Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from the Cow

Today is Halloween, a holiday I've always really enjoyed. I think it's partly because you get to dress up and act like a totally different person. It fulfills my secret desire to be an actress for one day of the year. Of course my sweet tooth might have something to do with my enjoyment of the holiday. 

Now that I'm an adult, I don't dress up as often, and I don't even have a costume for this year. But  that's okay, because I have a son who I can dress up and he's still young enough I can eat his candy! My mom gave us this cow costume, which is totally apropos for where we live.

And here's Desert Boy even pretending he's a cow. Moooo.

The things we will do to get some candy. And my, how the candy has changed since I was a young'un. Here's an example, some gummy candy. I remember gummy bears, but here we have a whole gummy meal: ice cream cone, donut, french fries, hamburger, pizza, and hot dog. Doesn't it sound scrumptious?

Trick or treating is late this afternoon, but I figured it might be good to go outside and get some photos early in the day, while Desert Boy is in a good mood.

Here he's concentrating hard. Not on being a cow, but on putting the leaves through the little slots in the chair. 

Here's Desert Boy pretending to be a cow again. Okay, not really, the head is a little big and it makes him a little tipsy.

Here he is running away from me. Nice tail. Where is he running?

To every cow's favorite pasttime--cruising on his hot wheels. He's probably the only cow going Vroom, vroom.

And I tried my best to get him to say Mooo while in his costume. This video is the best one I came up with:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Great Horned Owl

I hadn't seen the Great Horned Owls that had been hanging around our yard all summer for a few weeks, so it was a welcome sight the other day to see this one on the garden fence post. The owl just watched us play in the yard and let us come quite close.

I think we must have bored the owl a little--here it is with its eyes closed!

And then we're not even worthy of a look--the owl turns its head and checks out what's happening in another direction. 

It was great to be able to see the owl so close and watch it for so long. It definitely kept an eye on us, but wasn't too concerned with us being in the yard. Eventually Henry got a little too curious and the owl took off, with Henry loping after it across the yard. It made me remember Henry's first night with us, when an owl hooted from a pole and my mom watched Henry dive into his doghouse to take cover. Now Henry is double the size and isn't at all afraid of the owl.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pushing the Stroller

I guess Desert Boy is getting older. He often prefers to push his stroller rather than ride in it. This stroller carries up to 70 pounds of weight, so we figured we would be able to use it for years and years. 

The only problem Desert Boy has pushing the stroller is that he's a little short. Nevertheless, he doesn't let that stop him. He walks behind the stroller and gives it a shove.

Then he watches it until it stops. I'm glad we live in the valley, where the ground is relatively flat. If he pushed the stroller up in the mountains, we might never catch up to it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo.
Okay, I'm not communicating with aliens (although that does sound tempting--they might know the meaning of life, after all). NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

One of my hobbies is writing, and NaNoWriMo is a nifty little program that helps get writers off their duffs and to their keyboards to write. The goal is to spend the month of November writing a novel of at least 50,000 words. Most people who give it a try (over 101,000 last year) don't make it (only about 15,000), but at least they attempted it. The prize? Knowing that you did it and a certificate you can print out and frame and put over your dining room table. 

NaNoWriMo emphasizes that the writing is quantity over quality. My motto for this blog fits perfectly: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. No editing until December. And to make sure that you do write, they say to tell lots of friends about it so they can keep asking you about it and you feel guilty enough to sit down and type something. 

So here I am, opening myself up to the wide world, letting you know I'm going to attempt something sorta crazy. What am I going to write about? I don't know! Do you have any ideas? All I know is that I want to have fun writing. Maybe you should do it too! Check it out: NaNoWriMo.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Desert Destination: The "Equipment" Yard

Today we're going to take a trip to a place that is in every desert valley, near every desert town: the "equipment" yard. My husband told me to put the quotes around equipment. You see, most people would call this a junk yard. But one person's junk is another person's equipment. Or something like that.

Near the entrance of the "equipment" yard is this sign. Hang on, we'll zoom in.

This sign means keep your hands off the equipment. The ranch uses a lot of old parts from the equipment that's stored out there, and is willing to prosecute anyone stealing or damaging the property out there. 

Ready to go take a look? Grab your hat and let's go for a ride.

First off we see this old Studebaker livestock truck, and next to it a 1953 GMC (the truck that my husband learned to drive--it didn't have brakes even at that point).

The paint job held up well on this old ton-and-a-half Chevrolet, which used to be a spray truck. Henry is having fun looking around too. 

Next we come across this Jeep Wagoneer left by a ranch hand. The interior is a good place to keep junk. Oops, I mean equipment.

Here's a Dodge van with moon hubcaps (on the back). Otherwise known as the loveshack. 

This is an AMC Pacer. The ranch needed some metal so my brother-in-law cut the roof off, but it caught on fire during the process and burned impressively.

Among all the old vehicle carcasses are some useful ranch equipment, like these water troughs, stored upside down to keep the dirt out and the wind from catching them and blowing them away. Desert Boy thought they were a great place to play hide and seek.

This VW bug was abandoned up on forest land and needed a happy place to retire. It sort of looks like it's even smiling. It knows it's in good company.

This mud-test hole rig still works! It's used to drill a small well hole to see if it's feasible to drill a bigger well.

Desert Boy found something to drive--the remains of an old bale wagon.

These old combines have found their final resting place. Until a part is needed and they suddenly provide a very important function to keep the current ranch going. 

