Before I get into the meaty part of this blog post, I need to get some administrative announcements out of the way. I have to admit that I went completely AWOL while on vacation for the last 2 weeks. I have not yet opened my e-mail and the voicemail is full. Please give me until Wednesday to get caught up (I know I even stopped mid-conversation with some folks on the e-mail, shame on me and sorry).
As of right now, I have seven reservations for the two planned litters for 2015: 4 female, 2 male, 1 no gender preference. So if you are looking to make a reservation for next year, that gives you an idea of where we are at.
BB is just coming out of her summer heat, so it looks like she should come in again to breed with Sam January/February, for whelping March/April, and puppy homegoing May/June.
Into the Wilderness
I am not good at getting to church, but I made it up to church last night (random, yes, but I promise that this thread is going to tie back into hunting, so hang with me). When I go, it’s to St. John’s Catholic Church on the Creighton University campus, where I did my undergraduate studies. The Jesuits are amazing men of God and intellect, and always seem to know what to say when I need to hear it. Last night, Fr. Roc O’Conner S.J. was at the pulpit and he is absolutely one of my favorites; not only does he know liturgy and scholarship, but is also a talented singer and songwriter. In the homily he said, “Wilderness is a place for teaching and learning about God. Do not worry about what there is to eat or drink, for God provides.”
After traveling 4000 miles through the western US over the previous 2 weeks and with hunting season just around the corner, that just floored me. Charles and I have this bad habit of underpreparedness. Like we’ll see game from the truck and be like, “oh, we’ll just chase that group over there, it is just over that hill, we won’t be gone for long” and not bring water. Then 2 hours later we’re staggering back to the truck dying of thirst.
So towards the end of our trip we were hiking up to Liberty Pass (elev 10,450 ft.) at Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains Wilderness just east of Elko, Nevada. Well, we hadn’t planned on going to the pass, we were just going to the lake that was a couple of miles up the mountain. But once we got there, the pass looked so close and we decided that we were there and were going to march the kids to the top. Well, about a half-mile from the top, little 5 year-old Caleb tripped and fell into the rocks and scraped his arm up good. We assessed our water supply and decided that he was going to have to suck it up because we didn’t have enough water to rinse it off, plus make it the rest of the way up the mountain and back down. Additionally, the elevation was kicking his poor little butt and he was complaining of being hungry. We were making very little progress with his endless protests, when down the mountain came these two 70ish year-old ladies. They could see that Caleb was having a rough go and stopped to render aid. They had enough water to rinse his scrape and gave him a bag of trail mix to eat. I swear that they were angels and we never would have made it without them. So a big thank you to the two ladies that helped us on July 30.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into the barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Matthew, Chapter 6, Verses 25-26
So as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming hunting season, let us remind ourselves that what we seek in the wilderness is a gift from God, and to respect and appreciate all that he provides for us on the land and in the air.
And so if you didn’t make it to church today, you got the Word according to Charity. And thus ends my sermon.
Liberty Pass at Lamoille Canyon, Ruby Mountains Wilderness, Nevada
After the trip, I feel like I’m coming into the season in better shape than I have in the last few. If you’ve been here for awhile, you know that this is a bad habit of mine since I’m somewhat of a professional glutton when I’m not wearing one of my many hats. But we got some major hiking in over the last couple of weeks and although I would love to start a food and travel blog, that would involve too much work, so you get to hear about it.
Our first hiking stop, and absolutely my worst showing, was at Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is about 25 miles north of Alamosa, Colorado. It is the least crowded National Park that I’ve ever been to (I’m also a bit of an NP junky). As I am a native of the Nebraska Sandhills, I figured that I needed to go and see the tallest open sand dunes in North America. It is a very tall dune range about 15 miles long that sits up next to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (which also look very cool and rugged, but we didn’t have time to tackle them).
Great Sand Dunes National Park
We arrived late morning, probably around 10:30 AM and it was already starting to warm up. There was no hiking barefoot as the sand was 100+ degrees in places and true to our bad habit of not being properly prepared, we were all in hiking sandals that filled up with sand every step. And the sand was loose so that your foot would sink in, and of course being the largest member of the expedition party I had a hell of a time. The kids and Charles were at the top of the dune yelling at me to finish. Next time we will be starting out at 6 AM with proper footgear and not such a rigorous agenda (we had to make it to Durango that evening).
