Thursday, July 26, 2007

Big Bend Photo Report ~ Back Links

So, although I'm fairly certain not that many people read the stuff on this blog on a regular basis. And, as those who do can tell, I've sort of got this fascination with Big Bend National Park since my trip last month. I've got a few more post to do on the subject, but I'm feeling like I don't have the time I need to do so. So I need to put it down for a while, and I've decided that I want those who are interested to be able to read them in an order that makes sense. So here are some back links to the posts in the order they were written.
I'll fill in the final two when I have more time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

BBNP Photo Report ~ The Cypress-Pine-Oak Woodlands

As I said in my last post, our last day in Big Bend was spent hiking through the park's woodlands. Specifically, we hiked the 14 mile round trip from the Chisos Basin to the South Rim, then back through Boot Canyon and the Pinnicle Trail. This was some hike. We began early, 6 a.m. to avoid as much of the heat of the day as possible. We also wanted to get down from the Pinnicles before any afternoon thunderstorms developed in the High Chisos. Thus it was an intense hike, 14 miles and about a 3,000 foot increase in elevation. It was the first intense hike I've really been on since my friend Jeremy and I did similar increases in elevation and distances in Idaho's Frank Church Wilderness. I was somewhat proud of myself because I was able to do the entire thing at a fairly reasonable pace. I did develope about a dozen blisters ranging in size and severity on my feet and walked gingerly for a few days afterword.

While most of the High Chisos is PJO Woodlands, there are two exceptions in two southeast facing canyons where thunderstorms in the High Chisos are turned by mountains. Both Pine and Boot Canyons can have over 20 inches of rain a year and 100% humidity during the summer monsoons. This situation exists only because of the underlying topography, which causes a unique ecosystem: Cypress-Pine-Oak woodlands. While CPO Woodlands exist further north in both the Guadelupe and Davis Mountains of Texas and further South in higher elevations in Mexico, only Boot and Pine Canyons have this ecosystem in Big Bend. As one hikes from the South Rim to Boot Canyon, the woods change gradually. The first noticible thing is the vairly large presence of ephemeral pools. Some pools were connected by small streams when we were there last month.

Increase in water availability was seen in the plant life. Here are non-cacti succulents, which are certainly not expected in the heart of the Chihuahuan desert.

Also common were ferns, which were also surprising.

The trail from the South Rim gradual descends in elevation along the southeastern side of Emory Peak, the highest point in the park at 7825. Suddenly we found ourselves in the aptly named Boot Canyon.

The dominant tree in Boot Canyon is Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica).

The understory tended to be more lush than the PJO's. Here is a Salvia of some kind.

Chisos Rosewood (Vauquelinia corymbosa) or Slimleaf Vaquelinia, is an attractive evergreen plant. This member of Rosacea is found nowhere else in the world outside the Chisos Mountains.

A common and beautiful grass in these mountains is Feathergrass (Stipa tenuissima). If I was a deer, I think I would prefer this grass over others.

Mountain Sage (Salvia regla) is one of the defining understory shrubs of this ecosystem. Another hummingbird pollenated obligate, blooming coinsides with summer monsoons and the southward migration of the Rufous Hummingbird. Our instructor Dr. Kuban once experienced this event one year in July where thousands of birds arrived in Boot Canyon at once. One can imagine the idea of birds traveling vast distances over deserts between sky islands further north and south, arriving at Boot Canyon to rest, eat the nectar of this plant, and subsequently pollenating it.

Boot Canyon is home to one of my new favorite plants Arbutus xalapensis. This tree is in Ericaceae, a very common family of plants in the Arctic where I have cut my teeth. I would probably really like this tree if it wasn't in that family; it looses it's outer bark and trunk color can vary from cinnimon to red-orange to the color the milk turns after it has been sitting in a bowl with blueberries. It has great evergreen leaves and edible berries. The fact that it is an Erical is an added plus. This shot doesn't give it justice.

