Two weeks ago Kristina and I went for a hike to celebrate Earth Day. Since we hadn’t had gone out on Easter Sunday the previous week – due to cold, stormy weather – we brought along our Easter baskets and boiled eggs and had a picnic.
We hiked to one of our favorite places. It’s nameless on the map, but we since we always seem to see coyote tracks there and once saw a coyote nearby we named it Coyote Canyon. We enjoy getting photos of coyotes and other animals with the trail camera that we have positioned there.
As we hiked I realized that while some things along the way were very familiar to me there were other things that I’d either forgotten about or never noticed before. I had thoughts like “I don’t remember noticing that little ledge before”. It’s fun to go back to the same area on a regular basis for the comfort of the familiar and the excitement of things that are new or hadn’t been noticed before.
Visiting natural areas and getting to know them can inspire us to want to protect them. And wanting to protect individual areas can help us to want to protect this great Earth that we live on.
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day here are fifty photos, with notes, from our hike (if you click on the first photo you can look at each of them one at a time as a slideshow and read the notes).
Every trip is a new adventure
The little chipped rocks are evidence that other people were here a long time ago – making stone tools. These “chippings” are officially called “lithic scatter”. “Lithic” means “rock” (the outer surface of the earth is the lithosphere). The little pieces of rock could also be called “leaverites – leaver her right were you found her”. It’s illegal and unethical to take artifacts from public land, so what I do is add them to my archaeological photo collection and leave them where I find them.
There are so many pretty rocks to look at
There’s life on this rock. The orange stuff is lichen, which is a combination of fungus and algae. A student at Cedar Ridge Academy told me a good way to remember this: Fred Fungus took a “lichen” to Alice Algae and the relationship has been on the rocks ever since. The fungus holds things in place and the algae provides energy by photosynthesizing
Kristina photographing some Indian paintbrush
One of Kristina’s Indian paintbrush photos
It always amazes me that cottonwood trees can get enough water to survive here
We kept seeing little caterpillar droppings, and then we found this little guy (or gal). Not sure what species it is.
Whenever I see a hole like this I wonder who’s home it might be. Maybe a rabbit? Sometimes one species digs a hole and then this or that other species ends out living there.
This photo shows evidence of different stages of a food chain. There are leaves from plants, and rabbit feces containing undigestible plant material. The larger stuff appears to be bobcat feces, which contain undigested fur from rabbits and/or other animals
The desert contains such striking landscapes
The little overhang at the top of this cliff provides a fortress for the nest of some kind of raptor (hawk, eagle, falcon, or owl)
A close-up of the raptor nest. The white stuff on the rock, called “whitewash”, is from the feces of the raptor
The plant in the foreground is wild onion. When it’s plentiful I like to pick a little piece of leaf to nibble on. You have to be careful, though, because there’s another plant that looks similar – death camas
We decided this would be a good place to have our lunch
Kristina removing a sliver (splinter), which she probably got while taking close-up photos of plants
We didn’t dye our eggs; they were already pretty colorful
When I cut this egg open I commented that it looked like the sun, which led to a conversation about how everything we eat gets its energy from the sun – directly in the case of plants and indirectly in the case of animals
One of Kristina’s delicious homemade lavender cookies
The view from our picnic site
Rocks are an abiotic (non-living) part of ecosystems, but this one appears to be alive
This boulder reminded us of a camel (another “has that always been here?” moment), so Kristina went for an imaginary ride
One of the things we enjoy about hiking in the desert is all of the different kinds flowers, many of which are yellow. We don’t know what species this is but it appears to be some kind of legume (member of the pea family). Nodules in the roots of legumes contain bacteria that fix nitrogen (convert nitrogen from the air into a form that can be used by living things)
These flowers growing in a crack in the rock reminded me of plants growing up through cracks in cement in cities
Kristina walking up the wash in Coyote Canyon. Note her tracks on the left and a bunch of coyote tracks on the right
Can you see the trail camera in this photo? We’ve gotten photos of lots of different animals with it (I’ll have to put some of those photos in a future blog post)
We hid Easter baskets for each other to find, complete with naturally sweetened organic candy
Another rock that looks like it’s alive. What kind of animal does it look like to you?
A Bobcat’s feces, which it left in a little hole like a house cat would. I once watched a bobcat walking up a little two-track road in the Book Cliffs and its behavior reminded me so much of a house cat
It’s amazing that plants can thrive in this dry, cracked soil
Coyote tracks made when this soil was wet
The dark stuff on the right in the foreground is biological soil crust, also known a crytogamic soil. That name is fitting because “cryptogamic” means “hidden marriage” and this crust contains a bunch of different kinds of microorganisms living together in a symbiotic relationship. This living material plays an important role in desert ecosystems by holding the soil together and storing moisture
A bone breaking down and returning calcium and other minerals to the soil. Calcium, carbon, and the other chemicals we are made of originally came from exploding stars, so we are all made of stardust!
