Tag Archives: wildlife

A Dazzle of Zebra, a Journey of Giraffe and a Crash of Rhino

The journey was long, an 11 hour flight overnight and a three hour transfer into the Waterberg region in the North East of South Africa. We were particularly relieved to arrive at Ants Hill Safari Lodge not just because of the journey but due to a “mix up” with some paper work which could have seen on the next plane back home again without setting foot outside of the airport… I won’t go into detail here as I don’t want to get myself or anyone else into trouble but I will say that from now on I’m going to check, re-check and triple check all paperwork before I leave home. Thankfully the kindness of a stranger (and probably some middle class, married, white privilege) saw our holiday wasn’t ruined before it had started! And even more thankfully that was the only minor hiccup of what was otherwise the most perfect family adventure ever…

The welcome at Ant’s Hill at around 2 o’clock was warm, friendly and instantly relaxing. The weather was also warm, sweltering in fact and so some cool drinks and a light lunch was perfect. The kids were far too excited for sensible things like naps after the long journey so we had a dip in the pool before getting geared up for our first horseback safari that evening.

It was Rob’s first time ever sitting on a horse and luckily he loved it. The kids took to it too, although Alfie was a bit nervous as he still has a clear memory of our friend Angela getting kicked in the face by her own horse on our farm a couple of years ago… frankly I’m still pretty traumatised by that myself so it’s no wonder it’s well imprinted in Alfie’s mind! By the end our four days at Ant’s Hill Alfie was cantering.

On the first evening though it was a matter of easy going walks around the huge 12,500 acre reserve. Orla took to her mischievous and elderly pony and enjoyed riding so much that she started to fall asleep! I noticed from a few horses back that she was slowly slumping and sliding to the side… we had to keep her talking until we reached the sundowners.

Sundowners… drinks at sunset. Yes it is a slightly colonial concept but it’s also totally awesome to ride on horseback to a high spot for the best views over the South African mountains to watch the sunset with an ice cold glass of wine or gin and tonic. We were on holiday!! The other guests all meet at the same point so you can compare notes on animal sightings and horse riding experiences.

Us being us, we were rather relieved that there weren’t any other Brits staying for the first couple of days, although most guests were European, which, let’s face it, are rather embarrassing to be around these days whichever way one voted. At least Brexit wasn’t off bounds in conversation until other Brits turned up at which point it becomes a rather basil faulty-esque case of “don’t mention Brexit” lest we should disagree! Ahhhh… Brits abroad, all our funny ways are inflated and seem more comic than normal. Anyway, I digress…

After sundowners we get safari trucks back to the hotel, as we’ve let the horses go off into the wild to make their own way home. A bright torch scans the trees for elusive bushbabies and spots nightjars and mongoose. Dinner is superb; impala fillet, but we’re so exhausted it’s a struggle to get through and little Orla falls asleep at the table with her mouth full of impala. When Rob picked her up she woke up and carried on chewing!!

The days at Ant’s Hill are relaxed and don’t involve the traditional safari early starts; Breakfast at 7.30am-ish, hopping on the horse about 8am for a morning ride, getting right up among the zebra, giraffe, warthogs and antelope. Back for a swim about 10am and a leisurely lunch at 12ish either at the hotel or out in the South Africa bush. More pool time and parents taking turns for naps followed by another horse ride to the sundowners spot. What more could you ask of a holiday? Not a lot… but we certainly got more!

One evening instead of horse riding we climbed into the game drive vehicles and headed to the sister hotel, Ants Nest on the far side of the huge estate. The owner, Ant (obvs), is dedicated to the Save the Waterberg Rhino conservation project and to that end has a Rhino breeding programme on the reserve. At this time of year, the tail end of the dry season, they are feeding the rhinos and other animals on the reserve – an expensive necessity in this arid landscape. However, for us this meant we were able to get extraordinarily close to these magnificent, pre-historic beasts as they fed on hay just below the platform we were on. We also got to see the two week old baby rhino feeding from her fiercely protective mum. I’ll write more about the plight of the rhinos in a future post as it warrants awareness raising efforts all round.

