Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kingsnake Survey

As I was going through my photos (noticing how I really need to name more of them), I found that I still have photos from May that I haven't uploaded. Seeing as we're almost in July, I figured I better get to it. These are from one of the last weekends in May, when we volunteered to help look for kingsnakes. The wildlife biologist at the park organized a volunteer week, but we just had part of a day to help. About 10 other volunteers showed up at the visitor center, and we had a little briefing and then drove up to the North Snake Range. I had to keep stopping to take photos of wildflowers, like the carpet of Douglas' Dustymaiden (Chaenactis douglasii) that made the valley bottoms and benches look covered with white polka dots.

The globemallow was also impressive, with splashes of orange lighting up the landscape.

We went up Hampton Creek, a scenic drainage with a stream running down it.

Here's another view of the Hampton Creek drainage. It might not look much different than the previous one, but the flowers are different! I really had flowers on the mind that day, plus it was a terrific time of year to enjoy them, before it got too hot.

While I started flipping rocks and looking into crevices to look for the kingsnakes, Desert Boy amused himself with his adventure pack, which included a magnifying glass for looking at things close up.

I enjoyed this close up view of a bumble bee. It was really beautiful. (Of course if it had stung me it wouldn't have been so beautiful, but since it left me alone we got along just fine.)

At one point we crossed the creek, which I wasn't able to photograph because it was fairly high water and I was wearing Emma and trying to swing Desert Boy across at the same time. I'm sure we were quite a sight! We didn't even get wet, so I'd say that was a success. Desert Boy had fun jumping across this little spring all on his own.

We had plenty of rocky areas to search, and Desert Boy started doing some rock climbing. He does very well on the climbing wall in our house, and he enjoyed practicing outside.

I stopped to look at what I think is some Selaginella watsonii, sort of similar to moss but not quite.

I also enjoyed the view out across the canyon. You can see that the aspens are just starting to get their leaves.

Meanwhile, Desert Boy had found something else to climb.

This was the fun part of the hike for him. He likes a good challenge. Wonder where he gets that from?

I got distracted by this dandelion that was growing out of a small pocket in the rock.

Desert Boy kept going up higher. (Grandparents: he is not really in any danger, it's just the angle of the photo that makes it look like he's really exposed.)
And Desert Boy made it off the rock just fine. We kept looking for kingsnakes, but all we saw were sagebrush and western fence lizards. Finally Desert Boy was totally worn out, so we headed back and found a convenient bridge to get back over the little creek.

I couldn't resist photographing this butterfly, which I still need to identify.

Now, I know, the title of this post probably had you thinking you were going to look at some kingsnakes. Only three were found during the survey, and I wasn't around to see any of them. However, in order not to be a total disappointment on the herpetological front, I have included some photos of a snake we saw in May on a different walk.

It was out on the road, and is a non-venemous snake that I call a racer. The correct name is actually striped whipsnake (Masticophis taeniatus). They are known to move fast, but this one just stayed in one place while I walked all around it to take photos.

It has big round pupils and lifts its head to get a better look at me. Another characteristic are the white stripes on the dark body.

Finally I had taken enough photos and wandered off, leaving the snake to enjoy some more sunbathing.
The End.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Mystery Track

Ready for another mystery? I saw this track on the road the other day, an S-shaped track.

There was traffic coming, so I stopped to shoo the track-maker off the road. He wasn't particularly happy to move off the warm gravel.

I bet you know what it was...

...a snake! More specifically, a bull snake or gopher snake. I really like these snakes because they eat a lot of mice, and we sure have a lot of mice this year. I wish I could get a few more to live in my yard, because the owls are definitely not keeping up.

I'm not sure if the snake was appreciative of my efforts to save its life. But I still felt good. Sometimes it doesn't take much to put a smile on my face!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tasting Applesauce for the First Time

Little Miss Emma has been grabbing at the food while we eat, so one evening when she was particularly vocal, we decided to give her a little try. Yes, I know you're supposed to give rice cereal or something like that as the first food to eat, but I haven't opened a how-to-raise-your-baby book in a couple months. Let's face it, with the first kid you feel like you can't live without the manual. With the second (and I suspect subsequent) kid, you realize that they're fairly resilient and will probably manage okay. Besides, have you ever tried baby rice cereal? It's nasty.

We had applesauce on the table, and that's what we gave her.

She seemed ready to give it a try.

In it goes. Ah, what a different texture. And a different taste. And a different delivery method.

Wait a minute, maybe this food stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be!
Nearly all of it comes back out. Emma has no bib on--you can see that we're really winging it as parents.
Now Emma thinks that maybe it wasn't such a horrible experience. Maybe it would be fun to eat a little more.

Or maybe not.

And the fun continues!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

It's coming...
...just a few minutes more...
...ah, the first rays of the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere.
Summer Solstice used to make me feel a little sad because the days get shorter (in the Northern Hemisphere) after June 21. I felt like I was missing out on daylight. Now I have a different perspective: shorter days mean more sleep!

Hope you enjoy the longest day of the year! And for my Southern Hemisphere friends, enjoy your slumber, because your days are going to be getting longer the next six months!

Friday, June 18, 2010


One bright and early morning, I was doing a bird survey. I came across this strange marking in the dirt. It looked like something had Sniffed, Pawed, Urinated, and Defecated. What could it be?

