Unseen places — Montana ranches

We passed through a portion of south central Montana on our drive back to Minnesota, and stopped to drive around a beautiful ranch southwest of Bozeman.  Off the beaten track, it turned out to be a great place to see wildlife.

Looking up the canyon divide where the ranch property begins at Gallatin Gateway, Montana.

Turner Enterprises owns the 100,000 acre Flying D ranch, a haven for wildlife and for bison production.

The ranch runs between the Gallatin and Madison Rivers. I imagine there is some good fishing there.  Not a bad place to live either.

A couple of Sandhill Cranes called to us as we drove by.  The wildflowers were in bloom in the prairie areas.

A Hoary Marmot (relative of the woodchuck) called to us from atop his rock next to the road.

I’m not sure which grouse species this is, but this little hen really didn’t want to get off the road in front of our car.

From a high viewpoint on the ranch, we could just make out a scattered buffalo herd in the distance.  Was this what it looked like 150 or more years ago, when Native Americans scouted for buffalo?

Turner Enterprises conducts annual bison round-ups to select animals to harvest for the market. There are probably 5000 animals scattered through the ranch.

Elsewhere on Montana byways, along another ranch road, we watched a Red-tailed Hawk buzz a Bald Eagle sitting on a fence post.

The hawk (far upper right corner) made a couple of dives at the Eagle, but then circled overhead and left it alone.

This bird might have been sickly, because it’s feathers look shabby and it never moved while we drove right up next to it. Lead poisoning is not uncommon in raptors here, if birds scavenge deer or elk carcasses with lead shot fragments embedded in the flesh.

Unseen places — a record of climate change at John Day fossil beds

In north central Oregon, there are three parts of a National Monument making up the John Day fossil beds where scientists have (literally) unearthed an interesting record of climate change in that region from about 40 to a relatively recent 7 million years ago.

Brilliant bands of red, tan, yellow, lavender, and white show along exposed hillsides in the Painted Hills of north-central Oregon.  Red laterite, iron-rich sediments are associated with period of warm, tropical like climate; yellow and tan are associated with cooler, drier climate.  White bands may be ash deposits from intense volcanic action nearby.

Bands of color in hillsides representing changes in lakebed sediments over time record warming and cooling trends in the region over millions of years.  Trapped in those sediments are rich deposits of numerous fossils of lake vegetation, fish, and amphibians, as well as reptiles and mammals that may have been trapped in mudslides into the lake.

Why such drastic changes in climate during this time?  Periods of intense volcanic activity as the North American continental plate passed over the Yellowstone hot spot produced a lot of ash and smoke that may have darkened skies enough to cool the climate.  The result was a significant change in the landform throughout parts of north-central Oregon, with cinder cones, basalt flows, tuff deposits, and silty, mudstone deposits of varying colors, and a record of the assemblages of animal life that appeared in the area over time.

John Day fossil beds, Sheep Rock unit, Oregon

Unseen places — Crooked River Ranch

The Crooked River, a major tributary of the Deschutes River in central Oregon cut a deep canyon near the town of Terrebonne (30 miles north of Bend).  Crooked River Ranch turned out to be a great place to camp for the night, and it even had pickleball courts!


The view from the top of the cliffs was amazing.

The road runs along the cliff face for quite a distance with homes and ranches interspersed in the sagebrush and juniper landscape.

Fanciful yard art

The view on a hike down to the river overlook.

Wow, what a canyon…

Unseen places — Mt. Shasta

Another unseen place I’ve never been before:  driving north of Redding, CA, on interstate 5, a huge snow-capped mountain begins to dominate the highway scenery.

Looming large over the highway, Mt. Shasta makes it hard to keep your eyes on the road.

As we continued north circling its base, we saw multiple sides of this picturesque peak.

The peak behind the one seen from the highway seems even taller. At 14,180 feet, Shasta is the 48th tallest peak in North America, including Mexico.

