Sunday, March 28, 2004

Saturday, March 27th

Our trip out to the site was stimulating and productive. We took to the road (from Altadena) at 7:30am with a stop off in R. Cucamonga to get five of the 7-gallon water tanks. We filled them quickly and headed to Stater Bros. to get some drinking water for the day. After a stop in Victorville to get a speedy breakfast, we found ourselves at the site around 10:30am. As we drove thru Hinkley, we checked the signal of our cell-phone to see what the coverage was in this area. The phone only picked up a signal in the middle of Santa Fe Road, and this is where we returned later in the day to call Don in Utah.

At the site, Claude immediately uncovers the datalogger and notices coyote scat just below the solar panel. He unlocks the box and proceeds to unhook the modem from its time switch. The modem was set to come on only during the evenings, but all during the past week we had no luck in making contact with it. Verizon told us that we might have some connection troubles seeing how we are within range of government military sites. After noticing a blinking green light on the modem, we hop in the Jeep to give Don Brown a call in Utah. Don Brown, of Campbell Scientific, has been the most generous individual over the past 2 months. He has spent hours on the phone with Claude helping with the programming and set-up of the telemetry gear. He is a man of tremendous patience. When Claude gets Don on the phone, Mr. Brown is uncertain about what the modem is doing. Claude is puzzled. We return to the site and Claude begins re-adjusting the antenna.

By mid-afternoon, Claude hooks the laptop to the logger using Loggernet to download the first usable chunk of data. We hope to do this remotely next time. The data file is quite large, a full seven days of data. The solar panel seems to be charging the battery just fine as it seems to be getting more than enough sun.

The wild flowers are in their full glorious spring display. Around Hinkley there are fields of Phacilia Fremonti. It looks like silvery blue clouds have covered the desert floor. Closer to our site Oenothera Dentata (tooth leave primrose) carpets much of the ground near the solar station. Masses of Desert Dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) line the dirt roads and punctuate the landscape. There are numerous other annuals that have come out due to the early March rains and transformed the area around our site.

Claude had the stressful task experimenting with the electronics and trying to position our antenna to get a cellular connection to our modem. We left last week without any measurable success. Deena's job was to remove 5 Calliandra Californica that did not survive the extreme winter conditions and replace them with Joshua Tree’s and Prosopis Pubescens.

The other plant varieties we planted seem to be doing well. We are watching 2 of the Cercidium Floridum that are struggling and decided to give them 3 more weeks before we decide whether replace them. The DriWater does not seem to be the problem, when Deena pulled the dead plants the root mass was moist and the roots seemed fine yet the entire plant including the base were brittle dead. Of course surviving the winter is only 1 of two extremely difficult seasons these young plants need to manage.

We witnessed the first bloom of the seedlings that were planted in December. Phacilia Campanularia is doing very well in gardens 1, 4, and 6, In each of these center garden areas the planting activity stimulated other annuals naturally found in the area and all the plants are healthy and thriving.

Garden 5 is full of small Baliley Multriadiata as well as Malocothrix glabrata and at least 3 other annuals that are ready to bloom. Garden 7 is struggling for anything to survive. No evidence of any seedlings planted or other annuals. Even the grasses planted there aren’t as vigorous as the ones planted in the other gardens. Garden 3 has a few planted seedlings popping up and a small amount of other annuals starting to grow but not to the abundance of gardens 1,4,5, and 6. The center gardens have more activity by far in open desert ground than elsewhere on the site. Only annuals that grow around the base of existing shrubs are doing better.

We finished up our respective jobs quicker than we anticipated and were able to enjoy just hanging out at the site making new observations and discoveries. We finally walked up the arroyo to find Susan and Kahty’s off-site works. It took us 15 min. to arrive at the blue marker. One of Susan’s blue balls is fairly exposed, another has about 2 inches around the top exposed and a third one has less than an inch of the top exposed. The others are almost completely buried. Our friends Jim and Julianne told us that the March rains were heavy and on the verge of flooding if they continued 1 or 2 more days. Yet not enough rain to launch Susan’s balls or for us to collect substantial water in our cistern.

It seems as though all the projects will benefit from time.
The best part of our trip out to the site came as we were leaving Barstow. Claude made one last attempt to dial up the modem and he was for the first time able to connect to it. Perhaps it was the re-positioning of the antenna or maybe it was just a faulty line of code that told our modem to turn on and off between the hours of 6pm and 12:00am. At least we are fully functional at this time.

Finally success on a number of levels. Now more work begins.

---Deena & Claude

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Sunday, March 21.
Thick smog in Venice. It dissipates when Laura and I leave the 5 for the 14. I hadn't taken this road since my last trip to the site on January 31, a month and a half ago. This is the first day of spring and the mountains are now green. On the side of the road I see my first California Poppies of the year. Even the desert, after Lancaster, is green (relatively!)

I'm eager to check the changes that the rains have brought to our site.
After leaving 58, on the sides of Harper Lake Road, we see circles of bright yellow flowers, some purple ones too.
We arrive at the site a little after 11:30. Deena and Claude are unloading their car, I come to help untie and carry a bunch of pipes. Laura and I realize that we haven't taken enough water with us for the day... (later I will beg Deena for some)
It's already pretty hot, the sky is clear and the sun beats mercilessly on us. The site is dressing up in its springtime dress. Green plants are growing in rings around the salt bushes, others grow close to the ground. Pale yellow flowers, minuscule purple ones.
The site doesn't show any trace of vandalism. We are very grateful for the respect that the desert wanderers seem to have for our installations. Let's hope that this will continue!

The plants seem to develop well except for the.... The DriWater containers that use to have a bright green label have turned into a bright blue, effect of the UVs on colors.... It looks like they still contain enough gelatinous mass to last another month.

We decide where the technical box and the tripod will be located. The length of the sensor cables dictates their position. The most central point is between Gardens #2 and #3.
Deena prepares the sensor cables stringing them with sections of pipe to protect them a little against the elements ant the rodents that might be tempted to take a bite.

Claude and I prepare the tripod that will support the antenna, the solar panel, the lightning rod and the ground contact. We also dig the hole, at its foot, that will receive the box containing the datalogger and modem. Laura shoots the action on video.
It's really hot! The soil that we have worked and turned around in January is now hard and compacted, probably an effect of the rains. In January it was humid up to a foot under the surface. This time the humidity goes far deeper, at least two feet below.
The bird perch has some droppings on it. It is been used!
I check the water tank: dry as a bone! We will need more rains for it to fill up and function, which might not be this year though!
We decide to set the sensors. One directly downstream from the gabion, the others in gardens #1, 2, 4 and 5.

Claude connects the sensors and all the other cables to the technical box. We set it in the hole, then cover it with board, plastic sheeting and sand. let's hope that everything is working! I measure the position of the tripod to add it later to the map of the site for the web site.

5:30, everything is in order and we brought what was needed back to the cars. Laura and I tired, leave.
Later in the car I remember that I wanted to check the humidity of the sand in the "pond". Too late!

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