Ouray Badlands

Badlands, so-called because you supposedly can’t grow anything on them, are characterized by their eroded, bare-looking, rounded slopes showing a lot of colorful striations. I’ve been intrigued with them since learning about them at work, enchanted by aerial views of land forms I couldn’t quite figure out but was eager to get a closer look at.

I finally got a much closer look when we went to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a place known for its wetlands and migratory birds, to hike on the badlandy hills there. (Yes, badlandy is a word. At least it is now.) It was a steep and rugged climb getting to the top of the hills, but once we were there it was just magical.

Soon after we arrived at the top Chad picked up a piece of something I assumed was a rock, had me look at it, and told me it was a piece of fossilized turtle shell. I’m enough of a nerd that fossils in the wild really bowl me over – in this case I was in disbelief. As we looked, we kept finding more and more pieces of turtle shell. We took photos but left the fossils there, as you should if you find fossils on public land. I still find it just amazing that we were able to go hiking on ground that was probably under water millions of years ago, and discover traces of the former inhabitants, just lying on the ground. Moments like these really help put things into perspective for me.

Walking on the ridges and running up and down the slopes of the hills was a ton of fun. Hiking on terrain like this just might be one of my favorite things to do. The vistas are beautiful, the ground is beautiful, and those hills are actually not as barren as they look. We saw plenty of plants growing here and there.

The only thing that marred the experience for me was that beyond the edge of the refuge, the horizon was littered with the tell-tale shapes of oil wells. Alas, the refuge is literally surrounded by them. That is what drives the economy in this neck of the woods. I can’t help dreaming of an alternative though, where eco-tourism is the force that gives people their paychecks instead of the polluting, depleting oil and gas industry. I imagine some of you out there may think I’m exaggerating, always harping on environmental issues. But I think whatever your stance on the environment, for someone who is an outsider to this region of the country, it is just shocking to see how much of the landscape is marked by oil and gas. Which is one of the reasons Chad and I want to show you the beautiful landscapes that need protection from the spread of industry.

We will return to Ouray for more hikes, no doubt, but I will always have a lump in my throat as we drive past the oil wells to get there.

Yellow Flower Desert Pinnacle

When Chad and I need a quick hike, this is our new favorite location, the place we call Yellow Flower Desert. We discovered this area, just off of one of our major highways, several months ago and were enchanted at how quickly we were able to get to fun hiking terrain. When we went this time, we spotted a location in the distance that we wanted to checkout. As we approached, I thought it looked like a cool natural amphitheater, albeit, with a pinnacle in the middle of it. Chad was drawn to the pinnacle. So we set out towards this spot, and weren’t disappointed when we got there.

 

 

The pinnacle and sides of the amphitheater were about the height of a 3-story building, we figured. It felt like a very special place to both of us. Sometimes you just find one of those places in nature that seems to have a healing energy to it. We both did some yoga poses near the pinnacle, but my favorite pose was simply sitting near it, soaking up some positive earth energy.

The day after this hike I flew back to NC to spend some time with my family, which created such an interesting contrast – being alone in the peaceful desert one day and the next, back in the busy sprawl of Charlotte. Being familiar with different locations is, I think, similar to being familiar with different languages. Both give you a broader perspective of the world. I’m so lucky to be able to learn something of the language of the desert.

Polyculture garden in late summer

On this last day of August the days are still hot and I find myself longing for fall. The garden is producing beautifully, and everything seems as if it will keep on going this way forever. But I try to remember not to take things for granted – the last warm days, the bounty of food, this gentle life – knowing that winter will cover everything over in an icy layer soon enough.

A while back I posted a plan for our summer garden. Then summer and all its joys swept me outside away from the computer. On this rainy afternoon I thought I’d sit down to share some photos of how that garden plan turned out.

This is our upper garden. Our lower garden closer to the house got decimated by grasshoppers, but more on that later. Probably about half of what we planted in the upper garden also became part of the buffet, but luckily we planted things in polyculture fashion, interplanting different types of crops and planting many different crops and different varieties, so that some of our crops were able to survive. Looking at the lush green garden, you would hardly know that anything was missing – the surviving plants spread out and took the place of the ones that got eaten.