15,000 people a year try to climb Mt. Shasta. It last erupted about 1786.

Taking a little license with the actual color of the scene, for a little more drama.

Unseen places — Lassen Volcanic National Park

Unseen places — the places I’ve never been.  And unfortunately Lassen is still mostly unseen.  We wanted to camp here and do a little hiking, but the Dark Sky Festival brought in hordes of campers and there was no room for us.

A beautiful piece of highway winds in and around the great mountain itself, over snowy passes and around green meadows.  There are trails around every corner and the Pacific Crest Trail winds through a part of the park.

Lassen mountain looms over one of the scenic meadows in the park.

Flowers grow in dense patches down the hillsides and in the meadow.

I’ve never seen such a dense concentration of mountain flowers.  Arrowleaf Balsamroot was blooming everywhere in Lassen Park now.

Evidence of Lassen’s volcanic origin is everywhere, from the sulfurous fumes coming from fumaroles along the road…

to the bare, steep, cinder cone peaks that dot the landscape.

so much to see and explore in this still “unseen place”.

Natural Bridges

Natural Bridges state beach in Santa Cruz, CA is popular with both human and animal visitors that frequent its canyons and shorelines.  Mudstone cliffs jut out into the ocean forming peninsulas that the ocean waves crash upon and create interesting formations, such as the natural bridge for which the beach is named.

Ocean waves are slowly widening the archway and it will eventually collapse. At low tide the flat beach is a perfect place for kids to chase the waves.

Arches are forming at other sites along the cliff face.

The bridge connection to the rest of the peninsula fell in the 1980s. Riptide and complex ocean currents in this area make it a dangerous place to surf, and two surfers gave it up after a couple of tries.

Waves crash on the beach with a lot of spray.

That water is cold! The first wave is quite a shock.

The spray keeps the upper tidepools on the cliff wet during low tide.

What can we find in those upper tidepools?

Finger pinching crabs, for one.  Recent research on these shore crabs revealed that they munch on algae at low tide, but act like carnivores at high tide, consuming mussels, small snails, and even young abalone.  The lower tidepools that are mostly submerged have anemones, urchins, sea stars, small fish, and assorted mollusks, but those are too dangerous to climb down to in this heavy surf action.

Visitors to this area may get to see migrating humpback or gray whales during the winter, an occasional sea otter swimming around in the kelp offshore, or marvel at the dense clusters of Monarch butterflies that congregate on the pines and eucalyptus trees from October to January.  The equitable, stable climate in the cool canyons in Santa Cruz make it a perfect overwintering spot for the butterflies.

Eucalyptus groves in Santa Cruz attract hundreds of thousands of Monarch butterflies each fall. This is the only state Monarch preserve in California.

Backpacking Adventure 2019

Almost every year for the past 31 years, our family has backpacked in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California for several days, usually at altitudes higher than 8000 feet.  First with our own kids, then nieces and nephews, and now with grandkids and their parents, this year totaling 12 of us.

The intrepid group sets out to hike to a base camp about 6 miles distant, but first we must go up 1200 feet in elevation and then down 800. Ooh, my sore knees at the end of this day.

Don’t we wish all of the trail looked like this, without a stone or boulder to step over or a huge ledge to step up.  Climbing through manzanita to more alpine flora of pines, firs, and wildflowers.

Before we reach our camp, there is a major stream to ford.

We found an idyllic spot on a lake with huge granite slabs for sun bathing. The water is icy cold, because it has just recently lost its ice coating.

Our campsite has plenty of room for tents and hammocks.

Nightly entertainment was watching the guys hang the food sacks high enough to keep it away from bears and rodents.

We took day hikes from our base camp, located at the base of a huge waterfall. The route was straight up the walls of the waterfall.  Looks like it might rain, but wait, it never rains in the Sierras in the summer, does it?

The lake at the top of the waterfall still had snow fields down to the recently unfrozen water. Not a day for swimming.

