Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

We timed this adventure to the Petrified Forest National Park perfectly! Weather was comfortable for hiking the Agate House and Long Logs Trail, Crystal Forest Trail and viewing Newspaper Rock and Blue Mesa at the park and finishing our drive at the Painted Desert. During Covid-19 time now, masks were required to be worn when within 6 feet of other people and quite honestly not many people were at the park. Almost felt like we had the park to ourselves as we looked across the land with its petrified wood!

Petrified wood at the park.

Many prehistoric people lived in this park known for its petrified wood. Trees once stood over 200 feet tall before flood waters carried them into a log jam where they were covered with mud and ash from volcanoes. As a result, the wood lacked oxygen to decay. The wood’s tissues broke down with minerals, such as silica, filling some voids in the tree. Over millions of years the minerals crystallized. After erosion, the logs are visible for us to see the colorful minerals crystallized within what is no longer wood of a tree. This petrified wood was once used by prehistoric people to make tools and use as building blocks. The agate house is one interesting gathering place from prehistoric time that still stands.

Part of the Agate House Trail is handicapped accessible and beyond a certain point it is not so well paved. While walking on this trail I saw a horned lark!

Long Logs Trail and Crystal Forest Trail are where you can see the tall trees now in their petrified state, all intact, while others are chunks throughout the park lands.

Agate Bridge is a petrified log that jammed in a spot now as a bridge, yet park officials had built a support underneath it to hold it longer for visitors to see it. Newspaper Rock is a designated area on the park’s road and worth a visit to see the petroglyphs. Blue Mesa is a short drive/loop off the park road and also good to see. All of this is a small glimpse of a large park.

Blue Mesa

Painted Desert can be accessed here at the Petrified Forest. It too is so much larger, but interesting to see even with this small glimpse of it.

Driving from Flagstaff, Arizona to the Petrified Forest National Park, we entered at the south entrance of the park, off Rte 180, and headed north through the park. Visitor centers were open, portable toilets available, and social distancing and masks required per park rules. Long ago people traveled the now historic route 66 by car to visit the park. Here is one car:

Geologically-speaking, 900 Years Old is Young

People hike the San Francisco Peak trails in Flagstaff, Arizona. Unknown to many hikers, the area is eroded remains of a stratovolcano that erupted at its latest 400,000 years ago. Also within the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a cinder volcano, eventually named Sunset Crater, spewed cinder/ash only nine hundred years ago. It is this cinder volcano, geologically-speaking, that is considered to be young. People can visit this area now referred to as Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.

When you visit Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument take time to walk a couple of trails. The Lava Flow trail is a one mile long walk on cinders/ash. The basaltic rock is dark and high in iron, once spewed from a vent as the cinder cone grew in size. It is amazing now to see trees and other plants growing from the solid lava.

Another trail, the Bonita Vista Trail has, for three-tenths of a mile, a paved, wheelchair-accessible path. It loops around and also connects to an amphitheater area. There is also an unpaved trail continuing on through the lava flow of this area.

People who lived in this area were displaced when the volcano was active in its eruption and creation of the cinder cone. They were the Sinaguans who moved away from here. Evidence shows they moved to what is now named Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. If you visit the Flagstaff area, there are plenty of historic places to visit.

Birds at Walnut Canyon Lakes, Flagstaff, AZ

After a few days of walking around the lakes I decided to photograph many of the birds I had seen, unfortunately I seemed to have picked the coldest day for this project. Most ducks were either diving for food or napping. Here are some photos; first photo, Canada goose ahead of me as I walked the path!

Finally, on the ground or in the trees: western bluebird, American robin and white -crowned sparrow.. It was a good few days of birding at this location with the buffelhead new to my life list.

In the neighborhood there is a huge tree with a nest for possibly an osprey or some other large bird. I suspect people who live here know exactly who stays at that nest. No activity there for me to see, darn!

Walnut Canyon National Monument, Flagstaff, AZ

Who lived in the cliff dwellings near Flagstaff Arizona? When you visit Walnut Canyon National Monument you’ll discover the 12th century Sinagua people had inhabited this area. They were hunter/gatherers and knew how to dry-farm, thus the term “sinagua” was coined in 1939 by an archeologist from Spanish words meaning “without water”. These people knew how to use the land in the canyon and at the top to capture and irrigate their crops. It really is a fascinating place to visit when trying to appreciate how 300 families lived and survived in these cliff dwellings.

