Saturday, June 29, 2013

A pinyon-juniper woodland in Grand Canyon National Park

Mary Lou and I have just returned from a twelve-day 1300 mile trip in a 31 foot motor home with our daughter, her husband and their two daughters. We started out in Phoenix, Arizona and explored south to Tucson and Tombstone, then looped up to the northern end of the state, venturing into southern Utah. The campsites had either no WiFi or such limited bandwidth that the Internet was generally inaccessible. Cellphone was not available in some of the far northern reaches of the state, especially in canyons. Although it was not a birding trip per se, there were many opportunities to observe the bird life. I was able to fill two 32 GB flash cards with over 2,000 photos but now face the task of reviewing, selecting and processing the images.

My intent was to report on the adventure in an orderly fashion, so I started working on the images from the first few days. It was very slow going, and there have been demands on my time since returning to Illinois. Happily, our granddaughter, who recently turned nine years old, asked if she could compose a blog about a walk we took while camping in Grand Canyon Trailer Village. We were located at the far northern edge of the campground, next to the forest and within walking distance of the South Rim of the canyon. I was only too happy to agree, though I had to search for photos to illustrate her adventure in the pinyon-juniper woodlands that surrounded our campsite.

These are Graciela's words:

We are out taking an RV trip in Arizona. After one night at a motel in Phoenix, we drove the RV to Tucson where we stopped at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. It was so hot I was burning up. We walked the trails and I found an Elf Owl in one of the exhibits. It flew down and picked meal worms out of the fingers of a volunteer.

Elf Owl 20130614 - Copy

One exhibit had a Roadrunner. I had never seen a real one before.

Graci with roadrunner 20130614

Graci at Desert Museum 2-20130614

Graci at Desert Museum 20130614

There were neat things such as Spotted Geckoes, Rock Rattlesnakes and Leaf-nosed Bats. We saw an Ocelot but it was sleeping and mostly out of sight. There was a Gray Fox hiding in one of the exhibits. A Bobcat woke up and popped out of hiding.

Bobcat 20130614 - Copy

The next day we went to Tombstone where it rained for the first time in many days.The people ran out in the rain and really liked getting wet.

Tombstone AZ HDR 3-20130615 Tombstone rain walker 20130615

We are now visiting the Grand Canyon for three days and will go on to Lake Powell for three more.

Grand Canyon sunset HDR 20130617

We visited some very high places out on the edge of the Grand Canyon. We looked for California Condors but could not see any.

Graci at Hopi Point 20130617

There are are woods right near our campground and Grampa wanted to go for a walk to see if there are any elk. Earlier in the morning he found three elk.

Elk 20130618

Elk 3-20130618

Elk 4-20130618

I wanted to bring my little kitty Mimi and Gramps said yes. The very first thing I saw was a bluebird, but I did not know it was a bluebird. At first I did not see the blue but I absolutely positively knew it was not a robin. It was smaller than a robin. I called Grandpa over and said "Gramps come here, I found a bird!" He came over and said "By golly that is a bluebird." Then he told me that bluebirds were relatives of robins. He took a picture and after he zoomed in on the picture I could see it had a blue back. 

Western Bluebird.

Western Bluebird 3-20130618

A little later we saw another one and it had a much more blue back.

Western Bluebird 4-20130618

I discovered something that looked interesting and told Grampa, "I found a place where a squirrel has been storing nuts!" He came over and after looking closely for a while said, "No Graci, those are old elk scat." Later we found some fresh black ones.

Old Elk scat 20130618

We continued walking some more and I saw a rock with crystals sticking out. I called Grampa over again and he said it was quartz.

Quartz deposit in rock 20130618

There were strange lines on the top of this rock and he said they looked like fossils.[Editor's note-- these were most likely striations on the face of the limestone caused by the movement of ancient mountain glaciers]

Striations on limestone rock 20130618

Then we came across some sandstone. I ran my hand across it and it felt like loose sand.

Sandstone 20130618

Mimi ended up sitting on it.

Graci with Mimi on sandstone 20130618

Grampa showed me Ponderosa Pine and also Pinyon Pine which had smaller needles. I told him we have a Ponderosa Pine at school but he said he thinks it does not grow in Illinois. He showed me one way of telling if it's Ponderosa. Its bark smells like Vanilla Wafers. Sure enough, it did!

Mature Ponderosas bark has the distinct smell of vanilla. Graci sniffing Ponderosa bark 20130618

I had Mimi smell the bark too.