Other Oaks occur in the CPO, but the Chisos Red or Grave's Oak (Quercus gravesii) is common in Boot Canyon. This is the only Oak west of the Pecos to put on a spectacular fall display.

In Boot Canyon I saw one familiar face Linum lewisii, or Blue Flax. This perennial is common to most the west and much of Eurasia. I like it's color contrast with Trompetilla in this photo.

Here is a Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus montanus) flower. From the Idaho Mahoganys, I would have never guessed that this genus is in the Rose family.

As I said earlier, this ecosystem is wet. Here is Bigtooth Maple (Acer gradidentatum) growing near an ephemeral pool. Bigtooth Maple is very common in the mountain west, and I was happy to see it again.

We saw no large carnivores on our trip. This was the only sign of Ursus americanus. Big Bend's bear population was exterpated earlier this century, and it is believed that they reestablished themselves from populations in Mexico.

Boot Canyon had it's lichens as well. These folios lichens were growing on a dead tree.

I think this is Opuntia phaecantha, or Brown-Spined Pricly Pear. Cacti will grow on dryer exposed surfaces in the CPO Woodlands.

One surprising plants in these woods is Psuedotsuga menzesii, or Douglas Fir. This tree is very common in the mountains of my youth, indeed it was our Christmas tree growing up. Yet here it is in the middle of a sky island in Big Bend.

I spent about two hours in the Cypress-Pine-Oak Woodland of Boot Canyon, most of which was walking. Unfortunately, by the time I got there I'd already walked about nine miles and had five to go. Thus, I didn't have all the time or energy I needed to really see this place. I want to spend a week sometime just camping and exploring here. There is much to see, and it is a truly remarkable ecosystem. I can't wait till I get back.

BBNP Photo Report ~ The Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Woodlands

Above about 4000 feet in Big Bend are woodlands, all of which are contained within the Chisos Mountains. There is a gradual ecotonal change from the Sotol Grasslands below that may vary greatly with slope and aspect. We spent our last full day hiking through these woodlands, the majority of which are a Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Association.

A predominant Gymnosperm in the PJO is the Mexican Pinyon Pine (Pinus cembroides). It is somewhat different than the Pinyon Pines in Idaho, but a cool tree nonetheless. Here are thier leaves and male cones.

A common site in these woodlands are the Carmen Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus carminis). These deer are somewhat smaller than any deer I've seen; barely larger than a medium sized dog.

During my hike, I a few times heard that familiar noise; deer moving through lower wooded thickets. This deer was somewhat larger than others. I always enjoy seeing deer, and this is the first time I've really had around Whitetails.

The deer in these woods support a fairly large and visible population of Mountain Lions (Puma concolor). Alas, this track was the only evidence of a lion that I saw dispite having my senses as concentrated as I could. I've yet to see a lion in the wild.

Ubiquitous in these woodlands is Trompetilla or Scarlet Bouvardia (Bouvardia ternifolia). No wonder Big Bend is known for it's hummingbirds. I saw several, but the birds were zooming along and not allowing for good identification.

This beautiful 'thistle' is a quandry to me. The plant looks very much like a thistle, which are all composites, yet the flowers do not. It is a great looking plant, but I don't know what it is.

Common to most every place I've spent time are members of the genus Castilleja, or paintbrush. Big Bend was no exception.

I don't know what this plant is. It was common in the PJO.

One of the new birds I was able to see was the Ladder-Backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris).

There are three junipers that give these woodlands the second part of it's name (Juniperus flaccida, J. deppeana, and J. coahuilensis). Here is J. flaccida or Drooping Juniper. I really like this tree.

Another Juniper is Alligator Bark Juniper (J. deppeana), named for obvious reason. I don't have a good photo of J. coahuilensis, or Rose Fruited Juniper.

