Back in April, I had an amazing, and typically tiring trip to South Texas. The following is my tardy beginning to a series on that trip.
I wasn’t entirely sure why I was doing this. Then again, finding yourself in the Houston Airport at 6 AM after a red-eye from Seattle, isn’t exactly a happy thing. Having a bevy of overexcited teenager birders under your wing makes it slightly better, but builds on the exhaustion. What we do for birding.
When I was in high school I was extremely fortunate. Unlike most young naturalists around the country, specifically those growing up in urban cities, I had a way to meet peers and explore without constantly having to rely on my generous parents to drive us places. Seattle Audubon had a high school program called Birdwatch and I’m still so grateful for it that I volunteer with the program today.
Last year, we had an excellent trip to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a break from the normal schedule of annual trips to more distant locales. This year we got back on track with a trip to South Texas. To birders this means a paydirt of species, normally well South of the border where tracts of subtropical forest linger. To the uninitiated however, my trip brought blank stares. I can’t really blame them, because as much as I love birding in the Rio Grande Valley, I couldn’t fathom living there. I don’t mean to sound rude, I’m just not a fan of insufferable heat and urban sprawl.
By midday on day one, we were all starting to feel travel weary, and we hadn’t made it to our first stop. Most of the students were too excited to sleep, mindful that every passing bird could be a lifer. When we’d stopped at (forgive us) Walmart to stock up on food, they’d spent their time birding from the parking lot. As we sped south through the dusty coastal plains of the Texas Gulf Coast, we started to see Crested Caracaras and White-tailed Hawks fly by. Crested Caracaras are restricted in the US and White-tailed Hawks are only found in South Texas. Not bad.
Now I’ve been to Texas three times before this, but that means nothing in terms of my ability to navigate by memory. As a result of too much technological reliance, we discovered that we had no paper maps and that Google maps wasn’t doing it’s job. With a minor meltdown involving not having eaten lunch, we finally made it to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
The great benefit of having visited a place multiple times is that you only partially lust after certain species. I still carry a portion of the enthusiasm of the students, rushing out of the car before we could explain the timeline, but I’ve matured to the point where a missed species doesn’t ruin my trip. The birds wouldn’t become any more observable with frantic speedwalking.
When described by those who live in the region, Laguna Atascosa is called the last remaining wilderness in the Lower Rio Grande. In truth it’s the largest spread of protected natural land in South Texas. Driving through you get a feel for what it must have been like before the cows and the water sucking cities and agricultural land. This is a refuge famous for aplomado falcons, once extripated, reintroduced by the peregrine fund in 1985. Ocelot crossing signs dot the entrance road, despite the almost zero possiblity you’d see one there. The great clearing of coastal prairie began in the 1750s and colonists likely saw only empty land, not a vast, unique ecosystem.
The refuge was dry and the ephemeral wetlands were low. Most of the birds at the refuge we’d see elsewhere and later in the trip. I got the impression that many of our party felt the refuge was a bit of waste. What’s funny is that driving the slow circuit around the refuge, along the saltwater bay lined with yucca and the windblown thornforest topping the lomas (sand and clay dunes), was what I was most excited about. I’m always chasing wilderness, trying to grasp the ecology of the places I visit and was getting a small peephole into just that. As we drove the loop round the refuge, I longed to get out and explore, despite being away of how dusty, spiky, and tick infested the scrub would be. It’s best to not yearn for things that are out of reach, but I couldn’t help myself. There were secrets in there.
We ended our day of birding by driving away from a muted sunset, filtered through the seemingly permanent overcast miasma of South Texas. Pausing to view feral pigs in a corn field outside the refuge, I was reminded that this was just an island of habitat. The sprawling mess of strip malls, Brownsville, was where we’d lay our heads that night, but our minds were far from it, meditating on the remnants of wild South Texas. My slumber was a blank, heavy sleep of deprivation and a long day of travel. And this was just day one.
(A note from Brendan: The main purpose of wingtrip (which is now essentially only written on by me, unless there are tempted contributors out there) is to fuse words, images, and in the near future, video, in discussion of exploring the natural world (hopefully with a new design soon). This is sometimes a lofty goal and the lack of content only means that I am hard at work. I’ve recently gotten a role as a regular contributor to a small local newspaper in Seattle writing about urban natural history. It’s taken a good portion of energy to lately to keep up with it, work, and wingtrip (and my health!). But I’m back on the horse and I have a bank of stories that will be up in the coming weeks. I hope you all will enjoy and continue to come back. This is a big adventure and as any creative knows, it’s a road fraught with self doubt and a lot of rejection letters. Thanks for reading and your support, even though simple clicks!)
The book Sagebrush Country by Ronald J. Taylor had been sitting on my kitchen table (ie writing desk) for several weeks. That’s not to say I’d had time to study, but that at least I’d considered it. Re-reading the introduction, I remind myself that this mosaic is not singularly approachable and that I should just enjoy the time there: “Over this broad steppeland region of western North America – variable climate, topography, and species – the single most important unifying characteristic is the presence of sagebrush, usually conspicuous and often dominant.” As usual I can’t expect to know it all, even after years of practice.
I’ve visited Malheur Bird Observatory, or MABO as we call it, for half a dozen years. This isn’t the bird observatory you might envision, a place with an office, a lab, some interns, a lead scientist. In a ethereal way these things are all true. More substantially, there’s a shitter named Ziggy, a defunct shower, a fire pit, some platforms for wall tents, a well, and the most prominent of structures, the loggerhead shrike emblazoned water tower. I like to think of water tower as the center of the observatory, its height makes it the most prominent promontory.
MABO means many different things to many different people. Generations of naturalists have strung together days and months of their lives on this square of property butted against Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I say naturalists because there’s a myriad of professional roles the visitors take up. We are all united by love of the natural world and a link in our influential professor Dr. Herman.
When I stand on the platform of the water tower and look out across the landscape, I get caught up in imagining this place before Europeans. I try not to get upset and point fingers, that’s not the reason for visiting MABO, but I find it difficult to watch the orgiastic jets of water from the irrigation on the neighbor’s plot. I prefer to pretend there’s nothing but our fire ring and miles of sagebrush and wetlands covering volcanic scablands between here and the slash of the Steens. Possibly it’s an immature approach to take. I enjoy the impassioned discussions by the fire and find the fervor of my contemporaries and elders inspiring. But I’m here to stare at the horizon and listen to Franklin’s gulls.
