Today, the girlfriend and I set off on the somewhat long journey from Hyattsville to Pittsburgh for SVP. And what a beautiful day for a drive. The temperature was perfect, the sun was shining in the sky, and the view was fantastic. If there is one thing I love about this season (admittedly, there are many), it's driving through the mountains and valleys of the Appalachian region. Nothing but fall foliage, road cuts, and outcrops the entire way. This area of the east coast is beautiful any time of year, but there is something about the splash of color in the trees that makes it particularly noteworthy in the fall. Weaving around (and through) the mountains, you can feel the pressure fluctuating in your inner ear and breathe that crisp air that you just don't find at sea level. It's truly wonderful. Lucky for you all, we managed to snap some photos along the way. Please, allow us to share parts of the journey with you (you'll be spared the part where I sing along to John Denver songs at the top of my lungs).
As I mentioned, the trees really steal the show. All of the greens of spring and summer have already begun to change to the reds, yellows, and inbetweens that we all associate with the fall season. Days begin to grow shorter, and the deciduous trees start to get ready for winter. During the longer, sunlit days, trees are able to produce food continuously from water, sunlight, air, and nutrients in the soil. But reduction of sunlight and resources means they'll have to live off of their stored energy reserves. As photosynthesis (the method in which plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar) slows down, the leaves begin to loose their green pigment which comes from chlorophyll, a chemical that makes photosynthesis possible. Depending on the type of tree, other colors begin to show through. These yellows, reds, oranges, browns, and even purples have been in the leaves all along. They've just been overshadowed by the chlorophyl. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and again, amazing to see in such numbers.
Unfortunately, most of the outcrops and road cuts we cruised by were too close to the vehicle to get any clear photos of. But rest assured, we passed through some serious strata as we drove the Maryland - West Virginia border into Pennsylvania. Traveling back and forth through deep time with each hill and valley, I think we ended up somewhere in the Lower Permian of Western PA. Note to travelers on the road: that vehicle in front of you, weaving back and forth between the shoulder and driving lane lackadaisically, probably has a geologist behind the wheel. I apologize. Those rocks are like magnets to us. We cannot help it.
There was one other thing that we saw a lot of on the way up: Halyomorpha halya, the brown marmorated stink bug. This little stinker is a native of the Asian continent, but somehow made its way to the States in the late 1990s and has been flourishing ever since. Because of the higher than normal temperatures this summer, they have been doing even better, and are all over the place. I've always had a "live and let live" policy with all the critters I see, inside or outside, but I'm starting to question that with this invasive species. Not only were they all over the car (seen above at left), but there were about 10 of them in the "just cleaned" hotel room when we got here, and several of them made it into the car (it was the perfect day for the windows to be down) on the trip west, causing quite the distraction as I had to pluck them out of my girlfriends hair. And as temperatures drop, they will be looking for warm places to hide out. If you think they are bugging you now (pun intended), just wait until they all move in with you this winter.
But all and all, it was a great day, and a great drive, and I'm finally in Pittsburgh. After a good nights sleep, I'll be ready for four days of symposia, posters, and all things vertebrate paleontology. Hopefully, you're ready as well. So far I've had no problems with the wireless internet connection, which means you'll be hearing a lot from me over the next few days. But don't worry about that right now. Sometimes it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.
Because I'm talking about the road.