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Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

locusts

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/17/fighting-the-plagues-of-locusts-and-covid-19/

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

H. Bradford

Written 4/17/20

Posted 4/20/20


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of Africa, South East Asia, and the Middle East are facing another plague. A dangerous outbreak of locusts has ravaged multiple countries since last year, laying waste to crops and threatening millions of people with food insecurity. The current wave of locusts is the second this year and scientists predict it will not be the last. Currently, the hardest hit area is East Africa, where in February eight countries faced an initial swarm and now are hit by a second wave of the voracious insects. It is the largest locust infestation in the region in seventy years. This pestilence arose from the perfect storm of climate change, war, austerity, and imperialism.


The insect behind this scourge is Schistocerca gregaria or the desert locust. Desert locusts are a species of grasshopper found in North Africa, the Middle East, and Indian subcontinent. Owing to accounts in the Bible, Koran, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, they are the most famous species of locust, though various species are distributed around the world, such as the Australian plague locust, Migratory locust, South American locust, and High plains locust. Like other grasshoppers, locusts are often solitary, but under the right conditions they become gregarious. In their gregarious phase, they band together in large, devastating swarms which have plagued humanity for thousands of years.


Typically, swarming occurs when food becomes abundant due to wet conditions, resulting in a population boom. The perfect conditions for an outbreak of locusts began in 2018 when Cyclone Mekunu struck an area of the Arabian peninsula called the Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali, a sand desert which includes portions of Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Normally, this area of desert would dry out, controlling locust populations. However, according to a February article in National Public Radio the Empty Quarter was struck by a second cyclone in late 2018 and another in December 2019. “PBS NewsHour” noted that there were a total eight cyclones in 2019, an enormous deviation from the annual occurrence of one or zero. Prior to a year of flooding and heavy rains, there was three years of drought. Beyond the unusually wet conditions of the Empty Quarter, Space.com reported that the Horn of Africa received four times more rain than usual between October and December, in the wettest short wet season in 40 years. These conditions also fostered locust breeding once the insects moved into the region.


The rare and climate crisis driven bombardment of cyclones to an otherwise arid area increased vegetation and resulted in an explosion of the locust population. The Guardian reported that the second cyclone alone resulted in an 8000 fold increase in the locust population. Locusts reproduce with unstoppable speed as a single female can lay 300 eggs, which hatch in as little as two weeks and take only two additional weeks for larvae to mature and begin reproducing. Once mature, locusts can travel up to 90 miles a day. Their population grows exponentially, increasing 400 times every six months.


The locusts spread from Yemen, hitting Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia the hardest. National Public Radio reported that the locusts crossed the Gulf of Aden last year, arriving first in Somalia and Ethiopia.They were later spotted in Kenya in December 2019, some forming a swarm of over 192 billion insects in a mass three times the size of New York City. The United Nations has cautioned that a swarm the size of ⅓ of a square mile can eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day. The Guardian warned that East Africa is currently being hit the hardest, though owing to climate change and war, Yemen has also been hit hard. According to “PBS NewsHour” the latest wave of insects is 20 times larger than the February swarm, owing to heavy rains in March. It is currently planting season in East Africa and another wave of locusts is expected to hit during June, which is harvest time. Already, 33 million people in the region endure food insecurity.


The impacts of the infestation are already catastrophic. Al Jazeera reported that a half million acres of farm land in Ethiopia has been ravaged and 8.5 million Ethiopians experience acute food insecurity. As of early April, over 74,000 acres of crops were destroyed, including coffee and tea which make up 30% of Ethiopia’s exports.  In a Los Angeles Times report, Somalia had already lost 100% of  staple crops such as corn and sorghum loss by January. In Kenya, 30% of pastureland has been lost and as of mid-March, the pests had destroyed 2000 tons of food in the country. Over 173,000 acres of cropland in Kenya has been decimated, including corn, bean,and cow pea crops. Agriculture accounts for 25% of Kenya’s economy. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda are among the African countries currently under attack by locust swarms. As of late March, swarms were forming elsewhere in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.140,000 acres of crops have been destroyed in Pakistan. The swarms are expected to hit Pakistan’s cotton industry hard, as the textile industry is the country’s largest employer and accounts for 60% of exports. In Pakistan, it is the worst locust outbreak since 1993.


Efforts to stop the spread of locusts have been hampered by COVID-19 and the social problems already facing these countries. Locusts are usually controlled with pesticides, which are either applied by aircraft that target adult locusts through aerial spraying or by ground crews which target eggs and young locusts that can not yet fly. Closed borders and a global slowdown of shipping has slowed the transportation of pesticides. Reuters reported that in Somalia, an order of pesticides expected in late March was delayed. Surveillance of locust swarms is conducted by helicopters, but lock downs have made helicopters harder to secure. In Kenya, helicopter pilots from South Africa have had to quarantine for fourteen days before they could begin work. On the economic side, 60% of Kenya’s GDP went to servicing debt before COVID-19 and locusts hit.The economic impact of both plagues makes this debt even more punishing than it was before. As of 2017, nineteen African countries were spending more than 60% of their GDP on debt.


Somaliland, a self declared republic in Somalia, has no resources to fight locusts. Keith Cressman of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said that South Sudan and Uganda also lack programs for outbreaks. In South Sudan, 200,000 people live in UN camps, already in close conditions and at risk of food insecurity and COVID-19. Cressman noted that social distancing makes it hard to train new people to tackle the problem as this involves gathering people together in classrooms. Despite lockdowns and curfews, workers tackling the locust outbreak have been given exemptions for travel. Thus far, nearly 600,000 acres of land have been treated with pesticides and 740 people have been trained to do ground locust control. The FAO has obtained $111.1 million of $153.2 million it requested to fight the swarms. Because most of the world is focused on fighting COVID-19, additional aid to combat the locusts has been hard to come by.


Pesticides are an imperfect solution to the problem. When the pesticides are applied, villages must be warned to move livestock. According to a Kenyan news source, Daily Nation, one of the pesticides that the FAO recommends is Diazinon, which the U.S. banned from residential use in 2004. The pesticide works by affecting the nervous system of insects. However, human exposure can result in symptoms such as watery eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, coughing, and runny nose. Longer exposure can cause seizures, rapid heart rate, and coma. The Pesticide Action Network (Panna) warned that it can be harmful to children and can cause birth defects. A Pakistani news source named lambda cyhalothrin, chlorpyrifos, and bifenthrin as pesticides against locusts and cited worries that the chemicals could impact drinking water, cause respiratory problems, and irritate skin. Ground crews responsible for spraying the pesticides may be at risk. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and strained supplies of PPE, workers may not have necessary protections.


According to Science, the FAO has also used biopesticides in the form of fungus in Somalia. An article in the Zimbabwe news source, The Herald expressed concern over both pesticides and biopesticides, which mainly rely on spores from Metarhizium sp. The spores may not be as effective because they work best in moderate temperatures and high humidity, conditions that are not common in the areas most impacted by the locusts. The spores take fourteen days to take effect and are mainly used against young locusts. While it is unknown if this is the current practice, the French research program LUBILOSA, which developed the fungus, suggested that the spores should be dissolved in paraffin or diesel, both of which are carcinogens. Pesticides and biopesticides also risk harming other insects. Linseed oil and neem may have some potential as safer, natural insecticides. Likewise, The Locust Lab of Arizona State University has found that locusts prefer carbohydrate rich foods and lower carb crops may deter locusts. For instance, locusts do not care for millet. In the face of such the immediate, cataclysmic attack of locusts and the risk of famine, research into less harmful alternatives is something for future exploration.


A socialist solution to tackle locust outbreaks should begin with prevention. Unusually wet conditions and the bizarre frequency of cyclones last year was a catalyst for the current crisis. To stop the climate crisis, capitalism must end. Anything short of this will only result in more frequent and severe natural disasters and less predictable weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Africa will experience a 20% increase in cyclones, coupled with 20% decrease in precipitation. These conditions will make future locust swarms more likely. Droughts, mudslides, floods, and infectious diseases are all predicted to increase with climate change. Agriculture that relies on water could drop 50% in some countries and wheat production could disappear by 2080. Climate change will only make the continent more food insecure at the cost of countless lives.


Another immediate concern to socialists should be organizing against imperialist wars. The locusts spread from Yemen, which could have played a crucial role in halting their migration towards Africa. Yemen was in no position to tackle this problem because it has been beleaguered by a brutal war lasting over five years between the U.S. supported Saudi-led coalition and Houthi fighters. The country has suffered through outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria, measles, dengue fever and now COVID-19. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been two million cases of cholera since 2016. Last fall, when the locust population exploded, ten million people in Yemen needed food aid and were already at risk of starvation. When the swarms appeared, people in Yemen actually began to collect them in bags, sell them, and eat them. Locusts are eaten by people outside of starvation conditions, but after experiencing the worst famine in the world in 100 years, they were a welcome bounty to some.


The war has cost at least 90,000 fatalities and the U.S. is complicit in the destruction. The U.S. has provided weapons and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its allies which have conducted over 20,000 airstrikes, of which ⅓ were against military targets. Hospitals, ports, mosques, and schools are among the civilian targets. Prior to the war, the Ministry of Agriculture was usually able to control outbreaks of locusts. Presently, control of locusts is divided by government and Houthi forces. Both lack the resources to adequately address the problem. Locust infestations must be caught early and perhaps with better infrastructure or the plethora of other social problems faced in Yemen, it might have been addressed more effectively. Several of the countries now facing the desolation of locusts have similarly been destabilized by wars. This hampers their ability to organize a response.


All of the countries impacted have been saddled with debt and stunted by their economic dependency to wealthier nations. The plague hits the economies of these nations particularly hard because of their high debt and dependence on agricultural exports such as coffee, tea, and cotton. The reason these countries lack the medical infrastructure to combat COVID-19 and means to fight locust swarms is a direct result of colonization and the subsequent export economies, austerity, and debt that maintain dependency. Africa will always be a continent of crisis as long as hefty profits can be extracted from it. In this moment, all international debt should be forgiven and aid given unconditionally to prevent the threat of starvation. But, development of impoverished countries cannot happen within the framework of capitalism. The wealth that has been taken from Africa should be reinvested with a commitment to build infrastructure and capital based upon relationships of solidarity over dependency.


Locusts are often imagined as an act of God, but they exist in a material reality like everything else. The reality is that the climate conditions of the planet are increasingly unstable. One hundred year floods, one hundred year storms, and even, one hundred year locust hatchings are becoming frighteningly normal. The ability to mobilize resources to alleviate hunger and fight these pests is obstructed by war, economic dependency, and a global pandemic which already demands what few resources might be marshaled. In a brighter, socialist future, this insect that has tormented humans for thousands of years might again be minimized to a solitary grasshopper, controlled by sustainable and diverse agricultural practices, early detection, and stable climate conditions. In the case of a swarm, food would be abundant enough to be shared, rather than left to rot in the anarchistic, false abundance of capitalism.

