Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Secrets of 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
Older 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. This is wonderful! She did a great job helping out with the narration. Looks like you all had a fantastic journey!

  2. How fortunate Graci is to have such a knowledgeable grandfather. Sounds like you all had a terrific time and observed many beautiful birds and other wildlife. Great narration and fantastic photographs! A joy to read.

  3. Exceptional post! Really enjoyed reading and viewing the fabulous photos!

  4. that is such a cute bunny rabbit
    looks like you are all seeing wonderful sites
    wishing you a cool breeze, that heat can be hard
    it was fun to see this post.

  5. Cool post, Ken! What a delight to have such a smart and curious granddaughter! She'll go far. Congrats!