Farewell Autumn

Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Cache Valley Autumn Colors
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
So would I—if I were the wind.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-colors/

Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012, http://wildaboututah.org/red-leaves-in-autumn-whats-in-it-for-the-tree/

Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010, http://wildaboututah.org/autumn-leaf-color-change/

Autumn Migrations

Autumn Migration: Redhead Ducks Courtesy US FWS Nate Rathbun, Photographer
Redhead Ducks
Courtesy US FWS
Nate Rathbun, Photographer
Here comes Autumn, especially noticed in the northern parts of Utah: the colors, the cool air, the absence of many insects, the falling leaves, and the occasional dusting of snow in the mountains.

In these weather-changing conditions, wildlife species have four options: adapt to colder weather, migrate to better conditions, hibernate…or die. Today, we’ll consider migration.

As recorded by the National Geographic Society, Entomology Professor Emeritus, Hugh Dingle, mentions five basic characteristics of migration:

Prolonged movements that carry animals outside familiar habitats.

  1. They tend to be linear, not zig-zag patterns.
  2. They involve special behaviors of preparation and arrival (such as overfeeding).
  3. They demand special allocations of energy.
  4. They maintain attention to the greater mission. Meaning they are undistracted by temptations, and undeterred by challenges, that would turn other animals aside.
  5. They feel they can eat, rest, or mate later.

The entire migration movement involves body shape, physical processes, and genetics of each species.

For ten years, scientists have been documenting one of the largest aerial mass migrations on earth. According to Science Magazine, three and one half trillion insects were recorded on radar traveling from southern England to Africa and back. They represented 3,200 tons of biomass (living tissues), which was more than seven times that of the thirty million songbirds that make that same annual flight.

Movements don’t have to be monumental to be considered migratory. For instance, some consider the daily changes in depth of ocean zooplankton to be a form of migration. They spend the day near the surface benefiting from the food provided by sunlight, then sink to darker depths at night to hide.

Some rattlesnakes in Western Canada are also considered migratory as they have been tracked to relocate anywhere from 5 to 33 miles each year. This movement is spurred by cold temperatures which reduce food, and a scarcity of good den sites below the earth’s surface, which must be warm enough and at times capable of holding up to 1,000 snakes. In contrast, Arizona rattlers travel far less because they don’t require that need.

Pronghorns, which are not really antelopes, travel far and fast, around 60 miles per hour. One group travels hundreds of miles from north-central Montana up into Alberta for breeding in the Spring. Another group of nearly 20,000 goes from Grand Teton National park south to the sagebrush plains near Pinedale, Wyoming for the winter. The routes of both groups do not vary, which can be hazardous if they are blocked by snows.

Biodiversity of ecosystems and processes, which enable each species to survive, is critical. But Conservation scientists also try to preserve migrational behaviors.

Monarchs in Mexico Courtesy FWS Pablo Leutaud, Photographer Licensed under Creative Commons
Monarchs in Mexico
Courtesy FWS
Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
Licensed under Creative Commons
No doubt, there are fragile creatures which travel south to avoid cold temperatures as well as lack of food. The Monarch butterfly comes to mind. The disappearance of flowers, and freezing cold would spell doom for them in northern climates. So they embark on a 3,000 mile journey to Mexico, or southern California. Let’s consider some other long-distance, roundtrip travelers:
*Salmon and Caribou also migrate 3,000 miles.
*Dragonflies will go 10,000 miles.
*Leatherback turtles swim 12,000 miles.
*Elephant seals and Humpback whales swim over 13,000 miles.
*For birds, Northern Wheatears and Pectoral Sandpipers fly 18,000 miles.
*Sooty Shearwaters fly from the Falkland Islands to Arctic waters, a roundtrip of 40,000 miles.
*The champion distance migrant, the Arctic Tern, flies 44,000 miles from the Arctic north of Greenland to Antarctica every year!
*And the longest nonstop flight goes to the Bar-Tailed Godwit at over 7,000 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in nine consecutive days!

An entire program could also be dedicated to human migrations including various Native American tribes, the Nenets who herd reindeer 400 miles in the Russian Yamal Peninsula, and the ancient people who crossed the Bering Strait to settle in the Americas.

