A day on the Tuolumne River with a few of my AP EnviroSci students, Dr. Matt Cover & Joe Zermeno from Modesto JC.
Dr. Matt Cover from CSU Stanislaus and Joe Zermeno from Modesto JC graciously volunteered their time on Saturday to show a few of my EnviroSci students the wondrous world of invertebrates living in our Tuolumne River. We started the day getting a lay of the land by walking along the river terrace trail at Waterford River Park. After a brief half-mile stroll, we worked our way down to our gravel bar base where the sciencing would be done.
Then Dr. Cover introduced us to the hydrology of the region and helped us piece together a few of the food chains and food webs he's been studying on the river for six years.
After great explanations of how collect and identify the invertebrates from the river it was time to get in the brisk water!. Students spent several minutes searching for cobbles to survey in the glides and riffles of the river that flowed through Waterford. Once the cobbles were selected, water depth, flow characteristics and temperature data was recorded before the students headed back to shore to identify seven different invertebrate species and the communities that they formed.
The science was amazing, but the day's biggest impact came from connecting students with the life-blood of our region. The majority of the Central Valley population is river-illiterate and haven't a clue where the water we use comes from, nor have they ever experienced the tremendous riparian corridors that exist a few miles from their homes. Connecting the students to their watershed is always a transformation experience and one that will make them stakeholders in the river's use in the decades to come.
The biggest surprise of the day was seeing two large chinook salmon swim past us. The previous three years of salmon returns on the Tuolumne River have been abysmal and this year doesn't look much better. Perhaps the efforts of Dr. Cover and the Tuolumne River Trust will one day help the river be restored to a more natural state while still accommodating a majority of the agriculture in the area. Only time will tell. I was able to fish the river as a child and it it my hope that my son may one day do the same!
A few photos from our quick trip over Sonora Pass and down to Mammoth on HWY 395 in our quest to see what was left of the 2016 fall colors. The previous week's storms had gotten rid of most of the amazing color, but we still managed to find great splashes of gold in McGee Creek, where we took our Christmas card photos. I must say that Zephyr played a large role in framing and pushing the shutter release.
Fishing was nixed at Convict Lake because of extremely blustery winds, so we decided to hike the lake's perimeter instead. Zephyr made it 1.3 miles and rode the final mile and a half on my shoulders. Not bad for a tired and hungry three-year-old!
Enjoy the photos!
I had a few spare hours after dropping-off the WildLink crew for their amazing week-long expedition last Tuesday. (See their expedition photos here). Desperately in need of a huge hike to work-off the stress of this school year, I set-off for the summit of Mt Hoffmann from the May Lake parking lot. Three miles and 2200' of elevation gain will get you to the summit and the amazing 360 degree views from the geographic center of Yosemite.
There's also a ton of great geologizing to be had along the way. Hoffman is made of the Mt Hoffman Granodiorite, which is pretty, but the star of the hike is quartzite and quartz-mica schist that has been folded and twisted like taffy. The entire set of photos can be found in the Photo Journal. (PS, I also caught/released) eight brookies in May Lake in 45 min of fishing/photographing.
And a rough 3D model of a piece of the quartzite along the trail.
Realizing that we had a busy week in store for us, Laura and I decided to take Zephyr out to the Tuolumne River in La Grange to A) get away from it all & B) see the rare salmon or two spawning. We successfully spent two hours at the river exploring, throwing rocks, finding aquatic snails and shed snake skins. We most definitely did not find a chinook salmon spawning.
The drought and the resulting lower flow regimes from the Don Pedro Dam have been devastating to the population. Just a few more than 200 came up to spawn last year, and thus far 2016 isn't going much better: 48 fave been counted by FishBio to date. The state is trying to increase the flow regime of the Tuolumne, Merced and Stanislaus rivers to boost the salmon population and increase the health of the Delta downstream (while also possibly exporting more Sacramento River water south). I think it will work, but many farmers are willing to fight to prevent the extra flows from ever happening. It will take a novel collaboration to reduce the amount of groundwater pumped in the face of reduced surface water deliveries within the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts. I would really love for my son to see a healthier river with lots of salmon some day soon. I'd love to be able to take him salmon fishing on our river.
