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Showing posts from 2008

The Summer's Grand Finale

I must say...this summer ended with a bang. And quite the bang it was, as you shall soon see.
I will first rewind to catch you up where I last left off in my blog. Following my brother's visitation, I worked through another typical work week which was longer than normal and I was soon very burned out.  My thoughts slowly turned from "wow, this is an awesome job" to "ok, this is a pretty nice job" to "sheesh, I'm ready to go home."  The latter is how I felt that work week.  And then my parents visited, bless their hearts.  I had been waiting for this for some time, for as any child of loving parents knows, having your parents around means getting food stuffed down your throat and other random comforts and pleasures.  It is strange how very much like the juvenile owls I become when my parents come around....expecting to get fed and taken care of all the time.  It was as I had imagined and hoped.  I enjoyed several fine restaurant meals (Zion Lodge …

A Zion Poem: Written by Stephanie Maurer

Bittersweet
By Stephanie Maurer

The sun before me, coat behind me, coffee within me I am warmed in all directions in a dusty, desert morning. The birds beginning, crickets ending, creek always flowing


There exists every shade of green out here: sage, emerald, forest, and Within each space between leaves and thistles is Purity and silence.


The towering cliffs create a space of peace, and their frailty reminds me How frail the peace can be. I feel contentment as well as loneliness, all wrapped up in Dust, cacti, and wildlife.


In the road I walk each day are footprints, scattered. Ringtail, frog, lizard, beetle and now human, All traversing the same dirt path to different places For different reasons.


The diversity of life this place sustains is shocking and sometimes humorous. The predator/prey standards of the wild have everyone afraid of everyone else. Everyone jumps, scurries, slithers and bolts away.


When I look at the sky at cliff-line I realize I even sometimes take for granted the color blue. Toward…

Lightning Part 2: purveyor of fright and flight in the field

Such a cool day for Zion...we had to take advantage of it. A storm system was on its way, pushing thin layers of clouds through the sky. We decided on Coalpits Wash...a site that has been avoided for some time due to its location deep in the bowels of Zion. It is said to be a hot, long hike, filled with marauding deer flies and energy-sucking sand the entirety of the way. We began our hike around 4PM, and to the satisfaction of our souls (at least the satisfaction seems to go that deep), we hiked in coolness the whole way. We knew that thunderstorms were in the forecast for later days, not today, and headed out without rain coats or tents. Having just got out of Currant Creek and running on four hours of sleep, my legs were slow to respond, but I forced them along. We wound our way down into a sandy wash through burnt skeletons of juniper and pinyon pine, eventually, after hiking through remnants of a petrified forest and then an old lava flow, dropped into Coalpits Wash, anoth…

Lightning Part 1: purveyor of NPS conspiracies

Our purpose this week was to visit Camp, Spring, and Currant Creek to find some owls...just another typical work week. I had gone into Currant, while Steph, as I thought, had gone into Camp. The next day, after marching like a single-minded ant out of Currant, I received a voicemail from the park biologist, Claire. She was not too happy. We had, out of forgetfulness or belligerence, neglected to report to the permit office regarding our whereabouts and activities, as we are required to do. The park rangers had seen some of our vehicles at the trailheads and had actually started an investigation as to who we were and what we were doing. Thus, the permit office immediately was contacted, and discontent ensued against us from the park service because of our negligence. But this was not all... Rumor had it that the owl crew started a wild fire up Camp Creek. How this rumor gained such credibility as to convince the head ranger is anyone's guess. Regardless, the head ranger …

The peregrine

A rainbow appears, bridging the cliffs of Oak Creek canyon. A noisy thunderstorm had rolled through, pouring life blood into the dry canyon. The monsoons appear to be arriving early this year. They call them monsoons here, but they are probably not one typically imagines as a monsoon. In Zion, the monsoons come in the form of afternoon thunderstorms, and they typically arrive in late July, rolling through nearly everyday. They are a blessing, providing much relief from the heat and dryness. The mornings after are cool due to high humidity, instead of stiflingly hot as the sun rears its flaming head above the canyon walls. I had just returned to camp from a quick trip up the canyon on the buses for some photography. From the sky above, I hear a familiar sound and know at once that the local Peregrine falcon pair is on the move. But this time is different. The swooshing and slicing sound of the Peregrines ripping through the air sounds much more active this time. I look up…

