December 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Memories

We hope everyone had a grand Thanksgiving feast.
We went to Atlanta for a family gathering.  As the years go by and our kids' families grow, getting everyone in the same place for a few days becomes a rare and special event.
Seeing the little cousins interact is so cute.  These 2 kiddos are within a year in age, and they had a great time.
Whether working on I-pad puzzles or listening to Aunt Tess/Mom read about the Grinch, they were bonding in a special way.
The 4 year old leans on her older cousin, learning the joys of video games.  As it turned out, her smile was a bit fake. Those dragons on the screen were scary!
Is Uncle Eric teaching his niece about plasma physics?  Could be!  Looks like she's paying attention.
An excellent time was had by all, thanks to our Atlanta son and his wife for hosting the fun!

November 14, 2013

Lure of the Blue-Eyed Princess

We first discovered the blue-eyed princess (also called blue-eyed Jesus and Moqui princess) rock art panel earlier this year. 
Since we were in the neighborhood, we thought we'd make another visit.  On the way, we rode over desert plains with the Lasal Mountains in the background. 
The view is vast and wild in all directions.
This Navajo sandstone formation is called the Head of the Spur, which marks our turn into the canyon.  Note the 4 columns on top. 
The horses enjoyed a good drink in this pool. 
Boss's hooves were immersed in 6 inches of sucking mud, but he didn't seem to mind.
Mischief seems to be nuzzling me lovingly, but actually he's checking my pockets for treats!
He would stand on his head for a morsel of PBJ sandwich. 
After 10 miles of easy riding, we reached the Princess, in all of her radiant beauty.  The blue of her eyes doesn't show well in pictures, but they're definitely blue.  As far as we know, this feature is unique among Native American pictographs.

November 13, 2013

Critter Viewing

This solo bird, unafraid, was hopping around in a pool in which the horses were drinking.  He looked like a crow, but the whitish wings are confusing. Maybe it's reflected light?  Not sure.
He seemed  to be capturing bugs from the water,
sometimes rooting them out from soft dirt along the edge. 
While riding in the upper end of Horshoe Canyon, Boss pricked his ears at movement above us on steep terrain, just below the Navajo cliffs.  He's usually the first one to spot wildlife.  We followed his lead and scanned the area for motion.  Can you spot anything mid-photo?
We soon saw these wild burros, who stopped to take a good look at us, the interlopers passing by. 
While driving along the road from the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead, we saw a group of wild horses.  Note the many bite-shaped scars on this old warrior's body. 
They galloped off across the desert.
Regarding the human critters who come this way, the information kiosk along the road has posted the above sign.  Apparently, the 127 Hours movie/book has attracted a plethora of climbers to Blue John Canyon.  Sounds like no one's too interested in rescuing the unprepared, and you can expect to pay Wayne County big bucks if they have to go in to find you.  Beware!

November 12, 2013

Horseshoe Canyon

A trip to the canyon country on the West side of the Green River is not complete without a ride into the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park.  Above, Steve and Boss pause at an overlook into the canyon. 
The trail was originally built in 1929 by local cowboys with sticks of  dynamite and a paycheck from Phillips Petroleum.  The oil company wanted the "road" so they could bring in supplies to drill a well on the other side of the canyon.  The well was a dry hole, but the "road", or what's left of it, remains.  You can see Steve leading Boss down a steep stretch of sandstone in the middle of the above photo. 
In 2 places, we found dinosaur tracks that had been helpfully marked by the rangers with rock circles.  There are 3 toes, but the third is below the 2 deep ones, and not weathered out enough to be visible in a photo.
Once in the canyon, we follow the sandy stream bed, surrounded by Navajo sandstone cliffs (mid-Jurassic, 150 to 200 million years old, according to the Canyonlands National Park website.)
We are a little late for the autumn colors, but some cottonwood trees are still wearing gold leaves.  
Tourists go to the canyon to see the Great Gallery, known for its Barrier style rock art (named after Barrier Creek, which is represented this time of year by a few pools in Horseshoe Canyon).  Native Americans lived and created their art masterpieces here about 3000 years ago.   The Great Gallery figures loom above the canyon floor.  Some of the human figures are larger than life.  
This panel is the best known, but many other pictographs can be found in the canyon:
  The above figure looks a bit like a martian to me.
Humans have a need to put their mark everywhere, even where it may not belong.  One of the names above is Joe Biddlecome, dated 1911.  Joe was one of the first ranchers in the area.  Probably he had no clue that he was scratching over irreplaceable 3000 year old art.  
The majesty of steep canyon walls surround us.   Do you see any familiar feature in this rock tower?
The topmost portion reminds me of a cat's head, complete with mouth, nose and ears.  Steve thinks it's a desert turtle, long neck extended as it surveys the scenery.  What do you think?
Next time, I'll show you a few live critters we saw along the way.