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/13/chernobyl-fires-threaten-to-unleash-radiation/

(It should be noted that yesterday the fires drew dangerously close to Pripyat and that conditions can change rapidly. )

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

 

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

Written 4/12/20

Posted 4/14/20

H. Bradford


April 26 marks the 34th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. By some estimates, the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor will remain highly radioactive for 20,000 years. Decades after the catastrophe, the dangers of radiation persist as forest fires rampage across the exclusion zone. The recent forest fires are only the latest in recent years to threaten the region with radioactive ash and smoke. This problem is compounded by the dual impacts of climate change and capitalist profit motives.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster occurred in the early morning of April 26th, 1986 when a safety check to test if the Uranium 235 fueled reactors could remain cool during a power outage went catastrophically wrong. At the time, there were four graphite-moderated nuclear reactors at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, with two more under construction. The reactors were situated two miles from Pripyat, a Soviet city of 50,000 people. Pripyat was constructed in 1970 with amenities such as quality schools, a supermarket, and sports stadium. The reactors were nine miles away from Chernobyl, a city of 12,000. In all, there were over 115,000 people living within an 18.6 mile radius of the power plant and five million people living in contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. During the fateful test, Reactor Four experienced a meltdown resulting in two explosions that unleashed 400 times the radiation of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The accident shrouded 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia in radiation.

 

It took ten days for emergency workers to extinguish the graphite fueled fire, resulting in the deaths of 28 workers from acute radiation syndrome in the months immediately after the accident. Over 200,000 people were mobilized to clean up the disaster, exposing these liquidation workers to high levels of radiation. In all, 600,000 people in Soviet Union were subsequently exposed to high levels of radiation, including radioactive isotopes such as Iodine-131, Plutonium-239, Strontium-90, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, which were unleashed during the explosion. As a result, there have been 20,000 thyroid cancer cases between 1991 and 2015 in people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the accident. 115,000 people were evacuated in 1986 and another 220,000 people were later evacuated and resettled. A 30 kilometer (approximately 18.6 miles) exclusion zone was established around the reactor. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, trees near the reactor died off, becoming what was called a “Red Forest” to denote the russet tone of dead pine. In the decades since, the exclusion zone has become a refuge for returned wildlife and a collection of desolate ghost towns slowly vanishing into the overgrown forest.

 

The cautionary tale of Chernobyl does not end with the return of nature or the story of countless generations tasked with stewardship over the sarcophagus encased Reactor Four. Recent wildfires threaten to release Chernobyl’s radiation. According to NASA Earth Observatory, wildfires in the exclusion zone began in early April and firefighters have been working to put out the blaze since April 4th. The impacted areas include Denysovets, Kotovsky, and Korogodsky forests. On April 8th, the fires blew towards Kiev, which is located about sixty miles to the south. On April 9th, people were evacuated from the village of Poliske. Poliske is a sparsely inhabited village located within the exclusion zone. A few hundred people, mostly elderly women in their 70s or 80s, reside illegally within the exclusion zone. According to BBC News, conflict in the Donbass region has sent some families to seek safety in the area just outside of the exclusion zone, where the housing is the cheapest in Ukraine. The New York Times stated that as of Saturday April 11th, 400 firefighters had been deployed to the area and 8,600 acres had burned the previous week. The article further mentioned that the blaze has increased radiation levels in Russia and Belarus. Live Science reported that the fire is near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka. According to Ukraine’s Ecological Inspection Service, radiation readings near the blaze are 2.3 microsievert per hour. Typically, the exclusion zone’s ambient radiation is .14 microsievert per hour and .5 microsievert per hour is the threshold considered safe for humans. This calls into question the safety of firefighters working to extinguish the blaze as well as the people living in the region.

 

At the moment, fires are not located near the entombed reactor. However, Uranium-238, Cesium-137 and other radionuclides jettisoned from Reactor Four and have since been absorbed by vegetation and dirt. Fires can unleash these from the environment and ash condenses the radionuclides sequestered within vegetation. NASA Earth Observatory stated that smoke plumes can carry radiation long distances and that the severity of wildfires has only increased over the years. According to a study published in Ecological Monographs by Timothy Mousseau of University of South Carolina, wildfires that broke out in 2002, 2008, 2010 redistributed 8% of Cesium-137 released by the original Chernobyl disaster. Wildfires in 2015 came a mere 12 to 15 miles from Chernobyl’s reactors.

 

The most recent wildfire has been attributed to local farming practices, wherein fields are burned in spring and fall. While this may contribute to fires, climate change is certainly the main culprit. A report released by the Atlantic Council in January 2020 noted that the 2019-2020 winter in Ukraine was mild with little snowfall. According to the report, 2019 was the warmest year on record for Kiev and the yearly average temperature in Ukraine was 2.9 degrees celsius higher than average. In 2019, 36 temperature records were broken. Last year, there was 25% less precipitation than average. Droughts have nearly doubled over the last 20 years in Ukraine. In 2015, an article in the New York Times anticipated increased wildfires in the exclusion zone due to drier conditions. Likewise, in 2015 New Scientist reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted more fires near Chernobyl in the future.

 

Climate change driven droughts are one of the catalysts for the fires, but radiation itself contributes to the problem. Radiation slows the decay of leaf litter and inhibits growth of microorganisms, which creates more fuel for fires. In the absence of people, forests have expanded, which also generates more combustible material. The danger is amplified by the fact that local firefighters have seven times fewer crews and equipment than elsewhere in Ukraine. The IPCC predicted a similar outcome for Fukushima, which also has significant forests. They also posited that there is no threshold of radiation with zero effect. Climate change driven droughts, expanded forests, slow decay, few local resources, and strained water resources to fight fires create a recipe for disaster.

 

Behind the climate crisis is capitalism itself. All manner of environmental problems can be traced back to the profit motive in capitalism. The drive for lower wages, unsafe working conditions, fewer environmental regulations, the endless creation of waste, the lack of storage for the waste created, the generation of pollution itself, the shuttling of hazardous production and wastes to the third world and oppressed communities, the anarchy of too much production, and the insatiable need for growth are all connected to endless drive for profits. Therefore, sustainability and safety are anathema to capitalism. In the context of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, logging trees within the exclusion zone garners tens of millions of dollars in profits. Since 2004, limited amounts of timber can be cut from the exclusion zone as long as it is scanned for radiation. 90% of this timber is used for furniture. According to a January 2020 article in Al Jazeera, fires within the exclusion zone are started purposefully to justify the sale of timber. In a report released after the 2015 wildfires, Mykola Tomenko, head of parliamentary environmental commission stated that fires can conceal illegal logging. Two thirds of illegal profits derived from the exclusion zone are from timber. In 2007, state inspectors also found radiation contaminated charcoal sold in Ukrainian supermarkets. While the more recent fires have not been connected to the timber industry, the search for profits brings capitalists to the radioactive wilds of the exclusion zone to extract resources no matter the impact on consumers or the threat of unleashed radiation.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident is a horror story in the closing chapter of the Soviet Union. It is a tale that will last for thousands of years, written in elements with the potential to outlive humanity itself. If there is a moral of the story, it is that nuclear power is dangerous. Despite the threats, there is little motive within capitalism to mitigate the dangers. The only motive, as always, is the profit motive. Fires will certainly revisit Chernobyl and potentially visit Fukushima, once again spreading radiation. Beyond Chernobyl, wildfires have threatened the Hanford Site, a former nuclear production facility in Washington several times. In 2000, the Department of Energy declared an emergency when fires neared a building where nuclear waste was stored. In 2017, a wildfire burned part of the Hanford Site,though no buildings were threatened. Again, in 2019, wildfires burned more than 40,000 acres near the site. The Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is the largest nuclear waste dump in the U.S. and contains 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The danger of aging nuclear reactors in the United States, the question of where nuclear waste is stored, the connection to terrifying weapons of war, and the catastrophic consequences when things go awry are just a few of the many reasons why nuclear energy must be nationalized and ultimately abolished.

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Mount Scenery

Copy of Anxious Adventuring_Scenery

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Mount Scenery

H. Bradford

02/03/2020


Another mountain.  I am not sure why I do this to myself, but I seem to have some sadistic urge to punish myself by forcing my out of shape self up hills, volcanoes, and mountains while on vacation.  Finally, the day of reckoning on my St. Maarten vacation had come. It was Sunday, the day I had purchased a ferry ticket to the island of Saba to hike up Mount Scenery. I woke up with a sense of dread.  In fact, I didn’t want to wake up at all. For the past several days, Saba loomed large in the near distance, its top shrouded in clouds. Every day brought me another day closer to visiting that cloud covered summit, the highest point in the Netherlands and the mythical Skull Island from King Kong. Aside from the hike, the day would involve transportation logistics that I worried wouldn’t work out.  What if I couldn’t find a taxi to the trail head? What if I couldn’t find a taxi back after the hike? What if the hike took too long? What if I missed my ferry back and was stuck on the island until Tuesday?  

 

Despite my trepidation, I got on the taxi that my hotel had arranged for me and headed to Simpson Bay, where the ferry was set to leave at 9 am.  I booked the ferry ticket through Aqua Mania Adventures, which seems to be the main distributor of tickets. It costs about $100 for the round trip ticket on a ferry that would take about an hour and a half each way.  My hope was to arrive at about 10:30 am and start hiking at 11 am, which would give me about three hours or so to hike up and down the popular Mt. Scenery trail and return to the ferry by 3:30pm. Thus, my day began with the taxi ride from Philipsburg to Simpson Bay, which took about a half an hour and cost me about $18.  


The taxi dropped me off at a parking lot in front of a police station, which suspiciously did not look like the sort of place a ferry would leave.  I doubled checked my paperwork. The instructions stated the Simpson Bay Police Dock, but there was nothing in the area which remotely resembled a ticketing desk. The ferry check in at Simpson Bay is actually located IN the police station near the immigration area.  This was very confusing, especially for the first few travelers to arrive as there was no office or sign indicating that it was the right place. I asked someone inside the building at the immigration desk, who informed me that someone from Aqua Mania Adventures would be arriving soon.  Soon, some equally confused tourists arrived and began milling about the area, waiting for the ticketing agents. A little after 8 am, two individuals from Edge Ferries and Aqua Mania Adventures arrived and set themselves up at an empty table in the immigration office area. They began checking in tourists, scanning passports, and issuing the plastic card that would serve as the ferry ticket.  This process lasted until about 9am, when the ferry arrived and picked up near the police station.


The trip to Saba takes about an hour and a half and most of the travelers on the ferry were there for day trips.  In fact, over half were there to hike Mount Scenery. The ferry offered a complimentary soft drink and was otherwise a calm, uneventful journey. Upon arrival at the very small port, all passengers went through customs and passport control.  All of the other hikers had booked a package which included transportation and lunch. Thus, I was a little concerned about the transportation issue. There were enough taxis for all of the travelers, but I had to wait for my taxi to fill up with other people.  It was the last taxi to leave among the few parked at the ferry terminal. Since other passengers in the taxi van had other plans, the other hikers were able to get a half an hour head start on the trail before I was dropped off.


Due to the time constraints, the taxi driver decided to drop me off at a different trail head than the Mount Scenery Trail head near the Windwardside town.  I was instead dropped up the hill a bit, which cut off about a half an hour of my hike (a one hour hike up rather than 90 minutes) and caught me up to the other hikers.  The taxi itself cost $12, but would have been less with more people in the taxi van, so this number is variable. The driver agreed to meet me at the actual Mt. Scenery trail head (near the trail shop) at 2:45 pm, which would offer enough time to return for the ferry check in at 3:15.  I arrived at the trail just after 11:30. The driver said it would be an hour hike up and an hour hike down (to the actual trailhead). He also told me to turn left at the fork (towards the town) so that I would head to the correct trailhead at the designated meeting time.

