That has been the question this fall, a question that actually began earlier this summer, when field work was an option but was postponed for reasons beyond my control. I'm not really going to get into the nitty gritty, but because I haven't been blogging much this month, I'll just go through a bit of my recent timeline, with the aid of a few pictures.
Immediately after our first snow late last month, the temperatures dropped: lows went significantly below freezing, even to 16°F, while daytime highs stayed in the 40s, gradually rising into the 50s and 60s. The first snow was minimal and melted quickly. On the 30th, I awoke to an inspiring sunrise.
The next day, glare ice developed on the windshield of my truck.
A few fall leaves, which had fallen mostly before turning yellow or red, got stuck in the ice. I became concerned about the ground freezing out in my field area, but daytime highs were still high enough to offset lows. Frozen ground — if it stays nice and frozen — can make it easy to get in and out of an area, but it can make certain kinds of sampling difficult to impossible. Frozen muddy ground that melts in the afternoon can make getting out impossible.
It turned out that the north road in was passable, muddy in places on the first few days, drying quickly as the days passed, staying muddy near a couple small springs. I went out, got in a few days of mapping and sampling, noticed the wind increasing the last two days and the temperature dropping on the last day. I didn't take many pictures, but managed to get this nice view of distant mountains just before a real storm came in a week after Glare Ice Day.
The first "big" snow of the year on November 8th doesn't really look like much at 6500 feet, but my mapping area was above 7000 feet. Would the snow melt up there?
Temperatures dropped again, with lows in the valley going into the 20s and then to 15°F. Lows at elevation and up canyon no doubt went lower.
I knew there was no reason to get out there immediately, just to try to see the rocks through snow. Qs, we call that, a map unit not worth mapping in most places.
Two days later, it snowed again, not quite as much, still covering the ground and our garden. You can see the little chard nubbins, and the hibernating chocolate mint. Temperatures dropped again, this time going as low as 8°F, though highs were still in the 30s to 40s, maybe the low 50s locally.
I've been pretty impatient, I guess, having waited most of the summer and fall, so four days after that first "big" snow, the sun shining and the wind having died down, I drove into the field taking the supposedly better south road, stopping often to walk through the mud and snow in front of my truck, always looking for a turn around spot ahead of me so I might not have to back through a particularly squishy turn I'd slid through near the beginning of the road. It was a little questionable, I thought, but I had multiple electronic devices capable of reaching people or satellites if the need arose. (That may be a whole other story: the number of electronic devices I now carry in the field, adding to the weight on my back. Safer, but heavier than in the old days.)
I didn't make it all the way in with my truck, but did make it within walking distance. I slogged uphill slowly, avoiding the snow as much as possible, unable to avoid the mud. This is a mostly south facing slope, covered with junipers and piñon trees, dense in places. The snow isn't deep, but the place is muddier and going to get worse as more snow melts (if it melts). The south road in will for sure get worse; the north road will stay closed. And all north slopes are inaccessible for the rest of winter: no melting there!
I decided to bag it after realizing that there were many places I wouldn't walk: through snow-covered and hidden branches under trees, across slippery muddy slopes, into wet and jagged limestone outcrops, into snow-covered areas where I wouldn't be able to see any holes in the ground should there happen to be any. In short, no more mapping for the year, not unless it gets really balmy for two weeks or more.