A visit to the "equipment" yard is always a good time. My husband likes to reminisce about the vehicles out there. Each one has a story. We've just touched on the surface today, but don't worry, we'll be back again to see what other treasures are hanging out under the desert sun. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Important Lesson

If you've been following this blog, you know that Desert Boy loves to climb. He'll climb anything; I found him halfway up the piano yesterday. Earlier in the week he started climbing the fence above. I pulled him off and showed him what barbed wire is and made him touch it. Think he'll understand the significance of this lesson?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More Than You Wanted to Know about Scat

I have spent a lot of time looking at scat, and if you'd like to learn the basics of how to differentiate some common types of scat, see this post. Today we'll go into a little more details about some of the scat found in the area. I've gone to the trouble of trying to draw some of the scat, although these pictures are not to scale. Mouse scat is nowhere near as large as mountain lion scat. Really.

Let's start with some of the bigger scat. Bigger animals leave bigger scat, and the biggest one in our area is the mountain lion. Much of the information that follows was obtained from the excellent book Scats and Tracks of the Desert Southwest by James C. Halfpenny along with observations I've made over several years (do I really want to admit that?). 

Carnivore Scat
Mountain lion scat
Mountain lion scat is usually about 1.25 inches in diameter, with pieces up to 4 inches long. The ends are blunt as is common for cats, although a drier diet produces more tapered ends. Like house cats, mountain lions occasionally bury their scat, with dirt scrapings around the scat. Bones and hair are usually obvious in the scat.

Bobcat scat
Bobcat scat also usually has blunt ends, but it is much smaller than lion scat, with a diameter of only 0.8 inches. Pieces can be three inches long, and dry scat falls apart. Bobcats sometimes cover their scat with dirt and other debris.

Coyote scat
Coyote scat usually has tapered ends as is common in the dog family. The scat is often dark in color but may be brown or gray with lots of hair and bones depending on the diet. Coyotes occasionally scratch near their scat piles to mark territory. Diameter is 0.6 inches and length about 3 inches.
Gray fox scat
Gray fox scat is also tapered and can look very similar to coyote scat, with a diameter of 0.6 inches. Length is generally about two inches long. Scat color varies depending on diet, and may include more plant and berry material than coyote.

Skunk scat
Skunk scat also has blunt ends, but is smaller than mountain lion or bobcat scat, with a diameter of 0.25 to 0.75 inches. Length can extend from 1.5 to 5 inches. Insects are often a large part of a skunk diet and may be present in the scat, along with bird feathers, mouse fur, and carrion.

Weasel scat
Weasel scat is not easy to find. It's only 0.1 inches in diameter, but can be 1.5 inches long. It looks like a wavy, black cord with hair-like ends.

Herbivore Scat

Deer Scat
Elk are the largest herbivores in our area, followed by deer. Their scat is nearly identical in shape, but elk scat pellets are 0.5 inches in diameter and deer scat pellets are 0.3 inches in diameter. When the scat is moist, the pellets stick together. A drier diet allows the pellets to scatter when reaching the ground. The typical shape is called nipple-dimple, with a pointed end and a concave end, but drier scat is oval-shaped.

Rabbit scat
Rabbit scat is brown, round, and about 0.3 inches in diameter. Both the black-tailed jackrabbit and the desert cottontail also produce a black, semiliquid scat that they usually reingest for the remaining nutrients.

Porcupine scat
Porcupine scat can be pellets or strings of pellets that are connected by fibers. In the winter, scat is often redder from feeding on conifers, and in the summer, brown to black from eating herbs and shrubs.
Chipmunk scat
Squirrel and chipmunk scat is very similar, with small, unconnected ovals. Squirrel scat is 0.2 inches in diameter and chipmunk scat 0.1 inches in diameter.

Mouse scat
Mouse, pocket mouse, and vole scat all looks virtually identical: dark, small, oval, and unconnected. Voles have the distinction of leaving thousands of scat pellets in tennis-ball sized latrines. 

And that's it for today! But I'll be back again with more photos and info about the wonderful array of scat found in the desert southwest. I hope you'll be back again too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Curious Cows

Yesterday afternoon we went for a little walk behind our house. The cows were out in the pasture and, as cows often are, were eager for a little entertainment. Not the Hollywood type of entertainment, but just something to make their day a little more interesting. Like a visit from Henry and Desert Boy.

Sometimes Henry chases cows, despite my attempts to make him stop, so I wasn't too certain how he'd act when he started approaching the cows. He paused and looked like he was going to be calmer. Maybe that's because I made him run two miles, chasing the truck to the babysitters and back. Perhaps I'll start running again soon, but in the meantime, I find the current exercise program for Henry very easy for me!

Back to the scene at hand. Henry and the lead cow assess each other.

They cautiously approach.

They reassess. I can only wonder what's going through their minds right now.

Henry takes a few more steps forward. The cow stares.

Henry makes a final few steps and then retreats. He's no working cow dog, after all.

Now we have the attention of the small herd, and they start approaching us as a whole. It takes a little getting used to to stare down a few tons of beef cattle.

Especially when they have some belligerent faces.

And drool. 

And give you a mean, intimidating stare. But I know better, these cows are just looking for some fun, and it is a little hard to take a cow seriously when she has hay hanging out of her mouth.

Still, though, when they lower their heads and take a few more steps closer, I have to take a deep breath and remember that with a shout and stomp of my feet I can make them all scattter.

Desert Boy stays pretty close to Mama, but he's very interested in these beefy bovines.

Hey, Ma, this is cool. Thanks for letting me take a walk!

And then Henry reappears, and Desert Boy gets distracted, as you can see in the video below. Notice how the cows just watch the whole thing. It's a good life.

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