Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Trip to the Beach

Enough of the snow and cold, let's go to the beach!

The week before Christmas we actually had the chance to do that. We drove to the San Francisco area to visit my brother who was traveling and my husband's sister and her family. The weather was a bit rainy, but it was a lot warmer than where we had come from.

One afternoon we headed out to the beach to check out the tidal pools. We had checked when the low tide would be and fortunately it worked out for us to go when it was low tide, and it was a particularly low tide. That made it extra fun to see what's out there.

It was a short walk from the parking area down to the beach. Then we went down some stairs and had the tidal area right in front of us to explore.

We took Emma in her stroller, which wasn't the best choice, but it worked out for part of the time.

I loved it that my nieces, who have grown up in California, are still fascinated by all the cool creatures that live along the shoreline.

It felt like we were on a scavenger hunt, with each find bringing oohs and ahs.

The stroller was left behind at the edge of the rocks, and Emma was toted in my husband's arms. He stopped to look at Ruby's find. I'm not sure he knew what to think.

It was a strange little creature.

My brother enjoyed the coast. And he enjoyed getting away from the office!

We continued going farther and farther out on the rocks. We descended down into the middle tidal zone and found some starfish and anemones.
Look, everyone!

This seriously wasn't a posed photo, but it sure turned out well. The overcast day made all the bright colors really stand out. The rain made the creek running through the tidal area muddy, but that didn't detract from our viewing.

Nearby we found some places where just the salt water was trapped and found some beautiful anemones.

Ruby was good at finding things! She found a crab shell and had fun posing with it.

Emma certainly didn't know what to make of all this. It was her first visit to the ocean.

After awhile, we decided it was time to play on the beach. After all, digging in sand is so much fun. For all ages!

Emma knows what to do with sand, although this sand was a bit wetter than what she's accustomed to.

Sand is for eating! At least one time. After one mouthful she decided that was enough and didn't put more in her mouth.


I think that's progress.

Art on the beach.

Lola was doing some serious digging.

And then it was time to play with Emma and see if she would walk. She did well taking assisted steps.

High stepping on the beach.

Emma thought walking with her aunt was terrific!

Eventually the rain started coming down hard and we decided it was time to go. It was a great excursion, and one we will remember fondly!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Great Cow Hunt

With all the snow we've had, we've been concerned about all the cows out on the range. Many of the shrubs and grasses they would normally eat are buried in deep snow, and some of the water sources are frozen over. The cows went out healthy, so we knew they'd be good for at least a few days. With the inversion it's been hard to go up in the airplane and get a good look at them, so on Sunday morning we headed out to look for one of the herds. We were graced with over an inch of new snow to start off the day.

This is the state highway. It wasn't particularly early in the morning, but we're about last on the priority list for the plows, so we were in the four-wheel drive truck. The temperature was about 27 degrees Fahrenheit. We took the kids with us, along with blankets, shovels, a picnic lunch, and a sled, just in case we got stuck.

Or wanted to go sledding. You never know when the mood might strike.

Before long we were off the highway and on a county gravel road, but to our surprise, it had been plowed earlier in the week and was in remarkably good shape.

The low clouds (and slightly dirty windows) made visibility really poor, but we were hoping we would be able to spot some cows.

And then sure enough, we did, black spots on the hillside. They had eaten through some of the snow and were nibbling on sagebrush and Mormon tea. Those aren't favorite foods for the cows, but it does provide nutrients and will keep them alive.

My husband wanted to get close to some cows to decide if they looked miserable or not. I asked what criteria he used to tell if a cow was miserable or not, and he said, "You can just tell." So alas, I still do not know exactly what to look for.

This cow was pretty close to us.

I asked, "Is this cow miserable?"

He said, "Maybe."

I grunted. I wanted a definitive answer.

"She's alright. She might be a little tired."

We kept driving.

We continued driving up the one-lane road, finding that the temperature was rising to above freezing as we rose in elevation. Although we didn't have so much fog, that temperature inversion was still in effect.

The cottonwoods and willows along a stream provided some relief from the white conditions. My husband explained to me that the cows would go eat the willows if they couldn't get to anything else. We didn't see any cows in that area, so we surmised that the rest of the herd was elsewhere, but we just didn't know where.

If enough looked miserable, the plan was to try to move them back to the main part of the ranch and feed them.

We had a brief moment of sunlight (on one cliff face), and hoped that the sun would shine more to melt more snow.

We turned around and started back into the colder, lower elevations. The sun disappeared. Dang it!

Then we headed north to look for the rest of the cows. The plow hadn't made it to this road, so we followed the deep tracks of some other truck that had dragged its transmission through the snow. We kept our eyes on the power lines, which in sections had been covered with a thick layer of frost from the inversion. This is one of the biggest reason for power outages around here.

The temperature went down into the teens, and we only saw a handful more of cows. If I were a cow, I wouldn't be hanging out in this frigid spot! Later my husband found them even farther north, where they had found a somewhat warmer spot higher on the bench to hang out.

The deep snow has turned out to be a record for December for a nearby spot and possibly for us. We're expecting another snow storm to come in tomorrow, followed by subzero temperatures. Brrr! I guess we better get ready for The Great Cow Hunt, the Sequel.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Into the Inversion

So we've managed to get an impressive amount of snow out here in the Great Basin Desert.

Even the old-timers are saying things like, "I haven't seen this much snow since my aunt wrecked the car by driving into a snow drift and then had to walk five miles home in a blinding blizzard (uphill), but instead she got lost and went in circles (uphill) for three hours, and then it was really like ten miles she walked (uphill), and she only survived because the Christmas star came out and guided her the rest of the way (uphill)."