As we close this session of Fall migrations, consider the words of George Eliot who wrote
the following in 1841: “Delicious Autumn. My very soul is wedded to it. And if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive Autumns.”

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Credits:

Images: Readhead Ducks, Courtesy US FWS, Nate Rathbun, Photographer; Monarchs in Mexico, Courtesy US FWS but licensed under Creative Commons, Pablo Leutaud, Photographer
Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/monarchpopulation2016.html

https://www.fws.gov/radar/migration/index.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1290

Canary in the Cornfield: Why the Fuss about Monarchs?

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/news/snake-migration/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/08/060808-bird-migration.html

Majestic Yosemite

Majestic Yosemite: Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir standing on rock at Glacier Point, Yosemite, May 1903; Yosemite Falls and cliffs of Yosemite Valley in distance. [RL012904] Courtesy US NPS
Roosevelt and Muir at Glacier Point President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir standing on rock at Glacier Point, Yosemite, May 1903; Yosemite Falls and cliffs of Yosemite Valley in distance. [RL012904] Courtesy US NPS
It is the place where the Great Spirit stood when He made the entire Earth. So said the resident Ahwahneechee Native Americans and, aesthetically speaking, few who have witnessed sunrise from the misty meadows of the Yosemite Valley will contend against their point of view.

It is one of the rare places where the onlooker can pivot in full-circle to take potential calendar photos exposed at every compass point. To the north cascades Yosemite Falls, fifth highest on the planet. Looking Eastward the signature logo of Yosemite National Park, Half-Dome, rises upward to meet the morning sun. To the south, magnificent Glacier Point captivates wide eyes and causes mouths to open in silent wonder. Gazing west, the ever-changing Merced River’s placid sheen soon reflects the grandeur of El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world.

Linking with Utah’s “Mighty Five National Parks” and Yellowstone as premier displays of American scenery, Yosemite lies at the far western point of that great triangle of unsurpassed natural western beauty. Each park is unique in its own way, but produces the same hypnotic responses in visitors whether surrounded by mountains of granite, sandstone canyons, or geothermal wonders.

Lafayette Bunnell, the army doctor credited with naming the valley, described his feelings as being one of the first white men to ever witness Yosemite.
“…suddenly we came in view of the valley of the Yosemite. The grandeur of the scene was softened by haze over the valley, light as gossamer, and by vapory clouds on the high cliffs. My astonishment was overpowering, and my eyes welled up with tears as I sensed my own inferiority. Here, before me, was the power and the glory of the Supreme Being. This seemed God’s holiest Temple where were assembled all that was most divine in material creation.”

A Morning Council on the Merced Group of about twenty-six Native Americans seated and standing beside a cedar bark structure, near the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1872. (Title as printed on stereograph A Morning Concert on the Merced is in error.) [RL014217] Photo Courtesy US National Park Service
A Morning Council on the Merced
Group of about twenty-six Native Americans seated and standing beside a cedar bark structure, near the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, 1872. (Title as printed on stereograph A Morning Concert on the Merced is in error.) [RL014217]
Photo Courtesy US National Park Service
Chief Tenaya, however, was devastated as his villages were torched, and he mourned, “When I am dead I will call to my people to come to you, that they shall hear me in their sleep. I will follow in your footsteps. I will not leave my home, but be with the spirits among the rocks, the waterfalls, the rivers, and in the winds. Wherever you go, I will be with you.”

Naturalist John Muir wrote about the place he called The Range of Light. The Sierras, 400 miles long and 80 miles wide of granitic wonder, also inspired him to advise, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
Another of his quotes inspired six of us to hike to the top of Half Dome. “Climb the mountains and get their glad tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves.”

Although the trek is an arduous 16 miles with a 5,000 foot elevation gain, Muir was accurate. Climbing past thunderous Vernal and Nevada Falls, striding through heavily-scented coniferous forests and reaching the base of the Dome produced sensory overload with every step. Yet, dangers are evident. Signs along the way read simply: “If you fall, you will die.”

The sight of Half Dome’s crest from the bottom of the cable route can be intimidating. One third of the hikers reaching that point refuse the final 400-foot ascent and retreat to the valley floor. Determined to succeed, we pulled our way up the steel cables to the top where the view exceeded our anticipation. Lush green meadows below were garnished with silver threads of water, imposing granite peaks were embellished with emerald forests, swallows were jetting upward on thermal winds, and the sky was so blue one could scoop it into a bowl.