As you walk down hundreds of steps to walk the Island Trail, the living and storage spaces are in varying degrees of restoration. Many years ago, unfortunately, others had raided the dwellings and taken pottery, etc.

The dwellings off in the distance in the cliffs have been undisturbed and the places buried at the highest elevation are yet to be excavated and studied. They would be the most fascinating to see. I guess that is why some people today study cultural anthropology. Of course geologists would enjoy looking at the cross-bedding and studying the rock layers in this canyon. Biologists would make sense of how the Sinagua survived foraging as hunters and gatherers. None of it seemed to be an easy life so I can understand moving south as next generations found this area.

There is also a rim trail to walk and see the dwellings in the distance, along with their irrigation and planting techniques. One does not need to walk the whole way down to the Island Trail, especially if feeling the steep walk back would be to much of an effort. Signs do remind you “returning is mandatory”, so I included just one section of stairway, as I think there are over 700 steps, and a path to provide a sense of what you will encounter on the loop walk.

Also in this Covid-19 time, a one-way direction on the Island Trail is encouraged and masks are to be worn when within 6 feet of another person. All were compliant in meeting that responsibility. Visit someday when you can and marvel at the life and survival of the people so long ago.

Mountain Bicycling … Am I Having A Good Time?

After each mountain bike ride I ask myself, did I enjoy the ride? No doubt I love moving onto areas of land it would take me longer to get to if I was walking. Add a beautiful sunny, non-windy day and I can enjoy this bicycle ride also as good physical and mental exercise. 

I ready my backpack, set my Garmin so I eventually know how much hardship I endured during the ride, clip into my pedals and take off for a ride. I only ride easy, green circle, and intermediate trails, blue square on maps, and even still find my legs challenged at times, especially when at higher elevations. Why is there always a rock exactly where I want to pedal uphill? And believe it or not, some rocks are in the wrong place even when I want to be gravity-led downhill, so I just roll right over the top of them!

More mountain bike trails are available throughout our country and hikers, dog walkers and other mountain bikers are sharing the trails. Maps and apps make it easier for us all to find places to be outdoors and during this pandemic it is an easy way to social distance. I love trails where I can see ahead and be sure no one else is on the trail and knowing I am soon to enjoy the flat, singletrack. 

You’ll notice I do not photograph trails full-of-rocks, steep uphill or downhill. I was surviving them through my smallest chain ring or walking! I find no shame in that walk. It simply allows me to get further out on a trail to enjoy another piece of scenery. We were on a segment of the Arizona Trail, originally designed as a 800+ hiking trail from Mexico to Utah, south to north through Arizona. Enough crazy people also started mountain biking it, but we thought a segment would be interesting since we had done other segments elsewhere in the state. After cursing the part I had to walk I was thrilled to go through this gate onto a grassland area. Yeah!

Further down the AZ Trail it intersected with Tom Moody Trail. Reading the trail signs, we discover petroglyphs in the area, so we check it out. A nice diversion and a place we returned to when hiking with our friends days later.

Now the ride back. The AZ Trail segment was okay, yet I also did hate the sandy areas. A good rain or snowfall is needed to tame sections of a sandy trail. Back to our main trail and finish our loop. Whew! Survived, no major falls, some aching body parts, I am done! Did I have a good time? Yes! It’ll be a few days before I mountain bike again. My body needs to recuperate from all the bouncing around and that is fine; I am not as young as I used to be. Till then a hike is just fine!

October: Birds at Home Feeder

Every morning I can count on the usual birds at the feeder: lesser goldfinches, sometimes 8 at one time. Usually at least 1 gila woodpecker; however, once that bird starts calling there will be others arriving. Trying to find their time at the feeder will be the house finches. They do not eat from the feeder used by the goldfinches. The house finches wait their turn when gila woodpeckers are not in the neighborhood.

Other visitors to the backyard are hummingbirds at the desert willow, curve-billed thrashers at the feeder used by the woodpeckers, and mourning doves and Gambel’s quail looking to eat what seed drops onto the ground. However, when I had put some food out, not in a cylinder, there were young quail hopping on to eat it. Now their food is what falls onto the ground as I like the cylinders for the seed.

