Saturday, October 19, 2019

Pelicans Grace Eagle Bluffs

This morning, a friend and I visited Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area where large flocks of American white pelicans moved above the floodplain, congregating at a single pool.  We had counted 740 of those magnificent birds when other flocks began to arrive from the north, gliding southward above the Missouri River Valley.  We estimated that a total of 1100 pelicans visited the refuge on this sunny, cool morning, stopping to rest and feed on their journey to the Gulf Coast.

Were it not for the pelicans, our visit to Eagle Bluffs would have been disappointing.  The southern half of the refuge was chained off (reason uncertain) and other bird species were relatively limited in number and variety; only large flocks of red-winged blackbirds rivaled the pelicans.  Several double-crested cormorants dove for breakfast in the central channel, a couple dozen great-blue herons stalked the shallow pools and thirty-five great egrets moved about the refuge.  Shorebirds were limited to a dozen greater yellowlegs and a lone killdeer and raptors were represented only by kestrels and turkey vultures.  Canada geese and mallards were the only waterfowl that we observed, a rare lack of diversity for mid October; as discussed in an earlier post, I suspect that the extensive floodwaters upstream are disrupting the usual schedule of waterfowl migration this autumn.

Perhaps the large number of migrant pelicans will prove to be the vanguard of waterfowl migrations to follow.  Regardless, the sight of these graceful birds, flapping and gliding above the floodplain, was both welcome and inspiring.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Vikings in Scotland

During our tour of Scotland, we were shown a variety of Viking culture artifacts, especially in the Orkney and Hebrides Islands.  Indeed, the Norsemen occupied much of northern and western Scotland from 790 AD through most of the 12th Century.

Those of us who were born and raised in North America learned about Viking exploits across the North Atlantic, including their settlements in Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland.  In fact, these skilled mariners explored coastlines as far south as Northern Africa, as far east as Russia and southward through the major rivers of Europe.  Contrary to their image as savage plunderers, the Vikings set up trade networks throughout their realm and dominated commerce in that region for 400 years.  Not inclined toward mysticism, their "pagan culture" eventually gave way to the expansion of Christianity (which brought far more brutality than the Norsemen ever did).

Visiting the National Museum of Scotland today, we saw a partial set of chessmen, carved from walrus tusks, that were unearthed on the Isle of Lewis more than 700 years after the Vikings left Scotland. What a fitting remnant from a time when those hardy explorers occupied the region and before religion-fueled wars raged across the country.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The View from Calton Hill

Calton Hill rises 100 meters above northeast Edinburgh; graced by an observatory and several monuments, it offers a panorama of the city and adjacent landscapes.  On this cloudy, cool morning, my wife and I joined throngs of other tourists atop this geographic prominence.

To the north, the wide Firth of Forth stretched out toward the North Sea while the River of Leith Valley was evident to the west.  To our south, the higher ridge of Holyrood Park rose toward Arthur's Seat, a scenic backdrop for the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the ruins of its 12th Century Abby; the Palace, the residence of Mary Queen of Scots in the 1560s, is now the Scottish home of British Royalty.  Stretching west from the Palace is the Royal Mile, leading to Edinburgh Castle atop a volcanic stump; most of that road is now lined with cafes, pubs and tourist shops.

Indeed, Scotland's capitol city, like many tourist destinations across the globe, has become a mix of historic structures, parks and tourist-related amenities, the latter including endless lines of sight-seeing buses that wind through its central corridors.  The relative solitude atop Calton Hill was appealing but I already miss the spectacular, open landscapes of the Highlands, where sheep far outnumber the humans.

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Visit to the RBGE

Having evolved since the late 1600s, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh was formally established in the 1870s and has occupied its current location ever since.  Free to the public (except for access to its Glass Houses (greenhouse exhibits), the gardens stretch across a hilltop in north Edinburgh, offering broad views of the historic city.

Its 70 acres, accessed by a fine network of paved, graveled and grassy paths, are adorned with plants from across the globe and from every major ecosystem on our planet.  Almost equally diverse are the visitors, arriving from many countries to enjoy the history and public amenities of this attractive city. We were fortunate to explore the gardens on a mild, sunny day (seemingly rare in Scotland) and were pleased to learn about the cooperative research that the RBGE conducts with more than 40 other countries across the globe.  In this era of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction, that commitment is especially important.

If I were to offer one suggestion (as I am inclined to do), I would label the plants with their common names, secondarily identifying them with their scientific Genus and species; at this Gardens, scientific labeling was primarily utilized.  Since most visitors have had no formal training in botany, they would likely be more appreciative of the fabulous diversity of plants if their common names were known.  After all, public support for the complex work of conservation organizations is vital and it is best if visitors are not overwhelmed by the scientific terminology.  Just my opinion.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Hebrides

The Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland is comprised of two groups of islands.  The Outer Hebrides are bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to their west and The Minch (Strait) and the Sea of Hebrides to their east; the Inner Hebrides are bounded by The Minch and Sea of Hebrides to their west and a complicated network of sounds, firths, lochs and bays to their east, separating them from the Scottish Mainland.

A few days ago, we caught a ferry from Ullapool, in western Scotland, to Stornoway, on the northern portion of the Outer Hebrides; while it is one land mass, this region is divided into the Isle of Lewis, in the north, and the Isle of Harris to its south.  Much of the former is characterized by extensive peat bogs, still used to heat homes and to infuse Scottish whisky with a smokey flavor; traveling through Lewis, we also encountered spectacular seascapes, visited an early settlement in Arnol, explored a Neolithic stone circle at Callanish and learned that the Gaelic language and culture remain dominant throughout the Outer Hebrides (as they are in many Highland regions of Scotland).  The Isle of Harris is more mountainous than the Isle of Lewis and harbors pristine beaches; its southernmost region is a "moonscape" of rock-studded grasslands.  As in almost all rural areas of Scotland, sheep grazing is extensive and this island is home to the famous Harris tweed.

A second ferry took us from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, to the Isle of Skye, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides.  Known for its resort towns, fabulous scenery, rocky beaches and towering sea cliffs, this island is accessible via a bridge from the mainland and is thus a popular destination for residents of Scotland's urban centers.  After two nights in Portree, we have returned to Edinburgh for the remainder of our visit to Scotland; it has certainly been a fascinating journey through this scenic and history-laden country.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Northwest Scotland

The main route that leads NE to SW through northwest Scotland is a one lane road; regular pull-offs allow oncoming cars to pass one another, sometimes at an alarming speed.  The scenery, on the other hand, is spectacular.

Numerous lochs, firths and rivers dissect the landscape, which is composed of rolling hills, low ridges and taller ranges.  All of these uplands are adorned with rocky grasslands, reminiscent of the alpine zone of North America's western mountains.  Of course, unlike the latter alpine ecosystems, which usually bask in brilliant sunshine, these Scottish highlands are subject to the effects of the North Atlantic and rapidly changing cloud formations enhance the beauty of the region.  Sheep are everywhere in this open-range territory, often grazing along the road and oblivious of the vehicles that speed past; indeed, their presence augments the tranquility of this remote landscape.

Arriving in Ullapool last evening, we will spend a day in this port on Loch Broom, a marine inlet of the North Atlantic, before taking a ferry out to the Hebrides.  That excursion will begin tomorrow morning.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Escorted by Gannets.

This morning, after visiting a sea cave on the Orkney Mainland in driving sleet, we caught the ferry back to the Scottish mainland, crossing the turbulent Pentland Firth.  Oblivious of the roiling sea and gusty winds, a small flock of northern gannets escorted the ship, veering off at times to dive for fish.

Scotland is home to 40% of all northern gannets; indeed, the gannet rookery on Bass Island, in the Firth of Forth (near Edinburgh), is the largest on Earth.  On this brutal morning in Northern Scotland, it was inspiring to watch these large, hardy seabirds and I certainly appreciated their company.

Once we reached shore, the sun broke through the clouds and the winds died down.  Our journey across the Northern Coast of Scotland was both scenic and pleasant as we crossed several rivers and firths before angling southwest through Northwest Scotland, perhaps the most spectacular region of the country.  More on that landscape in tomorrow's post.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Orkney Mainland

The Orkney Islands are an archipelago of 70 islands and islets off the northeast coast of Scotland; the largest of these is known as The Mainland and it is that island that we explored today.

Famous for its collection of Neolithic "architecture," including stone circles, a burial chamber (Maeshowe) and the remnants of a village  (Skara Brae), all dating back to 3000 BC, as well as Viking engravings (at Maeshowe) from the 12th Century AD, the island's pastoral, rolling landscape is pleasing to the eye.  A large, natural harbor (second only in size to that of Sydney, Australia) stretches across the center of The Mainland while several saltwater bays, freshwater lakes and low ridges disrupt the hayfields and grasslands.  Massive cliffs of granite rise along the western coast, lashed and sculpted by monstrous waves from the North Atlantic.

During our tour of the island, we also encountered large flocks of greylag geese and a large number of swans (primarily whooper swans migrating from Iceland and perhaps some Bewick's swans, arriving from Siberia to winter in Scotland).  Tomorrow we leave the Orkneys to travel across the northern Scottish mainland as we head toward The Hebrides, another archipelago off the western coast of Scotland.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Northward through Scotland

Yesterday morning, we left Edinburgh, Scotland, in a light drizzle, heading northwest across the rolling hills of the Central Lowlands, quilted with hay fields, cattle ranches and sheep pastures.  Just beyond Callander, we crossed the Highland Boundary Fault and climbed into the scenic Scottish Highlands, eventually dropping toward the North Atlantic through the spectacular Glen Coe Valley.

