Musings of a roaming nature nerd

Archive for January, 2013

The Grand Canyon: Week Three

Day 16: As I began to amble down the Bright Angel Trail, waiting for my husband to emerge, one of the mule teams trundled past. For over a hundred years these beasts of burden have trekked into and out of the canyon, hauling people, tools, rocks, provisions, even a few of Jason’s beers when he has forgotten them behind! Mules are the sterile offspring of male donkeys and female horses. No generational legacy carries on when all is said and done, but these strong gentle animals keep pushing ever forward through days end.


Day 17: Rather than skirting the edges, finally it was into the canyon for real! Jason and Vicki and I clambered down together. We passed many people coming up who grimaced and grumbled, but you could see that they also felt such joy in their accomplishment. As they huffed and puffed their way out of one of the most glorious places on earth, the undeniable thrill they carried for their journey shone through and warmed my chilly bones!


Day 18: What are the words to describe the day exactly? Perhaps sensory images will do? The sound of the Colorado roaring thousands of feet beneath Plateau Point; the ache in my shoulders from sweeping the telemetry antennae; the black specks of Condors across the canyon beeping in my ears; the warmth of endless sun against my cheeks and the grit of mineral sunblock to shield against said warming rays; the bubbling laugh of my friend; the patience and guidance of my love; the flurry of sunlit feathers as a rock wren pulled disappearing acts amongst the rocks; the moon rising and fading in the blue sky; the aerobatics of the ravens, barrel rolling past us; the cold shale seeping through my wool socks and taunting me to put my boots back on; the light as it defined and washed out and cut into and then hid the canyons features.


Day 19: There are 77 California Condors in the Grand Canyon region. Three weeks ago there were 80. Lead poisoning from tainted carcasses has dropped 3 in this short time. Not only are condors susceptible to the spray of lead ammunition left behind by hunters who refuse to switch to copper ammo, but they are still being somewhat affected by residual DDT and their prehistoric food sources of rotting megafauna are now at least hundreds of years gone. The small population left in the world is heavily managed and monitored as critically endangered. These photos are of two females known as 280 (80) and 634 (L4). 280 is the adult and 634 is her 1 1/2 year old offspring. 634 is too old to be fed by her parents, but she still hangs around them, hopeful for a meal. They ignore her and try to drive her away, but she’s learning slowly. As I headed out of the canyon, I kept thinking of their magnificence (that 9 1/2 foot wing span at close range is breathtaking) and their vulnerability.



Day 20: Can’t get enough of the views this week. I stopped for a photo just after sunrise near one of the old lodges. Every day I so am happy to be here!


Day 21: The humidity rose with the temperature and layered the rim in misty fog. Nothing past the edge was visible. Certainly a good day to enjoy the weather from a cozy, warm indoor setting.


Day 22: Warmth and humid air persisted. I took a walk at mid-day and approached the socked in rim. As I stood quietly looking into the stark white emptiness the clouds began to move. The breeze pulled them back, tossed them about, laid them back down and the ghost of the canyon was gone again. Just one minute of one day.


The Grand Canyon: Week Two

Day 9: Amidst the rocks and plants and birds and sunset of the day, I felt thoroughly and happily saturated in the brilliant colors of Arizona.


Day 10: Took a short hike near Hermit’s Rest, a trail at the far west end of the developed south rim area. Ice and snow squeaked underneath our boots. We hesitated on vertiginous cliff edges, watching the ravens plummet suddenly into spirals and then shoot skyward again as if this massive canyon were merely a place to play.


Day 11: My outdoor time during the work week often becomes limited to the early morning and early evening. I loved the glowing light on the Junipers and Pinyons and Ponderosas when I returned home just before sunset. Ever a reward to be in this place, even if only a few moments are spent outside some days.


Day 12: Awoke to -5 degrees Fahrenheit. The low had been -15 just before sunrise. The air was stark and still and clear and the canyon was beautiful in the morning light. I only had my poor quality cell phone camera to capture this image but wanted to share it anyway.


