I might be in heaven

Life becomes complicated when you are having so much fun that work and fun become inseparable. Can I really call hiking around spectacular places looking for beautiful mysterious plants work? That is way too much fun. I feel almost guilty at enjoying myself so thoroughly hiking from one valley to the next, one canyon to another. These last two weeks have been epically busy. First I had to work through inordinate amounts of data to find out what species are in Dakota Hills that have already been collected. Dakota Hills are in the far north east of Zion National Park. In 2007 there was a massive fire, thus changing the ecosystem quite a bit. The archaeology department at Zion National Park invited me to come along on a four day trip to Dakota Hills.  I, of course, quickly said yes. Passing up opportunities to go wonderful new places is out of the question. To get to Dakota Hills was a mission in itself; we road on BLM land with horses for two hours until we finally made it to the park boundary. We bade our farewells to our cowboys and set up camp among burnt Pinus ponderosa, Juniperus osteosperma and beautiful bunch grasses, Penstemons of various kinds, odd fabaceae, and many jasper flakes Native Americans had left thousands of years ago.
The first day we dedicated to finding out where the archaeological sites where and how to get there. It was lightly raining as thunderstorms continuously rolled in from the south east. The maze of Quercus gambelii felt like a car wash for humans as we bushwhacked out way around countless hills and washes. Finally we found the tributary system upon which the sites were. Throughout all of this hiking, I gathered a good sense of what species were out there and which I had to key.
We got back to camp, ate a quick dinner of pre-made parmesan pasta that would have made my nonna reconsider having me as a granddaughter. Honestly, for camp food it was pretty good. The next two days were an array of hiking crazy amounts, learning the history of the Americas the last 40,000 years, finding amazing projectile points 10,000-8,000 years old AND finding out what EACH plant species up there was. The main archeologist said it was the best trip of his career! My collection is now up to 28 specimens!
It was wonderful to have an inter-departmental cooperation between vegetation and archaeology. I think the two archeologists I went with enjoyed learning the flora of the sites they visited and I lack words to describe how happy and thankful I was learning how to treasure hunt and protect historical patrimony.
My plant collection is still missing all the plant I collected last weekend when I hiked to the most beautiful part of Zion I have yet been. On the far west side, there is a whole array of canyons and valleys that take ones breath away. I was hiking out there for recreational purposes but I knew I was bound to find magical plant species so I brought a small plant press along. I was absolutely right. There were columbines twice the size of the common red and yellow ones we see in the main canyon. There was one absolutely phenomenal Ranunculaceae Aconitum columbianum that is deep purple, on a long raceme. It has a hood, two keel petals, and a morphology that looks more like an orchid than anything else. B E A Utiful. It is rare, and probably at the end of its season, so tomorrow I head out to try to find it again. Find it and the other 20 species out there that are, without a doubt, to live for. The crazy thing is, when I get back, I am going into The Narrows as part of work too! Then is when I start wondering if maybe I died rock climbing and went to heaven where work is the most fun one can possibly have…