After enjoying lunch in Fort William, we traveled northeastward through the Great Glen, its floor lined with a series of four lakes (called lochs in Scotland); the last (most northeast) of these is the famous Loch Ness, claimed by some to harbor a prehistoric plesiosaur.  We spent last night in Inverness and then headed northward along the North Sea Coast of northeast Scotland, crossing several large firths and enjoying scenic ocean vistas before reaching the lighthouse just northeast of John O'Groats, the most northern town on the Great Britain mainland.

A ferry carried us across the choppy, wind-driven Pentland Firth, which connects the North Atlantic and North Sea, to the Orkney Islands; there the economy is sustained by agriculture, ranching, fishing, tourism and distilleries.  We are spending the night in Kirkwall and will explore the main island tomorrow; though the weather has been cloudy, cool and breezy, we have been spared any significant precipitation since leaving Edinburgh.  More on our tour of Scotland in coming posts.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Into the Chill of Scotland

Having left 94 degrees F in Washington D.C. last evening, we arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland, this morning, greeted by cool, cloudy weather; the temperature was 34 degrees F and gradually climbed into the upper 40s throughout the day.

Sandwiched between the North Atlantic and the North Sea, Scotland receives less of the warming effects from the Gulf Stream than does Iceland and cool, cloudy, damp weather is common throughout the year.  Indeed, thick clouds covered the ocean as we approached from the west and the first identifiable geographic feature was Solway Firth, well south of Glasgow; the word "firth" applies to large bays and estuaries.  Curving northward, our flight took us near the North Sea Coast of southern Scotland and then into Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth.

Since our tour does not begin until tomorrow, my wife and I spent the day walking about that historic city, including a climb to Edinburgh Castle, its most prominent and well-known landmark.  The chilly weather was invigorating but rain is forecast to begin tonight and, unfortunately, is forecast to hang around for most of the week (thanks to the remnants of Tropical Storm Lorenzo).

Monday, September 30, 2019

Childhood Memories

Having recently discussed earliest memories with friends and family members, there seems to be a general consensus that events occurring prior to age three or four are lost to our conscious memory as we grow older.  More than an interesting consequence of human neurologic development, this phenomenon triggers concern (and sadness) that interactions with our young children or grandchildren may not be remembered as they age.

Of course, those early interactions do live on in their subconscious memory, cementing attachments and fostering interests.  In concert with gene expression, the experiences of early life play a major role in who we become and how we approach relationships, challenges and opportunities.  And if we endure neglect, abuse or trauma as young children, these subconscious events may hinder our emotional growth, surfacing as psychological disorders, substance abuse or abnormal behavior.

Our young children and grandchildren may not recall the details of the love and nurturing that they received but they will sense the effects throughout their lives.  We should never hold back on the emotional support and intellectual stimulation that we provide; it will, after all, be the foundation of their character.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Flooding & Waterfowl Migration

A friend and I visited Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on this pleasant, mid-Missouri morning; we observed a decent variety of birds on that floodplain refuge, including almost a hundred great blue herons, great egrets, a bald eagle and a peregrine falcon.  Noticeably absent were waterfowl, except for a handful of Canada geese, eight pied-billed grebes, a lone mallard and a backlit flock of ducks, too distant to identify.

How to explain a dearth of ducks on the Missouri River floodplain in early autumn?  Based on my recent journey up the Missouri Valley, I suspect that persistent river flooding, from South Dakota to northwest Missouri may be to blame, offering extensive shallows that attract the migrant waterfowl.  Indeed, massive flocks of coot and ducks were feeding in those floodwaters when I passed through.

Though I have no personal knowledge of the tally, I would guess that blue-winged teal hunting was a bust in central Missouri this September; those ducks are usually abundant at Eagle Bluffs by now and not a single one (except, perhaps, in that distant flock) was observed this morning.  Climate change is already delaying the arrival of autumn migrants and I wonder if the extensive Midwest flooding (perhaps also related to global warming) is augmenting that tardiness.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Genes and Talent

Today, I learned from a sister that one of our brothers has taken up painting at the age of 58; that brings the number of painters among our eight siblings to five.  While only one of my brothers actually made a living from his fine art, it does speak to the role that genetics plays in determining human talent and behavior.

My father used to enjoy drawing and both of my genetic children are artists, one a designer and the other a painter; I have no idea how many of their 17 genetic cousins are engaged in some form of artistic endeavor but I suspect quite a few.

I write this post not to brag about the talents of my family but to illustrate how genes govern the course of human development.  While familial exposure may encourage the display of innate talent, I suspect that the numbers reported above would not change if we had all been separated at birth.  Furthermore, genetic-based talent is not merely technical skill; rather, it includes both the impulse to express that talent and the emotional reward derived from that expression.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Declining Bird Populations

This week, in the New York Times, Carl Zimmer reported on findings published in Science that the total bird population of the U.S. and Canada has fallen 29% since 1970.  While success stories related to bald eagles, ospreys and other raptors have grabbed the headlines, following the discontinuation of DDT use, other, less glorified species have lost significant ground.

According to Zimmer's article, the population of grassland birds (including maligned European starlings) has been impacted the most, likely related to the loss of prairie habitat to agriculture and oil exploration.  Also hard hit have been the warblers, many of which are dependent on extensive, old growth forests.  By contrast, vireos have thrived, perhaps (in my opinion) from the expansion of suburban habitats with open woodlands and a diversity of shrubs.  Not surprisingly, waterfowl populations have remained stable or increased due to habitat protection and restoration led by conservation and duck-hunting organizations.

Similar disturbing studies have been released in Europe, demonstrating that this phenomenon is worldwide and likely related to the expanding human population with all of its secondary effects: natural habitat loss, pollution and global warming, among others.  It is the latest warning that we humans are destroying our home planet; it is only a matter of time before we destroy ourselves.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Our Climate Change Capitol

Since our current Capitol is dominated by climate-change deniers and fossil fuel lobbyists, I think it's time to designate a Climate Change Capitol of the United States.  Cities that are already impacted by global warming seem to be reasonable choices and I would support any of the following.

Charleston, South Carolina, and Miami, Florida are already dealing with the complications of a rising sea level, enduring floods from nothing more than high tide episodes; these cities are also regular targets of increasingly severe hurricanes.  Then there is New Orleans, perhaps the most obvious choice, partly below sea level, walled off from tropical storms and Mississippi River floods by levees and relying on pumps to keep the city dry.  Finally, an ironic choice would be Houston, Texas, the home of Big Oil but the victim of recurrent catastrophic floods over the past decade, all fueled by bathtub temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are surely many other candidates, including some of our larger "Green Cities" and most towns along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, but, unlike the Democratic Presidential Field, it may be best to start with a limited number of well-qualified localities.  I may nominate other candidates down the line but the sooner we yank climate-change policy from Washington, D.C., the better! 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Late Summer Chinooks

This afternoon, the Colorado Front Range is being raked by gusty, southwest winds.  Produced by high pressure over the Desert Southwest interacting with low pressure over the Northern Plains, these winds, downsloping from the Continental Divide, dry out and heat up, comparable to Santa Ana Winds in Southern California.

A dry-line currently stretches north to south through Colorado, just east of the Front Range urban corridor, and will likely produce thunderstorms once it moves into more humid air on the Great Plains.  Here in Metro Denver, behind the dry-line, the gusty downsloping winds have delivered hot, dry, crystal-clear air and we expect another afternoon in the 80s (F).

During snow season (October to May) these winds are known as chinooks or "snow-eaters," since they rapidly warm the urban corridor and make snow disappear from the landscape; much less welcome during fire season, they can turn a small fire into a raging inferno.  Tomorrow, after a cold front moves in from the northwest, the chinooks will shut down and it will feel more like autumn (at least for a day or two). 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Summer Hangs On

A great horned owl called from our Littleton farm last evening, the nights are getting longer and the morning chill is now reliably present; on the other hand, afternoon highs continue to reach the 80s (F) and the late summer monsoon never materialized.

Down along the South Platte this morning, the mild air was appreciated but summer birding was still the rule; I encountered only twenty species on my two-mile walk and all were permanent or summer residents.  Blue-winged and cinnamon teal have yet to move down from the north and migrant shorebirds have been spotty at best.  Even migrant warblers, more attuned to the solar cycle than to weather conditions, have been sparse to date.

Of course, the fall equinox is still a few days away but, here along the Colorado Front Range, we generally experience more convincing evidence of autumn by now.  It seems that the summer heat will persist into October, just the latest sign that our climate is changing.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Geologic History of Scotland

In the late Precambrian Era and into the Cambrian Period, the basement rock of Scotland was part of proto-North America, having accreted to that Continent as a series of exotic terranes.  The Iapetus Ocean separated this continental mass from that of England and Western Europe.

Then, about 450 million years ago (MYA), the Iapetus Ocean closed and the two continents collided, triggering the Caledonian Orogeny; much later, about 150 MYA, the Atlantic Ocean opened and Scotland remained with Europe.  Today, ancient rocks that preceded the Caledonian Orogeny underlie most of Scotland but surface primarily across the Western Islands and the Highlands; the latter region is divided into the Northwest Highlands and the Grampian Mountains by the Great Glen Fault.  As these Highlands crumpled upward, volcanism, erosion and displacement of emplaced metamorphic crust produced the complicated geology of that region.  South of the Highlands Boundary Fault, the Central Lowlands represent a Rift Valley, characterized by Paleozoic sediments, volcanic intrusions and more recent glacial deposits.  Finally, the Southern Uplands, bordering England, are comprised of uplifted and eroded Silurian crust from the Iapetus Ocean.

