Liebster Award – Bloggers Supporting Bloggers

What a surprise to have WordPress notify me that someone had commented on a recent blog post with the following message: “Hi there! I really enjoy your blog. I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. You can read all about it on my website:”

When I Googled ‘Liebster Blog Award,’ there were many, many referrals to recent posts citing blogs where others had received a similar message from a blog reader. It appears to be an award given by fellow bloggers to recognize blogs that they like and follow. I am honored that Pat thought of me.

I have been following Pat Bean since 2004 when she was still a reporter for the Ogden Standard-Examiner who also wrote a weekly column about birds. I met her when I was visiting Ogden and joined the Wasatch Audubon group as they took a census of bluebird boxes. When I returned home, I began to read her column, “Winging It,” every week online. As an aspiring writer who loved to chronicle my birding adventures, her column provided me with hope that others might be interested in reading about my experiences.

She retired and her columns stopped.

I started writing the equivalent of blog posts, which I sent out to friends each week by e-mail. After I retired, I took a class in blogging and converted my weekly e-mail stories into Judy’s Jottings, which Pat discovered and started following. A short time later, I set up a separate blog, devoted just to birding – It’s a Bird Thing. I don’t post much in Judy’s Jottings these days, since I have been consumed the last two years with writing – and now marketing – the book I co-authored, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.

Since Pat posts her blog posts on Facebook, I have been reading them regularly – and have been impressed with her commitment to write a post every day. However, I have to admit that in the bustle of other writing, I have not been following other blogs as much lately.

My obligation, upon being nominated, is to acknowledge the person who nominated me and then to nominate five of my favorite bloggers. I read several ‘professional’ blogs, e.g. Cornell University’s Round Robin, the American Birding Association’s, Peeps. However, my sense of the intent of the Liebster Award is to recognize individual bloggers.

So, here is my list:

1) Even though I acknowledged Pat, her blog posts have to be my #1 favorite. The quotes she uses as a preamble to her posts always reach out and grab me – and I love her photography. Pat Bean’s Blog.

2) I enjoy reading Rosyfinch Ramblings, written by Ken Schneider. Although he maintains homes in south Florida and Illinois, he continues his love of the Sandia Mountains and the Rosy-Finch project on his blog.

3) Another one of my loves is photography. I enjoy following the photographic art of Lisa Tannenbaum on NewMexicoPhotoJournal. She taught several classes I have taken at UNM Continuing Education.

4) My fourth pick would go to Natural Moments, Joe Schelling’s blog where he posts his exquisite photographs of birds and butterflies.

5) My fifth is going to a beginning blogger – Historymama. Carole has a keen sense of observing and commenting on human nature with dry wit. This is hoping that the nomination will encourage her to persist.

The Rules are:
1. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Post the award on your blog.
4. Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogosphere – other bloggers.
5. And, best of all – have fun and spread the karma.

The Girl in the Polka Dot Skirt

It was a hot summer afternoon – a good time to be inside where the cool air from the swamp cooler wafted over us. Chris and I were engaging in our annual ritual of sifting through boxes of unidentified photos, letters and other memorabilia that had been among our mother’s possessions when she died. Most of it had actually come from our grandmother – who passed away in 1976.

Mother never felt comfortable asking questions about her family in northeast England – she always felt she was butting against a brick wall. Our grandparents immigrated to Canada when she was a year old and appeared to have cut ties with everyone. “I never knew anything about our family’s past or what motivated them to leave England,” Mom told us in her later years.

In fact, it took her at least five years to get up the nerve to look through the boxes of letters and photos. By time she did, so much was a mystery to her – and prompted Chris to begin her genealogical search to help Mom recreate her past. Bits and pieces of information began to piece together and previously unknown photos and names on letters started to fall into place. Yet many items remained a mystery – and became the basis for our annual summer ritual of looking at things with fresh eyes that now had more pieces to the puzzle.

