The unknown world

We have hiked in many countries over numerous years, through deserts and up mountains, and rarely have we stopped to look at plants around us. Since our trip to Borrego Springs, California in March to see the “super bloom,” a rare event when the desert had an unusually high rate of blooming plants, everything changed for us. We became aware of wildflowers as we hiked, and now, we seemed to see them everywhere. It was a previously unknown world to us.

We spent four days at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Montana with a plan: soak in the springs, hike, and eat great food. Mission accomplished. What we hadn’t expected was the number of wildflowers dotting the hiking trails. We’re never too old to learn about new things. So we took their photos, consulted a great website for help in identifying the plants, and tried to learn about what we’d seen.

The probability of seeing old man’s whiskers (geum triflorum), also called prairie smoke, where we hiked was listed at 100%. We must have passed by this flower many times and never noticed it before.

Fuzzytongue penstamen (penstemon eriantherus) is found in the West in rather poor soils.

We love blue and were thrilled to spot oblongleaf bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia).

We met hikers on a path through an evergreen forest, and they told us they had seen one very little orchid not too far ahead by the side of the trail. As we chatted, one of the hikers pointed to a tiny flower a few feet away. It turned out to be the same orchid, a fairy slipper.

Fairy slipper (calypso bulbosa) is endangered in some western US states, though it can be found in a good number of European and Asian countries as well as the US. “The genus Calypso takes its name from the Greek signifying concealment, as they tend to favor sheltered areas on conifer forest floors.”

Utah honeysuckle (lonicera utahensis) has flowers in pairs. It’s found in the Rocky Mountains as an understory plant in elevations up to 7,900’ (2,408 meters).

Canadian milk-vetch (astragalus Canadensis) was one of the many plants used for medicinal purposes by the local Native Americans. The probability we’d see this plant was 33%, so it was a lucky find.

We photographed many sunflower-type plants, including arrowleaf balsamroot (balsamorhiza sagittata).

Littlepod false flax (camelina microcarpa) is also known as lesser gold-of-pleasure. It’s a plant found over most of the world and considered a weed.

Our search is not over. A whole new world opened to us, and we’ll be on the lookout for more wildflowers on our walks. Of course, the flowers will have to compete for our attention with birds and butterflies, too … We have a lot to learn.

 

May 2017

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Hiking in the Grand Tetons

When we planned our visit to Grand Teton National Park for mid-May, we were thinking like people who grew up in Ohio. Mid-May in Ohio can be very warm – time for shorts and t-shirts. We always considered the official start of summer to be the end of May.   Now, if you’re planning a trip to the Jackson Hole area of Wyoming, you ought to know that there are fewer than 60 days a year that the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing. When does all the snow melt? Never, we guess. If you go high enough into the mountains, snow will be there.

The weather was balmy, but we saw a good bit of snow on our hike to Moose Ponds, south of Jenny Lake.

We hiked through an area with high mountain snow that looked like it had been hit with an avalanche in the winter. Lots of downed trees had slid down the mountain.

The wildflowers, lanceleaf springbeauty (claytonia lanceolata), reminded us of little crocuses heralding the end of snow.

Another day we hiked from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve on the Lake Creek-Woodland Trail loop trail. The ranger had recommended the trail as a good one and not far from where we were staying. She said at this time of year, and with all the snow the park received this winter, it will be awhile before many of the other hiking trails are open, particularly the ones that climb upwards.

The hike started well, but too soon we saw a group of hikers gathered ahead and guessed that meant one thing: a big animal sighting.

As we got closer it was clear why everyone had stopped. A big bear was eating berries a short distance from the hiking path. We didn’t stay long enough to try to get a better photo.

We looped over to another hiking path, some distance away and across a river, and continued on our way.

The path around Phelps Lake to reach Huckleberry Point turned into this metal walkway over a pond adjacent to the lake. This was hiking in style!

Surprisingly, we saw lots of animals in the park and near the cabin where we stayed. We were happy to rarely see wild animals on the hiking trail that might pose a threat to our safety. However, we were amused when we ran across this animal:

The marmot seemed to act like people posed no threat to him, as long as his eyes blocked any view he might have of people.

Hiking in the Grand Tetons was lovely, but, for future trip planning, we’ll make the necessary adjustments to account for seasonal changes — temperature and snow.