Acting on this underlying mosaic of Precambrian and Paleozoic bedrock, the Pleistocene Glaciers (1.8 million to 10 thousand years ago) plowed down the higher peaks, gouged out canyons and valleys and then left behind layers of till as they receded northward.  In addition, their meltwaters scoured the terrain and rising seas drowned the coastline, separating the western and northern islands from the Scottish mainland. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Ancestral Humans in Britain

Planning to visit Scotland next month, I have begun to read about the natural history of that region.  As is the case in other Northern lands, climate change throughout the Pleistocene played a major role in its occupation by nomadic tribes.

Current evidence suggests that ancestral humans (Homo antecessor) first reached Britain in the middle of the Pleistocene, about 900,000 years ago.  During glacial periods, when sea levels fell, a land bridge connected southeastern Britain with mainland Europe and migrant hominids moved into and out of the region in response to the climate; during warm, interglacial periods, when glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the land bridge closed.  A second surge of ancestral humans (Homo heidelbergensis) occupied Britain about 500,000 years ago and Neandertals arrived about 250-300 thousand years ago.  The oldest fossils of modern humans (Homo sapiens) date back 40,000 years, well before the most recent "flooding" of the English Channel, some 11,000 years ago.

Historical records of Britain begin in 47 AD, when Romans attempted to expand their Empire across the Channel.  While they gained a foothold in southern Britain, the Romans were rebuffed by northern tribes whom they referred to collectively as Caledonians.  Only the southern portion of Scotland was briefly part of the Roman Empire.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Little Missouri Badlands

Rising in extreme northeast Wyoming, near Devils Tower, the Little Missouri River flows northeastward across southeast Montana and the western Dakotas (paralleling the Yellowstone River for most of its route) before entering the Missouri River within Lake Sakakawea.  Like other rivers of the Missouri Plateau, it cuts through soft (relatively young) Tertiary sediments to produce badlands within the surrounding prairie.

In the North Dakota section of its watershed, Theodore Roosevelt National Park protects several areas of those badlands, commemorating Roosevelt's conservation achievements and enveloping the site of his Elkhorn Ranch, which he established in the 1880s; the Park, itself, was set aside in 1947.  The colorful and ever-changing cliffs, domes, mesas and buttes of the badlands are adorned with stands of juniper, while wetlands, meadows and groves of cottonwood cover the valley floors.  Bison, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn, once extirpated by overhunting, have all been reintroduced and both mule and white-tailed deer inhabit the Little Missouri Valley.

Father of the U.S. Forest Service, Theodore Roosevelt created five National Parks, 15 National Monuments and 150 National Forests during his Presidency.  Contrast those achievements with the negative environmental impacts of the Trump Administration!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Harvest Moon

Tonight's full moon is the Harvest Moon, named at a time when moonlight was essential for completing work in the crop fields.  Its name has since been given to the full moon closest to the autumn equinox and it thus may occur in September or early October.

For those of us not involved with agriculture, it is the full moon that heralds the glorious season of autumn, when mild, dry weather prevails and when the nights are crisp and invigorating.  Depending on where we live, we anticipate a reprieve from the heat and humidity of summer and look forward to the painted woodlands, the bugling of elk, the first snowstorm and the waves of migrant waterfowl, among other seasonal spectacles.

Long enamored with this season, I am especially appreciative of its many gifts during the autumn of my years.  Tonight's full moon is more than an astronomical event; it is a reminder to reap the rewards and opportunities of this life before the trials of winter arrive.  

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Wolves in Colorado

The gray wolf was extirpated from Colorado by the 1940s in an ill-advised effort to protect livestock and the game-hunting industry.  Today, following their reintroduction in Idaho and Wyoming, conservationists are proposing a ballot initiative to establish a similar program in Colorado, the only Rocky Mountain State without a viable wolf population.

As one might expect, most hunters and ranchers oppose the initiative and have found an ally in the Colorado Division of Wildlife.  While human efforts to engineer natural ecosystems are often met with unintended consequences, Colorado has a poorly-controlled elk population and a rapidly growing number of reintroduced moose; to support game species without providing natural predation creates an imbalance in the ecosystem.  Furthermore, wolf predation on livestock has been minimal in Idaho and Wyoming and compensation programs are utilized.

While a few wolves have wandered into Colorado from Wyoming, a viable population is not likely to become established here without both protection and reintroduction.  In my opinion, humans damaged the ecosystem when wolves were removed and re-establishing a healthy ecosystem will require their return.  Wolves, unlike human hunters, kill aging, injured and sick elk and deer.  They are naturally wary of humans and keep other predator populations (i.e. coyotes) in check.  From what I observed at Yellowstone, I believe most citizens would welcome a thoughtful and gradual reintroduction plan in Colorado; those who want to learn more and wish to support the effort are advised to contact the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wolf Watching at Yellowstone

After a long, foggy drive across Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet), I arrived in the Lamar River Valley just after sunrise.  There I found hundreds of other hopeful "wolf watchers," scanning the landscape with their binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopic cameras.  Indeed, this Valley, in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, has become the wolf-watching mecca of the Lower 48 ever since these apex predators were reintroduced to the Park ecosystem, in 1995.

Finding an empty pull-off (not easy), I began my own search and fortunately located an adult black wolf, trotting across the valley floor; even more stirring was the chorus of a pack, howling from Specimen Ridge, which rises above the south edge of the Lamar Valley.  Other sightings included a grizzly, rummaging through a meadow at the base of the ridge, a lone coyote, searching for rodents in the riverside wetlands and a couple hundred bison, browsing along the road and on hills above the valley.  Though mule deer and pronghorn were observed, elk remained out of view despite the cool, cloudy weather.

By keeping the elk population in check, Yellowstone's wolf packs have allowed the Park's ecosystem to recover from over-grazing and forest damage.  Of course, they have also restored the "wildness" which the Park was meant to protect.  Today, I was honored to witness their return.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Across the Missouri Plateau

Leaving Bismarck, North Dakota, this morning, I drove west on Interstate 94, crossing the Missouri River and then climbing across the Missouri Plateau via a stairway of low ridges and broad valleys.  Nearing the Montana border, the highway winds through the scenic, heavily-dissected canyon of the Little Missouri River; two regions of that canyon are protected within Theodore Roosevelt National Park and I visited the southern segment for an hour or so, encountering bison and spectacular rock formations (more on the Park in a future post).

West of the Little Missouri Canyon is the Little Missouri National Grassland, beautiful in its "big-sky" grandeur.  At Glendive, Montana, the Interstate crosses the Yellowstone River and then follows it upstream, all the way to Billings; the Yellowstone, which rises in Yellowstone National Park, is the largest tributary of the Upper Missouri, taking in flow from the Powder, Tongue and Bighorn Rivers (east to west), all arriving from Wyoming.

After a night in Laurel, Montana, just west of Billings, I plan an early morning visit to the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, where I hope to see (or at least hear) wolves.  More on that adventure tomorrow.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Dakota Wetlands

On the second leg of my journey up the Missouri Valley, I encountered dense fog on the bottomlands from Sioux City to Yankton and spectacular views of the Valley farther to the northwest, where Route 44 crosses Lake Francis Case, which now swallows the river; I also enjoyed scenic vistas across the Fort Pierre National Grassland, south of Pierre, South Dakota.  But the highlight of this segment was provided by the abundant wetlands across the Dakotas and the avian migrants that they attract.

Due to the underlying geology and the high water table, numerous lakes, ponds, "potholes," sloughs and marshlands surface within and between the hayfields, croplands and pastures.  At this time of year, most are crowded with ducks, coot, American white pelicans, cormorants, ibis, gulls, yellow-headed blackbirds and shorebirds; among the latter, American avocets were especially abundant.  What might be considered a spectacle in other States is apparently taken for granted here and safe pullouts were, unfortunately, few and far between; nevertheless, the migrants made my day, even when observed at 60 mph (see Addendum).

Of course, the final highlight occurred when I entered North Dakota for the first time (my 49th State).  This experience was especially rewarding since I was on U.S. 83, locally known as the Lawrence Welk Highway; after all, Mr. Welk was my maternal grandmother's second favorite entertainer (close on the heels of Engelbert Humperdinck).  Since I spent a great deal of my childhood at her home (and, later, she at ours), any reference to Lawrence Welk always brings her to mind.  Wish she could have been there today!

Addendum:  To be fair, there are numerous NWRs in the Dakotas where one can safely observe the spectacle of waterfowl migrations.  If I had more time, I would have visited at least a few of them.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Up the Missouri Valley

Since I have several days to return to Colorado, I decided to follow the Missouri River Valley northwestward to Montana and then head south to Denver.  This will take me through some heretofore unexplored country, including western North Dakota, one of only two States that I have yet to visit (the other is Hawaii).

North of Kansas City, Interstate 29 undulates across the hills east of the Missouri and the river remains out of view.  Nearing Mound City, however, the highway drops onto its broad floodplain, crisscrossed with small rivers, creeks and canals.  Once I entered southwestern Iowa, where the river is closer to the highway, a floodscape unfolded, having yet to recover from the spring and early summer deluge.  There, hundreds of American white pelicans gathered on the extensive shallows and clouds of swallows strafed the flooded fields, preparing for their autumn migration.  As one might expect, great blue herons were also abundant along this stretch of highway.

