Monday, April 24, 2017

Springtime Soaking!

I took a day off from work to check out, and check off, another hot spring on my list. I've known about Meadow Hot Spring for a long time, but it's just far enough away that I had not made way down there to check it out. Plus, I'd heard it was popular on the weekends so I wanted to go a weekday. April, my hot springs partner in crime has spring break, so I took a day off and we went to explore. Being spring break it was not as quiet as we would have liked, but it was still lovely.

As the name reveals, Meadow Hot Spring is in the middle of a wide open meadow. Some might not find it as scenic as mountain springs, but the view of white capped mountains enveloped by beautiful blue skies were quite stunning. I really like the wide open spaces. Meadow has three pools of varying temperatures. We only soaked in the hottest, which also happens to be the deepest, something like 30 feet deep. It was a lovely spring day soaking temp. (Perhaps a little cool on a cold winter day?) Some brave souls from Montana were soaking in the middle pools, which I thought was the prettiest pool. A third pool was cooler, but would be a great summer swimming hole, which is probably why someone had built a deck. My understanding is these pools are on private property, so I did drop a few dollars in the donation tube, and would love to publically thank the owners (should they ever stumble across this post) for keeping this lovely spot accessible to the public!!

#22 for my Hot Spring List! How many more to go?!!! Lots!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Off to see the Cranes

Last Sunday morning at 11 Shin said to me... "I think we have a window. If we leave now we can get to Kearney and have a day of good weather. Are you game?" We'd been watching the weather for a break in storms so we could cross Wyoming and Nebraska and have decent Sandhill Crane viewing weather. Game I was, so by noonish we were in the car heading east. Made it to North Platte on Sunday, then over to Kearney very early on Monday. Spent the day and evening finding all the birdy places, got up for the dawn bird viewing on Tuesday, then headed back home, with a small detour so I could see a little of my old Sandhills stomping grounds.

For those that aren't familiar, the Sandhill Crane migration is one of earth's major animal migrations. During March, 80% of the world's Sandhill Cranes (over 500,000 birds) enroute from the south (Mexico, New Mexico, Texas etc.) to their breeding grounds in the north (Alaska, Canada, Siberia), spend a month on a section of North Platte River fattening themselves up for the journey. At night they all converge to roost in the shallows of the river, at daybreak they fly off to forage in surrounding corn fields, then return again at night.

I'm a bit under equipped lens wise for good bird pics, but even if I had that long lens to better capture close up birds, close ups don't show the sheer number of birds in the water and in the sky. During the nightly fly-in you'd really need some sort of 360' virtual reality gear to capture the experience; birds flocking in from left, from the right, from behind, squawking in every direction. You also need audio, as the cacophony of calling cranes is an experience in itself. Even daytime corn field foraging birds were amazing, Sandhill Cranes are big 'displayers' and do a lot of 'happy dancing' so they are really fun to watch.

I know most folks don't think of Nebraska as a spring break destination, but if you're at all a nature lover, biology geek, or nerdy birdy type you should put spring in Nebraska on your bucket list!

Overcast weather had the birds flocking on the river during the day. We were told this is not typical

Flocks of birds flying in at sunset to roost for the night. Watching them fly in was amazing, there were flock in the sky in all directions, squawking up a storm as they flew in.

Cranes assembling in the shallows

Early morning take off. We were amazed by how many more birds were on the river when we returned in the morning compared to when we left the night before

Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary, a lovely nature center and viewing location right along the Platte River. The Crane Trust also had a wonderful and educational riverside nature center

The Gibbon observation deck

A few pictures are in my facebook album Off to see the cranes

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Nerdy Birdy Time

Not much adverturing in my life lately, unless you count the downhill ski adventures at Alta. President's Day Weekend was a small exception, as after 3 days in a row of skiing... and the reminder that I'm out of shape... day 3 my legs could really feel it, we headed up north to the hot springs.

Since we were way up there we decided to check out the 'Happy Place' - Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. We did not get to see much, as the road was closed a few miles off of the highway due to flooding. There are spots along the road with signs say not to cross when flooded, but in all the years I've been visiting the refuge there has never been water anywhere near those spots, though when I first moved to Utah in the '80s the refuge had flooded so badly for so long the visitor center had to be relocated to it's current location. This may be the year where we are finally leaving the drought behind, maybe the Great Salt Lake will begin to fill again but hopefully not so much that the refuge becomes inaccessible to us bird nerds. A local birder/photographer documented the current flooding on his blog it is strange to see places normally high and dry so waterlogged.

But even without getting out the auto loop, we had a nice birdy moment watching a large flock of murmurating blackbirds. It is so fascinating to watch so many birds fly in such a synchronous manner.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Every series has a story...

