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.

October 28, 2013

Moab Endurance, Year 2

We returned to the 3 day Moab Canyons Endurance Ride for the second year in a row. 
Above is an action shot from last year, (photo by Vicki Gaebe at VRG Enterprises), since I didn't have time to take photos on this year's ride.  Last year, I rode Coco and Steve rode Boss. 
This year, I rode Boss on Day 1. Since he's a quarter horse, he shouldn't be as good at endurance as Coco, who's an Anglo Arab.  We hoped to even up the score by having Boss carry less weight.
Boss is a handful for me.  He's always wanting to get ahead.  We rode behind my blog friend Merri at first.  She and her fellow rider Steph have many years of experience, so following their lead seemed wise.  However, Boss was very unhappy with being behind.  Eventually, I let him pass, hoping he would calm down.  Not so. He immediately pricked his ears at a horse a half mile ahead and was determined to catch up with that horse.  He's a competitor, for sure.  And nobody told him quarter horses aren't supposed to be good at endurance! 
He did just fine.  Although we didn't go particularly fast, we completed our 30 miles and had a fun time.
Above is a photo of a ride start, with all the excitement amid flying hoofs and swirls of dust.
We skipped the competition on Day 2 and had our own fun ride instead.  More about that adventure later.
On Day 3, Steve rode Boss, while Coco and I stayed at ride camp. 
Coco was sad to be left behind.  He seemed to be favoring one foot, though, so letting him rest seemed best.  Daisy was with us, and she had the finest time of all.  There must've been 50 dogs in camp, and she played with all of them! 
Here's Steve coming in to the finish line with Boss.  They were in second place! They walked down the final hill so Boss could catch his breath before his pulse was checked at the race's end.  A horse has to drop his pulse to 60 within 30 minutes of crossing the finish line, or he will be disqualified.  Boss dropped to 60 in about 7 minutes, easily meeting criteria. 
Overall, we learned a lot from more experienced riders, had lots of fun, and exhausted ourselves thoroughly.  All good.  Getting home to showers and a real bed after 3 days of sleeping in the trailer was pretty great, too!

October 3, 2013

Cooke City

On our recent trip to Yellowstone, we stayed in Cooke City, Montana, just outside the park.  Census records include the 10 square miles from Cooke City-Silvergate to the Yellowstone Park entrance.  The population density is 140, or 14 people per square mile!  Of course, that's year round population, not counting tourists. 
Originally, the community was called Shoo Fly, after the most properous mine in the area, and was later named Cooke City after a big mining investor.  Unfortunately, the mining bigwigs took all the profit and left the area polluted .... pretty much like what's happened all over the west in the last 100+ years.  An effort is underway to clean up the upper reaches of Soda Butte Creek, located just outside of the town.  That's a start, but a lot more work will be needed to restore the area to its pristine pre-mining condition. 
This is the office of the lodge we stayed in. 
Part of the main building is 100 years old.  A huge cable inside holds up one weight bearing wall.  That made me a little nervous, but an employee said it's been that way for years.
Our actual accommodation was this cabin.  It's 50's vintage all the way.
Someone appeared to be living in a caboose. 
Here's another old lodge, this one no longer in business.  In fact, the building itself appears to be on the verge of falling down. 
The Cooke City General Store, the oldest structure in town, is still in operation. 
Cooke City hosts Yellowstone auto tourists all summer, and provides food and lodging for snowmobilers that come from the east via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway in winter.  The only winter auto access is through Yellowstone National Park from Gardiner, Montana. Judging by the several "for sale" signs on local establishments, it's not an easy life.   The winters are long, and crowds are slim in the fall/spring off-seasons.
I wonder about the distance accuracy, but the point might be that Cooke City is a long way from anywhere.  Notice the blue phone sign above the arrows.  Yes, they still have a pay phone in town.  Wi-fi is available, but for some reason it's a cell phone dead zone. 


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