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Monday, June 11, 2012

Miraculous life in a desert canyon

This was the morning view, of glowing red rock, in our canyon campsite. I love gazing at it while eating breakfast.
Our vacation days followed a pattern, where I'd do a short ride with K first while the boys went for a run. One day during our ride, K and I visited the campsite that we stayed in when we first discovered this canyon. We camped under the cottonwood trees in the photo.
Each day, after riding with K, I'd leave her with the boys at the Labmobile, and head out for a solo ride. I'd go much further than she's capable of going now. One day, I visited an incredible rock formation, shaped like a ship by the winds that nearly constantly buffet it. You can see my bike at its base for scale.
Fortunately, K wasn't with me on that ride because it was "snake day". The first snake that I saw was a Gopher Snake, a big but non-venomous snake. Edward Abbey wrote that he befriended a gopher snake, enticing it to hang around his camp to keep rodents and rattlesnakes away.  This gopher snake was lying in the middle of a 4WD route so I tried to move him off of it so he wouldn't get squashed. He took up a pose like he planned to "strike" me. I decided to leave him alone.
The next snake was more dangerous. It was a Midget Faded Rattlesnake. Because he wasn't very big, less than 2' long, I initially didn't believe that he was a rattlesnake. But, he held up his rattle and shook it, and then I was sure. As he rattled, he slithered away at an astounding speed, disappearing under a boulder. When I read about his species back at camp, I learned that this snake was incredibly venomous, and I was lucky to have seen him from a distance rather than right below my feet.
When I arrived back at camp, the Runner told me that he'd spotted a falcon nest, in a pothole very high on a canyon wall, probably 300' off the ground. In the photo below, it's the hole in the center. The Runner first saw it when an adult falcon swooped all around the canyon and then entered the hole.
You can barely see the three nestlings inside the hole. You can see the bird poop below the hole. As we watched through the spotting scope, we saw that each baby bird would back up to the edge of the hole and hang his tail over the edge to relieve himself. We wondered how many nestlings lose their lives by falling while doing this dare-devil maneuver. It was so scary that I'd start talking to the nestlings, telling them to be careful, while they did it.
Seeing how high the hole was, we pondered the first flight of these baby falcons. They'd better be darn sure that they can fly before they take the leap!

Both parents were tending to the babies, bringing prey items to the nest for them. The parents were gone from the nest, presumably hunting, for the majority of the daylight hours. Sometimes they'd take a rest in the nest after delivering a meal but they mostly worked very hard.

One time, a parent hunted just above our campsite.
After sitting above our camp, he took flight.
Based on these photos, we think that they were Prairie Falcons rather than Peregrine Falcons but we're not absolutely certain. I'd be interested to hear the opinions of anyone with experience identifying falcons.

After the Runner's eagle eye discovered the nest, a sand storm arrived the very next day. There was absolutely no way to spend extended periods outside the van or to see the nest very well. Before the storm was fully underway, I took this photo. The visibility was horrendous. Moreover, each gust of wind sandblasted any exposed skin. We had sand in our eyes, in our ears, in our lungs.... you get the picture.
The sand storm day was a disappointment. However, it made me even more astounded that plants and animals can flourish in this environment. It's a tough place to eke out an existence but specially adapted species can shine.
The hot dry wind finally let up just before sunset... so we did take a short hike and enjoy the reprieve. Seeing the sun is even better after a day like that one!


  1. Who needs lions and tigers and bears OH MY when one has snakes and snakes and falcons!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing these great experiences!

    I will concur on The Prairie Falcon as opposed to a Peregrine - I'll be curious as to what others think.

    I know from my years watching the PF's in Harrisburg, they always manage not to fall off - of course, this year, one did blow off before his flappers were quite strong enough. But he's a champ flier now!

  2. While I envy you your scenery, I can do without snakes, especially since I don't know them like you do!

    I'm glad K is enjoying the vacation, however slow and careful. The love you give your dogs is amazing.

  3. That photo of the ship-shaped rock reminds of a show I watched on Discovery channel about Noah's Ark. How interesting that the baby falcons seem to be "toliet-trained"! You are definitly making some wonderful memories!

  4. Very cool snakes. I love that you tried to get the one out of the road.

  5. It's good to see you're still adventuring, and K enjoying herself too. Hugs to your beautiful girl. xoxo

  6. Hi Y'all,

    How y'all doin'? Just stoppin' by to say hi. Hope y'all enjoyed a fantastic weekend and are having a great start to your week!

