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:


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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Puddles at the Spiral Jetty

Another trip to the Spiral Jetty... what a cool place. We didn't let bad weather spoil our adventure, and as it turns out, the incoming storm sure made for some nice skies and rain puddles nicely decorated the dry lake bed. We had a surprise encounter with a Great Horned Owl too. Every visit to the jetty is different and interesting.

Funny to find this lone office chair sitting here, it's always interesting what you will find out in the desert. The view from the chait was pretty spectacular!

A favorite of my friend April, a self ascribed jetty junky, walking the salty, rain puddled, lake bottom. As April likes to point out, the cool thing about visiting the jetty is that is different every time. Sunday was no exception... I love the surreal quality of this shot.

I was trying to capture the water's amazing pink hue... pink because the high salinity of this end of lake allows the growth of interesting microbes that don't grow on the more dilute south side of the railroad causeway. What an interesting ecosystem the Great Salt Lake is.

I flushed this owl from a distance of about 6 feet, not once, but twice. The second time he dropped a dead rabbit and flew to this perch along the shore... I followed him to try get a picture... Of course with him watching I couldn't get too close, but I did snap a few and with the wonders of digital photography was able to crop in for a nice look at this magnificent Great Horned Owl.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Florida's Dark Side...

Leave it to my brother to take us to some under the viaduct sort of place...

OK, how about under the drawbridge, with a cool night time view of Port Everglades... A good inspiration to try a little night photography, one of those things on my 'list' of things I'd like to do more of someday...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Some Natutral Nature

Natural in Florida, not quite so natural in mom's backyard, but once in a while a gator makes his way up the intercoastal waterway to mom's house. This one was just a baby, about 4 feet long. Glad he came to visit when I was visiting!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Unnatural Nature.

Apparently, in the five years since I have visited south Florida there has been an iguana invasion. They are beautiful, and fun to watch, but don't really belong there. They are escaped pets, who are thriving, and breeding and munching away at the landscape. I've been visiting Florida for over 40 years, and had never seen iguanas there until this recent visit, but now they seem to be everywhere, daily visitors in mom's yard, chomping away at the fruits of mom's gardening labors. I saw more at the park, watched a dog hunt a big one down (I'll spare you those sad pictures), saw one that had to be 3 feet long meandering alongside a very busy road.

They are not the only invaders, mom's yard, previously populated by adorable little brown anole lizards is now home to curly tail lizards, which were brought over from the bahamas to eat pest in the sugarcane fields a county north. Pythons, also released pets, are now a problem in the Everglades. It really does make my scientist think hard about how our actions impact the environment. Are there invaders merely nuisances, or are they detrimentally affecting the native species. It would be a fun place for some ecology projects, that's for sure.

But since they are there... I enjoyed them, a nature lover loves out of place nature too. As you can see they pose nicely for pictures, until you get too close, then they move with rapid speed, and when they jump in the canal and shoot like torpedos through the water. I did not know they swam, so watching them dive and swim was quite entertaining. Mostly though I'm enamored by textures and colors of their scales and spines... I can see a lot of artful inspiration potential!