Day 13: First day away from the canyon. After a really fun day teaching 4th graders about pioneer history in Prescott classrooms, my boss and I took a long walk in the nearby National Forest. It is such a blessing to be in a place with so much public land and so much wildness.


Day 14: Up before sunrise and home after sunset meant little opportunity for exploring. Despite the occasional long day, volunteering is such a rich experience that I wish all citizens could take part in it at some point in their lives. Giving back to the land, to the country and even to ourselves builds lifelong connections to place and community. When we are willing to invest our time and our passion, we can slowly discover the intrinsic value in these places, while building stronger and deeper relationships with each other and the land.


Day 15: Spent the day in the Distance Learning Studio, standing in front of a green screen, teaching children in southern Alabama about the ecology and ancient ecosystems of northern Arizona. Even if many of these kids never make it out west, I hope that their virtual journey inspires them to examine their world a little differently. There is beauty and intrigue in even the smallest things when we look.


The Grand Canyon: Week One

Eight weeks in one National Park is more than many of us will spend in any National Park in a lifetime. I have already had the privilege of living and working in three National Park sites. And growing up on the border of the Gettysburg National Military Park adds a fourth!

One week ago, Jason and I arrived at the Grand Canyon and will be spending our days amongst the glory of ancient rocks, wildlife and tremendous sunsets. We are volunteers and are provided with housing during our appointment. We of course are not paid for our work, but the payment of living in one of the wonders of the world is enough!

I have had such a hard time focusing on this blog in recent months. However, I wanted to capture our time here in this amazing place. These are photos from our first week here at the canyon. I will be documenting and sharing our eight weeks in an attempt to get back into the swing of writing, photography, and appreciating nature with both a scientific and artistic eye.


Day 1: Arriving at our new home moments after sunset, the scene before us literally brought tears to my eyes. What a privilege to be in the service of protecting and sharing our nation’s greatest treasures.



Day 2: The light danced through the towering Ponderosa Pines as we walked near the canyon rim looking for Pygmy Nuthatches and elk. I can’t resist these unique pine trees and pressed my nose into their bark. The smell of vanilla filled my senses and I smiled.



Day 3: We awoke at dawn for a big day out hiking and exploring. Although the views and the colors and the light in the canyon were all spectacular, nothing quite topped waking up next to my sweetheart and seeing that shining sunrise from our cozy apartment.



Day 4: First day on the job, much of it spent indoors shuffling between offices, filing paperwork and seeking signatures. By sundown I was ready to stretch my legs. I walked past grazing elk and deer, and underneath ravens settling in to roost for the night. As I approached the rim no sound disturbed the air and no people were in sight. Rejuvenation at last.



Day 5: My new boss sent me on a scavenger hunt around the south rim of the park. During a stop near the visitor center I looked down toward Plateau Point with my binoculars and saw a sight that warmed my heart. Hiking along the trail were two tiny figures. One in blue and one in red. Blue was one of the wildlife biologists and red was my husband, heading out to a well known roost for California Condors. Though not quite visible in this photo, they are in fact standing together at the farthest end of the trail on the point of rocks below!



Day 6: I returned home well after sunset, and found the image of my apartment quite comforting. The stars were bright and the night air very cold. Warm mint tea and an evening of quiet reflection indoors were a lovely end to a busy day.



Day 7: The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and at its widest point about 17 miles across. There are endless places to getaway and never see another soul for days or weeks. Yet here on the south rim the human story mixes readily with the natural story. Almost 1000 people live and work in this developed area of the park. While most of the buildings are only about one hundred or so years old, people have called this area home for 12000 years. While I enjoy getting away from it all, there is also something special about living in a place with such a rich human history. I look forward to learning more about the stories here.



Day 8: The end of the first week since we arrived and a few inches of fresh snow covered the rim. I took photographs of the park to include in letters I am writing to school children who have written in with questions. Photos will never quite do a landscape like this justice, but I hope a few of those children and their parents will be inspired to travel here someday. As I watched an Indian family arriving at the rim for the first time, literally crying out in excitement, hugging each other, taking an impossible number of pictures, I was reminded of the incalculable value of protecting and preserving these places for all time and for all people.