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The Grand Canyon: Week Seven and Week Eight (Yuma)

Busy-ness and travel have consumed my time recently. Even though I have made an effort at capturing photos each day, I haven’t found the time to update the blog. I’m headed into the canyon again in a few short hours for one last trek, so I though I better take a few minutes to share the past two weeks. My camera jammed up a few days ago (too much sand whipping through the air and into the lens) so week eight, spent teaching in Yuma, is not well represented. In any case, I’ll keep doing my best! Only about one week left here at the Grand Canyon. This place we have called home for only a short time feels more like a true home, through the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the community, than most of the places we have lived for much longer.
Week Seven
Day 44: We took Gaby out for an official welcome breakfast at El Tovar and then spent our morning discussing the plight of the Condors and looking for them in a few favorite roost sites down inside the canyon. Jason snapped this shot while Gaby and I watched three birds far, far below… One even taking a bath in a puddle atop the butte!

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Day 45: I love looking for interesting ways the light will play with both the natural environment and the man-made one. Something about the shadows near sunset today really struck me as beautiful.

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Day 46: Red Butte, about 15 miles south of the park boundary, affords an short but amazing hike with views of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff and back toward the canyon’s rim. This special geologic area is one of the only nearby landforms to show off younger rocks that would have once also been atop the canyon, but have since eroded away. The youngest rocks at the Grand Canyon are 270 million years old, but Red Butte rises up with remnants and outcroppings of younger layers, providing clues to younger landscapes that once graced this region. We did not see any new fossils along the snowy, muddy trail, but did come across some chunks of petrified wood, left behind from a forest long ago.

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Day 47: Walking home from work though the Ponderosa Pines, I just had to stop and marvel several times at the intricacy of their bark. Though providing tiny hidey-holes for insects to spend their lives in, woodpeckers still hammer through and scoop them up from those homes. However those holes left behind by woodpeckers, in turn create homes for new critters like the spider living deep inside this one.

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Day 48: Another storm today turned the forest into a swirling, sparkling, wondrous scene of winter!

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Day 49: Before heading to Flagstaff with Kaylyn for an evening outreach event at a middle school, I enjoyed exploring the forest in the fresh snowfall.

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Day 50: Visiting Ranger Maci out at Desert View ended a great week. I learned why the prickly pear cacti are so purple right now (lack of water- makes sense of course!) and I learned how awesome it is to reconnect with old friends. The nomadic lifestyle may not always allow for traditional friendships, but it does allow for many joyous reunions and the slow, meaningful, deepening of connections over the years.

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Week Eight
Days 51-56: Without a properly functioning camera, this week has been somewhat left behind. I traveled to California with a load of our stuff in preparation for the upcoming departure and then headed down to Yuma for my last Ranger-Visits-to-Classrooms. I visited some old bird survey sites from two years ago and discovered that the process of restoration is well underway. My former site that had been covered in tamarisk and smelled of rotten sauerkraut is now gone. All the invasive vegetation ripped out in preparation for new, healthy plantings of cottonwood, mesquite and other native species which will hopefully start to turn the ravaged Colorado River ecosystem around. Now it’s down into the canyon… Just a week or so left…

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The Grand Canyon: Week Six (Phoenix)

Day 38-43: For the first time I have not been diligent with my photos. Fortunately, a wonderful new friend and coworker Gaby, joined me in Phoenix this week and captured some of the fun in the classrooms with her camera! Somehow this week flew by and it was difficult to capture it in images. At least a piece of the story can be shared here.

An image from a stormy blustery afternoon, birding at Tres Rios Wetlands…

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Excited, eager-to-learn, kiddos!

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Geology rocks!!!

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A hike and birding adventure at the Gila River with my friend Bob from the Tetons. What a great reunion and fun way to unwind after long days of teaching.

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Soaring like eagles around the classroom with a group of kindergartens!

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This student’s “wingspan” reached just over 4 feet; about the same as a raven, but less than half of a condor’s wingspan!

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Back at the canyon, Jason emerged after 12 straight days of monitoring the condors. His 6ft 3in “wingspan” wrapped me in a hug for which I am ever grateful. Good to be home!

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The Grand Canyon: Week Five

Day 30: Although snow persists, the air feels and smells like spring. Another storm is predicted for the end of the week, but today the warm rays of sun which dance through the junipers make winter feel long forgotten.

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Day 31: Ravens are considered one of the worlds most intelligent creatures (in the same category as primates and dolphins). I watched and listened to this one communicate with another nearby. Ravens are thought to have a vocabulary of upwards of 140 “words.” This one shared its knowledge, chattering for several minutes through numerous sounds before soaring off to meet its cohort. Oh, to decipher their native tongue!