 

May 2017

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Creatures of habit

We are creatures of habit – even as we travel. That’s a good thing. As we carefully cultivated good habits and built them into our routine, we decided: why not keep it going? For many years we have taken walks after dinner. These days, if we have walked well over 10,000 steps already in the day, we might pass if there’s a good reason.   Generally we grab our cameras and binoculars and head outside.

For 5 days we stayed at a cabin in Jackson Hole, WY that has been in a friend’s family for close to one hundred years. (Lucky him, lucky us!!) And, like clockwork, every evening we took our walk.

One night we left the cabin and headed down the long unpaved private road. Dusk was upon us, and only the top of the mountain peak was still bathed in sunlight.

In the dim light we saw a mountain bluebird fly over to a bird house on a fence post. By the time we got out our cameras, we captured only the bluebird’s tail feathers as it entered its home for the night.

The next day we started a little earlier in the evening, but the sky to the east was filled with ominous clouds hanging over the Snake River.

Log debris had piled up by the side of the river, and Joe had just commented that it looked like a beaver’s lodge. That was the moment we spied the beaver, just a few feet up the riverbank. We watched the beaver eating some short plants, and then, startled, it took a long look at us, and slid into the water, disappearing from sight.

To our west the sunlight illuminated the Teton Mountains in the distance. To the east, the clouds became even darker and a few minutes later it started to rain.

We walked back to our cabin as fast as we could. Time for one more photo of the cabin before the walk was over.

Well, you can see how easy it was for us to keep up our walk every evening while we were at the cabin. We saw animals (elk, marmot, and coyote), lots of birds (including white pelicans and green-tailed towhees) and wondered about all matter of things we saw on the ranch. Our walks have always been more than just exercise for us.  We take time to talk, observe nature, take photographs. As far as our evening walks go, the strolls in Jackson Hole set a new high standard for excellence.

 

May 2017

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Trapped and rear-ended

The sign in the Antelope Island State Park visitors’ tollbooth indicated no refunds would be given due to bugs. How bad could the bugs be? It didn’t take long to find out.

We went to Antelope Island State Park to watch birds. It’s an island in the Great Salt Lake of Utah, where it’s possible to see hundreds of bird species according to ebird.com. The woman at the tollbooth gave us a bird list. She suggested we look for birds on the 7-mile causeway. Just pull over to the side of the road, she advised.

We made a stop or two, pulling well off the main road and putting our flashing lights on. Then the bugs started to gather in force. We dashed into our car. Now we were trapped.

Everywhere we looked, swarms of midges swirled through the air.

In the safety of the car, we picked up our binoculars and scanned the lake. If we looked past the midges, we saw three wading birds on the nearby shore.  In a flash we felt the impact. We’d been rear-ended as we sat in our bright yellow car with its flashers going!  At the driver’s side of the car appeared a bicycle rider saying over and over, “I’m sorry.” He was bleeding from cuts by his eye, his tooth was chipped, but he was standing up. We checked him to make sure that he should be standing, not sitting. OK.

We went to the rear of the car. There were several scrapes on the car with one large dent centered on the rear hatch “Prius C.” His bicycle had sheared apart on impact.

How did the accident happen? The bicyclist was so bothered by bugs that he had kept his head down as he pedaled on the causeway, never looking up, never noticing our (very bright!) yellow car.

We flagged down a car, which happened to be a park employee who knew just what to do. It was telling that when help arrived, he wore a full net vest and head covering for protection from the bugs.

The bicyclist was driven to an Urgent Care facility, and we decided to leave Antelope Island.

We headed north, and, as we drove into the mountains, we didn’t see any bugs or bicyclists.

Should we have taken that warning about bugs in the park more seriously?

 

 

May 2017

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Rocks and relationships

Every day we travel is a new day full of promise. Who knows how events will unfold? We’re open to getting the most out of each day – and every once in a while, a day is even more magical than we could have hoped.

So it went on our second day at Capitol Reef National Park. We pulled into a parking space at the Grand Wash trailhead, and a truck pulled in right behind us. We all started down the trail at the same time and easily fell in step – and conversation – together.

June led the way through one of the narrowing canyons.

The trail we’d all chosen was a 4.5 mile round trip walk with some of the most interesting rock formations we’d seen.

