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Friday, May 31, 2013

Springtime: Flowers and Bears!

Since we arrived home from the desert, springtime has taken over. Shyla and I have been spending time in the pine forests to stay cool on the warmer days, with her paws padding softly over damp pine needles. When I stop to look at things like flowers, she relaxes next to me.
After a hiatus last year due to drought, one of my favorite forest flowers is popping up in large numbers - the Fairy Slipper (Calypso bulbosa). These flowers are tiny, rare, and delicate orchids who love pine forests.
They amaze me with their resilience despite how delicate they look. When I find a patch of these gems, I tiptoe around them, being very very careful not to hurt them.
In addition to flowers blooming, the bears have started moving too. It's been a slow start to bear mating season, compared to previous warmer years. However, some favorite bear-marking trees are seeing visitors.

This is a bear marking tree that a bobcat was very interested in. It had already seen a couple of ursine visitors before the bobcat.
Shortly after the bobcat, a young bear visited. This the bear who I am guessing was shot in a nearby town a couple of weeks later based on his distinctive markings.

Then, there was a break in the bear action for a while, as some winter weather took over. More than 10 days later, there was another visitor. This bear didn't do a full back rub on the tree but brushed hard against it while standing on four legs.

The very next day, another bear visited the tree. This is definitely a young bear, and I think that we might have seen her around here last year. As you'll see in a minute, I think that she might be "Socks".

She did the young bear version of sniffing and/or marking the tree while facing it. This is quite different from the big male version of marking a tree.

I captured another photo of this young bear a distance from this tree, and in the forest light, it looks like this bear might be Socks! Socks is a young female who broke away from her mother two summers ago. I thought that she might have bred last summer (although that would have been somewhat early in her life for breeding) but I haven't seen cubs with her this summer. If we have a good season with lots of bear food available, she may have cubs next summer!
Two days later, the parade continued. I'm not sure which bear this is. It's definitely a large adult but I don't know whether it's a male or female. First, sniffing...

Then walking away while rubbing his/her side against the tree.
There was a hiatus at bear marking trees for a while... and then today I found some of the best photos yet. I am monitoring a new bear marking tree, and it seems to be popular. The other night, a bear sniffed the tree, never showing his/her face to the camera. You can see the small tree has its top broken off. That happened in the last couple of weeks (almost surely as a bear marked it).
Then, the next day, a male did a full marking of this tree. He arrived on the scene with wet fur, making a beeline for the tree.
Within 2 seconds, he went up on his hind legs and started rubbing his back against it.
 He rubbed his scent on the tree with great vigor, hoping to attract some sows!
In this photo, you get some idea how bears break the tops off of their marking trees. He raised his paws to grab branches of the tree as he leaned his full weight against the lower part of the tree.
He didn't stay at the tree for long... but I bet that the parade of dancing bears has really begun now. I hope so! It's one of my favorite wildlife events of the year!

To close, here is one more photo of sweet Shyla in the desert (I still have a few photos that I haven't posted here). I love the red desert sunsets!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brilliant Beauty

When we were at K's Rock in Utah, it felt as if the desert reached its peak bloom. It had rained hard the week before, and I suspect that every flower came out to play after that moisture.

You can see the purplish hue to the ground in front of the rock. That was mainly Larkspurs, which I'll show some closeup photos of later.
We were at K's Rock last year at almost the same time, and there were no flowers due to extreme drought. This year, there were flowers of every color - purple, pink, orange, red, and yellow. Shyla stopped to sniff some pretty yellow ones.
Orange flowers, called Common Globemallows, also bloomed and looked lovely along with R's black fur.
R was finally starting to feel better after a couple of days of resting at K's rock but we wanted him to continue resting, with little exercise. So, I played training games with him to keep life interesting despite his lack of exercise. He is good at waving with either his left or right paw, depending on which one I ask for.
I get scared whenever R isn't feeling 100%, like during this trip, because he still has malformed blood cells, both red and white blood cells. Usually, the malformed cells that he's had for about 9 months indicate hemangiosarcoma. However, that's an aggressive cancer, and our vet feels fairly confident that it wouldn't lie dormant for this long. That makes her feel less worried that hemangiosarcoma is suddenly going to rear its ugly head. Despite that, I have to admit that I emotionally over-react whenever R is not feeling right. That's why we are so relieved that he seems energetic, happy, and healthy now!

I think that I also had K on my mind, which is part of why I felt so worried about R's malaise. It seemed like Shyla picked up on my mood one day as she sat next to me on K's rock, laying her head down and looking pensive.
But, we made the most of each day there despite those gray clouds over us. I love the sunset light at K's rock. Shyla lit up each evening like a red labrador!
 She tried to climb the rock around sunset one day, giving me a wry look as she hopped down.
 The sunsets were glorious, with K's rock to the right in the photo.
And then, on a couple of nights, the clouds thinned out enough to let me take photos of the stars as the Earth spun around the North Star. I'm still learning how to take and process these "star trail" photos. This one was taken over the course of a couple of hours. It's a time lapse photo, and I've combined hundreds of short exposures into one photo below.
Whenever I see a natural wonder, like the brilliant stars in the dark desert sky, I think of K and the dogs who came before her, like our yellow Lab, S, who died 4 years ago today. I hope that all of them are up there somewhere, waiting for the rest of us.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: One Evening at K's Rock

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mountains back to the Desert

We spent a few days in the mountains of Southern Utah, waiting out a heat wave before returning to the desert. Finally, a big wind blew in along with cooler air. We were immediately on the move toward the San Rafael Swell.