“I came across this photo,” Chris said as she handed it to me, “when I was looking for some pictures of the girls when they were little. “She had been my pen pal when I was in high school.” she continued. “She was related in some way and Gram told me I should write to her – that we were the same age. She was someone Gram met when she visited England after Grandpa died in 1958. We wrote a few times, but didn’t seem to have much to say to each other; however, she sent me this picture. Although I have thought about her from time to time, I can’t even remember her name.”

It was a girl with a polka dot skirt who appeared to be standing on a ship or dock. We dubbed her ‘the girl in the polka dot skirt.’

The picture prompted us to look through the box of letters one more time to see if there were any clues.

There it was – almost at the bottom of the box – a letter from Gram. It was postmarked from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and talked about her visit.

Since Gram had eight siblings, some of whom we had not been able to find records for, it would be hard to know which niece she might be referring to.

Despite her closed-mouth response to Mom about her family, we discovered that she was in contact with some of her family. In 2002, our cousin Alan who lives in the UK, was able to track down and meet Lyn, the grand-daughter of Gram’s sister, Eliza. When Lyn wrote to introduce herself, she mentioned that when she had looked in her mother’s address book, she found Gram’s name and address in Yucaipa, CA!

Eliza and Matthew Mason

The picture of the ‘girl in the polka dot skirt’ went with us on a trip to the UK in 2008, along with an old weathered photo of a woman in fancy dress and a man in a top hat – taken behind a house. On that visit we met with descendants of our mutual great-grandparents, Samuel and Mary Jones. They were descendants from Samuel and Mary’s oldest daughter, Eliza – and we were descendants from their oldest son, Thomas. We would learn that the families of Thomas and Eliza remained close, most living in the Sherrif’s Hill and Windy Nook areas of Gateshead. We had always wondered how/why our grandparents lived there when Mom was born.

We discovered that the weathered photo was of Mathew and Eliza Mason, taken when their daughter Mary Jane married Isaac Hewitt.

When Chris passed around the photo of the ‘girl in the polka dot skirt,’ our cousin Harry said, “I have seen that picture before.” A couple of others also acknowledged it, but no one knew her name. And, in the past two and a half years, there have been no new revelations.

When Gram arrived in Gateshead in 1958, she first attempted to visit Stage relatives so she could tell them in person that her husband had died. After a chilly reception, she spent time with her extended Jones family. One of those was her cousin Elizabeth. In a letter to our mother she wrote, “you know, she is named after me.” And, in a letter to Chris and me she said, “they have treated me like a queen and just done everything to make me happy.”

When she returned, she suggested that Chris become her cousin Elizabeth’s daughter’s pen pal.

The picture remains a nagging mystery. Since all of the second and third cousins we have met and maintained contact with have helped us connect more dots and feel like we are part of a large extended family, we continue to hope that someone will recognize the girl in the picture and assist us to make contact.

“I am going to write about the girl in the polka dot skirt,” I told Chris recently. “Maybe the notion of the Six Degrees of Separation (a chain of, “a friend of a friend” statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer) will help us find her. “I will post my blog story on Facebook and urge people with ties to northeast England to share it with their friends.”
I am counting on the Six Degrees of Separation to help us find ‘the girl in the polka dot skirt.”

Texas A and M to Publish Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico

It was June 2008 when fellow birders Dave and Abby Watson encouraged me to write a bird-finding guide to central New Mexico. “You’re a writer,” they said. “You would do a great job.”

It seemed like an impossible task, and I quickly dismissed the idea. However, over that summer, the notion kept popping up when I was exploring one of central New Mexico’s natural environments. I realized that I already had been collecting my impressions when I wrote the story about the week’s birding adventures and posted it on my blog – It’s a Bird Thing. It would be a natural extension to look at each location in a new light. As I roamed through the Sandia Mountains or prowled along the central Rio Grande, I began paying attention to the trails and facilities and started accumulating notes. I noticed what was helpful in other bird finding guides as I traveled to new areas.

