Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Wild Goose Chase...and Birds To Take Home

 After our fun two-day cultural trip to Salt Lake City, we headed to Delta, Utah for the annual Wild Goose Chase. I had asked the kids if they wanted to run this, and they surprised me with a resounding yes. I had been thinking of another museum day, but I wasn't going to turn down a race they wanted to do! (Usually their response is more half-hearted, like If I have to.) So we signed up, my husband met us, and the whole family started the 5k together.

I made a side bet with Desert Boy. If he beat me, I'd have to make him dinner. If I beat him, he'd have to make me dinner. I felt like it was a win-win for me, as I usually make dinner. He started off ahead of me and maintained his lead for the first mile, but then I overtook him. It might have been my last race to do that, he's getting fast!

Desert Girl is also getting fast. She really wanted to beat her brother, and came in just seconds behind.

My husband ran with Desert Girl.

Afterwards we took a group photo with our friend Hector, who's also from our town. He finished in a blazing 20 minutes, despite not having run for over a year!

When they did the awards, it turned out our group represented well. The first three overall finishers were from the cross-country team. But Desert Boy, my husband, and Hector all won first for their age groups.

And so did I. 

Desert Girl was delighted to win a raffle prize with candy and soda in it.

I got lucky too, and won some tickets for the Heber Valley Railroad. We've never done that, so look forward to a scenic rail trip.
We even saw some snow geese fly overhead at the Wild Goose Chase.  With all that running, we worked up an appetite, so we went out to eat, went grocery shopping, and just as we were heading out of town, saw a sign at IFA that said Chicks are Here. I couldn't resist.

We pulled in and found that there were five chicks left, just the number we wanted. I was a little concerned that the last five might be the rowdiest, especially when one jumped out of the clerk's hands and we had to do a rescue mission.

But we got them home safely and the kids are having so much fun with them. We've remodeled our chicken coop so the chickens can go in and out of the run easily (when they get a little bit older). They are growing fast, and we are looking forward to July, when they should start laying eggs.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

February Museum Trip to Salt Lake City

 In late February, the kids had a Thursday off of school. A few weeks before that, I remembered that last year I had bought the 365-Salt Lake Connect Pass, which is a pass to go to a whole bunch of museums and other cool spots for a year. We used it last Easter, and then got busy and hadn't been back to Salt Lake City. Not wanting it to go to waste, I decided we'd do an early spring break and go see a bunch of museums.

First off we went to doctor's visits on Thursday, charting the kids' growth and getting a booster measles vaccine for me. This was also when Coronavirus was barely in the U.S., and China was looking like they were getting control of it. I had a caving trip to China planned in late April and asked the doctor's advice about going. He said I should go, just take general precautions of washing hands and staying out of open-air food markets that had live wildlife. We weren't even that concerned with how much it might spread here. My, how times have changed in just four weeks!

Then it was off to lunch at Tucano's, a Brazilian restaurant. We had never been, but it rated high on Trip Advisor, and we were duly impressed. Desert Girl tried hard-boiled quail eggs, and we had so much delicious meat that we were very happy. I was also happy about the kids' price, which was less than half the price of an adult. And Desert Boy, still 12, qualified as a kid!

Next up was the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah. We've been here before, so we knew we would enjoy it. Here's Desert Girl dressing up as a dinosaur next to some big bones.

The kids love putting on faces, so they were happy to pose with the megalodon.

That evening we went to a musical, Floyd Collins, put on by the University of Utah. Floyd Collins was a cave explorer near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. He wanted to have his own show cave to make him rich. While he was exploring in 1925, a rock fell and trapped him in the cave in a very narrow location. Up on the surface, a media circus erupted, with hundreds of people arriving. The story made headlines in newspapers across the country. Unfortunately, Floyd died in the cave. We went over the storyline before we watched it, as I didn't want the kids to be surprised by the ending.

 The set was quite creative, and they climbed all over the ladders and catwalks to simulate moving through the cave.We enjoyed the musical and the kids said they would like to see more musicals.

