In May 2022 Apryle and I had the the opportunity to observe Tom and Paula Bartlett banding birds on Kelleys Island and at Springville Marsh. I was first exposed to bird banding at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado back in spring …
The Run Forest Run 50 kilometer race took place on February 18th 2023. I arrived at the start/finish area at Lake Sylvia State Park in the early morning hours as the sun was rising and an eerie translucent fog hung in the air above the …
On January 13th we were scheduled to join a birding group at Las Vegas Springs Preserve, so we made our way in to the city in the early morning equipped with our 600mm zoom camera. Las Vegas Springs Preserve is a lush oasis in an wasteful opulent concrete jungle. The 180 acre preserve is owned an operated by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. Located just three miles west of the strip, this preserve is built around the original water source of Las Vegas. There are several miles of trail that meander through desert botanical gardens and wetland habitat.
On our three mile birding walk we spotted 26 different species including: Yellow-rumped Warner, Great-tailed Grackle, Abert’s Towhee, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, House Finch, Phainopepla, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Bewick’s Wren, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, Common Raven, Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, Say’s Phoebe, American Kestrel, Northern Flicker, Red-tailed Hawk, American Coot, Costa’s Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, Rock Pigeon, Gambel’s Quail, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard, and Canada Goose. After thoroughly exploring the preserve and identifying many unique birds, we made our way north to Rainbow Owl Preserve to locate Burrowing Owls. This was at the prompting of one of the Red Rock Audubon Society members.
Apryle and I had seen Burrowing Owls a few years prior nesting in irrigation ditches in the distinctly agricultural hub of Othello, Washington. The small ground dwelling owls were difficult to pick out from the surrounding landscape and created their homes in the most unlikely of locations. The Burrowing Owls of Las Vegas were no different, they made a home out of cinderblock and black irrigation tubing. This home selection was more out of necessity than preference. The Red Rock Audubon Society purchased land slated for development in North Las Vegas and created artificial burrows for the owls in prime Burrowing Owl habitat.
Burrowing Owls typically use burrows created by Desert Tortoise, Prairie Dogs, or Ground Squirrels, but since humans nearly eradicated many of these species and altered so much of the desert habitat that it is necessary to create artificial burrows. On a positive note, these owls are quite resilient and have no trouble nesting in human-made materials. They are resourceful animals, often lining their burrows with animal dung in order to attract insects to eat. Additionally, they are known to cache dead rodents when brooding chicks in order to ensure food supply.
Apryle and walked on the concrete sidewalks bordering a series of vacant lots where the inconspicuous owl preserve was located. Essentially, the preserve was made up of a several disjointed lots lined with chainlink fence. Inside each parcel of land there were 4 to 6 artificial owl burrows made up of cinderblocks, rocks, black tubing, and wood branches. It was the least aesthetically pleasing place we had visited yet, but the up close encounters with the Burrowing Owls still made this unexpected side trip a memorable one.
Following our morning birding, we pivoted back to hiking and petroglyph hunting. We made our way south through the heart of Las Vegas to Sloan Canyon. The route to Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area was a convoluted maze through sprawling suburbia. However, once we finally arrived at the trailhead it was the typical vast wilderness of the Mojave Desert that we expected. Sloan Canyon is a 48,438 acre conservation area that contains a portion of the McCullough Range that forms the southern border of Las Vegas and Henderson.
We took the petroglyphs trail, which started on an upland plain and eventually dove into a dry creek bed. From there the we took the cowboy trail split which gradually ascended into the craggy upland landscape. We scanned the rocky slopes everywhere for Desert Bighorn Sheep but the only ones to be found were etched into the ancient rocks in the canyon. Shortly before rejoining the the petroglyphs trail we saw a teddy bear cholla cactus with the most spikes we had ever seen on a plant. Once we started back northbound into the canyon we began to see the most amazing series of ancient art. We attempted to see all 1700 designs and I do believe we got very close to achieving this goal.
The petroglyphs are thought to be over 4000 years old and it is hard to imagine that they have survived for so many years without fading away. We spent hours marveling at the designs that continued to emerge around every corner. Eventually we returned to the trailhead as the sun was setting to the west.