My latest photosphere project documents the demise of the eleven Jeffery and/or Sugar pine trees on our small cabin property in Twain Harte, CA. My great grandpa Laffin and his sons (one of which was my grandpa Laffin) channeled their post-WWII frustrations into building the very rustic cabin in the late 1940's as a place for their families to escape the summer heat of the central valley. To this day there is no phone, internet or cable (but a small TV plays DVD's for evening entertainment).
At 3700' in elevation, the trees around the cabin have succumbed to five years of drought and bark beetle infestation. Amazingly, the trees seemed healthy and green on my last visit in early May. PG&E and Twain Harte will be helping to cover the cost of tree removal which is now running about $1500/tree (!). Nearly 70 million trees in the Sierra Nevada have died during the drought and it's quite easy to see in the precipitation chart below that the drought has been a major stressor on the forests.
Our family is currently talking amongst itself to determine what species of trees to replant with a warming climate and likely less water. Black oaks? Dogwoods? Install irrigation for new pine trees? When tree removal is done I'll complete another photosphere for comparison. Needless to say, the cabin will never be the same as what I remembered growing up.
A quick hike through lower Bell Meadow and ending at the sand and gravel bars of Bell Creek with Laura, Zephyr, Steve, Brianna and Casper. With two kids under a year old and one pregnant mamma, this mile-long round-trip hike was just what the doctor ordered. It was a wonderfully cool day and lots of exploration was had by Zephyr and Casper.
The 2016 version of our annual dream fishing trip to Angoon, Alaska at Whalers Cove Lodge. This year's trip was noteworthy for two reasons. The first being that the fishing was terrible for salmon. The kings never came in and the Silvers were running a little late. Top it off with terrible herring crashes and there wasn't a great food chain to attract the numbers of whales we've seen in years past. I'd chalk all of hte problems up to abnormally warm waters influenced by both El Nino and global warming.
The second notable part of the trip was that I caught a 77.5-inch, 244lb (est) halibut that was the biggest of the season at Whalers Cove! Fifty minutes of fighting and a good measurement won us a free trip back to Whalers Cove Lodge Next Year! And the fish was released unharmed. Everyone wins!
This was one of the craziest summers we've ever had as a family in terms of busy schedules. The first two weeks were occupied by teaching teachers how to make sense of science and I had major work to do for a top secret project that should be released in September. Needless to say we found ourselves with nine days of unscheduled "vacation" wedged in between lots of future summer obligations. So why not take a 2500mi road trip with a three year old to visit with friends in Jackson Hole, WY? We did and it was... awesome! Zephyr loved it and he was a trooper as we put in some loooong days. But geeze, he loves nature. And we found some amazing fossils in Kemmerer. Although we were pooped when we got home we thought the trip was well worth the effort!
Sticking with the "Finally Getting Those Pictures Up" theme, here's the latest set from our Lassen trip in July. This was truly an amazing trip consisting of 5/6 of my BFF's from high school and their families. We were all espeicailly froud of Web, Jessica & Em for handling their first camping trip ever like pros! All told there were 23 of us that survived an abnormally cool summer weekend and nine kids!
Well, look who finally found time to post photos from some of the summer trips he took. There will be more to come in the following days, but for now enjoy the scenery from our Late June Grad Camping Trip to the Eastern Sierras with Kiran and Mary. The two were real troopers putting-up with Zephyr for three days of whining (and fun too!)
Be sure to check out the entire photo album. Didn't have time to narrate them, but pictures are worth a 1000 words.
Ryan J Hollister - Geoscience & EnviroSci Educator, Avid hiker, Landscape photographer, WildLink Club Advisor, Central Valley Advocate.