Many evenings we are treated to the sagebrush sunset. The mingled colors born of dust and steel laced clouds, desiccation and moisture at odds in the distance. We pray for rain, as we are layered with a temporary but palpable alluvial patina, like the seasoning on our cast irons but not quite as beneficial. You eventually forget about the dust, become one with it, and then it rains. Sometimes insufferable dust turns muck, sometimes it merely congeals to a comfortable walking surface. Every year it seems to be dustier, but that’s not an empirical statement (you have to be careful what you state around here, this is a scientists’ camp after all). Then again, who likes camping in the rain?
Migrant traps, that is verdant habitat and water in literal or proverbial deserts, are something that birders dream about. I’ve been to plenty and I still can’t quite decide how I feel about them. Certainly the birds are copious in the right circumstances, but the right circumstances aren’t always ideal for the birds themselves. On the other hand, birds will struggle in migration with or without human consciousness. Best to toss that twinge of guilt in with the twelve hour drive to get here.
Western Tanagers zip about, marmalade sundrops in the overcast sky. Yellow warblers sing their sweet songs and build their rotund nests of cotton fluff and spider silk. American White Pelicans soar overhead or flotilla on the waterways of the refuge. But don’t ask Dr. Herman why they fly in groups overhead, he hates that question. Sometimes the parsimonious answer is admitting that animals also do things for simple enjoyment.
Away in the desiccated shrubsteppe, you could convince yourself that you are miles from water. Botanize a bit, learn or re-learn species, enjoy the botanical biodiversity that persists where untrampled by bovine blundering. Hear the buzz of Brewer’s sparrows and notice the foolish swaying of a sage thrasher in the throes of territorial posturing. Maybe devote some patience to finding the loggerhead shrike nest that surely exists in a thorny greasewood of the alkaline playa. Several of us did, in succession and unaware of each other, witnessing the successive hatching of their young.
Yet, stooping to enjoy a dwarf monkey flower, just now poking through the soil, you hear the intensity of a willet overhead. You think to yourself, this is a desert (and you would be right). But just over the hill there’s water. Just as the storms mingle with the dust, the curlews, gulls, terns, pelicans, and blackbirds contrast with the sagebrush obligates. And the mosquitoes.
I always want to ramble off and drive somewhere, but it’s difficult to want to sit in a car when you’ve traveled so far already. Still, Page Springs at the base of the Steens, with yellow-breasted chats and ash-throated flycatchers usually lures a group. We’ll drive a portion of the central patrol road (once used solely to stamp out poachers) and enjoy the waterways of cinnamon teal and black terns. Diminutive and gaudy icterids, male bobolink swing around in circles over their wet meadows before evaporating into impossibly short grass. A few cranes and a few surprises every year. This is casual birding at its best, possibly with a beverage in hand.
I’d never seen the road up the Steens open this early and apparently no one else had either. The road’s probably always clear most of the way up, but who would want to deal with a track destroyed during the muddy melt? Our travel up seemed like an adventure, ending at a second gate just short of the Kiger Gorge vista we’d all desired seeing still laden with snow. Mountain bluebirds and wildflowers we’d never enjoyed brightened our day regardless. We were charmed by newly hatched killdeer, unsteadily precocial fluff balls. One joy of knowing a place is seeing it throughout the season and with a locked gate, this joy is denied most on this epic fault block. This was a special experience certainly.
Many complain about the drive, but only because most of us don’t feel much like packing up and leaving when the time comes. In truth, the roadtrip is part of the fun, there’s multiple ways to get there and always new things to see. I stare out the window and pick out plants and birds. A Ferruginous hawk nest and its occupants. Mustard, buckweat, lupine, locoweed, phlox, balsam root. It’s high speed identification paired with a hasty, harrowing breaking to the shoulder to jump out and poke around. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can take nine hours to drive what should take six.
I’m always aware there’s tragedy on the road. We watched six Vaux’s swifts plastered by a truck ahead of us. Two were too smashed to be made into study specimens, but four will grace the education vaults of a non-profit’s museum. I hate seeing birds die but I won’t lie, I also appreciate the opportunity for close scrutiny they present.
Busy with my (foolish) enduring goal of being a professional writer and photographer, it was easy to rush down to MABO and try to document. I always take pictures, I always write, but I had to force myself to ease back. This is the difficulty of my path, missing the divisions between life and work. My scientist friends, currently in the field or otherwise can make this distinction and are happy to relax. These are friends reuniting once a year, people who work as far away as Alaska and those who spend months apart from their loved ones to collect data and help inform the continued existence of the places we love. While I rush around, attempting to fuss with this camera or that, they are back enjoying stories from the North Slope or Mexican islands. After devoting too much time to learning a new wildlife camera and getting nothing from it, I swear I’ll bring no cameras next year. I’ll likely forget or change my mind by then.
This parcel of land evokes strong emotions and is equal parts inspiring while shaking up my resolve. When people talk about god or religion I try to assume they just talking about an abstraction of spirituality for the land. After all, the dust, the mosquitoes, and the frenetic swings of temperature remind all of us that the landscape doesn’t care about our comfort and all we can do is adjust. The shrub steppe, is a blindingly beautiful community and a harsh environment all in one moment in time. I desperately hope it’s around for my children and that when they crest the cascades and descend into the great basin, they’ll see a vibrant biological community, not a desiccated wasteland.
Bonus: I’ve been working on time lapse photography and incorporated off the cuff audio recordings I’ve made into a video.
Part Two of an interview with Zachary Shane Orion Lough. Refresh your memory and enjoy Part One.
Brendan McGarry: For me, hearing about time alone, tested by the elements and embracing natural solitude, is very exciting because I see a lot of intellectual potential in it. Time to think about the natural world and philosophize while still being active in your environment. However, I’d go out on a limb and suggest that I’m the choir they speak of preaching to. Do you think it translates to those less involved in nature and adventure? For that matter, even if it didn’t, does to matter?
