An AZ Canyon Visit During Covid

Canyons are deep gorges where rivers run, or once did flow, over and through rock with great water pressure. The weathering and eroding of the surrounding rock through hundreds of centuries created steep sides and often narrow passageways within what we ultimately refer to as a canyon. Even if a river is not currently flowing through a canyon, precautions need to be taken to assure yourself in not entering a canyon that may be subject to a flash flood while you are there. The rains may be happening a days worth and miles away upstream so always research the geography and weather of an area and/or hire a guide familiar with the canyon you wish to hike. Death can happen if you are caught in a canyon during a flash flood! 

I visited Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona during Covid; unfortunately we are still in the throes of that virus/pandemic these days. Entrance tickets to this canyon are only available from the Native American family business operating the canyon on tribal land. The Navaho were proud of the vaccination rate of their people, yet even so they operated their business at 35% of their usual capacity to keep themselves and visitors to the canyon safe. This allowed us to be in groups of 6 people and we were required to wear a mask at all times in the canyon; yes even while taking photos of each other. The rule was if anyone in the group of 6 took off their mask we all were not allowed to continue on the tour.

Lower Antelope Canyon is beautiful! When one thinks about a river flowing through for millions of years creating this geologic formation it is really amazing. On this tour we walked to the entrance and down a few flights of steps all on ladders. Within the canyon walls we were within narrow passageways and wider areas, but as we would look up the steep walls we knew we were walled in with sunlight peaking down on us in the majority of places.

So many beautiful spots to photograph and depending on the light it changes every minute. Here are a few more photos:

At the end of the canyon tour we climb some ladders and emerge from a crack in the ground. Notice the woman’s hat and the next photo it is the same spot without her there. Can you imagine so long ago looking over the landscape, seeing the crack and then wondering what was below? It is how they discover these places and I love imagining what I would feel like being the first explorer here …wow!

In the past I visited Upper Antelope Canyon. It too was beautiful! But, on a tour with 20 plus people there, I know I did not get the same sense of awe as I did in this canyon with a smaller group. With a large group it was difficult to hear the guide and really feel the space in the canyon. Our guide at Lower Antelope Canyon told us the business owners are considering their guide’s input to not return to the large groups when Covid is no longer a concern. Guides enjoy the smaller groups, especially when their goal is to be educational and informative, and there is no doubt in my mind the general public do too! If you get a chance to visit these canyons, do so and remember your camera!

Hope this gives you a sense of size!

Who Knew? Animals in My Neighborhood!

It is not necessary for me to travel far to enjoy outdoor time and see a variety of animals. Living outside a city, and what I consider horse country, I do see birds in the trees and flying overhead, people walking their dog or out for their own walk, and/or some people riding horseback along the roadside to a local trail. It’s a relaxing time while runners and bicyclists also use the country road I am walking.

On one particular road these are the animals I see: horse, pigs, donkeys and longhorn:

The horse is in the same pen as the donkeys. I never see them interacting with each other and I guess that is the point of putting them together! On this road we have a couple of riding rings where I see young people practicing their skills on horse. I only have 2 memories of anything related to me riding a horse. One, my injured tent mate on a Nepal trek needed to ride a horse back to town. The narrow trekking trails would be the last place I would want to be on a horse, 4-6 feet higher than the ground … for me, that is to far to fall off a horse! I’ll trek on out thank you. Second, I must have been on a horse at some point in my life, yet I only remember my youngest sister losing a contact lens during the ride … hmm … maybe someone will refresh my memory as to where that happened.

The donkeys … enough said.

The pigs at this property I walk and/or bicycle by are interesting because they are the only pigs I ever see. In researching pigs I learned one refers to a pig as domestic swine if the animal is less than 180 pounds and a hog when more so. Often visitors to Arizona see a javelina and think they are a pig, but they not! They are peccaries. I can tell you about javelina: poor eyesight, great sense of smell and most active at night. I think one or two tromp through my side yard quite often; pigs … I know nothing! (Some day I will provide a javelina photo.)

On this particular walk there is an animal I refer to as a longhorn steer. This animal has huge horns, although the photo may not show it best. There is an electric fence to keep us all a safe distance from the animal. Those horns can grow to 65 inches across! In researching longhorns I learned they can be aggressive but also known to be a loving farm companion. I am not sure what that means since I never see a companion. (Someday when the longhorn is looking my direction I will get a better photo!)

