So, while I was walking along in some crazy wash or another, a second beautiful Striped Whipsnake modeled for me. Seriously. He stopped right where he was, allowed me to pull my camera out and set it to macro and slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, lower my hand down to his eye level to get a series of photos of him at mad close range. Inch and a half from lens to nose. Ranger Rob (Mouse Victor of previous post) loves snakes as much as I do, and he was speechless when I showed him yet another close-close-close-up of this reptile. He swears that nobody can get that close to this species, as they have no patience for humans. But… this is the second one that let me.
May 30, 2011
May 29, 2011
Ranger Rob finally outwitted the rodent that has been terrorizing his office. I apologize if this photo seems mean or violent, but desperate moments require desperate measures. The Visitor Center needs its own resident cat… or snake.
May 28, 2011
Maddie’s and my eyes met as she asked, “Should we look at the map again?” We had been hiking up-canyon for a considerable time and were encountering cattails and closing-in canyon walls. It did not feel familiar to either of us, but we were following the trickle of water and it seemed that we should be getting closer to the truck. We both knew we weren’t.
I had borrowed a GPS from another vehicle that morning, checked and replaced its batteries before we started out, and programmed several of our nest coordinates into it. When we later tried to use it to find the first nest of the day, it did not seem to be keeping time or giving correct distances. Something was funky with its satellite receiver.
Maddie pulled out her compass and we compared it to the shadows being cast by the afternoon sun. The compass was showing it setting in the northeast. The compass was bad. Really bad.
We were now left to our own devices high up in Courthouse Wash (I now know), five miles from our truck. We had a couple of maps, the sun, the stream flow direction, and our own memories. I will spare you the emotional details, but let me just say that I had plenty of time to rehearse in my brain what I might have to say over the radio. (No matter how it’s phrased, “I don’t know where I am” is downright humiliating when all of Grand County can hear you.)
I’ll jump to what saved the day: Tricia’s aerial map. There was an oddly-shaped rock formation at the confluence of two critical washes, but no topographic map would show that. My boss has a penchant for aerial maps and I am supremely glad she does. The square-nosed corner cliff soothed my nerves and I announced confidently to Maddie that we should turn right and go up this canyon. She wasn’t so sure.
Within ten minutes the familiarity of Seven Mile Wash sunk in; we both knew we were where we needed to be. High fives were happily exchanged, and the long hike out began. I sucked down the last of my water about a half mile from the truck, swallowing my pride with each gulp, and humbly apologized to Maddie. Her wonderful attitude (“The unknown simply adds drama to the adventure! And think of the good stories!”) made her an exceptional getting-lost companion.
It took me about 24 hours to get over the physical and emotional toll of my navigational mishap. I need to go back soon and find the nests with a good GPS. Yes — I have a game plan to prevent future mis-adventures.
May 27, 2011
It looked for all the world like normal wet sand, but something wasn’t quite right. It was probably the way it rippled and jiggled like Jell-O when our steps landed on it. Right there in Seven Mile Wash, just upstream of the large boulder, the sand-to-water ratio reached that particular magical number that allows super-saturation to occur and the sand to have its famous can’t-hold-you-up-any-more qualities.
I wouldn’t let my left foot sink too far before I retreated in these photos. My right foot was barely sinking, so I assume quicksand conditions can vary in the same location. Dare I admit: it was fun to play in.
You can refresh your memory about the hydrodynamics of quicksand in this post from last year, which also has a most entertaining video of Bear Grylls getting out of Moab quicksand.
May 26, 2011
After hiking quite a few miles Wednesday in remote Lost Spring Canyon, we three were hot and tired. Our truck was a welcome sight, with soft seats, air conditioning, and the ability to finally be off our feet. Working our way out of the wilderness on the 4WD road was our final obstacle before getting onto paved highways to home. Both of my co-workers had been on a long strenuous rescue the night before, and we were all feeling bushed. And then the magic began.
Just to the left of our truck a pronghorn bounded. We oohed and ahhhed at its beauty; not many large mammals get seen in Arches, so this was fun. Two minutes later we topped a rise and three (3) golden eagles flushed up from what must have been a communal feast near the road. Huge, majestic, glorious birds — we nearly fell over each other getting out of the truck fast enough to get binocs focused on them and study them for a few minutes. One eagle is great; two is “wow.” Three is awfully rare.