Farther north, as the Interstate veers away from the river, the late-summer landscape was drier and crop fields dominated the floodplain; rejoining the Missouri at Sioux City, I decided to stop for the night.  Tomorrow, I'll follow the Missouri Valley northwestward to Pierre, South Dakota, and then north toward Bismarck, North Dakota.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Pollution begets Pollution

As we humans pump carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, our climate warms, glaciers and ice sheets melt, ocean levels rise and hurricanes become more potent.  Dorian, now pummeling the coast of the Carolinas after producing devastation across the northern Bahamas, offers a prime example.

Since humans are fond of tropical islands, barrier islands and coastal cities, a sizable segment of our population lives in flood-prone areas, subject to the effects of storm surge and torrential rain.  These coastal and island residents are not merely inconvenienced by hurricanes and tropical storms; lives are lost, homes and businesses are destroyed and the land is scoured by the sea, dragging debris and pollutants into the marine ecosystem.

In our efforts to combat global warming, we must address both the pollution that is triggering climate change and the marine pollution that comes from cities, towns, industrial areas and farms.  Watching coverage of Dorian's destruction across the Bahamas, one feels for the victims and those who lost their homes but also worries about the damage done to the island ecology and the surrounding ocean environment.  In light of our warming climate and rising sea levels, one wonders if re-building in storm-prone areas is wise.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Ospreys in Missouri

Once common along all major rivers and large lakes in Missouri, ospreys were extirpated from the State during the widespread use of DDT in the early-mid 20th Century.  Once that pesticide was banned, they have made a gradual comeback but remained primarily seasonal migrants until a reintroduction plan began in the mid 1990s; even today, these "fish hawks" are best observed as they migrate through the Mississippi and Missouri River Valleys, on their way to and from breeding grounds to our north.

Nevertheless, on this mild, late-summer morning, my wife and I encountered a lone osprey at Perry Phillips Lake, in south Columbia.  Perched on a tall post south of the lake, he/she was easily identified by its large size, white head and distinctive black eye-stripe.  Since the reintroduction program has concentrated on large reservoirs across Missouri, I suspect this bird was a product of that effort and is wandering about the region before heading south in October.

Highly adaptable, ospreys inhabit all Continents except Antarctica, favoring coastlines, large rivers and lakes.  In North America, the majority breed along both Coasts, in Florida and throughout the Great Lakes region but many nest across Alaska, Canada, the Northern U.S, the Mississippi Valley and the Rocky Mountain corridor.  Come autumn, most head for Florida, the Gulf Coast, Southern California, Central America or South America.  Hopefully, these majestic raptors will become increasingly common breeding residents here in Missouri.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Flashback Post XVI

In recent days, the Bahama Islands have been in the news as they have endured the wrath of Hurricane Dorian.  A review of their natural history thus seems appropriate, the subject of a post back in September, 2009.

See: Natural History of the Bahamas

Monday, September 2, 2019

Eagle Bluffs after the Flood

For the first time since mid spring, I visited Eagle Bluffs Conservation area and was able to access the entire refuge.  The extensive flooding that had long persisted across the Missouri River floodplain has finally receded.

Dense fog enveloped the refuge when I first arrived but the late August sun quickly broke through the haze, revealing a rich green landscape, adorned with numerous stands of rose mallow.  Despite the inviting scenery, birdlife was relatively sparse, dominated by large flocks of turkey vultures and almost fifty great-blue herons.  While a few red-tailed hawks patrolled the floodplain, bald eagles were not observed and, to my dismay, shorebirds were limited to killdeer and lesser yellowlegs.

While it was far from the best birding excursion of the year, it was rewarding to re-explore the entire refuge, most of which was submerged for the past two months.  The resilience of plant and animal life was inspiring to observe and the flood's limited effects on Eagle-Bluffs roadways and levees was remarkable.  Though my visit to Missouri will be relatively brief, I hope to return to this fabulous refuge in the fall, when hordes of migrant waterfowl descend on the floodplain.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Flashback Post XV

As the forecasts of Hurricane Dorian's path continue to wobble, I am reminded of a post from February, 2010.  My sympathies lie with the beleaguered meteorologists.

See: Physicians & Meteorologists

Friday, August 30, 2019

Dorian Gains Strength

Hurricane Dorian, churning toward the Northern Bahamas and the Atlantic Coast of Florida, has strengthened to a Category 4 storm this evening, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.  Though still far from the Florida Peninsula, there are no atmospheric or oceanic features that suggest weakening of the hurricane will occur.

Indeed, a low pressure zone to its southwest has backed away, reducing the risk of significant wind shear and the storm will soon enter warmer waters as it reaches the Bahamas and the Gulf Stream.  The only remaining question is whether the high pressure ridge to its north will shift eastward, allowing the hurricane to curve northward before it makes landfall in Florida.  Even so, a powerful storm moving parallel to the coast will likely produce devastating storm surge, beach erosion and inland flooding.

Mandatory evacuations have already been ordered for low-lying areas of Brevard County, Florida, and many similar proclamations are expected in the days ahead.  Once again, climate change may be playing a role in both the hurricane's intensity and its coastal effects, as ocean temperatures increase and sea levels rise.  Followup posts are anticipated over the coming week.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Magellan's Mixed Legacy

Ferdinand Magellan was certainly a courageous individual and an exceptional navigator, having crossed the Atlantic, maneuvered through a dangerous, unmapped strait and rallied his crew as they spent months on an unknown ocean (the Pacific), dying off from malnutrition and scurvy.  Then again, he took on slaves, ordered the slaughter of many native villagers and left two mutineers on a small, uninhabited island.

And just as his goal was about to be realized, having received a warm welcome from natives in the Philippines, he attacks a king and his tribe who refused to convert to Catholicism; Magellan was killed in that battle and his remains were never recovered.  In more stark terms, Magellan survived nineteen months at sea, often under trying conditions and in uncharted waters, to die on a beach in the Philippines during a battle of his own making.

Of course, Magellan's journey began not long after the Spanish Inquisition, when religious fervor was at a peak.  But here was a man who undertook a treacherous circumnavigation of our planet based on the leading scientific assessments of his day only to succumb to religious mysticism.  On both counts he taught humanity a great deal.

See the previous three posts for details, all taken from Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Crossing the Great Ocean

It took Magellan's crew a full month to negotiate the straight that would come to bear his name.  Strong currents, fog, a tortuous course, dangerous rocky outcrops and shifting gales slowed progress and a mutiny on the San Antonio, the main supply ship, cut the fleet to three boats by the time they entered the Pacific in late November, 1520.

Having no concept of the great distance that still lie ahead, Magellan sailed northward, paralleling the coast of South America as far as present-day Santiago, Chile.  Then angling to the WNW, his ships caught the trade winds and enjoyed pleasant weather for the next three months.  Unfortunately, since maps of the Pacific had not yet been created by Europeans, the fleet could not "island hop" to restore supplies; malnutrition and scurvy took a significant toll on the crew before they finally reached Guam in early March, 1521.  There they encountered friendly natives whom they managed to mistreat and kill despite receiving life-saving food and water.

By mid March, the fleet reached the Philippines, having crossed the Pacific Ocean in three and a half months.  Today, we know that their goal of reaching the Spice Islands (Indonesia) was nearly realized but, in 1521, with no maps of Southeast Asia available, Magellan and his crew were as lost as they were at the Strait.

Note:  As mentioned in the last two posts, these brief summaries are taken from Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen.  Interested readers are encouraged to obtain that highly-detailed but easily read account of Magellan's Journey.

See also: Polynesian Migration  for perspective on pre-European colonization of the Western Pacific.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Searching for the Strait

Twenty-five years before Magellan's voyage, much of Eurasia and Africa had been mapped but exploration of the seas and their unknown lands awaited.  Since Portuguese and Spanish mariners dominated that exploration, Pope Alexander VI arbitrarily drew a line from pole to pole that cut through eastern Brazil (then yet discovered), declaring that Portugal could claim lands east of that line and Spain had rights to lands to its west.  Of course, Columbus had claimed Caribbean islands for Spain on his voyages in the late 15th Century and Portuguese mariners would discover the Brazilian Coast soon thereafter (in 1500 AD).

When Magellan's armada stopped in the Canary Islands to take on more supplies, he learned that the King of Portugal had sent a fleet to arrest him and disrupt his search for a western route to the Spice Islands (Indonesia).  Magellan thus left early and avoided the established route to Brazil, sailing far down the African Coast before crossing the Atlantic; though he outwitted his Portuguese pursuers, the voyage was much longer than expected, fueling discontent among his crew.

Finally reaching Rio de Janeiro in late December (4 months after leaving Seville), Magellan's fleet worked their way down the South American Coast, dealing with storms, dangerous shoals and both friendly and hostile native tribes.  An Easter Mutiny was aborted but one ship, the Santiago, was lost in a storm (though most of the crew survived).  Large bays along the Argentinian Coast were explored and sounded, hoping that they might be the Strait to the Spice Islands, but no such strait was found.  After waiting out the Southern winter in Port St. Julian Bay, the remaining four ships reached the eastern entrance to the Strait of Magellan on October 21, 1520, 14 months after leaving Seville.

