Monday, June 29, 2020

Backyard Birds through June 2020--We've Tied Our Record!

As I mentioned in an earlier Backyard Bird post, 2020 is the year to really learn about birds in your backyard! With teleworking and sheltering-at-home, we've had lots more time around the yard. I've had a lot of fun spending more time with these local birds. Above is a goldfinch on our garden fence. I have seen so many more goldfinches this year, and have learned a little more about differentiating between American Goldfinches and Lesser Goldfinches. I believe the one pictured above is a female breeding American Goldfinch due to its lighter-colored bill (correct me if I'm wrong!).

I love the song of Western Meadowlarks, but it's often hard to get a good look at them because they fly off so fast. One day, one flew into a dead tree near me while I had my long lens on. Hooray! It's so cool to see it's black bib and freckles in its wingpits (okay, not technically correct, but do you understand what I mean by wingpits?).

We don't have to look far outside to find birds, as we have several cliff swallows and barn swallow nests on our house. I couldn't take the five over the front door, so they had to come down. It didn't take long for the birds to relocate them. This is a barn swallow on its nest. They seem to raise several clutches every year.

It's really easy to tell a barn swallow when you can see its long tail.

Here's a pair of Brewer's Blackbirds. I always look for that bright yellow eye on the male. The female is a browner color.

We often have lots of little birds hanging around. Here we have pine siskins and an American Goldfinch.

A new bird for our list this year is the Evening Grosbeak. Several hung out in our neighbor's trees for several days. They are yellow like the goldfinches, but quite a bit larger.

About the same size, but with brighter coloring and a really raucous call is the Bullock's Oriole. They make the cool hanging nests, and you can sometimes even find twine in them.

In the past I didn't think we had time to maintain a hummingbird feeder, but with being home more this year, we do. In past years we've only put "hummingbird" on the list. This year we've seen at least two species: Black-Chinned Hummingbird (female below) and Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (males make a buzzing noise as they fly around).

Killdeer let us know when they are around with their noisy alarm calls.

We've had a Western Wood-Pewee hanging out around the yard a lot. They aren't a colorful bird, but they make a loud pee-er  sound that is distinctive.

Here's our current list. If you're on a computer, you can see the list on the right hand column. On a phone, I don't think it appears.

1. Black-billed Magpie (1.2.20)
2. European Starling (1.2.20)
3. Eurasian Collared Dove (1.2.20)
4. Red-tailed Hawk (1.3.20)
5. Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) (1.6.20)
6. Common Raven (1.15.20)
7. Northern Flicker (1.15.20)
8. Great Horned Owl (1.20.20)
9. Canada Goose (1.29.20)
10. Pinyon Jay (
11. White-crowned Sparrow (2.10.20)
12. Bald Eagle (2.16.20)
13. Golden Eagle (2.16.20)
14. House Sparrow (2.19.20)
15. American Robin (3.10.20)
16. Western Meadowlark (3.10.20)
17. Sandhill Crane (3.12.20)
18. Say's Phoebe (3.17.20)
19. Turkey Vulture (3.22.20)
20. Belted Kingfisher (3.25.20)
21. Killdeer (3.25.20)
22. Pine Siskin (3.23.20)
23. American Goldfinch (4.3.20)
24. Yellow-rumped Warbler (4.9.20)
25. Red-winged Blackbird (4.8.20)
26. Brewer's Blackbird (4.10.20)
27. Wild Turkey (4.15.20)
28. Barn Swallow (4.16.20)
29. Western Kingbird (4.21.20)
30. Evening Grosbeak (4.26.20)
31. Great Blue Heron (4.28.20)
32. Swainson's Hawk (4.30.20)
33. Yellow Warbler (5.1.20)
34. Bullock's Oriole (5.3.20)
35. Black-chinned Hummingbird (5.3.20)
36. Violet-green Swallow (5.3.20)
37. Common Poorwill (5.3.20)
38. Western Wood-Pewee (5.12.20)
39. Northern Mockingbird (5.27.20)
40. Common Nighthawk (5.29.20)
41. Long-billed Curlew (6.2.20)
42. House Finch (6.8.20)
43. Broad-tailed Hummingbird (6.8.20)
44. Brown-headed Cowbird (6.22.20)
45. Chicken (6.22.20)

Do you like our last one? Ha, ha, the kids really wanted us to get to 45! I think we will see at least a couple more species this year and break last year's record! One bird species that has been conspicuously absent is the American Kestrel. Usually they nest in our yard, but we haven't seen any. I'm still crossing my fingers we'll see at least one. This has been a great family activity, as when someone sees something new, they'll check with other family members if they also saw it. The kids don't consider themselves birders, but they know quite a few species.

