Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Water Way: Botany Surveys Along the Gunnison River

By Bernadette Kuhn, CNHP Botanist

Burgundy and cinnamon-colored walls of the Wingate Formation along the Gunnison River.

Field work means walking, and usually lots of it. That is, unless there is a river and you happen to have a raft. This mode of transport makes sense when you are trying to reach some of the more far-flung canyons along the Gunnison River. And it is not only practical, it’s heavenly.

Peggy Lyon and I recently needed to reach one such canyon to update population information on a known Sclerocactus glaucus (Colorado hookless cactus) site. Our survey site was located in the newly designated (2009) Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. The recreation staff at the Montrose BLM office allowed us to hop on a raft with one of their river rangers, Shawn Folkerts. Not only did Shawn bring his raft and considerable guide skills, but he also rowed the whole way!

Escalante Boat Launch along Gunnison River (or rather, the sign for it).

Shawn signs in.

Peggy wonders how everyone plus the gear are going to fit in this raft.

Our trip began at the Escalante boat launch. Shawn signed the logbook after giving advice to other floaters, loaning out his raft pump, and giving Peggy and me the routine safety talk. We boarded the raft and headed down the Gunnison. We pulled the raft onto shore at noon to eat lunch, where we were greeted by a northern leopard frog and a red-spotted toad.

blurry photo of red-spotted toad
Red-spotted toad action shot.

Northern Leopard Frog
Northern leopard frog along a muddy shoreline of the Gunnison River.

We threw on our packs after lunch and began our cactus survey in the sizzling sun. Our search was successful, and we documented a large population of Colorado hookless cactus growing among the shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia) and galleta (Pleuraphis jamesii).

Sclerocactus glaucus
Sclerocactus glaucus, smaller than a golf ball!

Gunnison River Valley
From our parched vantage point, the river valley looks inviting. The Gunnison River supplies irrigation water to the croplands below.

Some hours later we finished our survey and headed back to the raft and our patiently waiting guide. After a quick dip to cool off, Shawn paddled us to the Bridgeport boat launch. We made it back to Bridgeport after about 8 hours on the river. At Bridgeport, we dragged the raft back to the truck, heaved it onto the trailer, and headed home. Special thanks to Shawn for the extremely helpful assistance!

Shawn Folkerts
Shawn is ready to head back after patiently waiting for us to finish our survey.

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