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Sunday, May 31, 2015

A Canyon for Sunsets

Back to our desert trip... At the end of the last post, we'd just sat through a couple of intense thunderstorms in our campsite at the bottom of a slickrock slope. The normally dry wash that we had to cross to drive out of our campsite was a small slow-moving river.

It turned out that my worry about the water in the wash was unfounded. It was completely dry by the next morning. So we set out for our next destination, which was a big canyon with campsites along the rim.

We'd visited this spot once before, back when K was alive and I had just gotten my first "real" camera. On that day, we had mostly clear skies, and lots of good light for sunset photos of K. It was a beautiful spot that we wanted to visit again.
So, on this past trip, we headed there next. We didn't have clear skies but we did have dramatic skies as we looked up the canyon!
For most of the evening, we had no sun at all, which was a little disappointing. But then, a gap in the clouds appeared, and the sun shined on our little slice of the world. The sunshine looked particularly dramatic because the eastern horizon was still a mass of black storm clouds.

Thanks to that tiny bit of sun, I got to take photos of sweet Shyla with the canyon as a backdrop. The sun wasn't as intense as back when I took K's photo by this canyon but it was still glorious.
As I took photos of Shyla, the sun played games with the sky. Look at the rainbow that emerged across the canyon from us! This photo shows one end of the rainbow. You can also see the river that carved the canyon in the far right of the photo.
And here was the other end, pointing to the other pot of gold!
 And, here's Shyla with the rainbow in the upper left corner.
I adore the light at this canyon, whether it's a clear day like that day with K or a stormy one like the day of our recent visit. Eventually, the sun fully set, and it was time to go to sleep in our trusty LabMobile.
As I was falling asleep, I was smiling, as I remembered my wonderful K. It's fitting that we visited this spot with our Shyla.
I've finally reached the point of peace where I smile when I remember K. I still miss her but I am incredibly grateful for the years that I had with her. And now I have sweet Shyla, who is her own dog but embodies love just like K did.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

On the Homefront...

I see more signs of spring every day, including voles, flowers, and bears! R is the one who is most interested in voles. He sometimes digs so deep for them that his entire head, including his tongue, is covered in dirt when he finally emerges from the hole.
Recently, I went to visit a spot where orchids bloom most summers. I thought it was surely too early for them but I checked anyway. One was fully open and others were barely starting to open!!!!
Soon the entire patch will have these pink jewels blooming!
And then there are the bears. The males are doing their amazing tree marking dances, and I'll share videos of those soon. But, today's big trail camera surprise was a mother and two cubs. I have a trail camera pointed at a bear marking tree that has been very active recently. First, a male passed it twice, and then the mother marked it like crazy while her cubs milled around (and then climbed a tree).

I was surprised to see a mother bear with small cubs on the trail used by huge males. I would think that would be a big risk to the cubs.

I don't recognize the mother. She either just moved into the area or she's a youngster who has her first cubs.

Here's the video that you can watch here or at Youtube.

Finding this bear footage this morning was a nice surprise. I had a horrific day yesterday. I simultaneously had horrendous pain in my leg due to my spine, a migraine, and a high fever. I collapsed into bed and, this morning, I fortunately woke up feeling about 70% better. And then these bear photos gave me another big boost!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Rain in the Desert

At the end of Tuesday's post, I mentioned that we moved to a remote campsite with a big slope of slickrock near it. Storms were on the way but Shyla and I got in a little bit of exploring before they hit.

We rode up a lonely canyon with red rock walls towering over us. Shyla loves running in this canyon. The ground is nice soft sand or dirt most of the way.
The canyon walls seemed artistically shaped, with peeks of the cloudy blue sky over us.
Shyla bowed down in thanks for the beauty.
We made it back to the Labmobile in time for a couple of big thunderstorms. We all relaxed inside while the storms pelted the world with hail and rain.