Zachary Shane Orion Lough: I am essentially arguing for involvement in the natural world. Any argument requires careful tact. My tact or tactic for success is giving the proper portion-size of nature in my website. SailPanache.com talks about lots of stuff other than the natural world. I have my inner monologue, the sailing, the cities and the people. I believe this spectrum of topics makes it easier for people who may be less interested in the nature or, say, sailing aspects of my website to digest it as a whole comfortably. The more they read, the more they are exposed to all topics, and eventually they will want it all. This answer might be a little heavy on marketing philosophy, but I do believe it works. Think of it as “Nature Light!”
BM: Do you have any planned end, either location or date to the sail? Do you think if you could keep this up perpetually, would you? I know you are a social animal. Does having a home, as in a place, matter to you in your goals?
ZSOL: I constantly fight with the idea of home. More specifically the feeling of the familiar. I think it’s natural to want that whether it’s a person, place or thing. Panache has become very familiar, but I desire a physical permanent home and the comfort it offers. I have felt the gravity of each port and the comforts they offer. I guess subconsciously I am looking for home, but I have limited resources and know if I want to keep this adventure going I can’t be stagnant. I have to keep moving. If I had unlimited resources, I would circumnavigate over several years and spend several months in each place. I would love to keep this going, but financially it isn’t possible.
At the moment, I have enough money to travel through the Pacific and end up in New Zealand and/or Australia. If I can work there for a bit, or find some form of sponsorship, I will definitely keep moving. The lifestyle is very rewarding, I enjoy sharing it through SailPanache.com, and I am not ready to give it up!
BM: What is your favorite place to be in the natural world?
ZSOL: Right now one place come to mind. Being in such a hot place I constantly think about snow. A pine covered forest draped in snow is what I think about on those 100 degree days. It’s silent. Smells of evergreens. It calms and cools me, even if just for a moment.
BM: Do you hate Frigatebirds?
ZSOL: Absofuckinglutely. I hate how they pester boobies and steal their food. I hate how they love to crap all over my boat. One exceptionally large frigatebird sat on my anemometer (a thing on the top of my mast to measure wind speed) and broke it. The bird just wanted a free ride, but come on. I guess I don’t hate them, but they frustrate me. As frustrating as they may be, they are impressive and very beautiful. Wingspan to weight ratio is one of the highest, making them crazy agile in the air. But I still fucking despise them.
BM: Anything special wildlife wise you’d hope to see in your journey? Anything particularly memorable you’ve already experienced?
ZSOL: For all intents and purposes, oceans are like deserts. Most of the time there is nothing to see on the macro level. Sure, give me a microscope and I could discover all sorts of cool zooplankton, but I don’t have that kind of equipment aboard Panache. I would love to see anything big or dangerous. Sharks and sailfish are high on my list. I would love to catch a Wahoo. I would love love love to see a sunfish. I’m sure I will scratch one of these things off my list by the end of my Pacific crossing.
As for memorable things I have already seen, dolphins are always a friendly visitor, but my truly memorable experience involved a dolphin fish or dorado or Mahi Mahi. On the sail down the Baja coast I caught one for food. They are delicious and definitely ramped up my fishing drive. The first day out of Acapulco I woke up and poked my head out of the cockpit. Still squinting I could see a bright yellow fin slicing back and forth through the water right off the port side. I scrambled on deck and as the reflection of the sky faded from the water it revealed a massive Mahi Mahi. This Bull Dorado was literally as big as me. My initial response was to try and catch it. Feeding out a lure behind the boat got the giant’s attention, and I realized two unfortunate things: 1. If the fish struck the lure the line wasn’t tied off to anything, and 2. if I somehow managed to get the fish in the boat, there is no way I would be able to eat it all. I was happy to see the blue and green giant lose interest quickly and continue to swim happily along.
This fish paced Panache for the better part of 3 hours. I just sat there and watched. Panache was like a pace car. Every once in a while the Dorado would jet off leaving a visible wake on the surface of the water. After a minute or so, he would calmly come back to the boat. I assume he was using Panache to scare food fish and then hunting them down. Pretty rare to see a Bull Dorado that size, and probably even more rare to have one pace your boat.
Thanks for the interview Zach. Safe travels and good adventures! I hope you’ve all enjoyed Zach’s wonderful photography and sage words. Please be sure to check out SailPanache.com and keep track of his travels!
The unflagging exuberance of young birders (or simply those enamored with nature) is draining on those even just slightly older. Certainly it’s uplifting and I felt energized as we left the Sage Grouse Lek on Foster Flats. Energy was entirely welcome after all, we still had a full day ahead of us.
Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetesgramineus) and Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris) serenaded us down from the lek “parking lot.” In a couple slimy sections of the road, I inwardly thanked our lucky stars for making it up. After the other visitors had squirmed upslope, the track was a sloppy mess of mud ruts. The refreshing air wafted through aromatic shrubs had a calming effect though. The were windows rolled down and ears pricked at notes from the steppe.
Just as I expressed doubts about the promise we’d see a certain sage obligate, we heard cheery, ebullient notes tossed across the shrubs. The Sage Sparrow (Amphispiza belli) is a delicately colored bird, enjoyable and beautiful in subdued shades of gray and brown in the way we find subtle geology dazzling. I’d also reckon it has one of the prettier sparrow songs. The first individual sat dutifully staking claim, broadcasting for mates long enough for Eric and I to creep near clutching cameras.
Before we made it back to the highway we couldn’t resist a few more stops to enjoy the sunny morning. A Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) sailed far above and more sparrows sang around us. We all developed platforms of mud, inches thick, caked to our soles that had to be scraped off each time before returning to the van.
Already pleased with the sights, we curved down the highway to the The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area. The mention of the BLM never gets me excited except knowing that the land has few rules to fetter the adventurous. When entering their properties (or as many say, “our property, our land”), I vacillate between imagining open pit mines and overgrazed riparian areas festering with watery cow pies. “The Bureau of Land Mismanagement.” Let it be said that the road we traveled in to see the lek was a derelict BLM road, so I can’t entirely grouse. Diamond Crater’s must be the crown gem of all the BLM land.
What pleased me the most about visiting this area was the fluency of the Birdwatch kids in all things natural. Sure, they wanted to go far and see much birdwise, but they could enjoy roaming geology and settling down for a good old fashioned lizard catching romp too. Before we’d even made it past the first designated stop on the auto tour of the “Outstading Natural Area,” we were crawling over the thin crust of a basaltic flow in search of reptiles.