Every so often we have a roadrunner scooting through our backyard. The only bird I missed photographing in our back area was a gnatcatcher. I really wanted to get a photo to know for sure which one it was; another time!

Learn With Barn Swallows

One of my many photography goals is to photograph birds in flight. Finding the correct location to take such a photograph requires knowing the bird’s flight plan, where the sun is in the sky relative to that info, what the water’s edge looks like, reedy or open so a photo can be taken from lift-off or only in the sky, handhold the camera or use a gimbal on a tripod, and what camera settings to use.

The other night I spent more than an hour at a local place watching ducks fly in and fly out a couple of times. Plenty of photos were taken as I figured out my camera settings, lighting, and guessing whether that bird was about to fly. Out of all, I was lucky to capture one good photo of a mallard duck.

Mallard duck.

Then I heard about auto ISO and how it is useful with bird photography. I decided to try my newly discovered camera setting on some ducks, hopefully in flight, the next day. I re-read various photography papers about auto ISO and consulted my camera’s on-line manual. So with the auto ISO sensitivity this brings my birds in flight challenge to a different level and somewhat easier, I hope!

I was at a different local place the next morning and the ducks were more interested in eating their meal than flying. I watched barn swallows quickly fly over the water, snatch insects at the water’s surface and then fly off…so fast!

Was I up to the challenge to use what I learned about auto ISO with these fast-flying barn swallows? Why not? I thought if I can capture some good photos of these fliers, then auto ISO will become another tool I can use with my photography! So with camera on the gimbal on the tripod, shutter speed and aperture settings ready and auto ISO on, the shooting began! Barn swallows fly fast in the sky and near the water’s surface. Trying to keep up with them was almost impossible! I took some photos, changed the shutter speed for some photos, and here were the results.

Wow, I actually had some okay photos within my numerous attempts; I am talking at least 100! A good first lesson. I look forward to using auto ISO when the need arises, and hopefully with something that moves a bit slower! Or maybe not; this was fun!

Time With a Roadrunner

Wildlife photography provides opportunities for one to observe something new and different and then with thoughts of capturing a photo. The typical photo of a greater roadrunner is like the one below:

Greater roadrunner

Roadrunners are usually running off so to see this one for minutes was great fun! Greater roadrunners have a bushy crest capable of moving up and down, a long tail, and a blue skin patch behind their eye. While taking time to watch this bird more closely, I saw some behaviors new to me. With feathers spread out, the bird almost looked comical and I wondered what’s going on.

Was this bird trying to impress another bird? No other bird was obvious to me from the angle where I stood. I continued to watch with hopes I may capture the roadrunner preying on something, running off, or taking flight to a tree top. None of that happened, but I did see the bird’s bushy crest with an unusual look, something I had never seen before or at least not from the rear! Is that how it always looks when the bird puts the crest up?

Bushy crest looked funny from this angle!

It is wonderful to be in no rush while watching wildlife since otherwise I would not have seen this bird carrying on with this activity. Then I saw what looked like a piece of straw in its beak … was this bird courting? I still could not see another bird in the area.

Is any courting happening?

I will never know what all that activity was about since the roadrunner ran away from me. It was an interesting number of minutes watching this bird. I was glad to have the time with no other people around to spook the bird. Moments like this are precious! It is easy to understand the value of the outdoors and taking time to be in it as often as one can. I wish everyone had this opportunity even if at a local park. I am fortunate!

Greater roadrunner takes off!

Coyotes at Isabella Lee Natural Preserve

Everyone is out here! I saw mountain biker, hiker, walkers with dogs, coyotes and birds. When I first started, 6:30am, a pack of coyotes outnumbered everyone; 8 coyotes ran through one section of this preserve! I saw one coyote and grabbed my camera. Then I watched one coyote wait for all in the pack to pass him and then he ran off too.

Birds were quiet this morning, but here were some I did see and photograph. I want to return here with my mountain bicycle when I know birding and photography are not my top priority.

Above, greater roadrunner, ash-throated flycatcher, Anna’s hummingbird, and Cooper’s hawk. Plenty of house finches, lesser goldfinches, mourning doves and some birds I have no idea what they are. Interesting place to spend some time!