Note:  Most of this information was taken from Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen, a detailed yet highly readable account of Magellan's voyage.  See previous post.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sailing with Magellan

Attending a used book sale last week, my wife bought Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen, which documents "Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe."  She thought I might enjoy the book and, as usual, she was right.  Ironically, Magellan, his 260 man crew and their five ships set off from Seville, Spain, 500 years ago this month!

Portuguese by birth, Magellan came of age during the Golden Age of Portuguese navigation, when Vasco de Gama and other mariners established trade routes to the Spice Islands (Indonesia) by sailing along the southern coasts of Africa and Asia.  Convinced that he could reach that same destination by heading west (but denied funding by Portugal), Magellan turned to the King of Spain to sponsor his voyage, promising to return within two years with untold riches from the Spice Islands.

Three years later, a handful of the original crew members and only one ship (the Victoria) limped back to the Spanish Coast, devoid of riches but having proved, for the first time, that our home planet is indeed a globe.  Highlights of Magellan's expedition (all from Bergreen's account), will be offered in coming posts.  Having read the first few chapters to date, I highly recommend the book.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Pumpkin Seed Dormancy

This year, following a cool, wet spring and a hot, dry summer, a pumpkin plant appeared on our Littleton, Colorado, farm.  Not a surprising event, one might think, but we have not planted pumpkins here for at least 23 years!

The lone plant is growing in an area where we once had a pumpkin patch and is clearly the product of a long dormant seed.  While most pumpkin seeds germinate easily, given proper conditions, this one remained dormant for either exogenous or endogenous reasons; the former refers to inadequate moisture, heat or nutrients (or an unusually dense seed coat that did not allow essential ingredients to reach the seed embryo) while the latter indicates abnormalities or inhibitors within the embryo itself.   This year, proper conditions and a receptive seed led to germination.

Seed dormancy is common in the plant world, preventing germination when environmental conditions do not favor survival or when over-crowding would result if all seeds germinated.  Dormant seeds that are hundreds or even thousands of years old have been discovered in nature but our 23+ year-old pumpkin plant is impressive enough for me!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Impeach the Chosen One!

The time has come for Congress (Democrats and Republicans alike) to admit that we cannot risk another 16 months of a Trump Presidency.  Now describing himself as "The Chosen One," our Dear Leader is shifting his policies on a daily basis, having forced out most of his competent advisors and Cabinet Members.

Never mind the findings of the Mueller Investigation; this failed businessman is incapable of running our government and his extreme narcissism affects his approach to every issue.  Destroying the legacy of President Obama seems to be his only consistent goal.

Slashing environmental regulations, offending Allies, threatening our economy and healthcare, trashing our Intelligence Agencies, ridiculing our free press, fomenting racism and aligning himself with foreign dictators are his only "achievements."  Our Democracy is under assault by this disturbed bigot and it is time for Impeachment, based primarily on his incompetence, racism, un-American behavior and mental instability. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Nisqually River

One of the many landscape features that I observed during our flight from Seattle to Denver last week was the delta of the Nisqually River, at the southernmost end of Puget Sound.  This relatively untouched ecosystem of freshwater wetlands and tidal marshes is protected within the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  The River itself is named for the Nisqually Tribe that had settled near its mouth long before the arrival of European explorers.

The Nisqually River rises from the Nisqually Glacier on the south flank of Mt. Ranier, gathering numerous tributaries from that massive stratovolcano as it descends toward the Columbia River Valley.  Before reaching that watershed, it curves westward and then northwestward, passing through Alder Lake en route to Puget Sound, east of Olympia.

Far from the longest or largest river in Washington, the Nisqually nevertheless connects the State's highest peak (14,410 feet) with one of its more pristine tidal wetlands; within a distance of 80 miles, the river passes through the varied life zones of the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Pacific Ranges of British Columbia

On our flight from Ketchikan to Seattle last week, we crossed over an area of British Columbia with spectacular ranges, massive ice sheets, glaciers and tortuous fjords.  This was the Pacific Ranges Province of the Coastal Mountains of North America, the southernmost in British Columbia.

Harboring Mt. Waddington (13,186 feet), the highest summit in British Columbia, and four Temperate Zone Ice Sheets (the largest on the planet), it is a beautiful landscape created by tectonic collision, subduction volcanism, glacial erosion, copious precipitation and the interaction of land and sea.  A maze of rivers and inlets dissect the terrain, best appreciated from an aircraft.

Sparsely populated, the Pacific Ranges Province, extending northwestward from Vancouver, is actually comprised of thirteen primary mountain ranges and almost as many subranges.  It is bounded on the east by the Interior Plateau of British Columbia and, on the west, by the numerous islands and channels of the Inside Passage.

Monday, August 19, 2019

A Skunk at Dusk

After delaying yard work to avoid the afternoon heat, I was returning to the house last evening as dusk deepened across our Littleton farm.  Passing a shrub row, I caught sight of a striped skunk at the last minute, its tail already raised in self-defense.

Avoided by humans and most predators due to their noxious spray, these common suburban residents are also known to carry rabies; indeed, there has been an epidemic of skunk-borne rabies in southwest Denver in recent years.  Fortunately, this skunk was not aggressive and did not demonstrate any unusual behavior; nevertheless, I gave it a wide berth as I headed for the house.

Usually seen alone except when females have young in tow, striped skunks are omnivores, favoring insects but also consuming young rodents, eggs, berries and various crops.  Great horned owls are one of the few predators unfazed by their odiferous and irritating spray.  While interesting to observe at a distance, last evening's visitor was a bit too close for comfort.  

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Nature of Adventure

Having just returned from my first trip to Alaska, I found it to be every bit the adventure I had expected.  On the other hand, adventure need not be a journey to a distant or exotic location.

In my mind, the adventures in our life may be physical, mental or emotional.  Physical adventures are the opportunity to explore new landscape, whether it be a far-off land, an unvisited city or a nature preserve just down the road.  Novice birders and naturalists understand this point of view since every outing is an adventure, replete with new and unexpected sightings; adventure often unfolds in our own backyard.

While the word adventure is most often associated with travel, I suggest that it also applies to one's willingness to take on a new job, learn a new skill, risk a new relationship or rethink the "truths" implanted in our innocent, childhood brains.  In all cases, the courage to make the journey is essential and the rewards of discovery far exceed original expectations; adventure is a process.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Counting on the Monsoon

As a summer heat wave continues along the Colorado Front Range, many of us are counting on the Southwest Monsoon to break this stagnant weather pattern.  After all, the monsoon usually reaches the Front Range by mid August, bringing cooler conditions and daily episodes of precipitation.

This year, a persistent high pressure dome over the Four Corners region is blocking the inflow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez; until that dome breaks down or moves eastward, the monsoon cannot develop.  Recent extreme heat in Phoenix and Las Vegas reflect that "blocking high" and we are expected to approach 100 degrees F in Denver within the next few days.

While this Southwest heat wave is related more to a persistent atmospheric ridge than to global warming, one suspects that climate change will disrupt seasonal patterns across the planet.  For now, we're just counting on a normal, if tardy, late summer monsoon.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Above the Cascades & Great Basin

Flying back to Denver, yesterday, we changed planes in Seattle.  On that second flight, we took off to the south, soon passing the massive bulk of Mt. Ranier, to our east.  Curving southeastward, we then caught sight of the remnant cone of Mt. St. Helens to our southwest and, within a few minutes, flew over the snowy crest of Mt. Adams.  Next came the distinctive form of Mt. Hood, across the Columbia River Valley, and other prominent summits farther south; unfortunately, haze obscured the distant horizon and I was unable to locate Mt. Shasta, in Northern California.

Having formed over the past 36 million years, as the Farallon and its remnant Juan de Fuca Plate have been subducting beneath the North American Plate, the Cascades stretch from west-central Washington to Northern California and continue to form today.  Indeed, many Cascade volcanoes have developed and eroded (or exploded) away during that time and the prominent volcanic peaks mentioned above are less than 2 million years old; the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, in 1980, was a clear indication that the range is still evolving.

East of the Cascades, is the high, dry desert of the Great Basin, stretching from eastern Oregon and California across Nevada, southernmost Idaho and western Utah.  Fault-block ranges, running north to south, are separated by broad valleys which harbor sage grasslands, seasonal rivers, sinks, ephemeral lakes and a few large saline lakes. Unfortunately, clouds obscured the mountains of Utah and Colorado until we crossed the Front Range above Rocky Mountain National Park and descended into Metro Denver.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Totem Bight State Park

Ten miles north of Ketchikan, Totem Bight State Park sits on the east bank of the Tongass Narrows.  First established in 1938 to reconstruct totem poles and a clan house characteristic of the Tlingit and Haida cultures, the site was then known as Mud Bight (referring to a natural indentation in the bank of the waterway).

Today, a short trail leads through a woodland and past 14 totem poles, most of which overlook the Narrows.  The Clan House is open to visitors, as is a Restoration Building, where poles are carved or repaired.  A brochure explains the symbolism represented on the poles and guided tours are offered.  In one area, damaged or corroded poles are left to rot on the ground in keeping with the Native Peoples tradition of recycling life from the old to the new.

Since evolving in Africa some 140,000 years ago, we humans have colonized most regions of the globe.  Part of nature, we cannot fully understand her ecosystems without learning about the roles we have played.  Totem Bight State Park offers some interesting insight in that regard, especially as it pertains to the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ward Lake

On the north side of Ketchikan, not far from the cruise ship crowds, Ward Creek tumbles down through a glacial valley, headed for the Tongass Narrows.  Gathering the outflow of several glacial lakes along the way, it eventually flows through Ward Lake before beginning its final stretch to the sea.

