Wandering Around the Western U.S.

Just about two weeks ago, I arrived back home after a near month-long meander through the western United States. Every time I’ve sat down to write a brief summary of the trip, it quickly becomes a long-winded treatise reflecting my awe of all the geologic processes, biodiversity, and ecosystems I traversed. For the moment, I thought I’d just post a statistical digest of the adventure. I tried to upload a few observations from each day of the trip as they occurred, but uploads of the larger array of observations will necessarily appear over time.

Dates: August 29 to September 25 (28 days)
Miles: 6,500 miles in my vehicle, not including a 3-day chauffeured trip to the Oregon coast with friends.
States: 13

Focal destinations, roughly in chronological order:

Texas: Caprock Canyon SP
Colorado: Pawnee Nat. Grasslands
Wyoming: Grand Tetons Nat. Park
Idaho: Craters of the Moon Nat. Monument
Oregon: Wallowa Mts, Blue Mts, Northern Coast, Mt. Hood, Finley NWR, Malheur NWR
Washington: Mt. Saint Helens
Nevada: Sheldon NWR
California: US 395, Mt. Whitney, Manzanar, Ancient Bristlecone Pines, Owens Valley, Death Valley
Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Capitol Reefs, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley
New Mexico: Very Large Array, Valley of Fires

Some of the above destinations were targeted, others were accidental. All offered special memories.

As might be expected from my pathway, my home was the southernmost and easternmost point on the entire journey (at about 30.42N, -97.76W). My northernmost location was near Morton, WA, just north of Mt. Saint Helens at 46.55N; my westernmost point was at the Boiler Bay State Wayside on the Oregon Coast at -124.07W. I took a few hikes up over 10,000 ft elevation (White Mts and Mount Whitney in California), maxing out probably on the Methuselah Walk among the Bristlecone Pines at about 10,300 ft. I stopped briefly at Badwater in Death Valley (-282 ft below sea level). I car-camped about half of the nights on the road, suffering through mornings as low as 26F (Sheldon NWR, NV). It got to 104F as I was exiting Death Valley on Sep. 21, but I was rarely in temperatures in the 90s anywhere except in Texas. There was some occasional light to moderate rain on the coastal side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, but nothing east of the Cascade-Sierra divide; I actually went about 5 or 6 days without seeing a cloud in e. Oregon, Nevada, and eastern California.

Having driven through Reno, Carson City, and Las Vegas, I probably passed within 10 miles of 90% of the entire population of Nevada. By contrast, traveling down US 395 and out through Death Valley in California kept me safely insulated from 98%+ of that state’s 40 million people…excepting tourists like myself. The densest humanity I found myself surrounded by was a 45-minute crawl through downtown Las Vegas on I-15. Parts of north-central Oregon (between the Cascades and Blue Mountains) are exceptionally unpopulated; at times, I’d drive for half an hour on rural Oregon highways without passing another vehicle. A singular goal of this adventure was to avoid freeways and busy highways as much as practical within the limits of my schedule. I measure that I drove about 796 mi of freeways in the entire 6,427-mile journey, or about 12.4% of the total miles; most of that was getting across Wyoming on I-80, through urban portions of Nevada, and in/around Portland, OR.

I got home with something over 4,000 images. For iNat purposes, I photographed a lot of plants (especially dominant trees and shrubs in various habitats), and tried to document just about any critters that presented themselves (except the bull Elk I nearly hit in pre-dawn darkness in New Mexico). With just a few exceptions, butterflies were pretty sparse at higher elevations and more northerly latitudes. I slaughtered untold numbers of butterflies and other insects coming back into Texas as it had been wet September in my absence. I did some blacklighting at 8 locations in 7 states and kept an eye out for moths at many gas stations and corner stores; most of the moths will be new to me and it will take weeks or months to ID them all and upload them. I encountered 9 species of junipers and 10 species of pines, documenting most of them as best I could. The most abundant flowers that I saw were always rabbitbrush, blooming along roadsides everywhere in the Great Basin and Pacific Northwest. I took the time to document the shrub now and then, only to find out later that there are probably 45 species of “rabbitbrush” (Chrysothamnus and Ericameria) in the western U.S. and I passed through the ranges of perhaps 30 of these. Maybe I’ve got good enough documentation to put a species name on a couple of them. Sigh…