Midday birding what it is, we had the geology and herps to keep us busy. This first stop saw us clambering on a vertically tilted slab of basalt attempting to outwit several behemoth Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis). A cooperative Sagebrush Lizard (Sceloporus graciosus) proved much more easily caught and photographed. At the same time, someone noticed that many of the cracks in the rock were filled with Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla)! Between trying to capture images of frog faces wedged in fissures and snagging lizards, we laughed and scrambled away an hour. This was good, respectable fun that had nothing to do with age or ability or knowledge.
The Diamond Craters are true geological wonders, much deserving of their cornball designation. I’d visited previously but hadn’t been compelled to contemplate the spread. Much of the rock we’d seen before this point was from a comparatively ancient 9.2 million year old vent located near where Burns, Oregon is today. The Diamond Craters are a geologically young formation, around 25,000 years old, and display a huge array of basaltic volcanic features localized and easy to see. Massive craters admired are in various states of erosion, collapsing in on themselves. The evidence of explosive events, fueled by the interaction of water and magma, were strewn about. I couldn’t help but wish to have viewed this from afar over the thousands of years of activity. The tumult, the explosions, the flows of viscous lava bubbling from vents to cover lakes and millions of years of older formations. I reckon I could probably give up television for that opportunity.
Possibly the gravity of the geology was lost on some of the students but they couldn’t ignore the unique features. Nor could they deny the desire to roam the slopes or climb into the craters. (Parents, don’t worry, this is no longer volcanically active). At the particularly stunning Lava Pit Crater, a collapsed shield volcano that repeatedly flooded lava over the surrounding slopes until it subsided and began to crumble, we had another good scramble. Here we found some delicate Side-blotched Lizards (genus Uta) near the crater rim and the more intrepid accidentally sussed out both a Great-horned (Bubo virginianus) and Barn Owl (Tyto alba) while exploring a particularly large vent.
The day went on like that. Driving, stopping at a gaudy volcanic feature, spreading out over it till we looked like ants, and circling back up to pile into the car. I don’t think any of us could have asked for a more enjoyable afternoon to cap the day and the trip. As the weather began to foul again, we turned back to the field station, satisfied and tired.
Back at the field station we discovered a Bushy-tailed Woodrat (Neotoma cinerea) that had been captured in the director’s residence and left for us to release. Only in this bizarre world I’m a part of does releasing giant rats count as fun. The giddy troops were dispatched and those of us who drove at 3 AM took a rest. Somehow, when they returned, I got convinced to hunt Kangaroo rats one last time.
So, excuse my lack of eloquence here: this shit is important. These kids are going to grow up and change the world. They are going to be stewards of the environment, no matter what choices they make in their career paths (doctors, business people, politicians need to have a connection with the natural world too). The volunteers of the program said this about my cohort when I was in Birdwatch and they were right; we’re working on it. I can think of little that is more important than helping this generation along, particularly considering this is a dying pursuit amongst the youngsters of America. Nature Deficit disorder may not be diagnosable but it is real. There is a widening disconnect between young people and nature, in my generation, and those after. I’ll never stop asking this of you, of myself, of anyone: how we can expect to save things we don’t understand, let alone care about? Simply knowing an animal or a landscape is endangered doesn’t inherently fuel action.
I’ll calm down and stop jumping on my soap box in just a second. My point is, if you have kids, get them outside and let them get dirty. If you are a kid (read: if you are young of heart), get out yourself. You don’t need to know what everything is or fret over dangers. For shit’s sake, live a little!
There are plenty more details, stories, and exciting things to share about our travels in Oregon but I choose to leave it here. We had an immeasurably good time and were all sad to leave and head back to the city. All ten hours back there were constant pleas from students (and whispered from the volunteers) to stop and explore. To get sidetracked.
If you can think back that far, you might have read that I am starting a series of interviews with people I believe are doing interesting things. My first (I’ve done others in the past) is with Zachary Lough of SailPanache.com who is currently in the midst of traveling by boat, examining nature, and documenting the whole process. I finally caught up with him at port on a short rest. This is part one of a two part interview.
Brendan McGarry: Who are you? Not just your name, but what guides you through life? I’m starting off with deep questions.
Zachary Shane Orion Lough: My name is Zachary Shane Orion Lough (I’m not sure why I have so many names). I am a 26-year-old who has bypassed the traditional career path for the opportunity to create my own. I am on a sailing adventure aboard my sailboat Panache. I document my travels with photography, writing and short videos. I hope that my adventures inspire people and eventually transform into a career. As for a guiding force, that would have to be capturing the unknown. Pretty vague, but I think that answer is equally as deep.
BM: For those who don’t know, explain to us what SailPanache.com is all about.
ZSOL:SailPanache is my platform for sharing my journey. The source for getting the details about my trip. Not only the simple facts of where and when, but my personal journey getting places, mentally and physically. My goal is to have the viewer experience the places as I do. It’s a very media-rich website that I hope gives a decent picture of where I have been and how it affected me.
My sailboat is named Panache. She is a small Catalina 30 built in 1976. The previous owner took her to Mexico twice, through the South Pacific, and all the way to Australia. I plan to follow in his footsteps.
BM: Where are you currently in your travels?
ZSOL: Costa del Sol, El Salvador. It’s hot here. El Salvador has provided a love hate relationship with the heat; it’s great by the pool, but miserable when you are working outside. My blood is now permanently hot, and 60 degrees feels like a freezer.
BM: Thus far, what is your favorite experience? What are you most looking forward to?
ZSOL: My favorite experience has to be making my first solo sailing trip from Manzanillo to Zihuatanejo. It took several days and was a testing ground for larger single-handed passages. I am now on the eve of sailing solo to the South Pacific, specifically Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. This trip is definitely something I have been looking forward to for as long as I knew what sailing was. Crossing the Pacific is one of the greatest achievements for a sailor. It’s epic. I am excited and terrified. This is a true adventure, and one I can’t wait to share via SailPanache.com.
BM: What basic challenges do you face in your travels?
ZSOL: While sailing solo along the coast, my biggest challenge was when to go to bed and for how long. Technically you are always supposed to have someone on watch. Being alone, I have to go to bed sometime! The Mexican coast is filled with fishing boats that don’t display navigation lights, long lines that drift in your way, and gill nets that can foul your prop. Even curious whales can be a potential danger! Add night to the equation and you can imagine how much stressful falling asleep can be. I have radar and other tools to help me see in the dark, but even that can’t help you sometimes. Sailing coastal routes solo is exhausting, so I decided to start sailing farther offshore (30ish miles). This helped cut down on the traffic, and I got more sleep.