Image may contain: plant, tree, bridge, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

 


From the spot on the trail, I began the hour hike up to Mt. Scenery.  It was a humid, hot day, but the forest provided some shade and there was sometimes a breeze.  Because of recent rains, the trail was very slippery. The biggest offender was decaying vegetation and moss on the rocks.  I almost wiped out a few times from slipping, but was able to keep balanced. The steps were unevenly sized and also slippery.  However, the upper third of the trail often featured metal railings which aided with balance and also helped me pull my exhausted body up all those steps.  The trail is primarily made of stone steps, which can be tiring in the heat or simply due to the shear number of them (over 1000 from the trail head). There were enough flowers, foliage, and jumping lizards to occupy my mind as I ascended.  It took almost exactly an hour as the driver had predicted.  

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, nature and outdoor


The top of Mount Scenery featured a radio tower and a plaque with its elevation.  It was cloudy at the top, but I was able to take a few photos of the town at the bottom and of the sea before the cloud cover returned.  I didn’t linger long at the top since I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to return and visit the town below. So, after taking some photos, watching the moving clouds, and some time spent drinking my water, I set off back towards the bottom.  As predicted, this also took about an hour. Other people are likely to take less time, but I found it particularly slippery on the way down. This was where I slipped the most, as gravity wanted me to go faster than my feet did. I also stopped to take more photos on the way down, as I knew I had more time to spare.  Once at the bottom, I visited the trail shop, where I made a donation and received a certificate that I had reached the top. I then walked around the town, but many things were closed due to it being a Sunday.  

Image may contain: cloud, sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, selfie, tree, outdoor, closeup and nature

 


I returned to the trailhead and was picked up by the taxi at 2:45 without incident.  Along the way, the driver pointed out some of the sights on the island, such as a university, some old churches, nearby islands such as Statia, and a hospital.  I arrived back with plenty of time to go through passport control and wait around in the scorching sun for the ferry to board. Some children were swimming in the small boat landing, as there are few beaches on the island.  I watched as some tropicbirds flew over the nearby cliffs until the ferry finally boarded and we set off back for Simpson Bay. The ferry ride back was equally calm and passengers were treated to pods of jumping dolphins, a swimming iguana, diving brown boobies, and flying fish. 

Image may contain: shoes, plant, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, mountain, outdoor, nature and water


At Simpson Bay, I once again went through passport control, then realized that there were no taxis waiting for the ferry.  I had assumed that taxis would congregate around the ferry drop off point waiting for business. This was not the case and I was instead met with an empty parking lot.  I walked to the nearby McDonalds, as it seemed like a more likely place to find a taxi, and waited for a taxi to pass. While I didn’t see any pass, I did see an approaching van with “Phillipsburg” in red letters in the window.  I flagged down the van, which is one of the public transportation vans. Although I was not at an actual bus stop, it stopped and picked me up anyway. It was $2 to ride back to Phillipsburg. The vans serve as the public transportation for the island, but they don’t have fixed schedules or precise routes.  They can be picked up at actual bus stops which say “bushalte”, but I also saw other people just flag down the van as I had. Apparently the rate varies at different times of the day. In any event, I found it to be a convenient and cheap way to return to Phillipsburg.


In the end, I was happy that everything worked out!  I made all of my transportation connections, arrived at Saba, climbed Mount Scenery, and made it back to Phillipsburg to tell the tale.  To other travelers, I would suggest that the police station is indeed the correct location for the ferry and that it is probably much less worrisome to book transportation and lunch ahead of time on Saba.  I was the only hiker who had not pre-arranged these details. Nevertheless, I fared just fine as there were enough taxis waiting at the tiny port. As for the return trip, it was certainly a pretty good savings to take the public van on the way back.  I am sure I could have taken the public van on the way to the ferry terminal as well, but because I am not accustomed to their regularity and I wanted to arrive on time, I didn’t consider it. There are ferries which leave from Philipsburg as well. Because they leave earlier and return later, the Philipsburg ferry provides a longer window for hiking.  However, I had plans on the days that the Phillipsburg ferries were operating so I had to take the ferry from Simpson Bay. Finally, the hike itself is challenging, but not impossible. I huffed,puffed, and sweated up those stairs, but in the end, it is only an hour or an hour and a half of effort up to the top. This is very doable. The biggest challenge is simply knowing that there is a time constraint due to the ferry schedule and taxi logistics.  With more time, a person could really savor the scenery, bird life, and many lizards. The hardest part was how slippery it was. I would recommend hiking sticks, though with the railings, these could become a nuisance when they have to be stowed away. Otherwise, it was a great little hike!

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, tree, outdoor and nature     View of Mount Scenery from Windwardside

  

Inca Trail Packing Guide

Inca Trail Packing Guide


 

Inca Trail Packing Guide

 

H. Bradford

 

01/08/2020


Back in November, I hiked the Inca Trail.  If you read my previous blog post, https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/hiking-the-inca-trail-while-out-of-shape/, then you learned that I wasn’t in the best shape.  While I struggled along, I took some mental notes of what I would pack and or not to pack if I ever did it again.  There isn’t a lot of room to pack many items. We were provided a small duffel bag which could be packed with about 5 KG of items, which included a sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, toiletries, and clothes. It is up to each hiker to carry whatever else they need beyond the 5 KG (this weight may vary by company) in a day pack.  Hopefully, most hikers will not need too much more.  Medications, rain gear, layers, snacks, and water are among the things carried in a day pack. I probably packed a bit too much, but at least this can provide an overview of what I found useful.

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Things I didn’t Pack, But Should Have:


Rehydration Salts/Electrolyte Powder:


Based on my experience, this was the number one item I should have packed.  There are a number of reasons why this would have been handy. One, I was not feeling well the third day and didn’t drink enough water.  When a fellow hiker, Elise, put some berry flavored electrolyte powder in my water bottle, I almost immediately felt better and more interested in drinking water.  This helped me to stay hydrated and feeling better for the rest of the day, as it was like drinking a refreshing, yet watery Gatorade. Dehydration can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude, so I suspect this is why I felt so terrible. Secondly, the water provided by porters is filtered and boiled, but doesn’t taste great.  I saw porters washing dishes in a stream, which I have to assume is also one of the sources of water for the trek. There is some running water early in the trek, but I would be surprised if large amounts of water was slugged up on the mountain with everything else. Whatever the source, I found that it sometimes tasted a little rusty (perhaps from rusty pipes) or just a little off.  The water is lukewarm while hiking, which may also be a deterrent to drinking enough of it. Adding flavored electrolyte powder masks the flavor of the water, making drinking water more likely. Thirdly, some people become sick to their stomach on the trail. This thankfully didn’t happen to me until after the trek, but having electrolyte powder can help keep hikers hydrated if they have diarrhea.  Anyway, I can’t stress enough how much having a rehydration pack helped me!


salt

Water Bladder:


Water is an important theme here.  Water was the heaviest item that I carried.  Hikers usually start the day carrying one or two liters of water, which can be 4.4 lbs (if two liters).  It can be many hours before this water is restocked (until at least the lunch stop). I carried two water bottles (one disposable plastic one I carried the entire trip and one that was metal).  Since I carried them on my backpack, to take a drink of water I had to stop and remove the bottles. This deterred me from drinking, since I didn’t want to bother stopping. A water bladder with a hose would have been far easier, as I could have had water on the go.  The worst thing is that I actually brought a water bladder along on the trip, but felt it took up too much space in my small backpack so I opted for the other water bottles! I could have avoided dehydration had I ensured easier access for my water.


Cold Medicine:


In the interest of saving space and weight, I did not bring any cold medicine.  This was foolish, considering that I had only recently recovered from a six week chest cold.  When symptoms of the cold returned, I didn’t have any medicine with me! Thankfully, Elise gave me a cold tablet, which really opened my airways and stopped my coughing.


Vicks Vaporub:


Speaking of cold medicine, my unhappy lungs would have loved some Vicks vaporub.  Vicks is my go to cold relief medicine, since it opens my airways. It can also be used to provide mild relief to sore muscles.  Another way that I would have used Vicks was to block out the terrible toilet smells. Seriously. I gagged several times while trying to use some of the squalid toilets towards the end of the trek.  Vicks is strong smelling, so I could have applied it to the bandana over my nose to mask the ungodly odor. I have heard that police use Vicks to help them block the smell of dead bodies, so it should also provide some relief against squatty potties. vicks

Better Sunscreen:


I didn’t want to pack two different kinds sunscreens (one for my face and one for my body), so I went with the facial sunscreen.  It was SPF 110, which was higher than the body one, and less greasy. My intent when was to save space in my bag while packing one that I didn’t mind putting on my face.  I probably should have packed both. My face did not get burned, but my forearms got roasted with severe sunburn. A waterproof, sweat proof formula might have saved my skin!


 

More Toilet Paper:


I went through a roll before the trek was over.  Granted, the locally available toilet paper is a little thin, flimsy, and economical on the roll.  I also used the toilet paper to blow my nose. Once the toilet paper was gone, I had to use wet wipes I had packed and napkins I stole from lunch.  This wasn’t an emergency, but would have been without the backup paper.


 

Sanitary Pads:


Altitude and physical exertion was unkind to my uterus.  It causes spotting to the degree that it seemed like a full blown period at times.  I happened to have a couple pads with me, but I was concerned that if things got heavier, it would not be adequate.  There are many things that can cause a period to come early, late, or spotting to occur. With that said, it is wise to pack a few pads, tampons, a diva cup, etc.  I use Nuvaring, which SHOULD prevent a period from happening until it is removed and has always reliably worked in this manner for me. The hormones were no match for the hike.


 

“She-Wee”/Travel Urinal:


There are long stretches of the hike without toilets.  Hikers should expect to see toilets at camp (so in the morning and at night) and usually at lunch.  It really isn’t advised to poop on the trail, as a person is expected to carry their used toilet paper with them.  On the other hand, if a person drinks enough water, having to urinate is a likely outcome. There are areas of the trail that really don’t have anywhere private to pee (as there is a ledge on one side and mountain/rock on the other).  For those who lack penises, having a she-wee might be a useful way to quickly and privately urinate. I have one, but didn’t pack it. I didn’t want to waste the space and didn’t know how I felt carrying around a urine soaked rubber funnel if I indeed had to use it.  A person can wash it with water from their water bottle if they do use it. I don’t think it is essential, but it could be useful. Also, I think “She-Wee” is a fun name, since it rhymes. But, I want to point out that it is not inclusive of trans/non-binary travelers who may not identify as “she.”  Go Girl, Lady J, and other similar products are also pretty gendered. I didn’t previously know what to call this product, but travel urinal is probably the most trans friendly.

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Things I Packed, But Didn’t Need:


Many Snacks:


I worried that I would get hungry during the long hikes or that the meals would not be enough.  I packed more snacks than I needed, which took up unnecessary space and weight. The meals were always TOO big.  I was constantly over stuffed by the three course lunches and dinners. I slogged along with a belly full of soup each day, as each lunch and dinner included soup.  There was so much food that it felt oppressive. I ate a few of my snacks, including my mini PayDay bars and a protein bar.


Birding Book/Nature Guide:


I had high hopes for seeing birds along the trail.  Alas, I was too busy hiking to stop and identify the birds that I saw.  I really had to focus on keeping moving. While I did stop for some photos, I was too exhausted by the end of the day to identify the birds I had seen.  I had a bird guide in my day pack, but I didn’t use it at all. I also made my own guide to orchids, flowers, and cacti along the way, which I printed on a few sheets of paper.  Again, I didn’t have time to stop and identify orchids or cacti. I passed them by, aware of their variety and splendor, but unable to take the time to know them. shopping2


Extra Rain Gear:


Since I hiked at the end of November, which was the rainy season, I fully expected rain the entire hike.  I checked the weather forecast before the trek and of course it called for rain each day. Thankfully, I only rained one afternoon and the rest was mostly clear.  However, because I expected the worst, I over packed rain gear. I had both a rain jacket, disposable rain poncho, and heavier rain poncho, when the rain jacket alone would have sufficed.