Good luck spotting birds in your backyard!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Preparing for My Parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary

I am very lucky to have parents that will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary at the end of 2020. They don't like the limelight, so I won't picture them, but here's a logo one of my brothers designed for them.

One of the things we've been doing to prepare for this momentous occasion is ask them a question every week via email. They respond, and we'll put a book together about it so all the kids, grandkids, and future descendants can learn more about the people who are partly responsible for their existence.

I got this idea when an ad for Storyworth popped up in my Facebook feed before Christmas. The service sends a question to the person you choose and compiles their answers into a book. I bought it for my mother-in-law, as I'd like our kids to know more about their family history on that side.

For my parents, I wanted to personalize the questions more (although you can do that with Storyworth). Okay, the real reason is I didn't want to pay the fee and I wanted more creative control. But that also meant I had to figure out the questions on my own. I did some Internet searches and didn't find lists that I particularly liked, although did find some questions that worked. I came up with some on my own. And I asked my brothers all to contribute.

We've finished 25 weeks of questions, so I thought I would list them in case that helps anyone else find out more about their history. And one of my brothers recommends answering these questions now, not waiting until after 50 years of marriage, as it might be hard to remember the answers to some of them!

25 Questions to Ask Married Couples as They Celebrate Anniversaries

  1. What is your first memory of your spouse?
  2.  Describe your most memorable pre-wedding date.
  3. When you decided to get married, whose parents did you tell first? How did they react? What were your impressions of your spouse's parents?  
  4. Describe how you planned your wedding. How did you pick your wedding date, who would be in the wedding, venue, first song, food, etc. 
  5. Were there any lighthearted scandalous moments at your wedding? For example, did an elderly guest suggest the bridesmaids' dresses were too short, did someone had a wardrobe malfunction, or did a guest drink too much and made a scene? 
  6. During your first year as a married couple, what surprised you or was not what you were expecting? 
  7. What were your most memorable Valentine’s Days? 
  8. What did you do for your honeymoon? 
  9. How did your time in [your first town you lived in] shape your relationship? Did you form habits that stayed with you when you moved?
  10. What were your first impressions of [the town you moved to and lived most of your life in]?
  11. What are your favorite holiday traditions? Did you develop any new ones as a couple? 
  12. How did having children change your relationship as a married couple? 
  13. What do you remember from your [big overseas vacation]?  
  14. What games have you enjoyed playing together the most during your wedded years? 
  15. What advice do you have for your grandkids when they get old enough to contemplate marriage?
  16. What areas have you learned that you can't agree on and what issues have you learned to agree to disagree on to keep the peace?  
  17. How did you pick your parenting style? 
  18. Tell about some of the funniest, unexpected events that happened since you got married. 
  19. If you hadn’t settled in [town], where would be your ideal place to live?
  20. What is something on your bucket list?  
  21. How did retirement affect your relationship?  
  22. Are there any hobbies, trips, or activities that you wished you would have taken up during the formative years of building the family? Are there any that you are glad that you did take up?  
  23. What are you hoping or expecting for the next few years?  
  24. What is your favorite Bible verse and why?  
  25. What do you know now about marriage that you didn’t know when you got married?

      What additional questions do you suggest?

Monday, June 15, 2020

What to Do at Great Basin National Park during Covid-19

Wheeler Peak and Doso Doyabi at Sunset, as seen from the Scenic Drive

The status of Great Basin National Park is changing frequently. For the most up-to-date information, see the Park website.