The other incredible experience at Ant’s Hill was the opportunity to take part in a game capture. Within a managed reserve such as this it’s vital that an active game management strategy is employed to control populations and ensure the health of the various herds on the estate. There are a few leopards within the reserve but no lions or other major predators so it’s all the more important for humans to manage them. An old, lone, male buffalo was causing problems and given his genetics were already strong within the buffalo herd it was time for him to be moved to another reserve were he could sow a few more seeds. Also a male eland (the largest of the antelope) was unwell and needed to be assess by the vet and potentially isolated for a time. It was an earlier start and a picnic breakfast in the car that day as we set off in the direction of the helicopter noise. It was a rapid and bumpy drive up the mountain to where the buffalo in question had been spotted and by the time we got there the vet had already darted him (from a helicopter into exactly the right spot… IMPRESSIVE!). It takes a lot of strong men to get a buffalo onto a moving stretcher and then into a trailer. And it has to be done before the sedative wears off! It’s also important they keep his gigantic tongue out and a blindfold on him. The eland was next and after another speedy drive across the rugged terrain (because helicopters are a hell of a lot fast than cars!) we found him staggering around having just been darted again with incredible precision by the vet. This one was treated and hauled onto the stretcher but instead of going to a trailer he was moved onto a neighbours patch for a while and we got to see him being woken back up and wander off looking a bit confused.

Other highlights of our stay at Ant’s Hill include waking up to a noisy squirrel looking at me from our bathroom and watching a warthog wander past the bedroom window and then there was Craig… Craig the snake man whom our kids developed a major hero worship for. He keeps snakes; big snakes, little snakes, harmless snakes, highly poisonous snakes, fast snakes, slow snakes, friendly snakes and very unfriendly snakes… most of his snakes were a combination of those things. For example the brown house snake which is harmless, fast and friendly. Or the puff adder which is highly poisonous, very unfriendly but thankfully also slow! He brought us snakes to meet. It was an experience! The kids loved it… me? Not so much. But Craig was also great at catching lizards and geko and was an absolute font of knowledge and Patrick has decided he wants to be Craig when he grows up. He spent a fair proportion of the sundowners creating villages for the giant millipedes and then gathering millipedes to populate them faster than they could crawl away (pictured below was one that settled in his new house!).

It spoke volumes about the area that with so much on their door step Ant’s Hill was popular with people from Johannesburg as a weekend getaway and we were lucky enough to hit it off with a family whose son was Alfie’s age. I say lucky… basically they got my kids playing a game which involves rolling impala poo in your mouth and seeing  who can spit it the furthest and eating live giant flying ants. I didn’t (boring!) but the rest of them and Rob did!

Ant’s hill was only the first half of our trip, next we moved onto Madikwe Game Reserve which I’ll tell you about soon.

For all the photos from the trip follow me on Instagram @MumaDean or on Twitter or Facebook.

 

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The majestic Sable antelope was the logo for Ant’s Hill

 

Canoeing and Wild Camping

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary this year Rob and I left the kids with the grandparents and embarked on a canoe expedition course to learn the necessary skills to head off on our own adventures. In that week we fell in love with canoeing and on our return invested in two canoes and the various paraphernalia required such as life jackets, dry bags and so on. The kids have been desperate to get out on the water with us but I’m in the final stages of dissertation writing for my MSc and with weather and tide considerations a couple of weeks passed before we had a chance. That chance came last weekend and we went for it, full bore!

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We could have fit way more stuff but this is all we needed for the five of us overnight

We set off just before high tide going up stream with the flow which made for easy initial paddling. Although as we rounded a corner the wind caught us and with only my 8 year old in the front of mine we were much lighter than I had anticipated and we kept getting turned. Even with the camping kit there wasn’t a lot of weight in the canoe and it was very much in the middle (kit) and back (me)… first lesson learned in terms of kit positioning.

drifting paddling

Eventually after spinning in the water for a while and even walking along a stretch of shore until we were past the bend in the river that was catching the wind, we were back on route and arrived at our camping spot.

tide going out drying sicks high tide

Traffic on the river was busy around high tide and we didn’t want to draw too much attention so we didn’t set up the tarp until much later but we set about collecting and processing firewood. We lit the fire with a flint and steel using tinder we found around us and the kids played in the water before the tide went too far out. Rob strung them up a simple rope swing which proved fun for hours (and also caused irritating “my turn” arguments!!)