And then, two minutes later, the largest badger I’ve ever seen scurried for its life away from the truck as we passed. Our collective response? We hooted for joy at the plethora of wildlife. And this was after seeing Cooper’s Hawks and juvenile Red-tailed Hawks down in the canyon.
What a sweet, sweet job I have. Did I mention that I love it?
May 24, 2011
I had a non-working link to the Peekaboo Springs photo album. I’ve now repaired it and it will take you to a dozen sweet photos. Sorry for the frustration!
May 23, 2011
“This is so beautiful it almost makes me cry.” These words escaped my lips as Tara and I crested one canyon wall and perched on the brim looking to yet another vast horizon of red rock, of green wash, of bluest sky. I needed time to simply stop and absorb the wonder of it all — to feel it on a deep level rather than see only with my eyes.
In the Needles district on a cumulus-clouded day, the dancing light illuminates one pinnacle while shadowing the next; I could sit watchfully in one spot for an entire morning and not grow bored. It is one of my favorite places to explore in all of North America. Peekaboo Springs is clearly one of those hikes that can move me to tears.
Almost as an afterthought at the trailhead I had grabbed my binoculars, and was now scanning the canyon below for evidence of ancestral Puebloan culture. We had already found at least five granaries when something on a far wall came into focus. Wordlessly I handed the glasses to Tara, and her incredulous subdued “Oh, wow” matched my impression.
A round white shield with a flared cross-shaped center, unlike anything either of us have ever seen, stood alone on a sandstone wall. Farther along was a plumb-bob shape and concentric circles out of the same brilliant white paint that looked anything but a thousand years old. We instantly knew we had to make a return trip equipped with good maps and a way to get down there to investigate and photograph this rock art. Here’s the happiest part: there weren’t any trails or even footprints passing by them.
And when the day comes that we get back there to personally explore, our feet also will leave no trace.
For twelve additional photos of this hike, click on this Facebook album.
May 22, 2011
May 19, 2011
For the second day in a row, I had gotten up and dressed at 0420 to attempt a Breeding Bird Census but been rained out. Sighing, I realized that any day in a national park — even with inclement weather or sleep deprivation — is a good day.
We have a saying in my house about each day being a new treasure hunt… and it is. Today’s treasures:
- Copious amounts of broken bottles, bowls, plates, and rusty cans and pans in a wash nobody’s been in for eons. These looked like cowboy artifacts from the mid-20th century.
- A stone tool 97% buried in the wash where I was walking. Its smooth surface and milky texture alerted me that it was something “other,” so I extracted it from the sand and found what resembled a mano (grinding hand stone) with a hole drilled in one end. I have to ask the archeologist what this is.
Cliffrose in full bloom. This is a handsome plant with such an intoxicatingly beautiful aroma that I walk by one and am stopped in my tracks and must bury my face in the blossoms and breathe.
- Finding how fast I can sprint when a lightning storm arises suddenly and I’m 0.6 mile from my truck. I did not let that big backpack slow me down.
- A cottonwood tree outside my window alive with new birds at sunset: Western Tanagers, Wilson’s Warbler, Bullock’s Oriole.
- Discovering that my Columbia rain jacket is designed perfectly and functions superiorly in rainstorms.
- The spinach-zucchini-black-bean enchiladas I improvised for supper for my sweet guests. Vegetarian cooking is a delight.
What did I NOT find? Raptors of any sort. There’s always tomorrow…
May 18, 2011
Radio traffic is teaching me at least one thing: the International Radio Alphabet. You never know when you may need this, so today’s assignment is to spell your name in radio alphabet. [Extra credit: spell a friend's when you meet him/her: "Hi, Sierra Uniform Echo!"]
Flip the radio switch to “scan” and there are hours of entertainment in the county: loose dog terrorizing Main Street, 6-year-old boy missing at a park trailhead, routine traffic stops (which can turn un-routine in a blink), the solar panels malfunctioning in the campground, or a mountain bike accident with victim bleeding from nose and ears. Usually I hike without ‘scan’ turned on; it becomes intrusive. Wilderness isn’t the same with the dispatcher’s voice wantonly interrupting my thoughts, but it sure is nice to know I have a lifeline in my backpack.