Southern Utah Photographic Trip – Part 1

In early June I took a trip of a lifetime for a photographer. I have dreamed for years of hiking to and photographing “The Wave” formation in the desert of Utah/Arizona.

In order to hike to “The Wave” formation you have apply to a lottery and hope to win one of 20 tickets available for each day. Based on an average of how many people apply for each day, I calculated that I had a .001% chance of winning a ticket. AND I WON!!!

My hiking date was for Tuesday, June 4. I figured I was pushing it pretty close to the “too” warm weather to hike it comfortably. But based on average temperatures for the area, the high of the day was to be 84 degrees. Not too bad, but hiking on red sandstone was definitely going to be warm.

So I set out for southern Utah on Monday, June 3, and was going to stay for 5 days and see the sights around Kanab, Utah. This town is a cute, quaint town and central to so much desert beauty.

I try to see as many of our country’s National Parks as possible. I believe we should support the preservation of these sites that are so unique to our country. So I planned on stopping at the Hubbell Trading Post National Monument. This is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The trading post was built in 1878 by John Lorenzo Hubbell.

Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona

I couldn’t stay long but had a little time to see the store and the barn next door. The inside of the post had the original wood floors and glass cabinets. Sadly no one was available to show me the Hubbell home. This was a shame because it’s an 11,500 square foot home full of Hubbell Family heirlooms.

The plaque says “Sawyer, May 1901)
Inside the Hubbell Trading Post

I was quickly back on the road. My goal was to get to Kanab before sunset so I could visit the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for sunset photos.

The sand of the dunes is a beautiful color and the texture is like powder. It was very difficult to walk in. Scarlett was so happy to finally get out of the car and stretch her legs.

One Happy Scarlett!!!

We hiked around for a while to find a good place for sunset photos. Tough climbing up the steep dunes.

Steep dunes to climb

We finally found us a good spot to wait for the sun to reach a nice level for photos. While sitting and enjoying the beautiful evening, Scarlett kept running around and exploring. Getting rid of the pent up energy after sleeping in the car all day.

Having fun in the sand!!!

Finally the sun started setting and the air began to cool. Once this happened all kinds of critters started coming out from the sand. I really liked this translucent grasshopper that popped up right beside me. He was only about 1/4 inch long.

Tiny little sand grasshopper

At last the lighting was perfect to start taking pictures. This one was my favorite.

The sunset set off the color of the sand beautifully

I had thought I could get nice blue hour photos, but the sand just turned dark and didn’t look nice. It would have been nice to stay for milky way photos but I was just too tired to stay up late for that. Plus! My big hike to the Wave was going to start early the next day.

Scarlett and Kelly enjoying the sunset

I decided to hire a tour guide to take me to The Wave. There is no formal trail to take you there which made me nervous to hike by myself. I’m glad I did because I know I would have made a few wrong turns adding a few miles to my overall hike. As it was, I hiked 7 miles that took 5 hours.

I knew it was going to be hot so I got Scarlett a vest that held water and cooled her as it dried. It worked great! I also had her carry a lot of water to keep hydrating it.

We started the hike at 7:30 am. First we followed along the bottom of an arroyo. There were birds singing everywhere but I never saw a one. This was to be the case for my entire trip!

We started our hike in this arroyo

We eventually left the arroyo and started walking along a sandy trail. This led to a large area of sandstone that we had to walk across. This is when the views got so pretty.

Scarlett walking with our guide Larry

The red sandstone was so beautiful. And the formations formed by the wind were stunning.

We had to climb this sandstone rock face

We climbed and skirted along the sandstone formations for a couple of miles.

Look at my Scarlett blazing the trail for us

I really enjoyed this part of the hike. Walking on sandstone is nice because of the firm footing. But eventually the sandstone really started to have an incline to it. It was tough hiking for a good mile.

Hiking along this steep section was tough!

Then we came to another arroyo. We had to climb down the steep sandstone and then back up another steep section. But at this point I could see we were only about 1/4 mile from the wave. That was enough to motivate me!

