Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chutes and Ladders

More playing in paradise! The mountain bike trails in Fruita Colorado continue to impress. If you like single track, this is the place to be! We returned to 18 Road trail system again today. Chris, the local tandem rider we met, chose to take us out on a tour while his wife was working. What a sacrifice! Since he is a professor at the local college, we had to ride in the morning as he had a class in the afternoon. He was a very gracious host for the area.

Rob and Karyn on Joe's Ridge.

For a warm up we headed up Prime Cut and descended the signature trail, Joe's ridge. Here is a sequence of photos which Chris took for us.

Rob and Karyn on Joe's Ridge.
Rob and Karyn on Joe's Ridge.
Rob and Karyn on Joe's Ridge.
Rob and Karyn on Joe's Ridge.

Finishing that loop we headed up a trail called Chutes and Ladders. As you might guess, this trail isn't flat. The ladders are short very steep climbs, followed by the chutes. You guessed it, the chutes are steep technical descents before heading up again. On the first ladder we lost traction about 3/4 of the way up. Under normal conditions we might have been able to power through it, but we were both redlined. We pushed to the top. The descents were doable, unless there was a switchback which were way too tight to get a tandem around. We conquered the second ladder, way over our redline. Ouch. From there the ladders and chutes get a little easier and the trail gets a little faster. By the time we got back to the parking lot, we were cooked. What a ride. Our friends Doug and Lanette arrive tomorrow. Hopefully we will recover before they get here. We also arranged with Chris for he and Heather to bring their tandem out on Saturday. It should be a good time. The weather is supposed to turn bad tomorrow, but clear up on Friday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kessel and Joe

We are still playing in Fruita Colorado. The weather is supposed to be unsettled all week, but there were no complaints from our party today! We awoke to another day of clear skies. The first task of the morning was to take in a little birdwatching along the Colorado River. My bird journal for Ornithology class is filling out nicely. A few interesting points were some Great-tailed Grackles performing what appeared to be a territorial display, looking to the sky and fanning their tails.

Great-tailed Grackles displaying

The path along the river was beautiful. It passes between a lake and the river. There were lots of birds to watch. The other great shot for the day was a female Northern Harrier on the far side of the river. I have always been fascinated with these birds.

Female Northern Harrier

The big excitement for the day was tandem mountain biking out 18 road. We rode for more than two hours and didn't see a soul, other than in the parking lot. This trail system is the system that made Fruita famous. To give you a taste, check out this video of 18 road trails. We rode both of the trails highlighted in the video today - Joe's Ridge and Kessel's Run. It was spectacular. The trails are smooth and winding, which makes them well suited for tandems. We were also able to find some very difficult sections as well, like the crossing from the Western Zip trail over to Joe's. We will definitely be heading back out there for some more fun. Tomorrow we are meeting up with Chris, the guy we met a few days ago with the Vantana mountain tandem. His wife has to work, but he plans to show us some more of what Fruita has to offer.

Here I am writing this blog post. I have to sit up here as it is the only way my computer can connect to the free internet!

Hanging out in the van poaching internet

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thieving Horses in Fruita

Spring Break is finally here! Finishing off my tough week of 4 exams, Karyn and I quickly headed out of town for a little rest and self abuse in the outdoors. The destination - Fruita Colorado. The mechanism of torture - our tandem mountain bike, single mountain bikes, and probably some hiking here and there. Our friends Doug and Lanette will be joining us mid-week.

After the drive to Fruita, we found a nice campsite in the Colorado National Monument. We had a nice evening relaxing from the drive.

The morning was beautiful. Crystal clear skis about 50 degree F, quickly warming up to 70. We hiked out of the campground to overlook Monument Valley. The White-throated Swifts were flying acrobatically around the edges of the canyon, their calls echoing off the canyon walls. Pinyon Jays called from behind. Common Ravens flew overhead, joined by a few Rock Pigeons. It was an amazing morning. Ok, the pigeons weren't that exciting.

Monument Valley

We finished the hike then went into town to get the run down on the mountain bike trails. The great people at Over the Edge Cycles were more than willing to provide us all of the details along with selling us a book, a map, and a few bike tubes.