By spring, I felt it was a project I could undertake and enlisted the involvement of my friend and birding mentor, Barbara Hussey. She was excited to be a part of the endeavor and has been a wonderful partner in the project. A month later, she and another friend, Sue, traveled to Texas in search of birds. As we wound our way through the Hill Country, down to Corpus Christie, over to the lower Rio Grande and back, we consulted two different guides and made note of what was helpful and what was missing.

After enjoying looks of the Green (Barb) and Ringed (Sue and I) Kingfishers early one morning at Salineno, a remote village along the Rio Grande, we realized we had no clue where to find a rest room – and vowed to include that information in our publication. Most bird-finding guides, we would later discover, are written by men!

Because both Barb and I had traveled to other cities on business trips where we didn’t have a car, but wanted to sneak in some birding, we decided to include public transportation options when they existed.

By the end of May we had decided what sites we would highlight, and the features we would include about each one. By June I started writing in earnest. From northern Virginia, Barb began researching public transportation options, the best travel routes to reach each site, and the closest food, gas and lodging.

I quickly discovered some of the gaps in my notes, and made multiple trips back to each location – a wonderful excuse to do early morning birding before returning to my computer. However, it became difficult to enjoy my weekly trips with the Thursday Birders, since I felt compelled to check out details.

Fellow birders became additional site experts, reviewing and making recommendations to site descriptions where they frequently led field trips or located near their home.

In August, I contacted University of New Mexico (UNM) Press. They were very excited and the Acquisitions Editor felt it would be a good addition to their collection. I told him that we would be able to have a final manuscript to him by December 18. We both wanted to enjoy the holidays without having it hang over our heads.

As I completed each site description, I e-mailed them to Barb for her always excellent feedback. I reached my goal to have all of the site descriptions written before I flew to California in early October. A print-out of each chapter went with me to proof between visits with family and friends and on while away the time on the plane and the airport.

When I returned I began vetting each site with the government agency responsible for the location and researching the prevalence of the bird species we had included in the guide through Cornell University’s eBird online database of sightings. Through their bar graph feature, I was able to determine when migrating species arrived and left central New Mexico.

The manuscript was finished and sent off on schedule.

In early February after returning from a visit with my son and his family in California, I received a package from UNM Press – with the manuscript and a letter saying that it was with deep regret that they would not be able to publish our book; the press was experiencing severe financial constraints.

I learned how to submit a book proposal and started approaching numerous publishers. All came back with a polite rejection – until we got to Texas A&M Press. They were very interested and wanted us to send the full manuscript. We scrambled to make the numerous changes we had decided would enhance the manuscript and sent it on its way.

By the end of June, the editor had sent us the comments from our first peer review and told us she was in the process of contacting the second reviewer. By mid–August, we had the second set of comments and summarized the changes we would make as a result of the reviews. Their perspectives as individuals who had spent time birding in central New Mexico, but who were viewing the sites with fresh eyes, were extremely helpful.

Meanwhile, Barb was busy drawing trail diagrams and my sister, Chris, used her Computer Assisted Drafting (CAD) program to turn them into finished products!

The faculty review committee met on September 22 and unanimously approved Birding Hotpots of Central New Mexico for publication. “The committee members were enthusiastic and completely supportive,” she stated. “We’re ready to move forward.”

It still doesn’t seem real.

Early this week, a box went in the mail with two copies of the final manuscript and accompanying disks of photos, diagrams, etc.

The publishing process is lengthy, but will be worth the wait. The book should be ready to purchase in July 2011. Stay tuned for more details.

Chaco Canyon – Mystical and Cold

Horned Larks scattered as we made our way along NM 46 and later County Road 7050 on our way into Chaco Canyon. Before long the pavement ended abruptly and we prepared ourselves for what we thought would be 20 miles of bouncing. We were pleasantly surprised to find the road had been graded level, and despite recent rains, there was no evidence of ruts.

