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

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 – Traveling To Goblin Valley

In the news about national monuments and known for its national parks, Utah also has incredible state parks. We visited one this week, Goblin Valley State Park.

Goblin guardians
Goblin guardians

These guys greeted us as we drove in. They look like a welcoming committee, standing in a group at the edge of the valley. I could practically see them waving, while I suspect they were talking about us as we drove by.

 

The Goblin Valley
The Goblin Valley

A little further, we came to the parking lot which overlooks a dry, treeless landscape with funny looking mud-colored blobs. Luckily the greeting committee gave us a clue as to the delights in store for us. The mud brown valley looked boring from this point. But we followed that winding dirt path and walked down to the dirt brown expanse. As a result, we found ourselves in another world. The funny shaped mounds sitting here have nooks and crannies that resemble eyes, as well as some that look like they are grinning at us. Many of them reminded us of extras in Star Wars movies (think Jawas – those little people that scavenged droids).

 

Goblin Valley wise men/seals
Is this a monkey with a hat or a wise man?

Both Goblin Valley and Arches National Park were formed in the same geologic era. Arches got the sand dunes that petrified and wore away into, well, arches. Here, Goblins got formed from a petrified tidal flat. This erosion has formed so many amazing bumps and protrusions that we wandered for hours. Sometimes we could agree about what we saw, other times we had to argue for our own opinion.

Goblin King
Goblin King

As we walked through the valley, we could see different creatures. Sometimes they did look like goblins, other times I could swear they resembled trolls. As the light shifted, some looked like animals and others so much like people I was ready to strike up a conversation.

As usual, we happened upon yet another wonderful surprise. I love that we get a chance to visit these places and am also really enjoying sharing them with you. Are you ready to come visit us yet?

“Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time.” – William Shakespeare

Bears Ears Flip Side

Bears Ears
Bears Ears

We have been living in southeastern Utah for 3 months now, in the shadow of Bears Ears.  This experience has had its ups and downs. In the middle of December, we moved from the nearest town to Natural Bridges National Monument, 45 minutes away from any services. We have some (slow) internet that we share with the 12 or so people who live here but no cell service at all. Well, that is not quite accurate. You can make calls (sometimes) if you stand near the repeater outside of the visitor center. Well, I can’t.  But some people have told me they can. Luckily, I can make phone calls from a wide spot in the road 3 miles towards town. It is an interesting situation.

What is even more interesting is that President Obama designated Bears Ears as a National Monument in December. Bears Ears includes the Natural Bridges National Monument as well as extensive existing National Forest and BLM lands.  The 1.36 million acre designation is bigger than the state of Rhode Island and is designed to protect the lands from development.

However, there is a strong resentment around here.  People feel the government is coming in and doing a land-grab without regard for the residents’ viewpoints. The local people have been against this idea for years. They have private land, plus they have used the area to sustain them with hunting and firewood gathering . The two town meetings that were held to gather opinions did not include National Park personnel, Native Americans who were not tribal leaders or much opportunity for disgruntled locals to speak.

The discontented people cite Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as an example of how their economy could suffer.  The towns around Grand Staircase-Escalante were declared an economic disaster area in 2015. Plus, the increased requirements to get permits have negatively affected the area. Permits are required to graze cattle, gather firewood and herbs, hold traditional ceremonies or use the land. All of these activities require fees. Those who live in Bears Ears can foresee this happening to them.

To add to the uncertainty, negative run-ins with national government agencies are the norm here.  Therefore, they do not trust that their concerns will be heard. The Utah government is doing what it can to change the decision. There have been protests and demonstrations but there is skepticism that the concerns will be addressed.

To add to my worries, there have been rumors of a takeover similar to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It is possible that this will happen here. We are packed and live out of our suitcases in anticipation of a quick getaway. While the actions of the state of Utah have banked those rumors, we are living on edge out here.

Yes, this beautiful land of ours needs to be protected for future generations. It is a privilege to live here in the middle of Bears Ears and to get to enjoy the beauty on a daily basis. But I now understand there is another side of the story.

 

Balance

Christmas

Christmas time is a wonderful time of year but I have a hard time keeping my balance.  This balancing act takes on many forms.