November 11, 2013

Robber's Roost Country

On one last trip to Southern Utah before the snow falls, we spent 3 days in canyon country.  The first day, we rode near Robber's Roost, beginning at the turnoff to the Ekker Ranch at Crow Seep. 
Joe Biddlecome built the first cabin at Crow Seep in 1909, when he moved there with his family.  The photo above shows the location, but the main building is obviously newer.  The ranch is still owned by Joe's descendents, the Ekkers. 
Joe lived on 40 acres that featured one of the rare sources of water.  He also had grazing access hundreds of acres of surrounding federal lands.  Before the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and subsequent creation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), there was very little regulation, which resulted in a lot of overgrazing.  Over the years several other ranching families moved into the area and also ran horses, sheep, and cattle.  The Robbers Roost outlaws, who had used the canyons as a hideout in the late 1800's and early 1900's, got old and tired of hiding out.  If they'd managed to avoid prison and/or acute lead poisoning, they retired to more socially acceptable professions or moved elsewhere. With more roads making the land accessible to lawmen, young folk tended to find work that was better for their long term health than the old, previously admired, bank-robbing and horse-thieving trades. 
Joe's daughter, Peal Biddlecome Baker, took over the ranch after Joe's death from a tonsillectomy. (Tonsillar abscesses had plagued him for years.  He thought one more episode could kill him, so he finally tried surgery -- maybe not such a good decision, as it turned out.)  Pearl wrote a book about her years on the ranch, Robbers Roost Recollections.
Later, Pearl sold out to her sister Hazel and Hazel's husband, Arthur Ekker.
We rode toward Angel Point (the start of an old horsethief trail across the Dirty Devil) along an old road, and later a ghost road, enjoying the old west scenery. 
This lonely tree somehow manages to thrive on the vast desert plain. 
We didn't reach Angel Point, but we figured out a good route for next time. 
As sunset approached, the canyons turned golden.
And as the sun drifted below the mesa tops, the land took on a rose glow.  The light transforms the land into a magical place, irresistibly beautiful.  Of course, the downside is the quick drop in temperature, from near sixty to somewhere around 20 degrees F for a low.  Brisk!  Camping involves lots of down comforters. 
The night sky in that desert land is as star-bright as in ancient times, with no cities close enough to taint the darkness with artificial light.  Venus was high and bright in the hours after sunset.  The Pleides and Orion were clearly outlined after midnight.  The Milky Way dusted an arc across the sky, and shooting stars shone in a brief trail of glory. 
No photos, so you'll just have to use your imagination. 

October 29, 2013

Desert Life

In between competitive events at the Moab Canyons Endurance Ride, we spent one day at a slower pace, adventuring.  Above, Steve and Coco traverse the blackbrush desert.
We traveled past Navaho sandstone formations adorned with the bright yellow autumn leaves of single leaf ash.
Where the Green River carved a path 1000 feet below us, Coco and I looked down in awe.  "Huh?" Coco was thinking. "I've jumped a few gullies, but do they really think I can jump this?  Give me a break!" 
Across the deep canyon, the peninsula of land is a point of the Spur, where we have ridden in previous years.  The silted area on the inside of the oxbow is called Cottonwood Bottoms.  You can see that some of the cottonwood trees, far, far below, have begun their autumn change.  To the left of the oxboy, you can see Horsethief Trail, once used by outlaws, but now mostly a Jeep trail.
We encountered several unexpected pools of water, all very close to the overlook.  These are called tanks, or potholes, or ephemeral pools.  I like the latter name.  It sounds more impressive.  The horses didn't care what they were called, but they did enjoy a good long drink in each one. 
This one had tall grass.  Boss almost slipped off the sandstone into the pool as he stretched his neck to bite off every possible stem.  He even stuck his nose underwater to get at more grass.  It must've been pretty sweet stuff.
Another pool was especially deep, with vegetation around it.   
The amazing thing about these pools was that they teemed with life. 
In the above video, taken at the first pool, you can see fairy shrimp swimming around, and clam shrimp scuttling.  These creatures lay eggs that are dormant when the pools dry up, then hatch when rain fills the pools.  They have to  mature and reproduce quickly, before the pools dry up again, or freeze during the winter months.
Fairy shrimp have a long fossil record, evolving over the last 500 million years.  They are left over from the time when inland seas covered the Great Basin. 
Fairy shrimp Anostraca with green eggs in egg sac

Clam Shrimp Conchostraca

This video, taken in the pool with the tall grass that Boss liked so much, shows a long tail tadpole shrimp Triops longicaudatus scurrying through the water. 

"The longtail tadpole shrimp is considered a living fossil because its basic prehistoric morphology has changed little in the last 70 million years, exactly matching their ancient fossils. Triops longicaudatus is one of the oldest animal species still in existence."  - Wikipedia

With all of our desert riding, we had never seen any of these shrimp species before.  There's always something new to be found if you look closely enough.
On the way back to camp, we stopped to let the boys munch some Indian rice grass.  Coco seemed to want a little bit of loving.


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