It had been five years since I visited Chaco Culture National Historical Park on a University of New Mexico Continuing Education Story of New Mexico trip. I had been fascinated by the information presented by a long-time park ranger on the area’s history as we toured Pueblo Bonito. In addition, I had been amazed by the area’s natural history and was frustrated by the limited amount of time we had to explore the area. Staying in the campground and waking up in this mystical place became a future goal.

“October should be the perfect time,” my friend Donna stated early in the summer when we discovered our mutual desire to camp at Chaco.

Chaco-campsiteWe pulled into the Gallo Campground shortly before noon. It was a Monday and few spaces were occupied. We picked a spot that backed up to a small ruin – and close to the restroom. The restroom was being upgraded; two pink and two blue portable restrooms stood nearby – along with a portable sink.

We spent the afternoon walking out to the Wiiji Pueblo ruins. The trail, like a dirt road, meandered along the base of a sandstone mesa. A pair of ravens seemed to dance in the air as they flew acrobatic maneuvers over our head. We could hear the sound of their wing beats as they spiraled around each other.


Wiiji Pueblo ruin

Unlike some of the other pueblos, Wiiji is thought to have been built all at once and has a uniform style of masonry. “I could never lay rock that straight,” Donna commented.

The timbers used for roof beams and door frames came from mountains over 50 miles away and were carried by man-power, rather than carts or animals. Carbon dating of these timbers has helped archaeologists establish the time periods of construction. What might appear like vent holes, also served as calendars – the rays of the sun coming through them marked the passage of time.


Shell fossil

A short ways beyond the pueblo was a cliff with both petroglyphs (etched into the sandstone) and pictographs (painted pictures).

“Oh, look,” I called to Donna. “This rock beside the trail has a fossilized shell embedded on the top.”

Chaco-duskThe sun was getting low when we returned to the campground from the 3.5 mile walk. There was still time to explore the various small ruins tucked under the cliff behind the camp sites. The air was turning chilly. As I stood under the rock overhang to stay out of the wind, warmth radiated off the rocks.

“The Chacoans that built here, knew what they were doing,” Donna commented. The cliffs across the canyon seemed to glow in the fading sun.

Chaco-sunsetAs we fixed dinner snug in the camper, I peeked behind the insulated window covering to see if there was going to be a sunset.

“Will you watch the dinner while I go out and take some photos?” I asked.

A few campsites away, a couple was huddled around a campfire. It looked as though they were going to sleep in the back of their truck. Beyond them, the cliff was a black silhouette against the scarlet sky.

As we were about ready to get ready to make up our beds, the camper lights began to falter, and then the CO2 alarm started beeping.

“Oh, oh,” Donna gasped. “I think the camper battery is going.” We had just turned on the heater to take the chill of the increasingly cold night. “I am so sorry, but this is the end of our lights and heat.”

“Since my sleeping bag is rated for 32 degrees, I should be OK,” I replied, remembering that the campground host alerted us that the temperature was supposed to drop to freezing that night.

I felt snuggly warm once I slid into my sleeping bag and pulled my fleece hat down over my ears. My comfort was short-lived. Every time I thought I had the bag tucked around my shoulders, it would gape a little and I would start to feel a chill.

I slept – or dozed – rather lightly, waking up often when my shoulders got cold. I kept thinking about the two ravens Donna had spotted in a cleft near our campsite. They were nestled up next to the rock cliff to take advantage of the warmth. Even with the radiant heat from the cliff and the ability to fluff up their feathers to form a protective layer, it had to be a cold night for them. I longed to lean against something that would emanate warmth.

I had to make my first trip to the pink potty around 1 a.m. “Did you look up at the stars?” Donna asked when we returned.

“No, I just trudged along,” I grumbled.

By 5 a.m. when nature called again, I had slept very little. While I headed out again, Donna unearthed a mummy bag and stuffed it inside my sleeping bag. This time I attempted to look up at the stars, but the steam from my exhalation in the near-freezing air clouded my view.

Back in my double bags, I was finally warm and able to sleep for what remained of the night.

