25 June 2011

SkywatchFriday: Washington D.C., Fulbright to China

A long way from Montana, I'm in Washington D.C. for an orientation to prepare me for being a visiting professor next year in China.  A Fulbright Award is a huge honor and going to China is a huge -- and daunting -- adventure. It's been an intense 3 day orientation and on a short break between sessions I walked outside the hotel to take in a view of the sky:

By global standards, even the D.C.'s oldest architecture is quite young. Like my home in Butte or like most American cities, many of D.C.'s buildings date to our nation's industrial development after the Civil War. A building like this would not be out of place in Butte, Buffalo, or Boise:

But buildings get old, maintenance becomes expensive, and sometimes they fall into disuse (National Union Building, 1890):

Eventually, like D.C.'s Webster School (1881-2; a classic red brick urban school of this period), they are shuttered up and slated for demolition. But in D.C. as in Butte, there is a powerful social movement to save such buildings:

Despite the sentiments of historic preservationists, if a city is healthy, it must make room for new construction that better meets the needs of business and current residents. I was curious about the huge hole in the ground/construction site across from my hotel--turns out D.C.'s convention center has been razed and will be replaced with a giant shopping plaza:

I'm not judging whether this is good or bad, but it does indicate a changing urban American worldview, with private commercial space replacing public space (though it was public space built for private commerce). 

My soon-to-be host country of China seems to have no qualms about this sort of thing. I'll be with Southwest University of Chongqing, a city of 31.4 million people. Yep. That's 31,400,000 or  four times the size of New York City. It seems that everything is bigger in China: the university has more than 50,000 students. And, like much infrastructure in China, most of it is new and a product of China's phenomenal economic growth over the past decade or so (this photo is from China Travel Tips):

As I know from the friends I made many years ago in graduate school, many Chinese are friendly and welcoming of Americans. This was affirmed last night in a sumptuous reception at the home of Dr. You Shaozhong, the China Embassy's Minister Counselor for Education:

By the way, it's a classic c. 1900 house:

As those of you that know me and/or who read this blog understand, this is going to be quite an adventure for me. Accustomed to the 4-season outdoor recreation of Montana (fish, hike, hunt, ski), what's a nature boy to do? Check back next year and I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, it's back to my beloved mountains.

17 June 2011

Skywatch Friday: Mountain Views

A great week of skies, it's been. See the next two posts for lots of wildlife (elk, elk calves, etc) and wildflower pics.

Watching the valley clouds burn off the Highland Mountains south of Butte on a chilly morning:

Enjoying a view of the Pintler Mountain Range from my campsite:

Delighting in the generally crazy cloud formations of a springtime in the Rocky Mountains:

Or taking in the Montana Big Sky views of the high desert:

It's all good.

Camping Where the Antelope & Elk Play

Spring took its time coming this year, but the wet cool weather has made for an outstanding green and lush landscape. I took advantage of a few dry days to camp on the high sagebrush prairie of the upper Big Hole River where pronghorn antelope fawn and elk calve. My campsite was along a two-track dirt road, seldom traveled, and with a great view to the peaks of the Pintler Mountain Range:

There are a few mule deer, but this is primarily antelope and elk habitat (mule deer doe along a creek, probably with a fawn hidden nearby):

Hiking around the secluded area near camp, elk cows were everywhere, some solitary and some in small bunches:

Many had their calves with them. They are several weeks old, and it's only in the last few days that they are big and fast enough to keep up with the herd:

Some elk cows come into heat later than others, and some are not bred when they first come into estrus but are the second time. These cows calve several weeks later than most, and so they remain solitary and keep their calves well hidden. On a hike through the pines along a creek, MollyTheDog and I came upon two very young calves. They remain motionless to avoid detection (only one is clear in the photo, but there's another behind it--elk twins are relatively rare):

An "Indian road" passes through the area with numerous tipi rings on the level spots overlooking the creeks. Look closely around the tipi rings and you find numerous jasper flakes created when the First Peoples worked and sharpened their stone tools. Shown here with the flakes is a piece of bone, probably calcined and preserved in a fire pit:

Several pronghorn antelope bucks hung out on a meadow across the little valley from camp. The antelope does were being very secretive, which tells me they have newborn fawns hidden along the hilltops:

Oh, the delicious taste of antelope steaks (from last hunting season) roasted over an open fire while watching antelope play on the surrounding prairie:

As the sun set and the full moon rose, I walked up the hill behind camp to capture this shot of the moon rising over a low albeit snow-covered ridge (the snow line is about 7,500 feet right now):

The next morning dawned frosty, haunted by the calls of a sandhill crane as it flew past:

It was time to pack up and head home.

Will Hike for Wildflowers

Both while camping (see the next post) and hiking, now is a great time for spring wildflowers on the high desert and sagebrush prairie of southwest Montana:

Sagebrush Prairie Wildflowers

Camped on the open prairie of the upper Big Hole River watershed, I was there primarily to watch elk cows and calves. But no one could ignore the great wildflowers blooming in this wet, lush spring. It was also an opportunity for Mrs. Rover and I to visit RolyTheDog's grave:

Here's a sampler of the wildflowers.

Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum; known colloquially as Roosterheads), both purple:

And white:

Pasque Flowers (Anemone nuttalliana):

American Bistort (Polygonum bistortoides):

Green Bluebells (Mertensia lanceolata):

False Dandelion (Agoseris glauca):

Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum):

Springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata):

And, not quite yet in bloom, Silky Lupine (Lupinus sericeus):

Looking closely for wildflowers, you find other treausures--such as this small rodent jaw:

High Desert Wildflowers

At the same time, on the high desert of the middle Big Hole River valley (near Melrose), the flora is completely different on this parched landscape:

Still, lots of flowers, including the following.

One of many difficult to identify (they hybridize freely) Bladder-pod:

A species of Buckwheat (Erigonum sp.):

Fuzzytongue Penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus):

Prairie Rocket (Erysimum asperum):

Rabbitfoot Crazyweed (Oxytropis lagopus):

Silky Crazyweed (Oxytropis sericea):

Showy Larkspur (Delphinium occidentale):

Silverleaf Phacelia (Phacelia hastata):

And Miner's Candle (Cryptantha celosioides):

The latter is especially appropriate, given the many mines that dot this landscape, a geological contact zone of limestone and metamorphic rock:

Here's Dave and MollyTheDog checking out an entrance:

Some of the mines go in just a short ways:

Others make scary, deep descents where we dare not go:

I have little interest in mineral treasure, but delight more in finding the shed antlers of mule deer:

Down the valley along the river, the salmonflies are hatching in the high, flood-level waters. The emergence of salmonflies always seems to coincide with the arrival of Western Tanagers:

While the rest of the country is experiencing a heat wave or other severe weather, we're just happy to have nights that are mostly above freezing now! Spring.