prepared for things to go wrong. Secondly, one must have the flexibility to work through and around the problem.

Hiking across the Malpais. Credit: Kyle Voyles/NPS.

Everything started out smoothly. We broke camp and left the Bandera property by 0830hr. Our plan was to work two caves near the Big Tubes area. These were fairly remote and involved over a one mile hike across numerous lava flows to reach the caves.

First off, the weather was not cooperating with us today. It was a 40% chance of rain on the Malpais. We were discussing when is the last time you heard a forecast involving a 40% chance of rain and then it rained? Well, it rained all day. All team members had Gore-Tex and were prepared for the elements.

However, once we were about half way to the caves, one of our team members (and I won’t mention who) set down a valuable piece of equipment in the forest when we had stopped for a few minutes to remove our Gore-Tex shells – it wasn’t raining at the time, and we were all getting really hot hiking in our jackets.

When this happened, I gave this person my GPS with all the coordinates programmed into the machine, and we programmed the coordinates to the first cave into his GPS. Before we temporarily split company, we doubled-checked the coordinates to make sure they were entered correctly. Upon making this determination, we proceeded to the cave, and at out person tried to follow the GPS track back to where the gear was left.

A rainy self-portrait. Credit: Kyle Voyles/NPS.

Given thunderstorms, pouring rain, uncomfortably cold temperatures and some navigational issues with the GPS, all of this took us a lot longer than we had anticipated. My around noon, our rendezvous point was about 200 feet from the cave. We went to the cave and started the work.

We were working at Roots Cave today. We visited this cave last year, where we opportunistically collected invertebrates. This time, we were systematically trapping and conducting time constrained searches within this cave in hopes of improving our understanding of this caves biodiversity. Oddly, we found numerous spiders, but not many other organisms, within this cave. We will have to wait to see what our traps yield in four days.

Moving through the back of Roots Cave. Credit: Kyle Voyles/ NPS.

Our drive out of this area was very interesting to say the least. The roads in this part of the monument are notoriously known for being impassible during inclement weather events. Well, we had a bad weather event today, and the roads were a mess.

I radioed into the ELMA Information Center, and MaryAnna told me the roads were going to be bad. She had been out there earlier in the day, and was very concerned as to whether we would be returning to camp that night, or if we’d be camping where our truck got stuck.

I drove out slowly and cautiously in 4X4 high. We slipped and slide for about five miles. At one point, we almost went off the road. Fortunately, I recovered and we proceeded on.

We made it back to camp in one piece.

The storm that made for a cold and wet day. Credit: Kyle Voyles/NPS.

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