Weather is also a huge concern. If you have no wind, you go nowhere. My engine is small, and I carry little fuel, so if I have no wind, I typically don’t cover much ground. If you encounter a gale and have too much wind, you can rip your sails or worse. It’s all about finding the right amount of sail area for the given wind conditions and acting accordingly when they change. I recently experienced hurricane force winds (80+ miles per hour) here in El Salvador and it was terrifying. A 36’ J-Boat dragged anchor and was totaled when it smashed against a concrete pier. The weather can be your best friend and greatest opponent. Praying to Poseidon is recommended.
As for the things I can control, managing Panache’s water and food supply can be a challenge. I need to make sure I have enough and that I end up in places where I can replenish. For my Pacific crossing, I am carrying 75 gallons of water and enough rice and beans to fart all the way to Australia. My diet will be extremely boring, but I hope to catch fish to spice things up.
I just listed some specific challenges above, but ultimately sailing as a form of travel is one big challenge. It makes simple tasks, like getting from point A to point B, an adventure. But that’s part of what makes it so great!
BM: Nature is obviously a big thing in your life. Besides simply needing to have it, like myself, how do you plan to incorporate it into your professional life?
ZSOL: I want to have an unequivocal adventure through nature. I have come to the conclusion that I can only find that by crossing an ocean. I’m not sure If I will experience sensory deprivation or sensory overload. On one end, I will be cutting technology and social contact almost completely out of my life, and at the other end I will be adding the constant liveliness of the expansive ocean and everything it has to offer. I believe each experience is equally stimulating, but I am curious to see how total immersion will affect me. This little experiment will be available on SailPanache.com, and I hope readers will get curious and excited about that immersion. My goal isn’t to encourage people to drop everything, turn into a Luddite and tromp into the forest or sail out into an ocean. I simply want subscribers to receive their nature “fix,” which I believe encourages respect.
This underlying message is not how I present SailPanache.com. I am meticulously documenting my trip in hopes that I can use the site as a platform to slingshot myself into photojournalism/writing/video dude.
(BM: hey, me too!)
I’m trying to make a career for myself, but at the same time, I still want my respect for nature to be a prominent theme. Traveling through Mexico, and especially El Salvador, there is a huge lack of respect for the natural world. It’s frustrating and in some indirect way I think my website helps.
A quick note: for those of you haven’t donated yet, my big day was in support of Seattle Audubon. This money is for a general fund but continues programs like Birdwatch, the high school group I volunteer with and have blogged about. Please consider pledging to my Birdathon. Thanks so much for your support!
I woke in the confusion of deep sleep, unsure where I was. Blearily, I cast about for my glasses, brushing frost off my sleeping bag. When my brain caught up it was with a mournful reproach. What had I gotten myself into. Oh no…this was just the start of the day. This could be the intro to a horror movie.
Welcome to our big day: 12 AM on a dirt road in Wenatchee National Forest on May 5th.
Five hours later we were sitting in the car waiting for first light. Our first bird had taken nearly two hours – a Spotted Owl barking in a distant drainage. We stood watching wind push surreal globular clouds across a full moon the rest of the time. The second species in four hours, was a Northern Pygmy Owl right at dawn.
I’ll freely admit that I despise owling. Owls are indelibly special birds, species which have always held a corner of the human imagination. However, interminable hours standing in the cold, listening to air move over your ears and the gaseous irruptions of your fellow owlers, imagining distant barks, hoots, or whines, are almost never worth it. Not the best way to get excited about a big day.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, a big day is when manic birders try to see as many species of birds as possible in 24 hours. This could be in a county, a state, even a city. My expedition mates, Adam Sedgley, Micheal Willison, and I were making our go in Washington State. Adam and I were raising money for Seattle Audubon with pledges for our endeavors.
We secretly knew from the start that we wouldn’t approach the state record of 211 birds. For one we were going out a bit too early in the year for some vital species. Give or take a few weeks, May is universal big day month in North America yet early May in Washington doesn’t afford time for some neotropical migrants to arrive. Second, our route needed some fine tuning. Third, completely out of our control, was wind. A birder can never get worse luck than high winds.
A big day more or less consists of rushing about from place to place. We’d see or hear a bird, make sure everyone got on it, and rush off. This wasn’t about beautiful views or remarkable observations, it was about efficiency and tallying off species within our 24 hour frame.
We started daybreak on Bethel Ridge, which is on a random forest service road near Rimrock Lake on Highway 12. In typical dawn activity we dashed off most species we could possibly snag. Wham bam. Time to move on.
Down Umptanum road between Naches and Ellensburg, we weren’t feeling particularly enthusiastic. Aiming to hit certain habitats is key and it’s a serious issue when you miss birds with only one opportunity to see them reliably. Later in the day when we were going over species we still needed, minutes before a Red-breasted Sapsucker flew across the road I said something like “they’re easy to see flying.” I wished we’d had that kind of fortune with White-breasted Nuthatch or White-headed Woodpecker in the few Ponderosa stands visited. We were getting skunked.
Early in the game we’d adopted a strategy of running to and from the car. After finding Sage Sparrow along the Old Vantage Highway, Adam and I dashed back out of the sage, warily eyed by two geared up gentlemen on dirt bikes next to the car. They were probably used to seeing birders but were maybe a bit uneasy as to our running.
“Stop! Back up a bit……there….a bit further. It just flew. Pull forward…”
Equally so our driving probably wasn’t convincing any bystanders of our sanity. Stopping in the middle of the road or weaving to see a bird. All in all we were safe. But erratic, very erratic.
Things were not looking fantastic by mid day. Noon was literally the halfway point, we’d been up for 12 hours and would be for another 12. Sheer lunacy.
Despite feeling pessimistic I was having a surprisingly good time. That’s what big days are about. Testing yourself, in planning, in ability to pick out birds whizzing by or calling quietly, pushing your limits of sleep deprivation.
By the time the crest of the Cascades at White Pass came and went I’d already started to nod. Time was slipping by as we crossed into Southwestern Washington, hoping to scoop what we could before the sun traded places with the moon around 8:30 PM.
