The next stop on our national park tour was Zion National Park. This is a very popular and beautiful park, that is also quite large! Only relatively small parts of it are accessible to most people, but if you are able to get a backcountry permit, there is much to explore! We were able to get a backcountry permit to camp along the East Rim of the canyon, which was quite beautiful, though I’ve heard the West Rim is the place to be (next time!). Zion Canyon and the surrounding canyons in the park cut deep into the earth in-between two of the layers of the Grand Staircase, an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers. Zion National Park lies in-between the White and Grey Cliffs. Here are a few pictures that try to capture the enormity of the canyons in the national park:
Zion Canyon itself is around 15 miles long and can be over 3000 feet deep. The East Rim where we camped was over 6000 ft., while the bottom of Zion Canyon was below 4500 ft. Zion Canyon, like the Grand Canyon, was formed by millions of years of erosion by a river – the Virgin River.
The non-backcountry areas of the Grand Canyon and Zion are quite different and offer very different experiences. When you visit the Grand Canyon, you start at the tops of the canyon and can hike in; whereas when you visit Zion, you start at the bottom of the canyon and hike up. This allows many people to see several of Zion Canyons interesting features such as the Weeping Rock (a rock wall that has water running continuously down it) and the Checkerboard Mesa.
Another prominent part of Zion Canyon is an area called The Narrows, which is a very narrow (surprise!) part of the canyon, where there is basically no ground that is not covered by the Virgin River. It is a very popular day hike and also a popular backpacking location. However The Narrows can be quite dangerous, as any rain upstream or in Zion National Park could lead to a flash flood, which has been known to claim lives of even the most experienced hikers. Below is the picture of The Narrows.
Ultimately, Zion National Park is a spectacular place that I feel like I have only barely started exploring. There is still so much I want to do there and I plan to visit it again soon for some awesome backpacking!
There is no place like the Grand Canyon, and the North Rim of the national park was absolutely spectacular.
On the first day of our national park trip, Meghan and I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. For those who do not know much about the Grand Canyon, it is a massively-colossal canyon that has been created after billions of years of erosion from the Colorado River. It is so large that it can clearly be seen from space. Just to give some numbers, it is over 250 miles long, at some points over 15 miles wide, and sometimes over 6000 feet deep! It is hard to capture the magnitude of these numbers on camera, but here are a few photos of the canyon itself.
Now for those who have never been to both sides of the Grand Canyon National Park, they are quite different. The South Rim, which is at a lower elevation (~5,000 to 7,000 ft), is typically characterized by Sonoran desert flora or juniper/pinyon pine forests. On the other hand, the higher elevation North Rim (8,000 to 9,000 ft) ranges from ponderosa pine forests to more montane conifer-aspen forests, like in the below picture. We visited at the perfect time to see all the aspen trees change into their beautiful yellow fall colors.
Being a huge fan of mountains and montane habitats, I found myself preferring the North Rim. The cooler temperatures were a plus as well. However, the North Rim does close down during parts of the year due too much snow, but that was not a problem for us! We enjoyed the crisp cool mountain air and epic views of the Grand Canyon – both from Bright Angle Point, where we saw the sunset over the Canyon,
And Point Imperial, where we saw the eastern end of the canyon.
All of it was amazing, and I would love to spend more time hiking into the Grand Canyon from the North Rim and hiking around the Kaibab Plateau, which is the heavily forested, high elevation landmass around the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim. If you look on Google Maps, you can clearly see the Kaibab Plateau, which is a very interesting feature in-of-itself, as the surrounding landscape is mostly arid desert. While exploring the plateau, we happened upon some bison, which are always fun to see due to their size, along with many deer, squirrels, and ravens.
I hope to explore more of both of these areas in the future and again experience the epicness of the Grand Canyon National Park!
Hello everyone! I’m back from a brief hiatus, but do not worry, this blog is not going away. Over the past few weeks I was working on a very large grant for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This grant is called the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and is worth up to $13,000, so it is worthwhile to put a lot of effort into it. I wrote my grant to do some additional lab work on hummingbird feathers that I will not be able to accomplish without the grant (more later if I get some pre-funding for pilot data). This is a highly competitive grant with people all over the country applying. Wish me luck, because I’ll need it!
I submitted it last week and then took an awesome trip throughout Northern Arizona and Southern Utah to visit 6 National Parks over ASU’s fall break. Each of these parks were absolutely amazing, and I will have a post for each with lots of pictures. Look forward to many fun posts to come and below are a few teaser photos!
Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to try to visit all of the wilderness areas in Arizona before I finish my Ph.D. I have a little under 3 years left, but a lot of places to go! This venture was inspired in part by my lab-mate Brett Seymoure, who has his own goal of visiting every National Park in the country. While I think that is an awesome goal that I too hope to achieve one day, it is definitely a much more costly goal considering the location of some of these national parks (e.g. Hawaii, Alaska). I can drive to every single wilderness area in Arizona, so I decided this should be some I could accomplish while I live here, even though there are 90 wilderness areas….
So what is a wilderness area? In 1964, the Wilderness Act became the first law to define and create wilderness areas in the world. There are many definitions within the law pertaining to what a wilderness area is, but essentially it is a protected area that is undeveloped and unmanipulated by man and can be used for public purposes such as hiking, camping, kayaking, and many others. They are areas where you will find little to no paved roads or man-made structures, but you will also find miles and miles of beautiful land to explore. A great resource for more information on wilderness areas is http://www.wilderness.net. Here, they not only provide information, history, and policies for wilderness areas in general, but they have lists and maps of the locations of every wilderness area in the country.
Every state has at least one wilderness area, with (as you might guess) some of the western states having the most (e.g. California, Arizona, Nevada). Arizona currently has 90, according to wilderness.net (list, map). Of these 90, I have only visited 12, and so I still have a long way to go! Below are the different areas I’ve been to:
– Kachina Peaks Wilderness
– Strawberry Crater Wilderness
– Escudilla Wilderness
– Mt. Baldy Wilderness
– Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness
– Miller Peak Wilderness
– Chiricahua Wilderness
– Chiricahua National Monument Wilderness
– Saguaro Wilderness
– Superstition Wilderness
– Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness
– Mazatzal Wilderness
Please let me know if you would like to visit a wilderness area together or if you plan to also take up the challenge. I hope everyone will go and explore/enjoy some of the amazing wilderness areas across this state!
This past Labor Day weekend I decided to journey out to the White Mountains as part of a three day trip. While the trip overall was great, I definitely learned a lot about camping during a holiday and how to better avoid people.
I left early afternoon on Saturday and decided to take a scenic route up to the Mogollon Rim (which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post), where I was going to spend my first night. The route took me from Tempe to Globe along Hwy 60, where I picked up 188, which heads towards Lake Roosevelt. Just before the lake, I hopped on 288, which is a half paved, half dirt road that goes up to a town called Young. This was quite a pretty drive through some really isolated parts of the state. Once I hit Young, I got on 512 (a forest road I think?), which took me up the Rim and connected with Hwy 260. This was definitely a pretty drive, though I don’t think it will be in my top 5 drives in AZ (more on that later!). Here is a picture I took along the drive:
After making it up the Rim, I found Forest Road 300, also called Rim Road, which is full of good spots for dispersed camping. Unfortunately, the area between the towns Payson and Lakeside along the Rim is probably one of the most popular places to camp in Arizona, so it was completely packed and full of people. I drove along this bumpy dirt road for an hour before finding a place I thought was sufficiently secluded. By then it was getting dark, and I had to quickly set up my tent and make dinner. The next day, I decided to try and find a hike somewhere nearby, and found a trail called Panorama trail near Lakeside. Here again I was hit by the Labor Day weekend curse, because there was apparently open range shooting nearby and during my brief attempt to hike, all I heard was constant gunshots. The hike seemed like it was going to be beautiful, but I couldn’t stand the gunshots, so I left. Below are a few pictures I took from the hike.
Fed up with trying to find a good hike along the Rim, I took off towards the White Mountains, where everything turned for the better. The route I took to get to the mountains was incredible. First I got back on Hwy 260 and took that to a small, remote town called Eagar, where I got on Hwy 191. This 191 is definitely in my top 5 drives in Arizona now, as it was just gorgeous. Additionally, because the White Mountains are so far away from Phoenix (4-5 hours drive) and very remote in general, there were very few people around. Here are a few pictures from my drive:
Before I went to find a campsite, I was determined to hike. I drove to a place called the Escudilla Wilderness (also fulfilling my quest to visit every wilderness area in Arizona!). Here I hiked with no other noise but the natural sounds around me and only saw a handful of people the entire time. This place was beautiful but sad at the same time. Something unfortunate about the White Mountains is that its true splendor was marred in 2011 by a huge forest fire called the Wallow Fire, which ended up being Arizona’s largest forest fire on record. This fire ravaged many areas in the White Mountains, leaving behind large tracts of completely burnt forest. Luckily the burned areas are very patchy and disconnected, so there is still plenty of pristine forest left. However the fire did leave its mark, especially in the Escudilla Mountains. Below are my pictures from that hike where you can both see the awesome landscape of the area but also the devastation left by the fire.
