Raptor Nest Search

My ranger/friend invited me to join in a raptor nest search. Of course I said yes. This meant that one day this past week, I had to actually get up and move at a much quicker pace than normal.  It was worth it.
raptor nest search red cliffs
Utah cliffs where bird like to nest
Our task: To monitor previously discovered nests in an area 2 hours north from where I live. A ranger from another park joined the party and the three of us went hunting. Our main goal was to scour the area looking for “whitewash”. This is a polite name for bird poop on the cliff walls. A lot of whitewash means there is probably a nest there, but there are tricky spots with less poop that they deemed were “perches” instead of probable nest sites. The actual nests are rare. In the 20 mile area we searched, we only found a couple dozen potential spots.  Luckily, we drove from one cliff area to another so I did not have to walk the whole twenty miles, but at each spot we did a lot of hiking.
While we did not see many birds, we did find a rabbit warren, a prairie dog town, paw prints from a large cat (young mountain lion? large bobcat?) and the remains of a trash pile near the remains of a long-gone house. Among the debris, we found a bunch of rusted tin cans. They had the old church key holes on either side of the top. I had to explain to the younger ranger that the weird holes meant that they were beer cans. We all learned something that day. (Okay, some knowledge will come in handier than others.)
We decided to head back but wanted to check out one last place. Lo and behold, one of the rangers spotted a huge nest on a cliff. Could it be a golden eagle’s home? Sure enough, he was perched on a nearby cliff!  Far enough away that I had to use binoculars to see him, he still looked regal up there, surveying the valley. He stayed there a long time, but we were patient. Suddenly,  the eagle swooped off his perch and flew! Circling the valley, he found his prey. We watched as he dove towards the ground with his talons out. He missed! (Aw. For once I was rooting for the predator.) Finding a spot to perch, he recovered a bit before soaring back up to his distant perch. Our raptor nest search had come to a rewarding close.
This raptor nest search program requires that the nesting areas remain secret to protect the wildlife.  My camera phone could not capture any of the action anyway. The eagle was too far away and difficult to photograph. Naturally I am now considering upgrading my equipment, but today I am still basking in the joy of watching the eagle in action. In a way, it was nice to just watch, knowing I could not take the ideal picture; I had permission to just enjoy the experience.
Raptor Nest Search Golden eagle
Golden Eagle Soars

Eagles: When they walk, they stumble. They are not what one would call graceful. They were not designed to walk. They fly. And when they fly, oh, how they fly, so free, so graceful. They see from the sky what we never see.Unknown

Reconnecting to Joy – Salt Lake City Weekend

Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City from the top of the hill

Our adventures took us to Salt Lake City this past weekend. On a whim, we drove the almost six hours north to visit the capitol city of Utah on Saturday. We prefer booking a hotel close the center of the city. This allows us to walk to the sights. Therefore, we found accommodations only one half block from the center of town. After all, we only had one afternoon and evening to explore the area. We like to be near the action!

Salt Lake City
Mormon Temple Salt Lake City

Naturally we started at Temple Square. Brigham Young and his followers have created an impressive place to tour. While the temple itself is not open to the public, everything else is available. Despite our best efforts, we only had time to explore about half of the twelve buildings there. Eager, friendly young people fill the square and stand at each building, ready to answer any questions. I am impressed by their ability to refrain from pushing their mission too hard while still welcoming tourists.  We watched videos, toured houses, read signs and, as a result, learned a lot. Even our fellow tourists were friendly and kind. Like begets like, I think.

 

Salt Lake City
Utah Capitol building Salt Lake City

Next stop was the Utah state capitol. This sits on the top of the hill above downtown Salt Lake City. Walking uphill increased our breathing and heart rates but the climb was worthwhile. The building is full of beautiful white granite designed to make the most of the natural grain in the stone. Consequently,  wedding photographers from around the area find the capitol a perfect spot to pose in their gowns. We saw many beautiful women being photographed on the steps, in the alcoves and against the sparkling walls. Every single bride looked dazzling.

 

The city lights up at night with trees full of twinkle lights and buildings lit with colorful spot lights. Things felt safe since there were plenty of fellow travelers and many shops open late to lure us in. Those of you who know us will realize we zeroed in on a brewery called Squatter’s. Their motto is “Good for what ales you” and it certainly was. The bartender served us food, beer and friendly conversation. Somehow, he found time on a busy Saturday night to talk with us about snowboarding, traveling and life.