Inspiration often comes from strange places, you never know what may inspire your artwork, or where it will take you. I've been thinking that I should start keeping better track of the things that inspire some of my creative directions. I think I'll start with my latest new series and technique... The Bullet Project. I love to adventure, explore nature, and find interesting and off beat places. Lucky for me I have a like minded friend and we frequently head off on the road less traveled to see what we can find, do a lot of birding, and photography, and sometimes get creative inspiration

Kelton's graveyard

An adventure this summer took us to the ghost town of Kelton, in the middle of nowhere northwest of the Great Salt Lake. While exploring the area we found ourselves driving down the little dirt road that is is the Transcontinental Railroad National Back Country Byway. As we drove we kept noticing dead rabbits, and wondered how so many rabbits could possibly be get hit by trucks in this very remote, traffic-less location.

A stop at the remnants of an old railroad trestle answered the question. The ground was littered with bullet casings, and we realized the bunnies were not victims of vehicular homicide, but met their end at the hands of yahoos with guns.

An old Transcontinental Railroad Trestle

Bullet trash

We were quite saddened by this, and we decided a challenge was in order. We gathered the bullet casings, and challenged each other to create something beautiful out of something we found ugly; the destruction of wildlife and littering of a beautiful spot.

I call our challenge the Bullet Project, and after much playing and experimentation with various chemical and electro-etching techniques, here are a bunch of my results!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thank You Obama

December 28, 2016 was a monumental day(yes, pun intended!) . President Obama declared that 1.3 million acres of federal land in south eastern Utah would become Bear Ears National Monument The proclamation is worth a read as it most eloquently describes the history, geology and ecology of this spectacular area.

A few years ago I was a fortunate enough to go adventuring in Cedar Mesa, which is now part of the new monument. We camped along the edge of a beautiful canyon many miles and a four wheel drive road away from civilization. At the end of canyon just below our campsite we spied our first ruin, an ancient granary, the first of many relics we would find that weekend. My companions had been there once before, and knew a few of the secrets of the area. Aided by GPS we hiked a mile or two to find our first major ruin; a very well preserved seven room dwelling. Amazed by the integrity of the rock work, and ancient wooden beams, it was hard not to ponder what life was like for the people who inhabited this home 800 or a thousand or two thousand years ago. Was there more water back then or did they need to haul water from the canyon floor? How many people lived here? Did each room house a family? What did they eat back then? How do you keep kids safe when you live on cliff? Where did they grow the corn? What do all the petroglyphs mean? As we sat and ate our lunch in front of this rock dwelling, it was hard not to feel a connection with ancient people of the past, who all those years ago, probably sat and ate a meal there too.

Returning to camp we spoke to two fellows had also set up camp near ours, they proved to be quite educated about the area and told us of another major ruin located far down the canyon. The next morning we decided to try to follow their directions and find this other ruin. We had a long hike along the canyon rim until we found a spot where we could descend down the rocky cliffs and pick our way to the canyon floor. We had to cross the canyon and then climb back up the other side, where we eventually found the site perched high on the rocks. This ruin was even larger, had numerous rooms, and what seemed to be a large kiva. Inside the smoke charred kiva there was a small round room made of adobe covered sticks. We even found piles of tiny ancient corn cobs. This place had a different feel to it than the other ruins we had seen. There was a large marking high on the cliff, a huge circle divided by four lines. Clearly it was meant to be seen. An ancient billboard? A warning sign? The site's position closer to the mouth of the canyon, and it's expansive views, made us wonder if this was more of fortress or lookout or perhaps a meeting or trading place. We could only speculate about it's purpose, but it clearly felt like a place of importance.

Our destination, from across the canyon near our camp

The ancient ruins are tucked amongst these rocks
Thousand year old corncobs

We spied more ruins and petroglyphs as we made our way back to camp. As we crossed the canyon floor, enjoying the wildflowers and rocky landscape one of my friends made an amazing find: in a the middle of a clearing on the canyon floor there lay a mano and metate, an Indian grinding stone. The mano was neatly cradled in the matete, as though it was just waiting for a native gal to come and grind more corn. When was this last used? 800 years ago? 1000 years ago? Yet here it still is, intact, untouched, waiting to be used again. You could almost feel the presence of the ancients, a connection across the millennia.

Ancient mano, resting in the metate

This of course was just one small weekend adventure, in one small corner of this newly minted national monument. We hiked many miles, found many interesting places, but were certain that there were many more treasures hiding in that canyon, and thousands and thousands more in the area. This is an area worth preserving on so many levels; ancient history, unique ecology, spectacular geology. Thank you President Obama, for doing the right thing and preserving this magnificent area.

