Monday, December 28, 2009

My Daughter, the Naturalist

My son and daughter grew up with their Mom in Davis, California. I haven’t been able to live with them closely since they were very young.  While being away from them has been very difficult for me, they are now grown and we sometimes now have wonderful times together.

My daughter graduated from UC Santa Cruz last June, and she decided to stay with me while applying for grad school and work. She wanted to take a year off before continuing with school. Unfortunately she made that decision well before the economy went to hell, and she hasn’t had the job opportunities that she hoped for. She has always been fascinated with the natural world, and wants to do field research on marine mammals.  Due to a great deal of effort and persistence, she recently managed to land a four month internship in Gloucester, Massachusetts studying humpback whales starting in February. 
She and I decided to take some vacation time this fall.  We followed a fantastic clockwise loop through many of the national parks in the Four Corners area. I won’t attempt to do a full narrative, but here are some highlights, along with a few photos to illustrate the wonder of these places, and some of the wildlife we saw there.
Zion – This was our first stop. We hiked Angel’s Landing. If you haven’t had the pleasure, try not to miss it. It’s a wonderful climb, especially for novice hikers. We both qualify by that measure. It’s promontory pinnacle that juts out into Zion Canyon. You have to climb up a knife ridge, but there are ample manmade handholds to help in climbing.

Bryce – After leaving Zion, on the way to Bryce, we came upon some Big Horn Sheep crossing the road. Only time I’ve seen them in the wild. Bryce is amazing. Richly sculpted landforms in reds, yellows, and browns that just don’t stop.

Capitol Reef – We climbed the Golden Throne, an area that doesn’t get many visitors. Beautiful vistas, some small, like this circular patterned lichen beside the trail.

Arches – We got seriously dumped on one night. I thought we were going to get washed away in our tent, but it kept us dry. The next morning, waiting to hike the Devil’s Kitchen, a bolt of lightening came within a few hundred yards – no delay at all between the light and the crack of the sound. While we were here and in Moab, we read to each other from Ed Abbey’s books, especially Desert Solitaire.

Fisher Towers – After having hiked many of the Arches best areas, a ranger suggested we hike out of the Park. Fisher Towers is southeast of the Colorado and east of Moab. It’s an area that’s as spectacular as Arches, but hardly travelled. We took this photo with a self-timer by setting the camera on the tip of the overlook. I stepped past it very gingerly to lie down beside Danielle, because the drop was several hundred feet straight down.

Mesa Verde – We visited these cliff dwellings, but some of the best times we had there were hiking the snake trail where we spied a pair of falcons (prairie falcons, we suspect) at the top of a sheer cliff.

Natural Bridges – Like many of the vistas in the national parks area, you can drive very close to the 3 huge natural bridges and get a great view of these bridges. There’s another way to see them, however, by an 8 mile loop hike in the bottom of the creek bed that has formed the bridges. This was the way we enjoyed the bridges, and the effort it takes to get to them makes the views that much more satisfying. Also, because they can be seen by car, few enjoy this hike, which means you have the place to yourselves. It had rained the night before, and there was only one hiker ahead of us (we were the last for the day, just extricating ourselves from the canyon as night fell; now that was a close call!). Well, there was one other traveler on the creek-side trail that we followed for about 3 miles: a good sized cougar! We never saw the animal, but it saw and heard us, because it was only a short while ahead of us, and the canyon was narrow, with only one trail through it.

Grand Canyon North Rim – This was our last National Park that we visited. It’s vastly more enjoyable than the South Rim, but both have a very large number of visitors. Being high on the North Rim, you can look down on the hawks and vultures, some soaring below you; some resting on rocky prominences below. I visited South Rim a couple years ago, and my main recollection there was the huge number of tour buses. Give me the North Rim!


  1. It sounds and looks like a brilliant holiday. You're lucky to have a naturalist in your daughter. The world probably looks different through her trained eyes.

  2. Well, Dan, you and Danielle were in god's country, in my opinion. I was an ocean loving person for most of my life, and still am, but the desert southwest now also owns a piece of my soul.

    Our daughters are walking along a very similar path, except that Amber is pursuing both marine biology and oceanography. No break between college and grad school for her. She's pretty driven.

    By the way, I am completely envious of your shot of the bighorn sheep. Even with all the time I've spent out in nature, I've never encountered one face-to-face.