Hermano visitation

Finally time to write...
The past few weeks have felt like an extended vacation here in Zion. The work week between my Bryce Canyon/Cedar Breaks trip was very easy; we only visited the local canyons that are easily accessed and are done in one night. On the final work day, Steph, her sister (who was visiting), and I rappelled into Pine Creek, where I had heard a juvenile from the rim above the canyon on earlier visits. Pine Creek is a beautiful canyon. Very tight in places (extending your arm out to both sides will touch both canyon walls) and eroded smoothly, 'fluted' as they call it. The core area was easy to find; whitewash, feathers, and pellets everywhere. We immediately heard a juvenile calling. I retorted with contact whistles. We patiently listened and whistled for about 20 minutes, all the while the juveniles were calling. One juvenile popped his head over a ledge and peered down at us. Eventually, another juvenile flew in. They think our whistling is the ad…
I visited my old friend up Echo Canyon again last night. I heard him call immediately, and found him shortly thereafter on a tree branch. He stared at me with those dark, intense eyes...eyes that seem to contain the whole universe. "Where's your kiddos?" I ask him (since I am looking for juveniles on this trip). He answers me with silence and a stare. I am overcome by a sudden, saddening thought. I think he is alone in this canyon...I have never heard or seen his mate (for the past four times I have visited). It's almost like I could see the loneliness in his eyes. Every time I visit, I always see or hear him immediately...almost like he is waiting and calling for a companion...but she never shows. Is he sad about this? Is he emotional distraught over the absence of his mate? Spotted Owls tend to have the same partner, occupying the same canyon year after year. Has she died? I wonder if I am his only visitor.
Ok...enough anthropomorphism. I could be wron…

Mumbles from the woods

With my coworkers Mike and Steph gone homeward for the break, I was left to adventure solo. To Bryce Canyon first. A photographers playground...one could spend an entire month taking photos there. I was so struck by the fins, hoodoos, and crumbling monuments and statues that I extended my stay to three days, hiking all the dayhikable trails. The best time for photos is early morning or late afternoon, so, each day, I would kick myself out of my warm sleeping bag at 5:30am to catch the sunrise in the canyon.

Although taking photos and hiking amidst the pinnacles and gargoyles was enthralling, it was the tourists that fascinated me the most. So many different people, from so many different places, speaking so many different languages...and all in one little place. You've got the huffers and puffers...mostly larger americans working there way, step by step, up the steep trail. You've got the stylin...the group of teenagers from an Asian source wearing the fanciest, most stylish cl…

Pine Creek

First juvenile of the year for me! And as far as I know, its the only one in Zion that has been observed this year! I had heard this little guy on an earlier visit about a week ago, but was really unsure if it just an adult or not. But I went back last night and heard both adults call, as well as the juvenile, who "whistled" repetitively for at least two hours. The whistle is an ascending screech that sounds airy and raspy, and is their begging call, or "FEED ME!!" call. I also watched one adult flying from perch to perch in the canyon. He seemed to be completely ignoring his chick. I probably would too with all that incessant screaming.
I am now on my four day break and am planning to visit Bryce Canyon and possibly the Wave for some photography practice. I will get more photos on here soon!

Zion Backcountry

This past week has been a hard one for our crew. Finished with the local canyons (those located in the main canyon of Zion, which are typically a short dayhike), we moved on to the backcountry sites (those requiring long hikes and overnight gear, and sometimes rappelling gear). I have been in the backcountry for five nights, visiting five different sites. The backcountry is not a friendly place. It is the true heart of Zion, the center of uncompromising ruggedness. Trailless and remote, if anything goes wrong (a twisted ankle, snakebite, dehydration, etc), it is a long ways to help. And we rarely see other people. But be comforted dear mother! We do carry radios, first aid kits, snakebite kits, water pumps, extra food, GPS, compasses, and maps. And extra socks (it is a glorious feeling to put clean socks on!).
It is easy to get burned out doing sites like these...Steph has exclaimed that she would rather quit than do any more...Mike left three days early for his break (without…

A quick note to the readers of my blog...

I realized after multiple blog postings that I should not be disclosing locational information of Mexican Spotted Owls. This is due to the owl's listing as a Threatened Species. My blog is now not searchable from search engines, and I would appreciate it if locational information is not shared. This blog is now for family and close friends only!

Echo

I saw, for the first time in my life, a mexican spotted owl poop. But before the reader gets overly excited about that, there is much more to tell! Echo Canyon. Located up a grunt of a trail from Weeping Rock trailhead, Echo is nearly a picture-perfect slot canyon, with the sandstone sidewalls swooping inward, spiraling down and forming small pools on the canyon floor, where many frogs bleat out their existence to whoever will listen. At its upper end, three canyons converge; the "crow's foot" as it was aptly named by Dave, my professor. In the center of the foot, evidence of the presence of owls abounds. Whitewash along stones and sticks indicate areas where owls have perched above. Feathers are found amongst the rocks. Previous surveys have found owls calling from this very spot. So this is where I decide to plunk down, and look and listen. I wait patiently until the sun slowly faded away to dusk. A yellow warbler sings his goodbye to the sun. A poorwill si…