Sadly, here in my home state there has been much opposition to the creation of Bears Ears. The republican leadership of Utah have all come out with statements opposing this action. I find it embarrassing to be represented by individuals who have no appreciation for our state's environment and rich ancient history, features we should preserve and be proud of. Things that can not possibly be replaced once destroyed. I am thankful that our nations president recognizes this. Ironically, my trip to Cedar Mesa came at odd time in history, a shutdown of the federal government due to the republicans being unwilling to pass a budget. Our national parks were closed that weekend, but Cedar Mesa was accessible, the area where we camped had a self-service sign in box at the beginning of the road. As we left the area we stopped to add our names to ledger, and found the following editorial attached to the sign out-box. It seems just as apropos today:

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

West Desert Ghost Towns

I think I should start a website... Strange Things Found in the Desert. On a recent exploration of the west desert we explored a few more ghost town, Merkur and Ophir.. We originally headed to Merkur in search of eagles, as a friend had told me that was a good eagle winter ground, and considering that a developed are nearish by is called Eagle Mountain we though he might be right. We'll no eagles, and no ghost town either. The drive up Merkur Canyon ends at a gate to a mine, with nothing to see along the way. The only remaining ghost town remnant is the cemetery, which is located up a goat trail of hill that starts at the beginning of Merkur Canyon and overlooks Rush Valley. What we found there was a cluster of graves with illegible or no headstones each surrounded by individual picket fences, and a handful of rock marked graves interspersed amongst the junipers. It looked like a scene out of an old western, except... grave that was adorned with modern dolls and toys and there was even some money, a dollar bill and change, on top of the headstone. One had to wonder why such offerings were left to a 100 year old grave out in the middle of nowhere.

According to our subsequent google search, the site is popular with paranormal investigators, who pick up a lot of 'activity' from that particular spot, which is the grave of a young child, who likes dolls. Interesting and sort of creepy.

From there we headed to the town of Ophir, which has become a bit of a modern ghost town... there are still some old ghost town buildings in the canyon, and the remnants of mining operations, but a lot of new homes have populated the canyon. The town, population 40, has put together a historical display of old mining shack outfitted in period furnishings, a school house, post office and there is a kind of odd mine exhibit and small store(closed for the season) in the center of town. The mining spot was kind of weird, we were not sure if it was a real mineshaft spot, or some Disney like fabrication. It did have some fake trees on the rocks, and seemed to be decorated for halloween. That was sort of ghostly, in a fake sort of way. So again not really a ghost town, but the drive up to the end of Ophir Canyon was quite beautiful, I see why people are populating it again.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Southern Soaking Adventures

Another recent adventure... A day off of work to go adventuring in the south lands with my hot springs birding buddy. First stop, the desert just north of Delta Utah for a trip to Baker Hot Spring, another place that has been on 'the list' for a while. A lovely little spring in the middle of nowhere. Someone at sometime built some concrete soaking tubs, April said that she read somewhere that it was the site of an old brothel. The tubs were fairly algae coated, but the water was nice, having a cold spring and hot spring in the same locations allows for mixing some nice temperature water

We had stopped at the BLM office at Little Sahara to ask directions to Baker, the fellows there advised us not to go, they said it was sketchy and trashy and some weird constitutionalist were living nearby. Off in the distance you can see the power plant near Delta, and other than that there is one crazy looking homestead just up the road. Post trip googling indicates the 'resident' is a bit of crazy fellow living on his grandparents land trying start some sort of mormon hot springs commune, but apparently he might be in jail at the moment. There was one fellow staying there in his homemade camper truck, he proved to be nice fellow from the midwest who retired to travel. He gave us his calling card with a photo of his unusual truck (he thought people would remember that better than him) that said "Vagabond, have truck will travel". I'm now on his email list, so I can updates on interesting places to travel. I always enjoy meeting interesting people while out on adventures!

The funny moment of the morning was when April suddenly blurted out "Llama". "Huh?" I responded, and she said "Llama" again and pointed. Sure enough there was beautiful llama walking around eating the tender vegetation that sprouted around this oasis in the desert. Rumor has it the llama was enlisted by local, presumably the crazy guy, to guard his goats from coyotes, and has since gone off on a desert walkabout. Ah... gotta love the strange things you find in the desert.

After our soak we travelled west on a beautiful paved road through the desert heading to what seemed like nothing, no ranches, nary a cow. We stopped briefly at Topaz Mountain (another place on my list) for a little bit of rock hounding, but left empty handed. We mused that it was interesting that road going nowhere was so nice, and took that road until the pavement just ended. From here we headed up over a mountains for another 23 miles passing numerous old and maybe somewhat active mine sites. I guess mining was the reason for the paved road to nowhere? After cresting the mountains we arrived at our destination, Fish Springs Wildlife refuge came into view. Water seemed low and not being the best season for birding the diversity was not spectacular, but we did see a lot of coots and think this will be a pretty great birding spot in the spring. Surprisingly we were not alone out in this remote location. There were runners on the road! The refuge was the turn around spot for the Pony Express 100 miler... so we got to cheer along some crazy ultrarunners before heading on the long drive home.