It was our plan to travel south this winter to find sun and warmth, to see places we had not seen before, and to visit our son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters. We thought we might also seek out some new birds.
However, the autumn in Oregon this year was wonderful.Being warm and sunny, we delayed heading south. We did take one trip, though, to the Steen's mountains. We learned of an OFO (Oregon Field Ornithology) trip to this area in search of some rare birds, and it sounded like fun.
The area of the Steen's Mountain and Malheur Game Refuge is a interesting and beautiful part of the state. Rising to over 9,000 feet, the mountain slopes gently up from the west and drops precipitously down to the Alvord Desert on the east side. The area is located in the Pacific Flyway, placing it in the path of migratory birds. The many lakes and marshes here make it one of the birding hotspots in the country. There is much more here than birding, though. Being able to drive to over 9,000 feet offers some spectacular views.
We were able to see Pink-sided Juncos, Horned Larks and Black Rosy Finches, the latter being a particularly rare find in Oregon.
Just a word here about our birding activities. We find these creatures both fascinating and often quite beautiful. We are not really fanatics about it, but do find it always interesting, often quite challenging, and even exciting when discovering a new bird. We keep a "Life List", simply a list of all birds we have seen, which is now at about 350. We hope to add to this list as we travel south and into different ecological zones.
After adding 9 new birds to our list, we spent several more days at the Page Springs Campground enjoying the warm, sunny days and magnificent country. Besides birds we sighted many Deer (it was hunting season and they seemed to know this was a refuge), herds of Pronghorn Antelope, and even some Big Horn Sheep.
Finally, though, we headed south. We had read that a particular truck stop, "The Flying J", allowed, even encouraged, RVers to stay the night in their parking lot,,, free. Trying to save a little money, we tried one in Utah. These truck stops have a restaurant, TV room, restrooms and showers, and cater to long haul truck drivers. RVs simply park in the lot with the big trucks. There were no electrical hookups, but there were plenty of bright lights and several loud trucks. It was also 29 degrees overnight. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.
Our first real stop was in Salt Lake City, well known as the center of the Mormon religion. We spent a couple of days in the Temple Square, visiting the various buildings and learning a little about their faith. The Salt Lake Temple is open only to Mormons in good standing, but the other buildings are open to visitors with free guided tours, where you learn as much about their faith as you do about the buildings.
In the Mormon Tabernacle we listened to the rehearsal of the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was interesting to see the choir director work with each segment of the choir, tenors, sopranos, basses, etc., and then to put it all together in a really magnificent sound. The Family History Library has the world's most extensive genealogical archive where we spent some time trying to track down some of our our ancestors, without too much success. The Mormons are particularly interested in genealogy because their teaching hold that family ties continue after death, into eternity. Guess they just want to see with whom they will be spending eternity!
Continuing south, we crossed a high pass in a blinding snow storm, dropping down into the town of Moab, Utah. Moab is famous for mountain bike trails and Arches National Park.
This park boasts the greatest density of natural arches in the world, over 2,000. They are a results of millions of years of ancient sea beds, evaporation, tectonic uplifting and erosion. It was a warm and sunny day and we enjoyed the time walking through the park.
We next went to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The park is on a large plateau at nearly 7,000 feet. It was here that we first encountered ancient cliff dwellings and learned a little about these mysterious people. They are often referred to as Anasazi but this term, first used by archeologists, is a Navajo word meaning "ancient enemies". The preferred name today is "Ancestral Puebloans" as they are considered to be the ancestors of the modern Pueblos. These people lived here, and many other sites throughout the Southwest, as early as 700 AD. They lived on the mesa tops, where common sense would suggest. It wasn't until 1190 to 1270 that they built and lived in the cliff dwellings. They lived here for less than 100 years and by 1300 the dwellings were deserted. It is not known why they went to the trouble building these fascinating structures, why they suddenly abandoned them, or what happened to them. The mysteries surrounding these ruins make them even more fascinating.
Traveling into the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations, we visited the Canyon de Chelly (pronounced da shay) National Monument. Here are not only cliff dwelling ruins but a vast canyonland still occupied by Navajo farming the canyon floors. The history, and mystery, of these dwellings and the people who lived here are the same as Mesa Verde.
There is archeological evidence to suggest show that people have lived in these canyons for nearly 5,000 years. The history is one of changing cultures and civilizations; Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo Indians, The Spanish period and finally in 1846, the U.S. conquest. It is a beautiful, yet harsh land, with a aura of mystery about it.
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