Harley hikes Sheep Creek Canyon

We spent a weekend in the Flaming Gorge area recently and took a drive to one of my favorite places in this part of the state, the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, also known as Sheep Creek Canyon Loop. Chad took me here on one of my first visits to Utah and I was awed by the fascinating geology. So I was looking forward to returning – this time under a beautiful blue sky and bringing our dogs along with us.

IMGP5293

IMGP5298

 

IMGP5301

IMGP1543

IMGP5299

The geological loop is one you can enjoy entirely from your car should you choose to. In winter part of the loop is usually closed due to unsafe conditions. So when we reached the gate and could drive no further, we got out, found a nice spot near some conifers, had a picnic and sat, enjoying the scenery.

IMGP1557

IMGP5313

IMGP1558

IMGP1559

IMGP1567

IMGP1569

IMGP5314

IMGP1578

IMGP1584

IMGP1591

IMGP5311

I loved the variety of textures and colors offered by the geology in the canyon and kept looking in amazement when I’d notice something new: striations, cliffs, landslides, jagged peaks, diagonal layers, pinnacles. This area is a visual feast.

IMGP5305

IMGP5316

After our meal, we decided to hike up the road that was closed off. I thought to myself that we’d have to see how far Harley could go, and might have to cut the hike short if he seemed like he was struggling.

Harley is our elderly dog. He’s 13 or 14 and has been having a few issues lately because of his advanced age, yet he remains amazingly sweet, patient and good-natured. He still jumps excitedly when it’s meal time and often bounces eagerly along on our daily walks, but there have been times lately when he looks up at me with his big sad eyes and lets me know he’s too tired to go on those walks.

IMGP1599

On this walk, Harley surprised us all. Not only did he have plenty of energy, he took the lead, and I had to keep adjusting my pace to keep up with him. He strode along the road looking like he knew exactly where he was going – and was in a bit of a hurry to get there! He only got sidetracked to munch on patches of snow a few times. Chad and I kept laughing at what an amazing job Harley was doing hiking with us, making this one of those special memories we’ll always cherish.

20180218_152908

IMGP1705

IMGP1618

The views along the road were amazing, and Chad, who usually likes to bushwhack off-trail, was as happy as I was that we decided to hike along the road instead of in a dense thicket of saplings.

IMGP5321

IMGP1651

IMGP1738

IMGP1688

Leo and Charlie obviously had a great time too. They had noses to the wind the whole time, no doubt taking in an exciting array of wild aromas.

IMGP1667

IMGP1749

IMGP1683

IMGP1690

IMGP1708

IMGP1734

IMGP1748

IMGP1713

By the time we made it back to the car, the clouds had started rolling in, covering the beautiful blue sky, and we were all well-exercised and feeling good. The dogs snoozed happily in the back seat as we made our way back towards Red Canyon Lodge, although sadly, we did not encounter any yaks along the way.

IMGP1775

IMGP1787

IMGP1794

IMGP1790

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

It’s really amazing how spending some time outside can make you feel so good. Spending time outside in an amazing new location is even more invigorating, refreshing and revitalizing.

We decided to take a late afternoon hike the other day and couldn’t quite find the right place. One place we tried was surrounded by massive power lines, another place led straight to a cell phone tower, and yet another was polluted by the constant racket of an oil well. We kept looking.

We finally found a place that looked pretty decent and decided to give it a go. Chad let me lead the way, and I have to say, I did a good job. We had fun walking over badland-like hills, taking pictures of all the yellow flowers everywhere, and discovering all the vegetation that had come to life in the desert.

It was just that time of day where the lighting makes everything look magical: golden hour. And then we came to a stunning overlook that opened out onto wild open land. It was so exciting that I had to do a little dance. Having grown up in the thick temperate forests of the SE United States, I am still thrilled by the exoticness of the wide open desert. The expansiveness seems to lift your entire being up into the air, and make you feel that you can fly.

You can tell by the number of photos we took that we were enchanted. The extreme close-ups are mostly mine and the beautifully composed landscapes are mostly Chad – especially the clouds. Chad is a specialist in cloud portraiture!

Discovering this place was exhilarating too because it was just off the road, was an easy hike and was very rewarding for very little effort. What a sweet interlude from spring into summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening in the desert

Contrary to what you might think, people can and do garden in the desert. However there are certain obstacles to overcome that those of you in more clement areas won’t have to worry much about.

For one thing, we only get about 7 inches of rain a year here. Yes, a YEAR. Back in NC we would sometimes get 7 inches in one storm. So water is important and the way you treat your plants has to take this into consideration.

Rather than making sure plants aren’t planted too deep (so their “feet” don’t get soggy), here we have to plant them lower than the surrounding ground intentionally. We want what little water does fall to be directed toward the plant roots and to stay there.

Mulch is very important in drylands. It will help slow evaporation and keep the soil moist longer. There aren’t many trees growing in this area though, so free mulch in the form of wood chips or fallen leaves isn’t something that will play a big role. Reading my permaculture bible I found good recommendations for mulch for drylands: rocks, bones, manure, even paper. We’ll probably be going more with rocks and sheep manure.

Also the soil is quite alkaline, which is common to dry areas. The dryness of the soil actually causes it to become more alkaline. One remedy, I’ve learned, is to add manure to the soil. Pretty groovy since we’ll be doing that anyway.

My first reaction to gardening in this climate was, I admit, one of frustration. Now that I have learned about some of the best tactics for growing food here, my frustration has faded and I’ve embraced the challenges with something akin to glee. If you are going to grow food in a climate like this it is even more important to use creative techniques and to look to other similar climates around the world to see how traditional cultures solve these problems.