Weather And Moods

I hate to admit the weather affects my mood.

I can endure the rain and cold for some time but these past few weeks of traveling the Oregon Coast have been particularly cold and wet. While I have enjoyed trail runs and beach strolls the cold rains have knocked my enthusiasm from traveling a little.

The hiking has been less frequent but we have thoroughly enjoyed hopping from one tiny coastal town to another, going from coffee shop to junkyard to another coffee shop, then the thrift store, junkyard, bakery, coffee shop, gear store, coffee shop… you get the idea. I love any place that advertises, “Espresso, gear and beer.” If it was sunny outside I’d feel guilty being so idle but with all this rain I can enjoy my fourth cup of coffee and read another hundred pages before noon, then stroll around the corner to another eclectic café and feel not an ounce of guilt.

Along with the winter storms a lupus flare is threatening to kick up again. Learning to “take it easy” has been a difficult to accept as necessary. I feel like a restricted husky unable to run free. The rain knocking down my enthusiasm for trail runs and hiking helps keep me from overdoing it, reminds me to just chill, take things easy, to relax. Which is what a lupus flare requires.

We’ve looked at the weather forecasts and sunny skies are in our future. Hopefully my mild flare will subside and I can enjoy a few more some beach runs and forest scrambles before the long drive home back to the Yukon.

A Simple Happiness

What a happiness to find myself on the Pacific Coast, among old-growth redwoods. After two months of hiking and camping in the desert the lushness of the north coast rainforest is intoxicating. The shades of green are jarring. Whales and seals and sea lions swim offshore. Elk and cougar roam the forest. Spotted owls and varied thrush hide in the depths of the woods.

What happiness it is to be here.

This wandering life is not always comfortable or easy. There are long days of cold or wet or both. It is tough, not always quite as idyllic and romantic as it might appear, especially on social media. Added to that uncertainty is the self-doubt and insecurity I am internally plagued with. Joint pain from lupus pulses in my knuckles on these cold, damp mornings.

But there are moments such as this when all worry and concern dissipate and I am left with this simple emotion of blissful happiness. What a winter solstice day we enjoyed yesterday wandering in a rare wilderness.

 

The Wild Burros of Death Valley

Somehow an hour passes. We’ve been sitting on a dry wash bank watching a pair of wild burros graze the desert valley floor. The dark one – the male – stands out starkly against the land. The grey female is sublimely camouflaged; her coat is a match with the dusty desert. They glance at us periodically, ears pointed in our direction but keep grazing.

I try to think how more than an hour can pass watching burros, burros who take a few steps, graze long minutes, step forward two steps.

This is what always happens with us when we go wandering in a random direction, without a specific destination in mind. On these aimless days we are in no hurry to get somewhere. We’re not even hiking to see “something.” We wandered up into this canyon to see what we can see.

And wild burros are what we see.

The desert is silent. We sit silently in respect to this silence and thinking our own thoughts.

Me, I wonder what the burros are finding to eat out here. There isn’t much greenery. I must look at the plants as we hike back to our campsite, I think. Where will they spend this long evening? Will they bed down together? Are they mates? Do they stay together year round or do they just happen to find themselves together on this hillside? Will they travel together? Look out for one another? Why is the male so dark in colour compared with all the other wild burros we’ve seen in Death Valley? Are burros as sweet and innocent as they appear?

Who knew there was so much to contemplate about burros.

Not only did I spend an hour watching burros in this place nowhere in particular inside Death Valley National Park, I then came back to our campsite to write this about burros.

There was nothing epic or awesome about our all day adventure into this unnamed canyon. We just enjoyed exploring, sniffing the leaves of plants we have never seen before (or smelled). The desert trumpets in this wash have full bladders after the rains and snows that fell a few days ago. We poked our heads into old mine shafts. Admired the clarity of the quartz here.

And as we sat above a dry pour off picking our favourite bits from the trail mix bag and watching burros a flock of chucars flew down canyon, the collective wing beats of fifty birds mimicking the fighter jets that also fly overhead.

As I said, this was not a day filled with epic adventure. It was not a day teeming with stoked emotions. It was a sauntering day. A contemplative day. A day to explore. To delve into the desert, into a canyon and just be.

And it was quite the lovely day.

Contemplating The Abyss and Condors

A national parks wildlife monitoring employee on the edge of the Grand Canyon’s south rim was wielding telemetry gear which piqued our curiosity. He was listening for condors, one in particular who was nearby but not visible. We were not lucky enough to see one in the four days we spent hiking in the Grand Canyon but it is lovely to hear their numbers are increasing. An ancient bird (a bird which once fed on mastodons) that was nearly wiped out is returning to the skies. And the Grand Canyon this year is celebrating three successful condor nests. Last year they did not have any successful nests and the year before only one. Life for the condor is still precarious – there are only five hundred of them in the world – but hopefully more people will join others advocating for the protection of wild places and give space to wild things.

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.

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.

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