I'm facinated by lichens, the symbiosis of fungi and either cyanobacteria or algae. The trees in the thicker woods in the high Chisos were covered with them.

Cacti are also common on dryer substrates in these woods. Here is Blind Prickley Pear (Opuntia rufida).

Another bird in the PJO is the Brown Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus). Within my lifetime, ornithologists have changed the name from Rufous-sided Towhee. I've always liked that name better, thus I chose to use it, although it isn't technically correct. I'm starting to see signs that some of my 'education' is dated.

The final part of the PJO's name are the Oaks. There are several, and they often produce hybrids with each other. Such is the case within the genus Quercus, and it begs an answer to the question 'what is a species?' Here is Quercus grissea or Gray Oak.

Here is Emory Oak (Quercus emoryi).

My friend Cody caught this Canyon Tree Frog (Hyla arenicolor). He was about one inch long and VERY cute.

Here is a beautiful lily I saw fairly often on our hike through the High Chisos. I don't know what it is.

These flowers look so much to me like a Spring Beauty in Caryophylaceae. Yet the leaves look very much like a Clover, which is a Legume. Next time, I'll have to 'key it out'.

I was excited knowing that I would see Mountain Mohogany on our hike, a common shrub from the Mountain West. Yet, when I saw Cerocarpus montanus in the Chisos, I was somewhat purplexed. I did a little research and realized only later that this cool Mahogany is different than Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany in Idaho. One learns something every day.

This shot typifies the feeling I have of the PJO. Here is a Texas Claret Cup Cacti (Echinocereus coccineus) growing among mosses, a seeming contradiction.

The PJO woodlands often seemed medival. As I hiked through these woods, I had the distinct feeling that 'this is one of the places where I am most at peace.' I was reminded of other forests that I've spent time. The ecologist Jim Brown has studied high mountain woods in the desert southwest and has coined the term 'Sky-Islands'. The woodlands of the Chisos certainly qualify. They are an ecosystem that is much cooler and wetter than the lower desert that surrounds it. Here is a self-portrait in the Pinyon-Juniper-Oak Woodlands. I was really happy to visit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Big Bend Photo Report ~ Cattail Falls

One of the really cool places in Big Bend is Cattail Falls. The waters that collects in the higher Chisos mountains often drain through pour-offs like "the Window" creating great waterfalls. We hiked up out of the desert, across the Sotol grassland to these falls base of the Chisos. The falls are not on the park service map, though not officially off-limits. They discourage visiting, primarily because they use it as a water source for lower elevation facilities. This Rock Squirell (Spermophillus variegatus) has figured out that the park's water pipe is cooler than surrounding environment and is a nice place to hang out during the heat of the day. Hikers probably keep the preditors at a skittish distance too.

The falls seemed to appear out of no where as we hiked through the thick riparian trees. The only bad thing about these falls is the very high amount of Poison Oak the riparian zone, the only way to get to the falls without climbing.

They had great contrast of desert, rock, plants and water. My old friend Canyon Wren (Catherpes mexicanus) was there as well, once again refusing to sit still for a photo. The falls are actually a series of falls that ends at this plunge pool. Like most everything in Big Bend, the etymology of the name held form; here are actual Cattails (Typha latifolia).

We noticed that there were egg sacs from an amphibian of some kind. From the way it looked to me, I'd have to say a Ranid of some kind.

Some eggs had hatched. There were many tadpoles of various sizes. My guess is Rana berliandieri, or Rio Grand Leopard Frog.

There were several dragonflies, both bright blue and bright red, zooming around picking off mosquitos and other insects. They wouldn't sit very still either.

I'm sure that the amount of flow varies greatly temporally. During dry times, the flow slows to a trickle, perhaps no water at all. When precipitation is more regular, as it has been recently, the falls flow. During summer monsoon events, I'll bet this falls is one big flash flood. We thought about what such an event would be like as we pondered the fall's beauty.

It was one of those visits I won't soon forget.