The next day we started off with a trip to the thrift store. We love thrift stores and reusing things and finding "treasures." Desert Girl was thrilled to find a jean jacket vest.
Then it was time to go to Costco. We don't go often, so we always fill the big cart when we go. Maybe I had a thought about stocking up in the back of my mind, as we bought some things we don't always get, like Lysol wipes and Kleenex and chocolate syrup and a cheese sampler pack.

Next we went to Tracy Aviary. The kids got some energy out traversing the mini-climbing wall with bird-inspired handholds.

We hadn't been to Tracy Aviary for over four years, when my parents came out to visit. We were thinking it was going to be a really quick trip to look at some birds, but we had so much fun and just took our time.

This bird liked looking at us upside down.

The kids insisted on having their photos taken at the cutouts.

What made Tracy Aviary really exceptional for us was attending the live demonstration. They brought out many birds, including this African owl.

Several times birds flew right over our heads. It was super fun, and also educational. This turned out to be one of the big highlights of our trip.

Our next museum was the Natural History Museum of Utah. They redid this museum several years ago, and it is amazing. Up on the top floor they have an interactive part where you can make a space station. Both kids were eager to do it.

Then they had to test their space stations. Desert Girl was very happy that her space station passed all the tests, including spinning and shaking.

Then she left a note on the interactive panel: "How would you feel if life was discovered on another planet? Why?"

As we continued, we found a familiar scene that Desert Boy jumped into. (Hint: it's not in Utah, but just across the border.)

Eventually we got down to the dinosaurs. Watch out, again!

We took our time and wandered through at a relaxed pace. It wasn't super busy on a Friday in February.

Next we went over to This is the Place Heritage Park, a place we had never been to. They are constructing a new visitor center, so we went to the temporary one, where we showed our passes and found out that most everything is closed for the winter. We weren't too excited by anything that was still open. So we headed to the playground.

Nearby Desert Girl found a horse, so she was happy.

A cool surprise were some moose over in the orchard. But overall, we wouldn't go back here in the winter, it's just boring. It looks like it could be interesting in the summer, with a replica frontier town. 

We had one more destination for the day, the Clark Planetarium. We were really excited to go. But when we arrived, it was closed, maybe because there was a Utah Jazz game that night. We were super disappointed. We walked around the Gateway shopping plaza a bit, and found some outside entertainment.

The kids tried out some parkour moves. 

Then we headed south, as we had an early morning destination for Saturday! To be continued...

Monday, March 23, 2020

2020 March Snow Survey

 At the end of February, a few of us gathered to do the Baker Creek snow survey. This has been happening since 1942, following Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, previously the Soil Survey) protocols. I've done it for quite a few years now.

Last year was a fantastic year, with about 170% of median. This year we knew we weren't going to find so much snow, as the biggest snow storm we had was at Thanksgiving, and then we didn't have much after that.

In fact, some of the spots were dry at the first snow survey site. Overall, it measured about 50% of median.

We use specialized snow survey tubes that measure the depth of the snow. Then we weigh the tubes and that gives us the snow water equivalent, or how much moisture is present. It's low-tech but has worked for so long. I'm very impressed with whomever originally engineered these tubes.

All four of us, from NPS, USFS, and BLM did the first site.

Three of us continued higher, finding the snow to be really sticky. We repeatedly had to get it off the bottom of our skis, as otherwise we were carrying so much weight.

It was beautiful, though! We found a little more snow at the higher sites, about 60-70%. Overall, Eastern Nevada was 65% of median.

 The trip back down took about double the amount of time as usual, and I fell so many times on the variable snow (although many times icy), that I eventually took off my skis and skins and post-holed down. It was definitely a workout.
You can find lots more about snow surveys at the NRCS Snow Survey website. I think there's more snow up there now, which is good! Another resource for looking at snow amounts in this area is the Wheeler Peak Snotel. In the last week, the snow depth has increased from 26 to 38 inches and is currently at 35 inches. That's better than the 24 inches at the end of February!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

What to Do During the Coronavirus Quarantine or Social Distancing

Let's face it, if we need to do Coronavirus quarantining or self-isolation, we can figure out how to be creative if we run out of toilet paper. After all, humans have lived for tens of thousands of years without toilet paper!

