Mount Shasta, California

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Mount Shasta photographed 07/27/2015 from US Route 97 near Carrick, California.

Standing alone in north-central California, the stratovolcano known as Mount Shasta dominates the skyline and can be seen from over 100 miles (161 km) away. At 14,179 feet (4322 m) this peak is the second-highest in the volcanic Cascade Range, only 232 feet shorter than Mount Rainier in Washington. Made up of four overlapping cones of varying age, this volcano began its life about 600,000 years ago with its first eruption. The most recent eruption was in 1786 and was observed by sailors in the nearby Pacific Ocean.

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Simplified tectonic regime of subduction and volcanism in the Pacific Northwest.

Mount Shasta is only one of many large volcanoes found throughout the Cascade Range from northern California to British Columbia. All of them have been formed by the same basic geologic process. For the last few millions of years the North American tectonic plate has slowly overridden the Juan de Fuca plate to the west. As the lighter continental crust has sunk the denser oceanic crust beneath it, the ocean crust has gradually melted and risen to the surface of the overlying continent. All of this ascending molten rock has lead to a chain of composite volcanoes along the margin, creating today’s Cascade Range.

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Mount Shasta photographed 07/27/2015 from US Route 97 near Carrick, California.

The prominent volcano just to the right of Mount Shasta is Mount Shastina. Formed earlier than Shasta, this mountain is 12,300 feet (3760 m) in height and alone ranks as the fourth-highest peak in the Cascades. Shasta itself is still potentially active and may present a threat to the scattered population centers of northern California.

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Crater Lake National Park

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Wizard Island and Crater Lake. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Around 7700 years ago the Oregon volcano known as Mount Mazama exploded in one of the most devastating eruptions known to man. Blasting about 3000 feet (914 m) of material from its summit, the ash fell as far as western Wyoming some 800 miles away. The collapse of the peak left a caldera almost five miles (8 km) wide, and over several hundred years snow melt and rain gradually filled the massive hole with water. Today Crater Lake is at an elevation of 6173 feet (1882 m) with a maximum depth of 1943 feet (592 m), ranking it as the ninth-deepest lake in the world. This natural wonder was designated as Crater Lake National Park in 1902, making it the fifth national park in the United States.

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West Entrance welcome sign. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Abundant moisture on the western flanks of the Cascade Range ensures this location sees an average of 44 feet (13.4 m) of snow from October to June. Depending on the weather it’s possible to reach the edge of the lake at Rim Village year-round. To really experience the park, however, most people visit from July to September when Rim Drive around the lake is open to traffic. My wife and I got to spend a laid-back day cruising around the caldera rim, taking in the sights, and doing a little hiking.

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Crater Lake from Sun Notch. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Our first stop was at the Sun Notch Trail, a short but moderately steep half mile (0.8 km) to a lake overlook. Along the way Applegate Peak cast an imposing presence over the surrounding conifers and meadows.

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Meadows and trees flanking Applegate Peak. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Even well into summer there were some attractive wildflowers to be found here.

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Wildflower in a meadow near Sun Notch. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Wildlife seemed rather sparse at these altitudes, but ground squirrels were relatively common. A wide variety of large mammals including elk, mule deer, pronghorn, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and porcupines inhabit this dense wilderness. Although we didn’t get to see anything that interesting, these animals are probably more apparent to visitors with more time to spend exploring.

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Ground squirrel in a meadow near Sun Notch. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

The payout on the Sun Notch Trail is a great view of Phantom Ship, a small island that is one of Crater Lake’s most iconic landmarks.

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Phantom Ship from Sun Notch. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

This resistant rock structure certainly resembles a ghostly ship, perhaps even more so when the lake is shrouded in fog, clouds, or snowfall, which outside of summer is often.

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Phantom Ship from Sun Notch. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

As we headed further up the road we came to “Phantom Ship Overlook,” and despite the name the view of the landmark wasn’t quite as good here. I did like this scenery because it showed the stark contrast of the caldera rim against the lake.

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Crater rim and Phantom Ship from Phantom Ship Overlook. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Along this stretch of road we also encountered Vidae Falls, a cascade of decent height but only modest flow framed by some lush greenery around its edges.

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Verdant cascade of Vidae Falls. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Even though it was a pleasant summer day we witnessed this harbinger of what winter brings to Crater Lake:

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Avalanche warning sign along the road. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

We made a quick stop near Sentinel Rock, and here we were provided this nice view of the caldera rim lined with conifers as well as Wizard Island near the opposite shore.

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Crater rim and a distant Wizard Island from near Sentinel Rock. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

We stopped for a picnic lunch above Cloudcap Bay before continuing onward. There weren’t many people here so it was a good spot to enjoy the silent serenity for a bit.

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View of Crater Lake from the Cloudcap Overlook. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Traffic and crowds were a little more dense near Cleetwood Cove where a trail goes down to the lake and tour boats depart regularly. We pressed on and didn’t stop again until we reached The Devils Backbone, a particularly prominent stretch along the volcanic rim. Near The Watchman I got this shot of one of the ubiquitous trolleys that give guided tours.