The full array of observations from this trip can be examined in this batch which encompasses the inclusive dates from Aug. 29 to Setp. 25, 2018.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?d1=2018-08-29&d2=2018-09-25&order=asc&order_by=observed_on&place_id=any&subview=table&user_id=gcwarbler&verifiable=any
or from this TinyURL: http://tinyurl.com/y2r6vch6
This batch will of course be augmented over a period of months as I upload additional observations. (As of October 2019, the uploads were only complete for the above trip through about Sept. 1, 2018.)

Posted by gcwarbler gcwarbler, October 10, 2018 01:53

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

American Bison (Bison bison)

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

August 29, 2018 08:15 PM CDT

Description

Here are a couple of "teaser" observations from my road trip. I won't have time to upload the majority of them but I'll put up a couple from each day's destinations.
This bachelor bull Bison was hanging around the South Prong campground--I was warned he might get a little curious, but he never bothered me in the campground. He is part of the "wild" but managed herd of Bison at Caprock Canyon SP. This type of animal in this setting is not fully wild, but certainly not domesticated--There are plenty of warning signs around the park to attest to that.

Tags

Photos / Sounds

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

September 7, 2018 07:19 AM PDT

Description

I extracted this (polychaete?) worm out of the sand at low tide on the outer beach at Manzanita, OR.

Photos / Sounds

What

Pacific Razor Clam (Siliqua patula)

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

September 8, 2018 01:34 PM PDT

Description

Seen along the edge of the trail on Bayocean Spit; presumed to have had a local origin. iNat's "Computer Vision" calls this "Pacific Razor Clam".

Photos / Sounds

What

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

September 19, 2018 12:44 PM CDT

Description

Notice the last two images here. That particular tree was one of about 3 ancients in which I could see what I believe to be coring holes.

Photos / Sounds

What

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

Observer

gcwarbler

Description

With my point-and-hope camera, these images should be placed in the "even a blind pig sometimes finds an acorn" category. PIJAs were by far the most numerous and vocal birds around my campsite. With the apparent abundance of pinyon nuts at least in this location, don't look for any emigration from the species out of the White Mts this year!

Photos / Sounds

What

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata)

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

September 21, 2018 08:51 AM CDT

Description

I like to take pictures of plants that decided to germinate and grow in particularly scenic locations. This Creosote Bush has a nice view of Ubehebe Crater near the north end of Death Valley NP.

Photos / Sounds

What

Dingy Cutworm Moth (Feltia jaculifera)

Observer

gcwarbler

Date

September 25, 2018 11:13 AM CDT

Description

A crisply marked lifer moth at the Allsups. Widespread across the continent but I've never encountered it on my home turf.

Comments

Wow! That sounds like an amazing adventure! Welcome back to Texas and I looks forward to seeing your observations.

Posted by bosqueaaron about 4 years ago (Flag)

That sounds like a great trip! I look forward to some more journal posts from you and seeing your observations as you upload them!

Posted by zdufran about 4 years ago (Flag)

Excellent narrative, thanks for sharing! :)

Posted by aguilita about 4 years ago (Flag)

What a month! I’m sure that it did involve quite a few of “wait, what was THAT?!?”-turn-arounds in the vehicle too.

I’ll enjoy watching that species list grow and grow and grow! Welcome home, Chuck. :)
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&subview=grid&user_id=gcwarbler

Posted by sambiology about 4 years ago (Flag)

What a month!

Posted by bluejay2007 over 3 years ago (Flag)

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