Thursday, February 22, 2018

Crickets of Carlsbad Cavern

I am sharing here the first post I made for the official Carlsbad Caverns National Park Facebook page:

Of three species of cave crickets found in Carlsbad Cavern, Ceuthophilus longipes is the most adapted to cave life. It has pale coloration, long slender legs and body, and long antennae. A second species, Ceuthophilus carlsbadensis, shows fewer adaptations, and spends more time in areas close to the Underground Lunchroom, where crumbs are abundant. The crickets also eat natural foods such as bat guano and plant debris washed in by floods. The Ceuthophilus carlsbadensis also likes to eat Ceuthophilus longipes! Ceuthophilus conicadus, the third species of cricket, is in between the other two in its level of cave adaptation. It is less common in Carlsbad Cavern, but abundant in the nearby Spider Cave.

NPS/Ross Studlar

#CarlsbadCaverns #NationalPark #FindYourPark #EncuentraTuParque #NPS101

I wrote and drew this specific post about cave crickets on work time for the U.S. government (mostly), therefore it is in the public domain.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Caves and Waterfalls

Back in October, I finished my seasonal ranger job at Yellowstone and began a permanent ranger job at Carlsbad Caverns. The caves and deserts have their wonders, but I am a forest dweller at heart. I hope to return to the Blue Ridge Mountains when possible.

In my civilian identity, I continue to work on drawing the comics story about Komodo dragons (written by Bissette) for Awesome 'Possum 4. It has been a long and grueling quest, but the end is in sight.

I'll share a picture from Yellowstone (2015), taken by the multi-talented Raven Shade Brookner. Her friend Solana suggested that I use this as my author's portrait for some book that I will write. It seems like a good idea.

photo © Raven

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Godzilla vs. Steamboat Geyser

All summer in my ranger work at Norris Geyser Basin, I attempted to convey to visitors the power and fury of Steamboat Geyser, earth’s tallest geyser, which very few people will ever be privileged to see in its full grandeur. The intervals between the geyser’s major eruptions can be anywhere from four days to 50 years, and there is no pattern, and no way to predict it. These eruptions can be over three times the height of Old Faithful, and many times louder and more violent.

Late in the summer, while doing some informal research on one of my favorite subjects, the Godzilla films, I had a realization. When Steamboat Geyser reaches its maximum eruptive height of 380 feet (116 meters), it is taller than Godzilla! Or to be precise, it is taller than NEARLY all versions of Godzilla. Godzilla was 164 feet (50 meters) tall in the original 1954 Toho film, and was scaled up for the sequels. In The Return of Godzilla (1984), he was 262 feet (80 meters) tall; in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) he was 328 feet (100 meters) tall; in Godzilla (2014, Legendary Pictures), he was 355 feet (108.2 meters) tall. Only the Shin Godzilla (2015) version of the beast may be taller than Steamboat Geyser, at 389 feet (118.5 meters).

To illustrate the titanic size of Steamboat Geyser, I produced the drawing above. Maybe we can make a t-shirt out of it, for folks who work at Norris.

Godzilla is trademarked to Toho studios, so I will not be doing anything big with my drawing.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Komodo Dragons at ABQ Biopark Zoo

En route to Carlsbad, I visited the Albuquerque Biopark Zoo and sketched living Komodo dragons! This is a warm-up for Awesome 'Possum Volume 4 (the natural science comics anthology, edited by Angela Boyle.) I have teamed back up with the legendary Stephen Bissette; our new comics story will be about Komodo dragons, the beasts that inspired King Kong. We'll be at work on this one this winter, with Bissette as scribe, me as artist. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Night on Observation Peak

I spent the night in the backcountry patrol cabin on Observation Peak in Yellowstone National Park, with friends visiting from the eastern U.S. I’ll share my entry in the logbook, transcribed below.

“9/13/17  We had a glorious overnight trip to the cabin, departing this morning. Crew consisted of my friend Emily, her daughter Calia (age 10), and myself. We trekked up from Cascade Creek Trailhead. Two-thirds of the way up, Calia became fed up with hiking and threw a fit (as children are wont to do.) The rest of the trip was challenging, despite the perfect weather (sunny with a cool breeze) and the vistas of increasing grandeur as we ascended. We finally reached the cabin, and I was relieved to find that my 79 key really does work on the door—open sesame! Calia’s mood turned 180, from misery to elation, with the opportunity to stay the night in the ULTIMATE tree house. My friends are from North Carolina and have not previously sojourned west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Therefore, the elevation here of 9,396 feet is by far the highest they have yet experienced! The challenge of removing the shutters was rewarded by the world’s best view of sunrise and sunset. I read Shoshone and Nez Pierce stories about the origins of the land below aloud to my friends in the night and the early morning. It was warm inside under the blankets at night, as the wind buffeted and rattled our little sanctuary. In the morning, the piercing bugles of elk rose from somewhere in the forest below. Emily is awed by the place and grateful for the opportunity to have stayed in the backcountry. Calia declares, “I want to live here!” Other wildlife observed include northern harrier and grouse, and two bald eagles, a mated pair. Emily is concerned that nearly all forbs were crispy and desiccated between Cascade Lake and here—punishing effects of an unusually hot, dry summer, due to global climate change?

We are all boundlessly appreciative at having gotten to stay in this marvelous shelter in a sacred land.

