Adventures in the Cascades

Hare crew made it back from Washington! We were in the beautiful yet rugged Cascade Mountains near Skykomish. That part of the country is home to unique snowshoe hare populations which have evolved different cryptic patterns to cope with variable winter conditions. Unlike hares in Montana, for example, some coat colors remain brown throughout the year while others change during fall and spring. Animals with these strategies are of increasing importance to biologists because of the changing climactic conditions.  The search for these “polymorphic populations” is what prompted our road trip to the west coast.

Overall the trip was excellent. Like all field work though, nothing always goes as planned, especially in the winter months. Where should we begin? Ok, the U of M parking lot it is. The trip started with what could have been considered a bad omen when our truck battery died before we drove 20 feet.  Being an optimistic field crew, we chose to think of it as a minor bump in the road. As we found out later, though, there were also some major bumps in the road. Once on the dusty trail everything went nice and smooth (sorta). We stopped in Coeur d’Alene for some grub and the Shilo Inn in downtown eastern Washington.

Eventually we made it Wenatchee, WA. This is where that minor bump in the road gets just a bit bigger because the truck died…again! So after countless hours in “Apple Capitol” waiting for the mechanics to tell us we just needed a new battery we are ready to roll! Right into an oncoming snow storm that threatens to cripple our travel plans. Awesome. Lucky this wasn’t our first rodeo so we drove head on to our next destination…the 59’er diner!

That’s right. Who would have thought that a classed up 50’s style diner would have been the place to rent snowmobiles.  Were snow mobiles even around in the Nifty Fifties? Actually, the diner sleds were top notch and much better (and lighter) than ours in MT. We aren’t complaining though because mastering hare crew snow machines means attending the school of hard knocks. After that, using any other machine is…well…glorious. Don’t believe us? Volunteer and experience it for yourself. Anyway, as we pull in to pick up our gear out comes Chip! Who is Chip? Well, he was the hipster/snowboard/rock climbing dude in charge of all rentals. Seems a little nerve racking to get instructions from a guy you know nothing about. But in all honesty, though, he was very knowledgeable. He didn’t even skip a beat. Probably because his heart rate was so fast. It would seem that good ol’ Chip had a faint skunky aroma about him…weird. It’s Ok though, we work for the Feds! And yeah we’re onto you Chip…

Finally we make it to our Skykomish, WA destination, the Cascadia Inn. For about 5 minutes. Because we look out the window and what’s next door? The Whistling Post…Heyo! After some massive jojo’s and a few beverages we did what every crew should do. Blend in. We shot some pool, listened to great music, admired the scenery, and most importantly chatted with the locals. Working on hare crew tends to land you in small, tightknit communities that become part of our adventures. The people that we meet in these places can be valuable assets and help when we need some guidance. Take Charlie Brown for instance. We met him and after talking it turns out he had been a wildlife biologist in that area for years and gave us some great spots to find those elusive polymorphic hares. Turns out Charlie also owned the bar (I know right!) and played in the UPA, the United States Professional Poolplayers Association…heard of it? Yeah, same here.

As we embark into the woods, we learn quickly that we aren’t in Montana anymore. The rain at lower elevations is more than a drizzle and refuses to stop. As we gain some elevation it switches to heavy and wet snow. Welcome to the Pacific Northwest! The main road that we were snowmobiling was covered in snow but had 1-2 foot ruts from people driving through the snow in the “high performance” vehicles. Basically they were just jacked up with huge tires. You should have seen the train of a dozen Jeeps cruisin’ their way deeper up the valley. Cruisin may be an over statement because their top speed was 4, maybe 5 mph. Because of them, we spent hours falling into their tire ruts causing us to roll our snow machines countless times. They may have made travel difficult but in the end, we prevailed. They looked tough until they got into the inevitable traffic jam because people kept getting stuck…watch out for these guys! That’s why we were on SNOWmobiles…

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to trap any hares but remember we’re optimists so our perceived failure was really a success because we scouted miles and miles of country for the next trip and hare crew is now in like Flynn in the local community. Field work in the winter can be a tricky mistress but if you have a good crew backing you up, it makes the challenges fun and exciting. We would like to thank the newest official member of hare crew, Paulo Alves. Without his generosity, we wouldn’t have been able to make the trip happen. Thank you Paulo! Hare crew will be back in that country some day and we will do our best to do what we do. Collect data on bunnies.

** Tucker Seitz