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Tour trolley near The Watchman. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Here we also got this nice view of Wizard Island, the most iconic landmark at Crater Lake. This cinder cone formed from more minor eruptions after the great blast that blew off the top of Mount Mazama. Other cinder cones lie below the lake surface, and many more are scattered around the countryside outside the rim. If you have a full day you can venture out to Wizard Island via one of the ferries from Cleetwood Cove.

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Wizard Island and Crater Lake from the Devils Backbone. Photographed 07/26/2015 at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Crater Lake is one of the more remote national parks in the lower 48, making it a bit of a trek to visit. It’s over 5 hours from Sacramento, California and about four hours from Portland, Oregon. The roads are mountainous and curvy but the surrounding scenery is gorgeous. It’s definitely worth the drive to experience this icon of the American west. For maximum adventure value, consider bundling this trip with nearby Redwood National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Oregon Caves National Monument, and Lava Beds National Monument.

Posted in Botany, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology, Weather and Climate | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pepper wishes you a happy National Mutt Day

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Pepper the beloved mutt photographed July 2015 near Palmyra, Michigan.

July 31 is National Mutt Day, celebrated “to raise awareness of the plight of mixed breed dogs in shelters around the nation and to educate the public about the sea of mixed breed dogs that desperately await new homes. Mixed breed dogs tend to be healthier, better behaved, they live longer and are just as able to perform the duties of pure bred dogs – such as bomb and drug sniffing, search and rescue and guiding the blind. There are millions of loving and healthy mixed breed dogs sitting in shelters, who are desperately searching for a new home.”

Our last dog Moose was a German Shepherd Dog/yellow labrador mix, and he was awesome.  Our current dog Pepper is a dalmation/Australian cattle dog mix, and she is just as awesome. We never felt the need to tout some made-up “designer dog” names like “shepherdador” or “dalmaAustracatadog” nonsense, just love them for the loyal, friendly, healthy, and smart mutts they have been.

Posted in Culture, General, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Happy Fifth Anniversary

I’ve been so busy I almost missed it, but here goes…

5 years
9.8 GB of photos
686 posts
0.38 posts per day
140,986 views

85 mammals
73 birds
18 reptiles
10 amphibians
11 fish

275 insects
18 arachnids
3 gastropods
1 cephalopod

347 plants
99 trees

45 national parks
218 travel topics

555 comments

*Fanfare*

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American White Pelican

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American White Pelican (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) photographed 07/26/2015 at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California.

Found throughout much of North America, American White Pelicans (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) are never far from water. They overwinter along oceans, lakes, and marshes from southern California through the Gulf of Mexico. Summers are spent breeding on inland lakes and marshes in central and western portions of the United States and Canada.

As one of the largest birds in North America these pelicans require a great deal of food. They feed predominantly on small fish, but they’re opportunistic hunters and will eat almost any aquatic species that is available. Other prey items include salamanders, tadpoles, and crayfish. They use their large bills to scoop up prey from the surface, tip their head back to drain the water, and swallow their food whole.

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American White Pelican (Pelecanidae: Pelecaniformes: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) photographed 07/26/2015 at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California.

Mating pairs scrape together nests of mud, sand, and gravel about two feet (60 cm) across. Females typically lay two eggs, but it’s usually only the stronger and more aggressive chick that survives. The weaker chick is often killed or chased from the nest by the stronger chick.

Historically American White Pelican populations were threatened because they were often shot for fun or because it was thought they competed for commercially-valuable fish. Although their populations have increased somewhat over the last few decades, these magnificent birds still face some challenges. They’re particularly sensitive to human disturbances and are quick to abandon nests when they feel threatened. They’re also often still shot by people who believe they compete for commercial fish. Over the last few years in particular they’ve experienced an increase in mortality from catfish farmers in the Mississippi River delta.

Posted in Ecology, Organism Interactions, Vertebrate Zoology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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Welcome sign photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Located in southwestern Arizona, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves one of the most impressive, remote, and dangerous areas of the Sonoran Desert. Covering 517 square miles (1338 square km) along the Mexican border, the park and its people protect a variety of unique and interesting landscapes and species including the namesake organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi, Cactaceae).

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Saguaro and organ pipe cactuses photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Each organ pipe cactus generates multiple stems from a short trunk and can reach 26 feet (8 m) in height. They’re slow-growing and don’t reach maturity until around 150 years in age. Flowers appear from April until June and are creamy white and about 3″ (8 cm) across. They close during the day and open at night and are pollinated predominantly by bats. The resulting fruit fall and disperse the seeds, and in the harsh desert environment they face an uphill battle to germinate and grow. New plants require a great deal of shade from a “nurse tree” for the first several years until their roots reach sufficient depth for water uptake.

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Organ pipe cactus photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Organ pipe cacti are extremely sensitive to frost and can only be found within the United States in this narrow sliver of extreme southern Arizona. They are however much more abundant in the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California Sur.

Another similar large cactus can also be found in greater numbers across a wider range in southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The saguaro (pronounced “suh-HWAR-oh”) (Carnegiea gigantea, Cactaceae) shares a similar life history to the organ pipe, with a number of physical differences. These cacti begin life as a single stem (or “spear”) and only begin to generate side arms at around 100 years of age.