I loved these yellow flowers! The Wave is straight ahead just below that shady spot on the mountainside.
This was the arroyo I had to cross to get to the Wave
It was a very steep climb up this sandstone face. My guide had to lend a helping hand several times.

Finally I was at The Wave!!!!! You enter from the back of the Wave to the north and the Wave faces south. When I got to the back of the Wave I was happy to see a small puddle of water left from the recent rains in the area. Scarlett was happy too and wanted to jump in and cool off.

I made her wait until I took a few photos. She waited but you could tell she really wanted to play in that water.

Kelly and Scarlett

I finally let Scarlett get in the water. Happy girl!

Having fun!

At first I thought this was the Wave and was thinking, “it sure looked bigger in photos I saw on the Internet…”

My guide must have seen my expression because he laughed and said, ‘This is just the entrance to the Wave!” Yay!

So I walked through that opening to the left behind me. And all I can say is WOW!!! It was stunning! So worth the hike there.

We made it!!!

We stayed about an hour there at the Wave exploring all the nooks and crannies. I couldn’t believe no one else showed up while I was there. It was great having the place to myself for all that time.

There was a cool mini slot canyon next to it. The lighting was perfect when I got there.

Relaxing in the shade of the mini slot
Gorgeous lighting

I hiked above the Wave to get a bigger view. It was so beautiful. The swirling rock was just stunning!

Looking down on the Wave

The views from this area were so pretty. Even though my guide has been here many times, you can tell he still enjoys the views.

My guide Larry taking in the stunning views

I climbed even higher and found a very deep water pool. Scarlett was ecstatic to have so much water to play in.

A nice deep pool reflection
This pool was deep. It was great because it re-hydrated her hiking vest.
You can see the water trail left by Miss Scarlett

Sadly it was time to head back. The day was growing warmer by the minute. My guide offered to take me to another formation but that would have added another 2 hours to my hike. I felt Scarlett and I would do better to just head back now.

On the way back we finally started running into the other hikers that won permits. I couldn’t believe they were just starting their hike at the beginning of the hottest part of the day. I hope they all made it there ok.

Scarlett and I had a wonderful day hiking. We took a 2-hour nap when we got back to the hotel. Then I went out and had a fabulous steak dinner to celebrate. A wonderful way to end the day.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – slot canyons and a river hike in Zion.

Birding from Albuquerque to San Antonio and Back

Last August I drove to San Antonio to visit my parents.  Life has been busy and I’m late on posting.

I wasn’t sure how well the birding opportunities would be as it was the middle of August.  But I was surprised at how successful I was at seeing a variety of birds…several of which were new birds for me.  I realized quickly that it was soooo dry in Texas that if I birded in areas where there was water I was sure to get something.

I decided this trip to break it up into two-day drives coming and going.  In the past I would drive the entire 12-13 hours in one day.  I’d be exhausted by the time I got to my destination.  It was a much better choice to drive half way and rest.  Plus it afforded me opportunities to stop and bird and let Scarlett get out and stretch her legs and play in some water.

This was Scarlett’s first road trip and she did great!

On the highway outside of Fort Sumner I happened to see a Swainson’s Hawk perched nicely in a dead tree.  I can never resist photographing birds of prey.

DSC_1345

Swainson’s Hawk

I’m so glad I decided to stop and take a few pics.  Because in that same tree was a Common Nighthawk! I have seen them in flight many times but never had to opportunity to photograph one.  So I was excited to see this one so close.  🙂

DSC_1355

Common Nighthawk

On the way to San Antonio I decided to drive to Lubbock, Texas, and stay the night there.  I had seen on the internet that there was an arboretum there.  Now how many of you think of a nice, lush garden area when you hear the word “arboretum”?  Well…the arboretum at Lubbock was a huge disappointment.  Maybe at one time it was nice, but not now.  The wildflower garden was way out of control but did give me a few butterflies to photograph.