Here we found evidence of a natural landscape-changing event – the force of gravity pulling rocks down into the canyon
You may surprised to know that the beautiful Indian Paintbrush is a semi-parasitic plant, making some of what it needs and getting the rest by tapping into the roots of a nearby plant, like a sagebrush. Here’s a website with some great information about Indian paintbrush, including a Native American legend about where they came from: https://owlcation.com/stem/The-Indian-Paintbrush.
Sagebrush. The little thing that looks like a berry is actually a gall, produced by the plant in response to an insect larvae burrowing into the plant tissue. Sagebrush have big deep roots that allow them to pull up water from far below the surface. They’re amazing plants – and I love the way they smell. I was delighted when, earlier this spring, I found three little sagebrush plants starting to grow in our backyard.
Another nice view
Shadow people on the flat area above Coyote Canyon
A pronghorn antelope footprint
This was the second or third place we found something that looked like this – urine, feces, and hoof marks from pronghorn antelope. I suspected it was a way of marking a territory, but when I did some research at home I found out that according to a study done in Montana this is probably the work of a male antelope urinating and defecating and pawing to try to cover up the smell of one of his females to prevent other males from finding her. A male will evidently also take his little group of females down into a wash or ravine to hide them from other males. Animal behavior is so fascinating
You can see the snow-capped Uinta Mountains in the distance
A couple of different species of flower growing next to each other
I don’t know what kind of flowers these are, but they sure are pretty
This appears to be another member of the pea family
We have yet to figure out what this tiny, mysterious-looking plant coming up out of the dry soil is
This appears to be some kind of stink beetle. They get that name from their defense strategy of standing on their head and squirting out a noxious spray. Kristina didn’t get sprayed when she took this close-up
I love the badlands look of this area, with its rocks and clay soil
When I looked at this rock I noticed what looks like a coyote head on the left and a little bear head on the right. Do you see them?
I love clouds. I think they’re pretty, and they’re a part of the water cycle – one of the many cycles so important to life on this wonderful planet. Happy Earthday, Earth!
When Chad and I need a quick hike, this is our new favorite location, the place we call Yellow Flower Desert. We discovered this area, just off of one of our major highways, several months ago and were enchanted at how quickly we were able to get to fun hiking terrain. When we went this time, we spotted a location in the distance that we wanted to checkout. As we approached, I thought it looked like a cool natural amphitheater, albeit, with a pinnacle in the middle of it. Chad was drawn to the pinnacle. So we set out towards this spot, and weren’t disappointed when we got there.
The pinnacle and sides of the amphitheater were about the height of a 3-story building, we figured. It felt like a very special place to both of us. Sometimes you just find one of those places in nature that seems to have a healing energy to it. We both did some yoga poses near the pinnacle, but my favorite pose was simply sitting near it, soaking up some positive earth energy.
The day after this hike I flew back to NC to spend some time with my family, which created such an interesting contrast – being alone in the peaceful desert one day and the next, back in the busy sprawl of Charlotte. Being familiar with different locations is, I think, similar to being familiar with different languages. Both give you a broader perspective of the world. I’m so lucky to be able to learn something of the language of the desert.
It’s really amazing how spending some time outside can make you feel so good. Spending time outside in an amazing new location is even more invigorating, refreshing and revitalizing.
We decided to take a late afternoon hike the other day and couldn’t quite find the right place. One place we tried was surrounded by massive power lines, another place led straight to a cell phone tower, and yet another was polluted by the constant racket of an oil well. We kept looking.
We finally found a place that looked pretty decent and decided to give it a go. Chad let me lead the way, and I have to say, I did a good job. We had fun walking over badland-like hills, taking pictures of all the yellow flowers everywhere, and discovering all the vegetation that had come to life in the desert.
It was just that time of day where the lighting makes everything look magical: golden hour. And then we came to a stunning overlook that opened out onto wild open land. It was so exciting that I had to do a little dance. Having grown up in the thick temperate forests of the SE United States, I am still thrilled by the exoticness of the wide open desert. The expansiveness seems to lift your entire being up into the air, and make you feel that you can fly.
You can tell by the number of photos we took that we were enchanted. The extreme close-ups are mostly mine and the beautifully composed landscapes are mostly Chad – especially the clouds. Chad is a specialist in cloud portraiture!
Discovering this place was exhilarating too because it was just off the road, was an easy hike and was very rewarding for very little effort. What a sweet interlude from spring into summer.
Now that winter seems to be over I can finally write about it. I’m not one of those people who loves winter (and that’s putting it nicely). Chad on the other hand, IS one of those people. And he loves to go out cross-country skiing, and yes, I admit, I have come to love it too because it means I can be outside in midwinter and be warm. At its best it feels like a heightened form of walking to me, which I also dig. Here are a few pics from our first big cross-country outing this winter, skiing in the desert. We saw cottontails, weird vegetation, the stark beauty of canyon cliffs meeting the snowy ground… And Chad played around with the panorama mode on his camera.