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Some of you have been wondering what's become of me, as I have made relatively few appearances lately.  Today is a rare day off for me, and it gives me a chance to tell you what I've been doing.

Since late July I have been roaming the Northwest, working on three different forest inventory projects.  Most of that time I have camped near the forest I was working in.  Now, with 20-degree mornings and long dark nights, I'm staying in rustic motels instead.

All of this year's jobs have paid on a production basis, rather than an hourly or daily rate.  That gives me a strong incentive to work long hours and to take few days off.  Add the fact that I saw no rain for two and a half months, and you have foresterbob hanging out in the woods instead of commenting on Daily Kos.

This morning, however, I awoke to a strange sound.  In my not-quite-awake state, it took a few moments to realize what I was hearing: rain!  Yesterday, by very good fortune, I completed a very isolated area accessed only by many miles of dirt roads.  Today was a planned day off, giving me a chance to move 30 miles down the highway to a new location.

My "home" for the past two weeks has been the area around Cascade, Idaho, which is about 75 miles north of Boise.  The area is largely forested, with small towns in the valleys next to lakes and rivers.  Valley elevation is around 5,000 feet.  Here's a broad view of my working area.  Beyond the first hill, the land drops off towards the North Fork of the Payette River.

Central Idaho forests, with canyon of North Fork Payette River in background
Here's the river.  If you look closely at the lower left of the image below, you'll spot a small hornet's nest.  After several hard freezes, there was nobody at home.
North Fork Payette River (with bonus hornet nest)
If I was looking for flat ground to work on, I came to the wrong place.
North Fork Payette River
What good is an October photo diary without fall colors?
Fall colors in Idaho woods
Thimbleberry in autumn
Fall colors on ground vegetation
Quaking aspens and western conifers
There aren't many aspens in this area, but I found two of them to frame this picture.

Below: Conifers on steep ground, in late afternoon sunlight.  The light colored crowns are due to insect defoliation, most likely spruce budworm.  Despite its name, budworm seems to prefer grand firs, and then goes after other species.

Western conifers and afternoon shadows
A recent Backyard Science diary showed fossilized insects in amber.  Here is potential amber in the making.  A ponderosa pine growing next to a road had some of its bark skinned off.  It responded by producing sap to cover the injury.  On hot days the resin is soft and sticky, and unwary insects can get trapped.
Sap on injured ponderosa pine
Alder trees are not famous for fall colors.  After a hard freeze, the green leaves of Sitka alder drop almost immediately.
Alder leaves in stream
Hot spring on private property
Left: A hot spring tempts visitors on a local road, but it's on private property.  

Below: Streams on isolated forest lands sparkle with clean water.

Clear stream in Idaho
Be careful driving on back roads.  Maintenance is very expensive; bridges and culverts can wash out after heavy rain or rapid snow melt.  Boulders can roll down steep slopes and make themselves at home in the road bed.  Bushes and young trees crowd the edges of the road, mercilessly scratching the sides of your truck.
Eroded bridge on woods road
Close quarters on backwoods road
What happens when you drive on narrow, overgrown roads!
Fractured rock: geology and geometry
Pac-man rock
Split rock
Interesting rock formations abound.  Boulders with multiple fractures provide a lesson in both geology and geometry.  A sliver of light glints through a split rock.   Pac-man waits beside a road.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Oct 13, 2012 at 04:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Community Spotlight.

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