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Saguaro cactuses and chollas of the Sonoran Desert. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

As with organ pipes, saguaro flowers are large and creamy white and open at night. Saguaro flowers remain open longer into the day, however, and as a result honey bees play a larger role in their pollination. Saguaro fruit is said to be sweet like watermelon, and they sometimes split open in the heat to reveal their red flesh. If you’re tempted to taste one, however, it should be noted that harming a saguaro in any way is prohibited in the state of Arizona.

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Saguaro fruit photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

This park is more than just large cacti, however. Many plant species conspire to create a surprisingly lush array of foliage in this hot, dry desert. Other cacti like chollas, hedgehogs, prickly pears, and Arizona barrels dot the parched landscape along with trees and shrubs like the cottonwood, ironwood, ocotillo, mesquite and creosote. Animals include mountain lions, desert bighorn sheep, Sonoran pronghorn, coyotes, javelinas, jackrabbits, and numerous birds and reptiles including Gila monsters and several species of rattlesnakes. Although some may think of deserts as barren, lifeless wastelands, places like this demonstrate otherwise. Every view is filled with plants, insects, and even larger animals lurking just out of sight.

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Unknown bird hiding in the shade of the abundant foliage. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In this expansive wilderness other things can move just out of sight, including drug smugglers, human traffickers and worse moving north out of Mexico. Controlling the flow of contraband and crime is the responsibility, in part, of the National Park Service rangers that patrol this park. In August of 2002 ranger Kris Eggle was pursuing cartel members fleeing from Mexico after they committed a string of murders. During their encounter he was slain in the line of duty.

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Memorial to NPS ranger Kris Eggle who was killed in the line of duty in 2002. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In the wake of the cartel violence most of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was closed to the public for the next eleven years, and it became known as “America’s most dangerous national park.” An increased presence of law enforcement officers, more frequent patrols, and more arrests and prosecutions eventually stemmed the tide of illegal activity and violence and lead to the park being fully reopened in September of 2014. In the intervening years a monument was erected to remember Kris Eggle’s sacrifice for the people, places, and principles of the United States, and the visitor center was renamed in his honor.

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Kris Eggle Visitor Center photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

Dark days like these should serve as a reminder that these remote outposts on the American frontier are not only full of wonder and beauty, but potential peril as well. From our cozy homes with climate control and WiFi it’s easy to forget that within our borders are harsh environments filled with the threats of environmental exposure, dehydration, dangerous wildlife, and even more dangerous people. Every day people like Kris Eggle work to make these places safe for visitation and bring us all closer to the most remote and fascinating places our country has to offer.

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Flora of the Sonoran Desert. Photographed 06/11/2015 at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona.

In spite of such rare and tragic events parks like these remain mostly harmless thanks to the dedicated work of the NPS and other law enforcement officers. Today visitors to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are more threatened by dehydration than cross-border violence. If you decide to venture to this edge of America bring extra water and enjoy the scenery, the plants, and the wildlife, and thank your local NPS ranger, border patrol agent, or other law enforcement officer for making it all possible.

Posted in Botany, Culture, Ecology, General, National Parks | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Tidepooling in the Gulf of California

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Looking out over the Gulf of California from the Sonoran Spa Resort. Photographed 06/11/2015 in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

The Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez) is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on earth and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known to some as “the world’s aquarium,” this sea is home to a wide variety of plants, invertebrates, fish, sea turtles, and large mammals like dolphins, whales, and the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.

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Tidepool along the Gulf of California at low tide. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend some time tidepooling along the Gulf of California this past weekend. We were staying near Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico for Circus Mexicus but had a lot of free time throughout the day to get a taste of what “the world’s aquarium” had to offer. The tides here can vary by as much as 15 to 25 feet (4.6 – 7.6 meters), creating a wide tidal zone that is ripe for exploration.

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Hermit crab and snail shells along the beach. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Although I lack much experience in marine zoology, I thought some of the organisms we encountered were really cool and I wanted to share photos of them here. The first animal we encountered was a young hermit crab making a home out of a small gastropod shell.

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Hermit crab in a snail shell. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Next was the test (shell) of a particular sea urchin commonly known as a sand dollar

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Sand dollar shell photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Then there was this tiny white crab among a number of vacant snail shells…

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Tiny crab and snail shells in a tide pool. Photographed 06/11/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Even this humble green beach worm seemed to leave its mark among the abundant worm tracks…

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Beach worm photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

Some bivalve mollusc shells were more photogenic than others…

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Bivalve mollusc shell photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

This one seemed even prettier…

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Bivalve mollusc shell photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

And we also came across many larvae of this particular species of shrimp or lobster…

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Larva of a shrimp or lobster. Photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

The beaches here were really amazing, not only for their appearance and comfort but for the amazing organisms they harbored. While we didn’t get to see some of the large animals that call these waters home, the humble invertebrates and gorgeous views alone made this location a worthwhile destination.

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Sunset view of the beach along the Gulf of California. Photographed 06/12/2015 near Puerto Peñasco, Mexico.

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