The Drive, the Arrival, the Project

Friday, June 24, 2016 - 11:15am


Justin Appleby

It is hard to believe where I was two weeks ago this morning – Palo Alto, California – and where I am now – Ashton, Idaho. Like Reid, I went on a road trip of my own. It took me to Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake, Craters of the Moon, as well as a few other beautiful places. It was great to start off the summer seeing a part of the country I hadn’t seen before, the Pacific Northwest. After almost 1,700 miles of driving that took 29 hours over the span of four nights, after reaching a top speed I do not feel comfortable sharing here, and after visiting two national parks, a national monument, and four state parks, I came to the Northeast corner of Idaho.  

Justin on the rim of Crater Lake

Upon arriving in Ashton, I found myself in a new but not so unfamiliar place. With my family, I have often traveled to – and fallen in love with – Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just an hour and a half drive away on the other side of the Tetons. I had never been to this side, the west side of the Tetons, until now. Although this side is less populated and less visited by tourists, it is clear that there is no shortage of wonder. 

One of my goals this summer was to “do cool outdoorsy stuff every weekend.” Before I even arrived, I had a list of places I wanted to see. It started with the obvious: Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Targhee National Forest. Little did I know I’d be driving up and down highway 20, cutting through the National Forest, almost every day.  Since the moment I arrived, that list has grown. Borah Peak (the tallest peak in Idaho), Cave Falls, Sawtell Peak, Table Rock, and driving the Mesa Falls byway, to name a few. I even found out you can snowboard this late in the season, if you find the right places at high enough elevations! And let’s not forget fishing

Justin snowboarding on Cody Peak, near Jackson Hole.

I’ve been on one fly fishing trip, last August down the Snake River. With the aid of a guide I must have caught over twenty fish that day. I was in for a shock when, this summer, I threw up a big zero on my first day fishing the Henry’s Fork with Reid, HFF’s Washington & Lee intern and Jack, a graduate student conducting research with the foundation this summer. While they were reeling fish in left and right, I was casting, untangling knots, and eventually giving up and going for a swim instead. Still, it was a fun time and I hope to go again soon. There are few things as peaceful as hanging out on the river, with the backdrop of the sun setting on the Tetons. 

On my first day at HFF, I went out into the field to take water quality samples with the other interns. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my first day than putting on my waders and getting tossed headfirst – figuratively, not literally – into the river, while learning from Reid and Jack, who had arrived earlier this summer, everything they knew from their first couple weeks on the job. The second day, I went with Christina, last year’s Stanford intern and current research assistant, and Reid to the Buffalo Dam Fish Ladder to count the number of fish migrating up the ladder. Again from the outset, somebody had to jump into the fish ladder to wrangle up the fish, and Christina turned to me and said something along the lines of “you’re the new intern, you’re doing this.” It had been a while since I handled any fish with my hands, let alone nine. I measured each of them and then sent them on their way up the river. Christina uses this data for HFF’s annual monitoring of the fish ladder and presented on her findings here during the Henry’s Fork Day membership meeting. 

On and in the Buffalo fish ladder

Henry’s Fork Day was a great way for me to grasp the true importance of what our work here is doing to the people of the Henry’s Fork watershed. When six-hundred people gather under a tent for dinner, celebration, and donation, all in the name of one thing, fishing the Henry's Fork, it’s a powerful thing for a relative outsider to see. Everyone talks about their fishing experiences, some from that very same day. Once Henry’s Fork Day finished I was able to settle into the office this Monday and get started on my project for the summer. 

As I have typed in at least ten emails in the last four days, HFF has ten water-quality monitors, called sondes, installed along about 80 miles of river. The way they are set up right now, we have to drive to each one individually and download the data by plugging it into a small laptop. Between the highway, dirt roads, and trudging through bushes, it takes about a full day to do all of them. That’s a full day taken away from time that could be spend actually analyzing the data. My mission is to install products called data loggers at each site to transmit the data over cellular service directly to the office. Using this data, we will create an interactive webpage to display whatever data the user wants, whether it be water temperature, depth, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and more, over whatever dates and times the user chooses.  This live data will allow fishers to find the places and times with the right conditions for fishing.  

Undertaking this project seems like a mountain to climb, but in the end it comes down to three steps: 

  1. Researching and eventually ordering the product that works best for us, weighing several products’ functionality and price. This will be done by early next week. 
  2. Installing this data logger at one site and mastering the details of communication between the sonde, the logger, and the office. 
  3. Coding a website to display this data, while scaling up the operation to include all ten (and eventually twelve) sites. 

I have narrowed our options down to two or three, while learning a lot about these data loggers. They’re essentially complicated circuit boards that attach to antennae and need to be protected inside fiberglass or plastic enclosures, to stay safe from vandals and from the elements. At the end of the day, as the amount of tech work we do on our own increases – wiring, coding, and the like – the price decreases. It’s going to be a matter of finding the right balance between our skillsets in the office and how much we are able to pay. 

To round out a typical week in and out of the office, I’ll be going on some more field trips like the ones I did on days #1 and #2. It’s only been two weeks since I left Stanford campus and I already have seen and learned so much. I still have over eight weeks of taking in this fresh air, chasing mountains, and enjoying these sunsets.

Sunset on Henry's Fork Day