We were awakened in the morning by the pitter patter of a Canyon Towhee as it trotted across the roof of the camper. Light clouds covered the sky, hinting of the winter storm that was expected that night. I discovered ice in the top of my water bottle I had left in the cab of the truck.


Fahada Butte

After breaking camp we headed out to explore a different part of the park. Our first stop was the Fahada Butte Overlook. The Chacoans recognized the significance of this geological anomaly that is oriented in an almost perfect north-south, east-west axis, and used it as a sun shrine, a place of worship, and astronomical observatory.

We hoped to hike the Pueblo Alto Trail that heads up the cliff behind Pueblo del Arroyo to the northern mesa. “It passes through a cleft in the rock face,” the ranger at the Visitor Center told us.

Chaco-hikersAs we approached the bottom of the trail, we spotted two people heading down. After watching their descent, I began to have my doubts about whether I could scramble over the rocks, but didn’t want to give up without trying.

“Coming down is the worst. I can tell as I head up whether it will be too steep for the return trip. Let’s try and see how far we can get,” I stated.

The trail immediately involved maneuvering over big boulders; however, even larger rocks on either side of the trail provided leverage. I slowly picked my way up the trail – Donna in front of me in case I decided I needed a hand. All went well until we got to a point where the ‘trail’ went across an almost vertical rock-face with nothing to hold onto. It would mean descending on my rear end, but there would be nothing for me to use to ease myself onto the rock.


This is as far as I can go

“This is as far as I can go.” I stated.

Donna went a short ways further so she could see where the trail passed through the cleft.

Even though I didn’t make it to the top, it felt like a major victory to have scrambled that far.

We walked further down the main trail past Kin Kletso and finally turned around at Casa Chiquita.


Chacoan Stairway

As we drove back along the loop that follows the South Mesa, we stopped to look at one of the 20 foot-wide Chacoan stairways that provided a way for travelers from the south to descend into the canyon.

We headed out of the canyon pondering the mysteries of the site that had been the center of Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250 AD – and then seemed to have been abandoned.

A Pilgrimage Through My Childhood

Santa-Monica-houseI turned right on Cedar St and headed up the hill with some apprehension. Santa Monica had changed so much. Older houses are gradually being torn down and replaced with McMansions. Would my childhood home still be there? I crossed 10th St. and let out a sigh of relief. Not only was the home my parents built almost 70 years ago still standing, it was well cared for. The house across the street was not so lucky; it was gone and a 3-story ultra-modern house stood in its place.

Will Rogers Elementary

Will Rogers Elementary

I headed up the street to see the fate of Will Rogers Elementary, which opened when I was in the 3rd grade. It was still a bustling hub of the neighborhood. The neighborhood demographics had changed. In the 40’s the majority of the residents in our neighborhood were senior citizens. It now hummed with the energy of families with children.

This pilgrimage to my childhood started last winter when I registered with Facebook. I filled in the requisite information, including the name of my high school and year I graduated. As I explored the web site’s possibilities, I discovered that if I clicked on San Bernardino High School ’59 it took me to a page which listed others who had graduated in my class. I started scrolling through the names and photos, racking my brain to remember who they were. This led me to dig through my shelf of memorabilia and pull out the annual from my senior year and my high school scrapbook.

When I moved from San Bernardino to the Seattle area in the early 70’s, I lost track of my best friends from high school. Before the Internet, keeping in touch involved writing letters, which was hard for a busy, working mother to do. Over the years I have felt guilty about not making more of an effort, and was disappointed not to find those friends among the profiles on Facebook.

As the spring progressed, I realized that I had graduated 50 years ago and that there probably would be a 50th reunion. Of course, no one knew where I was or that my name had changed again, so I had to seek out information. A search on the Internet led me to the web site of the company that was putting on the reunion and told me how to register to receive information. I sent them my address and soon received a notice. I still wasn’t sure whether I would attend; I had not attended any other reunions.

My high school annual now sat next to my computer. I started checking the Facebook link to San Bernardino ’59 graduates weekly to see who was new and hoping that the upcoming 50th reunion would spur others to connect. I became more and more curious about the lives of my high school friends.