el Narrows

The infamous hike of Zion: the Narrows. Postcards crowd the display cases with images of this deep canyon framed by walls of sandstone and floored by flowing water. I could not resist the temptation. I obtained a permit from the backcountry office, waiting in a small line at 6:30 in the morning. Of course everyone in line was excited, for each person had his/her own new, exciting adventure planned, trekking to one of the many delectable canyons of Zion. Some to Orderville Canyon, others to the Subway (a canyon as well, not a transportation). Two members of the Grand Canyon owl crew were coming to visit, and I took the opportunity to do something worthwhile with our time instead of dawdling idly at camp, bound to the movement of shade for hours on end. We (Kerri, Heather, Mike, and I) drove the hour long ride up out of the depths of Zion's canyons and up onto the pinyon-juniper laden plateau. The dirt road winds its way along rolling "hills" and drainages, finall…

Deja hoot

June 10, 2008
Listening quietly from the bottom of Walter's Wiggles, and slapping at mosquitoes, a 'young' lady descends from above. I turn on my head lamp so as not to surprise her. Seeing me there and wondering what I am doing, she takes a seat next to me. She immediately appears lonely...and she is. Forty-five years old, a birthday tomorrow, she has traveled to Zion alone to celebrate by herself. She acts and looks much younger, even my age, but she tells me all about her life, and I listen, as I am naturally good at and inclined to do. She is unmarried. After making plenty of money as an engineer, she is basically retired and at a loss of what to do in life. She had expected to be married and have kides. She says her life was guided along not only by her goals, but also her fears. The fear of being unmarried at 45 drove her to be unmarried at 45. All her perspectives are interesting. She is fascinated with the spiritual realm and tells me that Zion is a spir…

June 8, 2008, #2

Toads permeate our camp. We have to watch our step at night. A toad visits me as I write. I place him on the table to examine his curious shape. He sits like he knows I'm not out to hurt him. Definately looks like a toad. Big jutting black eyes. Tan colored with brown raised speckles. He lets me pet him, I let him jump around, doing what he wants, and then let him go before he jumps off the table. Which he does out of my hand landing head first into the dirt. I've seen the canyon tree frogs do the same into a slab of solid rock. Walking up water-eroded and shaped canyons, you approach seasonal ponds which are alive with mad croaking sounds (similar to the sound of goats), an suddenly, from out of no where, a kamikazi frog, leaping from six feet away from the water, flies through the air in front of you, in an attempt to evade you. He's aiming for the safety of the water. Splat. Headfirst onto a rock slab...and then sploosh, as he drops into the water below...…

June 8, 2008

Finally, the realities of the field job! It's actually the realities of being in the wilderness. After our night in the big, comfy beds at the hotel (which I didn't sleep so well on...so used to a tiny thermarest I am), Steph and I headed up the seldom visited Camp Crk, while Mike went up Spring Crk on his own. Both our visits faired well, revealing the owls to us. Steph and I listened very contentedly to a spotted owl respond to a calling great horned owl. After letting out a few hoots of our own, a curious spotted owl flew to within five feet of me (it didn't see me lying there, until I moved to shine my light on him). He hooted a few times and escorted us on down the canyon to our campsite, seeming to say "follow me!" all the way back. We left the night at that. So happy we both were, amazed at how awesome and fun and easy our job was. But this is a field job, and all know that field jobs are not static, like cubical, desk jobs. Anything can happen o…

June 6, 2008

A reprieve from the heat of summer; thunderstorms rolled in on low lying clouds, dropping the temperatures enough to solidify liquid rain. We are still in the midst of our 10 day work week when we decide to hotel it for the night. We planned to survey four canyons in two nights; Mike to Spring and Beaty, Steph and me to Camp and Currant Creeks. To Cedar City instead, the Abbey Inn. An $80 room split between me and Mike reimbursed by our job. And of course, the inevitable...what to do in Cedar City? I take a walk to Southern Utah University, a very new campus with manicured lawns, while Mike and Steph lounge in the room, letting the TV devour them. I join them later, and love it. Look what we've been missing this whole time! Sheesh! Why would anyone leave the confines of the hotel room with the beautiful, glowing box there! A little Andy Griffith and I'm content. The next morning we enjoy our breakfast provided by the hotel...after being caught with an extra person …