I’d never been to Rainbow Falls State Park but I was grateful to stretch my legs. Everything counts, even common birds (which are so often missed). Pacific Wren, Townsend’s Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, and Wilson’s Warbler were all birds I can potentially see minutes from my home in urban Seattle. Hermit Warbler however was not. Time to move on.
Desperation setting in and we saw our first gulls in a field near Roy. Luckily they were worth studying, Herring and Mew Gull represented. We were tempted to waste precious minutes to make another bird a Thayer’s. I made an unethical, silly, and unsuccessful attempt to get the bird to fly by running down the road parallel to it.
There’s a certain salvation in getting to an entirely new habitat. Suddenly coastal Washington and all its marine, intertidal species spread before us. Crunch time and we crunched much of what we’d hoped for, waterfowl, shorebirds, a few songbirds. Yet, those missed species always make you cringe.
Big days are unapologeticly crude. You eat horribly, relieve yourself in convenient, not polite, places, and largely reject courtesy. Vespertine sputtered out on a platform at the Wesport Jetty. Pelagic and Brandt’s Cormorants were our last species roosting offshore. As we scanned with flagging enthusiasm, we probably managed to ruin a man’s attempt to photograph the blood orange moon creeping over Gray’s Harbor, shaking the platform and his tripod.
153 species, 890 miles driven. Not terrible but not great either. Definitely fun. The callous road trip nation easily folds into the world of birding. Maybe we could have driven further and seen more? Then again the need for dinner, rest, and the camaraderie of sharing a meal surpassed a more hours standing in the cold, hoping for owls. I wasn’t going to suggest that anyway. Like I said, I sorta hate owling.
The day was unusually clear, a bite to the air and bare deciduous limbs the only reminders of the season. We stood at the mouth of the Elwa River, watching the sanguine sunrise over the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island disappearing into ocean mists. I thought of what came before. Of the strong Coast Salish tribes, striking off into the strait in dugout canoes made of cedar. Captain George Vancouver sailing in, charting the coastline, naming prominent landmarks after his benefactors and friends. The time before when vast glaciers would have dredged the land that would become the strait itself as well as scouring the Olympic Mountains to my back.
My friend Tyler and I were on a day trip, to one of the most Northwesterly points in the lower 48, Cape Flattery.
A few miles before the Makah tribe’s reservation and Neah Bay, we hit a Bobcat. Driving around a corner, speeding through a twenty year old Douglas Fir plantation, the cat ran right in front of the car. No chance to avoid or brake. It hit hard, with two jarring thumps. Screeching to a halt, we wanted to find the animal we presumed was either fatally maimed or soundly dead. All we could do was curse. Tyler had seen the body go flying, dislodged fur in airborne puffs. Scouring the roadside, there was no evidence of any vehicular violence. Perplexed, we stood as cars sped by mere feet away, buffeting us with their wind and threatening to throw us the way of cat. No one seem confused or interested in why we were standing on a lonely stretch of highway looking glum. Cutting through our silent mourning and confusion a Hutton’s Vireo scolded from the other side of the road. I stifled an urge to start laughing uncontrollably and chuckled quietly, only to keep from getting teary. Who knows what happened to that poor cat.
We kept pushing on, stopping to look at birds on the shore occasionally, hoping to discover something rare. Our decision to drive all the way out to this point meant too much sitting in the car but because it was so far away from where most people birded regularly, we might have gotten lucky. Ultimately it was just a long drive. Somehow though, when we’d walked the three quarter mile trail to the end of the state, looking out at Tatoosh Island in winter sun, I couldn’t diminish a feeling of accomplishment. The sun was already descending, casting rainbows through spray dashing against the dilapidated coastline and towering sea stacks.
The next week I was on the other side of the Cascade mountains, snowshoeing alone above Cle Ellum Lake. Besides the distant, anxious whine of snowmobile engines in the snowpark at Salmon La Sac, I was alone. Ill fitting boots held back a more serious hike, yet I also felt accomplished with my meager ascent of crusty snow in the open coniferous forest of the east slope. On the way down I found Mountain Lion tracks, old, yet recent enough. The hair on my neck rose and things felt wilder than before.
Weeks later I was in the Paradise Valley on Mount Rainier, again on snowshoes but in fresh, deep powder and guiding a group for work. One of the clients turned to me as the eight of us stood viewing the partially obscured Nisqually Glacier a thousand feet below.
“Do people normally get here? Because I’m feeling quite accomplished right now.”
What exactly is adventure these days? Is what I might call an adventure anything to be proud of these days? REI and The North Face sure as hell make it seem like everyone goes trail running in uncharted wilderness and dozens of companies will happily sell you canned experiences deemed “adventure travel.” I am not criticizing this market (for one I am employed by it), more musing on it. Do our adventures seem less noteworthy, dull even, because now they are available to the masses?
People have always been pushing the limits. With so fringe seeking these days (and more people), I occasionally feel I’m worthless if I don’t risk my neck to achieve some feat of endurance. Like a few of my friends, part of me wants to be an adventurer like the old days. You know, the misanthropic, gun-toting, racist white male, blazing an unknown path to conquer nature. Well. Not exactly. However I do pine for days when more of the world was uncharted than today. I’ve done a lot that most would consider adventurous but I have a hard time calling it much beyond work or fun. I tend to question the point of the adrenaline and travel propaganda I hungrily gobble up in Outside Magazine, (which I hope to contribute to someday). Are these people pushing boundaries just to be seen doing it? Again, does it lessen the experiences available to us?
Slowly, I’m discussing a feeling I get from time to time: that there is nothing left to explore. I’ve spent a greater part of my life romanticizing naturalists like Alfred Russel Wallace, David Douglas, and modern equivalents like Jared Diamond or even E.O. Wilson and Bernd Heinrich. As absurd as it sounds, when I envision the intellectual and natural historical adventures I aspire to, I can’t help but think that it’s all been done. That my life is mundane and soft (the latter is true in relative terms).
That is an absolutely absurd and negative viewpoint. Downright ignorant really. We don’t know everything, we haven’t seen it all, and we never will. So I can rest easy knowing that just because I likely won’t get a bird species named after me, doesn’t mean I won’t have an opportunity to contribute to the world. Contribute to knowledge or appreciation or preservation and conservation. Adventure is grounded in questing after something and can be equally in your backyard watching insect behavior through a hand lens or jumping into the Congo blindly. My epics will always be reliant on the same imagination and excitement I’ve had since childhood. The locale doesn’t matter. (Read: has pen and camera, binoculars, and a bag too full of field guides. Will travel.)
