Keep Wildlife Wild/Enough With The Selfies

Driving out of Zion National Park cars ahead were parked at all peculiar angles, blocking traffic. Doors were left open. More than a dozen people stood in the middle of the highway snapping selfies beside a stunned desert bighorn sheep. In trying to cross the road the ram’s attempt at survival in its rapidly fragmenting habitat was less important to these people than getting that ‘awesome’ selfie shot. I secretly willed the ram to turn his horns upon the tourists but instead he hung his head low in defeat and turned back to the hill he had scrambled from. Without a whisper of gratitude the people jumped back in their vehicles, engines roaring off to the next selfie opportunity.

I was stunned by the lack of concern people showed. Desert bighorn sheep are endangered. Life in the desert is precarious enough they don’t need people chasing them with phones and cameras. Instead of running after wildlife for a selfie, why not simply sit quietly and watch them. Spend a little time just being in their environment, in their presence.

If you’re wondering about this photo, I took this a few years ago when I was hiking in the east end of Zion. The photo is not quite crisp because it was taken with the zoom of my point and shoot camera maxed. I then arced around them and continued on my day and left them to theirs. It’s not a great photo but my memory of that meeting makes up for the shabby photo. A lot of my wildlife photos are subpar and I’m alright with that, even if it means getting less likes).

Life Lived Out Of A Vehicle

Life lived out of a vehicle is pretty ideal until you get sick. At midnight I bolted awake, drenched in sweat. I had to leap out of the 4-Runner and dig a pit beneath a juniper in which to puke into. The Milky Way was twinkling, the near-to-full moon casting shadows in the forest but gripped with a stomach flu I was fixated only on the red dirt in my pit. For five hours back and forth I ran between the 4-Runner to sleep and my pit to get sick – first to throw up dinner, then lunch, then bile once there was nothing left remaining. My fever would ebb while I was outside in temerpatures well below freezing, in little more than long johns and wool shirt. How I wished that evening for four solid walls, a couch and a flush toilet. Instead, I toughed it out and slept away the following day on various benches along the rim of Bryce Canyon.

Imagining Parks Without Roads

After a 26-kilometre trail run across the east end of Zion I spent the following day wandering Zion Canyon. From the campground I hiked the trails and the road, foregoing the shuttle bus to the trailhead of the Narrows. It is quite a fantastic way to experience Zion Canyon and other than the shuttle buses the roads and trails running alongside it are quiet. There is plenty of wildlife and birds to see. Wild turkeys and mule deer wandered in the shade by the river. Great blue herons fished the pools.

What a shame there is a road at all crawling up Zion Canyon. Imagine if it all traffic was cut from Zion Canyon, including the buses and the only way in was to walk or bicycle. The same could be said for Arches National Park, the Island In The Sky in Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and the South Rim of Grand Canyon.

Ambling canyon country never gets tiring. Life slows when we are outside. Thoughts clarify. Life is simplified. The calm we find outside we cannot replicate elsewhere. And the longer we linger out-of-doors the more of it we yearn for. The harder it becomes to go back to the confines of four walls. The paved roads of the national parks would make excellent hiking trails.

Trail Running Canyons

Until lupus interrupted my life five years ago I was an avid trail runner – when I wasn’t consumed and obsessed with backpacking, that is. I have continued to run but not with any consistency or with the endurance I once held. Instead of celebrating a strong forty-kilometre Sunday trail run I have had to learn to be happy with an eight-kilometre run. This winter, however, I have been felling strong when usually this is when I am at my weakest. Taking time from work to camp and hike in southwest US desert for a few months has done me well – mentally and physically. I have been waking up lately finding myself excited for a run. The other day I felt assured my body was strong enough for a fifteen-kilometre trail run through a canyon. It was half the distance I once considered easy but I haven’t run these distances with any regularity for so long. I won’t lie and say the run was easy. The trail was a steady gradual climb up and ran along a deep sandy canyon wash and over boulders, slickrock and chockstones. A few days earlier I jarred my shoulder in a slot canyon (see previous IG post) and after eight kilometres of running it began reminding me of its presence, reminding me that I was running with a body not quite 100%. Despite the challenging trail run I did obtain that addictive runner’s high that has eluded me since lupus came along. That high kept me floating about happily the rest of the day. I’m still taking it easy, careful not to push myself too much, but this high from running, there’s nothing quite like it.

