May 31, 2009

Life in an Arid Land

The high desert was 70 degrees on the last day of May. With the sun shining, that feels hot.

We thought the prickly pear blooms would be out en masse, but we saw only one. The pink blossom was so full of tiny insects, it writhed like a creature from a science fiction film!
Other plants were blooming, too. (I'll give you my best semi-educated guesses on the names.)
Yellow cryptanth,
western peppergrass,

desert dandelions and prairie sunflower,
and cushion buckwheat.

The desert was almost lush with bunch grass, probably due to several generous afternoon rain showers in the past couple of weeks.
While I dawdled taking photos, Mischief followed me down the road to the trailer. What a good boy. And yes, that's a piece of grass sticking out of his mouth. Nobody's perfect. You can't expect a horse to pass by a delicious snack without a nibble, can you? Especially a horse with a name like Mischief...

May 30, 2009

Fly Away Home

A beautiful, newly emerged tiger swallowtail showed up in our garage this week. He wasn't able to fly well yet, so he hung around to be photographed.
My insect book says the larvae feed on willow, alder, sycamore and aspen. We have aspen lining the driveway, so that must be where his cocoon spent the winter.
Here's another butterfly friend. This one decided to rest on Mischief's mane.
Of course, we think of butterflies being symbols of spring, all sweetness and light.
I hate to disillusion anyone, but I discovered that a butterfly's eating habits are not entirely pleasant. These guys are hogging up on ... coyote turdules!
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May 28, 2009

Stormy Afternoon

At 11 o'clock, only a few clouds loomed over the Uinta Mountains. We hoped to steal enough time from the week's rainy weather to ride part of the way up Big Ridge, a trail in the Lake Fork drainage. We began our ride at 7000 feet. The ridge itself is about 11,000 feet, so we expected to reach snow well before the top.
The aspens were dressed in new green.

Serviceberry bushes (which produce an edible berry that Native Americans used to make pemmican) bloomed along Lake Fork Creek,
and wild blue flax adorned the banks.
The hills were alive with yellow balsamroot,
and Indian paintbrush.
By 1 PM, after we'd ridden 5 miles and 1600 feet up the mountain, dark clouds took the place of white, puffy ones.
We made our way down the mountain as a storm brewed over the High Uintas, looming over the Lake Fork wetlands.
As we crossed the creek on the drive home, raindrops dimpled the pools stilled by a series of beaver dams.
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May 27, 2009

Flower Power

I love blossoms that come back year after year with no effort on my part.
Maybe I should do some weeding, just to say "thank you."

May 26, 2009

S is for Son(s)

Long, long ago, son 1 and son 2 loved to scratch about in sandy soil until they needed scouring, at which they not-so-secretly scowled.
Only slightly spoiled, they seized the moment and enjoyed a certain savoir faire.
They had their sibling spats and spars, but they smiled in sequence and were generally inseparable.
And they sure were sweet... when they were asleep!
The sons, both past 30 now, will snicker at their former selves. Their sibling, a sister, will no doubt snicker as well.
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May 25, 2009

Cactus Beauty

Claret cup is my favorite cactus, and it's blooming in the high Utah desert (about 6000 feet).
Above is a prickly pear, very abundant in the Cedars near our home. The buds are out, but no blossoms yet. If you enlarge the photo, you'll see a bug (squash bug?) nestled within the spines. Not a bad location for safety from predators, don't you think? Primrose were abundant.
This purple plant is of the pea family.
Boss is lapping a lip over green Indian rice grass, a native bunch grass that provides great natural forage.
The mountain gods looked angry, but the weather stayed warm and dry for our ride.
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May 24, 2009

Out of the Mist

Olympic National Park, Washington, late August, 2003, taken on a backpacking trip from Sol Duc trailhead.
Bailey Range on left, glacier-covered Mount Olympus (7980 ft) in center.
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May 22, 2009

No Kissing the Porcupines

On a recent ride into the mountains, we saw teeth marks like this on many of the aspen trees. There seem to be 4 teeth raking the bark.
We believe this was done by porcupines, who eat bark during the winter. The marks are all about 4 feet off the ground, probably the snow level last winter. Porcupines will occasionally eat the bark all the way around a trunk and kill the tree. (Photo at left came from Wikipedia.)

Here's Daisy after she had a close encounter of the uncomfortable kind with one of those loose-quilled critters last autumn. (They don't shoot their quills, but the quills are released from a porcupine's skin easily, leaving the surprised attacker with a faceful.)
We didn't see the actual event. Daisy came running up while trying frantically to rub her snout on the ground. She had quills inside her mouth, too, and most were broken off.
Steve found a hemostat in his saddle bag and used it to pull most of the quills.
Here's one compared to an inch on a ruler.
We looked at a quill under a microscope. The black object is a pointer that points to the quill itself. You can see the tiny barbs that make extraction difficult.
Daisy had some swelling and quills working their way out of her face for a few weeks, but she suffered no significant long-term effects.
Note to our highly gifted but sometimes overly enthusiastic Daisy: next time you see a porcupine critter, do not attempt to eat it, kiss it, or touch it. Run the other way!
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May 21, 2009

Spring Meets Melting Snow

Last weekend, we were able to ride up to 10,400 feet on the Tworoose Pass Trail.
Snow and mud from melted snow stopped us up high.
Look at the size of this remaining drift!
We saw elk (not quick enough with camera)
and some Rocky Mountain goats. Steve's sharp eyes spotted them long before I could tell they were anything but white rocks. We tried to sneak up on them but found they were in a rather inaccessible area, typical of goats, so we gave up.
The aspen leaves are coming out below 9000 feet, but above that they are still bare.

A few wildflowers are out. New varieties will emerge weekly through August.
On the ride down, we could see our trailer way off in the distance. You'll see it, too, if you enlarge the photo and look for the marker.
The views were great in all directions on this picture perfect day.
In all, we rode 16 miles and covered 3800 feet up and down. Quite a workout for the horses, but they don't seem to mind. They do appreciate some extra flakes of hay for their trouble, though.
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