The kids and I are on a little trip (okay, maybe a big trip) to visit family in the Midwest. As any trip traveling with kids, it's always an adventure. I choose to be a "half-glass full" type of person, so instead of thinking about all the things that went wrong, here are all the things that went right:
* Desert Girl's chin stopped bleeding relatively quickly after she finished shaving while I was packing.
* At a stop after I stepped in poo--Desert Girl's poo that had slithered down her pant leg--there was enough snow to get most of it off my shoes.
* We were going on a long trip, so I had three outfits for Desert Girl that day, including an extra pair of shoes.
* I had also packed a plastic bag so that all the stinky clothes could be sequestered somewhat in the van.
* They didn't have to lock down the Target after Desert Girl wandered off while I was paying for our purchases. She had gone to the clothes section and according to the employees that found her, she had a big grin on her face.
* Even though the airport shuttle was 20 minutes late and our gate was the very last one in the airport, we made it onto the plane.
* Although TSA confiscated our Capri Suns, we learned that next time we can bring sippy cups without a problem.
* Although we got to the gate too late for family boarding, we still got on the plane early enough that I didn't have to place the kids in middle seats with random people. This could have been really fun: "Here's my daughter and her diaper bag. She's ready to take a big dump. Good luck." "Here's my son and his bag of goodies. He expects to be entertained nonstop for the next three and a half hours. Oh, and he'll have to get up and pee at least three times during the flight."
* Although many of Chicago Transit Authority's downtown elevated train ("el") stations are not handicapped/stroller accessible, they provide a great workout for hauling two suitcases, a backpack, and a child in a stroller. And Chicagoans are very helpful; some kind folks made it easier for us.
* We made it to our destination safely and greatly enjoyed some extra visiting with family along the way!
So if you're contemplating a trip, just think of all the things that could go right! (And hopefully you won't have to deal with blood or poo!)
I saw a flock of birds the other day, up near the transition between sagebrush and pinyon/juniper. This meant the flock was pinyon jays, a neat bird. You usually don't see them alone--they like to hang out in big groups. Despite this, very little is known about where they nest. I figured that this would be a good opportunity to try to photograph them, after all, there were a lot.
But when I started following them, they kept flying farther away. I persevered and got a couple okay shots, so you can at least see that they really are pinyon jays!
They are really bright blue, a very pretty color. They hang out in this area year round, and it sure is nice to see their splash of color.
By the way, the Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up soon, February 17-20. This is a good excuse to check out what's in your yard.
We went to town today for a fun day of dentist visits (yes, my kids consider those to be fun, to my great delight!), thrift store shopping (and dropping off more than we bought--hurray!), eating yummy food (do you know how overwhelming food choices are?), playing in an awesome playground (photos coming soon), swimming (yes, how could we resist the swimming pool), grocery shopping (every trip to town involves this), and best of all, getting to enjoy it with friends!
On the way back, the light was fantastic between the third and fourth mountain passes. (Oh, did I forget to mention that this little jaunt to town was over 130 miles one-way crossing four mountain passes? Oops. Little details.) Jenny and I couldn't resist taking some photos.
Is this called virga when it could be snow? Actually, with the 40+ degree temperatures, it probably really was virga (rain that doesn't reach the ground). We are crossing our fingers for snow this Saturday. It would be too weird not to get any snow during the entire month of January.
The colors in the clouds changed so quickly, and the view was spectacular in every direction. It was hard to know which way to turn. And the only other beings out there with us were some cows. I'm not sure if they enjoyed the light show as much as we did. I'm kind of guessing not. But you never know. Cows can be a little funny.
The desert is one beautiful place!
I should probably mention that it was in this same valley that a UFO was purported to land. Or rather, crash. From aerial photos you can make out the shape of the spacecraft in a playa. The report says that the aliens assimilated into the local population. So maybe the cows weren't the only ones with us enjoying the sunset. Or perhaps since we're the local population, maybe that explains some of the strange behaviors seen around the nearby towns and communities from time to time...