Extra Leggings:


I wore two outfits during the four day trek.  However, I packed too many leggings. I could have survived with just two pairs or two pairs and one fleece legging.  Instead, I packed four pairs of leggings, two of them fleece. I only used one pair of the fleece leggings and that was during the cold nights.


Sunhat:


Although it was sunny, I felt like the hat only got in the way.  It would blow off my head or dangle sideways from its strap. In the end, I used a bandana to protect my head from the sun. 20191126_094648

You can see the sunhat is already in the way….


Things I was Glad I Packed:


 

Altitude Medication (Acetazolamide):


I can’t imagine hiking the trail without altitude medication.  I was only prescribed three days worth, so I had to purchase more.  It was about $20 in Cusco and did not require a prescription. I am not sure how much the $20 bought me, but I needed it for about ten days and had some leftover tablets when I returned.

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Wet Wipes:


An all around good idea for the day pack!  And a great way to clean up after a long day!


 

Hand Sanitizer:


Again, another good idea for the day pack!

 


Pepto Bismol:


Altitude, hygiene conditions, less familiar foods, etc. put a person’s digestive system to the test.  I didn’t became ill on the hike, but I did experience some heartburn and mild upset stomach.

PayDay Bars:


Although I didn’t eat many snacks, my mini PayDay Bars were a treat at the end of the day.  Because they weren’t chocolate, they didn’t melt on the hotter days.


Make-up:


This may seem frivolous, but it helped me feel less dirty and unkempt after four days without a shower.  I wear makeup each day, so I felt more like myself. 20191129_075133

Day Four


Dry Shampoo:


Again, this helped me feel less dirty.


Bandana:


Bandanas are useful in many ways.  I used mine to protect my scalp from the sun, around my neck, and to wrap up a severe sunburn. 20191129_082117

The bandana is covering a terrible burn.


Travel Blanket:


This took up a lot of extra space, but it doubled as a pillow and provided extra warmth during the colder nights.


Everything I Packed:


2 fleece leggings (only needed 1)

2 leggings

4 pairs of socks

4 pairs of underwear

2 t-shirts (may have benefited by another)

2 Shorts

1 sweatshirt

1 fleece top

Rain jacket

Hoodie

Bandana

Sunhat (not needed, as bandana was used for this purpose)

(Note: many people packed a winter jacket, but I felt fine without one and just layered my clothes)

Sunglasses

Wash rag

Hiking Boots

Moleskin for Blisters

 

Hiking poles

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag liner

Travel Blanket

Power Bank

Alarm Clock

Camera

Batteries

Chargers

Headlamp

Bird Guide (not needed)

Small notebook (I did take some notes along the way)

Pen

Altitude medication

Ibuprofen

Antibiotics (never used)

Pepto Bismol

Band-aids

Sunscreen 

Deodorant

Make up

Dry Shampoo

Soap

Hairbrush (a comb would have taken less space)

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Snacks

Water Bottle

Hand Sanitizer

Wet Wipes

Toilet Paper

Sanitary Pads (not enough)

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Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster

Galapagos Oil Spill_ Another DAy, Another Disaster


Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster


Heather Bradford 

12/27/19

A version of this article can be found at:  https://socialistresurgence.org/2019/12/27/galapagos-oil-spill-another-day-another-disaster/


On Sunday December 22nd, a barge containing 600 gallons of diesel capsized in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, are known for their endemism, with 80% of birds, 97% of reptiles, and 30% of the plants found only on the islands.   This unique wildlife includes several species of Galapagos tortoises, lava lizards, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and several species of Darwin’s finches. The specially adapted wildlife of the islands inspired Darwin’s thoughts on evolution. Because of its important place in the history of science, the fragility of its ecosystems, and exceptional biodiversity, even a relatively small oil spill warrants attention and concern.


The diesel spill occurred at the La Predial dock of San Cristobal Island.  San Cristobal is the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands and was the first island visited by Charles Darwin in 1835. During the Sunday incident, a crane that was loading a barge with cargo containing an electricity generator suddenly toppled over. In a dramatic video of the event, the crane fell into the water upon the barge, sending the cargo into the Pacific Ocean and capsizing the craft.  Several workers jumped into the water to escape the sinking barge. The barge, named Orca, was meant to transport the generator to Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Orca was used to ferry supplies and fuel from mainland Ecuador to the islands and was carrying 600 gallons of diesel when it overturned. Orca previously sank in February 2018 in the Guayas River due to a weight imbalance.


It is unknown how much of the 600 gallons of diesel escaped the vessel. The Ecuadorian Navy quickly moved to contain the spill by placing absorbent cloth and protective barriers in the water and President Lenin Moreno declared the situation under control via Twitter on Monday, December 23rd. The ecological impact is being assessed by the environmental ministry, but according to an article in Vice, oil can damage the salt glands of sea turtles, enlarge the livers of fish, and becomes ingested by birds as they preen. A local advocacy group, SOS Galapagos, warned that spilled fuel would reach nearby Mann Beach, a popular public beach in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos and population center of San Cristobal. They also called for the illegal and dangerous operations to be moved elsewhere.

Dec. 2019 Galapagos 2 (Heather)

An image of San Cristobal Island


It is not the first time that an oil spill has occurred on the Galapagos. In 2001, an oil tanker named Jessica ran aground off of San Cristobal Island, sending over 150,000 gallons of fuel into the ocean. According to research conducted by Princeton biologist Martin Wikelski, within a year, over 15,000 Marine Iguanas, constituting 62% of nearby Santa Fe Island population, perished.  In a typical year, the mortality rate is 2 to 7%. Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos and sensitive to even small spills. This may be due to the fact that the previous spill killed the bacteria that aided in the iguanas in their digestion. Dead iguanas were found to have algae, their primary food source, in their stomachs, but starved because they could not digest it. Galapagos National Park sued PetroEcuador for $14 million in damages for the disaster.


Dec. 2019 Lizard 2

Marine Iguana


In another incident, a cargo ship carrying over 15,400 gallons of diesel became stranded off the coast of San Cristobal Island.  The Ecuadorian freighter, Galapaface I, had its 46 tanks of oil it was carrying unloaded and was drained of its fuel to avoid a disastrous leakage. The ship remained stranded for two months until it could be towed 20 miles away, then sunk in an area where it was deemed to have less ecological impact.  In 2015, a cargo ship named Floreana also ran aground near San Cristobal. Fuel and 300 tons cargo were unloaded, which prevented any major ecological impacts from occurring. Thankfully both incidents were not major disasters.


It is fortunate that no workers on the Orca were seriously injured and perhaps the impact on wildlife can be mitigated by early efforts to contain the spill, but the fact that the barge previously sank calls into question the safety of the workers and the integrity of the vessel in the first place. According to the Maritime Herald, the Orca previously sank in February 2018 at the Caraguay dock in Guayaquil, when it was being loaded with asphalt to take to the Galapagos. Protective barriers were erected to prevent the spread of fuel into the Guayas River. A 25 year old worker named Juan Jose C. was trapped inside of the overturned barge. It is uncertain what transpired between the February 2018 incident and more recent capsizing of the Orca.


Almost 87% of the cargo sent to the Galapagos arrives by sea since it is the least expensive means of transporting goods. Since only two of the islands have airports, maritime transport is a structural and geographic necessity. A 2010 report by the Governing Council of Galapagos cited several problems with maritime transport. Problems relevant to incident include the small and aging fleet of cargo ships utilized by the islands and the fact that docks in the Galapagos are multi-use, serving fishing, fueling, and inter island transport. Of course, maritime shipping within capitalism has some inherent risks, such as the introduction of invasive species through ballast water, dumping of sewage and waste, air pollution of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, and accidental spills. These risks could be reduced, but the profit motive incentivizes externalities such as pollution, oil spills, and shoddy waste management. Nearly all cargo ships use diesel engines and diesel generators for electricity, though the industry itself accounts for 2-3% of annual CO2 emissions. While it may be possible that some shipping could switch to zero emissions technology, such as hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries, as some small research vessels have, technology cannot solve the fundamental flaws of capitalism. In the case of hydrogen fuel cells, this could increase ozone depletion and electric batteries rely on conflict ridden rare earth minerals and cobalt. Alternative fuels also exist within capitalism, the existence of which is predicated upon war and the drive towards the lowest wages. The Galapagos Islands have more environmental regulations than most places, but they still exist within a capitalist framework which relies upon fossil fuels, hazardous working conditions, and a drive for less oversight and regulation. Because of this combination, the islands, as protected as they are, can never truly be sheltered from ecological disaster, because this is the inevitable outcome of capitalism.


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Each day brings news of the endless stream of horrors inflicted upon the planet by fossil fuel driven capitalism. From wildfires and scorching heat in Australia to this year’s ravaging high temperatures in the Arctic, there isn’t anywhere in the world untouched by the impact of capitalism’s catastrophic dependency on fossil fuels. The recent diesel spill in the Galapagos Islands is one of the myriad of daily reminders of the dire need to end capitalism and build a planned socialist economy based upon renewable resources.


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Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

H. Bradford

2/23/19

There are many Minnesota birds that I have never seen.  Until early February, a Boreal chickadee was one of them.   In previous winters, I made some efforts to find a Boreal chickadee at the Sax Zim bog.  I would check e-bird and scope out the place where they were often seen (Admiral Road Feeder).  No matter how long I waited, I never seemed to catch one.  I listened to my bird call CD, trying to memorize their more nasal song so that if one was in the area, I would know.   Finally, this year, at least according to e-bird, Boreal chickadees were recorded in larger numbers than the last two winters.  So, in honor of FINALLY seeing a few of them, here are some chickadee facts to inspire others to celebrate and cherish Minnesota chickadees!


Chickadees are part of the Paridae family, which contains 55 species of birds that are found primarily in Eurasia, Africa, and North America and include birds such as titmice, tits, and chickadees (Otter, 2007).  In Minnesota, there are three species of Paridae, which include Black-capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees, and Tufted titmice.  Boreal chickadees and Black-capped chickadees are both members of the genus Poecille, whereas Tufted titmice are in the genus Baeolophus (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  The members of the Paridae family arrived in North America from Asia 4 million years ago.  The tufted titmouse traces its lineage to this earliest wave.  A second wave of Paridae arrived in North America 3.5 million years ago and led to chickadees (Otter, 2007).   Speciation was the result of isolation from glaciers and expanding desert grassland (Gelbart, 2016).  Tufted titmice are found in southeastern Minnesota.  Black capped chickadees are the most common Parid in Minnesota, ranging throughout the state with larger concentrations around Lake Superior.  Finally, Boreal chickadees are uncommon in Minnesota according to the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas and can be found in the arrowhead region of Minnesota as well as the far north of the state.  There are estimated to be 1.1 million breeding adult Black-capped chickadees in Minnesota, but the number of Boreal chickadees is unknown for lack of observations.  Tufted titmice are also uncommon, with a breeding population of under 100 birds.  However, due to climate change, winter bird feeding, and the maturation of deciduous forests, Tufted titmice populations in the state are increasing at an average of 1.08% per year.   (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  Because Tufted titmice are not found in my region and because they are not “chickadees” or part of the genus Poecille, they will not be given further attention in this piece.

