Friday, April 27, 2018

Yellow-bellied Marmots Are Out

 The kids and I went up Baker Creek Road in Great Basin National Park one day after school to see if the yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris) were out. And lucky for us, they were easy to spot.

We traded in the van for an SUV that has a moonroof, and the kids had fun checking the marmots out through it.

Oh my, these are cute animals! Marmots are burrowing rodents. They also spend a lot of time out sunning themselves.

They weigh between 3.5 and 11 pounds, generally the lightest in early spring and the heaviest in late summer or early fall. Males weigh more than females.

Is this one doing yoga?

The marmots will live in colonies of up to 20 animals, with a dominant male. They eat a variety of plants, and occasionally insects and bird eggs. Coyotes are their major predator. Marmots seem to really like to dig into the road base, so they are frequently found on the Baker Creek road. They don't like to move, which makes it easier to take photos of them.

But that also means they get run over. So the park installed these Marmot Crossing signs. Can you find the marmot in the photo?

Marmots can live up to 15 years. They are one of the longest hibernating animals around. At this location, they typically come out of hibernation in March and go back in July, although the young will reawaken in September to eat more.

You can learn more about marmots here. Although they're supposed to whistle in alarm, I've never heard the ones along Baker Creek road do that.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Return to the Fire

 A couple weeks ago, the kids and I headed after school to Strawberry Creek, a place that had a big fire a couple of years ago. I was curious how things were recovering. The road is now open to the campground area in the pinyon-juniper area, although all the camping amenities have been removed because it's not that great an area to camp in right now, with everything black and no shade.

We stopped outside the park boundary and the kids headed towards the creek while I went up the ridge. I heard so many birds as I was walking. Finally I got a photo of one--a mountain bluebird.

Up on the ridge I found this metal lying against the tree. I'm not sure what it was.

I think this is a female Cassin's finch.

I really enjoy walking in burned areas. The meadow down near the creek made a stark contrast with the grey hillside behind it.

After awhile I headed back down to the creek. I found a lot more vegetation on the less steep slopes, like this American vetch (Vicia americana).

The Basin Wildrye was recovering nicely. That's the tallest native grass around, and I'll be writing a lot more about it this summer as I have a project to restore it.

I found the kids happily playing in the trees, Desert Girl with a hatchet and Desert Boy trying to fit something together. They seem to be happy to be outside, as long as they don't have to hike too far.

The Oregon grape made a bright contrast with all the black.

 But my happiest moment was seeing this little sagebrush. Not so long ago, all this area was dominated by sagebrush. It's so great to see it coming back.
They did lots of aerial seeding in this burned area, so hopefully we'll continue to see lots more vegetation and regeneration of the land.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Time to Swim!

 So it was still March, but the kids wanted to swim. My husband had just dug out the settling pond, which is a place for the mountain water to slow down and for sand, sediment, and rocks to settle out of it before the water goes down a pipeline to the pivots to water the fields. We also use it as a swimming hole. And the kids couldn't wait to try it out. The temperature was in the high 60s, which apparently was good enough for them. There was a lot of pond scum, but they didn't care. So we went over and they gave it a try, first on a kayak.

Then Desert Boy had to try to run down the pile of sand (left there by request) and jump into the pond. I had him wear a life jacket because the water was cold and I didn't want to have to jump in after him.

Splash! He got out fast. And then since I didn't get a photo the first time, I had him do it again. Ha!

The other kids were content to stay on the edges or on the kayak.

 The kayak became more popular when the second time we went Desert Boy figured out he could go through the culvert on it. We love our red-neck water slide!

He even cleaned out most of the cobwebs.

Another time we went the excitement was seeing a snake. Of course the snake kids wanted to catch the little garter snake.

Isaac's a pro.

Then his sister caught another one. Garter snakes like water, so we see them by the pond a lot.

We like seeing them, but they don't seem to like seeing us so much, and they swam away and hid.

The day was a little warmer, so the kids got into the water. We can still see the snow on the mountains a few miles away, and that's where this water is coming from. I guess they will be tough!

The boats have been really popular. Desert Boy wanted to make his own raft. So he stuffed life jackets into a pallet. It worked, sort of.

 I can already tell that we're going to be spending lots of time at the pond this summer! Now if I can just figure out how to rig up a hammock, it will be perfect.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Return to Eagle Point

 We had so much fun on our first 2018 excursion to Eagle Point Ski Resort near Beaver, Utah, that we decided to go again. The weather called for more snow. That made me excited to hit the slopes, but worried about road conditions. After the treacherous road conditions on Highway 153 up Beaver Canyon on our first trip, and talking to others who were also really bothered by it, I sent an email to the Beaver County Commissioners notifying them of the problem. I received a response that they were looking into it and contacting the proper authorities.

So I was hoping that was all in place when we woke up the next morning and we had fresh snow! We had a leisurely morning with more swimming in the hotel pool (the kids love to swim!) and started out about 9:15 a.m. to give the plows a little more time. We saw a plow coming our direction by the golf course. 