After arriving back in Pahrump we decided to use up every last inch of daylight and find the Swan Geese and other waterfowl as they settled in for the evening on the Discovery Park pond. As we watched the beautiful birds gracefully gliding on the glassy surface of the water we reflected on an unforgettable trip to the Mojave Desert.
On the fourth day in the Mojave Desert we got off to a slow start and left our hotel room rather late (8:30AM) and we decided to explore Pahrump’s own Discovery Park in earnest. Discovery Park is interesting because it is an open space that …
On January 11th Apryle and I emerged from our warm hotel room and shuffled out into the cold parking lot in the pre dawn hours. We cleared the frost accumulation from the windshield and loaded the car with our hydration packs and food for a …
We awoke on the morning of January 10th and began our drive northwest through the Amagrosa Valley. The road snaked aimlessly through the treeless plain and anticlimactically crossed the California border. The bleak landscape was barely illuminated by an even bleaker sky. The first landmark we reached was Death Valley Junction, a town which appeared to be void of any inhabitants. However, the town name hinted that we may be closing in on our goal destination – Death Valley National Park. We reached the entrance of the park on State Highway 190 and realized that we had forgotten our America The Beautiful Pass, so we purchased a week pass at a lonely kiosk in the middle of the desert. I jumped out of the car to take my first steps in the countries hottest national park, only to find that it was a cool 58 degrees which was made even cooler with a slight drizzle and an 18 mph wind out of the SSE.
The first destination on our list was Zabriskie Point, where Apryle had planned a running loop through the Badlands of Death Valley. In less than 500 meters from the trailhead we crested a hill that opened up into a labyrinth of yellow domes that resembled a landscape from the fictional world of Dr Suess. The landscape was quite similar to Badlands National Park of South Dakota but had a unique personality of its own. Underfoot the ground felt like a course sponge and the surrounding mounds felt like they would permanently wash away after a strong rain. The wind swept through the shallow trenches that we were running through and kicked up pebbles into my clothes and hair. The sparse raindrops seemed to do little to dampen the surrounding soil, which hosted only the occasional scraggly Desert Holly plant. The narrow trail took unexpected twists and turns, ascending to passes, plunging into dry washes, and skirting along cliffsides.
Our first deviation from the loop was an out and back trip to Red Cathedral, which was a red colored rock formation that formed a steep wall that towered over the landscape. We marveled at the geological wonder and then descended back to the second leg of the loop – Golden Canyon. This trail passed through a narrow canyon which was surrounded by golden rock walls streaked with red and grey converging lines. The trail terminated in a parking area off of Badwater Road, which mildly detracted from our wilderness experience. The determined sun broke through the clouds for a few moments as we made our way across the plain to Gower Gulch. We realized that we were quite lucky to see the landscape under cloudy skies because it allowed us to fully appreciate the colors and personality of the rock formations without the intense glare of the sun. Before entering the Gower Gulch we peered off to the Panamint Mountains to the west (our destination for the next day). A cloud hung over the highest peaks, which was followed by a layer of snow, which gave way to alluvial fans skirting the base of the range.
Gower Gulch looked just like a river bed carving through towering cliffs, but there was no river. Loose rock formed a winding path with sandy banks marking the shore of the pseudo-riverbed. The sun again became overwhelmed by the clouds and raindrops tried desperately to fill the gulch. We closed out our 9.5 mile (1683 vertical feet) loop with a quick out and back to Zabriskie Point and reflected on one of the most unique places we had ever been.
Our next stop was the Furnace Creek visitor center where we perused the interpretive stations and gathered important beta for the rest of our trip. We took a short walk through the golf course because we were told that it was the best place for birding, but we realized how ridiculous it was to be walking through a wasteful human made structure in a national park and continued on our way. The fourth stop of the day was Artist Palette, which features an array of hues splattered across the striated mountainside. The volcanic deposits containing iron oxides and chlorite produce golden brown hills accented by deep burgundy, gold, coral, and amber splotches. These earth tones are contrasted by maroon, magenta, and emerald swaths that come together to resemble the name sake – artist’s palette.
