So far Alaska has been epic. My very first hike at Granite Tors (east of Fairbanks) was 15 miles through beautiful, rugged terrain filled with scenic views and lots of wildflowers. Oh and I found my first Micranthes!! I'm now realizing this species (M. reflexa) is very, very common - I already have three geographically disparate populations of this species - but finding the first Micranthes in Alaska was definitely a happy moment.
After packing up a wet tent and resupplying in Fairbanks (everything in Alaska is really expensive and so far all of the produce is from Mexico) I was stoked to find an open campsite at Denali National Park. It was still raining so in lieu of dinner I chose my warm, dry sleeping bag. I fell asleep easily to the sound of rain on the tent but awoke around 4 am to a loud tromping in the woods between me and the next campsite. After a brief internal debate I unzipped the rainfly and looked out (remember at 4 am in Alaska the sun has already been up for an hour) and about 20 feet from me was a mom and baby moose. The calf hung close to the mom's side, was probably about three feet tall, and was as cute as you are imagining. I was honestly too groggy to be afraid so I looked at the mom and she looked at me, and then she walked off in the other direction. It was all pretty great.
The next day still reveling in my moose sighting I drove just north of the park to Bison Gulch to meet up with the Denali National Park botany crew for a flower walk. We spent a few hours walking up towards Healy Mountain but due to our high latitude we quickly entered the alpine zone. And oh man was it awesome! The botany crew leader was identifying every plant we saw with fun facts and even identified some of the lichens and a Selaginella! There is really magnificent botanizing up here and being with a group of people who knew the flora so well was quite a treat. I learned a dozen or so new species and was happy that I recognized most plants to family and genus probably as a result in my interest in the floras of California and the Pacific Northwest.
I spent the rest of the day meeting various employees around the park and distributing fliers for the Denali Flower Finder Project. That night, which was Friday, I had researcher housing at the Murie Science and Learning center which equals a dry place to sleep and a hot shower. After this successful day was winding down I realized I had officially been in Alaska for one week -- so to celebrate I checked out the 49th State Brewery outside of the park, chatted with the locals, and listened to bluegrass.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining a group of teachers on a retreat to the Teklanika field campus in the park as the guest scientist. We went on two wildflower walks and I talked about my research with Micranthes and the Denali Flower Finder Project. They were a really cool group of people and I greatly enjoyed sharing my love of plants and science with them.
It's now time to hit the road. It still feels a little early for most of my Micranthes but at least it will be sunnier up north! Until then, remember you do run from moose but you don't run from bears.