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summer mountains

In the past month we’ve been trying to squeeze in a lot of mountain time. It’s been so hot here in the valley and cooler in the canyons, plus there’s more wildflowers, wildlife and cleaner air.

We’ve been up in City Creek Canyon and Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood and all the way over to Ophir Canyon with friends and on our own.

Yesterday we went up in the Uintahs, a little further from home for the first trip of the season and it was so lovely! There was a short rainstorm so we sheltered under some pines. The flowers were blooming everywhere and the kids and I are enjoying saying hello to the ones we already know and using iNaturalist app to identify and observe things we don’t know the names of. We only had a little over an hour yesterday so we’re planning to go back next week and spend some more time up there.

We took the path around the lakes, further from the other hikers, and got to see some fish hiding under logs in the water and lots of birds.

There were so many dragon and damsel flies and the heartleaf arnica, columbine, monkshood, corn lily, paintbrush, fireweed, yarrow, elephant head, shooting star, white bog orchids, pearly everlasting, western bluebell, wild geranium and penstemon were all plentifully blooming along with others I don’t yet know. I love learning to identify flowers and plants! It’s so fun to be able to call them by name.

We spotted several fungi types and were able to identify a few of those too.

I had the amazing experience of finding a hidden bird nest on the ground, totally obscured by the flowers and plants growing near the lake. I was stepping toward the water when a bird flew out from right in front of my feet, so, figuring there had to be a reason the bird stayed with me so close for so long, I carefully looked through the plants in front of me, hoping I had not stepped on eggs. A foot or so away, I found a nest hiding so well, it would be impossible to find unless you saw the bird going in or out. There were three or four tiny babies inside, hoping for food. Such a thrill! We identified the mom as a White Crowned Sparrow but the babies were just pink lumpy creatures with beaks and tiny whispers of down.

I’d hoped to find the nest again the next week and see how they were growing. So we went back and we did find them! They had changed a lot in 6 days!

We also spotted a boreal chorus frog. I saw it leaping and was able to catch it so the kids could see it too. Lilah held it for a while and we listened to the tiny noises it made.

The kids spotted a beaver dam across the lake from the frog.

I can’t wait to go back into the summer mountains. They are so beautiful and exciting and full of life.

 

 

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camping in Anza Borrego & Organ Pipe

We headed down south to find some flowers and sunshine with my parents.

Our first stop was a night in Las Vegas with Chris before he had to head back home to work. We enjoyed Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere. It was beautiful and fun and funny and we had a lovely time watching it together.

Next my parents and the three of us headed further south into California to Anza Borrego, a high desert which often boasts desert superblooms early in the year. This year we were a bit early for some of the flowers but we found a few spots where the sandy desert was covered in rich colored petals and it was magical. The smells were so lovely in the windy air.

We found a slot canyon (my kids favorite natural formation type!) and that was a fun hike. It was narrow enough to have to go sideways in spots and Lilah spotted a tarantula in the wash. Wow!

Almost every morning we were there we saw rainbows.

We spotted some desert bighorn sheep traveling along the mountain above our campsite and got a good look with my parents’ spotting scope.

Up the canyon from the campsite there’s a palm oasis, such a strange change of environment from a mile lower where the world seems to be just sand and rock. There was quite a bit of water and the palms looked happy and healthy with little ones sprouting and fruits hanging from the big ones. The kids found a spot behind the dry palm leaves and the rock that was sort of like a little cave.

We heard frogs each night so one day just after dark we headed to the pond the noise was coming from with our flashlights and after some long minutes we spotted one and then two! We watched them blow up their necks and make incredibly loud songs to each other even though they were only the size of a quarter or so.

Each night we saw more stars than you can ever see at home. We looked at constellations and I saw several falling stars.

Then we moved camp to Organ Pipe National Monument. I’d never been there before. It was gorgeous with cactus everywhere in so many varieties and stages of life and death. We saw saguaro, organ pipe, senita or gray bearded, barrel, prickly pear, hedgehog, cholla. We really enjoyed watching (and listening to) all the birds in the campsite! There were so many and they liked all the cactus and bushes near camp. We identified quite a few varieties with my parents’ guidebooks. Two types I know I spotted were the Gila woodpecker which liked sitting  on the saguaro tops and the cactus wren who seemed to be interested in building a nest in a cholla, covered in spikes everywhere!

We ventured into some washes right near the US-Mexico border and saw lots of huge cactus with some wildflowers and lots of dead and decaying cactus too which was fascinating to see. Lilah particularly liked the giant cholla skeletons, full of lacy holes. The sunsets were beautiful. Lilah captured this one.

We hiked up a mountain searching for flowers. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the trail because it was super steep and we only had an hour of daylight left but we saw plenty of beautiful views on our way.

We learned saguaro don’t put out arms until they are ninety years old. We learned there are bats who migrate from Mexico to feed on and pollinate the pipe organ cactus every year. We checked out some natural water tanks (spots in rocks that fill up with water) and an old adobe building.

We looked for elf owls who nest in holes in saguaro but never saw any. We did luck out, spotting a big horned owl nesting in a saguaro and got to look at it with the scope as well as some of us spotting it’s mate in a nearby tree on our way out.