Sensual Cedar Mesa

Considered an outdoor museum, Cedar Mesa (formally protected under the Bears Ears National Monument) preserves not only exquisite wind and water sculpted red sandstone canyons but also the rich archaeological ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans and the petroglyph and pictograph panels they etched and painted on canyon walls. The arid desert environment has preserved these archaeological ruins, offering hikers a unique opportunity to walk eight hundred years back into history.

We have been here four times over the last four years, spending weeks exploring the canyons, visiting not only the well-known archaeological sites but also wandering aimlessly, stumbling upon more hidden sites.

It is one of the most fascinating, intriguing wild places to wander. But it deserves respect. Tread lightly. Take only pictures. These sites have existed for hundreds of years. Let’s keep it that way. I also encourage anyone who cares about conservation of wild places to read more about the fight to keep the Bears Ears National Monument in its original form.

A Rattle In The Desert

I heard his soft rattle before my eye caught his movement. I was blithely unaware that I was only one step away from stepping on him, a midget-faded rattlesnake. But he rattled his warning then coiled up his body, head up, tongue flicking in my direction to which I responded with an expletive and a few leaps backward. I trudges into the mormon tea and rabbitbrush, ceding the trail to the rattlesnake, giving him ample room to continue on with his day in the sun.

John, being a birding fanatic and from the Yukon where there are no rattlesnakes (or reptiles of any sort), also heard the rattle but looked up into the juniper tree branches wondering what kind of bird could be making such a pretty rattling sound.

Now every time a chipmunk or a whiptail lizard scuttles across the trail my knee-jerk reaction is an expletive and a leap backward. My hope is as I continue to hike in the desert the rattlesnake will settle into my subconscious the way grizzlies have. They are there – and they are dangerous – but I have met enough to begin to understand they do not want any more trouble than I do.

Geeking Out In Museums

Human interaction with technology is fascinating. In the last three museums we have visited – Dinosaur NM, Canyons of the Ancients NM and Mesa Verde NP – we watched people snap photos of all the exhibits and then leave. I don’t think they looked at the artifacts outside of their camera lens. Isn’t it more satisfying though to linger over pieces in a museum in real life than to interact with them from a computer screen at home? It puzzles me still. I too did snap a few photos of some of the artifacts I found most intriguing but they don’t compare to simply standing and looking at them only through the glass. I am particularly drawn to the effigies.

The Abajo Mountains

We came to the desert to hike and convalesce in the heat but then spent days hiking and camping nearly 10,000 feet in the Abajo Mountains in October.

While heat was not to fill our days here adventure certainly did. Away from the mobs and franticness of Moab, Arches National Park and the Needles District of Canyonlands, we enjoyed the places in between, the places lacking obvious beauty and Instagram fame which in turn are the places without people. The places we like to be.

It was here, inside a canyon somewhere in the Abajo Mountains of southeast Utah where we found a little glen of Gambrel oaks. It is nothing special. There are lots of Gambrel oaks in the Abajos but this particular place was in such an enchanting location beside a stream deep in a canyon. We felt pulled to sit. To linger. This was not a spot to merely wander by. Ruby-crowned kinglets fluttered above our heads. Sunlight filtered through twisted branches. A woodpecker rapped. The stream babbled. We wandered here without a trail, without a destination, without even a topographic map. We let ourselves be led by curiosity and, as always, our curiosity did not lead us astray.

Zion National Park, Utah

One of our favourite features of Zion has nothing to do with canyons but rather with the way the National Parks Service manages visitors. From the two campgrounds, a bus shuttle takes visitors into Zion Canyon, depositing people at trailheads. We love being able to park our car for a week and still reach trailheads. What a shame more parks do not operate in such ways. Getting up early and cooking breakfast as the sun rises, feeling the heat of the sun chase away the cold of the night from our bones is one our favourite moments in camping. The trailhead for Kolob Canyon made for a most excellent breakfast/sunrise spot, though lacking picnic tables, we looked a bit disheveled – stove, frying pan and kitchen bin scattered in the parking lot.

We hiked beneath canyons a colour you would swear weren’t real. It was spectacular, especially when the trail ambled alongside Kolob Creek, passing stout old Fremont Cottonwoods. The swirl of colours was almost too much to fully appreciate: the red Navajo sandstone walls, the golden cottonwood leaves, the perfect blue sky, the crystalline creek. Such beauty. We found the arch which is suppose to be one of the largest in the world but we were more impressed with the girth of the ponderosa pines beneath it. We were also delighted to quietly watch a half dozen wild turkeys grazing. A loud “zip” could be heard as their beaks striped each blade of grass of seeds. Continue reading “Zion National Park, Utah”

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