We are taking notes on what seemed to thrive, resisting both the grasshopper plague and our harsh high desert conditions. We’ve also been weighing all the food we harvest and can’t wait to see what our total is going to be. I’m guessing around 300 lbs of food!

 

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Polyculture garden planted in deep trenches to reduce evaporation. Each trench is well mulched for the same reason.

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Tatume squash, a great producer.

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Potimarron – a favorite French winter squash I’m thrilled to finally grow at home. “Potimarron” is a combination of “potiron” (pumpkin) and “marron” (chestnut), which gives you a clue to its taste.

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Atlantic Giant Pumpkin and Maddy. These can grow up to 200 lbs. (The pumpkin, not the cat!) Maddy is our vole hunter, helping out in the garden as much as she can.

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Lakota squash, another beautiful winter variety.

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Lumina pumpkin, a favorite of the squash bugs.

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Wild sunflower volunteer. Sunflowers can be allelopathic, but this one just popped up, so we let it stay.

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One of many beautiful little watermelons we have growing.

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One of the melon patches. Melons grow well in our sandy desert soil.

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Sorghum and scarecrow. Somehow the suit of armor doesn’t seem to be deterring the deer, skunks or ground squirrels!

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Snake gourd buds.

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Blauhilde pole beans, one of the few beans that resisted the greedy grasshoppers.

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This purple cauliflower is so pretty that we’ve been putting off eating it.

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Amaranth, a volunteer, adds some nice color and height to the garden. Yummy leaves, too!

This is just a smattering of what’s growing well in our polyculture garden. The tomatoes and peppers are just starting to come into their full glory and I’ll be back soon with a recipe for fresh fermented salsa, a great way to deal with having too many tomatoes at once.

This is the time of year when many of us gardening fanatics start to feel a little burned out. But before we know it, from the middle of winter, we will be aching to plunge our fingers into some rich soil once again. With that in mind I will try to fully enjoy the last days of summer and hope you will too!

Wickliffe Mounds, Kentucky

June 23, 2017: Wickliffe Mounds, Kentucky – Day 3

IMGP6908 2Our last side-trip on our way to Nashville was a prehistoric site in Kentucky, the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site. Chad did most of the work looking for sightseeing stops for us on our trip and he did a great job coming up with good variety.

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This long building in the preceding and following photos housed the artifacts that were found on the site. The mounds may not look like much; inside this building were the real finds. No pictures were allowed, so I’ll have to tell you what we saw. The ground had been excavated to reveal foundations of living quarters. Many of these contained infant burial sites – whenever an infant died they would be buried under the dwelling floor. The artifacts found here include some really beautiful pottery pieces – not just containers but sculptures made of animal effigies.

Having spent a lot of time in one of the world’s best museums, the Louvre in Paris, France, I can be a little jaded about museums. This one really surprised me – they have a fine collection that is worth going out of your way to visit. We could have spent all day looking at the artifacts.

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Next: Day 4 – Family reunion

Driving through Missouri and Illinois

June 23, 2017: Missouri and Illinois – Day 3

Taking a long cross country trip has its good sides and its bad sides. On the less comfortable side, it can be hard to stay seated all day long. You get to that point where you forget about it for awhile and then you make a stop, get out of the car and realize how stiff you are, what a relief it is to stretch. That would be one of the bad sides.

On the other hand it’s amazing how time changes. When you’ve driven through three states in one day, it feels like your day has been richly filled, compared to say, sitting at a computer all day long or all week long. In the latter scenario, you find yourself at another Friday night and wonder, really, did the week go by that quickly? I enjoy the feeling of time spreading out and having a day more densely populated with experiences and memories. Maybe it can’t be like this everyday, and maybe I wouldn’t want it to, but it’s fun to remember that it’s possible.

On day 3 of our trip, we drove through Missouri.

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And then we drove through a corner of Illinois.

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And then we arrived in Kentucky!

Next: Day 3 – Wycliffe Mounds, Kentucky