We stopped for a night in Tucson on our way home and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, which is a bit more like a zoo. They had great live animal exhibits. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cougars, bear, bobcats, ocelot, screech owl, burrowing owl and hummingbirds. The hummingbirds let you get very close to them which was really fun. Some were very quiet and some were very talkative. Lilah identified each of the four types in the aviary.

It was a wonderful time with my parents and in nature even if it was a bit windier than we had hoped for. I’m SO lucky to have family who love nature and camping and who I love spending lots of time with.

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fresh air & surprises

We went for a walk up the canyon a few minutes away and beyond the usual enjoyments like blackberry flowers, birdsong, fresh air and tossing sticks and rocks into the creek, we discovered something new this time.

As we were leaving we went down to the creek in a different spot and spotted a swing across the water. Lilah crossed the logs and swung, and then we spotted a rope hanging from a tree right in the middle of the creek. So we tried that one too.

We left happy, making plans to return soon.

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around home

Here are a few moments from our week:

Gavin searched for new computer games to play. He’s interested in other things like Plants vs. Zombies or MineCraft. He loves to play Civilization so maybe we’ll look for games in that vein.

We tried a new recipe for peanut butter chocolate bars few days ago. It’s not quite what we hoped for so we tried another today. It was the right taste but a little too gooey, so next time we’ll try it with more crushed rice crispy cereal in it.

Lilah put the harness on Luna and then on Star. Neither of them liked it much. She read more of her book about clicker training cats.

We walked to the library in the rain to return a handful of books and check out several new armfuls of books plus a dvd called The Secret Lives of Cats.

A deer left a gift in our backyard, an antler was sitting by the rose bush today. We did a bit of research and found it’s shedding season, when the deer lose their antlers for the year and begin to grow new ones.

We all watched a video of a bald eagle chick hatching.

We made sushi and the kids did a ninja course with friends.

Chris read Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to the kids.

We’ve been working on getting the garden area ready for raised boxes by digging and tilling and pulling out rocks, boulders and so much glass. Here’s some of the various “buried treasure” we’ve unearthed:

I did a huge amount of research about covers to keep the deer out of our raised garden beds. Also, we ordered SO MUCH DIRT to fill our new boxes. The kids were amazed dirt costs so much.

We made brownies and played Race For the Galaxy.

Gavin and his friends swapped MineCraft videos to watch, places to download mods and ideas for making their own character skins.

We played outside with cut bamboo.

We watched the deer visit, rest and munch in the yard.

Life is sweet.

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Snow Canyon with friends

We camped this weekend in Snow Canyon. It was beautiful, though a bit less rain would have been nice.

We hiked and explored in Snow Canyon, in red sand and petrified dunes and twisting trees.

We played card games huddled under the awnings of the trailers during the rain storms.

The kids biked and scooted and dug in the sand and played soccer and found secret hiding spots.

We ventured into nearby Zion National Park for a day and went to weeping rock and then far out to where less people and trails are, to the Many Pools area. There had been so much rain recently and the snow is still melting so the pools were bigger, more and there were streams between most of them this time. We didn’t spot any frogs or tadpoles but it was overcast so much harder to see the bottom of the pools.

It was early for wildflowers still but we saw a few paintbrush and other flowers like this desert sage blooming already. The kids were smelling the leaves of various plants and deciding if they liked the scents or not.

We also spotted ravens, cottontail rabbits, songbirds and a few lizards.

The kids saw lots of sandstone and volcanic rock and were quite interested in how it’s formed and how different the volcanic rock is, smooth, rough, bubbly, pockmarked.

We all went out to dinner one night and Gavin lost his first baby molar! He was quite surprised.

On our last afternoon a few of us stayed later and found the lava tubes and climbed down into the caverns and then back out. It was really neat! We took flashlights, lowered ourselves into the opening and then descended into the dark tunnels and caverns below. It was dark down inside the caverns. We came out of a different hole nearby when we were done exploring.

Here’s the entrance we went into:

Someone on the trip asked Gavin what his favorite part of camping was and he answered, “Going new places that I’ve never been before and exploring.” His least favorite part was, “Being away from my computer.”

I asked Lilah the same thing. Her favorite part was, “Being with our family is most of it. Also exploring and climbing on rocks.” Her least favorite part was, “Getting in freezing cold water.” She kept walking in the wet sand after the rain and checking the temperature of puddles.

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Arizona

We spent last week in Tucson, Arizona. It was such a change in temperature from home, going from jacket, hat and glove weather to shorts and t-shirts weather.

The drive was long but beautiful and we finished the very very long audiobook we had been working through, the third in the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. We stopped in Phoenix to eat and Gavin spotted something in the sky he wanted to investigate so we walked over and found it was a huge suspended glowing sculpture.

Chris worked and the kids and I adventured during work hours and then we all headed out in the evenings together.

We saw our favorite soccer team, Real Salt Lake at two training matches while we were there. Lilah spent most of the first game watching bats catch moths in the stadium lights and she enjoyed that very much.