When we stepped out of the Labmobile after the storms, the world looked very different. The slickrock slope above our campsite had rivers of water flowing down it.
After we climbed a bit, we could see that the normally dry "wash" (like a dry sandy river bottom) was filled with water. I was a little worried at first because we'd have to cross that small river to depart the next day. But, the Runner was right - it was almost dry by then.
Flowers drank up the water where it had pooled on the slickrock.
And other flowers drank up water that flowed down cracks in the slickrock.
As the sun set, it gave the whole world a honey colored glow.
We had a break in the storms for dinner, and then the lightning show began.
At twilight, the sky is normally a bright blue but the clouds and lightning made it look almost purple.

It was definitely not a typical desert day but it was truly amazing to see the landscape transformed by intense rain. I bet that lots of plants are blooming now due to that rain!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Fun Bear Activity

I'm taking a break from the desert stories today to tell you about springtime here in the mountains. The mountains themselves look wintery.
And the storms keep enveloping them. It's going to be mid-summer before we can hike easily up there.
But, down at our elevation, the animals are marching forward with their spring traditions. The bluebirds flit about the meadows and awe me with their brightness. And some shrubs, like the one the bluebird is perched on, are getting green leaves!

The bigger animals are getting moving too. I've seen lots of bear activity with my trail cameras recently.
It's been so much activity that I made a video of it. Here's a synopsis of what you'll see in the video.

First, a female marked a tree, and then she took a mud bath in the rain. During her bath, she rolled onto her back, and her nipples were visibly enlarged. I do believe that this sow has cubs, and we'll get to see the cubs when they get a little bigger. Usually, mother bears leave their tiny cubs high in pine trees while they go about their business. It isn't until the cubs are bigger and more agile that they will start moving around with their mother.

Then, a few days later, a big male did a bunch of marking on the main mating path in our area. I think that the male might be Milton Sr. but I'll have to see more footage before I'm certain. You can watch the video here or at Youtube.

I love springtime, even when it's filled with stormy weather. Seeing the bears go about their daily lives is simply amazing!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - May Desert Edition

A stormy sunset over a huge canyon...

Lovely light when the sun peeked between two layers of clouds...

Storms and sun made a rainbow as the sun went down...

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Time Stops for No One

On this trip, we spent only a couple of days at K's Rock because we wanted to explore some other places too. But, we truly enjoyed the time we had there.

The Runner did some low level climbing on K's Rock. My photo makes him look far off the ground but he was actually only a few feet off the ground. That's why I call it "low level" climbing!
During that quiet afternoon, I went around our campsite closely looking at the blooming flowers. There weren't as many as most years but I'm betting that there will be a late bloom. It rained a lot while we were in Utah.

There were many Primrose blooms...
We also saw many of a pretty flower that's considered to be a weed - a Globe Mallow. We saw these lining the roads throughout the Utah desert.
Near our campsite, I visited a Cottonwood tree with beautiful green leaves...
I walked K past that Cottonwood tree on her last visit to the desert. I knew that she would die soon, and I viewed the entire world through that lens. She and I stopped to look at this tree, and, at that time, I thought to myself that the tree would outlive K. It made me realize all over again that the world would keep spinning on its axis even after K was gone. Since then, I visit the tree on every trip to K's Rock, and I'm so happy to see it flourishing.

It reminds me of my mother's death so long ago - the first major loss in my life. After she had passed, I went to the hospital with my Dad and brother to pick up her personal belongings. Among them was her watch. Without consciously thinking about it, I'd expected that her watch, a constant fixture on her wrist, would have stopped when she died. I anxiously pulled it out of the bag, and I saw its second hand inexorably ticking forward, just like when my mother had been alive. It was a tangible reminder that time stops for no one.

And now, we visit K's Rock with our "new" girl, Shyla. Just like when K was alive, the sunsets are glorious in that spot. Shyla and I enjoyed the sunset on our last evening there.
She was beautiful and the world was beautiful. Little did we know that those clouds hanging on the horizon signaled the end of the calm and sunny weather during our trip. It rarely rains in the desert but it threatened rain every day after that one.
The next day, after leaving K's Rock, we tried to visit a more popular destination, thinking that because it was the "off-season" and the weather forecast was iffy, we'd be able to find peace and quiet. We were completely wrong. Throngs of people seemed to fill the entire landscape.