Mom finally made it up the dune to get a pic.
(Notice that Charles is carrying my camera, that’s how bad it was.)
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
We were extremely lucky to get tickets to tour Cliff Palace, the largest of the ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, which is about 35 miles west of Durango, Colorado. It wasn’t a long hike, but it had some very steep stair and ladder climbing involved and our group had a Dutch lady who had to drop out from almost fainting on the first staircase.
Charles spots Caleb on one of the ladders at Cliff Palace
After leaving Mesa Verde, our next stop was Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is on the Arizona/Utah border about 25 miles north of Kayenta, Arizona. This absolutely one of my favorite places on earth.
Sunrise over Monument Valley
(Photography aside: DO NOT look through your camera when taking pictures of the sun. It will fry your eyeballs. I hid behind the blackout curtain of the hotel room and stuck my hand out of the sliding glass door to take this photo.)
Clint Westwood, Navajo Nation Guide for Monument Valley Safari in front of ancient petroglyphs
Going back to my thoughts on people who somehow know what to say when you need to hear it, I am always in awe of what I learn from the First Nations people across the country. The summer that we got married, Charles and I lived on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation, home of the Sicangu Lakota; he worked on a ranch and I wrote for the Sicangu Sun-Times, so we have a strong background in native culture and ceremony. As most of the visitors to Monument Valley are from Europe and Asia, we received a warm welcome and there was a lot of sharing going on between us and the Navajo. Everyone we met had relatives either currently living in our part of Indian Country, or had moved up here and had gone back. The plains tribes’ basketball teams also travel down there for all-native tournaments. It was a bit strange to be so far from our house, yet feel at home.
The farthest point into the valley on the Wildcat Trail
Poor Caleb gets pushed to his limits on our hikes, this photo was taken at mile 3 of our 4 mile hike into Monument Valley. My formerly brown sandals are still red from the sand. We really love the land and people of this place and talk of maybe living a year out there once we’re retired (a long time from now).
One last random vacation picture. I have done the South Rim drive through overlook tour of the Grand Canyon twice now and have to say that I will never do it again. Take the time to go to the North Rim, raft the river, or do a pack mule trip if you want to see the Grand Canyon. It is just one of those places that is wedged between other places that I really want to see, so I’ve never taken the time to do it properly.
Sorry for this blurry picture. We had literally just gotten out of bed and Charles pulled the curtain back on our room at the Yavapai Lodge of Grand Canyon Village and this was who was there to greet us.
Bull Elk outside of our window
Since I’m on the topic of big game, this is a banner year for antelope in Wyoming. We saw many does with twins, lots of large, healthy bucks, and probably over 100 antelope total along I-80. I wish that I had taken the time to photograph, but was just really road weary at that point and didn’t.
Visiting the Sierras and Quail
Our final destination was up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary and the family reunion on my mom’s side. My grandparents came from ranch families in the Nebraska Sandhills, but left after WWII and my grandfather was an electrician in the budding San Fernando Valley. So yes, my mom and aunts are some of the original “Valley Girls”.
Okay, so when they retired, they moved right outside of the gates of Yosemite National Park to a town called Oakhurst. Similar to Valentine, Nebraska where my fraternal clan lives, all of my maternal clan is in Oakhurst. It really stabbed me in the heart when the first greeting we got from a relative was, “Welcome Home”. I tear up just thinking about it, as we had been away for far too long.
So whenever we have a reunion, my immediate family has a tradition that we go up to Yosemite with my Uncle Jim, who we are very close to. He is a stage tech in Spokane, Washington and just all around cool dude. I would call him an ex-hippy, except that I think he is probably still a hippy. But I love him and we have fun together.
The usual suspects, plus Uncle Jim
Our first stop was the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, because if you get there too late, they close the parking lot and you have to take a shuttle in (which we have never done, we just skip it if it is full). What we thought was going to be a nice hike looking at trees took a bird scouting turn, when we stumbled upon a male Mountain Quail tending to his 6-8 chicks. I did not have my telephoto lens on and had left my camera pack in the van, so we are actually this close to them.