Sunday morning brought the best experience of the trip, listening to the Mormon Tabernacle choir. We arrived early enough to hear the rehearsal. We listened to their accomplished director make small corrections to an already amazing performance. A couple of the choir members talked to the audience about auditioning, practices and finding inspiration in the music they get to sing. Then, after a request for quiet, we watched cameramen filming the half hour live broadcast. The music filled the hall and me with its power. What a privilege to be present for this display of musical talent.

Finally, the ride back to Natural Bridges brought more beautiful scenery. We added in a stop to visit a friend in Green River and another for vanilla malts in Hanksville. I highly recommend all of the three (yes, three) restaurants in little Hanksville, Utah.  Each time we eat here we come home full and happy. This time was no exception. The entire weekend gave us joy.

Brigham Young Salt Lake City
Brigham Young

 

 

Remember, a chip on the shoulder is a sure sign of wood higher up.” – Brigham Young

Reconnecting To Joy – Action

Current political changes feel as if they are out of my control. I think many of us are worried about the future, on both sides of the aisle. When I am afraid, I become paralyzed. I tell myself I am too small to make a difference. I curl up on the couch under the blanket and despair. Yet, little action steps can lead me out of this scared rabbit reaction. Asking questions rather than demanding agreement, reacting with kindness to angry words and even picking up litter on the trail help me remember that I can make a difference in the world, in this small way.

Action Dumbbells
Action Requires Heavy Lifting

The New Year brings a lot of attention on goal setting. These visions are designed to spur us into action, to take steps towards who we want to be. Though goals can motivating, they are intimidating. It is all good to say “I will lose 30 pounds this year” or I will change the world. It is quite another to actually figure out how to do it. Even harder is to sustain the energy to accomplish large goals. I am very good at coming up with ideas, not so good at the follow through.

Oh, I start out well. Going to the gym for the first three days is exhilarating. The problem resides in the fourth through the three hundred and sixty second day. I understand that many great athletes work out every single day. Though, they do vary their routines to be light on some of those days, maintaining the momentum keeps them on track. Plus, the habit of moving every day becomes ingrained.

While I understand this idea, the thought of never taking a day off sounds exhausting. Then I remember the One Day At A Time philosophy of the Twelve Step programs. I don’t have to do this every day. I only have to do this today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.

Action Eat Carrots
A carrot a day

With that in mind, I find I can take action on my dreams. Often, I only have time or energy to do one thing a day. But three hundred and sixty five actions can lead to big things. Maybe not a belly that is flatter, but towards a body that is stronger, a retirement account that is larger, a blog that is well-written and a world where kindness is the norm. How are your goals going? Maybe just do one thing today. We can do this together.

“Just For Today I will try to live through this day only, and not tackle all my problems at once.”Al-Anon Family Groups

 

Snow Days at Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges home
Our Natural Bridges Home

After three months of teaser storms, consisting of rain, hail and ice, it began to snow yesterday at Natural Bridges National Monument and it hasn’t stopped. My friends in Estes Park will smile and pat me on the head (they have had MUCH more snow than that), but we have received about a foot of snow in the past 24 hours.

Dave is out plowing the roads while I operated a snow shovel to tackle the sidewalks. The Park workers concentrate on the visitor areas and making sure the roads are as safe as possible. I took care of the residential area, making pathways to the laundry area, the office and the only place in the park where we get occasional cell phone service. Shoveling the sidewalks is rewarding, as I can see the results of my efforts. Although the continually falling snow is currently erasing that progress. Consequently, I foresee more shoveling ahead.

Snow on Kachina Bridge overlook
Kachina Bridge – In The Blowing Snow

This morning, I accompanied Dave on his first snowplow pass over the nine-mile road around the park. This drive allows visitors to visit each of the three natural bridges plus offers beautiful views from the pull-outs. The level of the snow changed as we drove through the park. In some areas, the clouds covered the landscape and, at times, the snow made finding the road a challenge.

 

Natural Bridges snow
Natural Bridges Mesa snow

Then the curves of the road brought us to a spot where the sun was doing its best to peek through. The wind died down and the snow quit for a moment, just long enough to snap a picture.

 

Reconnecting To Joy – Friends

Luckily, my family falls into the category of being friends. Not everyone can say that. In fact, I know many people have deicded to create new families of the heart, made up of friends who they can trust and depend on through thick and thin. I am fortunate enough to have both friends and family to love.

Friends Mark Twain Landing
Having Fun with Friends

Naturally there have been multiple studies to determine the benefits of having friends. Not too surprisingly, there are many benefits when we have strong relationships in our lives. We have less stress, better health, increased happiness and actually live longer. The support we receive makes such a difference that it helps us make better choices. Studies show that people with good social relationships exercise more and drink less. (Of course, sometimes my crew encourages me to drink more. But those times are always accompanied by connection, laughter and love which feels like a very healthy choice.)