“You should join,” my sister told me. I had done that when it first launched and hadn’t connected with any friends; the chatter seemed frivolous. I started to protest.

“Since I am a member, let’s log onto your class and see if you recognize any names,” she continued. We started scrolling through the names – and there were the friends I was looking for! One had entered information about herself. She was now living in Las Vegas. So, I went home, registered, and wrote her using my one free message.

Within 24 hours she had responded and we shared e-mail addresses. She had stayed in contact with two others and I began to reconnect. One was on Facebook, but somehow the high school link was faulty. Now I started getting excited about attending the reunion.

I contacted three friends from college with whom I stay in regular contact. “When are your reunions?” I asked in an e-mail to them, since we all grew up in Southern California. Two of them had reunions the week before mine and would be in CA.

University of Redlands friends

University of Redlands friends

After spending a long weekend with BJ, Cori and Lilli in Encino, I took the light rail to Long Beach where one of my college friends had just moved. Our friendship also spanned 50 years. Three of us had been squeezed into a 2-person room our freshman year in college – and not only survived, but remained friends. The four of us went through different configurations of roommate combinations, depending on who was taking advantage of the University of Redland’s semester/year abroad options. It was delightful to have our own mini-reunion.

And then it was time to drive out to San Bernardino to re-explore the area after a 36 year absence and attend my reunion. The day prior to the reunion was spent birding in the San Bernardino Mountains. I stopped in the town of Running Springs where my family had escaped the heat of the valley at a swim club. I was trying to find a memento and wandered into a curio shop. The owner, who had lived in the town her entire life, perked up when she found out the purpose of my visit and began to drag out old photos of the town. “Do you remember a girl who rode a motorcycle to the club in her bathing suit?” she inquired. “The club is gone now,” she continued. “The property is now a parking lot for a church.”

reunion-happy-hours“We are going to be gathering for a pre-reunion happy hour in our motel,” Leslie told me when I called her at 4:00 later that afternoon. “They let me post a sign in the lobby.”

I headed over there at 5:00. “Aren’t you Judy?” a man called from the other end of the hallway as I headed towards the elevator.

I recognized his face from Classmates, but couldn’t place his name. It would be like this all evening. It was a person’s smile or gestures that sparked recognition.

It was wonderful re-connecting with Suzy and Leslie. After kibitzing for half an hour, we drove over to the Arrowhead Country Club. “I’ve been taking Tums all day,” Suzy admitted as we made our way to the reunion. I also experienced alternating excited anticipation and anxiety off and on all day.

HS friends

HS friends

The room was dim when we arrived and was filled with wall-to-wall people talking excitedly. We eased our way into the crowd and over the loud belting of hits from the 50’s, we began to greet our former classmates. The majority of people who attended (about 100, including many spouses, out of a class of almost 650) had remained in the general area. Many not only had several grandchildren, but also great-grandchildren! Several had lost their spouses.

“Are you still involved with algae?” a former classmate inquired. I was surprised that she remembered my senior science project on the potential use of algae as food. “I thought that maybe you were part of the progress that is being made to use algae as bio-fuel and had hit the big time.” My only involvement with algae, of course, is to continually scoop it out of my pond.

“You always were taller than I was,” a man said as he sidled up to me while we were mingling after our chicken dinner.

“Didn’t you live in the flat-roofed house at the end of Mt. View?” a woman asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “I drove by it yesterday and it broke my heart, it looked so neglected.”

San Bernardino High School

San Bernardino High School

“Have you driven by the school?” someone asked. The old administration building is gone; they built a new one.”

A man grabbed the microphone from the DJ and asked, “Who is no longer with us?” Name after name was mentioned. It was sobering.

“Everyone who went to Wilson Elementary, gather for a picture,” the DJ announced. A number of people congregated for the photo, realizing that they had known each other for 60 plus years.