We saw these flowers, and Beth balanced on a rock to get her photo. June noted the helpful sign nearby that identified the flower as a bronze evening primrose (oenothera howardii).

Joe, Mike and June walked ahead. Had they looked up to appreciate the striated rock above them?

We’d not seen these flowers before – or maybe we just hadn’t seen them in this form.

We came across a couple from San Diego County, who we’d talked to earlier. They pointed up high on the rock wall and there stood a desert bighorn sheep.   We’d not yet seen one this year. Later we read that the native desert bighorn sheep had died out in this area and were reintroduced in 1990 from Canyonlands National Park.

We’d stopped and talked with others on the walk: the two women with their go-pro camera, a couple of bird watchers who pointed out a black-throated grey warbler, and couple from Britain who gave us a recommendation for a great restaurant in Cornwall.

June and Mike invited us to their place in Wyoming to do another hike, and so, in a week, we will. When we said our goodbyes, we ended with “See you next week.”

On the drive back to our lodging, we stopped to photograph more rocks.

Capitol Reef’s rock formations are truly stunning.

It was a day of rocks and relationships we won’t soon forget.

 

 

May 2017

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A plunge of 37 degrees

We rolled up the sleeping bags and packed up the tent. It was sunny and hot in Moab, Utah – perfect weather for the month of May. After camping 14 nights, we looked forward to staying in a motel in Torrey – just outside Capitol Reef National Park. We yearned for a room of our own, a shower, and wifi.

We awoke to very cold weather the next morning. 34 degrees F (1 degree C). The news reported a cold front had pushed through and would continue to keep the temperatures down for two days.

We looked out the window from our little room at The Chuckwagon Inn. Snow!

Snow and a driving cold wind continued on-and-off until early afternoon.

By the time we finished our late lunch, the snow had stopped and the wind had died down. We knew it was useless to drive into the National Park to attempt a hike, so we decided to walk around little Torrey (population 182), staying close enough to escape back to The Chuckwagon Inn if the weather got worse.

A short walk down the road we saw the Torrey Log School and Church, constructed in 1898.

Canals flowed through the town, connected to the Freemont River 11 miles away. The canals are now over 100 years old. We watched barn swallows circling the water and occasionally dipping down for a drink.

The town was very small, but properties were large. We saw more old wooden buildings here than any other place we could remember in the US.

Almost all of the wooden buildings were no longer occupied.

Some slowly decayed in place.

Still, the town looked well-kept – almost charming. How many travelers have the time – or take the time – to walk the back roads of Torrey? If not for the sudden drop in temperature and the driving snow, we most certainly would have been in Capitol Reef National Park hiking the trails. Sometimes, bad weather opens up opportunities. Seeing Torrey, Utah was one of them.

 

 

May 2017

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A pilgrimage to the golden arches

Friends are always asking where we’re traveling next. Several contemplate joining us somewhere on the road. A few actually plunge in and show up, ready to travel along with us.

Californians, Carolyn and Robert, joined us a few weeks ago at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and continued on to Canyonlands National Park with us. DeAnne and John drove west from Colorado to join us in Moab, Utah. We had grown from two of us to six to visit Arches National Park.

Certainly the lure of National Parks and the golden arches of Utah added to the appeal of a camping trip with friends.   Photo: Double Arch.

Carolyn and Robert walked through a narrow canyon to reach…

…one of the smallest arches we saw but one that had a powerful, spiritual feel in the enclosed space: Sand Dune Arch.

Another day, another hike, and on this outing we headed off to see just how many arches we could see. Everywhere we looked rock formations loomed, the snowy Lo Sal peaks glistened, and lizards scurried across the path.

Wildflowers frequently lined the path, and we tried to limit our photo stops to new-to-us plants. (Otherwise, how would we have gotten anywhere?)

Some arches loomed as massive, almost permanent, structures that required us to stand at some distance to appreciate them.

Other arches provided the perfect setting for portrait photography. John and DeAnne obliged.

The beauty of the park and the accessibility of so many arches within walking range defined a great travel destination. The time we all spent together was a true gift. We think we speak for our group of six when we tell you the trip was a great success.

At day’s end we headed back to Up the Creek Campground, our home while in Moab.

Travelers might want to gather a few friends and make their own pilgrimage to the golden arches. It worked for six of us.

 

May 2017

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