My best friends are the ones who make me laugh. They drop everything to help me when I call. They are ones who come to mind when I need to talk and they won’t judge me. True friends are the ones who let me share my pain, but also tell me their troubles. We take turns being strong.

Two Friends
Hanging onto my friends

The hardest part of traveling for the past six years is maintaining the bonds I have made over time, and still creating a space for new people in my life. I do treasure all the connections I have made. I am grateful for social media in that it allows me to stay in contact with so many people. Friendship is precious, even if it has to turn into a long-distance relationship. My widespread community keeps me steady and grateful for their on-going support. Yes, friends bring me joy.

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

― William Shakespeare

Reconnecting To Joy – Reading

Reading brings me one of the greatest joys I have in my life. There is nothing like opening a new book and beginning the adventure. I never know where it will lead.

Girl Reading
Leave Me Alone

Let’s be honest. Reading allows me to escape. Don’t get me wrong. My life is great. But it is so nice to dive into a different world, dive so deeply that my connection to real life gets fuzzy. When my kids were young and I found a good book, they would have to shout my name to get my attention. The word “mom” had no meaning to me. I was a dragon rider, a rich tycoon or Southern belle. It is easy to tune out everything else, living out an imaginary life rich with new experiences and interesting people. To this day, my poor husband has to say my name several times to get my attention when I read.

Finding new reading material with a vagabond lifestyle can be tricky. Traveling in an RV offers a bonus. Each campground has a lending library, mainly composed of well-thumbed paperbacks. Because we are all on the road, we bring our own used books. When we head out the next day with a new-to-me book in my hand, I have left one behind for the next traveler and it is an even trade.

E-Reading
E-Reading

Kindles and Nooks work great too, don’t they? They have the very latest novels and the most up-to-date non-fiction titles. One of their best features is that I can adjust the print size. It is large-print-books on demand. I can get service almost anywhere, which is unusual. One problem: They are thin enough that I will tuck them away and can’t find them. I often forget where I have put it. So irritating.

Libraries offer amazing benefits as well. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new town is locate the library. It is usually in the center of town, always has friendly, knowledgeable librarians and has free WiFi. Some towns only have funds to keep them open a few hours a week. Others have over-flowing shelves. They all give me a chance to browse the newest releases. I love libraries almost as much as I love reading. However, when I am passing through, I can’t check out the books. Luckily, my home town has an online lending library. I can check out books to be read on my computer even though I am far from Denver. What a luxury.

Reading Treasure Chest
Reading is a Treasure Chest

But the truth is I still prefer holding a book and turning the pages. I also like seeing how far along I am in the story and being able to flip back when I want to check something.  E-readers make that difficult. So I prefer real books. Still I find joy in reading, no matter where I am or what I am holding. I am grateful that I love to read. It opens so many doors and leads me down many paths.

 

“Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.” –  Joseph Addison

Reconnecting To Joy – Learning

Atlas
Joyous Learning – Maps!

Learning new things is both exciting and difficult. I love the process of following my curiousity into a new topic. Back in the day, I used encyclopedias and card catalogs to look for information. I loved sitting at those big tables at the library, reading and taking notes, absorbing the knowledge even if I didn’t know where it would lead. Of course, I did not like the tests at the end, those exams covering topics that the professors thought were important to learn. Still I enjoyed the process of devouring the information, even I resisted regurgitating it on demand.

Don’t you love the resources we have available today?  The internet offers amazing opportunities to pursue any interest, at a moment’s notice. Podcasts invite me to spend a pleasant hour (or two, or three) learning about topics I never knew I would like. TED talks open the doors to exciting “ideas worth talking about.” Online libraries bring almost every book I can imagine right into my computer. It sparks my desire to delve deep into topics that interest me. All of this wealth means I can talk about new ideas rather than the weather. Bonus!

Purple flame
Flames of Curiousity

Yes, we have to filter the information. Fake news and opinion pieces presented as facts can skew my views. I can lose myself in the information overload if I am not selective. But these days I have access to a buffet of knowledge, enough to satisfy my desire to educate myself on a cornucopia of subjects. Of course, now my learning has a different test. Can I use this information again? Where will this help me or the people in my life? Still, in most cases, there is no final exam. Now that is joy.