This blog post is intended to help those trying to figure out what to do during a park visit, especially since the visitor centers are currently closed. As of June 15, 2020:
  • The roads and trails and most campgrounds are open except
    • Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive Will be closed from June 29 through July 2nd 
    • Update: on 7/1, the park announced the Drive will also be closed July 7-10
  • The only paved road in the park is to the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
  • Wheeler Peak Campground will not open this summer, as it is being renovated.
  • Great Basin Visitor Center will open soon, possibly June 26.
  • Lehman Caves Visitor Center and Lehman Caves are likely to be closed for the summer. It's a little ironic, as the Lehman Caves Visitor Center got new, cool interactive exhibits in February. Want to see the cave? Here's a short video that shows more about caves and cave research in the Park.
    Short video about Cave Research in the Park
1. Where to stay?
If you're camping, you have lots of options. Camping in the park for tents and small RVs is available in Lower Lehman (best spots for RVs), Upper Lehman (spacious campsites), Baker Creek (often last campground to fill), Grey Cliffs (only 1.5 miles from main road, but not much shade), and Snake Creek (dispersed and no potable water, but free). Campsites often fill by 2 pm on weekdays, earlier on weekends. (Where to camp if the park campgrounds are full.) No hook ups in the park. If you have a big RV (longer than 24-30 feet), the park campsites probably won't accommodate you, but the Whispering Elms in Baker has beautiful sites, and there are also RV sites at the Border Inn and Baker Fuel and RV. A variety of motel and Air B&B options are available at Some folks will also stay in Ely, Delta, or Milford and come for a day trip.
Camping under the Milky Way

Where to eat?
Bring your own food or enjoy eating out. Right now, here's what's open (with more details at
  • Border Inn, on Highway 6 & 50 at stateline, kitchen open daily from 6 am to 10 pm (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
  • Great Basin Cafe, next to Lehman Caves Visitor Center, daily from 8 am to 5 pm (breakfast, lunch)
  • Baker Bean Coffee Cart, downtown Baker, daily from 7 am to 3 pm (breakfast, lunch, coffee and baked goods)
  • Kerouac's, downtown Baker, 4 pm to 8 pm (dinner), closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Convenience stores are also located at the Border Inn, Kerouac's, and Great Basin Cafe.

What to do?
1. Ancient bristlecones. If you've never seen old bristlecone pines, old meaning more than 3,000 years old, this is your chance. Drive 12 miles up the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to the end of the road at the Bristlecone trailhead. Then plan for about an hour-long hike over a rocky trail at over 10,000 feet elevation to an amazing grove in the shadow of Wheeler Peak. Allow 30 minutes for the drive each way, plus 2-3 hours for the hike. You can hike beyond the grove to the rock glacier, add 0.5-2 hours depending on how far you go. Note that the parking area is starting to fill from about 10 am to 3 pm, so consider earlier or later, when the light is better and parking more abundant.
Hike to Wheeler cirque bristlecone grove in Great Basin National Park
Wheeler cirque rock glacier at 10,800 feet. There is still ice under the rocky shroud, at least in the upper portions of the rock glacier. A tiny real glacier is found along the headwall.

2. Cool off at higher elevations. Also at the end of the Scenic Drive is the Alpine Lakes Loop. This is a charming two-hour hike that visits Teresa and Stella Lakes. Take your time and soak in the cooler temperatures. Watch out for afternoon thunderstorms, high winds, and elevation sickness. The reward is amazing views. You can combine this with the bristlecone pine hike for a lovely longer hike.
Stella Lake at sunrise

3. Beautiful hikes. Great Basin National Park is a hiking park. The two trails mentioned above are relatively busy, but most of the others don't have much traffic!

3a. Short trails (approx. 30 minutes to 1 hour):
  • Mountain View Nature Trail behind Lehman Caves Visitor Center--through pinyon/juniper forest for 1/4 mile;
  • Sky Islands Forest Trail-Accessible trail at Bristlecone trailhead--through Engelmann spruce/limber pine forest for 1/4 mile, wheelchair accessible
  • Strawberry Sagebrush Loop Trail: 1+ mile loop that lets you look at how the landscape is recovering after the 2016 Strawberry fire
  • Start any of these other trails listed below and turn around when you want
3b. Medium trails (2-4 hours)
  • South Fork Baker/Baker Lake loop: 3.5 mile loop, steep in places, but gorgeous, follows riparian areas
  • Serviceberry Trail: 3+ mile loop along Snake Creek road with a variety of habitats
  • Lexington Arch: 6+ mile round-trip hike to a huge natural bridge; dogs allowed (here's more about the canyon)
  • Osceola Ditch Trail: 1.5 miles to Mill Creek, 5 miles to Strawberry Creek trailhead, steep for first 0.3 mile, then the the flattest trail in the park, follows old water ditch and goes through 2016 burn
  • Bristlecone/Alpine Loops trails mentioned above