And that reminds me. I am not alone in being an adventurer, seeking lofty and humbling moments with nature across the globe. Over the course of the next year I intend to touch base with people I consider contemporaries in their thirst to explore. These are the people I can almost promise you’ll be hearing about as the years pass (and in other places far more noteworthy than Wingtrip). Writers, photographers, scientists, they are all doing interesting and important things. So stay tuned for the first up, my friend Zachary Shane Orion Lough of Sail Panache.
It’s been a year since I left for an adventure in Southeast Asia. With the extremely tardy completion of a small book I made for those who supported my Kickstarter campaign for the trip, I started feeling like I’d never be on the road again. Modern expectations, the realities of money, and my desire to be a part of a stable community all seemed to be working against me, pulling me down. Yet, instead of dragging myself down the anguished path of the grounded traveler, I decided that some careful reflection was in order.
This year I’ve been a lot of places, there’s no doubt. From the temperate land I call home to the Asian tropics. To the crest of the Sierras and down to the Great Basin. Consciously or subconsciously, mountains played an undeniable role in my explorations. I was in the the shrub steppe of Steens Mountain in Oregon, the forests and alpine of Mt. Lassen in California and Mt. Rainier in Washington, the elfin evergreens of Doi Inthanon in Thailand, eruption scarred Gunung Sibayak in Sumatra, and the ancient oaks and tree ferns of Gunung Kinabalu in Borneo. In my home I wound through the high desert of interior western North America, the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest coast, the snow of the Cascade range, and the mosaic of forests in the Sierra Nevada. Abroad I traipsed the lowland rainforests of Borneo and clambered about the monsoonal forests of Thailand. I drove to the summit of Doi Inthanon, the tallest mountain in Thailand, and hiked halfway up to the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, Gunung Kinabalu.
I was captivated by small natural wonders in my own backyard (literally) and stood in awe of a bull elephant thousands of miles away. Birds were held, eyes were met with Orangutans. Animal and plant life always figure highly in my explorations, communities shaped by the landscapes I learned in my wend.
That’s the key. My excitement and passion for this world result from a desire to learn. Curiosity rules my spirit, anyone reading Wingtrip will know that.
Below I’ve compiled a long (yet also very punctuated) series of images from my year in the natural world. If you are curious about the stories behind them please ask or follow a few of the links I’ve provided above (unfortunately, through a flaw in the program I upload photos to Flickr with, literally hundreds of the photos in other entries linked to above are not visible right on wingtrip though still on Flickr – when I have time to sit down to this arduous task, it’ll be fixed). There’s so much worth working to save, these images should remind us all of that.
In short, I’ve got nothing to complain about. I hope you enjoy these shots. May you all have a fruitful year of discovery.
Four hours later I was in Ephrata, Washington, doubting my sanity.
There were two cars in our caravan. Five demented birders. We had about twelve hours of driving from Seattle, Washington to Palmer Lake near Loomis, Washington and back. Where is Loomis? That’s what most people say.
A steel gray morning broke as we climbed onto the Waterville plateau, out of channels of basaltic flows that blanketed out over 4 millions years ago. When lava began to periodically sweep over the landscape millions of years before this, it was lush and wet, a polar opposite of the now arid high desert.
The sun wasn’t yet strong enough to budge the hard frost, an elegant tinsel about the trees lining the few farm houses dotting vast fields of cultivation. Agriculture reigns throughout this part of Washington like many others. We power through it and the small towns heading north. Bridgeport, Omak, Okanogan, Riverside, and finally, after almost five hours, Tonasket. Turn off to the Loomis-Oroville highway things start feeling rustic, exhilaratingly obscure.
If I’d told you we made a 10 hour drive to see one bird, would you think me crazy? Not just any bird, but a gull that without careful observation, most wouldn’t notice as particularly striking in basic (non-breeding) plumage. What about the dozens of other birders clustered around Lake Palmer squinting across the water, shivering and straining through scopes? My non-birder friends would hardly be surprised, but that doesn’t mean they get it. Yet, across the water was a gull that inspired this frenzy of driving. With a vague hue of pink, like the pale sunrise hours before, there sat a Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), Washington’s second.
This bird is not only rare here, it is a sought after species in normal range. This is a truly unique and superbly adapted species, exciting enough to see in its own landscape, let alone Washington. If you want to see a Ross’s Gull, typically you head to Barrow, Alaska in October for migration, or to Siberian or Northern Canadian marshy tundra during the breeding season. If you are truly demented, you could peruse the edge of arctic ice flows during winter. Spending one day with hours of driving across Washington and back, with the strong possibility of dipping on the gull, was odd. Yet, here we all were, some of the hundreds who visited the lake tucked away in the precipitous mountains of north central Washington, thousands of miles away from this bird’s home.
Named for James Clark Ross, an English naval officer who explored the arctic and the antarctic, the Ross’s Gull is monotypic (but certainly not unique in being named after a dead white man). Sole membership to the genus seems immediately appropriate when one is adorned in striking alternate (breeding) plumage. Despite their beauty, there is no accurate count of populations I’ve ever heard, or extensive information on their natural history. Territory on the edge tends to restricts our knowledge base. Their summer diet revolves around insects, abundant for the punctuated profusion of arctic summer. Winter is spent scraping by on algae and likely whatever else is found.
At first the atmosphere was reserved. When we arrived around 9 AM, they’d seen the bird. The deer carcass sustaining the gull’s vagrancy was still iced over; it had flown. Only certain portions of the lake were accessible or visible and there was concern that it would settle in an obscured corner. Thankfully, we didn’t have to drive the frigid lake shore for hours. The chase was fruitful.
A chase was exactly what this was. We saw the bird, watched it for about an hour, and then left. In many ways I was happy to leave. This didn’t feel organic or entirely enjoyable. Thirty birders huddled around watching one bird. Seeing it was a pleasure, how it flew and jumped above the drift ice in foraging behavior that seemed particular to a bird that winters on the edge of arctic ice. We had diagnostic views of dark underwings, a pinkish wash, a wedge shaped tail, and a small dark bill, but it never came close.