 

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi

Trip to Zion National Park

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey

Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley, Utah

I journeyed back into the wilderness this weekend. Dave and I drove to Zion National Park, a day long ride through country that has left me without words to describe the beauty.  One hour south of our current town lies Monument Valley.  This famous view has been in many movies, but the impact of these enormous buttes even more awe-inspiring in person.  This is spectacular and they are just the beginning of a long road with these kind of views.  The road took us into Arizona and past miles of red cliffs, deep canyons and desert beauty.

We stayed in Arizona just long enough to drive to the Glen Canyon Dam, where Lake Powegd-glen-canyon-damll begins and to visit Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. While I took many pictures of Horseshoe Bend, none of them do this justice.  Check out my friend Jeremiah’s post http://www.jeremiahsr.com/p1038564422/h66db684 to get a real taste of the beauty.  It is worth the click!

You can
One of the tunnel windows in the cliff face. Zion

On to Zion National Park.  We entered Zion via the Zion- Mount Carmel highway, a breath-taking road full of spectacular views. The road leads into a mile-long tunnel built into the mountain.  The tunnel twists and turns in the dark, with surprise windows cut into the side of the mountain where you can glimpse the cliffs across the way.  It comes out the other side of the mountain and into the heart of the park, Zion Canyon.

 

 

The Narrows
The Narrows

This National Park has many hikes and adventures, from mild to wild.  We chose to do one of the “strenuous” hikes into the Narrows, a canyon still being cut by the Virgin river. The hike was unique for us. After a beautiful and deceptively calm stroll alongside the river, the hike leads you into the canyon and then into the river itself. The river led us upstream, where there were occasional times we could walk on sand but mostly we were splashing along in knee deep water.  It turns out walking upstream on rocks is challenging. Yet the experience was exhilarating, especially as we learned how

Brilliant colors in the Narrows
Brilliant colors in the Narrows

to navigate the stream. Different colors meant that we could begin to tell what water was deep, where the sand was, which rocks were more slippery (usually) and  where the easiest path would likely be.  I am grateful for the experience.  I am grateful we had sturdy hiking sticks and closed toe shoes.   I am also very grateful we made it back to the shuttle bus safe and sound for the ride back to the visitor center.

The shuttle bus has multiple stops, each one with tempting hikes, museums and information about the flora and fauna of the park.  As we just had the one day there, we only sampled a couple of the options.  We could have stayed so much longer.  We will have to go back.

coral-pink-sandsOn the drive back to Blanding,  we stopped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  It is similar to the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, but nearby red rocks color the sand a beautiful pink.  We climbed up to get the best view and while we were there we saw the elusive Coral Pink Tiger Beetle, a tiny bug that can live in those dry desert dunes despite the lack of water and intense summer heat.  We watched one climb towards the top of the dune only to be blown down again from an unfriendly gust of wind. Yet, undaunted, it never stopped heading towards to top. It was a lesson in persistence and determination.  Very impressive.

We are at our home base now, planning our next adventures.  There is so much to do within 5 hours of here, the two months we get to stay will fly by.  I am thankful that I have the opportunity to experience this magical place while I can. Yes, I am blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Bridges Monument, Utah

Our current adventure has brought us to Southeastern Utah.  Dave is working for the National Park Service and has been working at Rocky Mountain National Park for the past 3 summers.  This year he has the chance to work for Natural Bridges, a small park with 3 natural bridges formed as the rivers cut through the sandstone mesas creating buttes and sometimes bridges between curves in the river.  The biggest bridge in the United States is Rainbow Bridge accessible by a boat ride on Lake Powell.  The second biggest bridge is Sipapu, here at Natural Bridges.

pic-sipapu-bridge
Sipapu Bridge

The bridge is huge and, if you are game, you can walk down a short, but challenging trail to walk underneath it’s span.  It is a fun trip because we had to use ladders, hand-holds and little scrambling to get to the valley floor.

 

pic-kachina-bridge
Kachina Bridge

We walked under Sipapu then headed along the river bed towards Kachina bridge.  The walk was amazing.  We saw lizards,  flowers, trees, and cactus while being surrounded by towering canyon walls and a brilliant blue sky.

 

Once in the canyon, we found an ancient ruin and spotted some pictographs. Although20161016_121932 we didn’t see any, we heard that there are often petrified wood pieces washed down from the mesa during the monsoon season.  And the land is still being formed by wind and water.  In 1995, a large chunk of the Kachina bridge fell, changing the shape dramatically in an instant.

At 20161016_134511the end of our hike we climbed  up out of the valley.  This proved to be fairly challenging as it is fairly steep, but they provide some hand-rails and ladders to help with the hardest parts.  The trip was totally worth it!

There are so many more parks and places to explore here.  More adventures to come.