processing wood

Boys processing wood for a fire

rope swing water fun summer fun whittling

Dinner was a basic chicken curry and here I learned another lesson… when taking curry powder in a pot seal the pot in bag or decent container… the curry powder spilt in one of the dry sacks and covered EVERYTHING! I salvaged enough for dinner and sucked up the lesson. We had taken about 10 litres of water with us but actually on such a hot day and with cooking dinner and washing up this was only just enough. On our course we had learned about finding water on an expedition, filtering and sterilising but the river we were on is largely salt water so that wasn’t an option. There was a stream feeding into the river nearby that we could have got water from had we been desperate and next time we’ll take a suitable filtration system in case we need it.

cooking dinner

Cooking dinner on the fire

curry

Curry with a view

After dinner and some bird watching we set up the tarp and as the sun set we got the kids to bed and us shortly after… we had to be up at 5am to catch the outgoing tide back home or we would be stranded until mid-afternoon!

bird watching setting up tarp camp sleepign babies

The early start was brilliant, we had the camp packed down and ready to set off in half an hour and we made sure that we left no trace that we had been there… an important principle we are pressing hard on the children!

early morning

Up and ready to set off at 5.30am

The trip back was effortless on a mirror still river drifting with the tide. Of course at 5.30am we were the only human life on the river but it was teeming with bird life and the beauty of a canoe is that you can silently drift along without disturbing them.

morning shot misty morning one of me still waters

We were back at the car by 7am and heading home for a big old breakfast and a nap.

heading home for breakfast

heading home for some breakfast

Perfect Yellowstone

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After our disappointment at Yosemite we had lowered our expectations for Yellowstone, the mightiest and most famous of all the National Parks in America. It was probably wise as we had previously had very high hopes for this “Serengeti” of the Northern Hemisphere, having watched numerous spectacular nature and geology programs about the place. It was, however, unnecessary. Yellowstone did not disappoint. Far from it, our expectations, pre-Yosemite were easily surpassed and we were utterly blown away but the most incredible landscape, fascinating features, wonderful wildlife and fantastic people.

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Rob and Alfie using the scopes

One aspect of Yellowstone no-one can prepare you for is the smell! Boy O Boy does that place stink of rotten eggs and burnt matches. But that’s as wonderfully weird and interesting as all the other geological features of this super-volcano. I can’t capture the smell in photographs for you I’m afraid (although we did consider trying to bottle some for a particular Derby-dwelling, smelly bottomed friend back home). So you’ll have to settle instead for photographs of boiling mud pots, vast water squirting geysers and bottomless hot pools of magical colours.

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Stinky boiling mud pots

Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser erupting

Morning Glory pool at Yellowstone National Park

Morning Glory pool – it has to be seen to be believed!

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

The wildlife in Yellowstone is unsurpassed anywhere else in North America. We had a list of “would like to see” animals and very few were creatures we actually expected to see. Well we were just ticking them off almost hourly for the first couple of days! On expanding our list to things we never thought we would get a chance to view, Yellowstone continued to perform, tick tick tick! Now, don’t think you can just rock on up and see grizzlies, wolves and mountain goats. You need to actually look for them and be in the right place at the right time… ie. The Lamar Valley at 5am. Indeed we Deans did rise at 5am (hardcore right?), bundled the sleeping children into the car with blankets and set off to see the wolves. And it paid off, we saw two separate black wolves and a big grey fellow. You also need to stay up at dusk to see more of your bucket list species but it’s the mornings that really pay off. From coyotes and badgers to birds of prey and yellow-bellied marmots, they all rise with the sun to be seen by the hard core nature watchers.

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Loading the kids in the car at 5am, Orla was surprisingly cheerful!

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A little note on rising early for parents – If you are planning to drive a long way from your base camp for the entire day then remember to take clothes and shoes for your children to wear once the sun is up… My children may have seen the spectacular geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park but they did it in their pyjama’s and with utterly inappropriate foot wear which I ended up carrying for most of the way.

Sunrise at Yellowstone

Getting up early means spectacular misty sunrises

Sunset at Yellowstone

And staying up late means even more incredible fiery sunsets!

There are parts of Yellowstone which are particularly busy, around old faithful and anywhere a bear is hanging out near a road, thereby creating a “bear jam” as the hoards swarm to get photos. But, if you take a few of the tracks off the main roads, boy does it pay off. There is a 6 mile track between Mammoth village and Tower, where our campsite was, which was particularly quiet in the evenings and provided incredible encounters, such as a coyote hanging out with a badger right there in front of us. We also found secluded yet accessible fishing spots with no one else around and (with bear spray on Rob’s belt) we caught 6 brook trout which we ate for dinner back at the camp ground.