 
I must balance my budget with my desire to shower everyone I love with gifts. My mom was fortunate enough in her later years to have enough resources that she would shop all year for each of her family members.  She would arrive at the extended family holiday celebration with a VW Vanagon loaded with gifts.  It would take us a long time to unload the plethora of presents, crowding theVW Vanagonm under the tree and dwarfing the gifts already in place there.  I understand now how tempting it is to be generous and lavish everyone with physical evidence of love.  But I am lucky enough that I also got to experience the overwhelm that comes with this amount of generousity.  Over the past few years, we have moved to the other side of the pendulum and now give each other the gift of time, laughter and playing games. We extend our holidays by adding on a “game day” on the 26th, playing charades and board games until we have to drag ourselves home to rest our smile muscles. The connection with each other is the best gift of all.  Other families have traditions that allow one gift each, of giving to favorite charities, of white elephant exchanges or only buying for the kids. Perhaps we will move to the center and once again agree to buy presents.  But for now, this works for our family.  Still I fight the urge to “cheat” and buy out the store for each of my family members.

 

Speaking of cheating, I find it difficult to balance my choices around heathy eating during the holidays. My inner voice insists that because these special treats only come around once a year, it won’t hurt to indulge.  My weakness is eggnog.  Oh yes, and cookies.  Did I mention pumpkin pie?  Or red and green M&M’s?  I have been diligent about exercising every day for the past few weeks but I have to remind that little devil on my shoulder that exercise does not give me permission to cater to my every gastronomic whim.  (My main trick is to keep it out of my house.  I have not figured out how to resist at parties. Sigh)

Christmas Tree balanced
Christmas Tree

Even though I love decorating the house for the holidays, recent circumstances and the travels we are on have forced me to downsize. This pendulum swing has been difficult for me.  It would be nice to have a festive Christmas tree and boughs of holly on every wall but that is not possible for now. I struggle to keep myself from getting forlorn over the lack of adornment, although usually I am quite proud of my ability to simplify our lives.  In an attempt to help alleviate the melancholy, I have purchased a couple of things to add some festive color to our home.  More balancing.

 

Tree pose balance
Balance

Living in a new places has its challenges.  Every time we move, I have to find a way to handle our mail, search for internet connections, learn a new grocery store and remember where the bathroom is when I wake up in the middle of the night. This adventure we are on has also been interesting, exciting and wonderful.  I am more adaptable than I ever realized.  My connection with my husband is stronger than I ever knew it could be.  Remembering what I am grateful for helps even out the difficulties.  It helps me find my balance once again.

 

 

 

Gratitude

 

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One of the reasons I like November is that it brings gratitude into people’s conversations.  Posts on Facebook, articles in the news, blog posts and newsletters all focus on being thankful.  Even though there are louder, more painful news items as well, I am reminded that my focus can return to the good things going on in my life and increase my compassion for those who are not as fortunate.

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For several years, our families would gather at my mom’s home in Taos, New Mexico for the Thanksgiving feast.  Bringing together extended family always causes a mixed bag of experiences for everyone.  (Right?)  There were many times our holiday weekends were filled not only with laughter and companionship, but angst as we worried that the turkey was under cooked (usually true), the continuing decline of our parent’s health and the usual ups and downs of family interactions.  Our family’s five hour drive inevitably included a discussion of gratitude, although in this case it was to prepare for family tradition of going around the table saying out loud what each of us was grateful for.  Rather than increase thankfulness on the drive, it would lead to a shouted discussion of who got to say “Friends and Family” for one of the rules dictated the necessity of not repeating what had been said before.  This gave the erroneous impression to the others that our children were eager to participate when in fact they just did not want to be aced out of the “best” response.  Ah, the joys of parenthood.  However, the truth is that the trips gave us a chance to say out loud the things that we were glad about and the things going right in our lives.  Of course, all of us were able to think of a myriad of blessings to share.

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It turns out that gratitude has incredible scientifically proven benefits .  Being thankful keeps us healthier.  It can lower blood pressure, lead to more exercise and better eating choices, improve the quality of sleep and reduce doctor visits.  Appreciation helps us be more empathetic, less selfish, and more optimistic.  Some studies even go so far as to say it can improve your career for it increases productivity, helps with networking and increases your decision making abilities.

For me, the biggest benefit is that it increases our happiness.
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“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”Dalai Lama

 

 

 

I wish you all Love and Light for your Holiday Celebration. I am thankful for each one of you.

Cairns

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

Bryce Canyon Adventures

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Bryce Canyon Inspiration Point

We spent this past weekend exploring Bryce Canyon National Park.  Some of my friends had told me that it was their favorite park, so I looking forward to seeing why.   As usual, it is difficult to compare national parks.  They are all so wonderful in different ways.