After this hike, I kept driving down Hwy 191 to a place called Hannagan Meadow, where I found a small, remote campsite called the KP Cienega. The area I was in was awesome because of the remote-ness, which lead to very few people around. After a peaceful night at around 9,000 ft elevation(!), I continued to explore this area of the White Mountains, so that I now have a much better idea of what to do next time. I found a gem of a vista, called Blue Visit Overlook, where I was given a far-reaching view of the White Mountains and beyond. From this point I was able to see other mountain ranges that were very far away, such as the Pinaleno Mountains (nearly 50 miles away as the crow flies).
After exploring the area, I then headed home. From this trip, I learned several valuable things which I’d like to share:
1) NEVER camp along the Rim during a holiday
2) NEVER drive back from the Rim after a holiday (horrible traffic!)
3) If you want real seclusion, go to the White Mountains – they are beautiful and super remote
4) The White Mountains and surrounding area is huge and there is so much left for me to explore there (plus another few wilderness areas!)
These past several days, we have had some pretty intense monsoon storms in the Phoenix Valley area, which caused us to say good-bye to a very large and old tree from our yard. Below is a photo (from when I was in Flagstaff) that illustrates what these storms can look like from a distance.
For those unfamiliar with this monsoon-weather phenomena, during the latter half of the summer most of Arizona receives several to many rain- and sandstorms that make up a large part of our annual rainfall. These storms can be very intense. The sandstorms (also called haboobs) can reduce visibility to just a few feet and be dangerous to be outside in, especially while driving.
The rainstorms can turn into fierce thunderstorms, which cause flash floods and sometimes even wind damage. Two years ago when I was in Flagstaff, one such storm turned into very intense rain- and hailstorm that occurred caused a lot of tree damage and major flooding.
Well this year, we had been experiencing a fairly boring monsoon season in the valley until these past few days, where we had a major thunderstorm every night. Last night’s was the worst by far. I saw the storm approaching from a distance and it reminded me of some of the doomsday storms in movies. There were lightning flashes every second, and it looked like a massive wall of rain and wind heading towards me. As I got home, the sky was almost completely black and the wind picked up. During the peak of the storm, wind speeds hit 60+ mph and caused major damage throughout Tempe and Phoenix. Over 50,000 people were without power from this storm. For us, we not only lost power, but lost one of our two beloved MASSIVE pine trees in our yard. The tree fell over around 8:00 PM and missed our house by a mere few feet. At the same time, the tree missed my car by a foot AT MOST! We were lucky last night, and I definitely feel like I should buy a lottery ticket or something. The tree is a huge loss though. It completely blocked the street and created a ton of debris in our yard. Apparently the tree had been in the neighborhood since the 1950s, so it was huge and old. Below are some photos Meghan took this morning of the damage (see her Facebook for more photos). I hope that everyone who reads this never has to deal with such a loss or worse!
Now that I have passed my comprehensive exams, I figured I would post some of the study methods I did that worked for me. Please note, that while these worked well for me, they might not work for you, depending on how you deal with stress, how you manage your time, etc. So here is my advice and tips on how to study for your comprehensive exam. If you have additional things to add, please post them in a comment. I hope this helps you and good luck to those who are taking their exams in the future!
Schedule, schedule, schedule!
Get into a routine where you go to bed and eat meals at a set time; also know what you need to read books/papers etc. ahead of time and plan out when you will read what. For example – read 2-3 chapters of a book + 10 papers a day.
Papers are great and you will definitely read a lot of them, but books can provide great coverage and consolidated information many topics and save you the time of finding and filtering through hundreds of papers. Ask your committee members what books they might recommend, and if they don’t have any, try to find one on the subject and see what they think of it.
Communicate with your committee
Meet with or have email conversations with your committee members at least every other week. Ask them what to study and for feedback on your proposal, but make sure you give them time and deadlines.
Try to run errands and make appointments all around the same time
Spacing out errands/appointments might seem like it gives you more time, but even a “quick” 15 minute errand can take away 1-2 hours of study time because you lose focus. Try to make all of your meetings on the same day and back-to-back and schedule errands around those.