Fishing at Joffee Lake, Yellowstone National Park

Alfie fishing at peaceful Joffee Lake

Brook trout caught at Yellowstone

And the Brook Trout he and Rob caught which we had for dinner, yum!

The camp ground at tower was ideal for us, most of the park was easily accessible, particularly Lamar Valley where a lot of wildlife is easily spotable. All the campsites here have great fire pits and nice flat places to pitch the tent. Shady from the trees but with enough sunlight to warm up the air, we warmed water on the fire to bath the kids a couple of mornings and we all slept snuggly. Although getting out for a wee in the night in grizzly territory is a whole different experience.

bathing the baby in Yellowstone National Park

The best thing for us about the campsite was the people we met in the pitches near by. A slight disappointment for this trip for myself and Rob has been the lack of new people we have met along the way. We had imagined meeting all sorts of interesting and diverse people at campsites and in the National Parks. Admittedly we’ve met some lovely people at our wwoof placements and friends we’ve stayed with whom we already knew a little but at the campsites people have very much kept themselves to themselves. Until Yellowstone that it. The first night we arrived the children were invited to a s’mores campfire party which they loved and the next few nights we happened to find ourselves next to one of the most interesting and fun couples we could have hoped for. Bruce and Pat – wolf educators, film makers and authors, also brilliant with kids. Having lived with a wolf for 16 years they had fascinating stories and interesting takes on current hot topics. I shall tell you more about Bruce and Pat after we stay with them at the end of June at their Montana home but on returning to our tent after a late night wildlife watching we discovered our tent decorated with fairy-lights, lighting the way for our sleeping babies safely to their beds. Kind gestures make the best memories.

Camping at Yellowstone

Coming home to find the fairies had been

Everyone we met in Yellowstone were fantastic and interesting and helpful except for one nutty lady who wouldn’t shut up, convinced that there were both Bison and Buffalo there, two separate species, hard to tell apart… “you’ll have to ask an American Indian to know the difference”. Oh and “the brown coloured black bears are actually brown bears”… Right Oh! Apart from her (there’s always one!) people shared tips, stories and experiences as soon as there was a clear interest and everyone was helpful and kind to the children. We went to see the ranger, Jim, who we had met a month ago in Canyonlands National Park and got more fantastic tips about where to see our tick list species, and the harder things to spot… though a live skunk still eludes us.

So here is our list of what we saw in Yellowstone (there are plenty more things we’ve seen elsewhere in the States but that list will come at the end of the trip). It’s not totally exhaustive and there are plenty more birds which we didn’t positively identify but this is the vast majority:

Mammals and reptiles

Grizzly Bears

Wolves

Black Bears

Big horn sheep

Mountain goats

Elk

Moose

Bison

Unita ground squirrel

Beaver

Badger

White tail deer

Mule deer

Red fox

Yellow-bellied marmot

Coyote

Bull snake

Chipmunk

Jack rabbit

Common muskrat

Pronghorn

 

Birds and waterfowl

Osprey

Mountain bluebird

Red tailed hawk

Swainson’s hawk

Scaup

Trumpeter swan

American kestrel

Western tanager

Yellow rumped warbler

Northern flicker

Stellers jay

Brown headed cow bird

Brewer’s blackbird

Common loon

Sandhill crane

Common Merganser

Blue winged teal

Western meadow lark

Cliff swallow

Violet-green swallow

Tree swallow

American white pelican

Buffle head

Golden eye

Raven

Magpie

Killdeer

Rough grouse

Williamson’s sapsucker

Red-winged blackbird

Red breasted nuthatch

Canada goose

Great blue heron

It’s almost impossible for me to explain the magic of Yellowstone in a blog post and my amateur photographs really don’t do it justice. If you have even a vague interest in wildlife or geology then you must put this place on your bucket list. Save up, do it on a budget in a tent, get up at 4.30 or 5am to make the most of it and just do it. You’ll never forget the massive bear tracks in the mud crossing your path or the experience of seeing wolves eating a bull elk carcass. The incredible fire like sunsets will burn in your memories along with the vast sky with ever changing clouds casting shadows on the most incredible and diverse landscape. The revolting yet fascinating smells will linger in your nose to remind you of the volcanic activity bubbling away below you as you live and breath forever touched by perfect Yellowstone.