But as such a social society, trying to entertain our minds may be more of a challenge.  Out here in the remote high desert, we don't have many cultural opportunities. But I'm starting to see a silver lining in that staying at home may allow us some cultural opportunities we didn't have time to look into before or that simply weren't offered before (see opera near the bottom). Our kids, Desert Boy (age 12) and Desert Girl (age 10), would probably be fine binge watching various programs and playing video games. But my husband and I want them to make the most of this time of social distancing and when schools are closed and/or moved to online forums.

So we've made a list of some of the things to do during this time. I've also been looking for some new opportunities, and my, there are some fantastic ones.

So make sure you've got a good Internet connection (there are a few things on this list that don't require one, thank goodness, as ours isn't all that good), and dive right in!

 4-H projects (https://shop4-h.org/) - 4-H is the largest youth organization in the U.S., and it covers a whole range of curriculum including aerospace, small engines, electricity, entomology, and so much more! In addition to the national curriculum, we've also found great state curriculums available online.

History movies (e.g., Ken Burns) - We're not going to totally avoid movies. Desert Boy is studying Civil War in his history class right now, so why not look at it in more detail? There are several other series that look very interesting.

Online museum visits (https://www.travelandleisure.com/…/museums-with-virtual-tou…) I'm looking forward to visiting some places I might not ever get to go. And maybe checking them out virtually will make us want to add them to our travel list when all the chaos subsides.

Writing short stories (NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program) The kids both love to write, and NaNoWriMo (from National Novel Writing Month) has a great free program.

Coding (Codecademy.com) Desert Boy is very much into coding and suggested this. There is free content, then you can try the Pro content for 7 days free, then it's $20 a month. He wants to learn Python, so I told him that if he is serious about this, I will pay, but he will have to commit to learn it. 

Skype a Scientist - topics include Whales, fossils, glaciers, bats, and more, plus it's free

Reading (https://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/ for suggestions)  We have some books around the house that they haven't read yet. The apps Overdrive and Libby let us take out library books (ebooks and audiobooks) for free. And Desert Boy also has a Sora account to take out school library books for free. He reads 1-2 books a week on that.

Cooking lessons My husband and I will continue working through this period (my husband on the ranch, where business never stops, and me a mix of telework and field work), so we think the kids should make more of the family meals. They like to cook anyway, so we will be encouraging them to try out some new recipes. They've enjoyed various cooking shows in the past such as Junior Master Chef.

Woodcarving One of Desert Boy's desires. Not sure yet how we're going to accomplish this! Developing hobbies will be a great thing to do during this time at home.

Sewing One of Desert Girl's desires. She's been getting lessons from two super nice community members. She also has the 4-H curriculum guide and a sewing machine I barely know how to use. Hopefully we can figure this out!

Starting our garden (indoors and out) - Yep, it's time! The kids will be a lot more involved this year.

Work on Tree House The one they built last year needs some work. Just no falling out of it is allowed!

Make short movies The kids recently participated in a student short film contest (because I made them, but they ended up loving it, like I thought they would). Now they're ready to make more movies. They are just using cell phones to shoot the footage, then simple movie editing programs like iMovie. It's a fun skill to learn that can actually be added to a resume later in life.

Travel to the national parks with Rock the Park Jack and Colton visit lots of national parks and wild areas and share their adventures on this fun show. Airs weekends on ABC, and also it's on YouTube. Also another great thing to watch to start making a bucket list of places to visit in the future. p.s. Check out our high desert gem, Great Basin National Park!

For more mature students and adults:

Metropolitan Opera They've cancelled live performances through March 30, but starting March 16 will be streaming a past performance every day! Check out the link for the schedule, which includes some biggies, like Bizet's Carmen and Puccini's La Boheme.

Open Yale Courses various free college course lectures, including Epidemics in Western Society since 1600

 I imagine this list will be expanding fast as more places make content available. What would you add? Feel free to leave a comment or email me at desertsurvivor @ live.com.

Thanks, and best wishes for getting through the Coronavirus well!