We made a quick decision to flee the crowds by driving further west, and we barely made it to a much more remote slickrock campsite as night fell. After a long day in the van, I was on the verge of a migraine. I sat quietly in camp as the Runner took the two dogs for a short hike up the slickrock just after sunset.
Our slickrock campsite did turn out to be a very peaceful spot, as we experienced our first desert storms of the trip before driving even further west. More about that in a future post...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Our beautiful country

On this Memorial Day, I find myself thankful for the beauty of our country that so many have fought to preserve. During our time in the desert, the song "America, the beautiful" wafted through my mind many times.
You may notice that we often stop at K's Rock first when we go to the Utah desert. The reason is that we love it there, and it's the closest great campsite that we know of. It makes a peaceful and beautiful place for me to recover from the spine pain that traveling always evokes. This past trip was especially hard because the disc just below my lumbar spinal fusion is getting worse and worse. Sitting in a car seat was agonizing.

Movement is key to controlling the pain so Shyla and I mountain biked to a favorite overlook while we stayed at K's Rock.
One of the best parts is being able to share the mountain bike ride and the view with Shyla. I shared it many times with K, but not over the last couple of years of her life. It had become too hard for her to run up to this viewpoint by then. That fact makes me appreciate this phase of Shyla's life even more.
After we girls mountain biked and the boys ran, all of us hung around camp, reclining in our super comfortable La Fuma chairs. We watched a pair of bluebirds working hard raising a brood that seemed to be stashed in a crevice in K's rock. It was warm, sunny, and so quiet.

Each day, clouds rolled in at sunset so I never got true "sunset golden light" while we were there but Shyla and I had fun with mini-photoshoots anyway. In this photo, she was just about to wave at the camera!
After darkness fell, the clouds sometimes cleared out so that I could photograph the stars. The second night at K's Rock was very special because my time lapse photos showed both the stars spinning around Polaris and moonrise. At the start of the series of photo, K's rock was completely dark because the moon hadn't risen yet. By the end of the series of photos, K's Rock glowed red, bathed by moonlight.

Here's a very short time lapse video of the stars spinning and the moon rising that night. You can watch it at Youtube if you have trouble with the embedded version here.

And here was the final photo after an hour and twenty minutes of photos. The moonlight made it look almost like daytime.
The beauty of our natural world astounds me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Return of the Big Bears

While we had fun in the desert...
The bears were waking up back home. Our big male bears were starting the mating ritual of marking certain special trees to tell receptive females that they were back in town.

For those who have followed this blog in past summers, you might remember "Tiny", one of the biggest males in our neck of the woods.
In fact, he's so big that he almost was too tall for my camera set-up. He was vigorously rubbing his back on a small pine tree. It's a tree that bears have marked every spring and summer for a long time.
These "chosen" trees never grow to full size because the bears break off the top of them every year.

A few days later, another key male bear showed up. I believe this is "Milton Jr.", based on the white blaze on his chest that you'll be able to see when he's on his hind legs. I call him "Jr." because he's a bit smaller than another very similar looking male who usually shows up a little later in the season.
See the white blaze?
He's always been a "creative" tree marker, using his paws a lot to rub branches across his fur, thereby getting his scent on even more of the tree.
I think he spotted the trail camera here. He looked straight at it as he marked.
I felt so happy when I knew that both Tiny and Milton Jr. had survived another year and returned to their stomping grounds.

Then, just yesterday, Tiny marked the same tree again.
He is an incredible specimen, so tall and strong.
He showed us the sole of his hind paw as he walked away from the tree.
Unfortunately, the video cameras that I'd set up before our trip, pointed at bear marking trees, all malfunctioned, primarily due to a vandal who messed with them. They're now back in position and ready to capture the next dances by these bears and the females who will soon join the parade.

Although the mountain weather has been dismal (rainy/snowy and cold for weeks), I still have an extra spring in my step knowing that the bears are starting their yearly ritual that is such fun to monitor with trail cameras!!