Plan in time to work on your proposal
You will need to give your self plenty of time to get your proposal written to send out to your committee 4-6 weeks before your exam, and then you will need 3-7 days after you get feedback to incorporate it all, before you send your final proposal the week before your comps.
Get up and walk around every once in a while
After reading a book chapter or set of papers, get up and walked – go to the bathroom, get food etc. This helps keep you focused and from getting sleepy.
Because you are spending a lot of time either sitting or laying down, it is important to exercise daily so that you don’t become lethargic or gain too much weight!
Watch your caffeine intake
You might think you have to drink coffee constantly in order to stay awake in focused, but too much coffee can throw off your sleep schedule and have other adverse heath effects. I tried to limit myself to a cup a day, and then would drink tea throughout the day – less caffeine and better for you
Take time to relax – even daily!
This can be the hardest, but most important thing to do while studying. Every day you should take some time to yourself where you are not studying – I recommend at night. For example, most nights, I chose a time to stop studying and watched a movie to help clear my mind before bed.
Do a practice comps
This is not only an alterative way to get feedback on your proposal from people who know your advisor and committee members, but its also a litmus test to see how well your studying is going. Do this two weeks before your exam, so that if you are missing something, you have time to fix it. Also you will often find questions that came up during your practice also come up during your actual comps.
Get comfortable when you study
Make sure you are comfortable when you sit down to study, or else you will get distracted. This isn’t to say get so comfortable you will fall asleep though. If noises distract you easily, put on some music – wordless music like classical, jazz, instrumental groups, and techno can all help block out extra outside noise and let you focus.
Make meals in batch
While cooking can be great, it can also take up a lot of time. I recommend making batch meals a few times a week, so that you have plenty of leftovers for lunch and dinner. You can even make something like muffins in bulk for breakfast.
Don’t socially isolate yourself
If you keep to yourself the entire time you study, you might go insane. Social contact, even it is just to discuss comps or your proposal is important. Many of your friends might have already gone through this and can offer their own advice on how to prepare and such.
Don’t study new material the last few days before your exam
At this point it would probably be better to review your notes or other material you have previously read to make sure you retain it all. I recommend not studying much at all the day before your exam and trying to do some activity that will distract you for most of the day
Take good notes
As you read through books and papers, take notes or write up summaries. This will not only ensure better memory retention and learning, but will come in handy when you want to review what you’ve read before or even after comps!
If its not important, don’t worry about it
There are a million things you might think to do or read while studying, but most of them will have little to know impact on your exam at all. If you are working on a grant or permit that is due after your exam, don’t work on it until afterwards. Same with other projects or papers. They will still be there after you finish your exam, so don’t let them distract you.
In the end, things went very well, and the film crew seemed to have gotten all the shots they wanted. But before I get into how everything went, I wanted to give some background on the broad-tailed hummingbirds.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds are part of a subset (~36 species) of all hummingbirds (330+ species) called the bee tribe. The bee hummingbirds are unique because they are widespread across North, Central, and South America, whereas many other hummingbird tribes are only found in Central and South America. They are also typically very small, ranging from 3-4 grams. The bees are also the group I am focusing on for my dissertation. The reason for this is that most of the species in this group have both colorful throat plumage (also called a gorget) and stereotyped courtship display behaviors. Most species have two types of display behaviors: the shuttle and dive displays. The dive display is when a male flies high into the air, sometimes over 100 ft, and then plummets down towards a female, pulling up near her and flying back high into the sky to repeat the behavior. During this dive display, the male opens up his tail, which males a sound. The other display is called the shuttle display, which is the focus of my work. During this display a male hovers back and forth in front of the female with his gorget flared and facing her. Across the species in bee hummingbirds, there is a great diversity of coloration and there is quite a bit of variation in their courtship displays, especially the shuttles:
Costa’s – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bdEma-rnS8
Black-chinned – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_Xf3tnQJqg
Broad-tailed – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWWuhbVF_qM
Like I mentioned above, broad-tailed hummingbirds are part of this tribe, and thus have a colorful gorget and their own versions of the shuttle display (see link above). This species is one of my favorites, partly because they were the first I worked on, but also because they are high elevation specialists, which means I get to do my fieldwork in the mountains! I’ve typically found this species from 5,000 to 7,000 feet, but I know I’ve seen them as high as 9,000 feet. They mostly occur in Arizona, Nevada, and throughout the lower Rocky Mountains (New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming), but they also have footholds in several other states like California. I’ve found them in a range of habitats from alpine meadows to piñon-juniper forests to mixed-coniferous forests, like the following pictures.