DSC_1364

Bordered Patch

DSC_1393

Painted Lady

The only highlight of the arboretum besides the butterflies was a family of Mississippi Kites.  They were determined to stay in the tops of the trees, but I did manage to catch one decent photo.

DSC_1393-2

Mississippi Kite

The next morning I was determined to find someplace on the way out of town that would be much nicer to bird.  I decided to check out Buffalo Springs Lake outside of Lubbock.  What a great choice!  A beautiful community with lots of water around and full of birds.

The drive from the highway to the lake wound through grasslands and I got a new bird.  I’ve heard Northern Bobwhite many times in the past but never got a photo.  And for those of you that know me well, I only count birds on my list if I managed to get a photo (even a crappy one! LOL!).

DSC_1438

Northern Bobwhite

I also got to watch a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher getting breakfast.  He was a ways away but I did manage to get a halfway decent shot of him in flight.  First time I’ve seen the red patch on their wings.  It’s usually hidden when the wings are folded.

DSC_1448

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

There was a nice group of Cassin’s Sparrows but they were very shy.  I managed to get one shot before they all dove into the deep grasses.

DSC_1475

Cassin’s Sparrow

Scarlett was happy that she got to have a morning splash in the lake before hitting the road for another 6-7 hours.  From Buffalo Springs I took a little side road to connect to the main highway instead of backtracking.  I’m so glad I did!  The drive was wonderful because of the acres and acres of stunning sunflowers!

DSC_1635

Giant Sunflowers outside of Lubbock, TX

DSC_1630

Facing the early morning sun

While staying in San Antonio I had heard about this place called Warbling Woods.  It’s a privately owned residence on several acres.  The owners are bird lovers and have created a beautiful bird sanctuary that visitors can come and enjoy.  I got to go for a couple of hours one morning.  Nothing of note really except for hearing a Dickcissel – a new bird for me.  Sadly I didn’t get a photo so he couldn’t get added to my list.

DSC_1798

Black-Crested Titmouse

DSC_1847

Summer Tanager – Female

DSC_2020

Carolina Wren

DSC_2081

Northern Cardinal – Female

DSC_2133

Inca Dove

I did get one butterfly at the Warbling Woods location.

DSC_2138

Gulf Fritillary

The weather was in the 100+ degrees and the humidity was extremely high.  So it wasn’t the best weather for birding.

On the way home I took a different route.  I drove to Roswell, NM.  I wanted to check out the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.  On the way out of San Antonio I stopped at a little park to let Scarlett run around before hitting the road for several hours.  I’m glad I chose that little park because it had a small pond.  Since Texas had been extremely dry for several weeks, this little pond was a big draw for birds.

While Scarlett played in the water I was fortunate to get several new birds.

DSC_2257

Louisiana Waterthrush – a new bird!

DSC_2219

Miss Scarlett relaxing after her swim

DSC_2247

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher – yup! Another new bird!

Just as I was turning to leave I saw something larger fly overhead and land at the far end of the pond.  I was so excited to see it was a Little Blue Heron! Another new bird for me!

DSC_2220-2

Little Blue Heron

I would have loved to stay at that pond for several hours but I had to hit the road.  It was going to be a long day of driving.  Just outside of Fort Stockton I needed to get gas.  I couldn’t make it to the town so stopped at a little station in the middle of nowhere about 50 miles from Fort Stockton.  It was the middle of the day and 107 degrees!  I needed to let Scarlett out to do her business.  While she was doing that I noticed quite a lot of birds hanging out around a transformer on a pole.  It was the only decent bit of shade! The birds looked just miserable!

DSC_2283

Bullock’s Oriole – Female

DSC_2287

Northern Mockingbird

DSC_2288

Pyrrhuloxia

Back on the road I drove up through Carlsbad, NM.  I decided to stop at a little lake called Lake Avalon as ebird was showing several sightings there.  It was a very wild lake…more of a reservoir instead of a place for people to come picnic.  So the vegetation was thick and the roads around it terrible.  But I did manage to find one road navigable by my car and made it to the lake’s edge.  It was so hot Scarlett and I were only able to walk around for about 15 minutes before we dove into the car for max A/C!

