A Personal Account of Tuolumne Meadows

Thomas Van Kirk

Day 1

Lembert Dome is one of the most spectacular sites I have ever seen. To be able to look down on the river, which we have studied for ten weeks was amazing. As I stood on top of the granitic surface, I couldn’t help but feel goosebumps all over my body. From the top of Lembert Dome I can see the Tuolumne Meadows (which is very different from the virtual hike), Cathedral Mountain, and other mountain tops that are covered in snow. If I was only given one word to describe being on top of Lembert Dome, I would say “breathtaking”.

At first, when I was hiking to the top of the Lembert Dome, I didn’t think anything of it. I knew that I would see a beautiful site with lots of scenery, but I didn’t expect the feelings that I felt as I stood on top of the granitic mountain. The sites on top of the mountain reinforced my want to be a geologist. I honestly could have sat there and just admired the exfoliated granitic surface, the beautiful meandering river, and the snowy mountains that surrounded me for a long time. It was a great way to start off the trip.

Day 2

I was able to finally start putting my skills that I acquired from this class to the test. Along with being able to start gathering data for a project, I got to walk around the beautiful meadows that surrounded my study site. The water in the meadows was so cold that I only could stay in the water for a couple minutes before going completely numb. The water within the meadows looked so clear and clean that I was tempted to drink straight out of the river. Along from doing work (pebble counts, discharge and using the YSI meter), I got to see the direct effects grazing has on the riparian vegetation. Some vegetation was fenced off (for study purposes), so that gophers or grazers could not get to it. The vegetation inside the fence was a lot more luscious versus the vegetation that is outside the fence. Overall, it was a great day to see everything that I had learned in class.

Day 3

The class and I went to a mini scientific conference that was happening inside the meadows. Waiting for the conference, brought more spectacular sites. From across the meadows I could see a deer grazing out in the open without a care in the world. A little later but still before the conference, I saw a family of deer (a buck, baby buck, and a doe) cross the river about 50 feet in front of me. I have never seen things in nature act as if humans aren’t even there. It definitely was a different experience to have.

After the conference, we went for a hike to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. It was a great hike filled with lots of scenery of course. It was an 8 mile hike that seemed to come and go very quickly. Once we arrived at the peak overlooking the canyon, I got similar goosebumps that I had received when I was a top of Lembert Dome. I could see giant minerals sticking out of the granitic mountain top. It was a really interesting site to see how the minerals are sticking together due to pressure and that they are compacting on one another to make one cleavage plan. It is like stacking sardines in a tin can with the sardines being the different minerals in the rock.

My conclusion to the Tuolumne Meadows is that it is a spectacular place. The only bad thing I have to say about the meadows is that it is a lot easier to get sun burned due to the elevation. I can also conclude that out of everywhere I have visited, the Tuolumne Meadows by far is my favorite place I have ever camped or visited.

Reflection of the Class

The Ecogeomorphology class has been a great class for me. In fact, this class has been one of my favorite classes I have ever taken in college. I learned a lot of information that I have been able to retain (due to constant reinforcement), and made friends with similar interests as me. Every day I camped along the Tuolumne, I reflected on how I felt. Every day provided new information about the river and the opportunity to get to know my classmates. I feel as if these nine days have changed my perspective on aquatic ecology and its interconnectedness with geology.

Before this class, I never seemed to understand “water” bugs or about riparian vegetation. This class has changed my opinions of river ecology. I have learned so much from this class and I now see things in a different perspective. Of course, the best part about a river is the underlying geology and hydrology, however I am biased.

The coolest bug that I have learned about during this trip was the Cadis Fly. The Cadis Fly builds a home/shelter out of small suspended sediment. Another cool organism is the Dragon Fly. I knew what a Dragon Fly looked like before, but seeing it in the larvae form was new to me. It looks like an alien, with its tongue that shoots out of its mouth to grab a hold of prey. It is something out of a movie (literally). I can actually identify a lot of bugs just by looking at them. Before this class, I would have no idea the difference between a May Fly and a Dragon Fly if both were in front of me. I also would have no idea what a Cadis Fly is or what a Chironomid looks like.

This class opened my eyes to the biodiversity of aquatic organisms. It was cool to lift up a rocks and kick the sediment around and collect bug samples that contained several different species of bugs. Also I learned how to identify more fish, which is always fun. I learned the difference between a brown trout, rainbow trout and a brook trout.

Besides opening my eyes to the wonderful nature of an aquatic ecosystem, I met and became friends with a lot of interesting people. During the time of this trip, I learned a lot of this new information from my fellow classmates. My classmates shared excitement with me as we adventured into the wonders of the Tuolumne River. This class has taught me a lot about aquatic systems and provided me with new friends.