Thanksgiving on the Beach

As we start this new year I’ve been thinking about the past year. 2016 was a big year for Kristina and I as we got married and started our new life together. It was a year of a lot of firsts, including our first Thanksgiving together as a married couple. We decided that rather than celebrating with either of our families it would be fun to celebrate a Thanksgiving with just the two of us – or almost just the two of us, since we were including our three dogs – Leo, Charlie, and Harley. We rented a cozy little cabin from some people who were kind enough to let us bring the dogs.

We did a lot of our cooking in advance, so we would have more time for other activities on Thanksgiving Day, and we decided a fun activity would be driving to nearby Moon Lake and spending some time there.

We drove through the Moon Lake Campground and took a little road down to the beach, where we got out with our dogs and walked, and ran, through the snow to the edge of the lake. As we made our way along the shore I spotted an old torn tennis ball and picked it up. Leo loves tennis balls and was ready to play with this one, so we took his leash off and started throwing the ball for him. We were grateful for that ball, because we had much fun playing fetch with Leo there on the beach, and it gave us a chance to work on Leo’s training at being off-leash (we knew the game would keep him with us). Running around on a snowy beach must not be everybody’s idea of fun, because we had the whole place to ourselves. The quiet and solitude were great!

We left the beach and drove down to an old side-road, no longer open to vehicles, that I was familiar with. Kristina and I and the three dogs hiked up the road a ways, enjoying the spectacular mountain scenery as we went. It felt so good to be out in the fresh mountain air. We returned to the car and headed back for the cabin, ready for a feast and some relaxation.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all kinds of healthy organic foods – including beets from our own garden. I was amazed at how sweet and delicious our apple pie was, with not a bit of sugar added – just the natural sweet-tart flavor of Granny Smith apples.

After dinner we played some intense rounds of a board game called Octi. It’s a great strategy game that my family discovered years ago, but that I hadn’t played for a long time. Kristina had never played it before but quickly caught on, and we each had our share of wins and losses.

Kristina and I both see the importance of spending time without the distraction and interference of electronic devices – and, other than a quick call to each of our families, we didn’t spend any time on our phones. And we didn’t watch any television or connect to the internet. Electronics seem to take over people’s lives so much! The Monday after Thanksgiving one of my students told me that her family was together on Thanksgiving weekend and that they were all doing things separately on their phones – when suddenly the wi-fi went down. She said that with no wi-fi they started socializing with each other… but then the wi-fi came back on they each went back to their phone. What a shame that the wi-fi had to come back on!

I’m so thankful to have married a wonderful woman who sees the importance of spending quality time together – and who enjoys running with dogs, and her husband, on a snowy mountain beach.

   

Coyote Canyon

I’m so lucky to have found and married somebody who shares my love of hiking in wild desert places. I’d been wanting to take Kristina to a little canyon in the area I call “the land between” and we went there for our most recent hike. It’s a place I remembered fondly even though it had been a few years since I’d been there. I told Kristina that the place didn’t have a name and that I was calling it “Chad Canyon,” and I asked her if it would be too narcissistic to call it that. I wouldn’t really name a place after myself – even if it’s a place that’s special to me and even if, as is the case with so many of the places I hike, I never see anybody else there.

We hiked down an old road and came to a place where there used to be a bridge. There’s a well-built structure on either side of the wash that it crossed, but the bridge itself has long-since vanished. I told Kristina that I like seeing things like that – things that show a lack of permanence of human-made structures – and she responded by saying “wabi sabi.” “What’s that?” I asked, and she told me it’s a Japanese term for something impermanent. For example, in Japanese culture it could refer to a cup with a chip in it. The old roadway we were walking on was a good example of that because it showed signs of once having been covered with pavement but was now just a two-track with desert vegetation growing in it.

After a while we left the old road and headed east toward the canyon, and as we approached it we saw some pronghorn antelope in the distance – at least five of them. We watched them as we walked down a gentle slope to a flat sandstone area at the rim of the canyon. We’d been waiting for a good place to eat the snacks we’d brought with us (earlier we’d joked about staying in our car to eat them instead of hiking, but this was much nicer). It felt so good sitting on the slickrock in the warm sun. The temperature was great, and so was the view around us. We seemed to be at the point of transition from shallow wash to canyon.

After eating our snacks and relaxing on the rim we hiked down into the little canyon, which gradually got deeper and deeper, with a series of steep drops. In some places the canyon dropped over sandstone bedrock that had been eroded to form interesting holes and pockets by the action of the occasional water that flows through the area when there’s a big enough storm. There were also huge chunks of sandstone that appeared to have fallen from the cliffs on the sides of the canyon. They made a great place for doing wild yoga, and we enjoyed doing some poses there.