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  7. Great pictures! Love the falcons

  8. Great post. We learn so much here. Loved seeing the baby falcons, and like you, we do worry about their first flights. That sand storm must really hurt:(

  9. WEll, we are not surprised that you would try to move the snake off the road. You just have that kind of heart. That cactus flower was incredibly beautiful. Who would know that something so beautiful could survive and blossom in the heat and sand of Southern Utah.

  10. Those colors are amazing, yikes that snake
    Benny & Lily

  11. Snakes are one thing I don't mess with! My grandparents lived in Alabama and my sister and I often spent summers there. One year, we'd spent a lot of time swimming in a nearby creek. One afternoon, there was a story on the radio about a boy our age who sat down in a nest of water moccasins. They were each poisonous enough at birth to be lethal and the nest had around fifty in it. We were cured of creek swimming! That story has stuck with me for years.

    Those falcons must have some serious confidence! Wow! That would be a leap of faith!

  12. The Peregrine has a fairly wide Black sideburn under the eye area and the Prairie falcon has a much narrower strip. The Peregrine can also be slate blue on their backs (as adults).

    Once my son told me Otis the Scot and Eddie had a big bird in our back yard and when I went to look, it was a Prairie Falcon, laying on its back, wings propping him, and feet up in the air,claws extended, a defense posture if there ever was one.I thought at first he had been injured but no, he was just ready for a fight! I put the boys in the house, and within 10 minutes the Falcon was gone!

    Jo, Stella and Zkhat

  13. Ann..from..THE OUTER BANKS OF interesting that loved it...learn something new every day..Birds are one of my favorite topics...there are so many ...just like flowers...just beautiful to look snakes are a different story..but you have to know about them because of the danger they can create I would have done the same as you..I'll even stop for a turtle(I actually did last week)because some people just don't pay attention...And to me that rock looks just like Noah's Ark....I have been told and read that bible story so many times growing up....AMEN....Give those lovable pups hugs..Have a great day....

  14. Your trip has me in awe once more! I had to laugh at the way those baby falcons hang their butts out to do their business! I've never heard of such a thing. The snakes, well I wouldn't have to worry about getting bit because I would probably die of a heart attack on the spot! LOL! Your right, that rock formations does look like a ship. It must be wonderful to look at all these different formations. And then came the sand storm, this has been such a great post, I almost felt like I was watching a movie! Thanks for sharing such a great adventure!

  15. Oh no SNAKES! Very scary!
    I cannot believe you got that beautiful photo of the flight of the falcon.
    What a "high" to see all this beauty in person.
    The rock formations are unbelievable.
    The sandstorm is incredible too.

  16. What great photos!

    The raptor is a Red-tailed Hawk -- see the patagial marks in that flight photo? Lots of variation in Red-tail appearance, but the patagial marks are definitive in all but the darkest individuals. Neither Prairie Falcons nor Peregrines have patagial marks. Also note the broad, rounded wings: Buteo, not Falco. I'll slink back to my geek cave now ;~) Please give K a gentle pat for me!

    Take care --


  17. Great photos from your trip, especially the baby falcons doing their poop outside of their nest :-)
    You are very caring trying to move the snake from the road, not sure I could have done that!

  18. You had our mom squirming for this post. She is not a fan of snakes!

    Love ya lots,
    Mitch and Molly

  19. Dis is so cool to sees nature at work lookin' at them falcons. I would NEVERS gets to sees dis where I lives. Dat is just so freakin' amazin'! I am SOOOO not shocked you was talkin to da baby birdies..hehehe...dat's so you KB.

    I be thinkin' da snakes is very purties as long as they is far off. Da further off they is from me, da purtier;)


  20. I love your trips, I really envy you to have that great landscape around you to to trips to.
    The snakes are not my kind of thing , I am very scared of them. The falcons looks great and very good nests they have. Very safe I think from predators.
    Hugs from us!

  21. Agree, that those were Prairie Falcons. Did you witness any of their amazing acrobatic airborne feats?

    You have probably been to Shiprock in Navajo country, named for a similar but much larger formation.

    It is the alienness of the desert landscape, life forms, and weather that makes it irresistible, don't you agree? One who has not experienced a sandstorm simply cannot comprehend its intensity.

  22. that sand storm would have freaked us reading time for sure...the cactus is so beautiful!

  23. Thanks for sharin' your BEAUTIFUL vacation pics with us. Mom will prolly never take me there 'cuz she's not fond of snakes, poisonous or not, and is also not quite sure what I would do with one if'n I found one. Has K or R ever met up with one face to face?

    Woofs and slitherin' slobbers,
    Chester ;0=)

  24. What beautiful photos, as always! The midget faded rattlesnake is gorgeous. I've never seen one--I guess we don't have that particular species in Arizona. They are really interesting animals. Thanks for sharing these images. :-)

    Sue T. in AZ


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