First spotted by Charles on the trail
Feeling pressure, they moved into the trees
Male Mountain Quail with two of his 6-8 chicks
My grandmother apologized for our trip to Yosemite being a “disaster”, but really it was quite cool to see the Mountain Quail and a new side to the park that I hadn’t seen before (this would probably be my 5th or 6th visit). The normally green valley was dry and brown, smoke filled the air, and the waterfalls were non-existent. Both the El Portal and the French fires had started the day before, and we saw fire from Hwy 41.
Yosemite Valley in the smoke. Normally, Half Dome is visible on the right.
Last news I received is that they are still battling these fires. Pray for rain and for the safety of the firefighters out there.
But back to birds. Not only did we have our Mountain Quail sighting, but right on Rd 426 going up the mountain out of Oakhurst, we saw loads of California Quail action. They are the ones that look like the Partridge Family, with the blob on the end of their head plumage. I was always too busy scurrying between family events to slow down for them and the one time that Charles was driving and we slowed down to look, my camera bag was back in the hotel. Argh. So I snagged this photo from the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy website.
Male and female California Quail (photo from sanelijo.org)
According to my relatives, their coveys can number in the hundreds and really prefer the shrubby areas of the lower Sierras. My cousin-in-law Ryan, who grew up there, says that he used to hunt them with success as a kid using his Red Ryder BB gun. The bag limit on Mountain and California Quail is 10 per day per hunter, which tells you how abundant they are and how few people actually hunt them. So a combo Christmas with the family and quail hunting trip is definitely in the works within the next 2-3 years.
Battle Mountain Chukar Tournament
Billboard for the Battle Mountain Chukar Tournament
We were making time through chukar country, so the only chukar that we saw on the trip was for the Battle Mountain, Nevada Chukar Tournament. So, now I have a new item on my bucket list http://battlemountaintourism.com/chukar-tournament/. But once again, beating my tired old drum, I would have to get into much better shape.
Chukar country is intimidating
The Ruby Mountains of Nevada and the Himalayan Snowcock
Back in the 1960’s the Nevada Department of Wildlife stocked the Ruby Mountains just east of Elko, Nevada with Himalayan Snowcock, which is essentially a giant chukar native to Pakistan and Nepal. Our fellow upland crazy Brian Koch of ultimateupland.com took a crack at them a couple of years ago, so we had to see what it was all about. Check out Brian’s adventure at http://www.ultimateuplandlodge.com/magazine/read/climbing-for-the-birds_136.html
Himalayan Snowcock in Nepal (photo from summitpost.org)
The Himalayan Snowcock is to North American upland hunters what the Dall Sheep is to North American big game hunters. The badass trophy. You have to be super tough, at peak fitness, and acclimated to altitude. Not to mention a crack shot, because you are going to get less than a handful of chances, if any. Our climb into Liberty Pass just got us into the elevation that we would start seeing them (which we never did, as it is a well traveled trail and a 5 year-old, 10 year-old and 13 year-old don’t hike this hard without some loud wailing involved).
But at 5.2 million acres and rugged high elevation, the Ruby Mountains were gorgeous and impressive. They call it the Yosemite of Nevada, as it was carved by glaciers similarly. When we get trained up for the Rubies, this is a situation where we would want a guide. We just don’t have the time a resources to do the scouting needed to locate them on our own. So if anyone knows of any good guides for Himalayan Snowcock, let me know. Actually, in looking for a photo online I found Nevada High Desert Outfitters who specializes in guiding for the bird, so if anyone has any feedback on them let me know.
The view up the trail to Liberty Pass from the End of the Road parking lot at Lamoille Canyon.
Just above Lamoille Lake
Stopping for a break at the treeline. Snow on the ground still in late July.
The view of the back side of Liberty Pass. Extremely daunting.
Well, I need to wrap this business up. My suitcases are still sitting in the living room, but everyone is home (dogs included) and we’re all safe and sound. I knew that you had missed me, so I thought that I had better get something out. I’ll be back later in the week with the normal dog news and pupdates. Until then, keep searching for adventure.
(Oh and I have to give credit to Maya Angelou for the title.)