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Day 32: Occasionally in the Environmental Ed office we receive Flat Rangers, ever so carefully tucked into envelopes by school children in the hopes of sending their little friends off on great adventures. This was one of the most adorable Flat Rangers I’ve seen. I hope the little third grader in Georgia who gets her flat friend back, will smile as much as I did at the image of her ranger at the canyons edge.

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Day 33: Oblivious at times to the obvious, I discovered that my office is next to an historic graveyard (in my defense, it has been covered in snow for weeks!). The early settlers and pioneers of the area have found their eternal rest amongst the pines atop the rim. The quotes and stories and names etched into the stones shared so much of what this place has meant to people over the years. I found this one truly captivating.

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Day 34: Into the canyon once again to meet my love! In the twilight, we heard a Western Screech Owl and Northern Pygmy Owl calling quietly to whoever would hear.

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Day 35: Hiking out the Tonto West trail took me to radioactive Horn Creek. Contaminated years ago from a uranium mine (before the Park was a Park) the water flows clear and beautiful but also “hot!” Nonetheless, the area is gorgeous and there is a great campsite near the creek. I also discovered my new favorite backcountry privy EVER! A loo with a view!
Later in the day I joined Jason again and enjoyed some great views of a variety of wildlife. I just can’t possibly chose only one photo for this day so below are my favorites.

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Day 36: Intense winds pushed in with a snow storm that would eventually hit overnight. In the meantime the sun still shone and between 40mph gusts I watched rafters having the time of their lives 1000 ft below.

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Day 37: An extra day for this entry so as to round out the canyon trip. In the wake of the storm, the clouds created textures and colors in the canyon that made it appear as though it were the only way this place should be seen. I met up with an awesome hiking partner, Neale, on the trail and later with my fun and energetic coworker Kaylyn, as well. Sharing the hike out with thoughtful and enthusiastic companions made the experience feel so completely alive and thrilling, even in the face of a seemingly endless 3000 ft trudge. I don’t think there has been a bad day here yet.

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The Grand Canyon: Week Four (Tucson)

Day 23: Jason and I took a muddy, dripping walk just to get out of the house, as rain poured all day and night. I enjoyed the reminder of the great eastern downpours of spring, however rain here at this time of year is very unusual. Other than deep puddles there was not much to be seen on this gray day.

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Day 24: An awesome breakfast at El Tovar while looking out at the cloud enshrouded canyon helped calm my nerves about the week ahead. Later in the day I hit the road for my Ranger-Visits-to-Classrooms all across Tucson.

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Day 25: I visited 5 schools and taught 19 programs this week. The week began with 5 back-to-back Geology programs for third graders. Exhausting, but so rewarding to engage little kids in discovering the world around them.
Fun facts about geology:
The youngest rocks at the Grand Canyon are older than the dinosaurs!
Plate tectonics are fun to learn about by using Oreo cookies as the earth’s crust and mantle!
Fossils of Trilobites can be found in the Bright Angel Shale of the canyon. Trilobites were the first known animal on our planet to have eyes!
At the end of a busy day, I enjoyed a long walk just before sunset and shot this image from a wash in Oro Valley. A great way to decompress, reflect on the day, and mentally prepare for the next lessons.

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Day 26: Six lessons, also adding Archaeology into the mix. Some of the kiddos had even gone on a dig with their teacher and were dirt lovers in the making! While examining prehistoric and historic artifacts, we fine-tuned our observation and inference skills to help understand the human stories at the Grand Canyon. The librarian snapped this picture during a geology dance I was teaching the kids about sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks. Who knew that dirt and rocks could be so fun?!

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Day 27: An hour and forty-five minute commute took me to Sierra Vista for the days programs. My voice was beginning to get hoarse and I was grateful to only teach three classes. After a shorter day I took advantage of the amazing weather and went birding on the nearby San Pedro River and grasslands.

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Day 28: I love teaching about ecology because it is a subject I actually know something about! The kids got to examine animal skulls like this coyote skull below, dress up like the endangered condors, and play a guessing game about the canyons rich variety of habitats and wildlife.
Fun facts about ecology:
It takes 9 fifth graders standing shoulder to shoulder to fit inside the 9 1/2ft wingspan of a condor!
When asked to name an omnivore, most Tucson students will name a javelina! That is awesome!
The Grand Canyon encompasses 5 ecosystems, from Boreal Forest down to Desert Scrub. Hiking from rim to river is like hiking from Canada to Mexico!

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Day 29: A twelve hour day, including three classes and a six hour drive north. An incredible week away, but also such a relief to see those big volcanic San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, telling me I was almost home.

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