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Two maps to compare the ranges of Black capped and Boreal chickadees


Black capped chickadees are extremely common in the winter months in Minnesota.   They are iconic, as their image is often used on holiday cards and ornaments.   Of the seven species of chickadees in North America, the Black capped has the largest range, spanning all the way from Alaska to California and from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (Smith, 1997).   The bird is easily identified by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and gray back.  To me, these active, curious, even aggressive little birds remind me of tiny Orca Whales or oreo cookies.  Orcas and oreos aside, Black capped chickadees look very similar to the Carolina chickadee, which is found in the south eastern half of the United States.  The two can hybridize and learn each other’s songs, which can make identification harder where the ranges overlap (Galbart, 2016).  So, birds in Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, or Ohio for example might be harder to distinguish, though Carolina chickadees have less white on their wing coverts and have a sharper division between their bib and pale underparts (Smith, 1997).  Northern Minnesota is far from the range of Carolina chickadees, so this is not something that I typically have had to worry about.  Black capped chickadees bear a resemblance to Boreal chickadees as well, but Boreal chickadees have a brown cap, smaller white cheeks, brown and gray back, and rusty brown flanks (Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.).  Despite their similar appearance and northerly ranges, research suggests that Black capped chickadees are more closely related to Carolina chickadees and Mountain chickadees than they are to Boreal chickadees.  Boreal chickadees are more closely related to Mexican chickadees and Chestnut backed chickadees.  These species may have existed for two million years (Gill, Mostrom, Mack, 1993).

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There are a few characteristics that make Black capped chickadees interesting birds.  The first is that they are known for their memory (this is true of chickadees in general).   In studies of Black capped chickadees, it has been found that they are capable of finding their food caches using memory.  Their ability to remember is based upon overall location, position in relationship to other objects, and finally, color.  Chickadees can store hundreds of food items a day and all North American chickadees and tits are food storers.  Black capped chickadees can remember where they stored items for at least four weeks (Otter, 2007).  In an experiment conducted in a large indoor aviary which tested of what, when, where memory, Black capped chickadees were found to have all three types of memory.  The chickadees could remember what (if a stored item was sunflower seeds or meal worms), where (where these items were stores), and when (if the mealworms should be avoided because the passage of time would have degraded the flavor).  However, a similar experiment conducted in a less natural cage did not demonstrate a memory for how long meal worms were palatable, which means more studies should be conducted.  Chickadees are the only food storing birds outside of corvids (crows, jays, ravens) that have demonstrated what, where, when memory (Feeney, Roberts, Sherry, 2009).


Another interesting characteristic of Black capped chickadees is their vocalizations.   For instance, during the winter, spring, and earlier summer, male chickadees studied in Wisconsin were found to make two note Fee-Bee calls while alone and moving through their territories.  A faint Fee Bee vocalization was used by both male and female Black capped chickadees to communicate while the female is incubating eggs.  Black capped chickadees make a gargling vocalization to warn others before they attack.  Probably the most recognizable is the chick-a-dee call, which is used as a warning and to coordinate movements.  There are also broken dee and begging dee vocalizations.  Black capped chickadees also twitter, hiss, tseet, and snarl.  Researchers have identified at least eleven different chickadee calls (Ficken, Ficken, and Witken, 1978).   Chickadees are social birds, forming flocks of six to eight birds in non-breeding seasons.  To communicate with each other, they have developed elaborate vocalizations.  For instance, they have two alarm calls: the chickadee call and the seet.  The chick-a-dee call is a mobbing vocalization, which recruits other chickadees to harass a predator.  But, it also communicates information about food and types of predators.  The alarm for smaller predators vocalized with more “dees” at the end.  When the small predator alarm call was played back, Black capped chickadees exhibited more mobbing behavior.  Smaller predators may be a bigger threat to chickadees because they are more maneuverable.  Predators on the move are vocalized by a seet call whereas those that are stationary are met with the chickadee call (Templeton, Greene, and Davis, 2005).  In sum, quite a bit of information is conveyed in chickadee vocalizations.

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A final interesting quality about Black capped chickadees is that they are great survivors.  Black capped chickadees survive in regions with harsh winters through adaptations such as caching food, cavity roosting, and entering a state of controlled hypothermia at night.  By reducing their body temperature at night, Black capped chickadees may reduce their energy expenditure by 32%.  To survive during the day while foraging in cold temperatures, Black capped chickadees have the ability to increase their metabolism to stay warm.  Their ability to increase their metabolism exceeds other passerine birds that have been studied and approaches some mammals (Cooper and Swanson, 1994).   Black capped chickadees are also survivors inasmuch as they are generalists that make use of a variety of environments.  They prefer mixed deciduous and conifer forests and as cavity nesters, depend upon decaying trees or snags, but can survive in disturbed environments (Adams, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In Minnesota, Black capped chickadees are most commonly found in pine forests, followed by developed areas, upland conifer forests, pine-oak barrens, and oak forests.  Cropland, marshes, and upland grasslands are the habitats wherein Black capped chickadees are the least common, owing the lack of trees (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).   Black capped chickadees have a diverse diet of berries, seeds, and insects throughout the year, except the breeding season wherein they are insectivores.  Although Black capped chickadees are generally widespread, they are impacted by habitat disruption that limits tree cover.  This limits genetic variation as populations are fragmented and indicates that climate change could negatively impact the species as tree species shift and narrow in distribution (Adam, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In other words, Black capped chickadees could become less common or at least less genetically diverse with the northern expansion of grasslands due to climate change.


Moving on to Boreal chickadees, because they are less common and located in less populated areas, they have not been researched as thoroughly as Black capped chickadees.   But one immediately clear characteristic of these birds is that they are not the generalists that Black capped chickadees are.  Boreal chickadees, as the name suggests, are a boreal species.  Boreal forests are primarily found between 50 and 60 degrees N latitude, have long cold winters and short cool summers, and are sandwiched between tundra to the north and temperate deciduous forest to the south.  Boreal forest climate is wet in the summer and dry in the winter and the forest itself consists of conifer trees and poor soils.  The southern part of Boreal forests tend to consist of spruce and hemlock, while pine and tamarack dominate the forests further north where fewer trees can be supported due to nutrient poor soils (Nelson, 2013).  The North American boreal forest is largest of the five major forests of the world that are considered largely intact.  The others are the Amazon, Russian Boreal forest, Congo basin, and forests of New Guinea and Borneo.  The North American boreal forest is 1.2 billion acres and an important nesting ground to billions of breeding birds.  Boreal forests are also important in moderating the Earth’s climate, as they sequester 208 billion tons of carbon.  Boreal chickadees are permanent residents of Boreal forests and prefer a habitat of balsam fir and spruce.  The northern limit of their range coincides with the northern limit of white spruce trees.  The southern range limit is the northern United States, where boreal forests meet deciduous forests.  As a whole, it is estimated that 88% of Boreal chickadees breed in boreal forests.  Like Black capped chickadees, they eat insects, berries, and seeds and they also cache their food as a winter survival tactic.  Because of its northerly range and preference for the interior of spruce forests, it is observed less often than Black capped chickadees (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).

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A study of Boreal chickadees at Forêt Montmorency in Quebec, Canada, found that the birds had a mean flock size of four individuals and a range of three to eight individuals, which is smaller than Black capped chickadee flock size, which often consisted of six to eight individuals.  Sixteen of 85 flocks contained at least one Black capped chickadee and 24 flocks contained at least one red-breasted nuthatch.  The red-breasted nuthatches were more loosely associated as they foraged together, whereas the Black capped chickadees remained in close contact with the Boreal flock  (Hadley and Desrochers, 2008).   In areas of Michigan where both Boreal and Black capped chickadees were found, Boreal chickadees foraged in three conifer species, with 76% being black spruce.  Black capped chickadees foraged in six conifer and three deciduous tree species.  Both species often forage together in mixed flocks.  Boreal chickadees generally prefer dense conifer forest and Black capped prefer open mixed forests.  Boreal chickadees were found to spend more time foraging higher on the trees.  Both spent similar amounts of time in middle zones of the tree and little time at the bottoms of trees.  Trees used by Boreal chickadees were tamarack, Black spruce, and white spruce, which minimized competition with black capped chickadees.  Both forage for pupae, dormant caterpillars, and insect eggs, but their strategies helped to avoid competition (Gayk and Lindsay, 2012).  Minnesota is unique in that it is one of just a few states in the United States where the ranges of the two birds overlap.

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Although Boreal chickadees are less vocal than Black capped chickadees (Otter, 2007), they do have many vocalizations with which they communicate.  Like Black capped chickadees, they produce a “chickadee” call, which has many variations and is used for such things as communication between males and females during nest excavation and to scold other birds or predators ((McLaren, 1976). ).  Compared to the Black capped chickadee, the Boreal chickadee’s “chickadee” call is often described as more nasal.  Boreal chickadees also make a “seep” call which is similar to the contact call between Black capped chickadees.  A sharp seep call is used to warn against predators.  Boreal chickadees also hiss, trill, and make begging sounds.  Like Black capped chickadees, they make a chit sound, which Black capped chickadees use to warn of ground predators and Boreal chickadees use for unknown purposes (McLaren, 1976).  Unlike Black capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees do not produce a whistled song (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).   In a study of Black capped chickadees at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, a total of eighteen calls were observed (McLaren, 1976).

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Because Boreal chickadees are only adapted to boreal forests, climate change is likely to  have dire consequences for the species.  Models predict that moose, caribou, spruce grouse, and Boreal chickadees will have entirely separate east and west populations as habitat is fragmented and pole-ward shifts in ranges.  The east west divide may occur due to a vulnerable swath of boreal forest on the border between Quebec and Ontario.  The slim section of forest is the narrowest swatch of boreal forest in North America and a place where boreal meets deciduous forest.   By 2080, Boreal chickadees could be extirpated from this region (Murray, Peers, Majchrzak, Wehtje, Ferreira, Pickles, and Thornton, 2017).  Minnesota is particularly vulnerable to climate change because the state is at the crossroads of three biomes: conifer forest, decidious forest, and prairie.  At the same time, the temperature of Minnesota has gone up 3-5 degrees since the start of the last century.  Duluth could have a climate more similar to Minneapolis in 50 years and the state as a whole could eventually become more like Nebraska, with the expansion of grasslands and oak savanna.  Boreal forests will disappear from the state, and with them, perhaps 36 species of birds, including Boreal chickadees (Weflen, 2013).

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Minnesota has two great species of chickadees (not including the tufted titmouse), but both could shift northward out of the state with climate change.  Boreal chickadees are particularly vulnerable, as they are less common and an obligate boreal species.  The loss of boreal forests is further troubling because the role these forests play in sequestering carbon.  Black capped chickadees require trees to survive the winter and roost at night, so the expansion of grasslands or loss of trees does not bode well for the otherwise plentiful and adaptable bird.  Although chickadees are sometimes taken for granted as common bird feeder birds, it turns out that they are intelligent and well adjusted to the harsh winters of Minnesota.  Their vocalizations are complex and convey a plethora of important information about everything from predators to territory.  Chickadees have made their home in the Americas for millions of years, so it would be tragic to undue millions of years of evolutionary history through the wanton warming of our climate through human activity and dependency on fossil fuels.   The best way to celebrate Minnesota chickadees is to mobilize against climate change!


Sources:

Adams, R. V., Lazerte, S. E., Otter, K. A., & Burg, T. M. (2016). Influence of landscape features on the microgeographic genetic structure of a resident songbird. Heredity, 117(2), 63-72.

Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”. (2015, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/boreal-chickadee

Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Boreal_Chickadee/species-compare/60411301

Cooper, S. J., & Swanson, D. L. (1994). Seasonal acclimatization of thermoregulation in the black-capped chickadee. The Condor, 96(3), 638-646.

Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://mnbirdatlas.org/

Feeney, M. C., Roberts, W. A., & Sherry, D. F. (2009). Memory for what, where, and when in the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Animal cognition, 12(6), 767.

Ficken, M. S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the black-capped chickadee. The Auk, 34-48.

 

Gayk, Z. G., & Lindsay, A. R. (2012). Winter microhabitat foraging preferences of sympatric Boreal and Black-capped chickadees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(4), 820-824.
Gelbart, M. (2016, March). Pleistocene Chickadees. Retrieved from https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/pleistocene-chickadees/

Gill, F. B., Mostrom, A. M., & Mack, A. L. (1993). Speciation in North American chickadees: I. Patterns of mtDNA genetic divergence. Evolution, 47(1), 195-212.

Hadley, A., & Desrochers, A. (2008). Winter habitat use by Boreal Chickadee flocks in a managed forest. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1), 139-146.

Murray, D. L., Peers, M. J., Majchrzak, Y. N., Wehtje, M., Ferreira, C., Pickles, R. S., … & Thornton, D. H. (2017). Continental divide: Predicting climate-mediated fragmentation and biodiversity loss in the boreal forest. PloS one, 12(5), e0176706.

Otter, K. A. (Ed.). (2007). Ecology and behavior of chickadees and titmice: an integrated approach. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Nelson, R. (2013, October). Boreal Forest Biome. Retrieved from https://www.untamedscience.com/biology/biomes/taiga/

McLaren, M. A. (1976). Vocalizations of the boreal chickadee. The Auk, 93(3), 451-463.

Mossman, M. J., Epstein, E., & Hoffman, R. M. (1990). Birds of Wisconsin boreal forests. The Passenger Pigeon, 52(2), 153-168.

Smith, S. M. (1997). Black-capped chickadee. Stackpole Books.

Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science, 308(5730), 1934-1937.

Weflen, K. (2013, April). The Crossroads of Climate Change. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2015/other/150681/PFEISref_2/MDNR 2009.pdf

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Anna Volcano

santaana

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Santa Ana Volcano

H. Bradford

2/10/19

Each time that I travel, I try to reflect upon something that made me feel uneasy or anxious.  I want to push back against the notion that travelers must be brave, adventurous, independent, or fearless.  It is okay to be wary or worried.   In this story, I will discuss my concern that I might not be fit enough to hike up a volcano.


Living in the not-so-geologically active Midwest of the United States, I find volcanoes to be novel.  Perhaps if I lived near them and experienced their destruction first hand, they would not be quite as quaint.  Because of this fascination, the Santa Ana Volcano or Ilamapetec Volcano in El Salvador was a must see destination.  Firstly, the summit of the volcano features a bright turquoise crater lake.  Secondly, it is the highest volcano in El Salvador.  Thirdly, it had a major eruption in 2005, wherein thousands of people had to be evacuated and chunks of rock the size of cars were launched into the air.  In short, it is a tall, active, attractive volcano.  I knew I wanted to go, but I also worried that maybe the hike would be too strenuous.  Here is how it went…


I had some anxiety before leaving on my trip that maybe I would struggle with the two volcano hikes I had signed myself up for.  After hiking up Pacaya volcano in Guatemala on almost no sleep, I felt more confident that Santa Ana volcano would be a much easier ordeal.  After all, at the very least I would have sleep!  When the time finally came, I figured it would be a struggle, but not impossible.  Despite my earlier volcano hike, I was concerned because I knew that the Santa Ana hike was longer.  It seemed that one to two hours up was the average time quoted by some blogs or tours (though one blogger said it took her 45 minutes).  Two hours of slogging up a rocky hill didn’t exactly seem easy.

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While a person can probably arrange to hike up the volcano for under $20 by taking public transportation and paying the park fee on their own, I went on a day tour for around $100 (if I remember rightly).  I didn’t feel inclined to take public transportation for lack of time and confidence.  This worked out fine, as we had an opportunity to stop at the Peace and Reconciliation Plaza along the way.  The plaza features a giant sculpture of a blue haired woman, who represents the people of El Salvador.  In front of this figure is a female guerilla and a male soldier, both of whom are releasing a flock of doves.  I thought it was a unique assortment of statues since the FMLN was represented by a woman.   Women made up about 30% of the FMLN in the 1980s, though often in supportive roles such as nursing, radio operating, and cooking (Luciak, 2001).   The monument itself was created to commemorate the 1992 Peace Accords between the government and the FMLN.  Those who signed the accords are featured on a plaque.  The plaza also features a mural which highlights Salvadorean history.  The Chapultepec Peace Accord resulted in the disarmament of the FMLN, the legalization of the FLMN, dismantling national security forces and intelligence forces, police reforms, intelligence, a cease fire, a UN Truth Commission to uncover atrocities of the war, amnesty for those who committed the atrocities, credit to ex-guerillas for land purchases, etc. (Negroponte, 2012).  As I visited the monument, I was struck by the thought that it would be difficult live with the knowledge of all of the horrors that had happened in the war, but also know that the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

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We also made a stop at Coatepeque lake, which means hill of snakes.  The lake is popular among the wealthy, so it appears that it still attracts snakes (no offense to snakes).  The lake was formed between 72,000 and 50,000 years ago, when group of stratovolcanoes east of Santa Ana collapsed after erupting, causing the lake to form in the caldera over time (Coatepeque Caldera, 2013).  After a short stop at the lake, we continued on a bit further to Santa Ana volcano.  Santa Ana volcano is one of three volcanoes located in Volcanoes National Park.  Idalco and Cerro Verde are the other two volcanoes located in the park.  Among them, Santa Ana is the tallest at 7,812 feet (2,381 meters) above sea level (Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador, 2005) and most recently active.  Cerro Verde has not erupted for 25,000 years (I have seen it referred to as a volcano and as a satelitic cone, or cone like structure of volcanic material) and Idalco was once continually active for 196 years, earning it the name, Lighthouse of the Pacific.  Idalco last erupted in 1966 and is iconic enough that it was featured on the 10 colon bill, though this currency was replaced in 2001 by the U.S. dollar.   All three of the volcanoes can be hiked, though I have read that Idalco is more challenging than Santa Ana.  These volcanoes are part of the Central American volcanic chain that is formed by the collision of the Cocos and Caribbean plates (Hernandez et. al, 2007).

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The hike itself began with a walk along a trail from the parking area to the ranger station.  This initial walk took approximately fifteen minutes through a wooded area along a trail with a very gradual incline.   The walk ended at the ranger station, where there is a final opportunity to use an outhouse or buy water or snacks.  Dozens of hikers in colorful hiking apparel waited for the tour to begin by the station.  The hikers leave in groups which are escorted by a police officer.  I am uncertain how many groups leave a day, but the officer who escorted our group had already made at least one trip and it was only 9:30 am.  The crowd was mostly young and eager, though there were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  Seeing the diversity in ages and sizes made me less concerned about how strenuous the hike would be, as it seemed like something that a wide array of people partake in.  The majority of hikers were Spanish speaking, so I wondered if they were local or at least regional travelers.  Once the hike began, some young, energetic hikers bolted ahead, walking quickly or jogging to stay ahead of the crowd.  I was determined to go slowly and conserve energy, even if I was at the back of the crowd.

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The first part of the hike was not so bad.  The incline is not terribly steep and at times, there are flat areas.  The first portion of the hike was shaded by trees and bushes.   After a while, the crowd thins out as people hike at different paces.  I plodded along, slowly and steadily.  The initial part of the hike was definitely much easier than the Pacaya hike, which seemed relentlessly steep.  Though, both hikes benefited from shady vegetation coverings which offered protection from the sun and heat.

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While the first half to 3/4 of the hike is mild to moderate in intensity, the last portion is a challenge.  In the final section of the hike, the vegetation gives way to a rocky, sun baked, sulfur scented landscape.  The only redeeming quality of this portion of the hike was that due to the elevation and desolation, there was a cooling breeze.  The rocks can be loose and crumbly and the ascent feels steep.  I had to count in my head to keep going, telling myself I would take 50 more steps then pause for a break or 25 more steps then pause for water.  The summit seemed impossibly far, even if it wasn’t really that far at all.  But slowly and surely, I made it to the top, which felt pretty great!  Since mine was only the second group to leave, it wasn’t too crowded.  Once at the top, I took some photos of the turquoise crater lake.   The crater lake’s average surface temperature in 2005 was 18-20 C or 64-68 F, though because of the steam and bubbling gas it appears to be much hotter when viewed from above.  The maximum temperature measured by scientists prior to the eruption in 2005 was 136 degrees F, which indicates that there is a great amount of variation in temperature depending upon where volcanic gas enters the lake (Hernandez et al).   More recent measurements from 2017 show that the heat of the crater lake has increased to 120-140 degrees F (Graniya, 2018), but this is still below the boiling point of water (210 F) at sea level.  I only mention this because I had the impression that the lake was boiling, though, certainly a person wouldn’t want to fall into it (for the rocky, steep fall and potential for pockets of very hot water).  Aside from being hot, the lake is acidic, with a Ph range of .7 to 2.0 of acid-sulfate-chloride (Colvin et. al, 2013).  For context, stomach acid has a Ph of about 1.  I am uncertain what process creates the bright turquoise color in the Santa Ana crater lake.  In Indonesia, the turquoise color of a crater lake was attributed to dissolved iron and floating sulfur colloids, but since I know nothing about chemistry I can only guess that this is the same for Santa Ana.  I didn’t spend that much time at the top, but that was a matter of personal choice.  I spent long enough to enjoy the view of the nearby volcanoes, crater lake, and Flower Route.  I also marveled at the fact that someone managed to cart pop-sickles to the summit to sell to tourists.  I wanted to make sure I beat the crowd down the volcano, so that I wouldn’t be rushed or crowded.   As I was heading down, I encountered another group climbing up.  So, I think there were about three groups of hikers that morning.

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The hike down the volcano was physically much easier, but required more balance as there were many loose rocks.  I almost lost my balance a few times as I slid on rocks.  It was also made more challenging by the number of tourists trying to navigate either up or down the sometimes narrow, rocky path.  I was happy when I reached the ranger station.  Back near the parking area, I saw a few interesting species of birds.  One was a Bushy crested jay.  In Spanish, it was commonly called a Chara, which I think generically means jay (my bird guidebook did not have local names for birds, which would have been a useful feature).  I also saw some coffee plants.  These little things were a pleasant reward for making it up and down the volcano.

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In conclusion, I managed the hike well enough.  I was sore and worn out at the end.  The hike up took under two hours and perhaps about an hour and a half down.  I paused for more photos on the way down.  Overall, the Pacaya hike was probably a little bit easier, but only because it was shorter.  So, endurance wise Santa Ana was harder, but cardio wise, Pacaya was harder.  It is hard to compare the two because they were both pretty different.  Santa Ana was a better hike because I actually was able to hike to the top.  However, Pacaya does offer the opportunity to roast marshmallows on a fumerole.  Both were good in their own ways.  And I think anyone with reasonable health can probably complete both (they are challenging, but popular enough that people of all sizes and abilities hike them).  For instance, if a person can spend an entire day hiking without problem (no elevation or hills), they can probably hike up the volcanoes, albeit with effort and mild exhaustion.