We headed out to the Kokopelli trailhead to get set up. As we lowered the tandem off the van, a couple pulled in from their ride - Chris & Heather. They also had a Ventana Mountain Tandem. We talked for some time with them about the trails in the area. We will try to link up with them later in the week.

By the time we headed out the temperature was in the lower 70's, but the wind was blowing about 20 mph. It was fairly dusty, but the sun and the trails were definitely worth it. We warmed up on an easy trail called Rustler's loop. This is definitely a different type of riding than we have in Boise. We have experience with riding in Moab Utah, which is similar terrain, but it has been many years since we have been there. Our skills slowly improved as we completed the loop. From their we headed up Mary's Loop to Horsethief Bench. This loop starts with a nasty hike-a-bike down to a lower plateau. This loop is definitely a few steps up in difficulty from the beginner loop. There are three sections that only the craziest of the crazy would try to ride. We had to stop in another three or four places as we were not quite ready to risk a rocky crash on day one. At one location we were hiking our bike down a ledge as a guy behind us drops over the ledge and flies right over the handlebars, landing in a sandy area with large rocks mixed in. Luckily he was ok. We finished the ride as the wind continued to increase. The weather station says the wind is steady at 24 with gusts to 40. Hopefully it will calm down a bit.

Back in camp the wind did NOT calm down. It was howling. We feared the wind would rip the top off of our van. It was relentless through the evening and most of the night. Needless to say, we did not sleep well. The weather report would later tell us that the wind gusted to 66 mph! It finally calmed down near morning as the snow began to fall. Looks to be a hiking day instead of a riding day. We first drove the monument road. This was a useless endeavor as the visibility was so poor that we couldn't actually see the features. On a short hike to stretch our legs we heard the unmistakable notes of the song of the Canyon Wren. What a great life bird to find. This guy even posed for a few great pictures, after I ran to the van to retrieve the camera.

Canyon Wren

The weather started clearing so we decided on a longer hike from the base of Monument Valley up as far as we wanted to go. The sun came out for most of the trip as we hiked about 8 miles round trip. Another wren made its appearance as a pair of Rock Wrens took their turn in front of the camera. The lighting was just a little better for this one.

Rock Wren
Rock Wren

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The highs and lows of a busy week

Wow, what a week and it is only Tuesday! I should probably be studying for my next two exams (tonight and tomorrow), but my feeble little brain can't take any more right now. I need a little study break. I just finished my Ornithology lab practical and am exhausted. I can honestly say that I studied more for this exam than any other exam in my college careers. Probably more than double any other exam in my college careers. Well, it appears to have paid off. I don't know my score, but I think I might have gotten an A. I should know tomorrow. Yesterday's Ecology exam is more difficult to predict, maybe an A, maybe a B. Clearly four exams in three days is not the glamorous and exciting part about my return to school.

Much more interesting are the research projects. I attend a research seminar where we hear presentations from various researchers. Yesterday I sat in on a masters thesis presentation regarding seed predation of Slickspot Peppergrass by Harvester Ants. Sure, you may think this isn't exciting, but I found it tremendously fascinating. These two species are endemic to Southwest Idaho. Their carefully evolved equilibrium is being disrupted by humans. The result is that there will be winners and there will be losers. I won't reveal more until the paper is published.

It is time for me to begin thinking about an undergraduate research project of my own. I have volunteered with a few graduate students to join them on research trips in the hopes of gaining insights into the process and resources available that can be leveraged. I may find some direct ideas of my own during my participation. One study is looking into forest owls, another into Sagebrush herbivory by Sage Grouse and Pygmy Rabbits. Just today I volunteered to help out on a study of migratory and local falcons and accipiters (American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and Cooper's Hawks). For each of these projects I would be helping out on a few sessions. A new opportunity arose last week about working on a long term research project with Burrowing Owls of SW Idaho. If this project takes off I will be busy as a long term researcher on the project, collecting data twice a week. Regardless of which projects I become involved with, they are all very exciting. I can't wait to formulate my own proposals. I am hoping to develop my own proposal, execute the research , and present my results at the undergraduate research conference in Spring 2010.

This week may be the most stressful from an exam perspective, but it is also an week of opportunity.