Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics

Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics (Google Books)
Amazon Link

If you could take only one book on the trail with you, this is the one.  Never before have I seen so much information crammed into one little package.

This guide covers everything we have; Rocks, mushrooms, ferns, flowers, trees, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians, birds and mammals. There is very little that isn't in here. Nearly every plant and animal that I have encountered on the trail is covered.

It starts out explaining the big picture. Different "communities within the Pacific Northwest, from coastal forests to alpine meadows, and how the plants, fungi, and animals all interact to for their respective ecosystems.

It then goes on to lay out the geologic makeup of our different ranges, explaining how the interactions of the tectonic plates formed the various mountain ranges, depositing specific types of rock here and there and the advance and retreat of glaciers shaped the valleys and lakes that we see today.

I bought the book for the flora/fauna identification. The geologic and ecological sections were a pleasant bonus that I wasn't expecting. The authors do quite well at fitting much information into just a few pages, and after reading the introductory sections, I must say it is more than worth the 19.95 price on its' cover.

The full color illustrations and detailed descriptions make identification a snap. In order to fit so much information in such a small package, the authors use a type of short-hand in the descriptions, but it is based in common sense and you quickly get used to it. A glossary of common terms is found at the beginning of the book, and a more specific set of terms is found at the beginning of specific chapters; ie, the fern section begins with a generic illustration detailing all the various parts that a fern may contain: stipe, frond, sorus, rachis, etc.

The sections are laid out intuitively, the cover shows a list of the sections, with color coded tabs, allowing for quick reference to the appropriate section. The "Flowering Plants" section is divided by color of the flowers, with references pointing to other plates if a flower may be found in another section due to turning various colors throughout the season.

The book is made with strong, glossy pages, making it able to withstand more wear and tear than your average field guide. It's a strong compact package and if you have this one book, you can leave the other, more detailed guides in the car. Granted, this guide doesn't show every little subspecies of critter you may encounter, but it has more than enough information to identify any plant, bird or other animal you will encounter in the Northwest.

Edibility information has been intentionally left out, as far as mushrooms go, so this is not that type of guide. When it comes to mushrooms, you can never be too careful, so never eat anything you aren't 100% sure of. Find someone who knows the local mushroom scene, or stick to store bought stuff. There are lots of delicious edibles in the area, but there are also some bad ones that look like delicious edible ones as well. Just be safe. Don't eat any unless you KNOW.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to the casual hiker, nature buff or parent looking to spend some time outside with the kids. This morning I took the kids outside and told them to go find a plant or tree that they didn't know the name of... They brought back ferns, leaves and a couple flowers. We thumbed through the book and discovered what they were named, where they typically grew and all sorts of other info. Every so often, I've decided, that 's what we will do: Go out and learn about another part of our environment. The kids love it and it's good for them. Give it a shot. 

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