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

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

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

Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home

Build Community Wildlife Habitats Ron Hellstern See also: http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Build Community Wildlife Habitats
Ron Hellstern
See also:
http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Most people appreciate viewing impressive forms of wildlife, such as Desert Bighorn Sheep in Zion, or Wolves and Grizzlies in Yellowstone, but they may not completely understand the quiet contributions that are being made to earth’s ecosystems every day by the small creatures around our own neighborhoods. These little ones help us in many unseen ways.

It is estimated that one third of the food that humans eat has been provided by small pollinators such as Hummingbirds, Butterflies, and Bees. Having these creatures in our own yards can produce hours of entertainment, and education, as we observe them working feverishly among our flowers, shrubs and trees.

Many citizens, and cities, are diligent in providing beautiful landscaped areas for these pollinators to gain nourishment as they work to increase the production of flowers and fruits.

A couple of quick tips as you decide to help these workaholic animals:
You can make your own hummingbird food by mixing one cup of sugar to four cups of water. Never put food coloring in hummingbird feeders. It can be harmful to them, and the red color of the feeder will automatically attract them. You should also use native, fertile plants in your landscaping design. And, unless you have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings, be assured that they are far more interested in gathering pollen than sacrificing their life to sting someone. Most people can work right alongside bees in their flower gardens. Wasps are another story.

So, as you design, or alter, your property to be more usable by pollinators and songbirds you can be rewarded by the National Wildlife Federation through their Wildlife Habitat Certification program. If you provide food, water, shelter and a place to raise young…you are eligible to have your yard certified. Remember, we’re not talking about Mountain Lions and Elk, just pollinators and songbirds. If you have a birdfeeder, birdbath, and shrubs or trees you qualify.

Nobody inspects your property. Go to their website at (www.nwf.org) and complete the simple application listed under Garden for Wildlife and, for a one-time fee of only $20, they will send you a personal certificate for your home, and a one year subscription to the National Wildlife magazine. They also have metal signs that you can post to show others that you care about wildlife. Once you see the value in this, encourage neighbors to do the same. In fact, you can have portions of your entire community certified as wildlife habitat as did Nibley City in Cache County. They were the first city in Utah to do so by certifying 100 properties, and they are ready to help others around the State to join them in this rewarding effort.

Next time you’re in the grocery store, or harvesting from your own garden, remember that a lot of that food would not exist without our diligent pollinators.

This is Ron Hellstern for Wild About Utah


Additional Reading

Certify Your Wildlife Habitat, National Wildlife Federation, Accessed 20 July 2017, http://www.nwf.org/Home/Garden-For-Wildlife.aspx
Certify: http://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 http://digitallibrary.utah.gov/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=10215




Greater Sage-Grouse in Utah

Female Sage-Grouse Flying in Winter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Female Sage-Grouse Flying in Winter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Utah’s dry, sagebrush covered landscapes are home to one of North American’s largest grouse species, commonly known as the greater sage-grouse.

The females are attractive chicken-size birds with gently curved bodies. Their feathers show streaks of black, brown and gray. This pattern acts as a natural camouflage in their sagebrush habitat to help protect them from predators.

Male Sage-Grouse on Lek, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Male Sage-Grouse on Lek, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Males are distinguished from females by their majestic form and decorative feather patterns. They are often twice the size of females and can weigh over seven pounds. A thick layer of white plumage covers the males’ breast and wraps up around both sides of their thick necks. Their tails are a long spray of pointy feathers, which rise into a beautiful fan during courting season and provide the basis for their scientific name Centrocercus urophasianus derived from the Greek word “kentron” meaning spiny, “kerkos” meaning tail, and urophasianus meaning tail of a pheasant.

To help protect against predators their wing and back feathers have streaks of black, grey, and brown – similar to the females.

Buried under the male’s white breast feathers are two air sacs that remain concealed until mating season begins.
The greater sage-grouse are probably best known, by most, for their extravagant courtship rituals.

Around the beginning of March, the male grouse return to their communal mating grounds called a lek where they compete with other males to attract and breed with the females. The ritual is called lekking. The lek is in an open area where visibility is good – such as a dry lakebed.

Dominate Male Sage-Grouse with Females, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Dominate Male Sage-Grouse with Females, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
To show their dominance, the males raise their tail feathers in a magnificent fan, fill their breast sacs with air then thrust the air out of the sacs making a popping/bubbling sound as they strut around the lek in a regal fashion.

The females are attracted to the leks by the calls of the males, which can carry for over 1.5 miles. When they arrive, they roost among the males to watch their strutting performances. The hens may visit the lek several times during the breeding season before nesting.

During the courtship rituals, the females will begin searching for a nesting site. Most will choose to build their nests under the protective cover of a sagebrush bush. The female lines the bowl-shaped nest with dead grass and a few feathers. When she sits on her nest of 6-8 eggs, her camouflage colors go to work and make her nearly invisible from her surroundings. A potential predator may often pass by her as she sits motionless and in silence on her nest for a 30-day incubation period.

Week-old Sage-Grouse Chick with Transmitter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Week-old Sage-Grouse Chick with Transmitter, Courtesy & Copyright Todd Black, Photographer
Dr. Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist and director of the Berryman Institute explains, “Greater sage-grouse do not have a muscular crop and are not able to digest hard seeds like other upland game species such as the ring-necked pheasant… they depend on sagebrush for their survival. In fact, during the winter sage-grouse survive by only eating sagebrush. They are the only species that can gain weight during the winter by [consuming] sagebrush.”

Biologists estimate that since the European settlement of North America there has been a 50% decline of the sage-grouse sagebrush habitat and population.

In the late 1990’s, in an effort to reverse this trend, Messmer through Utah State University entered into a collaboration with the State of Utah and numerous other stakeholders to develop a community-based conservation plan. Its purpose was to bring local communities, agencies, and researchers together to determine the best methods to preserve sage-grouse, their sagebrush habitats, and benefit the local community – without having to list it for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

After two decades of hard work, the partners have witnessed a resurgence of the greater sage-grouse as their habitats have been protected, enhanced and expanded.

If you’d like to see greater sage-grouse, the largest populations are found in western Box Elder County, on Blue and Diamond Mountains in Uintah County in northeastern Utah, in Rich County, and on Parker Mountain in south central Utah. Just remember to bring your binoculars.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: All photos courtesy of and used with permission of Todd A. Black.
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Additional Reading

To learn more about Utah sage-grouse conservation, please go to www.utahcbcp.org.