October 12, 2016
After a morning of packing and leaving my Father’s house in good order (linens washed, dishes done, scones made) we left Sedona and headed north to Jacob Lake campground near the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We read this campground fills fast, and they were right. Of course the loop with the largest number of campsites was closed for the winter and it is only early October – go figure. Not sure why the closed one loop as there were plenty of campers looking for a place to stay. We made it to the campground around 2:30 pm and got, what we feel, is the best site in Loop A – Site #23.
Lots of scenery along the way …
We did make a few stops enroute to the campground, including the Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry. We were not blessed with any California Condor sightings unfortunately, however the scenery – Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon were GORGEOUS. This is my first trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and along the Vermillion Cliffs highway. I could not stop taking photos of the cliffs.
Vermillion Cliffs …
The rock formations and colors were dazzling. The camera just doesn’t capture the beauty I saw.
The campground has a short (approximately one-mile) trail called the KAI-VAV-WI trail. We hiked this trail several times.
The trail goes through a Ponderosa Pine forest. Ponderosa Pines are my favorite coniferous tree. I love these giants, and the Kaibab squirrels love them too. We enjoyed checking out the Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Dark-eyed Juncos. The true delight was the Kaibab Squirrel, a subspecies of the Abert’s Squirrel. This squirrel is funny, but cute looking with a dark body, tuffed ears, and a white tail – and is the second largest squirrel in North America. My favorite squirrel yet. Oh a lifer too. The evening ended with a beautiful sunset, and a sky full of stars.
October 13, 2016
After breakfast we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. What a beautiful area. Every turnoff (once in the park) provided for spectacular scenery. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. I agree, but I feel it is the GREATEST wonder of the world – bar none.
Prior to entering the park we drove through the Kaibab National Forest. The forest experienced a burn some time back – don’t know if it was intentional (arson or prescribed) or accidental. There was a lot of evidence of the burn. Red-tailed Hawks were abundant. Most were perched on the dead, burned trees. Better to see their prey, I presume.
At the North Rim, we walked out to Bright Angel Point view point. This short walk is not for the faint of heart. My heart was beating a mile a minute in a few locations. If you don’t like heights, then this hike might cause you some concern. But how can one pass up looking out over the canyon at the different rock formations, the beautiful green and various shades of red.
Once we left the North Rim we drove to Cape Royal to get more views of the canyon. Stunning scenery here, including a view of Angel’s Bridge – which you can walk over.
In both the National Forest and the National Park there were a lot of aspen stands sans leaves. However, I think the aspen died as there were no leaves on the ground to indicate the trees had recently dropped their leaves. Aspen need fire to survive and when fire is suppressed, the trees die. This is too bad as there is nothing more beautiful than aspen trees when they turn yellow, reds, and golds. Surprisingly, the meadows in the National Forest were in better condition than the meadows in the National Park, and the USFS allows grazing in this forest as evidenced by the previous photo of a cow in a stand of trees. Maybe the cows are kept off the meadows in the national forest. Also, I can’t swear that the grasses in the meadows are native grasses so even though the meadows look to be in good condition, that might not be the case.
Walhalla Overlook – a stop along the park road
Then off to Point Imperial where we saw, what I consider to be one most beautiful views from the north side of the canyon. And I wasn’t alone. I heard another person say the same thing. On the way, much of the hillside showed evidence of a recent burn – natural or human-caused (arson, accident, or prescribed burn?). We did see a road sign indicating a prescribed burn in progress and not to report the fire. However, we did not see any fire or smoke.
On the way back to our campground we observed several Red-tailed Hawks. These two hawks were near one another. Notice the different chest and belly colors and patterns. Both are Red-tailed Hawks.
After leaving the park we headed back to our campground and another walk/hike on the campground trail. We got more good looks at the Kaibab Squirrel. This one was eating what looked like a mushroom of sorts – a food source they do eat, but not their primary food source. The squirrels prefer the cambium and bark of Ponderosa Pines and their green cones. The Kaibab Squirrel does not cache food.
Lots of Western Bluebirds in the campground – flying to and fro.
And a Hairy Woodpecker. We were hoping to see a woodpecker along the trail – success!
October 14, 2016
After walking Doodlebug on the trail for her daily exercise we broke camp and headed to Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. This refuge is located north of Las Vegas.