The horned larks watched me, wondering why I was taking photos of poop.

I found some old dried out scat, with the same markings around them.

The meadowlark on the fence post continued singing its melodic song, ignoring my traipsing next to its perch.

The meadowlarks are fun to watch, with their big, chunky bodies. And you always know spring has arrived when they start singing.

I found some more scat next to a squat bush, with the same pawing marks nearby.

The yellow-headed blackbirds were amused by the extra entertainment.

And yet another SPUD. All were next to the field. Have you figured it out yet?

This yellow-headed blackbird watched the animals that made it. They like to go into the fields and get an easy meal.

Ah, some very fresh and moist scat.

If you're still reading this blog at this point, there might be something wrong with you. But probably you're better off than me, who actually thought this might be a fun post. Maybe I've been getting up too early too many mornings and have lost my marbles.

The Say's Phoebe watched me pass by.

Another SPUD. They're everywhere!

Nope, this bull had nothing to do with the SPUD. But I thought he was rather fierce and deserved his own photo.

Okay, time for your final guess, because here's the answer:
Pronghorn antelope bucks leave SPUD. They are territorial markings. And now your day has been enhanced by visiting this blog. Come back soon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Pony Express

This last weekend we had an opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. Each year, a dedicated group of volunteers rerides the trail that was used in 1860 and 1861 to take the U.S. mail from Missouri to California. If you aren't familiar with the Pony Express, check out this previous post and also this post I did when my nephew was one of the riders.
Our destination to watch the reride was Callao, Utah. No matter which way you go to Callao, it's a long dirt road to get there.

Desert Boy had fun amusing himself on the way. We also had to stop several times so I could take photos of the beautiful wildflowers. We saw quite an array,with lots of yellow horsebrush and little white dusty maidens covering many of the benches (alluvial fans).

We arrived at the Willow Springs Pony Express Station. The sign says "This station was established April 3, 1860 on the route of the Pony Express between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. It was discontinued October 27, 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph line was opened. An overland stage station was operated here from 1859 to 1870."

The current owners of the station, the Andersons, planned a big celebration including tours in this old car.

Here's a closeup of this neat car, a 1913 Model T.

The Willow Springs station was open. I failed to get a photo of the exterior, but I managed to get several of the interior.

The town of Callao had another heydey when the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway, went through the town from about 1915 to 1925.

The old stove is really neat. On the table are some old photos along with a guestbook.

Henry smelled something good in the tipi.

So Desert Boy went in to investigate.

Food was being served in the school house, and it was nice to have a dry spot to go because the weather was a bit blustery.

Even little Miss Emma decided she wanted to eat.

Uh oh, she's got the bag of chips. We really should start her on something healthier.

Some of the people helping with the Pony Express ride but not riding at that moment toured town by horse. A red shirt and yellow bandana identified the riders.

Desert Boy even got a human version of a Pony Express ride thanks to Anna!

One of my friends lives in Callao and has some llama-alpaca hybrids. It was a surprise to see them peeking their heads above the grass and bushes.

We had a couple friends riding, and a contingent from Great Basin National Park went out to watch in the rain and wind.

I don't think Karla liked her photo being taken!
With four of our group wearing bandanas, we thought it might be fun to stage a holdup of the Pony Express. However, stealing government mail is a federal offense, so we settled for the bandit photo instead.

Here's Wayne, watching for his turn. Usually the reride occurs during 10 days (riding day and night) and has about 600 riders. The 150th reride was expanded to 20 days (riding mostly during the day) so more celebrations could occur, and even more riders participate. Wayne's section was only 0.7 miles, but still he'd get to be a part of history.

The mail came, packaged in the leather pockets of the mochila. Also included for the reride is a GPS unit so the progress can be tracked.

And Wayne is off!

He went so fast that his hat flew off and he's off in a blur.

I wasn't in the right position to photograph the next rider, Blake, but I did get a photo of him celebrating after his ride. He stayed on his horse the entire way and got the mail delivered to the next rider, so I'd say that's worthy of celebration.
Way to go, Blake!

We followed the riders back into Callao, a long caravan of trucks. One benefit of the rain was that we didn't have a big dust trail.

Then it was time to party.

In addition to numerous parties held around Callao, there was also entertainment in the school, with an excellent quartet who sang and played instruments.

I loved the sound of the fiddle and banjo, along with the bass and guitar. They also played harmonica, accordion, and another stringed instrument I didn't recognize.
Soon it was time for dancing, and Desert Boy and I joined in for the first square dance. I haven't done that since I worked at Glacier Bay in Alaska (perhaps the only places you can now find square dancing are in really remote locations).

With the wind and rain, we opted to camp in a hard-sided tent--the back of our van. It was better than we expected.

The next morning we got up and found some breakfast being served in the school. That was better than the breakfast we brought, so we enjoyed it and talked to the current and past presidents of the National Pony Express Association. They gave us a 150th anniversary pin.

It's amazing how such a short-lived venture has really captured the imagination of so many and is still remembered so much today.

We watched as the mail left the Willow Springs Station and continued heading east. It has a long way to go. Today, June 16th, it's in Wyoming.

The weekend was a fun glimpse back into history. If you'd like to find out more about the reride, check out the 150th Anniversary Celebration page.
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