I have to include another horse photo because this is my favorite horse. It resides on another one of my walking routes. I am always excited to see the horse, especially when it has no bug netting over its eyes! The horse sees me and trots over each time to say hello. Ok, maybe not hello but maybe to see if I have food! In any case, I have no food and do not even move closer to the horse, but simply walk by and say hello. I think it is a beautiful looking horse!

While on these couple of walks I was looking at all of these larger animals and cannot help but notice the smaller ones too: insects. That may be my future challenge to photograph the variety of insects I see on a walk … maybe when it warms up in 6 months … In the meantime, I hope you are keeping your eyes open to what nature has provided within your sight! Enjoy!

Hiking at Grand Canyon National Park … I Love it!

Whenever I am within 150 miles of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park I have no reason not to visit! A recent quick day trip allowed my friend and I to hike a few miles on the rim trail, socially-distanced from other people, and to view wildlife and the canyon’s grandeur once again!

The Covid pandemic is still unfortunately our reality! Signs are posted everywhere to remind people face masks are required inside various shops, hotels, shuttle buses and some viewpoints overlooking the canyon where people cannot socially-distance themself from others. Another sign I saw and had never seen before was designating an area for people to exercise their Constitutional First Amendment Rights. No one was in the area on this day.

I have hiked to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon a few times. When I am at the rim, I love looking over the canyon’s edge to locate certain points, such as Plateau Point, Indian Garden, South Kaibab Trail, Ooh-Aah Point, etc. If you were interested in hiking to Plateau Point, plan a full-day to hike down the Bright Angel Trail, then take a side trail to it just before reaching Indian Garden. It is still a bit of a hike out to the point, although it does have the flattest terrain of your day. At Plateau Point you’ll be overlooking the Colorado River and it’s a nice place to have lunch. It’s a long day to hike 12.2 miles. Or you may choose to hike only 600 feet down to Ooh-Aah Point on the South Kaibab Trail. Any hike in the canyon, remember to double the time for your return to the rim, bring water and snacks, and take breaks as needed. All can be accomplished with good planning.

Find a trail off to a point which is Plateau Point!

From Yavapai Point on the rim trail, one can see the Colorado River. With our current drought concerns, lowered water level at Lake Powell and less snow-melt into the rivers feeding this river, there has been much discussion and hopefully productive actions taken since we are far beyond a rain-dance solution to assure citizens of Arizona, California, and Nevada of a continued water source. You hear of places where water restrictions are required and this will be a larger, continued concern if we are not careful with our water management. 

As we look below the canyon’s edge, one can see the Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge. Look closely, it is there! It’s an important bridge used by trail riders and mules to carry supplies to Phantom Ranch. Just before the pandemic there was a dedication of the 1928 trail and bridge construction. It was amazing construction and remains in use today! 

Look at the bridge and that is where you walk to cross the river.

I usually hike down the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, crossing the Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge …. Campout or stay in a cabin/dorm …. then return a couple of days later on the Bright Angel Trail to the rim. I love seeing the Bright Angel trail because it brings back so many memories of good times I have had hiking the canyon! Looking closely for the zig-zag of the Bright Angel Trail just before the rim. Many day hikers will walk down from this point … but remember… double your time as that is what you will need to return to the rim! And please wear hiking boots, sunscreen and bring water and snacks!

See zig-zagged trail …you hike it!

There are interesting weather-worn trees and wildlife in the canyon. On our latest visit we saw mountain goats and elk. Condors are sometimes in the air. Just keep your eyes open and appreciate nature at its best! 

I wish everyone could visit the Grand Canyon. It is an amazing place to feel humbled by what nature can accomplish with no interference from humankind. I can only hope we do not destroy our planet. I want future generations to see this canyon with water. Currently recycling scarce water is happening as explained in this diagram:

My hope is for all to look across the canyon, on a clear day, to the horizon 60 + miles away and see Mount Trumball as seen in the photo below:

Off in the distance is Mount Trumbull … this was a clear day!

Water and air are so important and canyon visit should reminds us all of their importance. Be safe and enjoy the canyon!

Eaten in A Bird-Minute & Five-Seconds!

A photographer can capture one very quick wildlife moment or remain for hours at a site and only have taken one photograph! Or a series of photos can result when watching wildlife for a minute and 5 seconds! Here is a white-breasted nuthatch I watched and photographed while it caught a bug of some sort to eat. Amazing beak work!