Black bear at Yellowstone

Black bear

Bison at Yellowstone

Bison

bison with calf at Yellowstone

Muma bison feeding her baby

Beaver at Yellowstone

Beaver munching some branches

Bull elk at Yellowstone

A regal bull elk from a distance

Trumpeter swan at Yellowstone

Trumpter swan

Coyote at Yellowstone

Camouflaged coyote

Yellow-bellied marmot at Yellowstone

Yellow bellied marmot with a snowy backdrop

Bear tracks at Yellowstone

Fresh bear tracks in the mud by the board walk around the hot springs and geysers

Hot spring at Yellowstone

One of the magical hot springs bubbling and boiling away

Boiling mud pots at Yellowstone

Vast and stinky, boiling mud pots

A small geyser at Yellowstone

A small geyser erupting and spluttering over us

Beaver at Yellowstone

And finally, here is the beaver from Joffee Lake again

Achieving our goals

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This week Alfie achieved something amazing. He carved a spoon from a piece of wood using his pen knife. It took this determined 6 year old three whole days of fairly constant work. He has blisters on his little hands and his arm is aching. But it was worth it. It is beautiful. And it is practical! Rob and I supported him, we helped a little with the curvy neck bit and I gouged out the bowl with the finger slicing crook knife but ultimately he did it himself through his own focus and skill. He listened when we gave him instruction and he worked carefully and safely with his penknife.

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Early on with his lump of wood – a half log you would likely throw on the fire – it didn’t resemble a spoon in the slightest and the task looked almost impossible, he didn’t lose hope. He just sat by the fire and pressed on. And with each stroke of his knife on the hard, dry wood the spoon came a little more into his sight. In the middle, when you could sort of see the shape but there was still an awfully long way to go doing more of the same, he didn’t get bored, he kept on carving, through snow and wind and hail, warmed by the fire he worked thoughtfully. Towards the end when the spoon shape was there but he then had four rounds of sanding to go before it was finished he didn’t give up, or try to rush through it. He worked carefully with the different grades of sand paper to get the beautiful smooth finish it deserved.

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The long sanding process

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When it was finally finished I helped him carve an A on the top for Alfie, we stained it with charcoal to make it stand out. We washed the spoon, oiled it and he ate his dinner with it that night. We are going to buy him a proper bushcraft knife for carving when we find the right one for him, he has earned it. And he has decided that when he grows up he wants to be an instructor at Woodlore, Ray Mears’ school of bushcraft.

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Finished!

Reflecting on our goals from my post back in January we are all managing to do the things we came here to achieve. We’ve seen wildlife ranging from coyotes and moose to chipmunks and marmots. We’ve encountered bald eagles and golden eagles, mountain blue birds and road runners. Bats and owls, lizards and alligators, we really have seen so much! Robs doing well with identification and both boys are great with binoculars. Admittedly though Orla is louder than ever so we have a little work there still!

The geology we’ve experienced has ranged from the northern forests in the depth of a snowy winter, southern swamps coming to life in Spring, deep red canyons and bleak and scorching deserts with giant cactus. We’ve driven high winding passes on the snow capped Rockies and long straight highways across the Great Plains. We’ve smelled the Californian orange blossom and explored deep caves created during the birth of mountains.

Our children have witnessed fire produced from friction and developed skills in wildlife watching. They are resilient and developing skills in self reliance. They are great spotters and have such an interest in the sights were seeing… “Woooooowwwww” and “quick look” comes frequently from the back seat. They recognise deer, elk, turkey vultures, American robins and dozens of other species of mammals, reptiles and birds. They even spot tracks and signs along the way. Although I must admit the “home schooling” has rather gone out the window and there’s a fair amount of bickering in the back too (they are kids after all). But they’ve met people from all sorts of cultures and religions, they’ve learned about race issues and seen the place Martin Luther King died. They’ve learned about history and conflicts and witnessed the differences in nations.

Yet as we cross the continent for the second time we remain excited about what is yet to come. Tracking skills in Yellowstone, ranching in Montana, taking part in a charity run in Washington DC, eventually seeing a bear and crossing back across the length of Canada, and so much more!