Yet something wasn’t right. Without sounding like a hermit or agoraphobic, I don’t relish this aspect of birding. Too many people vying for room, vying for attention to their ego. A crowd is still a crowd, even looking at a cool, rare bird. I didn’t need to hear the woman shouting out every little detail about the gull, as if she was announcing a horse race. I didn’t need to hear the pretentious discussions of binoculars, cameras, and trips. Too much showing off, too little reserve, appreciation, time spent learning, and ultimately, respect. Call me negative but this wasn’t what I looked for in a community. The numerous pleasurable people I spoke with were overshadowed by this miasma of obsession. I was reminded why I don’t always chase rare birds, despite admittance of enjoying adding them to my life list.
What was the point of driving all this distance, using these resources, to see a bird almost certainly destined for death far from home? This little gull had probably gotten lost, arriving here in attempts to find food. As I’ve grown older, this internal battle has raged, largely because I know the value of birding isn’t housed in vagrant species. Yet a part of me is still giddy in the chase or discovery. Some aspects of it warrant intellectual pondering, postulating on the why and how. Yet, the most benficial part of traveling to a remote locale for birding is that it can have a positive economic impact on the communities visited. Very simply, more habitat will be saved if a community sees gain in catering to nature oriented visitors. This works well around the world, a strong basis for local driven conservation efforts.
Passing through Loomis I considered all this. We’d seen other captivating things this day but had to rush by. Two ram Bighorn Sheep, crossed the road in front of us and stood veiled behind bare Douglas maples eying us from mere feet away. A deer kill, I’d guess from a Cougar (they tend to return to a kill and eat, incapable of devouring in the manner of wolves), was covered in Black-billed Magpie, Common Ravens, a young Golden Eagle, and two adult Bald Eagles. I counted a dozen Rough-legged Hawks between Palmer Lake and Seattle, wintering from the north.
The day ended with a beautiful sunset over Cle Elum and the eastern Cascades. I felt justified in having taken this trip but I still felt uneasy about aspects of it. How much of birding recklessly ignores impact in favor of valorous exploits? Does this make our pastime, in extremes or not, any better than something sneered at as explicitly impactful like say, snowmobiling? Did anyone learn anything in seeing the Ross’s Gull or did they just get their check mark?
A far parcel of Oregon houses a lasting corner of my imagination. Down a seemingly endless road of silty dust, potholes, and bovine distressed shrub steppe, I find myself at a gate in late May. It keeps happening every year now. No sign of nearby water, yet Franklin’s Gulls (Larus atricilla) dip over the sage and Willet’s (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) call in the distance. This is a place of seeming discordance.
The Malheur Bird Observatory (MABO) is admittedly a bit of a misnomer. Yes, work that would depict a scientifically founded organization has happened there and many of the field scientists of the West have found themselves there at some point or another. But it’s not a functioning group like say, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory. In the blandest of descriptions, MABO is a nice bit of shrub steppe acreage.
And arguably that’s the best thing about it. Steve Herman, the owner and the inspiration for the gathering of the multi-generational students, just wants to get together with old friends and to make new ones. Simone and I headed out from Seattle and saw people we admittedly could have seen in less than a 10-hour drive. However friends from Wyoming, from Northern California, and elsewhere attended. It was a sort of central meeting point.
At MABO we enjoy the company of our fellows, relax in the sweet smelling patch of intact shrub steppe, become enveloped by the dusty loam, and most importantly – watch birds! An experienced birder of the Western United States will recognize Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as one of the best birding sites around. Not only does it house a huge system of wetlands that nurse many a breeding waterbird but during migration songbirds descend on the refuge headquarters and other areas with planted trees, the artificial lushness we cultivate. So amongst the Black Terns (Chlidonias niger), the White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi), and the Willets, you find Western Tanagers (Piranga ludoviciana), Swainson’s Thrushes (Catharus ustulatus), and Townsend’s Warblers (Dendroica townsendi). Frequent “rarities” attract the so called “elite.”
As much as part of me wanted to dash out and find as many birds as possible over the weekend, a more persistent part of me wanted to slow down a bit. I did just that for the weekend. Sure, Simone and our close circle of friends (housed within a larger circle of Hermanites) got out and birded. But it wasn’t rushed and we enjoyed quality not quantity.
Although the refuge headquarters didn’t quite live up to the fame of pulling rare birds this year, we had some fun stuff. The “rarest” bird of our stay was a Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia), a bird that isn’t typically western but because it winters in Northwestern Mexico, tends to show in regular vagrancy. Also out of place, a Lewis’s Woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) worked the compound of cottonwoods.
But I had just as much fun watching the family of Great-horned Owls (Bubuo virginianus) and Black-billed Magpies (Pica hudsonia) both with recently fledged chicks. An opportunity to watch awkward adolescence, full of imaginative approaches to locomotion is full of endless hilarity. I was disappointed when the Magpie fledglings moved out of range of easy observation on the second day.
Further out from the headquarters or MABO there’s much more. Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) spurred up periodically in a wet field to sing their hearts out before flashing back to hide in the grass they so like. I often wish I could spy on them in their moist domain. Ibis dotted the countryside, either flying by in formation or probing spotted wetlands. Crane cacophony rolled through the dust as we sped past ditches brimming with ruddy Cinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera). A well established (multi-generational) Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) nest we’d discovered the year before was active with well developed young. Just beyond the dwindling town of French Glen, at the base of the east climbing slope of Steens Mountain is Paige Springs Campground. I’ve never seen Yellow-breasted Chat’s (Icteria virens) in higher numbers or so atypically visible as at the entrance to the campground.
Wildlife in general abounds in Malheur (where cows haven’t been grazing). We watched a Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata) hunting Belding’s Ground Squirrels (Urocitellus beldingi) at the Malheur Field Station. Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) strutted through the shrub steppe. Coyotes (Canis latrans) rang out every night, culminating in a shouting match with our amassed dogs.
The time always comes to say goodbye (if I have anything to say about it, I’ll soon stop having to say goodbye to exploration and do it for a living). All our dear friends parted ways, we brushed off the soot of good times, sighed our last breath of sage, and hit the road home. Rain ushered our departure and the Cryptobiotic crust gleamed as we bounced down the road in admiration of a greatly undervalued landscape of shrub and steppe in the Great Basin.