Bunnell, Tenaya, and Muir were correct. Nature has a way of providing even more than we seek.

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service Archives, Yosemite National Park
Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Yosemite National Park, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

The Zion Narrows

The Zion Narrows Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Zion Narrows
Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Seventeen miles, and three potential swims. If those two descriptors aren’t deterrents, great scenery awaits those who hike the Zion Narrows from the top down into the main canyon. If you run marathons, bike the LOTOJA race, or simply marvel at nature’s masterpieces, there is nothing intimidating about this adventure. However, if you are a professional armchair quarterback, you had better get some miles under your feet before attempting this adventure, especially if you want to complete it in one day.

I’ve been to Zion many times, but after seeing the inspirational film, “The Bucket List”,
I decided it was time to do this classic hike. Along with good luck, and good sense, the key to success lies in the preparation.

There is no marked trail because at least 60 percent of the hike is in the Virgin River and, although the air temperature was in the 90’s, the water was chilly when we had to do the three short swims. Groups are limited to 12, and permits are required, but Rangers won’t issue them is the flow rate goes above 120 cubic feet per second. We were fortunate and hit a day when it was flowing at 100 CFS.

Unless you reserve one of the dozen Narrow’s campsites for an overnight stay, plan on about 12 hours walking. Unfortunately, if you are too slow and miss the last shuttle bus at the Temple of Sinawava, you will add another 8 mile hike to return to your car at the Visitor Center.

River hiking can be like walking on greasy bowling balls. You can ruin your own shoes, or the Zion Adventure Company will rent sticky-soled boots, tight neoprene socks, and a walking stick. Unless you have two cars, they will also provide the 90-minute shuttle to the Chamberlain Ranch. They are helpful and show a training film about hiking the Narrows. Here you will learn to watch for the signs of deadly flash-floods. If it happens, immediately go to higher ground, available throughout the canyon…except in the “Wall Street” area. Check weather conditions with the Zion Backcountry Desk before you take your first step.

Wear layered clothing, use a river-bag for food and dry clothes, bring at least two liters of water or a good filter, and waterproof bags for your camera. Forget phones, they will not function there. Finally, borrowing a line from “The Bucket List”, (never pass up a bathroom) each hiker is provided with a human waste disposal bag.

To avoid packing extra food and sleeping bags, we were determined to do this as a day-hike. We had picked up our permit the night before, and saw the weather forecast at ten percent chance of light rain. Wanting to hit the trail early, we camped out on the east side of the park. After six hours of slumber-sweet, we let adrenaline pilot us toward the canyon. The first five miles were covered effortlessly, but the trail and shallow river finally transitioned into the copper-colored serpentine canyon we sought.

The Narrows is by far an acme of hikes in Zion. The sandstone walls ascend 2,000 feet, yet at times are only 20 feet apart at their base. For 12 miles we enjoyed incomparable scenery, waterfalls, small tributaries, sandbars where canyon maples provided alluring rest-stops, and the pleasantry was recorded with calendar-quality photos. But then we entered the “Danger Zone”.

True to its namesake, the Wall Street section was full of surprises. The sky darkened as though someone had pulled a black quilt over the canyon. Birds stopped singing. The wind picked up. Our ten percent chance of rain suddenly became one hundred percent! We were already wet, so we laughed…until the lightning flashed. Then thunder rumbled behind us so loudly we turned as if expecting freight trains to pummel us. Since there was no high ground, we picked up our pace and stuck close to the canyon walls. Seven people sloshing, wading, swimming, and helping each other to get to high boulders as soon as possible.

We reached safety the same time the storm stopped. The forecast was accurate. No flash-flood during our adventurous 12-hour journey and, yes, we caught the bus with time to spare. Would we do this hike again? Absolutely!

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Rhett Hellstern
Text:     Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

The Narrows, Plan Your Visit, Things to do, Zion National Park, US NPS, https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/thenarrows.htm

Marine Adventure in a Serene Environment, The Narrows Awaits, Utah.com (Utah’s Travel Industry Website), https://utah.com/hiking/zion-national-park/the-narrows

Zion National Park: Zion Narrows, YouTube, https://youtu.be/-lfAoFgi7VU