Home in the Desert

A black-tailed jackrabbit sits in the Sonoran Desert in the Brown's Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As we make our home in the desert it is painfully clear to me as I hike, suited up with bottles of water and protective sun gear, that I will never be at home in the desert, not like they are, the animals who live here. This black-tailed jackrabbit can leap 5 or 10 feet at a time and reach speeds up to 40 mph, but on this morning it casually sauntered off into its desert home.

Rock Squirrel

A rock squirrel looks out from a crevice in the massive rock formation known as Tom's Thumb in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A rock squirrel lives up to its name as it crawls along a crevice in the massive rock formation known as Tom’s Thumb in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It had been at the base of the formation but crawled way up into the crevice when hikers with a dog approached. This is not a new species for me, we saw one during our visit to New Mexico a decade ago, but it is nice to be reunited. I owe a lot to that trip, not only because we had a great time but because it got me thinking about moving to the Southwest when looking for a job. I’ll eventually make it over to New Mexico but for now I’m focusing on trails near our home in Scottsdale.

Goodbye Washington, I Love You

A hoary marmot rests on a rock in the late afternoon on the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park

Washington lies across the Columbia River just to our north. I’ve spent a lot of time at Ridgefield and I’ve written about my love for that little refuge but there are two more parks that are near and dear to my heart: Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. The Olympics literally go from the rugged coast (and tide pools) to rain forests to the snow-capped Olympic mountain range, along with plants and animals endemic to the Olympic peninsula. Rainier has its massive namesake where you can easily hike trails from the lodges and within minutes see pikas and marmots. There are many other trails too, such as the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area where I met this hoary marmot sunning itself on the rocks. Sometimes I saw bears in both parks, sometimes quite close, sharing the trail with me. Deer and elk, birds, ground squirrels, so much wonderful wildlife living in such breathtaking scenery.

Washington has many other wonders I never explored, I never even visited Seattle for that matter apart from one quick business trip. But I could have explored these parks alone for the rest of my life and never gotten bored. Goodbye, I love you.

Goodbye Oregon, I Love You

A harbor seal watches from the surf near Cobble Beach on a rainy day at Yaquine Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon

I discovered right away during my interview trip 21 years ago that Oregon was where I belonged. One of the managers found out I liked to hike and took me hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, then the other students and I had the weekend to go out the coast and explore whatever we wanted.

That wonderful Gorge is a half hour drive to the east. My beloved Ridgefield National Wildlife is half an hour to the north (across the river in Washington). Snow-capped Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens are visible from Portland and an easy drive too. Well known for its waterfalls and wetlands and lush forests and rugged coast, all of which I dearly love, there are also high deserts and sand dunes and even redwoods all the way south.

Scenes like this, a curious harbor seal poking up out of the surf at Yaquina Head on a rainy day at the coast, gave me as much pause about moving to Arizona as the summer heat. Oregon has so much to offer, so much that delights me, so much I will miss. Goodbye, I love you.

Not for the Squeamish

A female American kestrel eats a mouse at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

A female American kestrel pulls apart what looks like a mouse at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on a winter morning in 2006. There are a couple of species of mice at the refuge that I’m aware of, deer mice and Pacific jumping mice, but I have no idea which this is (was). Some predators at the refuge swallow their prey whole, while others like kestrels pull them apart and eat just the parts they want and toss aside the rest.

In the Shadows

A coyote pauses in front of a blackberry thicket at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

A coyote pauses in the shadow of a dense thicket of blackberries, invasives that are widespread across parts of the Pacific Northwest including Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. The coyote was next to the parking lot at the trailhead for the Kiwa Trail, I got to see and hear it howl in the sunlight before it sauntered up to the blackberries and started down the trail (which was closed to humans, I watched the coyote from my car).

Little, But Less So

Two black bear cubs walk single-file up a hillside

Two black bear cubs follow their mother (she’s just out of frame to the right) up a hill in Yellowstone National Park in October 2006. She was very protective of these two, when another adult bear came wandering by she sent them scurrying up a tree without waiting to see if the other bear meant trouble (it didn’t). The cubs were still quite small compared to an adult but were much heavier than they would have been in the spring, a necessity for the winter that arrives early in Yellowstone.