Monday, July 28, 2014

Fieldtrip to Payette River, Idaho

Last week I was on a day trip to look at mosses and lichens in the Rocky Mountains in Idaho, USA.  We drove up along Payette River, a clear-watered small river with many rapids that is beloved by kayakers and rafters (in inflated rubber rafts).  The river is surrounded by tree-less, browned grass mountains, but in the past there was a lot of trees around here.  Extensive logging in the last 200 years took down giant ponderosa pines, and cattle grazing by the settlers and onwards changed the vegetation to dry grasslands. 

We saw many, many lichens, and here is one of the most common one.  A striking yellow makes this one easy to identify, it is wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina).  It loves to grow on the ponderosa pine twigs and it toxic.  It is called wolf lichen because it was used as a poison to treat bait that was used to kill wolves.

Ponderosa pines against the clear blue Idaho-sky.  These pines are adapted to fire and survive it unless they are small seedlings.  Their bark insulate against hot raging forest fires that regularly comes through.

Wildfires were raging about 15 miles away, but didn't affect us.  Fires are common in these landscapes and part of the natural renewal cycle. 

This moss is an amazing little thing.  The left and right is from the same tuft of moss, and is the same species.  The left got a little water sprayed on it, and came back to life in a few minutes.  It is used to study cell biology, since it literally shuts down its metabolism in its dry state, and then can resurrect itself incredibly fast.

The rapids are very treacherous, and each year several people die here.  Rivers for kayaking are divided into categories 1-5 based on difficulty.  The North Fork of the Payette River (on this picture), is a number 4 I think.  We saw lots of kayakers including one that tipped under and then came back up.

And further down the river, where the ponderosa pine forest is gone, you could see the old logging and mining railroad from the late 1800s.  It is still in use but now it transports tourists. 

A little further down from the last picture is the little town of Horseshoe Bend, population 707. You know you are in a different part of the country when there is a plea for support to help a family's baby that was born with a heart defect, and the lottery prizes in the raffle they set up to help them financially with health care bills include three things: a chain saw, a new rifle with a spotting scope, and a large box of ammunition.  That would not happen in New Jersey.

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