Our studies of blazing stars, plants of the genus Mentzelia, revealed a new species a few years ago. The new species, which we called Mentzelia hualapaiensis, was known from a few populations scattered along the bottom of the Grand Canyon. During our studies, we had found several herbarium specimens of this then unknown species, which composed a small pile of material that we used to prepare the formal taxonomic description of the species. Most of the specimens in that pile were consistent with each other, but one was a little odd. We set the odd one aside.
New collections later sent to us by our collaborator in Arizona matched the odd one that we had set aside. We began to wonder seriously whether we had another new species. DNA sequencing had already revealed to us that the odd one was a little different from M. hualapaiensis and other close relatives.
Last winter—in November!—we received another batch of fresh collections that the National Park Service had made in a remote branch of the Grand Canyon, and they, too, matched the form of our odd specimen. This led us to begin scrutinizing the differences between the few populations of the odd specimen and the similar M. hualapaiensis. We have wanted more material of the odd one to understand better its characteristics, ecology, and distribution, but it’s not an easy task to get more samples of uncommon plants that grow on the loose stones of steep cliffs near the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
To help search for those samples, I was offered last week an available seat on a boat in the Grand Canyon as part of a National Park Service vegetation survey. I filled out the requisite forms and bought an airplane ticket to Arizona. I’ve gone through the equipment list and begun to make a pile of my gear. Headlamp, rain gear, broad-brimmed hat, fleece sweater, pants that convert to shorts, and I am just started. I put a new sketchpad notebook on the gear pile and then, late last night, turned to my bookshelves. What do I want to read during the trip? What should I read before the trip? I pulled Joseph Wood Krutch’s 1957 Grand Canyon and Ann Zwinger’s 1995 Downcanyon. I know, too, that it’s now time to get a copy of Clarence Dutton’s Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District. My preparation to make the most of the available seat begins.