They are common visitors to feeders at high elevation towns as well. Broad-tailed hummingbird males, like some other species in the tribe, make near continuous trill noises when they fly, created by their wing feathers, which is actually quite pretty to listen to. The sound is quickened and amplified during their shuttles, as you can hear in the video. Here is another video, though not the best quality, of a male shuttling. This video is looking at the male over the female’s shoulder, but it is not focused on the male because he is moving too fast for my camera.
This video is also what the film crew was working to capture, though they have a $50,000 dollar camera that films at 4k, so it will be much much much higher quality. They also filmed the male displaying at an angle without the cage in the view. Luckily, on the last day of filming, we found a very cooperative male who shuttled many times for us and in the right spot, which allowed the film crew to get all the shots they wanted.
Overall, it was a great experience to work with this crew, and I learned a lot about the process to make a nature documentary from start to finish. I really hope to work with the Coneflower Studios again, and I will let everyone know when the documentary will be shown on PBS and out on DVD! Below are some pictures of the crew in action. Coneflower studios producer Ann Prum manned the camera, while associate producer Melanie Quinn was recording audio and helping me with the cage set up. The little camera to the side is mine.
Things have been going very well so far. First off, we are in such a beautiful area – the Santa Catalina Mountains, near Tucson, AZ. These mountains are part of the sky islands (mentioned in a previous post) that are located throughout south-eastern Arizona. Essentially, the sky islands are a series of isolated mountain ranges that are surrounded by desert or grassland. This is one of the more northern chains, and is a smaller range than others. Due to its proximity to Tucson, it is one of the more popular ones, and Mt. Lemmon, the highest point in the range, is very famous. There is even a ski resort and tiny town called Summerhaven contained within these mountains. The Santa Catalina mountains are full of trails and campsites, which made things logistically much easier for us to find good filming locations.
The film crew has found several nests that they are watching and getting some excellent shots. These females are apparently super tolerant and allowing the cameras to get very close to them. I’ve been able to get some good pictures of females on their nests and some rare shots of fledglings and feeding behaviors. Hummingbirds make their nests out of lichen and spider webs. The spider webs not only help hold the nest together, but it also makes the nests flexible and spongy so that as the chicks grow, the nest can expand. Though, by the time the chicks are about the fledge, the nest is so full that mom can’t really sit on it anymore. These nests are also usually very hard to find, not only because they are small, but because they are well concealed within a plant.
Most hummingbirds seem to lay two eggs, that are very tiny to us, but actually quite large compared to the female. Females will incubate the eggs for 2-3 weeks, and then will feed the fledglings mostly insects. Nectar doesn’t contain the necessary proteins for development, which is why females will switch to a more insect heavy while feeding young. Hummingbirds always incorporate insects into their diet though, as this is their source of essential proteins. Males do not help with nesting or raising young at all. Depending on the length of the breeding season, females can have multiple clutches, as several of the females did at our site. Also, an interesting fact: because hummingbird legs are so small and not good for walking, when a female is perched at the edge of her nest, she can’t really hop into it; instead she has to hover into it. Here are a few pictures illustrating the nesting and raising of young in hummingbirds.
I’ve been focusing on finding male territories and trapping females so that we can elicit and film some male courtship displays. The place we are filming is quite full of broad-tailed hummingbirds. I’ve also seen several other species here including broad-billed, black-chinned, and magnificent hummingbirds. I’m pretty sure I heard an Anna’s hummingbird at one point too. We are up about 8,000 feet, which is typically too high for Anna’s.
At this point, I’ve found several male territories, all throughout the area, and identified several males that would be good to film, such as this one:
I’ve also set up feeders so that I can trap some females and use them to get males displaying. Sometimes setting up feeders has the added bonus of creating new male territories, as males will come and claim feeders for their own. It is unclear whether males of this species select territories based on resources or form what are called leks – a spot with a single or multiple males, where females go to mate, but receive no other resources, typically. Based on my observations with this species, I would say they lek, as most males do not have any flowers on their territories and have to leave their territories to feed. However, males will guard valuable resources like feeders, as these are permanent and consistent sources of food. Overtime as the feeders attract more and more hummingbirds, these males will actually end up spending most of their time chasing away rivals, which might interrupt their ability to court females.
In my next post, I’ll have details on how the filming went and hopefully have some videos of my own to show. For now, I’ll end with a surprise I met while scouting for territories. I nearly stepped on it, and it gave me quite a fight!