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


Tower of rocks, a cairn
Cairn marking the way

While hiking in Utah, there are few ways to mark the trails.  Some parks use rocks lines along the edge of the path.  Others mark them with twisted branches of juniper.  My favorite method though is those parks that use cairns, a small towers of rocks.  Cairns are organized so you can’t see the total path at once.  You walk to the cairn, pause and look for the next cairn. Sometimes you can see a few markers ahead, but many times the path is cairn by cairn.

One of my favorite author/life coaches is Tama J. My favorite method though is those parks that use cairns, a small towers of rocks.  Cairns are organized so you can’t see the cl-cairntotal path at once.  You walk to the cairn, pause and look for the next cairn. Kieves (http://www.tamakieves.com).  She is a teacher, life coach and someone who inspires me.  One of the tools she uses to help you find your life’s purpose is to “follow breadcrumbs”. A breadcrumb in this case is a small thing that brings you joy, something that fills your heart. Following a breadcrumb of happiness can help you look for the next little thing that you can do to find your way to your true joy.

Valley of the Gods, Utah cairn
Valley of the Gods, Utah

I am still bread-crumbing around, looking for things that may help me define my “purpose.”  I see that concept when hiking from cairn to cairn.  Not being able to see the next one helps to make the journey more fun, an Easter Egg hunt rather than a life or death search for meaning.

I end with a quote from one of my heros:

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” – Dalai Lama

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The parks in Utah are not only numerous but enormous. Canyonlands National Park is so big that the two entrances are 109 miles apart.  We had visited the Islands In The Sky north entrance last month, so Sunday we went to the Needles district. It is only 70 miles from our home base.  I say “only” because in Utah, as in many other states, you always plan on driving a long way to get anywhere. Luckily the views make the journey as enjoyable as the destination.

The Needles

The Needles district is so named because it features a unique set of spires reaching towards the sky, the product of millennia of erosion.  They are spectacular and remote.  The scenic road only allows us to get views, but not to be underneath them without a strenuous  hike.  Instead we chose to take the hike around the top of the mesa near Big Springs.


Big Springs

When we hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, the paths are easy to distinguish as you walk between trees and the trails are maintained with steps carved out of rock and foliage cut back to keep the way clear.  In Utah, we hike on top of rock that goes for miles.  The path is marked with cairns, rocks that show the way, one marker at a time. We go from cairn to cairn to get to outlooks that allow views of both the distant mesas and the canyons below.   I love walking along these rocks and looking for the next marker.  As we are here on the off season, it has been so quiet that I only hear my own breath and Dave’s footsteps. The two mile hike is short but helps us feel both isolated and connected at the same time.  By the time we were back at the car, we felt peaceful and happy.


We ended our day visiting a place where cowboys camped for almost 100 years. This spot has a spring that provides water year around, as well as being in a valley where a ricl-cowboy-campver flows much of the time.  The ranchers would use this place to graze their cattle and the cowboys camped under the cover of the rocks.  When the government not longer allowed the cattle to graze, the cowboys left some of their belongings, which now allows us to peek into the past to see how they lived. Naturally the ancient Native Americans used the same cover for centuries when they traveled through this desert land. They too left their mark with petroglyphs and soot on the rock faces. This too was a tranquil place, a reminder of human and nature connections.

I am once again grateful for this opportunity to experience the beauty of this land.  Aren’t we lucky?



The Experience of Awe

Rocky Mountain National Park

Before leaving on this latest journey, my sister handed me an article about the science of awe.  While awe has been a human experience often connected to religion or spiritual experiences, scientists have recently been studying the effects of awe-inspiring events.  One article by Jake Abramson describes it like this: “Awe happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world.”  It can be the view of the mountains as you come around a corner, a rainbow after the storm, the birth of a child or the view of earth from a spaceship.  It can be life-changing.

Marathon Florida

Scientists are discovering that those experiences affect us in amazing ways. Often people are more generous and feel more connected to the world, to a higher power and to other human beings.  It allows us to perceive ourselves as a part of a larger whole.  This can help heal those with post traumatic stress disorders and open the world to troubled individuals.  It can inspire team work, a sense of community and peaceful feelings.  Those same scientists are recommending that we all build in opportunities to experience awe.

Canyonland National Park

Here I am in southeastern Utah with awe-inspiring views around every corner and I find myself able to reach out to others more easily, think through life decisions with some compassion for myself and others and feel more centered than I have in a long time.  I too am a fan of Awe.  As many other have discovered before me, the National Park system is a series of places that have built in awe.  No wonder so many of us love to visit them.

I wonder if one gets immune to awe.  Or if you can overdose in it.  I think I have a wanderlust that encourages me to keep looking for the next awe-some thing.  I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to have so many of those things in my life.