Surrounded by a rich Temperate Rainforest of western cedar and hemlock and hosting rustic shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Ward Lake is encircled by a pleasant, well-engineered trail.  Educational plaques, spaced along the route, introduce visitors to the ecology of the valley and fine wooden bridges ford the creek and its tributaries.  Though a campgrounds borders the lake, we encountered less than a dozen fellow hikers on our two-mile circuit.

In this land of spectacular scenery and untamed wilderness, relative solitude and tranquility are never far away.  While those de-boarding the cruise ships head for craft shops, historic sites, tour buses and taverns, those of us interested in the landscape and wildlife have endless places to explore, often quite close to town.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Misty Fjords National Monument

On this mild, sunny morning in Southeast Alaska, we took a cruise from Ketchikan to Misty Fjords National Monument.  Established in 1978 by the Carter Administration, this refuge protects two steep-walled fjords and their numerous coves within 2 million acres of the Tongass National Forest along the western edge of the North American mainland.

These fjords feed into Behm Canal, a broad channel that borders the northern and eastern sides of Revillagigedo Island.  Known for their spectacular landscape, scenic waterfalls and sea bird rookeries, Rudyerd and Smeaton Bays (the two primary fjords) are accessed by boat or float plane.  While it was a bit late in the summer for peak activity at the rookeries, I did observe a fair number of pigeon guillemots and glaucous-winged gulls on the cliffs and bald eagles were common along the waterways.  Brown and black bears, wolves and Sitka deer are among other wildlife that inhabit the Monument.

Also of interest was New Eddystone Rock, rising in the middle of Behm Canal near the entrance to Rudyerd Bay.  Named by the British explorer, Captain George Vancouver, in 1793, this erosional remnant of volcanic basalt towers above a small island where a dozen or so harbor seals lounged in the mid-morning sun.  Though hump-backed whales often visit Behm Canal during the warmer months, none were observed today. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

To Margaret Bay

Ketchikan spreads along the southwest coast of Revillagigedo Island but most of the island is uninhabited.  Today, we enjoyed a boat ride to Margaret Bay, one of several that indent the northwest coast of Revillagigedo.

The purpose was to set a couple of crab traps in Traitor's Cove and to take a hike to a bear-watching site in the Margaret Creek Valley; the latter is managed by the National Forest Service.  A two-mile, roundtrip hike takes visitors to an overlook blind above the creek, where black bear fish for spawning salmon.  During our stay, we were fortunate to observe two young bears, fishing at a waterfall along the creek.

The trapping effort produced one Dungeness crab and we stopped to check several shrimp traps on our way back to Ketchikan; those traps were highly productive though an octopus and several large starfish had eaten some of the catch.  Beyond these highlights, the trip provided spectacular views of the waterways, mountainous islands and rugged peninsulas north of Ketchikan; our thanks to Steve and Gary for the seven-hour tour.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Lunch Creek Trail

At the north end of the Tongass Highway, the only major road through Ketchikan, is a small parking area that provides access to the Lunch Creek Trail.  The latter, winding through rich Pacific rainforest, soon reaches Lunch Creek Falls and then follows the stream down to a scenic bay.

Far from the cruise ships and the tourist throngs in downtown Ketchikan, the rocky beach offers spectacular views of distant islands and their forested mountains, rising above the cold blue water.  We enjoyed a peaceful visit for an hour or so, disturbed only by an occasional fishing boat or float plane; indeed, even the wildlife was relatively scarce, represented by a lone ruddy duck and a flock of black scoters.

This was the Alaska that I had pictured in my mind's eye before flying up from Seattle: tranquility, solitude and an abundance of natural beauty; my thanks to Patty and Sam for their hospitality and for directing us to this beautiful and inspiring refuge.  More excursions are planned over the next few days.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Northwest to Ketchikan

Escaping the latest heat wave along the Colorado Front Range, my wife and I will be visiting friends in Ketchikan, Alaska, over the next several days.  There we will enjoy afternoon highs in the 60s (F) and overnight lows in the 50s; of course, rain showers are also in the forecast, as one might expect in Southeast Alaska.

As I discussed in Alaska's Collage of Terranes, most of the State is a mosaic of exotic terranes and volcanic island arcs, later molded by glaciers, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, torrents of meltwater and fluctuating sea levels.  Ketchikan sits in the Gravina Belt, composed of mid Jurassic to early Cenozoic volcanic rocks, sandwiched between the Alexander Terrane, to the west, and the Stikine Terrane, to the east.  The Alexander Terrane is especially interesting; its Silurian and Devonian strata and their cargo of fossils indicate that it was torn away from Siberia as the Northern Pacific opened.  The Stikine Terrane, on the other hand, formed as a volcanic island arc from the late Paleozoic Era into the early Mesozoic.

Today, Ketchikan, sitting on the Inside Passage, is a cruise ship port during the summer months.  Having limited time for our journey, we will be flying from Denver (with a plane change in Seattle).  More on our adventure in upcoming posts.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Truth Teller

Last evening, my wife and I had the pleasure to attend Billy Joel's concert at Coors Field, in Denver.  Joining a sold-out crowd, we were treated to an energetic performance for more than two hours.

Like most creative artists (and most humans for that matter), Joel has certainly endured painful episodes in his life; however, he has been especially successful at baring those experiences, and the emotions that they provoke, through his music.  Insightful and, at times, brutally honest, he addresses human nature, social injustice and human relationships with little sentimentality and no mysticism.

Long a fan, it was an honor to see this renowned songwriter and to listen to his music in person, even at such a large venue.  The weather, despite an alarming forecast, cooperated and Joel's stamina, given his age and the altitude, was remarkable.  Most of all, I appreciated his humor, his thought-provoking lyrics and his no-nonsense take on humanity. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Domestic Terrorism in America

As Domestic Terrorism in the United States continues to increase, almost solely fostered by White Nationalism, the government has failed to enact specific laws to fight this scourge and our President continues to fuel racist and anti-immigrant fervor.

Of course, the Republican-controlled Senate, stymied by Mitch McConnell, has not taken up bills related to reasonable gun control and cannot muster the backbone to oppose Trump's racist rhetoric.  The FBI has made it clear that Domestic Terrorism has become a greater threat to the welfare of Americans than ongoing International Terrorism; indeed, individuals of many races and creeds are often caught up in the violence directed at specific racial or religious groups.

Repeatedly asking constituents to pray for the victims of domestic terror is an empty political ploy.  Hopefully, the 2020 elections will favor those candidates who are willing to directly face and solve these threats from those who fear the NRA and Trump's constituents.  The great majority of Americans, Republicans and gun owners favor universal background checks and other common-sense means to end mass shootings and the relentless gun violence in America; it is time for the Senate to rebuke our racist President and to take an effective stance against Domestic Terrorism.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Noisy Offspring

Summer is the season when newly fledged birds follow their parents through their territory, loudly begging for attention and food.  Anyone who is attuned to nature's cycles is familiar with this annual and sometimes annoying behavior.

Over the past week, young chickadees, house wrens, house finches and a lone Cooper's hawk have exhibited this noisy begging on our Littleton farm, no doubt stressing their parents and (to a limited degree) myself as well.  Kudos to the young spotted towhee (the first to be born on our farm; see Towhee Romance) who seems to be perfectly capable of finding his/her own food.

In some ways, it is reassuring to know that our avian neighbors put up with demanding children just as we humans do; on the other hand, their duties are over within a few months!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Crabapple Bonanza

The mild, wet spring along the Colorado Front Range has produced an abundance of crabapples on our Littleton farm.  Consumed by a wide variety of birds and mammals, the tart fruit has also been used by humans to make jam, jelly, cider and, yes, wine.

Until yesterday, I was aware that cottontails often nibbled at fallen crabapples but did not know they were such a prized component of their diet.  In the late afternoon, as thunderstorms loomed to the west, a dozen cottontails gathered beneath our largest crabapple tree, lounging in the shade and devouring the apples.  Young bunnies pushed the fruit along, nibbling at the outer pulp while adults took in the entire apple, slowly munching on the globes like cattle chewing their cud.

I suspect that my enlightenment regarding cottontails and crabapples is purely a reflection of the fruit bonanza and the ever increasing number of rabbits on our property.  I'm glad that the cottontails are enjoying the windfall but hope that the fox, hawks and owls recognize their opportunity as well!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Family Outing

While working on our Littleton farm this morning, I observed four red-tailed hawks soaring in the clear blue sky.  One was significantly larger than the other three and I suspect it was the female, leading her spouse and offspring across the South Platte Valley.

Red-tailed hawks are thought to be monogamous and their mating flights are often observed in late winter; nest building soon follows and 1-5 eggs are generally produced by early spring.  Both parents incubate and care for the young and the latter stay with them through the summer, setting out on their own by autumn.

Though red-tails may hunt while soaring, they more often stalk prey from a perch above open grasslands or weedy fields; mice, voles, cottontails, snakes and game birds are their most common prey.  This morning's flight appeared to be more of a family affair, enjoying the relatively cool air and bonding before autumn ends their brief relationship.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Tardy Southwest Monsoon

Monsoon thunderstorms generally begin to develop across the Desert Southwest by mid July, spreading northward over the following month.  In desert areas, the storms bring welcome rain but often cause flash flooding and haboobs (dust storms).