I glanced out the window Saturday morning and noticed a sheep wandering in through the gate towards the cookhouse. I did a double take. A sheep? I wasn't hallucinating, was I? I didn't have any flowers blooming so I didn't need to race outside. I shook my head, wondering if that would make it go away. Then I got distracted by something (or someone) else for a little while. A few minutes later I opened our front door (which is really the side door, but as the front door opens directly onto one precious piece of unstained carpet, we rarely use it), and saw the sheep was on our front steps.
Hello? Are you selling something? Do you have pamphlets to distribute? Do I know you?
For some reason the sheep didn't answer me, but he (and it was obviously a he) didn't give me any pamphlets either. He also didn't run away, which surprised me. Perhaps he didn't run partly because our dear dog Henry was so busy sunbathing in the driveway that he didn't even notice the sheep approach. (Note to would-be robbers: he does bark every time someone drives into our driveway, so if you want to rob us of our wonderful collection of toy trains, kids' books, and broken crayons, come disguised as a sheep and you will be able to get right in.)
I moved around to get some different photo angles. The sheep was content to stay put.
In our few minutes of acquaintance, I was getting fond of the old guy. I mean, what's not to like with the grass hanging from the shaggy wool, the dirt-stained nostrils, and that nearly comatose demeanor?
I got bored before the sheep did, and since I didn't know what to do with a sheep on my front steps (would you know what to do?) I went back into the house and did something or other. But I couldn't resist going back outside to check on the sheep. It wasn't on the front steps anymore.
Now it was in the flower garden. If the flowers had been blooming, I might have been a wee bit upset. Okay, it would have been a lot more than a wee bit. But at this time of year, I was hoping that the sheep might be helping to push some seeds from the native flax into the ground to enhance their chances of germination. So I didn't chase him out. Plus, he was just so darn cute.
Henry had woken up from his stupor by now and gave a few half-hearted barks. The sheep didn't seem to care. Henry went back to the driveway and laid down to resume his sunbathing. Life is good when you're a relaxed black lab.
This was about the extent of concern that the sheep showed. It kept standing there and again I got bored, so I went back in the house. As I was cleaning in the kitchen, I peeked out the window and found that the sheep had moved to another part of the yard.
Yep, I guess that sheep was ready to play!
I still didn't know what to do with a sheep in the yard, so I just ignored it. When my husband came home for lunch, he said we should get it out. (Hmmm, who woulda thought?) Lucky for us, it wandered through the gate and headed for the neighbors. (In case you're wondering, towards the neighbors with the crazy bull. Those neighbors apparently just attract weird animal behavior!)
I did wonder where the sheep had come from, and this morning I saw that the sheepherders had moved their camp to just above town. I also noticed something else that might have caused a distraction to the sheepdogs that usually keep the sheep in line. Can you spot the distraction in the photo below?
Here's a close-up to help you out:
The cutest little sheepdog puppies! I counted seven of them, and they were all so adorable.
The mama came bounding up to the truck and I recognized her as the same dog that had greeted us last week on our adventure walk where we collected the bones for Henryosaurus. I rolled down the window (which usually isn't recommended with sheepdogs), and she was happy to let me pet her and say sweet things and compliment her on her gorgeous pups. I was wondering what her calorie requirements were to nurse seven pups. Yikes!
The pups ventured towards us a bit to check us out.
The mama sheepdog might be a little hampered protecting sheep right now, but before long she's going to have a big bunch of helpers!
It was the morning of Christmas Eve and my husband came into the house.
"There's something interesting going on next door." "What?" I asked. We usually don't have too much excitement around here. "A bull got its head stuck in the feed panel."
I searched my brain for an image of a feed panel and was coming up short. "What's a feed panel?" "Go see, the bull's down in the meadow."
So I bundled up the kids, grabbed my camera, and we walked along the fence line. On the far side of the neighbors' meadow, I could see the bull. And now I understood what the feed panel was.
I wondered how in the world they were going to get the feed panel off the bull. Or the bull out of the feed panel. Or however they would be separated.