Looking, watching!
Fooled! It was right below me!
Squirmy little one!
My snack is not being dropped.
Got to angle this bug for a slide into my beak!
Got it; a snack and ready for more!

Birds eat quite a bit of food, contrary to people believing they do not. I know this white-breasted nuthatch will be off looking for more to eat.

Surprise! Elk Ahead in Arizona!

We just ended a late-afternoon Picture Canyon hike in Flagstaff when across the road from the parking lot we heard a sort of bugling sound and noticed some animals in a field. Upon a closer look we discover a herd of elk! There were at least 50 elk grazing in the field and unaware of us.

Elk are the largest species in the deer family and the largest terrestrial animal in North America. They are also called “wapiti” which is a Native American word meaning “light-colored deer”.  We anticipated the elk moving along so we drove our car about a quarter mile down the road to watch them more closely, as they too wandered down to this area. A couple of them looked back at us as we used our car as a photography blind. We certainly wanted to provide these 500 pound animals with plenty of space and to not feel bothered by us.

We were observing this herd after rutting season and it seemed obvious the bull elk had his cows together to move south for the winter. This herd is probably part of the elk herd, referred to as the Interstate -17 herd, which migrates about 24 miles south of Flagstaff for warmer temperatures. The bull elk was calling the others to move.

The herd moved through a fenced-area and away from us so capturing photos was a challenge, but here are some:

Quite a sight to see these animals! I did worry about them traveling south because there are many highways to cross and I am not familiar with any wildlife corridors in the Flagstaff area. I am aware of many elk-vehicle collisions per year. I can only hope this herd finds safety and will return next year to this area. What a great opportunity for us to view wildlife in their natural habitat!

Be Slow & Silent …  Break Away With Both …

I remember the harried days during my world of work; my 30 year career in education. While teaching during the school year and working youth programs at local parks during the summer, I was always “on”. Then working as a school administrator, summers were working days too, so I was still “on”. While “on” is a good state to be in when working, our bodies need some down time for us to be our best selves when at work.

Fortunately I had an old hunter’s shack in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains to escape and slow down. In the middle of the forest it was silent! What a great combination, slowness and silence! My mind and body appreciated the step away from work frenzy and home responsibilities so I could rejuvenate and be at my best when I returned to work. I should have taken more of these moments through my career, but at least I learned the importance of the slow and silent escape!

The first 12 years of my retirement I continued various work responsibilities, slowed down some, but only in true retirement, meaning absolutely no work responsibilities, have I slowed down and appreciated silence once again!

In reality, creating escapes with moments and places allowing you to slow down and be in silence can happen if we consciously choose to find it. A walk in nature on a trail where few people may be, or to drive on a local back road with no music or news on in your car, or to sit in a quiet space within your own home. It is important to look at what is best and easiest for you to accomplish and maybe maintain for your own continued place to escape for slow and silent periods of time.

What you do in those moments of slow and silent is totally up to you. You may sit, pray, meditate, sketch, read, or otherwise choose what is best for yourself since we all cannot escape to a shack in the woods. The goal is for our mind and body to relax and since I no longer have my shack in the mountains, I too find local escapes. 

How often do we need to take time for this? You’ll know as you incorporate all of this into your life. We are all different with varied needs, so there is no formula to follow. Listen to your own body and mind and always do what is best for yourself. Support your well-being!

Where will you take yourself?

On a path, over a bridge, and to some peace and quiet! Love it!

Who’s On The Plants?

Spider, butterfly and fly!

I love seeing a spider’s web! Such industrious work goes into creating a web to capture their prey that I simply admire the work done by spiders. Then I want to find the spider! In my perfect world I would have loved to have sprayed the web with some water so I could photograph it better, but I did not want to harm any of the work this spider was doing and actively working on. With the help of iNaturalist app, I have identified this spider as a western spotted orb weaver. Notice the spiral wheel-shaped web, orb, used to capture other insect prey.

Notice the spokes of the web.
Notice the silk.

As I was looking at nearby plants, I noticed another insect. Butterflies are a challenge to photograph; however, this one was slow in the heat of the day so I took advantage of that. This is a common gray hairstreak. They are found throughout North America and only live 3-4 weeks on average.

Butterflies appear in many myths around the world with the butterfly as a spirit guide. Depending on the stage of its metamorphosis there can be various meanings. Overall, they remind us to expand our awareness and insight, done in many ways such as: reading, travel, art and in healthy relationships with others who encourage us to grow and be better versions of ourselves.