This year, persistent high pressure over the Desert Southwest has produced relentless sunshine and oppressive heat; it has also shut off the monsoon flow.  By mid summer, high pressure over the Southern Plains usually combines with low pressure over the Baja region to sweep in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez, igniting the storms.  There is some evidence this week that the high pressure dome over the Southwest is finally shifting eastward, allowing the humid monsoon winds to enter the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

While the Southwest Monsoon generally reaches the Colorado Front Range during the second half of August, we have been receiving regular, late-day thunderstorms throughout July.  These storms, in part, have resulted from the persistent high pressure over the Desert Southwest, which has shunted Pacific moisture to the north of the Four Corners region.  Stagnant weather patterns often benefit one geographic area at the expense of another.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Grasshoppers Invade Las Vegas

Reminiscent of a story from Scripture, hordes of grasshoppers have invaded Sin City this week.  But unlike assumptions offered in the Bible, we have a modern scientific explanation for this scourge.

As explained by an entomologist on the Weather Channel this evening, the wet winter and early spring across the Desert Southwest produced an abundance of food for this year's grasshopper population, resulting in large swarms that may cause some agricultural damage in the region.  Furthermore, the species that has invaded Las Vegas, Nevada, is attracted to light and there are few places on this planet more thoroughly illuminated than the Vegas Strip.

So, it appears that the residents of and visitors to this Entertainment Mecca are being inconvenienced more for the city's light pollution than for certain behaviors that are encouraged there.  I'm sure some evangelical ministers may disagree.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Falling Population Growth

Earlier this week, I watched a news program that revealed the U.S. population growth rate is falling.  This is a consequence of women putting off pregnancy until later in life and a slight contraction of life expectancy.  The reporters were a bit alarmed by the data, focusing on the economic impact of fewer consumers.

But, for anyone concerned about global warming and the health of natural ecosystems, this is good news, though the benefits will likely be outweighed by continued high fertility rates in developing countries.  Human overpopulation, recognized as an environmental threat for at least 50 years, places stress on marine and terrestrial ecosystems across the globe; depletion of natural resources, pollution, climate change and habitat destruction all play a role.

No doubt, corporations and investors are alarmed by the prospect of diminished global consumption.  But, unless we reign in our burgeoning population, there will be far greater impacts on the economy (and on the welfare of human civilization) as the health of Planet Earth continues to deteriorate.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Steady State

For the naturalist, mid summer is the closest nature comes to a steady state.  The weather varies little from day to day, plants are maturing but the explosive growth of spring has ended and the new generations of birds and mammals are increasingly independent.

Migrant flocks of shorebirds are now drifting into our wetlands but the massive exodus of songbirds, waterfowl and some raptors is still months away.  Oppressive heat suppresses daytime activity for most birds and mammals and has taken a toll on the verdant landscape of spring and early summer.  Even the atmospheric turmoil of that period has settled into a predictable pattern of daytime heat and evening thunderstorms.

Most of us limit our outdoor activity to the morning or late daylight hours and our expectation for new discoveries is at an annual low.  Only the amphibians, reptiles and insects thrive in the cauldron of mid summer and many humans, myself included, yearn for the cool change of autumn and the natural invigoration that comes with that season.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Hackberry Trees

Other than New Mexico locust trees and chokecherry shrubs, which reproduce by both seed and suckering, hackberries are among the most common trees on our Littleton farm.  Their small berries are eaten by songbirds and small mammals alike, providing a reliable means of seed dispersal.

Represented by numerous species across the Northern Hemisphere, hackberry trees tolerate a wide range of soil conditions though they are most common on floodplains and have long been used to stabilize river banks.  Species found in Western North America are drought tolerant, explaining their ease of propagation on our property.  Their relatively soft wood has proven to be of little value for construction purposes and these trees, which usually grow in mixed woodlands, have been primarily harvested for firewood.

Though not especially attractive (their rough leaves often harbor insect galls) and generally of modest height in the West, hackberries offer maintenance-free greenery and food for a large variety of wildlife.  What better colonizer to host in this semi-arid environment?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Relief from the North

Yesterday, we returned to our Littleton farm to find that several days of extreme heat and bright sunshine had taken a toll on the vegetation.  The leaves of our native shrubs were drooping and our "lawns" and pastures were more brown than green.

Fortunately, a cold front dipped through northeastern Colorado last night, protecting us (for now) from the hot domes of high pressure that sit over the Eastern U.S. and the Desert Southwest.  Our afternoon high was almost 20 degrees (F) cooler than it was yesterday and clockwise winds around the center of high pressure (now over the western Dakotas) ignited afternoon thunderstorms, bringing welcome rain and dropping the temperature into the sixties.

This welcome relief from our recent heat wave should last a couple of days before the atmospheric ridge from the Desert Southwest expands northward once again.  It's a battle of high pressure domes and most of us along the Front Range are surely rooting for our protector from the Northern Plains.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Through the Black Hills and Beyond

After a night in Spearfish, South Dakota, we started back toward Denver this morning and decided to cut through the Black Hills en route.  Fortunately, we chose to start that journey along Route 14A, which climbs through the scenic canyon of Spearfish Creek, lined with sheer cliffs of Mississippian limestone; several beautiful waterfalls adorn the canyon, one of which, Roughlock Falls, is a complex series of cascades at the head of Little Spearfish Canyon, perhaps the most beautiful location in the Black Hills.

After passing through Lead, we continued southward on U.S. 385, passing through some of the least developed regions of the National Forest and purposely avoiding some the popular tourist sites (which we have visited in the past).  Finally dropping from the Black Hills uplift, south of Wind Cave National Park, we crossed the rolling terrain of the Missouri Plateau, drained by the Cheyenne and White Rivers.

Just south of Chadron, Nebraska, we climbed through the Pine Ridge Escarpment and continued southward across the High Plains, highlighted by a westward extension of the Nebraska Sandhills, south of Alliance.  After crossing the broad North Platte Valley, we stopped for the night in Sidney, Nebraska; we'll return to our Littleton farm tomorrow and finally confront the ongoing heat wave in Colorado.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Journey to Devils Tower

Leaving Laramie, Wyoming, this morning, we headed east on Interstate 80, climbing into the Laramie Mountains.  Beyond the pass, we began a long descent on The Gangplank and then switched to I-25 North at Cheyenne.  This highway parallels the Laramie Range, initially at a distance and then at close range near Wheatland, where Laramie Peak (10,500 feet) looms to the northwest and where the Interstate crosses the Laramie River.

Farther north, after passing the Glendo Reservoir and crossing the North Platte River, we headed east on US 18 to Lusk, crossing nondescript grasslands along the way.  At Lusk, we turned north on US 85, soon driving through a scenic landscape of hills and mesas and crossing the upper Cheyenne River.  Nearing Newcastle, yellow sweet clover blanketed the hills and valleys and bee-hive boxes were spaced along the highway; north of Newcastle, US 85 undulates through the west edge of the Black Hills, where Paleozoic redbeds adorn the scenery.  At Four Corners, we cut northwest on Route 585 to Sundance and then followed Routes 14 and 24 north to Devils Tower, America's first National Monument (established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906).

The geology and natural history of Devils Tower is described in an earlier post (see link) and I will not repeat myself in this one.  On this mild day in mid July, we were greeted by throngs of fellow tourists and by an approaching summer thunderstorm.  Though we did enter the Monument and joined a parade of humans on the Tower Trail that circles the famous landmark, Devils Tower is best appreciated at a distance, where one can observe its placement in the landscape and view its grandeur in relative solitude.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Curt Gowdy State Park

Curt Gowdy State Park, named for the sportscaster and native of Wyoming, stretches across the eastern flank of the Laramie Mountains, west of Cheyenne.  The Laramies are a broad uplift of Precambrian granite stretching from northern Colorado (NNW of Ft. Collins) to Casper, Wyoming, and bisected by the Laramie River.  The Park is best reached via Route 210, which leads north from Interstate 80 near the summit of the ridge and soon curves eastward through scenic terrain.

Deciding to escape the heat wave in Metro Denver, my wife and I drove up to Laramie today and then out to Curt Gowdy State Park.  Characterized by three reservoirs, rolling hills adorned with ponderosa pine parklands, scenic outcrops of granite and, in shaded canyons, pine-fir forest, the 3500 acre Park is popular for camping, hiking and fishing.  After stopping by the Visitor Center, we set off on the Crow Creek Trail, which leads upward through a beautiful canyon to Hidden Falls (4 miles roundtrip).  It is clearly the most popular hike at the Park but was not uncomfortably congested on this Tuesday afternoon; other than humans, we encountered mule deer, golden-mantled ground squirrels, red squirrels and a host of "Montane" songbirds.

In no hurry to return to 100 degree F temperatures along the Colorado Front Range, we have decided to visit Devils Tower tomorrow, a spectacular National Monument in northeast Wyoming that we have not yet had the pleasure to "closely encounter."  Details on that experience in the next post.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Chorus of Summer

Here in the American Midwest, the hot, humid air of summer tends to suppress birdsong (as well as human activity); nevertheless, some distinctive sounds of the season persist: the croak of bullfrogs, the "fiddling" of crickets and the sharp "peent" of common nighthawks come to mind.

But the dominant chorus of summer is that of annual cicadas, echoing through the woodlands from mid July through early September.  While not nearly as abundant as periodic cicadas, which emerge in late spring every 13 or 17 years, the annual species can produce an annoying background din at times.