A bad day turned good

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We reached our limit camping in the Rocky Mountains… The snow was too much. Day time temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius and night time temperatures dropping to -6 was a little too low for the Dean kids and the bad mood of the youngest who is unfortunately cutting her last teeth was taking us to the edge of reason and sanity. So despite loving where we were and gaining so much from the fantastic knowledge and experience of our host, Robin, we took the decision to move on to warmer climates for camping. We are heading back to the Appalachian Mountain range.

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Camping in the snow with a toddler is a step too far for even for us.

We had a brilliant time at Earth Knack and achieved lots despite the weather and toddler tantrums. We dug flowerbeds, build bridges, Rob did some tree work and the kids always love watching him working with a chainsaw. We potted up seedlings, prepared communal meals and emptied the compost toilets. We also made great new friends with Gray and Suzannah, the interns there now.

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The bridge Rob built with Suzannah and Gray

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Watching daddy working… and freezing!

We were a bit sad packing up but as the two younger kids decided to really step up the bad behaviour we knew the decision was the right one and we cracked on. But we decided to head to some hot springs to get clean and have some fun. It worked and we emerged clean and refreshed, ready to hit the road.

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Breakfast in the snow!

It’s funny how things turn out though because at this point things improved… Not only did we find the most delicious Chinese food in America a little cafe we happened to stop at but we then spotted a Golden Eagle feasting on it’s freshly caught prey in a field. We were able to stop right by the edge of the field and get an incredible view of it tearing the dead creature to pieces. It’s the first time I’ve seen a Golden Eagle and it was spectacular, breath taking and skin tingling.

Driving late into last night we drove along snowy mountain passes as the temperature dropped around us. But snugly in the car we knew a warm motel bed and indoor toilet awaited us instead of a freezing tent.

This morning, refreshed we headed to the Rocky Mountain National Park. The vast majority of it was shut due to the heavy snow but we went ten miles into the park in the hope of finally seeing a bear. Sadly the bears still elude us but we did spot moose, pelicans on a lake and some yellow bellied marmots which more than made up for the closed road and lack of bears.

Heading East again now past Denver we’ll be driving through Kansas tomorrow and on to Tennessee, the Appalachians and warmer weather. We might make it right over to the east coast for a beach day… We haven’t seen the sea for months which is a strange feeling when you’re used to seeing it from the kitchen window at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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The Big Trees – Sequoia National Park

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Rob loves trees – Big time. So seeing the biggest trees in the world was an ambition of his. A bucket list item. The Sequoia’s in the Sierra Nevada aren’t the tallest trees in the world, nor do the have the biggest circumference, but they do have the greatest mass and are the oldest living things on the planet. They really are giants.

Happy family Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

The “Happy Family” copse of Sequoias

Visually, although their size is impressive, it is more their beauty that strikes. Their majestic presence is humbling and it is impossible not to be utterly wowed by them. The red bark is soft to the touch on the older trees and has a dull hollow sound when knocked upon… giving you an overwhelming desire to find a secret door somewhere around their vast girth. And often a dark door like opening is found in the form of a fire scar, allowing you to actually step inside drawing you further into their magic.

Sequoia National Park

Inside a massive Sequoia’s burn scar

For me, more than their size and beauty, (as if they aren’t enough), the invincibility of the sequoia’s is perhaps their most awesome quality. They don’t die of old age! Imagine that! They literally live forever if they are not toppled in a storm or cut down by man. Far from fire being a foe it is their friend… they depend on it to reproduce. The tiny seeds wait patiently in their dangling cones for up to twenty years until a forest fire, in the past started naturally by lightening but now either deliberately by their protectors or ignorantly by visitors too lazy to put bottles and cigarettes in bins, burns the floor around them and dries up the cones for them to drop their seeds. Once dropped the seeds land softly in the perfectly fertilised, ashy forest floor with all local competition, bar it’s parent tree, wiped out by the life giving fire.

Sequoia tree bark

The Bark of the Sequoia’s is resistant to fire, fungus and insects, making the tree almost invincible. It’s soft to the touch and sounds deep and hollow.

Even once fallen these never-ending trees go on, taking centuries or even millennia to degrade. In the process providing habitats to innumerable species of fauna and flora, even humans.

fallen sequoia

The trunk of this fallen sequoia has provided a home for humans over a number of decades in the last two centuries. For a sense of perspective spot Orla inside.

fallen Sequoia

Once fallen these mighty giants can take millennia to decompose. This has already been here for centuries.

