Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Upper Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

         Waterfalls posses the power to captivate and mesmerize.  Whether a small cascade or the legendary Niagara Falls, falling water stimulates our senses and refreshes our spirits. Think about the last time you visited a waterfall.  Weren't you transfixed by the rhythm of sight and sound as the water danced over rocks and plunged into the pool below?

         Now imagine the delightful surprise of finding a waterfall in the desert.  Calf Creek Recreation Area, part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in south-central Utah, boasts two of these watery wonders.  Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls were formed as tiny Calf Creek cut through Navajo Sandstone on its way from the Boulder Mountains to the Escalante River.   While both falls offer a great reward for your effort, the lower falls see swarms of people all lured by easy access from the nearby campground along a well-worn trail.  The upper falls, by contrast, is not as easily accessed and thus not as heavily visited.

Looking across this terrain you'd never guess what lays
below.  Following this trail to find Upper Calf Creek Falls
is like following a treasure map to find hidden jewels.

Found it!  One of the desert's hidden jewels—
Upper Calf Creek Falls.

Indian Paintbrush provides a splash of color
in the sun-bleached landscape.

Several pools above the falls offer places to take a swim,
or soak your tired feet.

           It's been several years since we hiked the trail to Upper Calf Creek Falls.  As travel to southern Utah has increased exponentially in recent years, I can't guarantee that these falls are as lightly explored.  However, hidden wonders that are difficult to access are still less likely to host visitors.  For adventure, splendor, and solitude, visit this hidden desert treasure if you're traveling through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  For more information, click on this link:,-upper-trail

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter Footprints in the Rockies

          Nature is a great teacher, an endless source of learning for those willing to pay attention and observe their surroundings.  Footprints in the snow reveal a winter world alive with action, and by studying them we can determine not only the types of animals inhabiting this Rocky Mountain forest, but also the details of their daily lives.
          Here's a little quiz, using the natural world as our outdoor classroom.  Scenes A through H represent the comings and goings of various forest dwellers.  Can you match the tracks with the animal who made them?  The eight animals:  Coyote, Mouse, Elk, Weasel, Human, Squirrel, Snowshoe Hare, Mule Deer.

A.  The swish of a large tail between paw prints yields a clue
as to this animal's identity.

B.  This long, straight trail is made by a heavier animal which
makes more of an imprint on the snow.

C.  Known as a "perfect stepper" this animal carefully
places its hind paws in the tracks made by its forepaws.

D.  Anything but a perfect stepper, this animal doesn't use
stealth to attack its prey but rather uses frantic, quick,
unpredictable movements.

E.  Another track made by a large and heavy animal.
You can see how this animal lumbers through the snow,
dragging its hind legs along behind
the front ones.

F.  These small tracks show the imprint of a tail swiping the snow
between them.  This creature's prints abruptly disappear at the base of a tree
where it dives beneath the snowpack to its home in the
Subnivean Zone—the space between the ground and the snow pack
where the temperature is always 32 degrees and the animal
is protected from predators.

G.  This animal's large hind feet make a deep impression in the
snow when it hops from place to place.  The hind feet land first, followed
by the front paws.

H.  This animal is mostly a visitor to the forest, often
for recreational purposes.  During winter this creature
often attaches aids to its feet which make it easier
to walk and glide through the snow.

          Key to the quiz:

          A.  Squirrel
          B.  Mule Deer
          C. Coyote
          D.  Weasel
          E.  Elk
          F.  Mouse
          G.  Snowshoe Hare
          H.  Human  (Cross-country skis and poles made these tracks.)
         How did you do on the exam?  If you're lucky enough to have snow on the ground this weekend, take a winter hike and practice your observational skills to determine which animals share the outdoor classroom where you live.