But as we started up the canyon, we found that it had not been recently plowed. We passed the chain up area, but the lights were not blinking next to the sign that said When Flashing, Four Wheel Drive or Chains Required. The snow wasn't particularly deep, so I wasn't too concerned. Then we got to a corner that had an icy spot and we started careening towards the 15-foot dropoff that fell into the icy creek. While the kids were screaming in the back seat, I turned the steering wheel sharply to avoid the terrifying situation. Praise the Lord, we eventually found traction. Then our truck started sliding towards the 30-foot tall jagged cliff on the other side of the road. Fortunately we managed to avoid it. 

A bit further on, we found a car stopped in the middle of the road, the driver out with chains in his hands. If he had known that chains were required, he wouldn't have had to stop in such a precarious place.

Later I talked to my grown nephew who had gone up to Eagle Point with a friend that day, and he said he had hit an icy spot and nearly slid into the guard rail.

It wasn't safe to turn around, so we kept going up. Fortunately we made it, and the snow was fantastic. Fresh powder on top of other new snow, so we could ski in the woods and not worry about tripping over downed trees. It only took till mid-March! Desert Boy was delighted to be back with his instructor from his first lesson. Meanwhile, Desert Girl and I hit the slopes. And when we went over to the big mountain, the first run she wanted to do was the black diamond she had done before. I told her to make sure she waited for me (I wasn't kidding!). She did awesome. I figured we could probably go about anywhere on the mountain as long as we took breaks. So when we got off the lift the next time, we took a right and headed into country we had never seen before.

This involved finding a tow lift with a frisbee-like disk that you don't sit on, but it goes between your legs and you hold on to a pole and go up the hill. Desert Girl found it really hard to get on. She crashed about five times. But after watching some other people do it, she finally made it. We had a fun run and then she wanted to go back and do it all over again. Way to go, girl!

When we caught up to Desert Boy in the afternoon, he had improved a lot.

It was fun watching him rip the slopes. We found his older cousin who rode with him and made the snowboarding look easy.

We tried some selfies on the lift.

I was in the middle and couldn't get us all at the same time.

On the way back down, the road was much better (but still not plowed a full two lanes wide). I wrote again to the Beaver county commissioners but heard nothing back. I also wrote to the regional UDOT supervisor, and he wrote back that they were looking into conditions. I sure hope they can make some improvements!

Eagle Point had a really crummy winter season, open just 27 days. How can it go on? They posted a letter on their website and Facebook page that said they will indeed be open next year. They'll even have some snow making equipment. So hopefully the highway will be in better shape, because it sounds like Eagle Point will be an even more popular winter destination!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

April Fool's Jokes

 I love April Fool's Day. I feel like it's a fun opportunity to play some nice jokes. It started a few years back, when I read about freezing the kids' cereal. It looks pretty normal, but when they try to eat it, the spoon bounces off the frozen milk.

Here's Desert Boy's expression as he's trying to figure this out (a few years ago).

Desert Girl wasn't too thrilled. But they both got normal cereal and milk a few minutes later and now love to tell the story.

Another year I said we were celebrating the dog's birthday and I had special cupcakes. We even lit candles.

They were special cupcakes, made of meatloaf with mashed sweet potato frosting. Desert Girl wasn't impressed.

The accompanying drink was a hit. Although they couldn't suck anything up the straw, they liked the jello!

Last year I wasn't going to do anything, but the kids asked for some kind of prank. So I did some quick research the night before and found something good. When the kids came to the breakfast table, they found April sitting there, reading the newspaper. We told them that April was kind of shy and didn't talk much. Desert Girl sat there the entire breakfast, eating her cereal, waiting patiently for April to talk. At the end of breakfast, we revealed that April wasn't ever going to talk. Desert Girl was so sad, she had been so happy to have a special visitor!

This year both kids repeatedly said that they weren't going to forget that it was April Fool's Day. So they were all smiles when they opened the refrigerator door and found out that everything was looking back at them. I had glued googly eyes onto all the containers.

Desert Girl liked this one.

Desert Boy went out to do morning chores, and when he came back in, he found a tied envelope on the doorstep. He brought it in, smiling.

He unwrapped it to find an acceptance letter from Hogwarts!

Just in time, as he will be turning 11 soon. He needs to figure out how to train an owl to get his message back, but otherwise I think we can get him to London by 1 September. The list of supplies and books may be a little troublesome, though.

(If you'd like to make your own, this website was incredibly helpful.)

The kids retaliated. They wrapped my computer in saran wrap.

And their uncle had written them a letter with a bunch of suggestions. They used one, and when I unrolled the toilet paper found a bus drawn on it. Later, when we Facetimed my brother, he said his suggestion was to draw a bug, not a bus, on the toilet paper. Maybe next time!

I got in the last joke of the day, serving fried eggs. 
These were made from peach halves on top of yogurt.

 It's never too early to start planning for next year! What are some of your favorite pranks?
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