—Ross Wood Studlar, Interpretive Ranger, Norris

SKREEYAOOW! [sound effect for bugling elk]”

Bottom photo by Calia Sampson at Fairy Falls. All others by yours truly at Observation Peak.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Great American Nightfall

I looked to the sun through my special lenses, and it looked as if a cosmic Cookie Monster had taken a bite out of it. I could see why both the Chinese and the Native Americans tell stories about a dragon or a frog that devours the sun. The word ‘eclipse’ means ‘abandonment’ in Greek, and before astronomy had advanced to the point of explaining the eclipse, it was met with dread that the sun was abandoning the earth. For the Great American Eclipse of 2017, which I viewed from Yellowstone National Park, the mood was more joyous than fearful. The fears I had carried included that cloud cover might prevent us from seeing the eclipse, and that I might have to respond to a dehydration or cardiac patient during the eclipse, preventing me from seeing it. Thankfully, we had a clear blue sky on August 21, and no medical calls. I took my first glimpse of the eclipse from outside the ranger station at Madison junction. From there, I rolled in the ambulance with fellow ranger Amy to her normal work station, the Madison visitor center. We met a throng of tourists, scattered throughout the parking lot and the field by the Madison River. The American flag flew before the historic visitor center, built of great pine logs. In the distance elk munched on grass. Closer by, men and women tilted back in their camp-chairs, and looked skyward through their eclipse glasses. Children chased each other back and forth—when we get older, it can be too easy to forget this obvious use for an open field.

One family used a colander for an eclipse pinhole-viewer, and it worked well. The shadow of the moon advanced over the sun. The sun reduced to smaller and smaller crescent, until it was only a thin sliver. The sky shifted to a darker blue, and the yellow grass of the field turned to orange. Long shadows were cast on the landscape, from the human figures, the trees, and the flagpole. I raised my camera to take a photo, and it kicked automatically into sunset-mode. (A simple AI had interpreted what was happening.)

A chill wind blew. I heard the voice of a seven-or-so-year-old boy asked his mom, “Why is it getting so cold?” Near the peak of the sky’s dome, another point of light emerged—the planet Venus! We were not in the path of totality, so were not privileged to the full effect of nightfall in the daytime. This was the closest we came. The sliver of sunlight moved to the top of the sun, and slowly the crescent of sun enlarged again, as the moon’s shadow moved away. The moment the sun began its return, the persistent dull roar and whoosh of traffic returned. To me, the eclipse was not over until the sun resumed its full form; but many tourists obviously saw it differently, taking to the road the instant our star began to return.

As the eclipse approached, my imagination inevitably drifted back to the planet Lagash. Considering how much fear as an eclipse can elicit in a world where darkness comes every night, imagine what effect it would have in a world that is otherwise bathed in perpetual daylight! This is the premise of Isaac Asimov’s groundbreaking science fiction short story “Nightfall,” first published in the September 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Taking place on Lagash, a world much like earth with inhabitants who seem just like humans—except that Lagash is lit by six suns, so its denizens have never experienced the dark of night. Once every 2000 years or so, the moons and planets in the six-star system line up just right so that the dark of night comes to Lagash for about half a day. This time, as nightfall approaches, a crew of scientists with telescopes attempt to unravel the mysteries of the universe and interpret what is to occur. Having had no night sky to work with, their grasp of astronomy is rudimentary, but they are on the road to understanding nightfall as an astronomical phenomenon. Meanwhile, religious zealots siege their observatory, demanding repentance before the end times. Their "Book of Revelations" contains some records handed down from survivors of a previous nightfall, who speak of stars (whatever those are) that will emerge from the dark sky and rob men of their souls. All this takes place in anticipation of the raw panic that is going to ensue when Lagash is bathed in darkness. Civilization may not survive.

Richard Lea, writing for The Guardian in 2012, notes that the conflict between science and science-denial brought to vivid light in “Nightfall” is even more relevant today than it was 70 years ago, as global warming threatens to destroy much of civilization, and many powerful people deny the science. I note that climate-deniers are driven less by religious belief than by the knowledge that addressing the climate crisis will compromise their profit margin. And most politicians and mainstream commentators who do acknowledge climate change propose solutions that are woefully inadequate. On some level, we are all in denial of the coming storm.

Astounding cover by Hubert Rogers, originally published by Street & Smith publications, and I'm not sure of its current copyright status. Low-resolution reproduction used here for educational purposes only. Photos of Ross by Amy Rether.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Ode to the Buffalo Bull

Bison are the most reliable beasts in Yellowstone. Nearly 5,000 in number, they are commonly seen from the valleys and overlooks, by the rivers and by the roads. They scratch their great heads upon trees to deal with insect pests, rub off the bark, and leave scars across the forest, which everyone misattributes to bears or elk. On a misty morning in August, the bellows of the bulls echo across the plains like a rumbling volcano. As the mist rolls away in the rising sun, the battlefield is revealed. Hundreds of bison in the valley below. A bull trots beside a cow, sniffs her rear end, waits for her to come into heat, roars across the plains, telling other bulls that this one is MINE. His hold lasts only as long as he can keep other bulls away, by intimidation or by force. The cows swear fealty to no partner. Their criteria is simple: the best fighters are the most attractive. He who dominates others of his kind will sire many children whom he will not know. For the life of the bull bison is solitary, walking with the herd when convenient, walking alone when convenient, eating grass all day, tolerating others of his kind when sharing the meadow. In the prime of health, he has little to fear. At 2,000 pounds, with a battering ram for a forehead, swords in his horns, and knives in his hooves—grizzly bears and wolves keep their distance and search for easier prey. The bull eats and walks and stays out of trouble, until the next mating season. Then the fury of testosterone consumes him again. All of his weapons are at the ready, but his opponents are equally armed. Corpses litter the field at mating season’s end, the result of those fights in which both adversaries refused to back down. And this attracts beasts that are normally harder to see. Grizzly bears appear on the field, thankful for the scavenged feast, in time to prepare for winter hibernation.