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Colorado River flowing into Lake Powell

The road to Bryce held its own treasures. We stopped at the north end of Lake Powell.  Hite marina sits so high above the lake as the waters recede that it is no longer in business.  The land is reclaiming its place so green grass and small trees grow where the lake used to be.  The most impressive part was the Colorado River is still flowing into the lake.

Capitol Reef rock formation
Capitol Reef rock formation

We passed through Capitol Reef National Park.  The weather cooperated and the sky was a brilliant blue, perfect for pictures.  This is an area where Native Americans and early Mormon settlers made their marks and where there is a 100 mile “wrinkle” in the earth’s crust.  The wrinkle, also called a “waterpocket fold”, is bordered by cliffs and rock formations. We took the ten-mile scenic drive, stopped at the Mormon settlers’ cabins and walked to see the Petroglyphs.

Capitol Reef Petroglyphs
Capitol Reef Petroglyphs

 

Scenic Drive - ten feet to the right is the canyon.
Scenic Drive – ten feet to the right is the canyon.

One of the most surprising things about Bryce, which is a huge canyon, is that it is hidden from view as you drive along the road.  The road is lined with tall, beautiful pine trees that hide the edge of this dazzling national park.  There are signs enticing you to pull over: “scenic overlook” and “viewpoint”. When you do the surpise takes your breath away.

Bryce Canyon Navajo Trail
Bryce Canyon Navajo Trail

It is a fairyland of spires and columns, some with the most lifelike faces, all surrounded by tall trees: Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Utah juniper, bristle cone pine and pinon pines.

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Dave on Navajo Trail

While we were only there for the weekend, we had plenty of time on Saturday to visit the many scenic overlooks and hike the three mile Navajo and Queen’s Garden trails.   The descent into the valley is steep, but there are amazing sights around every corner.  This made the fact that we had to climb back up that steep path at the end much easier to bear.  There was always a good excuse to stop and enjoy the view.

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Hoodoos

An Native American legend says that the hoodoos (the many spires in the park) used to be bad people that were changed into stone by Coyote.  It is true that many of the forms look like people or animals.  We asked a ranger what the spires names were and he laughed and said, “It is more fun to name them yourself.”   And so we did.  There were turtle heads, gossips, washing women, camels, warriors, queens and more.  We could have stayed longer.  There were more hikes to do and hoodoos to visit.

 

On the Road
On the Road

Luckily, there more chances to stop and be in awe on our drive back.  As we rode along, a sign would tell us to slow down and suddenly we would be in a new canyon or pulling off to see a spectacular view. We couldn’t tell in advance what would be around the corner.  I think that happens in life sometimes.  I am afraid that things will be boring (as in “are we there yet?”) or hopeless (this will only get worse), when right around the next corner or just down the road, there is a new view.  I am grateful for these reminders.

Quote of the moment: “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”Thich Nhat Hanh

Both Sides

Highway 1, The Florida Keys
Highway 1, The Florida Keys

One of my talents, or curses, is being able to see both sides of an issue.  This has proved to be frustrating to some people as they would like be to be more forceful in my opinions.  It has become a challenge too with this election season.  I am grateful that I have friends on both sides of the fence.  I get to see the good points of each candidate, as well as the never-ended stream of those wanting me to see the bad points.  But the truth is that none of those posts, emails or discussions change my mind.  I bet they don’t change your mind either.

 

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Here in Southeastern Utah, there is a movement to designate 1.9 million acres of land as a new national park called Bears Ears.  This would extend from near the Arizona border north to Moab, from the Colorado river east to the highway that goes from Bluff to Moab.  It is supported by environmentalists, several Native American tribes and archaeologists.  It is opposed by many of the people who live and work here, both Anglo and Native American.  They have lived in this land for generations, they have hunted for their families’ food, played in its valleys and have had unlimited access to it.  I know that oil and mining companies oppose it as well.  I am sure it would be good to preserve even more of Utah for future generations.  I can also be sure it will deeply impact the lives of those who live here.

Our neighbors here have explained to us their view of this issue. I have read about the other side.  Both sides feel strongly about their viewp

Hope
Hope

oint.  This decision will affect so many, and I was getting worried about the end result. Then one person said to me, “But the truth is that, in time, we will become adjusted to any changes and it will be alright.”

With that in mind, we go forward together into this season of change.  Together.

Canyonlands National Park

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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.

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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.

 

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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?