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Coatepeque Caldera. (2013). Retrieved from https://volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=343041

Hernández, P. A., Pérez, N. M., Varekamp, J. C., Henriquez, B., Hernández, A., Barrancos, J., … & Melián, G. (2007). Crater lake temperature changes of the 2005 eruption of Santa Ana volcano, El Salvador, Central America. Pure and Applied Geophysics, 164(12), 2507-2522.

Luciak, I. A. (2001). After the Revolution: Gender and democracy in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Negroponte D.V. (2012) Implementation of the Chapultepec Peace Accords: The Achievements. In: Seeking Peace in El Salvador. Palgrave Macmillan, New York

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador. (2005). Retrieved February 9, 2019 from https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/5907/santa-ana-volcano-el-salvador

 

 

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

hiking pacaya volcano

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

H. Bradford

1.17.19

I recently went on a short trip to Central America.  With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country.  I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano.  After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant).  Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking.  Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people.  The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people.  The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing.  Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016).  Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand.  My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike.  And, I did!  But not for the reasons that I thought!  This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.

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Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City.  My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country.   The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100.  There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience.   In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival.  This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances.  For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift).  I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday.  Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport.  This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays.  It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours.  It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am.  It was not going to be a fun hike.  I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.


I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano.   There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano.  I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead.  Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano.  The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks.  A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center.  In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives.  After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016).   I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead.  Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano.  Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano!   Hiking was rough.  I felt dizzy with tiredness.  I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort.  I was slow.  The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended.  There were no flat areas.  Just…up, up, up, up.  The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest.  I wanted to cry I was so exhausted.  By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs).  The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike.  I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl.  With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up.  All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way.  No, no.  I’m okay.  I don’t need a horse.  I really don’t need a horse.  No, I’ll make it.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this.  I checked my watch along the way.  I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours.   At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close.  I heard two thunderous booms.  The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area.  It was hard all of the way.  I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion.  But, I made it!  I made it!

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The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes.  The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below.  Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater.  This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark.  The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level.  It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope.  According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile.  It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep.  In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field.  This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more.  I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava.  I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was.  The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows.  This was a big attraction for me.  I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar.   There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks.  I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better.  The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust.  My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater.   The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates. Image may contain: one or more people, child, outdoor and nature Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature


Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs.  At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite.  Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort.   I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke.  After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools.  There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat.  The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita.  I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water.  This was far nicer.  The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools.  I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water.  It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful.  While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun.   The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well.  For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma.  Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983).  I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.

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When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours.  My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little.  I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days.  This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life.  While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep.  NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep!  I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own.  At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being.  Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs.  I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!


Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers.  One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather.  I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it.  Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel.  I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time.  Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time.  Vacation time is precious.  The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else.   My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike.  As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana.  The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field.  So….I scorched myself.  Also, the air is heavy with particulates.  So much so that my lungs felt heavy.  Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas.  Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill.  I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike.  One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity).  A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up.   My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded.  It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging.  A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars.  I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike).  Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke).   In the end, it was worthwhile.  It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano.  I think you can handle this.”


Sources:

Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-guatemala-fuego-volcano-erupts.html

Steel, M. (2016, September 20). Travels in Geology: Guatemala’s Volcan Pacaya: A feast for the senses. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/travels-geology-guatemalas-volcan-pacaya-feast-senses

Warring, G. (1983). Thermal Springs of the United States and Other Countries, a Summary (Geological Survey Professional Paper, pp. 1-400, Rep. No. 492). Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

Wnuk, K., & Wauthier, C. (2016). Temporal Evolution of Magma Sources and Surface Deformation at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala Revealed by InSAR (Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

other useful source:

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pacaya+volcano+guatemala

 

A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

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A Tale of Two Interstate Parks

H. Bradford

8/25/18


Summer is quickly coming to an end in the Northland, so I wanted to squeeze a final camping adventure in before the season shifts to fall.  To this end, I headed out towards Interstate State Park, which is actually two state parks.  There is a Minnesota Interstate Park and a Wisconsin Interstate Park.  They are located within 10 minutes drive of each other, straddling the banks of the St. Croix River.  Both are located around two hours south of Duluth/Superior near the towns of Taylor Falls, MN and St. Croix Falls, WI.  Both can be reached by taking either Interstate 35 in Minnesota or HWY 35 in Wisconsin.  I opted for HWY 35 in WI, which is a pleasant, leisurely drive through many small, Wisconsin communities.   Here is a review of the parks! Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water


 

Interstate State Park, Minnesota

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Interstate State Park in Minnesota is the second oldest state park in the state, after Itasca State Park.  While my other state park adventures were filled with solitude and insects, this park was swarming with people!  It is a popular tourist destination and more tourist oriented than the other state parks that I have visited this summer.  Despite the buzzing throngs of humans, very few opted to go on the free glacial pothole tour that was offered at noon.  Every weekend and Monday at noon, park staff provide a free tour of the park’s glacial potholes.  I went on the tour and learned about the formation of the large potholes in the park, while meandering around some of the large potholes near the park’s entrance.   Basically, when the glaciers around Lake Superior began to melt 10,000 years ago it created a powerful torrent of water which created the modern St. Croix river.  The cliffs through which this water flowed were formed 1.1 billion years ago from the lava released from a mid-continental rift that spreads from Minnesota to Kansas.   The powerful river once rushed over these cliffs, creating potholes in the landscape as smaller rocks got caught and scoured holes into the surface.  Interstate State Park boasts the largest “explored” pothole in the world.  This means that there are larger potholes in the world, but they have not been dug out to determine their actual depth.  Visitors to the park can actually stand inside one of the larger potholes.  These potholes were manually shoveled out earlier in the last century and the visitor center features some modern artifacts that have been retrieved from the potholes over the years.  Each year, the potholes are pumped out, as they fill with water, leaves, and other debris.  Aside from the potholes, the naturalist also told us about the billion year old basalt left behind from the mid-continental rift.  The surface of the basalt is pock marked with air bubbles from when the lava cooled.  It was neat to learn about this history and to think about walking on top of such ancient rocks.

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After partaking in the tour, I set up my tent at my campsite.  At this point, I may have gone hiking, but instead, I wanted to explore Taylor Falls.  About 10 minutes drive away from Interstate Park is the Franconia Sculpture Park.  On Sundays, the park offers a free tour at 2 pm with one of the sculptors.  So, after the glacial pothole tour, I went on a sculpture park tour not far from the park.  Prior to the weekend, I had never heard of the sculpture park.  I expected to find a quaint community project with a few quirky sculptures.  Instead, I found a massive field of impressive sculptures, some created by famous artists from all over the world.  Artists even stay at the park as residents and interns.  There is also a workshop wherein artists can created their works.  It was an impressive artistic institution pretty much located in the middle of nowhere (Taylor Falls only has a population of about 900 people).  Once again, the guided tour was not well attended.  It was myself and two local senior citizens.  However, it was great to learn more about the artists, their methods, and the meaning of some of the sculptures.  I hadn’t put much thought into sculptures before- or at least not the process of making them.  An artist was busy making a metal sculpture from a mold she made over a plastered comforter spread over a friend’s body.   The artist was not an engineer, so she had to figure out for herself how to work with metal and create something structurally sound.  I could better appreciate the technical challenges of erecting giant sculptures of metal, cement, or stone after the tour. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature


Since Interstate Park is located within Taylor Falls, Mn, the local tourist attractions warrant mention- as these are connected to the park through the Railroad Trail.  After visiting the Franconia Sculpture park, I returned to the state park and followed the River Trail from the campground to the town.  Within Taylor Falls, I grabbed some dinner at the Drive In Restaurant.  The Drive In Restaurant is an old fashioned drive in, where you can eat in your car.  I chose to eat at a table.  The servers wear Poodle Skirts and serve classic American foods like malts, sundaes, burgers, fries, etc.  They actually had a veggie burger on their menu.   This is easily within walking distance from the park, as are several other restaurants.

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On the way back to the park, I followed the Railroad trail, which follows along an old railroad bed.  It is less stunning than the River Trail (which follows the St. Croix river) but worth hiking simply to mix things up.  Together, the trails make for about a three mile loop.  Thus, Minnesota Interstate Park does not have many trails (as these are the main two trails in the park).  It is not a state park to visit if you expect to do a lot of hiking, but worth visiting if you want to enjoy the St. Croix river and some local tourist attractions.   The Railroad trail leads hikers past the Folsom House (which is up the hill from the trail), which is a house built in 1854 by lumber baron, W.H. Folsom.  The house was closed when I visited, but it is generally open on the weekends during the summer and fall.  The trail also brings visitors past the historic rail station.  Another attraction, back in town and not on the trail, is a small, yellow library dating back to the late 1800s (it was built in 1854 as a taylor shop but later became a library).  The diminutive library continues to lend books to this day.  Finally, for those looking for something else to do after hiking to two short trails, the state park is unique in that it offers steamboat tours.  Tickets for the steamboat tours can be purchased near the park’s visitors office.  Tickets cost about $20, which I was content to forgo as I had already explored the river on foot and didn’t feel like spending more money.   The St. Croix river can also be explored by canoe or kayak and there are several rentals in the area.

Tiny Library from the 1800s


 

  Park Overview:

Pros: Beautiful cliffs over the water, many local tourist attractions, guided pothole tours, largest explored pothole in the world, riverboat tours, kayak/canoe opportunities, easy hiking trails, and well-staffed park and campground.


Cons: Very busy with tourists, loud traffic, not many hiking trails, relatively small park Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Interstate State Park, Wisconsin

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On the other side of the St. Croix River is Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  As mentioned, this was Wisconsin’s first state park.  I visited here early Monday morning after camping at Minnesota’s park.  At 7am, the park was devoid of tourists and hikers.  This gave me the opportunity to explore the park’s trails alone.  Unlike the Minnesota state park, there are many trails to explore.  Most of these are small loop trails which connect to each other in a series of lopsided figure eights.  Each loop is usually about a half a mile to under a mile long.   I hiked several of these small loop trails.  One of the highlights was the Pothole Trail.  Like the Minnesota park, the Wisconsin Interstate State Park also features potholes.  These potholes are smaller in width and depth, so they are not as impressive as the Minnesota potholes.  But, if you want to take in  more glacial potholes, the trail is still worthwhile and the trail itself features a nice overlook of the St. Croix river.  I also followed the Meadow Valley Trail, which was a bit swampy and buggy.   It is mostly just a connector between a parking lot and the Pothole Trail.  Another trail is the Summit Rock Trail, which brings visitors to the highest point on the bluffs.  This trail features the best observation point of all of the trails, since it is the highest.  I also followed part of the Echo Canyon Trail, though this was done to get to the Lake o’ the Dalles Trail.  The Lake o’ the Dalles Trail is a one mile loop around a small lake.  This is the only place between the two state parks where visitors can go swimming.  Otherwise, the currents of the St. Croix river are either too strong or the cliffs/bluffs are too steep.   This area features a beach house and the trail is described as a wildlife viewing trail.   I didn’t see much for wildlife, but I did encounter poison ivy.