DSC_2347

Scarlett cooling off at Lake Avalon

DSC_2334

Western Kingbird hitting a grasshopper on a limb

DSC_2357-2

Bullock’s Oriole – Female

DSC_2348

Western Kingbird – panting in the heat!

DSC_2341

Killdeer

DSC_2336

Greater Roadrunner

While sitting in the car getting ready to leave I heard an unusual bird call coming from the only two cottonwood trees in the area.  They were a magnet for lots of birds but pretty far away so was difficult to get photos.  But I was determined to figure out what was calling in that tree that I didn’t recognize.  I finally got a glimpse of it flying from one branch to another.  Quickly snapped a photo and zoomed in.  And saw it was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! A new bird for me!

DSC_2402

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo – I believe it’s a juvenile as it’s bill has lots of black

DSC_2409

I thought this photo looked like a watercolor painting

The next morning I got up very early (before sunrise!) and drove to Bitter Lake.  There wasn’t much water there so not many water birds around.  But on ebird there had been sightings of a Snowy Plover and that would be a new bird for me.  Needless to say I was excited to see one as soon as I got there.  The light was poor and the bird at a distance but I did manage to get a decent enough pic for my book.

DSC_2532

Snowy Plover

The refuge was a peaceful place to walk Scarlett and enjoy the sunrise and cool air.

DSC_2482

Scarlett enjoying the walk at Bitter Lake

While walking I saw a pair of raccoons go running past me.  Those guys can run!  As it was very early sunrise my camera just couldn’t get a sharp pic as they were moving so fast.  Briefly one stopped (sort of) so I grabbed a quick pic.

DSC_2462

Very fast racoons!

DSC_2458

Glad one paused for a quick look back

There were Scaled Quail everywhere and lots of Meadowlarks singing.  I can see how this would be a great place to visit for birding at other times of the year.  I will have to see if I can visit again in the spring.

DSC_2516-2

Scaled Quail

We finally made it home but the excitement didn’t stop.  I had to drive all the way into town and pic up photos for the State Fair photo contest and get them submitted that day.  But it was worth the effort and extra driving time.  I won an Honorable Mention ribbon for my Burrowing Owl photo 🙂

burrowingowl2

Burrowing Owl

I was surprised at how good the birding was for me for a late hot summer trip!

Meet Miss Scarlett

On Monday I picked up my new best friend…Miss Scarlett Raven.  She’s a purebred german shepherd and will be about 75 pounds full grown.  On her first vet visit she weighed 12 pounds….she’s got a lot of growing to do.

She’s a real sweetheart.  Very calm and brave.  She was scared of Samson, our old german shepherd, but instead of running and hiding she stood her ground and barked at him.  It didn’t take long though for them to become best buddies.  Samson is very good with puppies.  He knows they are young and little and he’s very nurturing.

Scarlett’s first day was full of changes but she did very well.  Didn’t even cry much that first night.  She’s settled in nicely and seems very happy.  She’s even taking her leash lessons very well.  She already comes when called every time and walks very nicely beside me on the leash.  She seems to enjoy our lessons together.

I’m looking forward to taking her on hikes.  She loves being outside and has enjoyed exploring our 4 acres with me.  I so want to take her now on trails for exploring but the vet said parvo is very bad this year and has recommended I keep her home until she’s had all her booster shots.  I’d rather be safe than sorry.

But I couldn’t wait to share her with you.

DSC_2315

Scarlett meeting my friend’s dog Mya. They will be hiking buddies

DSC_2304

Scarlett having fun chasing the ball with Samson.

DSC_0805

Miss Scarlett on day 1 at her new home

DSC_0834

Isn’t she sweet?

DSC_0797