I gathered with the group photo of those who attended Arrowview Junior High.

And then it was time to leave. We said our good-byes and slipped out into the quiet evening air. “I’m glad I came, but I am glad it is over,” I stated. We all agreed.

The next day, after attending services at my old church, I headed back to Los Angeles. As I sped along the freeway, I pondered the experiences of the past few days. Many things had endured, yet other things had changed. In some ways fifty years seems like yesterday; in others, it feels like eons have passed.

A friend summed it up, “Isn’t it amazing that we are still who we were then, and yet different.”

Experiencing the Grandeur of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim

“There are no words or pictures that can accurately capture the views of the Grand Canyon,” someone standing next to me uttered as we gazed out at one of the view points.

This was my fourth visit to the Grand Canyon. I made brief forays to the South Rim when I was much younger, and stopped at the North Rim three years ago, but didn’t have much time to linger. My prior visits provided snapshots of the canyon – each from a single location and moment in time. On my last visit I vowed to return and spend more time. When I found out that my friend Donna had similar experiences and aspirations, we decided to plan a trip after the summer tourist season was over.

Late afternoon view from lodge

Late afternoon view from lodge

After checking into our RV park at Jacob Lake 42 miles north of the Grand Canyon, we headed straight for the rim. It was already late in the afternoon and we parked ourselves on chairs along the low wall bordering the porch of the Lodge to watch the changing light.

It was threatening to rain, which provided additional depth and light patterns. As the light began to fade, we sat mesmerized, not wanting to leave. We took turns slipping away to get coffee from the Roughrider Saloon. Since Donna was going to drive back to Jacob Lake, mine was a Grand Canyon coffee, complete with 3 different coffee liqueurs!
As dusk approached and the sun sunk towards the horizon, it peeked through to highlight selected cliffs. I took deep breaths of the cooling air and sighed in contentment.

Grand-Canyon-sunsetAll of a sudden, we looked through the windows of the lodge and saw a bright glow on the western horizon. Everyone on the porch got up en masse and headed through the lodge to the porch on the opposite side – just in time to capture the brilliance of the fading sun.

It was raining as we wound our way along the road to Cape Royal the next morning. The aspens were starting to turn. We passed through two different burned areas – one of them quite recent with the pungent smell of damp ashes. The National Parks Service had several educational signs discussing the benefits of lightning burns to rejuvenate the forest.

Angel's Window

Angel's Window

By time we arrived at Cape Royal the rain had stopped and we followed the paved trail out to the point. We stopped to take pictures of Angel’s Window and noticed people looking like ants as they walked across the top.

At the point, we discovered that this location jutted out into the canyon making it the closest distance to the south rim.

“Visiting this location really gives me a better grasp of the size of the Grand Canyon,” I told Donna. As I gazed in awe at the ripples of color, I couldn’t help but think of Haydn’s oratorio, “The Heavens are Telling,” that our choir had been practicing before I left on the trip.

Colorado River from Angel's Window overlook

Colorado River from Angel's Window overlook

On the way back to the parking lot, I followed the trail out to the end of overlook on top of the Angel’s Window. As I looked over the edge, I could see the Colorado River snaking through the canyon far below.

Least Chipmunk

Least Chipmunk

After lunch, we checked into the National Park campground and were lucky to get a spot along the periphery where nuthatches, chickadees, bluebirds, juncos and a variety of woodpeckers flitted and swooped amongst the trees. A Least Chipmunk busied itself eating acorns.

View from Bright Angel Point

View from Bright Angel Point

We followed the Transept Trail over to the Lodge where we encountered a Mule Deer doe and her two fawns. After listening to a ranger talk about the California Condor, we followed the Bright Angel Trail out to a point where there was a spectacular view of the canyon. Through my binoculars I could see the late afternoon sun reflecting off of the windows of Grand Canyon Village directly across on the south rim.

On the way back to the campground on the Bridle Trail, I pondered that I had achieved another goal on this trip – the opportunity to hike on a variety of trails.