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I didn’t mention that the Minnesota Interstate Park was buzzing with both people, but also a new colony of honeybees.  I have never seen a swarm of bees colonize a tree before.  The naturalist pointed them out and put up a sign so that everyone would avoid that area.  After a few hours, the bees were settled down in their new home.  Despite nearly walking by the swarm, the bees were content to focus on their new home.  Other than this brief and interesting encounter with these bees, I had no major insect incidents over the course of my park visit.  However….I did notice how there was NO poison ivy in the parks.  This was a first, as the other parks I have visited this summer had abundant ivy.  I guess I was lulled into complacency, since during my hike around Lake o’the Dalles, I noticed a lush gauntlet of poison ivy right by the trail (which I had already been following).  When I looked down at my legs, I saw they had small red bumps near the ankles and lower calves.   I couldn’t do much about it at the time.   This was a good lesson in paying attention and wearing taller socks/shoes/long pants.  Several days later, my legs are still bumpy, red, and itchy.   This was my first brush against poison ivy and the reaction was not that severe, just annoying and ugly.  I have used Vicks Vapor Rub and Cortisone cream on it.

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Despite the poison ivy, I saw a Giant Swallowtail butterfly, which are rare…


There were a few other trails which I did not have time to explore.   Otherwise, the park also features a small museum and gift shop.  The museum features information about glaciers.  It also has a display of various clams found in the St. Croix River.  Traveling HWY 35, one passes by Clam Dam and Clam Falls, which alludes to the mussels found in the river.  Personally, I haven’t paid much attention to mussels, so the display was neat because it showcased the variety of local clams.  The mussels have unique names, such as Fawnsfoot, Higgin’s Eye, Monkey Face, Snuffbox, and Winged Maple leaf.   Some of these mussels are endangered and I know that I certainly have never paid attention to the differences between species of clams.  The St. Croix River has over 40 species of mussels, making it one of the most significant mussel habitats in the country. No automatic alt text available.


I did not explore the local tourist attractions outside of Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.  St. Croix Falls, the community near the park, is larger than Taylor Falls and also more spread out.  While I did not stop here, I did stop in Balsam Lake (which was slightly out of the way but roughly 15 miles away from the park).  The small community features a museum, a city park with camping, a few eateries, and some historic buildings.  I ate lunch at KJ’s New North.  The deli/coffee shop does not have any vegetarian items on the menu, but they made me a veggie sandwich with all of their veggies (peppers, pickles, lettuce, tomato, avocado+cheese).   The food was tasty and the service was good.  Since the town has its own municipal self-serve camping in the park, this might be a camping option when the state parks are full.   Pine Park features disc golf and the basic camping sites have a shared restroom and shower.  I visited the park briefly and found that it was great habitat for woodpeckers.  I saw four species of woodpeckers in my first fifteen minutes in the park, including a red headed woodpecker.  This was my only birding on the trip.

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Park overview:

Pros: Various hiking trails, glacial potholes, swimming opportunities, camping,  quieter than MN Interstate Park, close to St. Croix falls and other nearby communities, gift shop/mini museum, first Wisconsin State Park, and cheaper camping fees than MN.


Cons: Poison ivy and tourists (but less busy than MN Interstate Park…though it was a Monday)

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Conclusion:

Both parks compliment each other well.  Minnesota’s Interstate Park is great for its potholes, boat tours, and proximity to tourist attractions.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is great for hiking, swimming, and its interpretive center.  Together, the parks give visitors an appreciation for geology, knowledge about glaciers, and great views off the bluffs divided by the St. Croix river.   The proximity of the parks to the Minneapolis area and the dramatic natural beauty ensures that both are a popular destination.  They aren’t the most tranquil state parks, but if you don’t mind the sound of cicadas, traffic, and people they are a great place to visit.

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

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A Review of Three Minnesota National Wildlife Refuges

H. Bradford

7/29/18


This past weekend (+Monday and Tuesday), I visited three state parks as part of my goal to see all of the state parks in Minnesota.  As it happens, all three state parks were not terribly far from National Wildlife Refuges.  Thus, I also visited three National Wildlife Refuges during my mini-vacation.   National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) are administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service for the purpose of conserving…well, wildlife!  I will admit that I am not as familiar with NWRs as I am with state or national parks.  From my limited experience, it seems that NWRs that I have been to differ from state parks in that they typically do not charge a fee or requite a sticker.  At the same time, camping is not typically allowed and there are fewer amenities, programs, and regular staffing.  They also seem less busy or tourist oriented than state or national parks.  On the other hand, some allow hunting and trapping, which is not always allowed at state parks.  My general impression is that NWRs are less family and tourist friendly, but great for bird/wildlife watching and a variety of independent outdoor activities.  There are 13 NWRs in Minnesota, which are among the 550 spread across the United States.  This is a review of three of them.

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Sherburne NWR:


Sherburne NWR is located near Zimmerman, MN and about a half an hour south-east of St. Cloud, MN.  I visited the refuge with my brother as a Saturday excursion during my weekend visit.  The park contains oak savanna, wetlands, and prairie ecosystems and offers hiking, but also a wildlife drive and opportunities for fishing and hunting.   My brother and I mostly partook in the wildlife drive, which provides a few opportunities to stop for short hikes.  The primary purpose of the visit was birding.

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The wildlife drive took us through a variety of landscapes, including the three mentioned on the website: prairie, wetland, and oak savanna.  We took a short hike in the prairie area, which unlike the state parks I had visited over the weekend, was devoid of bothersome insects.   While it seems that woodland wildflowers peak in the early spring, the prairie wildflowers were in full bloom, creating colorful fields of orange and yellow.   As for birding, the park has several species of sparrows which are not regularly seen in Northern Minnesota, where I live.   For instance, during our short hike, I heard a Field sparrow.  The song is very distinct, even though I have never seen or heard one before.  I imagine that it is the sound of a Frisbee being thrown or a UFO taking off.   There were also many grasshopper sparrows, another sparrow that I hadn’t seen before.  They have an insect like song that sounds like a cross between a buzz and a hiss.  Over twenty species of sparrows can be found in the wildlife refuge, so it seems like a great place to visit to see sparrows (even if I only saw a few species).

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The wildlife drive follows along some lakes, where trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, and various ducks can be seen.  For me, a highlight of these area was seeing black terns, which are another new bird for me.  I was unable to photograph them, as they zip along pretty quickly.   They don’t range near Duluth, but are found in other parts of Minnesota in prairie or prairie transition areas.  Another highlight was hearing a Least bittern in a ditch by the lake, though I did not see the bird hidden in the thick vegetation.   I am not a great birder, so I would suggest that less skilled birders (like myself) review bird song/calls before heading to the park.  It definitely helps with sparrow identification (as they all look pretty plain and brown) and for hard to spot birds.  I listened to a bird CD in my car on the way to Lake Maria State Park from Duluth (a three hour drive) so a few vocalizations were fresh in my head.

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The only buggy area was on the north-west end of the lake, where there was a small oak forests and trail.  We were too mosquito bitten to venture far, but we did see a red bellied woodpecker.  This was a new woodpecker species for me and one that I later saw more of at Charles Lindbergh State Park and Crane Meadows NWR.  As a whole, I would say that the park offered great birding opportunities.  I would definitely return to see more sparrows and to view the Sandhill cranes which migrate through the refuge in large numbers each fall.    I like that the park offered a wide variety of ecosystems and a wildlife drive.  While we didn’t do much hiking, I would like to return to try out the trails.  The park was surprisingly busy, with several vehicles slowly moving along the wildlife drive, also trying to spy on birds.  There isn’t much room for passing, so, be prepared to take it slow and follow the caravan of wildlife enthusiasts!   The refuge is about 30 minutes drive away from Lake Maria State Park, so both could be visited in the same day (though I visited them over the course of two days).

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Crane Meadows NWR:


Crane Meadows NWR is only fifteen minutes away from Charles Lindbergh State Park and only about ten minutes away from Little Falls.  This makes it very accessible and very easy to take in along with Charles Lindbergh State Park.  The NWR was a welcome reprieve from the mosquito swarms that characterized Charles Lindbergh State Park.  Crane Meadows NWR was bright and sunny, and although the trails followed along the Platte River, the wildlife area lacked the deer flies and mosquitoes that plagued my other outdoor adventures over the weekend.  Crane Meadows is only 2000 acres (compared to over 30,000 for Sherburne NWR) and does not have a wildlife drive.  Instead, it offers a few looped trails along the Platte River to Rice Lake.  The longest loop is just under four miles.  I hiked this loop, which was the best hike of the weekend because 1.) it wasn’t buggy.  2.) There was an abundance of birds.  3.) The trail passes a variety of ecosystems, such as oak savanna, tall grass prairie, sedge meadow wetland, and more!  The trail can only be used for hiking, so horses and bicycles are not allowed.  Perhaps owing to the length and limited use, I did not see any other people on the trail.

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As I already mentioned, the hike was very enjoyable, with easy terrain and a variety of habitats in one relatively small area.  I did not see as many birds as I did at Sherburne, but I also covered a smaller area.  There were some noteworthy birds on the hike, including a great crested flycatcher, another new bird for my list.  The yellow, gray, and rusty orange bird is easy to identify (which is not true of most flycatchers, which look pretty similar in their variations of pale yellow, olive, and gray plumage.)  Another highlight was a few red headed woodpeckers, which I have not seen in Minnesota before.  I also saw red breasted woodpeckers and a swamp sparrow.  Other sparrows included song sparrows and chipping sparrows, both of which are pretty common in Duluth.  The martin house was busy and there were also many barn swallows.

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Like Sherburne NWR, I would definitely visit Crane Meadows again.  The leisurely hike and variety of birds made for a great way to spend an afternoon.  I would say that the main downside of the NWR is a lack of amenities.  There are no toilets on the trails, but there is a port-a-potty at the parking area.  On the other hand, there was hardly anyone at the NWR, so that was a plus.  As a whole, it is a nice, compact wildlife area with easy access to Little Falls.

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Rice Lake NWR:

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The final NWR that I visited was Rice Lake NWR, near McGregor, MN.  I have visited this area many times, but couldn’t resist making a pit stop on my way home to Duluth.   Of the three, this NWR has the widest variety of things to do.  There is a wildlife drive, which I have done many times.  There is an observation deck and several hiking trails.  The NWR also features Native American and Civilian Conservation Corps history.  Native Americans continue to use the wildlife area for harvesting wild rice and maple syrup.  In fact, Native Americans have used the park since at least 1000 BC and there are burial mounds within the refuge.  Each time I visit, there are usually at least a few people fishing, which seems to be the most popular activity.  Rice Lake NWR is rich in waterfowl and each spring and fall during migrations.  In fact, the area holds the state record for the most waterfowl seen in one place at one time, when a million ring necked ducks were observed in 1994.   Like the other two parks, there is a wide variety of sparrows that can also be seen, including the rare LaConte’s Sparrow (which I have not seen).

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Where the wild rice grows…


In addition to the hiking trails, wildlife drive, fishing, birding, and Native American history/use, this NWR generally has pretty good amenities (at least compared to the other two refuges).  There are several toilets or port-a-poties spread throughout the refuge as well as two picnic areas.  There is no running water, however.  The refuge itself features mixed forests, lakes, and bogs.  Because it is a very wet environment, there are always lots of insects!  Of the three refuges, this was the worst, with swarms of deer flies AND mosquitoes.    I have never successfully hiked in this refuge since these attempts are almost always thwarted by voracious insects.  Even an open window during the wildlife drive attracted unwanted deer flies into my vehicle.

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National Wildlife Refuges are a different experience than state and national parks.  While they may not be as full of tourists, activities, and amenities, they are great places to spend a day taking in nature.  All three of these locations are relaxing, tranquil, and great for birding.  All three are places that I would visit again.   There are only 13 of these gems in Minnesota, and only 12 can be visited!  I will definitely be visiting other NWRs in the future and hopefully you will be inspired to visit them as well!

 

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