A hearty group of 21 participants traveled to the Channeled Scablands, where they braved unseasonably cool temperatures, endured a marauding group of raccoons in the campground (who decided they didn't like granola cereal after thrashing my box of it), and tolerated a downpour the afternoon of the Spaghetti Dinner and Ken Davis Memorial Dessert Contest. The shrub-steppe vegetation of the region is broken by a series of "coulees", basalt outcroppings, and the occasional giant boulder. The basalt of course was left behind by previous volcanic activity, but their exposure, the coulees, and the stray boulders are all evidence of the cataclysmic floods that ravaged this area over the past 100,000 years. The repeated draining of the historic Lake Missoula left an indelible mark on the landscape of this lightly populated area of Washington. The flora of the region is particularly rich, and it was the chance of catching the spring bloom near its peak that motivated us to switch from our routine of holding the Foray during the summer.
Our base of operations was Sun Lakes State Park, where we were able to secure an entire cul-de-sac in the campground for our group. The unseasonably cool spring was evident on the drive in as talus slopes, lithosol flats, and sagebrush areas were barely green. Temperatures during the day barely reached 60°F, and at night it got down into the low 40s. Not exactly the sunny, warm east-side trip that many of us from the cool, gray west-side of the Cascades had envisioned! To our surprise there was a family of raccoons who apparently also occupied our cul-de-sac. Evidence of their activity came mainly in the form of potato chip crunching in the middle of the night, footprints on the windshields and picnic tablecloths, and shredded cereal boxes inside of the van whose cracked window which they managed to crawl through.
Each morning from Friday through Sunday we divided into small groups and then scattered to various collecting localities in Douglas, Lincoln, and Grant counties. Pam Camp of the U.S. BLM and Regina Rochefort from the National Park Service facilitated access to lands owned by their respective agencies. We made more than 300 collections over the course of the weekend, and highlights of the more than 150 species that we documented wereMertensia oblongifolia (sagebrush bluebells), Amsinckia lycopsoides (tarweed fiddleneck), Hutchinsia procumbens (prostrate hutchinsia), Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides (daggerpod), and Schoenocrambe linifolia (flax-leaved plainsmustard)
In an "average" spring we would have sampled more diversity than we did on this trip, but the lingering cold weather delayed the emergence of so many species. However, an average comprises both high and low values. Because the phenology data (e.g., presence of flowers, fruits, spores, cones, leaves) of each specimen is recorded in our database at WTU, researchers in the future will be able to use this information in conjunction with climate data from the area to analyze the response of plant phenology to temperature variation. So, even though all of us on the trip would have enjoyed seeing and collecting additional species, it is satisfying to know that our efforts in the field, soggy shoes, and shredded cereal boxes will pay off in the future.
Participants in the 2009 Foray were David Giblin, Dick Olmstead, Sheila Olmstead, Don Knoke, Suzanne Anderson, Cindy Spurgeon, Ruth Pelz, Doug Williams, Robert Goff, Jim Rodman, Wendy McClure, Valerie Soza, Hannah Marx, Peter Zika, Elizabeth Gould, Howard Coleman, Brianne Cohen, Anne Hirschi, Kelsey Byers, Pat Liu-Irving, Luke Ledwich, Dave Tank, Kara Adern.