3c. Long trails (>3 hours)
  • South Fork Baker/Timber Creek loop: 5.5 miles but lots of elevation change, two beautiful meadows
  • Dead Lake: a new trail from the end of the Snake Creek road heads to this often-overlooked lake, and you can make a loop trail of it
  • Wheeler Peak summit: the trail is 4-miles one way, but gains 3,000 feet elevation. Many people underestimate the effort it will take. Plan on 3-4 hours to summit, some time at the top, and 2-3 hours to get back down. Take plenty of water and food and be prepared for big winds. Stay off if storms are looming.
  • Shoshone/North Fork Big Wash: If you want a trail to yourself, start at the end of the Snake Creek Road and head up and over into the next drainage. Seldom visited, some bushwhacking required.

4. Backpacking.
  • Baker/Johnson loop: this is a classic. Start at the Baker Creek or Snake Creek trailheads. About 13 miles round trip with lots of elevation change. Camp at Baker or Johnson Lakes. No campfires above 10,000 feet.
  • South Fork Baker/Timber Creek loop: This loop is only about 5.5 miles, but lots of elevation change. Good for beginning backpackers and families.
  • Johnson Lake/Snake Ridge Divide loop: This is for the advanced, as you have to scramble along a ridge with no trail.

5. Animal Watching.
  • Yellow-bellied marmots. From May to about July, it's often possible to find yellow-bellied marmots along the Baker Creek road. You'll see the marmot crossing signs--these cute animals aren't the smartest, so slow down to keep them safe!
  • Rocky mountain elk are seen most frequently in the Strawberry Creek drainage. They are much larger than deer.
  • Bird-watching is excellent along Strawberry Creek, where you can find lots of cavity nesters like mountain bluebirds, hairy woodpeckers, house wrens, and mountain chickadees. Baker Creek area has lots of riparian birds like warbling vireos, MacGillivray's warblers, yellow warblers, lazuli buntings, and more.
  • Fishing. With a state permit, fishing is allowed in the park. Native Bonneville cutthroat trout are in South Fork Baker, Snake, and Mill creeks (catch-and-release recommended as the Park is trying to restore these populations). Brown, rainbow, and brook are in Baker and Lehman Creeks.

6. Check out the Dark Night Skies. If you're camping, your campsite might be a great place. Another recommended place is Mather Overlook. You will see the Milky Way best during and near the New Moon (in 2020: June 21, July 20, Aug 19, Sept 17, Oct 16).
Milky Way from Mather Overlook

7. Other Nearby Places Worth Visiting

Baker Archeological Site - visit the townsite of a Fremont village, occupied from 1220 to 1295. It's about 2 miles from Baker, and a guided booklet tells you about the site and how the buildings were arranged. This is a good place to picnic, with covered picnic tables.
    • Baker Archeological site

    Sacramento Pass Recreational Area
    : Camping, fishing, plus mountain biking and hiking on a seven-mile trail system. Only 15 minutes from Baker.
      Sac Pass fishing pond
Crystal Ball Cave: Although Lehman Caves isn't open, Crystal Ball Cave, 30 miles north of the Border Inn, is open by reservation only. This is a terrific cave, it feels like walking through a giant geode. It also is the site of amazing paleontological resources. Cave website (keep in mind that it's located in mountain time zone and takes about 45-60 minutes to get there from Baker)

Crystal Peak is a cool volcanic mountain located about an hour from Baker. You can see it gleaming in the afternoon sunlight from Highway 6 and 50, and also from high points along the Scenic Drive.