Sequoia National Park offers more than big trees too. Near our camp at Potwisha is hospital rock where evidence of the five century long settlement of the Potwisha people intrigues the mind of us wanna be hunter gatherers. Over 500 people lived in the village, sustained by acorns ground in these grinding holes in the rocks like permanent and massive pestle and mortars, and other abundant resources in these luscious mountains. Their pictographs adorn the split rock over one hundred years on from their demise… their first encounter with white people. Although not malicious, they were befriended by the areas new settlers and within a decade so many had been killed by newly introduced diseases that the survivors dispersed and the village site abandoned.

Pictographs at hospital rock Potwisha, Sequoia National Park

Pictographs by the Potwisha people at Hospital Rock

grinding holes at hospital rock, potwisha, Sequoia National Park

Grinding holes made by centuries of acorn grinding by the Potwisha people at Hospital Rock.

The wildlife in sequoia is impossible to miss. Woodpeckers are as common as sparrows and almost every bit of dead wood has neat lines of stored acorns. Deer meander through the campsite and squirrels and chipmunks dart around the undergrowth of the pretty oaks. At night bats, far bigger than our British ones come out with audible calls and there is as much wild sound after dark as in the day.  

woodpecker at Potwisha camp ground Sequoia National Park

A woodpecker welcomes us to Potwisha Camp Ground

acorns stored by a woodpecker

Acorns stored by a woodpecker. Every bit of standing dead wood was covered in long lines of holes filled with acorns.

Lizard

A lizard popped out to say hi too

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Canyon Country Photos

Monument Valley

Here are  the photos from the last week travelling through Arizona and Utah’s canyon country and the Navajo Nation.

For accompanying story behind the pictures see my last post Deserts deserts everywhere.

The start of the week was in Flagstaff where we visited the Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

The home of the telescope that discovered Pluto and the site where dark matter was first stumbled upon by accident!

And got to witness with expert commentary the rising of Earth’s shadow in the East as the sun set in the West.

waiting for earth's shadow

waiting for the shadow to reach the horizon. You see how there is a point in the middle where the trees have no shadows… that’s directly opposite the sun setting behind us.

Earth's Shadow

Earth’s shadow nearly full before dispersing into the dark night sky.

We moved onto the Grand Canyon, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Grand Canyon

There was a slight hazy in the air thanks to pollution from the west coast cities but it was an impressive sight none the less.

Muma Dean and team at Grand Canyon

Us all at the Grand Canyon

Elk at Grand Canyon

We spotted a cow elk while there, just chilling in the shade

Patrick Dean mooning at grand canyon

And strangers enjoyed Patrick’s very own Grand Canyon

We moved on through the desert and driving late we got to enjoy some spectacular sunsets over the next few nights

desert sunset

Desert Sunset over a vast landscape

The drive to Monument Valley was fantastic… just as imagined from films (picture at top) and we passed various interesting points

Mexican Hat Rock in Navajo Nation

Mexican Hat rock in the Navajo Nation country

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Delicate desert flowers in this harsh habitat

Monument Valley

Team Dean at Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Wild country at Monument Valley. A 4×4 is required for the 17 mile track.

We moved onto Bryce Canyon on Thursday. Now this may be a little controversial but I, personally, think that Bryce Canyon is a little bit more spectacular and special than the Grand Canyon. Yes, the Grand Canyon is vast on an almost unimaginable scale even when stood there looking at it but Bryce… well Bryce is eye poppingly, brain frazzlingly, skin tinglingly beautiful. It’s colours are more vibrant and it’s geology more unique and interesting… Well I think anyway. On top of there there is more wildlife easy to spot with fewer people and the subsequent need for less car parking and so on and due to the extreme conditions at Bryce the plants have adapted in fascinating and incredible ways. We spotted prairie dogs and chipmunks as well as various birds and interesting flora.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

The day was perfect for viewing the Canyon and there weren’t many people around

Bryce Canyon

The boys looking over the edge at Bryce Canyon. There is a fair element of stress visiting canyons with such little children… we had Orla on a lead but the boys were hard to control at times!

tree at Bryce Canyon

Check out the roots on this tree. It’s incredible how they can adapt to thrive in these challenging positions

twisted tree at Bryce Canyon

A tree which has grown twisted on the edge of the Canyon

Grottos at Bryce Canyon

Grottos are an interesting feature of the canyon edges

road to bryce canyon

Even the road to Bryce Canyon, through mountains and little villages, offers impressive views and magical landscapes