We lingered over breakfast the next morning enjoying the views from the picnic table outside of the camper and wanting to savor our last moments on the plateau. And then it was time to head towards Flagstaff for our final night before home.

Visiting Northern Arizona’s Red Rock Country

“I’m going to pull over just outside of Shiprock and you can drive for awhile,” my friend Donna announced. I had not driven a stick shift for over 20 years and was a bit nervous. I got behind the wheel, pushed the clutch down to the floor – a long ways in a truck – eased on the gas and glided out on the highway. Without even thinking, it came back to me, and I was shifting without having to think about it. And, all of a sudden I realized that my bionic left knee didn’t hurt, which is what prompted me to swear off cars with clutches years ago!

We didn’t have to go far before the flat desert landscape became hilly. Piñon pines dotted the red dirt and we began to notice unique rock formations.

Red Mesa

Red Mesa

“I want to take a picture of those hills up ahead,” I announced, and was delighted to find a pull-out along the road. The vertical striations and pattern of erosion looked like rows of toes.

Owl Rock

Owl Rock

“I’m probably taking way too many pictures,” Donna stated as we pulled over again to take a photo of Owl Rock while we headed north from Kayenta.

Our RV park was nestled in a canyon just west and over the border into Utah from the Monument Valley Tribal Park. We got settled into our space, conveniently located not too far from the rest rooms and then set out to explore the surrounding area.

Monument Valley vista

Monument Valley vista

As we headed down the road towards the wash trail, we stopped to gasp with awe at the rock formations. “Now I know why it is called monument valley,” I exclaimed.

“There’s a bat,” Donna said later in the early evening, pointing at a fluttering object drift by. The fading light reflected off its translucent gray wings and it resembled a large butterfly.

The back side of The Mitten from trail

The back side of The Mitten from trail

The next morning we headed over to the tribal park where we decided to take the 3.2 mile hike around the “Mitten’ before it got too hot. The trail headed down a slope below the primitive camping area where campers in backpack tents were still sleeping along the edge of the cliff. As the sun changed positions, the colors and shadows of the massive rock formation were ever-changing.

The patch of dune sand which had seemed easy to traverse on the way down, was a killer to trudge through on the way back up to the parking area.

Totem Pole rock formation

Totem Pole rock formation

We bumped along the 17 mile rocky and rutted road through the valley, stopping to admire the interesting rock formations, e.g. Three Sisters, The Elephant, The Totem Poles, and the Thumb. We fixed our lunch and admired the ‘Totem Pole’ rock formation as we ate our lunch.

And, then we were off to spend the night in Page and be ready to head to the Vermillion Cliffs in the morning.

View of Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

View of Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

We arrived at Navajo Bridge at 10 a.m., which is the time I had seen a California Condor on my last visit. Even though they are seen more frequently at this location during the spring, we were hopeful that one might be sunning itself on a rocky ledge in Marble Canyon. We walked out on the old bridge and peered down at some rafters floating down the Colorado River far below. The iridescent blue-green water contrasted with the limestone cliffs.

A clerk in the Visitor’s Center reported that one had visited the bridge area the prior day and also suggested we check the Vermillion Cliffs as we drove towards the Grand Canyon, as well as stop at the release site.

California Condor wing span

California Condor wing span

Each time we saw a bird soaring over the cliffs, we looked for a spot to pull onto the shoulder. Unfortunately, they always turned out to be Ravens.

We stopped at the viewing station adjacent to the Peregrine Fund’s release site. A large sign provided us with a better perspective on the condor’s wingspan, compared with a Golden Eagle and a Red-tailed Hawk.

condor roosting sight

condor roosting sight

Lark Sparrows, Say’s Phoebes and Lazuli Buntings provided a diversion; however, there were no condors at the guano-stained cliffs where they return to roost for the night.

Donna and I were grateful we both had the opportunity to view these majestic birds on prior trips to the area.

We had enjoyed our three-day trek across northern Arizona’s red rock country, but were excited to be heading to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.


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