I then thought I was seeing a bee, yet it was a type of hoverfly. Three hundred species of these Copestylum flies exist. Four of the species exist outside America having probably been introduced inside cacti. This is a Copestylum marginatum:

So they are the insects on the plants today, but tomorrow is a new day! Take time to notice the insects making use of or enjoying your yard of plants. No insecticides are used on our property so we can enjoy a variety of insects! They are important animals in the overall web of life and need to survive even for their short lifetime!

Bicycling the Shoreline of San Diego Bay

Cooler air temperature draws me to the San Diego area a few times per year and sometimes the birding is excellent. This day I wandered by bicycle along San Diego Bay’s shoreline past areas I had not spent time before.

Leaving my Chula Vista campground, I bicycled parallel with the San Diego River, through an industrial area and naval entities. (San Diego is a naval city.) I’m riding a bike path at the start, then bike lanes past marinas and the Seaport Village which is touristy. I continued cycling along the shoreline. In the industrial area I saw hundreds of Dole containers arriving … with no doubt …. all forms of pineapples, and in the tourist area, many statues and some historical ships. I stood below these huge ships: “Star of India” and the “USS Midway”, both with history of their own. I read tributes at many statues recognizing military service from all armed forces. The “Cancer Survivor’s Park” provided excellent info which I’ll share in my next blog post.

USS Midway
Star of India

Yes, I saw some birds: terns, pelicans, pigeons, sparrows… but today was my slow day and seeing people enjoy the outdoors in ways not particularly my interest. The huge cruise ships, solo paddle boarders and every watercraft in between reminded me of personal previous sea-sickness! They were not pleasant memories, but to see the sunlight bouncing off the water on this day, I was good! I continued cycling to a lunch stop at a shady picnic table. This will be my turn-around point even though I contemplate riding further to Point Loma, but that is not to happen today.

People here are wearing masks and socially distancing in the touristy areas, thanks to it being a requirement! All of us outdoors can enjoy the sea breeze with hopes the Covid viral numbers go down.

The airport is across the road from where I am eating my lunch of cheese, crackers and hot green tea. (The tea is my usual mid-morning snack break so I brought it along today.) As I watch these planes land and take-off, I hope my air travel returns by 2022. I still have so much of the world to see! In the meantime California here I come!

Is It a Bird?

While weeding in our backyard I am often distracted by whatever living thing is moving around in the area. Often it’s a bird and I have wished my camera was available. On this day I decided to bring my camera out back where I needed to work.

I saw caterpillars and other crawling bugs among the weeds. In the air, plenty of yellow moths and colorful butterflies, but I was most interested in a larger flyer … a hummingbird moth! The couple of them flying around our desert willow tree, while I worked, enticed me to pick up my camera. An easy choice … time for a break and my camera was nearby! Perfect!

Here are a few photos of this hummingbird moth.

It looks like a bird, but it is a moth; technically named a white-lined sphinx (Hyles lineata)! And now you know!

Women Can Stand To Pee!

Here’s an update on the world of (PUD) “personal urination devices” or (STP) “stand to pee” devices for women. You probably do not recall my March 15, 2021 “Pee & Poop” blog post when I did test a few products. Click on my post’s title link above to refresh your memory, if you wish. 

Recently I realized I was still squatting behind cacti, shrubbery or a car door more often than using any of the pee devices, until I discovered and tried the “pStyle”! This plastic device works for me much better than the softer flexible devices. Who would have thought!?! I was comfortable squatting, but it did require pulling my shorts/pants down. The “pStyle” device can be used while fully clothed. Simply unzip a front zipper or move clothing to position the device as needed and it is time to pee!

Directions for the device will state you can use the rounded back edge and wipe away drips, thus no toilet paper needed. When done, shake any drips from the device, wipe it with wet ones or soap and water and/or toss in your bag to wash later. Know it is dishwasher safe if you are inclined to clean it in that manner. This device does not fold up small like other devices which could be a concern for you, but since I like the ease in using this one that is a minor factor. Just store it someplace and you are set. You can buy a carry-bag for your pStyle, sold separately, or make your own.

When you are out on the hiking trail being sure to hydrate, no worries! Driving down the road and wondering where is the next restroom, no worries! The “pStyle” device will be a game changer for you to stand up and pee on your timeline!