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The three of us visited both sides of Saguaro National Park, East and West. We saw so many different kinds of cacti, and quite a bit of wildlife. The saguaro were fascinating – I’d never seen them before – and the rest of the cactus were as well.

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The kids were offered a Junior Ranger program opportunity, an activity where they are given a bunch of activities/research to do in the park and when they finish a ranger goes over it with them and swears them in as a Junior Ranger. Honestly, I wished they hadn’t done it because they spent most of our first hike trying to fill out their papers instead of looking, listening and enjoying but they wanted to do it and both felt great finishing. If I’d somehow worked out a way for them to do the research, writing back at the hotel during down time that would have been perfect.

We saw jojoba, mesquite, hedgehog cactus, pincushion cactus, teddy bear cholla, pencil cholla, barrel cactus, saguaro, prickly pear, and various other plants on our explorations. There were many jokes about hugging the teddy bear cholla.

We saw cactus wrens, flickers, hawks, silky tailed flycatchers, lizards, bats, squirrels, rabbits, butterflies, wasps, moths.

The kids were so, so excited to see all the differing cactus types, some of them fruiting. None of them were blooming but it was so warm that I don’t know we’d want to go later in the year to see them blooming anyway.

I tried my hand at a new photography technique, shooting through my binoculars. It was tricky, but fun. Here are three of those shots, you have to have about four hands and have the lenses lined up *exactly* right or you get strange effects. I was trying to get a look at the nest in the hole in that saguaro.

The four of us took picnic dinner into the park and visited some petroglyphs and watched the sun set. Lilah took a picture of two different cactus together, saying “Those two look like best friends.”

We swam in the hotel pool.

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Lilah worked on reading her Warriors by Erin Hunter, about cat warriors. Gavin finished the 2nd Warriors book, and several more of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell in between other things and while driving.

We drove past an airplane museum so I asked the kids if they were interested. They were so we headed there one morning. It was huge, which was a bit of a struggle since we didn’t have time to see it all and that is frustrating for Gavin. He really enjoyed it though and immediately started making plans to create new models of airplanes and ships in Legos at home. He asked questions about different parts of the models, especially the landing gear.

 

One evening we all went for a quick visit at San Xavier del Bac, a Spanish mission that is still active, though it was built in the 1700s. They are restoring the paintings inside as well as the sculpture and relief on the outer walls. It’s a beautiful building.

The three of us went to Colossal Caves for a tour. It was the first cave adventure for both kids. I hope we can go see our nearest local cave this year up at Mount Timpanogus. The rocks are still actively growing there with water moving through the minerals and rock. Colossal Caves are dry due to the hot, dry weather in Arizona but still had plenty of fascinating features and was a pretty easy, short walk; good for a first cave experience. While we waited for our tour to begin, the kids tried their hand at sluicing for gems.

It was a great trip, seeing new places and things and enjoying some warm weather and clear air when it’s cold and polluted at home.

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Up to the mountains

I’m still working on another post about the last several weeks, but here’s a story about today. After some card games (war and speed) and some Playmobil play and some puzzling this morning, we headed up to Storm Mountain for a hike.  It’s been awhile, partly because we’ve been busy with soccer and gymnastics and partly because it’s been raining almost every day lately.

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The kids were getting into arguments before we left but as is almost always the case, once outside there was no conflict.  They love going on hikes where there are a) rocks to climb and b) water to play in, so Storm Mountain is always enjoyed even though the short hike up to the stream is steep.  We saw flowers and new growth on trees and shrubs.  We saw birds who frequent the stream.  The kids tried drawing with rocks on other rocks and enjoyed the different colors and textures they could make.  Lilah found bunches of what she called ladybugs but were different varieties of red beetles some with dozens of spots, some with none.

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We spotted a snake by the stream and many striped spiders.  I was thrilled to watch Lilah excitedly discovering and interacting with ladybugs, roly poly bugs and was even moving closer to see a spider.  When she was three she got stung by an insect and was terrified of anything that wasn’t a butterfly for years.  She calmed down about it after that but was still wary, even last summer.  Today, she was friendly with those beetles.

They were discussing what kinds of trees were on the path (they remembered maple and pine but not scrub oak) and I gave them a refresher on what stinging nettle looks like because there’s a bunch of it up there.  We found itty bitty male pine cones that had fallen and we admired new patterns in the trail from all the rain lately.

They climbed and drew and dug in the dirt and picked dandelions.  I sparked an interest for the kids today in natural art by arranging dandelion tops on a rock crack and later on the kids were excited to try their hand at it.

On the way down the trail, the kids tried to hide and camouflage themselves.  Fortunately for me, they were wearing purple and blue so I found them and found them again.  Lilah was also showing interest in tracking and leaving signs of what’s ahead or behind, possibly picked up from some books we’ve been reading lately.  So, we made a cairn and we put certain rocks this way or that way to show, “I’m going ahead” or “the trail goes left”.  It’s so good to get into nature.  I love it but it’s so easy to forget or not make time for that.  Maybe a scheduled hike day each week is in order.

As an added bonus, we got to listen to Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling on our way up and down in the car.  They are hilarious and captivating, O my Best Beloved.

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