Remember, someday you'll be able to tell your Grandchildren, I survived the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. :)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

2019 Backyard Bird List

It's time!! That's right, it's time to be counting the birds in your backyard. We've kept an annual tally for a number of years now, and 2019 was a fantastic year, with a total count of 45 species (see list at end of post). That's 10 more than we've gotten in recent years. Why so many in 2019, when there was a lot of news about bird populations declining (see this Scientific American article and this Audubon article)? Well, we're not counting total numbers, so we it's quite possible that the number of birds in our backyard have decreased. We're just counting species, and everyone in the family has gotten better at birding due to this yearly challenge. It's not uncommon for someone to see a bird and have it be a topic of discussion at dinner or to check the list to see if it's already on it. Birds may also be doing better in our remote part of the Great Basin because it is so remote. Development takes place at a very slow scale, with about one new building per year in our town. At that slow rate of growth, there's still plenty of habitat for the wildlife.

The Backyard Bird Challenge is super simple, just observe what's in (or can be seen or heard from) your backyard.

Last year this osprey showed up in May. We don't see many ospreys, so it was a real treat.

Western meadowlarks are common around here, but they are harder to detect when they're not singing for a mate. I've seen them not far from our house, but not in view of our backyard yet. It won't be long until they're singing and easy to detect.

Long-billed curlews are a species in trouble, but they are doing well out here on the ranch. They are a fun bird to watch, as they look a little awkward and make strange noises.

We have Great Horned Owls hooting regularly in our yard. Two years ago we were lucky enough to have them nest in a tree, but last year they went somewhere else. We're crossing our fingers they will be nearby this year.

American Kestrels are another species that are in decline. Fortunately we have a breeding pair in our yard almost every year. They move their nest around. I was lucky to get this photo of a pair last spring. I couldn't even see the lizard until I cropped the photo (which had been shot with a telephoto lens). I hadn't seen any lizards on the ground at that point, but the kestrels had.

Here's last year's list. This year's list is in the sidebar. We're up to 12 species so far as of early March.

1. Common Raven (1.1.19)
2. Black-billed Magpie (1.1.19)
3. Pinyon Jay (1.1.19)
4. Chicken (1.1.19)
5. European Starling (1.1.19)
6. Northern Flicker (1.3.19)
7. Eurasian Collared Dove (1.7.19)
8. Dark-eyed Junco (1.8.19)
9. American Robin (1.8.19)
10. Great Horned Owl (1.9.19)
11. House Sparrow (1.10.19)
12. Bald Eagle (2.17.19)
13. Red-tailed Hawk (3.1.19)
14. Canada Goose (3.2.19)
15. Sandhill Crane (3.4.19)
16. Killdeer (3.24.19)
17. Turkey Vulture (3.24.19)
18. American Kestrel (3.30.19)
19. Western Meadowlark (3.30.19)
20. Pine Siskin (4.8.19)
21. American Goldfinch (4.12.19)
22. Yellow-rumped Warbler (4.14.19)
23. Sharp-shinned Hawk (4.15.19)
24. Great Blue Heron (4.23.19)
25. Barn Swallow (4.27.19)
26. Western Kingbird (4.27.19)
27. Brewer's Blackbird (4.26.19)
28. Yellow Warbler (4.27.19)
29. Mallard (4.27.19)
30. Yellow-headed Blackbird (4.27.19)
31. Rough-winged Swallow (4.27.19)
32. Osprey (5.6.19)
33. Bullock's Oriole (5.2.19)
34. Northern Mockingbird (5.10.19)
35. Hummingbird (4.12.19)
36. Western Wood-Pewee (5.12.19)
37. Thrush (Swainson's or Hermit) (5.12.19)
38. Western Tanager (5.12.19)
39. Western Bluebird (5.12.19)
40. Cattle Egret (5.24.19)
41. Common Nighthawk (6.7.19)
42. Common Poorwill (6.7.19)
43. Long-billed Curlew (6.12.19)
44. Mountain Bluebird (12.15.19)
45. White-crowned Sparrow (12.15.19)

Our last species of the year was the White-crowned Sparrow, which we probably would have gotten earlier in the year if we had been a little more observant. It's fun guessing what we might get this year!

If you decide to do your own Backyard Bird Challenge, good luck!
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