Okay, nobody said that.

But I have heard a couple comparisons (or hoping that we aren't going to be compared) to the winter of '48-'49, which was a really bad one. So much snow fell and blew--and blew--that most of the roads in the area were closed and lots of livestock were stranded out in the range. Ranchers couldn't get out to check on them, because each time they started off from home in their Caterpillar dozers, the snow blew back over their tracks and they risked getting stranded themselves.

Sheepherders in lonely sheep camps couldn't even go far from their tiny abodes because of the deep snow. They despaired as they saw more sheep dying each day and they were helpless to do anything about it. They relied on the radio to get news of what was going on in the outside world. And fortunately they got news of something to help them out: Operation Haylift. The U.S. Air Force came out to help, dropping hundreds of tons of hay in western Utah and eastern Nevada. This real-life event took place using C82 "flying boxcars." You can read a pretty good account in this Time article. Hollywood also made a movie called Operation Haylift, using some real footage, and you can find it on Netflix.

Somehow I've managed to digress, because the real topic of today's post is the inversion we've had the past few days. I guess being in all the frigid weather with deep snow has put me in a wee bit of a gloomy mood with regards to weather.

Up high on the mountain, the weather has been great. It's snowy there, too, of course, but the sun is out and trees are emerging from their wintery weight.

Down in the valley, it's been a different story. Instead of the warmer weather being at the lower elevations, like it usually is, the temperatures have inverted, with a cap of air keeping the cold air down in the valley. Those cold air molecules have sunk, and they're trapped until we have wind to blow them out.

Entering an inversion is kind of an interesting process. You start out in the nice sunlight and see the cloud layer below. On the other side of the valley you can see the mountains poking out above the clouds, looking like islands in the mist.

The cloud layer made me think of the time when vast Pleistocene lakes, some as big as today's Lake Michigan, filled the valleys in the Basin and Range country. That was back in the days of the wooly mammoths, dire wolves, camelids, two different horse species, and an array of other animals that made their home here. Paleoindians roamed the area, hunting these animals. It was cooler and wetter than recent millenia.

We've gotten so much snow that the bushes are entirely covered, appearing as white hummocks from a fast moving vehicle. Or from a slow crawl. Or anything in between. This is the kind of weather you expect in Montana, not in Nevada.

The road straightened and the layer of clouds started looking more ominous. I could still see the mountains on the other side...

...but not for long.

It sort of felt like a bad horror movie. You know what's going to happen, but you just can't avoid watching it happen.

And then, there it was: the road disappearing into the clouds. And I was hurtling myself into it.

Help! Stuck in the inversion!

Fortunately this inversion cleared out in a few days. We don't have pollution stuck under the cloud layer with us (like Los Angeles frequently does), so although the colder temperatures (about 15 degrees colder that day in the clouds from up in the sun) and gloomier light might make everyone feel a bit grumpy, it could be worse.

When Desert Boy got up Christmas morning and asked why our stockings hung by the fireplace with care weren't filled with goodies (he had heard from a neighbor that they would be, and then I had promptly forgot), I considered telling him Santa Claus couldn't come in for a landing in the inversion. But I didn't. I chose distraction instead. Hopefully that was the right thing to do.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nativity Play Dress Rehearsal

Warning--this contains spoilers! Yes, you already know the story of the Nativity, but if you didn't know which kid had which part this year and don't want to know ahead of time, come back to this blog in a couple days.

Last Christmas Desert Boy had the chance to be a sheep in the Nativity Play. He played his role so well (Baaaa) that this year he is going to be a wise man. He even had to memorize a line, which was easier for him than for me. Ah, the flexibility of young brains!

We went to the dress rehearsal today, which is a much easier place to take photos than during the actual play. We could wander around and no one cared. We also had fun watching funnier moments of the practice, like the overly dramatic Joseph dreaming about the angel Gabriel informing him that his fiancee was with child, a child of God.

The very pregnant Mary was obviously uncomfortable, continually adjusting her giant bulge.

The angels always steal the show. They are so darn cute, and they have the funniest expressions.

For instance, get a look at the two angels' faces while the other one is saying her line.

Mary and Joseph were looking a little bored by the whole thing. I imagine that during performance night their adrenaline with a huge (by our standards) audience looking on will keep them looking peppier.

Here Desert Boy makes his visit to King Herod, perched high up on his throne, with the other wise men. He is carrying gold and is appropriately dressed in the same color. He looks so cute. Just wait, you'll see. My camera wasn't doing so great in the low light conditions, but they ran through the play twice, so I had two opportunities to photograph.

The shepherds, sans sheep today, look on as the action takes place.

They sang lots of songs, and it put everyone in the Christmas spirit!

Emma really liked bobbing to the music.

She managed to pay attention for short stretches, then got wiggly, especially when I wanted to take photos of Desert Boy.

Her expressive eyebrows show a little worry. I'm not sure why.

Desert Boy continued his trek.

Desert Girl filled in for the sheep for a little while. She's not too good at sitting still, so she made the shepherds do some work.

Meanwhile the wise men are saying their lines, and Desert Boy, once encouraged to speak loudly enough, nailed his line.

Proud mama beams.

The final number is Joy to the World. It sure was a joy to watch them!

Good job, Sharon, for pulling it all together! And being so patient with the kids--not many people could do that.

We hope you have a wonderful Christmas!
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