June 3, 2008

Where to now Mr. Spotted Owl? To the depths of Behunin Canyon. A new chapter of skills opens up to me. Canyoneering. Similar to mountaineering, just invert the mountains. The approach is long and hot, especially when done at midday. From Grotto trailhead, up Refrigerator Canyon, Walter's Wiggles, and north onto the West Rim Trail. Steph is a fast hiker, and I push myself to keep pace, letting the two NPS biologists, who are leading us down the canyon, stroll along behind us. Steph is a great girl. I really enjoy how she likes to talk to me (sometimes only me) and she appears to be very comfortable around me. Enough. So the 'head' biologist (the one with the canyoneering experience), Alan, forces the 'visiting researchers' to be the trip leaders, pointing at a topo map, saying "take us there." Ok I say and I do. He stops us at a small canyon..."this is it!" so we trod up it (we are, however, supposed to be going down a canyon, not up…

el Condors

"Those might be some condors," says my professor during the semesters and boss for this summer, as he continues driving the white minivan down the Zion canyon road. Eyes and necks straining to gain a better view of the large birds soaring nearly directly above the van, there is not even a hint of brake calipers being squeezed. On we drive with no idea if they were truly the great condors, leaving me in bewilderment. I hate missed opportunities like that, and it feels even worse that it might be the condor that were are nonchalantly driving past. I know I will eventually see one, but when? Not sure my bird nerves can take it. Somehow I am always in the back of the van where visibility is 10% or less out the flat window to my side when someone yells something like "ROADRUNNER!" I never saw the roadrunner, and never saw it each successive time someone yelled it, again, without the slightest suggestion of stopping for a view. (I eventually saw the roadrunner wi…

Grand Canyon---more training

May 23, 2008
The backpacking trip went well and finding the owls was all too easy. We basically set up camp a few hundred meters below where the owls were roosting, and of course, Dave found them immediately. We all huddled in a group, peering up at the very tolerant owls, a male and a female chillin in some tall box elder trees. Our occupancy data collected, we went back to camp, cooked up some dinners, saw a ringtail cat, and slept under the stars. The canyon begins as a tight slot canyon similar to those in the rest of Zion, but eventually broadens out and empties into the desert. Definitely worth returning to for continued exploration.
In the morning, I awoke well before the sun even hit the tops of the canyon walls and set our for a little exploration. Hiking up and down some side canyons, I was greeted by many birds. Black-headed grosbeaks, western tanagers, Lazuli bunting, Wilson's warblers, Mcgilavray's warblers, Virginia's warbler, black-tailed gnatcatchers, …

May 22, 2008

A cold front has swooped down over us and appears to have settled here for a few days. It has only rained a bit, but the forecast calls for some. Hope it doesn't call too loudly. Tonight we are backpacking to the mouth of Camp Creek canyon. I am now sitting in my warm car at Kolob visitor center waiting for people to get packed. It seems I am one of the only ones with backpacking experience, so it will be interesting to see how the others do.
Two nights ago we trotted up to Refrigerator Canyon, but saw and heard nothing. Steph and I got a chance to go up to Angel's Landing before the sun set, so we booked it up there. We seem to be connecting well. There is a confidence in her eyes when she looks at me.
The next night we were treated to some good owl action. Down in a slot canyon of Echo Canyon, the owl hooted from a small slit above Dave as he was passing by. We all gathered below the slit and waited for him to show himself. After some time, and the darkness filled t…

May 19, 2008

Tonight was a glorious night. It was pure joy for me. And for the others in the crew. Hidden Canyon revealed some spotted owls to us, and we were actually able to observe one for some time. Much smaller than I imagined, but still capable of producing a loud, resonating hoot. They are really very much ghosts in these canyons. Barely visible in the trees, only a flash of white barely seen as they take flight and swoop to another perch in the waning evening light. We were all stoked. Dave was pleased that his 'students' get to experience owls. Steph joyously proclaimed her amazement..."i'm getting paid to do this." Etc., etc.
The canyons at night are surreal. Working your way down through the zigs and zags and boulder and wall is awesome, like a totally different world from when it was hiked during the day. And we are the only ones out there. Every day we see new critters. Whiptail lizard caught in my tent. Bull snake under a rock. Kit fox on the road…

To Zion we go!

May 18, 2008
This is truly the job I have always dreamed of doing, even as a little kid. Studying wildlife in an amazing place. I always imagined myself studying large mammals in places like Yellowstone or Glacier. But I think this is better...so far. Today is the third day in Zion. Adjusting myself to the daily routine of taking it easy during the day, sleeping in, staying out of the sun, etc., in preparation for our crepuscular study. Hard work! Last night we went out with all our crew, composed of Kyla, Heather, Steph, Mike, Chad, Kerri, Dave, and myself, to Twin Canyon. A couple of hours before sunset we hiked to the top of the canyon to observe roosting spots or high activity centers. We descended and stopped at a calling station (an arbitrary station set up by the field worker to call/hoot for the owls) to listen. Once the sun set, Dave (our professor and boss) started hooting. He called multiple times with no response. Same result with the next station up canyon. At…