Those are just a few suggestions, click on the links to see additional information. If you'd like more, Read my book! It is full of natural and cultural history of the area, places to visit, and more.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Exploring the Fortification Range, Lincoln County, Nevada

For many, many years, exploring the Fortification Range, a little-known mountain range to the southwest of the Snake Range, has been on my to-do list. One Sunday we didn't have a clear plan, so we decided it was time to head south. First we would head over the Limestone Hills (above), another small mountain range.

I'm starting to keep track of mountains I visit now that the magnificent book Nevada Mountains by David Charlet is out, detailing all 319 mountain ranges in the state. Not only is Nevada the driest state in the nation, it has the most mountain ranges!

The road goes right across the Limestone Hills, and we pulled over to look around a bit. We didn't see anything too exciting, although it looked like it would be a nice hike along the spine of the range. To the west we could see the Fortification Range, with the light-colored volcanic rock in the middle. We could even see some distant snow-covered peaks of the Egan Range beyond.

To the southwest the road continues towards Atlanta and Mt. Wilson.

We had never been to Atlanta, Nevada before. It's on quite a few road signs and maps. We saw some huge mine tailings as we approached. Apparently silver was discovered in 1869, but gold ended up being the predominant ore mined, with mines operated intermittently during the 1870s, 1909-10, 1911-1920, and 1965-66. More on the geology is here.

Rabbitbrush is starting to get tall on some of the tailings. We found some buildings and roads, but everything said No Trespassing. On the Nevada Gazeteer map, it looked like there was another mining area nearby. So we turned west on a dirt road and followed it.

In a couple miles we arrived at more mine tailings. We were at Silver Park mine, another short-lived mine. The 1870 census counted 205 males, 27 females, and 14 families. The 2020 census counts 0 humans.

We saw signs of previous humans over different time periods.

On the walk down to one of the mining areas, I stopped and admired the beautiful Phlox.

The Silver Park mine produced silver, gold, copper, lead, zinc, antimony, and uranium. We saw some rocks that looked like they might have uranium. The USGS report says that the workings area has slightly higher radioactive readings. There were apparently a couple 100-foot deep adits, but we just saw surface mining.

Desert Girl enjoyed looking at all the rocks.

Some had cool vugs with little crystals in them.

Okay, now it was time to head north to the Fortification Range! Bring your maps, the roads are not well-marked. Eventually we came to a gate across the road.

A bit farther on we had some nice views of the volcanic rocks of the Fortification Range.

We took a side road to the west. Just before it ended at a wilderness boundary marker, we found a little water. So we hoped out to investigate.

If you search for information about the Fortification Range, you don't find much. The range is about 14 miles long. Much of it (30,656 acres) was designated as the Fortification Range Wilderness Area in 2004. The high point in the range is visited rarely.

It's beautiful, though! The kids even got to scramble a bit.

A claret cup cactus was blooming.

We wandered, going where it looked interesting.

We even came close to a rattlesnake.

When we got to the ridge we enjoyed the views.

Then it was back into the pinyon/juniper to get back to the truck. We watched our footing very carefully.

We found an old water tank.

Then we continued north and found a nice sign to Cottonwood Canyon.

That road led to some beautiful views and nice primitive campsites.

We also appreciated the map and information. Cottonwood Canyon is located on the northeast side of the mountain and apparently is the most-visited spot in the range.

We drove to the end of the road, glad to have high clearance. A Subaru had made it in, and we were impressed. The driver had signed in that he was going to hike for one or two days. We were planning on about 15 minutes, as the kids were getting tired and were a little afraid of more close encounters with rattlesnakes.

The trail started off into the pinyon juniper, with large amounts of feral horse poop found frequently.

The cottonwoods were just starting to leaf out, and we could see cool rocks all around us.

Apparently the trail is about 1.5 miles to a spring, and then you can wander on your own beyond that. We're going to have to go back to check it out, and fall should be a great time to do that with fall colors and cooler temperatures.

Although our visit wasn't too long, we had fun, and the Fortification Range is definitely on our list for a repeat visit. We saw no one else there, just one other vehicle, so if you want to get away from it all, this is a good place to go.
And if you know where to find more information about the Fortification Range, let me know, I was truly surprised by the scarcity of info on it.
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