As we continued southbound through Badwater Basin we stopped at our fifth site – Devils Golf Course. Devils Golf Course is far more interesting and cheaper to maintain than the Furnace Creek Golf Course. This area includes jagged spires of rock salt which has been eroded by wind and rain. We engaged all of our senses as we marveled at the spectacle, listened to the crackling of the bursting salt crystals, touched the surface of the rocks, and even tasted the salt.
The Natural Bridge was our sixth stop and this geologic feature included an 11 meter tall and 11 meter thick bridge engineered by alluvial deposit. Rock, gravel, and sediment was naturally cemented together at the base of the mountain over many years. Which was then eroded away by cycles of flash flooding and changing stream course leading to the creation of the bridge.
Our seventh and final stop for the day in Death Valley National Park was Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. We took a walk out to the salt flats, which was interesting because of its starkness but ultimately it was just long runway passing through a basin. We tried to search for the vulnerable Badwater Snail by scanning the salt marsh but we were unable to locate the small mollusk.
After a full day in the park we continued south along Badwater Road to Ashford Junction. From here we headed east along Jubilee Pass Road which was nearly impassible in some areas due to large rock deposits over the road from earlier rain showers. We managed to make our way back to Pahrump in time for some late afternoon birding at Discovery Park. Before the sun set we managed to pick out a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, Song Sparrows, Mallards, American Coots, American Wigeons, Canada Geese, a pair of Swan Geese, a lone Snow Goose, and Greater White-fronted Goose. After turning in for the evening, it was very hard to believe just how much we packed into one day in the desert!
We arrived at Las Vegas International Airport mid morning January 9th where made our way down Las Vegas Boulevard in order for Apryle to get a tetanus shot she had scheduled the night before. While starting a fire she was stabbed with a rusty piece …
I signed up for the Seattle Marathon rather late in the year because a friend (Paul Young) said that he had an entry available. I was excited to switch gears from the trail and hop back on the road to test if my legs still …
I arrived at the Sanborn County Park in the early morning on Saturday October 1st for the Spartan trail series 50 kilometer race. I was greeted by a couple of Black-tailed Deer at the entrance and they did not seem the slightest bit concerned about the line of cars or blaring music from the hill above them. Sanborn County Park is a forested 3,453 acre park located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The course traverses a large portion of the Sanborn County Park and features two out and backs with a loop formed near the start/finish area.
Sanborn County Park is the 7th largest park in Santa Clara County and is steeped in history, from the Ohlone Tribe to 1850s homesteaders to its eventual designation as a park in 1977. One the most unique features of the park is the San Andreas Fault, which makes a diagonal cut through the park from Lyndon Canyon, past Lake Ranch, and over to the Sanborn Road. The 1906 earthquake had such power that it almost emptied Lake Ranch and changed the course of several creeks. The plant communities in the park thrive due to the coastal summer fog and north facing slopes. The forest is mainly mixed evergreen (oak, madrone, Douglas fir, tanoak, and Redwood) with an understory of toyan, ceanothus, and manzanita.
As the sun rose we toed the line for the 7:00AM start. The route quickly transitioned from a paved slight downhill past a pond and historic buildings, to a steep dirt trail. The opening climb ascended 1602 feet, starting at 1332 feet and topping out at 2934 feet in 3.4 miles. At the lower reaches of the climb the trail passed by Redwoods and then transitioned to Oak and Madrone dominated forest. However, upon entering the Todd Creek drainage the Redwoods reemerged and the dense canopy significantly reduced the lighting. Shortly before the first aid station a mile 3.1 (33:14), the trail transitioned from Sanborn to Skyline. Because I had enough fuel and water, I ran through the aid station.
The Skyline trail took a gradual dive down and featured several dozen twisting switchbacks and offered some excellent views of the mountains to the northwest. The Skyline trail transitioned into the John Nicholas trail and continued down to Lake Ranch Reservoir. Prior to reaching the bottom of the canyon and the reservoir the trail made a few creek crossings over wooden bridges. I blew through the second aid station as well at mile 6.6 (58:05). The trail continued past the reservoir and then up the John Nicholas trail to the turn around point and third aid station at mile 7.7 (1:05:5).