It was another longish day of driving but we arrived at a familiar campsite in time for a sunset walk. The wind was still blowing as we started our walk.
As we climbed an abandoned trail on a mesa, the sun fell toward the horizon behind us. I captured our first shadowy family portrait of the trip.
It was a short walk that R participated in, and he wanted me to prove that he was there during this trip! (BTW, his paws and the rest of him seem to feel great now - so his sore paws and malaise during the trip were nothing serious).
As the sun dropped, Shyla gazed wide-eyed at the scene.
As the sun dropped, the wind stopped too! That made us very happy because our campsite was pretty exposed, and wind storms can rapidly become sand storms in the desert.
We had a relaxing and quiet evening in our campsite. I took photos of star trails over the mesas that I'll share with you later.

We awakened to the gorgeous colors of the desert. I think that part of what I love so much about the desert is how incredibly different it is than our mountain home.
This campsite has a great trail for Shyla and me to mountain bike so we headed out early, trying to beat the heat. She was a bit hot at the end but she was also very happy!
We stayed in that spot for only one night and headed out in the afternoon, hoping to secure our favorite campsite that is about 30 miles from Moab but still sometimes gets crowded.

After a shortish drive, we found that no one was in "our" campsite, one that we've dubbed "K's Rock" because we had a wonderful time with her in this spot last May. Yes, if you're counting, K has a lot of rocks named after her! R was ecstatic!
Although we call it a "rock", it's really a huge Wingate sandstone formation, very high and about 100 yards long. In this photo, you can barely see the Runner on the right peak, raising his arms to the heavens. It gives you a sense of the hugeness of everything in desert.
It turned out that there was a veritable garden of blooming plants at the base of K's Rock, which I'll show you in the near future. I've never seen anything like it in the desert before - a sandy floor covered in a carpet of flowers - purple, orange, red, and pink.

Yes, this Land is our land... and we are so lucky to live here.

Monday, May 27, 2013

From Desert to Mountains

After spending a few days in the world of huge red cliffs, we needed a break from the heat. We drove and drove, through Capitol Reef National Park, and eventually up into the mountains on the other side of the Park.

I have mixed feelings about National Parks. My main complaint is that they are completely anti-dog. It was a gorgeous park, and we stopped at a "panoramic point" which was about 50 yards from the parking lot on a sidewalk. However, the dogs were not allowed to even get out of the vehicle according to the signs. No dog paws may touch the hallowed ground of a National Park! So, we humans took turns visiting the point, and it was beautiful.

Throughout the park, there were these odd small ridges at the bases of cliffs. I'm sure that from the bottom to the top of this photo, we are seeing hundreds of millions of years of geological time.
I spotted a gorgeous Primrose flower in the midst of the desert beauty.
And then I looked back at the big picture.
It's called Capitol "Reef" because the explorers of our country called any major obstacle to travel a "reef". It has nothing to do with the ocean.
That driving day was the start of a heat wave in Utah, with temperatures at least 10°F above normal. High temperatures soared to 85-95°F. We seem to provoke heat waves whenever we visit Utah. For us mountain dwellers who had been living in snow until that point, the heat was too much. So, we drove to the area of Boulder Mountain outside the Park boundaries, and we found a spot to camp at about 9,000' elevation, where it was cool and pleasant.

I have a tough time with the driving days during these trips due to the pain my lower back that radiates into my legs when I sit for too long. By the time we stopped to camp, I was at the end of my rope from pain and fatigue. Fortunately, the Runner quickly set up our propane-heated camp shower, which I relished! I felt like a new person after relaxing in the warm water.

I finished my shower just in time for sunset, which was gloriously late at 8:30 PM. I watched Miss Shyla turn into a glowing Labrador in sunset light.
And then, in what was becoming a nightly ritual, she spontaneously waved goodbye to the sun as it went down.
It was a glorious sunset in an isolated spot that we had all to ourselves. It's amazing to see the crowds in the National Parks and National Monuments, and then when you leave them, there's so much open land with no one on it. I love the West!
Happy Memorial Day! I am hoping to catch up on your blogs soon. I'm plugging away at it... but taking such a long break set me very far behind!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bearly Spring

The bears are starting to move around our forest, although much later than in recent years. Last year, bear mating season had been fully underway for weeks by this time.

Recently, this big male bear was intrigued by my trail camera. He probably smelled me and the camera, and he saw the soft red glow of the infrared lights on the camera.

First, he sniffed near the camera...
Then, he turned to peek at the camera. Can you see how timid he is, despite his huge size?
He contemplated the oddity of my trail camera for a moment...
And then decided to depart.
I enjoyed seeing the curiosity and a touch of timidness in the eyes of this bear. People tend to think of bears as ferocious creatures while the majority of them are actually quite cautious and would prefer to avoid humans.

Don't worry, he did not fear the camera, and he walked past it calmly again later that night. Indeed, he was heading for a bear marking tree where he put on a good dance, rubbing his back against the tree to attract females.This year's late spring seems to have slowed the females from emerging from hibernation. I have only captured a few photos of smaller, perhaps female, bears. I've captured no cub photos yet.

Here is the big bear's dance in video. You can view it here or at Youtube.
Seeing the photos of the activity here at home, it's so very hard to believe that we were in the desert, far away from bears, just before the bear danced.
I'll resume my desert stories soon.