We decided to travel to the refuge through Zion National Park. We made a few stops along the route to marvel at the scenery, rock formations, and beauty of the area. If you’ve been to Zion National Park you know there is a long tunnel you must go through. Only one-way traffic is allowed in the tunnel due to the size of vehicles (including RVs) today. We proceeded through the tunnel and upon reaching the other side I happened to look at the second vehicle waiting in line. The driver of the vehicle was Karl Stoltzfus from Homer! No mistaking Karl. My sighting was confirmed when I emailed him and asked if he was in the park. He said yes, but they were headed to Bryce Canyon NP.
We stopped off at the Nature Center and walked the Pa’rus trail. This is a paved trail that is dog-friendly. Not many trails in National Parks are dog-friendly. Despite the heat, we saw a surprising number of birds, including large flocks of American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Cedar Waxwings.
We left the park and continued on our way to the refuge arriving around 4:00 pm. We were lucky and found a spot to camp. This refuge allows free camping. They have vault toilets; each campsite has a picnic table, but no other amenities so bring lots of water if you come.
The evening was spectacular – warm, breezy, and with partly-cloudy skies. We were concerned it might be too hot, but sleeping wasn’t a problem. The highs in Las Vegas have been in the low 90s – ouch!!! Hot, Hot Hot.
October 15, 2016
Today we walked the three-mile loop trail around the Upper Pahranagat Lake. With waterfowl hunting season upon us (heard the guns going off early in the morning), the ducks knew to fly from Lower Pahranagat Lake to the Upper ‘no-hunting’ Pahranagat Lake. There were hundreds of Redheads, Canvasbacks, Mallards, American Wigeons, and Northern Pintail, with a few Ruddy Ducks and Northern Shovelers. Canada Geese and American White Pelicans were also present. Oh and for waders – Great Blue Heron and Great Egret.
After our morning walk we hung around our campsite. I even took a short nap before lunch. So unlike me, but my 10-15 minute snooze did the trick. Following lunch, we went to the refuge’s new (January 2015) visitor center. A beautiful “green” building. We then drove portions of the refuge to check out the middle portion of the refuge and the lower lake. On the lower lake there must have been around 10,000 American Coots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Coots. Amazing spectacle.
In addition to the Coots there were Long-billed Dowitchers with their sewing machine bills working the mud flats, Least Sandpipers, and Killdeer on the lakebed. At the upper lake we had two Greater Yellowlegs with their distinctive Tu, Tu, Tu call.
So about this refuge (Paharangat – means Sticking Feet in Water in Paiute). The refuge, an Important Bird Area, was established in 1963, and consisted of 5,380 acres of lakes, marshes, wet meadows, and desert uplands. And based on the number of waterfowl we observed at the refuge, an important migratory stopover or wintering area.
October 16, 2016
Another beautiful morning at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. We took the 3-mile lake trail again, spotting an additional eight birds to add to our refuge list.
Birds Observed or Heard at the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
- Canada Goose
- American Wigeon
- Northern Shoveler
- Northern Pintail
- Ring-necked Duck
- Ruddy Duck
- Eared Grebe
- Clark’s Grebe
- Western Grebe
- American White Pelican
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Great Blue Heron
- Great Egret
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- American Coot (just a few – ha ha ha)
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Greater Yellowlegs
- Least Sandpiper
- Long-billed Dowitcher
- Mourning Dove (in a tree, tree, tree)
- Red-naped Sapsucker
- Northern Flicker
- Marsh Wren
- Common Raven
- Orange-crowned Warbler
- Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s)
- Song Sparrow
- White-crowned Sparrow
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Western Meadowlark
- House Finch
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Flycatcher sp. (I think a Western Wood-Pewee, but not sure enough to count)
- Snowy Egret
- Pied-billed Grebe
- Belted Kingfisher
- Chipping Sparrow
- Green-winged Teal
- Barn Swallow
- Bewick’s Wren
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Reluctantly we left the refuge and continued on our way headed to Cathedral Gorge State Park. Once we got here we realized we had stopped by this spot once before – not to camp but to check out the site, which the state says is a photographer’s dream. The area does have interesting geology (check out my photos and you will see why).