As it so happened, the neighbors were out of town for the holidays. So the guy that was watching their cattle called some friends, and then they called our ranch for some extra help. This wasn't the kind of problem that comes up every day. Or every week. Or every month. Or every year. Or probably even every ten years. This was a weird kind of problem. And it needed some extra heads to figure out how to free the bull.
My brother-in-law Dave, who has a tremendous amount of experience with cattle, rounded up some tranquilizer. He had a bit of a dilemma deciding how much to give, as he knew the dosage for a cow, which weighs less than a bull, and had to estimate how much extra to give to the bigger bull. To make matters more confusing, the tranquilizer had been left in a vehicle overnight and had frozen, so its efficacy was unknown. He used his best judgment and drove up to the bull and darted it (you'll see the dart in the photo below. And speaking of photos, yes, there are a lot of photos in this post. And there are at least three times as many that I didn't post. You can thank me later.)
See the dart in the left hip? After the bull had been darted, we (and I use that we very loosely, as I didn't really do anything except take photos, but I sort of felt like I was in on the whole thing as I witnessed it) had to wait for the tranquilizer to take effect. The bull looked a little pitiful with the big green metal accessory.
I was standing far enough away that I didn't know what the plan was. I was waiting and watching and trying to keep my kids from getting tetanus from all the old machinery and junk with exposed nails and sharp edges that they were playing on.
I was a little surprised when the backhoe showed up, driven by my brother-in-law Tom. I couldn't figure out how a backhoe was going to be used in this situation.
The bull was feeling a little calmer and had laid down in the meadow. Tom circled around and approached him from behind.
The bull struggled to its feet as the backhoe came up next to it.
It looked like Tom was going to scoop up the bull!
Then it became apparent from my distant view point what was going on--Tom was lining up the bucket of the backhoe with the feed panel.
Maybe he could push the feed panel off!
A good shove, and nope, the bull was still stuck. On to Plan B. (Which might have been Plan A for all I know, but since I'm telling the story, I'll tell it how I want to.)
Tom got out and lined up the panel with the backhoe. He didn't seem all that nervous being around a 1500+ pound tranquilized, trapped animal.
He used the chain to attach the panel to the backhoe bucket.
It looked secure to me.
But then he had to get even closer to the bull to get more of the panel secured. I was nervous for him!
Finally it was all secured and he gestured to the others to come up and help.
They pulled Dave's truck right up next to the bull. The plan was to use a sawzall powered off Dave's truck with an inverter to cut through the feed panel. (I found this out after the fact, as I really couldn't hear anything they were saying.)
They got it all hooked up, but the inverter couldn't keep the power going consistently.
The bull didn't appreciate all the extra noise and managed to bend the feed panel and get out of position. Dave pulled out his lasso rope and got into position.
He lassoed the bull.
Then he secured the rope on the back of the backhoe to help keep the bull in place.
I didn't have a great viewing angle, so I wandered down a bit farther, where I could see better.
It was impressive how much the bull had bent the panel.
So what next?
The bull was still stuck, the feed panel was bent in half, the sawzall wasn't working.
It didn't look good.
Fortunately for everyone, there was a Plan C.
Tom approached the bull again. (Like how the bull is kicking? Aack!)
I couldn't quite see what he was doing except when I took a photo at full zoom and then played it back and zoomed even closer. He had out a hacksaw and was cutting right above the bull's neck.
Then it was time to pull the bar up.
Pull, pull, pull!
And it worked! The bull was free.
And all ended well.
So now if you ever find a bull stuck in a feed panel, you know what to do.
Hi! I'm Gretchen, an ecologist, rancher's wife, mother, writer, and dreamer. I've lived and worked in three of the four North American deserts and visited the fourth. This blog is about what it's like to live in the rural high desert on a ranch, spending lots of time outdoors with kids, and our journey to live more sustainably. To learn more about us, click here. If you'd like to contact me, leave a comment (I love comments!) or email me at desertsurvivor @ live.com.
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North American Deserts
Four deserts are found in North America, each with distinct characteristics. Click on the image to learn more.