Mimi sniffs bark 20130618

We also saw a family of ravens. Grandpa explained to me that the young bird has yellow near the corners of its beak. This helps convince the mother to feed the baby when she sees the yellow when its mouth is open.

Common Raven juvenile 20130618

Old Common Raven

Common Raven adult 20130618

We saw chickadees and nuthatches as well, but we did not see any elk. Boo-hoo!!

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee 20130619

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch 20130619

Pygmy Nuthatch

Pygmy Nuthatch 20130618

On our way back we saw a little baby rabbit. It had a white cotton-tail and very long ears compared to the ones we have in Illinois. It has longer ears not only for better hearing but because the ears have lots of blood vessels and they help get rid of the heat.

Cottontail Rabbit 20130618

= = = =

During our little walk it was wonderful seeing and experiencing Graci's exuberance,  inquisitive nature and love of discovery. Sorry I took the lazy way out of doing my weekly blog, but I hope to be caught up before Graci hands me another one! By the way, we DID see California Condors the next day, but that's another story. A cow elk also walked right past our RV on the morning we departed for Lake Powell.


  1. What a great trip! I enjoyed the photos and all the birds. I would love to see a roadrunner. Great shots!

  2. Well done Gracie for keeping Grandpa on his toes.

    Super series of pics from your trip Ken. Good luck with all that processing!

  3. Beautiful shots of the place with so many interesting birds to see.

  4. What a lovely post full of stories, views and great birds. Did you know that the Road runner is a member of the Cuckoo family. I have never seen one, To me it looks more like a Beach or Stone Curlew!! Have a great weekend. Margaret

  5. I lived in Tucson for a little over 10 years, and we were members of the Outdoor Desert Museum. And, what a place it is!! Your photos and commentary by Graciela are superb!! It was like going home again for me. Oh, and not to mention Tombstone...the O K Corral, and the silver and turquoise jewelry.

    Did you get to go to Xavier Mission just on the outskirts of Tucson in the Tucson Mountains?!!!

  6. What a wonderful trip you had! I love all the animals and Gracie is adorable. I would love to visit the Grand Canyon one day, but it's a long way from over here. Enjoy your weekend!

  7. cute little grand. :) love the roadrunner. :)

  8. What a great trip you had! Beautiful shots. I was at the Grand Canyon last week. Still working on my pictures. We saw elk but I could never get a shot of one.

  9. You've seen some fabulous scenery and wildlife on your trip.

  10. wow, that´s a great blogpost. So much fun to see through Graci´s eyes. :)
    Thanks for brighten my day. :)

  11. Great pictures, Ken, and wonderfully written post. Your granddaughter is lucky to have you to teach her about the natural wonders all around.

  12. Great tour!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  13. Great set of pictures - I do like the man in the rain.

    Stewart M - Melbourne

    PS; looking forward to more birds next wednesday.

  14. What a great place to see wildlife!

  15. Thanks for sharing a great collection of photos!

  16. Awesome photos! How cool to see the owl and roadrunner up close! The bobcat, too! I absolutely love your elk shots!

  17. Gracie did a great job on her blog post and these photos are wonderful. I also learned quite a few things that I did not know before. Thank you for such an interesting read.
    Have a great week,
    An English Girl Rambles

  18. Your granddaughter did a great job of the post and of course the photos are awesome! I look forward to reading more about the trip.

  19. Marvellous shots! And the commentary by Graciela is wonderful! She reminds me of my granddaughter who is 8. They even have the same colour nail polish!

  20. Ken, Please tell Grace that I really enjoyed her commentary on your joint adventure. She really kept you on your toes in answering all those questions, just like my own granddaughter Olivia (8 in September). What a wonderful place to visit, something I only see on the movies. The guy in the rain looks how I feel this week.

  21. Your granddaughter is CHARMING!!! I LOVED reading this!

  22. Your granddaughter's diary made me smile, how sweet, both the telling and the girl! Fantastic photos of everything!

    By the way, I'm sure you will get a photo of the Osprey taking a fish some day!
    Greetings Pia

  23. Ken -- you can let Gracie (I hope I spelled that right) blog anytime; I loved it! She is a true nature lover and a great narrator. Please let her know I loved "going along" with the two of you on your hike. I didn't know the reason that the desert cottontails have such long ears! I'm glad to know that.

  24. Graciela, thank you for describing part of your trip! I really enjoyed reading about your adventures and seeing the photographs your Grampa took. It looks like you had a really good time, even if it was hot!

    Ken, great post!

  25. Great photos and lovely to hear about this part of your trip in your grand-daughter's words.


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