Hypnotized By Buckskin

A 28-kilometre jaunt through the world’s longest slot canyon was almost too much beauty to bear.

There is so much shadow and light playing between the canyon walls, colours of red and orange and yellow that would make you believe you’re tripping.

But there is so much more.

There are petroglyphs of bighorn sheep.

And bits of dead animals scattered on the canyon floor, from birds of prey perching high up on the canyon walls and dropping their leftovers – jackrabbit legs, cottontail rabbit tails, the feathers of songbirds, perhaps even the wings of other raptors.

The silence inside was also delicious. Even a soft whisper echoed loud so for much of the day we hiked in silence, relishing it. That silence is missing in our everyday lives. And we need that silence to hear our inner voice.

The hoof prints and poo of a wayward cow deep in the belly of the slot canyon had us a bit perplexed. Was it lost or simply seeking out a water hole? The tracks made me uneasy. I know what to do when I meet a grizzly on the tundra but what do you do when you meet a cow in a canyon barely a metre wide?

Perhaps most remarkably, beyond the Wire Pass and Buckskin confluence, we were the only humans in the belly of Buckskin, despite its beauty and well-known status.

California Condors

We spent four wondrous days sitting on cliffs above the Colorado River, the pink Vermillion Cliffs behind, watching California condors.

Now, if you don’t know how amazing this is, let me explain.

In the 1980s, there were only 22 California condors left in the wild.

Twenty-two.

That’s it.

People have been fighting to bring them back from the edge of extinction and now approximately 300 exist in the wild. 100 of them are found in the Colorado River corridor.

These birds are magnificent, with 9.5 foot wingspans, a lifespan of 60 years. Their bald heads and necks allow them to feast away on carcasses without messing feathers. I could go on.

They’re existence is still very tenuous. I am so grateful to those who have fought and worked for these birds. It would be a sad, lonely place without condors in the sky.

I am delighted beyond expressing having had the opportunity to spend so many days watching 22 individuals go about their lives – including some mating displays.

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A Titmouse And The Grand Canyon

While John and I were walking along the Grand Canyon rim we noticed so many people will jump out of their vehicles, snap a few photos (almost always of themselves), then jump back into their vehicles and speed off to the next lookout. They seem barely to pause and look beyond the phone screen.

We were stopped near the parking lot of one lookout peering up into a juniper tree when a couple passing by asked, “What do you see?”

“Titmouse,” was John’s reply.

They gave us a perplexed, tinged with horror, look then jumped in their luxury SUV and sped off. Perhaps they hoped for something grander, a bald eagle perhaps?

We, however, were absolutely delighted by a friendly little juniper titmouse singing the loveliest of songs.

This is why we spend so much time outside, to meet the wild feathered and furred. Sure, Grand Canyon is grand and all but so are all the critters trying to make a home there, amid the hordes of speed-loving tourists.

Those long moments John and I stood admiring this wee little plain looking bird was exquisite in its simplicity. But no one seemed to notice or care about him.

And that speaks volumes about what we value and the state of our natural world.

John Lennon sang about giving peace a chance. Let’s give wilderness a chance too.

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New Mexico’s National Wildlife Refuges (Part 2)

Below is a list of birds we saw in the 2 wildlife refuges we visited in New Mexico. I realize few others than birders will be interested in this list and this post isn’t exactly the kind that gets likes or reposted about. But that’s not why I’m posting. I’m not writing this for the likes. I’m writing this for the birds.

There were a couple of birds we saw that made our visit a little bit more special, birds we had never seen before. These I’ve put an asterisk beside.

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge:

Ross goose     White-crowned sparrow     Snow gooseSpotted towhee     Sandhill crane                      Red-naped sapsucker     Mallard     American avocet *     Northern pintail                    Killdeer     American wigeon     Western meadowlark     Northern shoveler                   Greater roadrunner     Common goldeneye     Common raven     American coot                        American kestrel     Ruddy duck    Northern harrier     Green-winged teal     red-winged blackbird     Great horned owl     Willet     Red-tailed hawk

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge:

Mallard     American Bittern *     Northern pintail     Northern harrier     Northern shoveler     Pomeraine jaeger     American coot     Snowy egret     Sandhill crane                         Greater egret     Snow goose     Western meadowlark     Ross’ goose     Pied grebe California quail     Red-winged blackbird     Bufflehead.    Loggerhead shrike

Unfortunately, these are partial lists. We focused less on taking notes and more on just being in the moment. These lists were compiled by memory as we were driving out of the refuges after sunset.

I am not someone who tells people, “You have to go.” Where a person “should” go depends on their interests, which are not always the same as mine. I will, however, proclaim, if you are an avid birder, GO to Bosque Del Apache and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuges.

I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

 

New Mexico’s National Wildlife Refuges (Part 1)

In December John and I visited two national wildlife refuges that are a must visit for any avid birder. The power and beauty and wildness we stood on the fringes of cannot be captured in photos or words. It is a powerful sight to see, a thunderous place to listen.

During sunrise in Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge we watched hundreds of snow geese and ross’ geese descend into a lake and upon four sleeping sandhill cranes.

The sound of their wingbeats I won’t soon forget.

I don’t cry easily but observing thousands of ross’ and snow geese and sandhill cranes flying overhead as the sun rises over the horizon caused tears to fall hard.

I am so grateful to be able to visit the wintering grounds of these birds, whose return to the Canadian North, their breeding grounds, my home, I anticipate with such eagerness each spring.

While the natural world continues to lose ground and bird populations fall at staggering rates, knowing this Refuge exists provides a touch of reassurance these birds will continue to exist and, dare I hope, thrive.

Visiting these refuges in December requires puffy jackets. Layers of puffy jackets. And toques and mittens and a mug of hot coffee. Camping is not allowed in the refuge so we spent the night before dispersed camping in the Apache National Forest about a half hour to the south. This meant waking up at 4am to reach the refuge for the 5am sunrise but such an early rise was not without its reward. As we packed up camp shooting stars streaked across the moonless sky.

And the sunrise over Bosque Del Apache is beautiful all on its own. Add a few thousand geese and it becomes as awe inspiring event only nature can conjure up. For me it also only helped me recommit myself to raise my voice louder than ever before to speak up for the natural world, to advocate for wild places and to show that a simple life can make people happy (and less stressful).

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