Other hikes with routes over 9000 foot passes were entirely snowbound, even this late in the summer.

We had lunch just below the peak of one mountain, with a view of the lakes where we camped. Indian paintbrush was brilliant.


And we saw some gorgeous sunsets…

Photos courtesy of Alison and Chris Mickelson

Utah’s glorious national parks: Bryce and Zion

Two parks in one day?  Well, really a day and a half.  It’s very hot, the grandkids are weary of all the driving and the setting up and taking down of camp, so we’re moving on to California after brief stops at the last two of Utah’s parks on our list of “must-sees”.

Wind and water have created a magical landscape of cliffs, hoodoos, and castles in the eastern wall of the high plateau that makes up Bryce Canyon.  The best way to appreciate it is to take a hike down in the canyon, but we’ll have to save that for next time when it’s cooler.  Even at almost 9000 feet, it’s 90 degrees here.

A closer look at the result of erosion in producing the arches and hoodoos in the amphitheater.

On to Zion, at lower elevation, and much hotter on this travel day.  Spectacular views through windows in the rock made the grandkids gasp, “wow”, as we entered the park from the east side through a long tunnel.

Striking red and buff-colored cliffs loom over us as we walk the trails at each of the tram stops in the park.

At places along the riverside walk up to the Narrows slot canyon, water runs through the rock rather than down through a more impervious layer. Ferns, moss, and a few wildflowers cling to the canyon walls.

At Weeping Rock…

I found a few Columbine flowers

The Virgin River that cut the canyon in Zion is a gentle stream today, but must have been torrential in previous eons to cut such a steep canyon.  Making hoodoos on the river rocks is a popular activity.

Eldest grandson tests his mechanical engineering skills to construct a tall hoodoo.

Ground squirrels are common on the riverside trail, and come right up to visitors to beg for food. The park service has instituted a $100 fine to prevent feeding of wildlife.

After a picnic lunch in the park, we’re headed for California, and the annual backpacking trip in the high Sierras.

Utah’s glorious national parks: Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef is a major buckle in the earth’s crust in southeastern Utah — a huge and eroded uplift only six miles wide running almost 100 miles south to Lake Powell.

Erosion and weathering have exposed multiple layers of deposited sediments, the oldest (and lowest) of which forms the top of the Grand Canyon (Kaibab limestone).

East-west travel across the reef (i.e., barrier to land travel, like an ocean reef would be to sea travel) is difficult in this terrain, and only one major road crosses the spine of this ridge.

Some of the peaks in the reef are capped with whitish sandstone, which reminded early settlers of the white domes of Capitol buildings, and hence its name — Capitol Reef.

This area is a hiker’s paradise because of all the narrow slot canyons that have formed in the longitudinal reef over time.

We drove down into one of the slot canyons one evening, amazed at the formations carved into the walls by wind and water.

Walls of the narrow slot canyon tower hundreds of feet above us.

We arrived in the middle of a heat wave in Utah, but our national park service campground was relatively cool because it was in the middle of an irrigated orchard.

Fruita campground is an oasis in the desert, with orchards planted originally by the Mormon settlers, and maintained today by the national park service.

You can pick and eat as much fruit as you wish in Fruita campground, but must pay by the pound if you want to take it with you out of the camp. Apricots were ripe and falling off the trees when we visited, but the mule deer preferred the still unripe apples.

Utah’s glorious national parks: Canyonlands

Utah’s national parks are all different from one another, and all are spectacular.  I’ll write more about them some other time, but for now, just enjoy the amazing geological wonders of Canyonlands.

Admiring the vista at Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Arch

The view being admired in the previous photo…

The iconic Mesa arch, you’ve probably seen as a screen saver or wallpaper for your computer monitor, although not with the cute grandkids posed there.

The view from the side of Mesa Arch looking at those spires that catch the sunrise in most of the wallpaper photos.

The most abundant wildlife we saw in Canyonlands — Ravens.