Out West student blog

Farewell to Life in Ashton

Pictured left to right: Justin, Jack (graduate intern), Sam (W&L intern at Flat Ranch), Reid (W&L intern at HFF), and Melissa (research associate), atop Mount Borah.

By Justin Appleby
B.S., Civil & Environmental Engineering, 2017
Environmental Modeling Intern at Henry's Fork Foundation

On March 8, I found out I’d be spending my summer in a small town of just over one-thousand people, called Ashton, Idaho and practically jumped for joy in the back of a classroom. I texted my parents and friends and group chats, and I started to plan all I would do during my most adventurous summer yet. On June 9, I left Stanford, buzzing for all of the outdoors opportunities the weekends would provide, yet cautiously optimistic about my ability to accomplish the project that had been set out for me. And now, nine and a half weeks into my internship, with three days in the office left to go, I look back on what has turned out to be an unforgettable summer. I saw so much of this geologically and visually stunning area, and I learned so much from my work on the project given to me. Through my project, which has seemingly grown every week, and helped to set up the Foundation for long term success in water quality studies along the Henry’s Fork, I have learned so much about web development, data management, legal issues with water rights, self-teaching, and the non-profit environment. Living out here has helped me grow in so many ways and I feel ready for the next step: applying what I learned here to my future and making sure I set myself up for the long-term.

Project Update

It became clear as I undertook this project, that I would only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg. The end goal for this project is a fully functioning web app displaying live data from twelve sondes in a variety of interactive ways, certainly not a project one single intern can spend one summer finishing. What I can present at the end of the summer, however, is a simple web app with the framework in place for another incoming tech-savvy intern to make extensions to functionality, extensive research and notes on automatic data transmission and continuous monitoring, a single deployed data logger transmitting data from one site to the office on an hourly or bihourly basis, and notes on how to ensure the longevity of this web app, as data files increase from one or two years in size to upwards of ten or twenty years.

I can’t say how long it will take to reach the finished product, but I can say that the way forward is paved, and I am excited to see what Melissa, our new research associate Bryce, and future interns can accomplish with the foundation I have built for this project. It was a pleasure showing Melissa and Bryce my progress today, going almost line-by-line and remembering how many hours I spent trying to make certain lines work. Lately I have been hitting roadblocks that would take longer and longer – the most recent one taking two days – to surmount. It was fun to flashback a few weeks and remember how far I have come.

The Weekends

In my last blog post, I talked about reaching higher elevations each time I took a trip into the mountains, with the highest being Buck Mountain in the Tetons, just shy of twelve-thousand feet. Since then, I have hiked to the state high-points in both Montana and Idaho, Granite Peak and Mount Borah, both well above twelve-thousand. Accompanying me on the trip to Mount Borah were Reid and Jack, both interns who left last weekend, and Melissa. It was a memorable trip and a culmination of all the bonding we got to do over the course of the summer.

Both mountains were incredible in completely different ways. To reach Granite Peak, my Stanford friend and I had to trek through a dozen miles of total wilderness, with hardly a trail in sight. We plunged in near-freezing lakes and took shelter from afternoon storms in total isolation. To reach Mount Borah’s summit required a mile of elevation gain in just under four miles of trail that sometimes felt closer to a dirty Stairmaster than a hiking trail. And you could see the parking lot from the summit. I also took a one-night trip to City of Rocks National Reserve, in southern Idaho, a playground of spires, boulders, and towers, a climber’s paradise.

Leaving Ashton

Living out here, as fun and fascinating as it’s been, has not been completely easy. Eight months since Christmas make this the longest time I have been away from home in my life, and that number will grow to nine before I see Massachusetts again. Sometimes the cell service falters for entire evenings at a time, disrupting plans I have to call home or talk to the people I miss. It has gotten lonely out here ever since the rest of the interns moved on, but that has given me time to contemplate and narrow down decisions about my long-term future, and mentally compile all that has happened, good and bad, this summer and this past year. I may not have another time in the near future or in my life where I can pause and reflect like this and that has no doubt been a good thing.

Looking Ahead

I will be starting my Senior year at Stanford in about a month, and I plan to finish my Civil Engineering degree and pursue a masters at Stanford as well. The two fields I am considering within the Civil and Environmental Engineering department are “Atmosphere & Energy” and “Structural Engineering & Geomechanics.” Hopefully some of my coursework in the fall will help me decide before the application deadline in early January. Before then, a week from today will be the climax of my climbing summer, as I attempt to summit the Grand Teton. The day after, I leave the Greater Yellowstone Area for good on what promises to be an epic road trip to Southern Utah’s canyon country with my sister. All of this has been planned to ensure I arrive on campus in time for the Stanford Football home opener against Kansas State, September 2.

I cannot wait for everything that is to come. Another year at Stanford, another football season, an epic road trip, and surely more adventures and stories to tell. I have no plans for next summer, but I can’t imagine having a more incredible summer than this one, one where I learned so much, saw even more, grew in so many ways, put to shame those who didn’t think Idaho would be fun, and had some of the best and most important ten weeks I can remember.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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