Vacation-4

For the past few days we have been in and out of Glacier National Park and greatly enjoying ourselves.

I noticed they have Pacific Yew trees in the park.  This tree was the first source of Taxol (paclitaxel), a chemotherapy drug given to my wife for her breast cancer.  It was neat hiking, with my wife, by the tree that had a part in treating her breast cancer.

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While We Were Hiking

lizardWhile my wife and I were hiking this morning, we noticed a young Chuckwalla warming itself on the rocks.   From nose to tip of tail, this one was probably 4 inches (10 cm) long and when (if) this one grows up, it will be 3 to 4 times longer.  Among “local lizards”, only the Gila Monster is bigger.

When they feel threatened they will run into a narrow crevice in the rocks and take a deep breath.  Their loose skin allows them to expand and that wedges them in the crevice.  Fully expanded and at the back of a deep crevice, they are difficult to dislodge and are immune to most threats.

Bugs and Ice

The desert southwest has had morning low temperatures dipping below freezing and is a bit cold for us desert dwellers.  For someone living “up north”, slightly below freezing isn’t that cold, but we aren’t accustomed to cold.  Heat, on the other hand–I’ve been running when it’s 110F/43C and  had lots of company on the trail.

bug

The “bug” was probably 3 inches/7cm long from head to tail and I was kind of surprised to see it out and about.  Desert bugs don’t like the cold either.

If you look closely at the top right area of the image…that’s ice floating atop the water at the spring….at 2pm….

Bugy, it’s cold outside.

Nice Weather for a Hike

Winter in the USA desert southwest is the best time for hiking.  The temperatures are nice (40F-70F/4C-20C) and there are usually winter rains that bring the desert life out into the open.

Today my wife and I went on a 6 hour (10  mile) walk in a desert wash in the nearby mountains.

If you’re not familiar with the term “desert wash”, “arroyo” and “wadi” are equally good words to describe this.   Imagine a sandy bottomed dry stream bed that has water only during (and shortly after) a rain.  Since we were in the mountains, put the dry stream bed in a small canyon, add gravel, rocks and house sized boulders, and you have an idea of what we were hiking through.

pool

For a sense of scale, the rock in the picture is about 15 feet wide and most likely got moved here by the rushing water….so this is not a hike for a rainy day.

This also shows how the rushing water can erode the rock to form low spots where water can be trapped.

Bee2

Just above this clean pool of water was another, much smaller pool.  This one was covered in algae.

While we were standing there, enjoying the complete absence of man made noise, we watched the bees land on the algae, collect water and fly off.  At any one time, there were probably 50-60 bees sitting atop the algae.  I tried, several times, to get a decent picture of the whole bee covered pool, but they didn’t show up in the image.  So, I went the other way and got a nice (for a cellphone camera) closeup of a bee.

For what it’s worth, if you have never experienced a “no made made noise” place, you should seek one out as it is a most amazing experience.

 

The sides of the wash that are shaded for most of the day are still damp and the desert plants are making the most of the opportunity.

Mallow

White Sands National Monument

Near Alamogordo, NM is the White Sands National Monument.  It is an “otherworldly” place that is perhaps this way because it’s only 120 miles/200Km from Roswell, NM.  🙂

It has the distinction of being the only place I’ve ever walked in the desert where walking barefoot was better than walking while wearing shoes.  I love going barefoot!!!

 

And now some pictures.

When I plotted the almost 2 mile (3k) long hike route on Google Maps’ satellite view, it looked like I was walking on a frosted cake.

WhiteSandsScreenshot

 

And, here is a view of the dunes that was taken at about the “1” on the map in the above picture.

WhiteSandsDunes_resized

Each time the wind blows, the footprints are obliterated, so one just follows the orange (made by Carsonite) signs as if they were cairns.  It’s kind of a neat experience.

The park service does offer permits to camp overnight on the dunes.  My wife and I are planning to go back there and do this when there is a full moon.  I can’t wait to see what the place is like when there is a full moon!

 

And finally, just in case someone thinks there is no life on these dunes, there were plants, ants, lizards and lots of birds (probably hunting lizards).  The only moving things that moved slowly enough for me to get a picture were some ants.  I followed the line of ants to a plant and just stood there watching them.

WhiteSandsAnts

The ants in the white sand brought back a memory from when I was 5 or 6 years old. My parents bought me an “Ant Farm”.  I don’t know if that was the actual name of it, or if that is just what I called it.  Anyway, it had a green plastic frame and two clear plastic windows spaced about an inch (2cm) apart.  A white sand was put into the “farm” and then ants were then added.  The ants would then dig their tunnels and the narrow gap between the windows guaranteed that the ants could be seen working in the tunnels.    Ants were fascinating to me when I was 5 years old and are still fascinating to me even now.