For the first week of September, my work brought me to the Mountain City and Ruby Mountain Districts in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. These districts of the forest burned significantly last year, so we were sent to identify the plants that were coming back to assess how plant communities are responding post-disturbance. Additionally, we were supposed to make seed collections on certain target species if there were ideal populations. Collections made from healthy populations in post-burn areas are most ideal because the population is more likely to grow in areas with the same seed zones after a burn.
For the first few days of our hitch, we cam[ed at Wild Horse Reservoir and scouted the Mountain City District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe forest. We were able to make collections for Phacelia hastata and Macaeranthera canescans before storm clouds began to form on the second day. We were fortunate to make two collections before the storms because afterwards all of the seeds from populations were completely gone.
Exploring the burned areas was educational, yet devastating at the same time. We noticed significantly eroded hillslopes and disturbed sites as a result of the burn. The loss of plant communities as a result of the burn made the hillslope exceptionally erosion-prone, especially after a wet winter and spring in the following season. Many forest roads were damaged from the erosion, making scouting in the area very difficult for my field partner and I. While in the Mountain City District, we found ourselves on a road that became increasingly narrow as it hugged the highly eroded banks of a creek. Traveling took much longer than we anticipated because of the large amount of debris and dead trees alongside the road. As we slowly approached sunset, we were eager to get out and onto the highway to get back to our camp. Soon we hit a private fence that blocked the road leading to the highway. Nervous to travel onto someone’s property, we tried the other roads that diverged from the ones we were on because they seemed like they might lead us around the property to get back onto the highway. We tried all of these roads only to find that they all lead back to a fence from the private property. The sun was now setting and we were running out of options, we were to either ask for permission to pass through on the property or turn around and take the road back (which would take several hours into the nighttime). We decided to ask for permission once we made it to the second fence. As we came up to the property, a friendly older man came out of the house and jokingly said, “Gosh I am so sorry girls! I saw you about an hour ago coming up to the fence. I should have told ya right there and then to come on through! Of course, you can pass on through!”
He was so kind and offered to give us a ride back to our truck on his UTV. As he drove us back to our truck, his grandsons wearing cowboy boots and pajamas ran with the UTV. We thanked them for the ride and allowing us to pass on through and they all said, “Anytime! Please, anytime you need to get past.” Happy to have had such a positive interaction with the rancher, my field partner and I hastily got the truck started. As we drove off, the young boys chased after our truck screaming “Wait! You guys have a flat!” We looked at the sun setting over the mountains and then jumped out of the truck to change our flat. Luckily, the rancher and his grandkids helped us change our flat tire and we were able to get back on the road in less than thirty minutes. While we changed the flat tire we must have been swarmed by mosquitos the entire time!
Soon we were able to be on our way again and thanked the family for helping us that night. We drove in the night back to our campsite and made it back just in time before the torrential downpour and lightning strikes begain. It rained that evening until 6 am in the morning! However frightening, we woke up to the most beautiful sunrise in the morning.