The weather was excellent for the first outbound portion of the race, sunny with temperatures climbing from low 60s to upper 60s. As I made my inbound journey, I passed my closest chaser along Lake Ranch (maybe 14 minutes back). I passed through the aid station again at mile 8.9 (1:13:44) and started the climb back out of the canyon along John Nicholas trail. The climb out of the canyon was about 1186 vertical feet starting from 1748 feet and ending at the Skyline at 2934 feet. The climb was runnable due to the gradual grade but I was sure keep the pace relaxed. Again I ran through the Skyline aid station at mile 12.3 (1:46:42). There was quite a bit of trail traffic with the 21 kilometer and 10 kilometer runners, which slowed my pace a little.
I began the steep (1602 feet) descent back to the start finish area, dropping from 2934 feet to 1332 feet. There was a slight variation from the outbound trail, the course took the Madrone trail and the San Andreas trail and eventually linked back up with the Peterson Memorial trail. This created a loop nearing the start finish area, which I reached in 2:13:47 (mile 15.5). I was optimistic to break 5 hours even if the wheels really fell off in the second out and back.
Unfortunately my strong climbing legs from the first loop vanished and my legs were feeling unusually fatigued for this point in a race. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had only given my legs 2 weeks to recover from Teanaway 100 miler. At any rate I was forced to hike a little up the steep climb and did not reach the Skyline aid station (mile 18.6) until 2:55:24, meaning I climbed that section 8:23 slower than my first outbound trip. I finally made an aid station stop and refilled my hydration bladder (meaning I consumed about 1.5 liters) and gathered some ice to put in my hat.
I could feel the temperatures climbing into the 70s as I descended to the base of the canyon. There were many more mountain bikers on the trail in my second lap, which added another challenge to keeping a consistent pace. The John Nicholas trail is mostly smooth with a few rocky sections, but lends itself to a quick pace. I reached the Lake Ranch aid station in 3:24:59 (mile 21.9) or about 14 minutes off the overall pace of the first lap. I continued up to the turn around aid station (mile 23, 3:34:05) and grabbed some electrolyte chews, ice for my hat, and some ginger ale.
I ran through Lake Ranch aid station one final time (24.3, 3:44:01) and was surprised that I did not see anyone chasing. I was ready to climb, though I knew I would be unable to match my pace from the first lap. I realized that I could really benefit from trekking poles so I grabbed a few fallen branches and fashioned my own makeshift poles, which I used to pick up the pace for a mile or two. As I made my way back up the canyon I passed my nearest competitors and a I little more confident with the gap I had created.
After about 1200 feet of climbing I reached the Skyline aid station in 4:30:39, meaning that my second climb took me 46:38 or about 14 minutes slower than my first lap. I was disappointed with how much time I hemorrhaged on the climbs, but I had to put that behind me and focus on closing out the race. I took a little over a minute at the aid station to fill my hat with ice, down some water and soda, and clean out my pack before the descent. The descent felt a little sluggish, but I managed to keep the time within 7 minutes of my first lap on my way into the finish. The grade on the Madrone trail was a little too steep for me to fully utilize gravity to my advantage and my quadriceps were working overtime for the eccentric control.
I came through the finish chute in 5:04:52, coming up short of my sub 5-hour goal. My second lap time was 2:49:51 or 37:18
slower than my first lap. The finish area had the most energy I had ever seen in a trail race, music blaring, excellent race announcer, and very supportive group of volunteers. Overall it was an excellent experience, the course was beautiful and challenging and there was an excellent post race atmosphere. Thanks to Nic and the Strive team for all of their support, thanks to the race director Luis, and thanks to all of the volunteers on course and in the finish area!
As a side note this is my 200th post and my nine year anniversary of blewskersmiles, thanks to everyone that reads my ramblings. Apryle and I awoke at 2AM on Saturday September 17th 2022 and made our way to the western slopes of the Teanaway …