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.
Working our way west from Fort Robinson across Wyoming to Dinosaur National Monument in northeastern Utah, we passed through Rock Springs, WY, where a day later they would hold the national high school rodeo (darn, we’re hooked on rodeos now, too!).
We made a brief stop at Flaming Gorge reservoir and dam on the Green River at the border of Wyoming and Utah. So named by John Wesley Powell when he explored this area, but the red canyon he saw is no longer visible.
And on to Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Colorado and northeastern Utah, where kids can delight in seeing an actual dinosaur excavation site.
We’re touring the Great Plains on our way west to California, camping along the way. First stop Chamberlain, South Dakota, followed by Fort Robinson on the boundary of the sand hills of western Nebraska. The grandkids enjoyed a lot of swimming, some tubing, some horseback riding to the top of the buttes, and an evening rodeo, complete with calf roping. It was a big hit.
I got tired of trying to grow vegetables in my backyard garden space year after year, only to have them wilt with insect infestations, or get some virus that turned the leaves brown. And finally at summer’s end near optimal harvest time, the garden was shaded by 2 p.m., because the maximum altitude of the sun’s arc in the sky in late August was below the tops of the trees.
So I converted my vegetable garden to a wildflower garden, with a wildflower mix from a company that promised lots of native plants from my region. I dispersed the seed generously, watered it faithfully, and waited for weeks while it looked like I was growing nothing but weeds. As an added bonus, I thought a bevy of flowers would attract more butterflies and bees to my backyard (which is what the wildflower packet promised).
But unfortunately, I don’t recognize many of the flowers in this mix, which leads me to wonder if they are really from this region of the country. For example, a few California Poppies have appeared, and I’m sure they are not native to MN.
They are quite pretty, but I’m disappointed that these flowers seem to be non-natives that will not attract the insects that my bird friends depend on during the summer.
I’m going to call this a failed experiment, an important failure because it highlights something that should be an on-going concern of all avid gardeners. And that is this: if we continue to replace the native vegetation in our yards with non-native species, insects that depend on native perennial and annual vegetation will face a food desert. They don’t have the biochemistry to cope with the plant defenses of introduced non-natives, so they produce fewer or no offspring in a garden of non-native plants. And the birds that depend on those insects to feed their own young similarly suffer the consequences of the food desert.
So, plant more native species and keep those insects happy!
We made a brief trip up north over the July 4 holiday to lovely Maplewood state park, about a 3-hour drive northwest of the Twin Cities. Lakes, trails, great campsites, rental canoes and kayaks available, swimming beach, wildlife, and more. What a beautiful place, and it must be even more so in the fall, when the maple-basswood forest has turned gold and red.
Finally, the flowers have begun to make an appearance after a long, cool spring. It’s past mid-summer, but the peonies have just finished (very late) and the summer bloomers are finally budding out.
Ah, summer, you’re much too short, but come with such beauty.
Driving the grandkids back to their house, I spotted a pair of swans on a nest in a beautiful wooded lake surrounded by cattails. But unfortunately, I had a short focal length macro lens on the camera, instead of a telephoto, so this was the scene I could capture today.
I’ll have to return another day and hope they are still this close to the road.
With a fancy name like Margined Calligrapher, you would never guess I was talking about a little flower fly, less than a half inch long. But this minute insect is one of the most numerous ones in your garden right now.
Flower flies derive their name from their ubiquitous presence on flower heads as the adults seek nectar and pollen, but they are also called hover flies for their habit of hovering in mid-air, or Syrphid flies because they belong to that large subfamily.
Their yellow and black coloration mimics that of bees, and perhaps they get some protection from predation from that mimicry, but they are far smaller than even the smallest honeybees, they have only one pair of wings, not two as all bees do, and they have short, stubby antennae, again unlike the longer ropey antennae of bees.
So, not only do adult flower flies perform a pollinating service for the flowers in your garden, their carnivorous larvae perform a check on the pests (like aphids) that attack your garden plants!
This particular species of flower fly, Toxomerus marginatus, can be found almost everywhere in the U.S. except mountainous regions and Alaska, and has even made it to Hawaii. There are numerous Toxomerus species, each with a distinctive pattern of yellow and black on the abdomen, so if you see these bee mimics in your garden and wonder what they are, here’s a handy reference page (with photos) of some of the more common U.S. species,
What can you say about a plant that produces dozens of brilliantly colored, salad plate-sized flowers, except to call it a “wonder flower”. It smells wonderful, blooms in brilliant shades of every color but blue, and has lush dark green foliage that survives benign neglect in the garden after its lovely blooms have disappeared. Wonder, indeed.
There are six main types of peonies we find in gardens, that seem to differ in how many petals they cram into the flower head. Walking along the bike trail in front of my house, I found several different kinds of peonies in the roadside gardens.
The basic peony model is one of a simple row of petals surrounding the bisexual structures: anthers (with their stamens full of pollen) and the central pistil containing the ovary (carpel) full of ovules and the stigma that receives the pollen.
Even though their vibrant blooms are rather short-lasting, peonies are one of the most sought-after garden plants, a welcoming introduction to the summer flower extravaganza.
Whether it’s spring house cleaning or just colonizing new territory, the ants in my back yard are on the move. After laying waste to large patches of lawn last summer…
they have relocated to a shady hillside to do their nest building this summer, with predictable effects on the green sward I have been trying to cultivate.
It’s fascinating to watch while minuscule creatures continuously bring up chunks of dirt and wood as they excavate. I can only imagine how far into the hillside these tunnels go.
Workers are essential to the health and maintenance of the nest, but their lifespan of weeks to months may be determined by food abundance. In contrast queens can live for years, laying thousands of eggs over their lifetime.
It is truly impressive how much ants can excavate and how much they can carry, to say nothing of the organization it takes to perform such whole-scale nest engineering. The wonders of the “hive mind” convert single individuals into a super-organism to build an elaborate system of tunnels and side chambers that ultimately forms a highly integrated city.
To demonstrate how complex the construction of an ant nest can be, a mammoth-sized leaf cutter ant nest was infiltrated with 10 tons of cement and excavated in Brazil. Scientists estimated that the millions of ants in the nest moved 40 tons of dirt in an area of 500 square feet that was excavated to a depth of 26 feet below the surface, as the video below shows.