The campground is small. There is water and for a fee – electricity ($10.00 per night extra), but free showers. That is always nice after staying at federal facilities which lack such amenities (showers and electricity). So we will recharge both ourselves (with a shower) and our electronics. Tomorrow we head to Great Basin National Park.
We took a hike from the campground to the day-use/picnic area via the 0.50 mile loop nature trail. At the day-use/picnic area there is “Canyon Caves”. They actually allow you to walk into the caves. Very cool. Of course I kept thinking ‘what if they had an earthquake and all this rock came down on top of us’.
The brochure says ‘birds are plentiful’, but we only saw White-crowned Sparrows (which were plentiful), Common Raven, and two Rock Pigeons riding the thermals. They looked like they were surfing the thermals. The lack of diversity of bird species may be due to the heat, wind, time of year … so many different variables or a combination.
It was really windy when we were here – gusts up to 16 mph. The winds finally stopped around 3:00 am.
October 17, 2016
Woke to no wind (relief), sunny skies, warm temperatures (60s). I understand in Homer temperatures were in the high 20s, low 30s. Brrrrrrrrr.
We left Cathedral Gorge State Park and made our way to the Great Basin National Park. This park is located in Nevada, close to the Utah Border. At the visitor center we saw a map of the different deserts – Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan. The entire state of Nevada – the only state – that is all desert, encompassing most of the Great Basin Desert, with the southern end of the state falling within the Mojave desert.
There was actual ‘termination dust’ on that mountain top – pretty faint, but still there
We got to the park around noon and found plenty of camping spots. We chose to stay in the Baker Creek campground. We will be here for two nights. So what is there to do in the park? Lots of hiking opportunities. Of course we are prohibited from doing that because of our dog. We don’t want to leave her long in the vehicles (even though it is cool here), and we can’t leave her tied up (not that we would) at the campsite. Having said that, there is also the Lehman Cave, and we will try to go see them in the morning. I suspect it will be quite cool when we wake up.
The Gray Cliffs – a group camp area with beautiful rock cliffs
Jack and I are always disappointed with the national park visitor centers. The National Park Service is supposed to be known for their interpretive programs, but so many of their park visitor centers lack interpretive displays, instead filling the space with gift stores. Personally I find the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have better interpretive displays.
October 18, 2016
Boy was it COLD this morning. I have this device called a ‘Kestrel’ that measures wind speed and temperature. I took it out this morning to check the temperature outside – 29.5 degrees at 7:00 am. Brrrrrrrr. But being Alaskan I had the right clothes to keep me warm.
We left our campsite at 7:45 am and headed to the Lehman Visitor Center to see if we could get tickets for the 9:00 am Lehman Cave tour. SCORE!!! Jack and I, along with 20 other hardy soles went underground and into a beautiful cave. I suspect most caves are beautiful. I took lots of photos, but the photos don’t do justice to the beauty of this cave, famous for its ‘shield’ formations.
After the cave tour we drove the road up to the Wheeler Peak campground and the parking lot for several area trails. The campground has better sites than our campground – Baker Creek. However, Baker Creek is about 2,500 feet lower in elevation than the Wheeler Peak campground. I did mark down some of the sites I would select if we ever stayed at this campground. Of the 35 sites, only one was occupied at 1:30 pm. – maybe the 10,000′ elevation has something to do with that.
Jack hiked the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail while I walked the dog in the campground. Dogs on leash are allowed in park service campgrounds. Yippee!!! On one loop, I was coming around the bend and was startled to see a Ruffed Grouse in the road. I think we scared each other. I gasped my surprise, which caused him to flush.
As I mentioned, our campground is at around 7,500 feet. We are on a different side of the mountain than the Wheeler Peak campground. Driving up to that campground we observed several Clark’s Nutcrackers. However, we haven’t seen a single Clark’s Nutcracker near our campground. I found that odd.
Birds Species Observed or Heard:
- Townsend’s Solitaire
- Mountain Chickadee
- Northern Flicker
- Hairy Woodpecker
- Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Cassin’s Finch ???
- American Robin
- Clark’s Nutcracker
- Red Crossbill
- Ruffed Grouse
We are staying tonight at the campground and tomorrow will be heading to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. We plan to stay there about 3 nights. Then its back into Nevada.
Such gorgeous scenery and plentiful birds. You are hitting parts of the country we wanted to get to but now…someday maybe. Keep sharing the shots. Happy birding.