This is my kind of area! It meets three of my criteria for a really awesome place: no stumps (easy because there are no trees), no ATV tracks (too rugged for them), and no sign of cows (evidence elsewhere but not down in the canyon). What we did see a lot of was rabbits and rabbit tracks.

We also saw a lot of coyote tracks. In one place there were a bunch of their tracks next to a little pool of water left from the most recent rain storm. It had been a few days since the storm but the canyon walls and rocks had sheltered the water from the sun and kept it from evaporating, and the coyotes were coming there to drink. Kristina noticed those tracks first, and as we looked at them she commented that with all of the tracks we were seeing maybe we would get to see a coyote, and I replied that I certainly would enjoy that.

We saw more cool rocks, did more yoga, and admired some cliff swallow nests built on one particular cliff. We also admired a beetle, and marveled at some vegetation that was barely hanging on despite the erosion around it. We got to the place where the little canyon joins a big wash and we stopped there for a break before continuing our journey. As we hiked up out of the wash I was busy taking pictures of the view of the below us when suddenly I heard Kristina say, “Look, a coyote!” I looked up just in time to see a beautiful coyote run up the slope above us and over the horizon. I was reminded that sometimes getting caught up taking photos of one thing can let you miss, or almost miss, another thing.

I was hoping for another view of the coyote as we came out onto flat a area above the wash but Kristina thought the coyote would be long gone – and she was right, because we didn’t see it again.

“I can understand the coyote taking off since it has fifty dollars hanging over its head,” I said and explained that in Utah taxpayer money goes to pay fifty dollars for each coyote a person kills. It’s done in the name of keeping deer numbers high, even though a brochure published by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources points out that coyotes don’t actually have any effect on the state’s deer population.

The coyote that we saw was the first one Kristina has ever seen and one of the few I’ve seen. It was a fleeting moment, but one neither of us will forget. In honor of the coyote, I’ve decided to give up my namesake. We both decided “Coyote Canyon” is the best name for our secluded little canyon.

     

Mountain Yoga

It was time for another adventure, and since our previous hike had been in a desert location, I suggested we go to the mountains this time. On a previous trip we’d driven around Elk Horn Loop and I’d told Kristina that I wanted to come back to one particular part of the loop – the Pole Creek area. My first thought was to take her south of the road to the see the stream, but then I decided it would be fun to hike on the north side, where I hadn’t hiked before, so it would be a new place to explore for both of us.

Shortly after we started hiking we saw a couple of old dead pine trees, which we both found intriguing. Along with being pretty, dead trees are great wildlife habitat and are an important part of the ecosystem. Nearby were some curvy aspens, and Kristina mimicked their curves with curvy yoga poses.

Moving on I noticed an overturned rock and explained to Kristina that it was evidence of a foraging bear. Like dead old dead pines and curvy aspens, and Kristina doing yoga, evidence of bears makes me happy. As we hiked along, though, I also saw some things that make me unhappy – stumps, cow pies, and an unauthorized ATV trail that looked like it was never going to end (Kristina patiently listens when I grumble about things like that). The ATV’s had ridden on what appeared to be an old logging road – and the berms that were supposed to stop traffic seemed to be nothing more than fun-hills for the riders.

We stopped and did some yoga in an area dominated by aspens and then, when it was time to move on, I asked Kristina if it was okay with her if we left the draw we were in – to get away from the ATV trail – and hiked up onto the ridge to the east of us. She concurred, and up we went.

When we got to the top of the ridge there was a pretty little aspen stand surrounded by open sagebrush meadow, and I noticed old bear claw marks on one of the trees and showed Kristina. The view from the ridge was spectacular, and Kristina commented that the lighting and fall colors made the area look like New England.

As we hiked to the south I was amazed at the beautiful combination of the trees on the horizon silhouetted against a cloudy sky. I held back while Kristina hiked ahead and became part of the silhouette, and after taking some photos I hiked up and joined her at the point where the ridge drops off into the valley below. There’s a beautiful rock outcrop that makes a great vantage point from which to view the surrounding countryside, and is also a great place for wild yoga poses.

After enjoying the evening light from our vantage point we scrambled down the east side of the ridge to the Elkhorn Loop road. We paused for a tree-pose, and then enjoyed the view of aspens silhouetted in front of a beautiful sunset. We hiked the rest of the way back to the vehicle and drove away feeling happy and refreshed.

Read Kristina’s take on this adventure