On the other hand, their chorus is nostalgic for those of us who grew up in cicada country and who would deny these insects their brief, noisy time in the sun?  Having spent several years underground as a grub, drawing nutrition from a tree root, they have but a couple weeks to mate and lay eggs before they die.  Besides, the heat-fueled cicada chorus indicates that summer is half over, a welcome sign for those of us who prefer cool weather.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Barry retests Human Folly

Approaching the Louisiana coast, Tropical Storm Barry will soon retest the folly of building a large city at the mouth of North America's largest river system, half below sea level and dependent on the protection of pumps and levees.  Up to 20 inches of rain is expected in some areas and the Mississippi River is already in flood stage.

Of course, New Orleans is not the only coastal American city to bloom around an early seafaring port but one would think that we have learned our lesson over the past 500 years.  Long enamored with the beauty and utility of rivers and the ocean, we humans can no longer fold up our tents or move to a higher cave when threatened by high water.  Even in the face of rising sea levels and destructive annual floods, many U.S. cities and towns stand their ground, determined to rebuild (with Federal assistance assured).

While port facilities and historic structures cannot or should not be moved, it is time for humans to abandon floodplains and high risk coastal areas.  If we do not initiate the process (while also doing what we can to mitigate global warming), nature will force our hand.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Another Try at Eagle Bluffs

Since I am back in Columbia, Missouri, for a week, I decided to visit Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area, hoping that the floodwaters had receded; alas, a sign on the entry road indicated a road closure ahead and, since I was driving our VW Beetle, I was forced to turn around within a few hundred yards.  A bald eagle, a few crows and a couple dozen horned larks were all that I encountered.

Returning to Route K, I decided to try the Buck and Katy Lakes portion of Eagle Bluffs, just south of McBaine.  There I was greeted by a lone scissor-tailed flycatcher on the power line and was pleased to find that the graveled roads were passable.  Killdeer, great egrets and red-winged blackbirds dominated the scene, joined by a few turkey vultures, great blue herons, tree swallows and spotted sandpipers.  Within a half-hour, I was back on the road.

No doubt, the severe flooding along the Missouri River will be slow to resolve, especially since heavy rains have fallen across its upper watershed in the past few days.  We could use some of that rain here in Central Missouri and expect thunderstorms this afternoon.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Rivers of Illinois

Driving back to Missouri from a wedding in Cincinnati, my wife and I took the "southern route," coming across Interstate 64 from Louisville to St. Louis.  After crossing the broad Ohio River and undulating through the hills of the Hoosier National Forest, in southern Indiana, the highway enters relatively flat terrain north of Evansville and soon crosses the Wabash River to begin its trek across south-central Illinois; surprisingly, that 150 mile segment of the Interstate only crosses two rivers large enough to warrant highway signs, the Little Wabash in southeast Illinois and the Kaskaskia River in southwest Illinois, though a handful of creeks are also recognized.

Bordered on the west by the Mississippi and on the south by the Ohio, Illinois sends almost all of its water toward the Gulf of Mexico; while the Eastern Continental Divide passes through Chicago, canals link the Chicago and Calumet Rivers (which formerly emptied into Lake Michigan) with the Des Plaines River, which flows southward into the Illinois River, thus disrupting the Divide.  The latter river, formed by the convergence of the Fox, Des Plaines and Kankakee Rivers, drains a broad swath of the State, from its northeastern corner to the St. Louis area, where it empties into the Mississippi.  Northwest Illinois is drained by the Galena, Apple, Rock, Green and Edwards Rivers (north to south), all flowing westward to the Mississippi.  In west-central Illinois, the Vermillion River rises from several tributaries and then flows southeastward to the Wabash (the largest northern tributary of the Ohio), while the Kaskaskia begins its long journey southwestward to the Mississippi and the Little Wabash snakes southward to the Ohio.  Finally, the Big Muddy River and a host of smaller streams drain the Shawnee Hills of southern and southeastern Illinois, most flowing toward the Ohio River, itself a massive tributary of the Mississippi.

In landscapes with prominent ranges or dramatic relief, it is usually easy to visualize the component watersheds; but in a relatively flat expanse of terrain (which defines most of Illinois), one must pay close attention to subtle divides and maps to fully understand the regional hydrology.  Of course, the river networks of Illinois are, in large part, the product of glacial erosion and meltwater flow, acting on the underlying geology.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Ridgecrest Earthquakes

The recent earthquakes near Ridgecrest, California, were unusual in a couple of ways.  The first, on July 4, was a 6.4 magnitude quake, while the second, a day later, was a 7.1 magnitude quake, some 11 times more powerful.  The initial earthquake has thus been categorized as a pre-shock, having occurred before a stronger one though both have been followed by numerous aftershocks; the first quake was centered 6.6 miles below the surface of the desert while the second was 4 miles deeper.

Well northeast of the San Andreas Fault, these strong earthquakes developed on two perpendicular fault lines that stretch beneath the Mojave Desert at the south end of the Owens Valley.  The latter runs NNW to SSE between the Sierra Batholith and the fault-block White Mountains Range of the western Great Basin; both of these ranges continue to rise and the crust of the Great Basin is under increasing tension (pulled apart in a West-East direction).

These earthquakes demonstrate the complexity of fault lines in Southern California, many of which are not completely mapped.  While the earthquakes occurred far from the San Andreas Fault (which will eventually deliver "The Big One") their occurrence may reflect increasing pressure within the latter Fault and their crustal movements may trigger additional earthquakes as pressure is transferred to other fault lines that crisscross the region.

See also: The Nature of Aftershocks and Earthquakes & Tectonic Plates

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Season of Acknowledgement

As we enter the heart of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many of us will experience heat waves, severe storms, hurricanes, floods, drought, wildfires and water shortages, focusing our attention on the projected impact of global warming.  Even climate change deniers may be forced to acknowledge the reality of our predicament.

For all who care about the science of climatology and the impact of global warming on human populations, I recommend reading Welcome to Climate Change, the May/June, 2019 issue of MIT Technology Review.  Drawn to my attention by my son, the review covers efforts to reduce the severity of global warming, the various technological means of adapting to a warmer climate and the suffering (present and future) that has and will be borne (inequitably) by human societies.

No doubt, those who seek out and read this review will be those who are already alarmed by the potential impact of climate change and are doing their part to mitigate global warming; Trump and his legions will toss it in their collective barrel of fake news.  Fortunately, local governments, many countries, conservation organizations and an increasing number of small and large industries (that understand the economics of climate change and the importance of being on the right side of this issue) are adopting and promoting green technology despite the rhetoric and policies of the current American Administration.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Arkansas River Canyon

On my frequent road trips, I prefer to take new routes whenever possible, thereby exposing myself to new landscapes.  This morning, when returning home from Gunnison, I thus decided to continue east on U.S. 50, descending through the Arkansas River Canyon.  During all my years in Colorado, I had yet to cover that territory.

The canyon begins just east of Salida, as the Arkansas snakes its way down through the foothills before flowing out to Pueblo and then out across the Colorado Plains; the section below Parkdale cuts away from US 50 as the river enters its steep-walled gorge between Parkdale and Canon City.  Due to the size of the stream that carved it, most of the Arkansas River Canyon is wider than other Front Range canyons and I found that the scenery is especially pleasant, often extending to the snowy peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range.  While its rock formations rival those in other canyons, the descent is more gradual and there are numerous pull-offs and riverside picnic sites from which to enjoy the scenery, birdwatch or fish.  Except for a quarry at Parkdale and several small resorts along the river, the canyon is relatively free of human "development."

As mentioned above, the steep, narrow gorge section, below Parkdale, is inaccessible except by train, raft or kayak; perhaps some trails also provide access.  Unfortunately, that deep gorge, known as The Royal Gorge, has become, in my opinion, one of the most disturbing sites of natural beauty exploitation in the State, as signs and tourist traps along the lower portion of US 50 so clearly demonstrate.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

From Shiprock to Ridgway

Early this morning, I left Farmington, New Mexico and drove west through the San Juan Valley.  The silhouette of Shiprock loomed in the distance, backed by the uneven wall of the Chuska Mountains.  Once in the area, I had to drive to the south side of that famous volcanic landmark to get a photo unmarred by structures or power lines.

Completing that goal, I continued westward on US 64 to Teec Nos Pos, just inside Arizona, and then turned northeast of US 160, soon passing the Four Corners Monument, crowded with tourists.  Just beyond that human-designated geographic point, I crossed the San Juan River for the final time as it flowed northwestward into Utah.  The Abajo Mountains rose to the NNE (in Utah) and the more distant La Sals shimmered farther north; closer and more dominant was the massive bulk of Sleeping Ute Mountain, a laccolith within the Ute Reservation of extreme southwest Colorado.  Passing to the south and then to the east of that sacred mountain, I headed toward Cortez; Lone Cone, the westernmost peak of the San Juans beckoned from the north and the La Plata Mountains reappeared to the east.  From Cortez, I followed Route 145 northward and soon dropped into Dolores on the Upper Dolores River; the road then climbs northward through that river's scenic canyon, eventually reaching Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet) and then descending to Telluride.

After a walk and some lunch in that scenic mountain town, I continued down Route 145 along the San Miguel River (a tributary of the Dolores) to Placerville and then turned east on Route 62, which crosses the Dallas Divide (8900 feet); this open ridge offers a spectacular view of The Needles, to the south, and of other San Juan Mountains to the southeast.  The road then drops to Ridgway, in the Uncompahgre River Valley; this town, in my opinion, occupies one of the most scenic locations in Colorado.  Having completed my loop of the Four Corners region, I headed to Gunnison to spend the night.