Blue Side of Nowhere Pt. 2

On a recent trip to Pawnee National Grasslands looking for early migrating raptors and antelope herds moving north through the short-cropped grass, we were on the lookout for anything moving. The land was empty to the horizon with nothing stirring but tufts of last years golden grass waving in the fitful wind.

Pawnee National grasslands is located 40 miles west of nowhere and 61 miles east of too far. This makes it hard to find unless you really want to get there. We did so we persevered. Not really lost but unsure of where we were we would drive into little towns like Grover, population less than you’d expect and ask “Where are we?”. One reticent local we spoke to answered with gestures more than words, saying we were here pointing downwards, and we should go that way indicated with outstretched arm, and then with a flick of his thumb indicated we should then go that way, which may have been to the right. It was clear as mud but helped us on our way.

There are two large monolithic limestone buttes that rise several hundred feet into the air, sort of like a miniature Ayers Rock, or Uluru as the natives musically call it but doubled, that tell you have reached the virtual center of the Pawnee National grasslands. The full view of these is best obtained by climbing up a steep rutted dirt road that you thought when you turned onto it from another steep rutted dirt road, might take you to the Buttes as they’re called. And the joy and relief you feel that you were right adds to the enjoyment of seeing them, standing there in all their glory, just where the rumors had it they’d be.

Since we were high up on a neighboring ridge with the buttes and half the world at our feet we felt like it was a good place to stop and consider. Much time was spent watching the buttes, waiting to see it they’d move, they didn’t, but the wind through the grass did. The occasional bird flying overhead did, the sun did, but not us. We stayed as still as the buttes and had lunch. Beauty doesn’t negate hungry. All your senses must be fed.

It wasn’t long before the sun had made its relentless journey to the West and threatened to dive behind the blue wall of mountains ending another day. The sky turned an even deeper shade of blue and the realization that we were on a ridge in the middle of nowhere and had many miles to go before we saw civilization again made the decision to leave for us. We began the bumpy jolting journey down towards blacktop and waiting modern life.

The lights jumped crazily over the two ruts that were the road and darkness raced towards us at the speed of light. The hundreds and thousands of miles it felt like we had traveled, although the speedometer said much less, seemed even longer in the encroaching darkness and it was a small relief to suddenly top out and find smooth blacktop under our wheels again. We were on a low ridge forming one side of a wide flat valley that the magic began to happen.

Fog, or mist, no it was fog, much much thicker than mist, substantial and definite as it began to form what looked like, from a distance, impenetrable clouds of pale blue light rising out of the valley floor. At first it was just wispy and directionless. Then as if deciding it was its time to become alive it rapidly formed into opaque fingers that quickly stretched across the valley seemingly barring all access to the outside world. Strangely beautiful it wasn’t long before the entire valley was engulfed in it’s eerie luminescence. It seemed slightly intimidating in its ghostly beauty but if we wanted to get home and at that moment home seemed like a welcome place to be, we entered the valley and trusted to the fates that our journey would be a safe one. Entering the blue side of nowhere had its risks but what doesn’t these days.

The odyssey to Pawnee Buttes National grasslands was a unique experience. Meeting strangers who became helpful, finding lost roads and quirky little side trips, locating the buttes and watching them turn from pure white sandstone to the golden colors of end of day on its smooth-sided walls made every moment one that will be permanently etched into our memory. But what made this a truly meaningful and unforgettable experience was the pale blue fog of the high plains grasslands. What we now call the Blue Side of Nowhere.

The Yellowstone Zephyr

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It’s 3:17 in the afternoon at the pull out close to the northeastern end of the Lamar valley and everyone is in place waiting for the daily arrival of the Yellowstone Zephyr. Just like the trainspotters of days gone by who would wait at their favorite vantage point to see the Wabash Cannonball zoom by, smoke belching from its magnificent smokestack, cinders flying, huge steel wheels spinning, their spokes a solid whirling gray mass in the center of the rims, its side rods a furious blur of impossible action, every part of it screaming noise and fury and action we wait for the arrival of the golden eagle named the Yellowstone Zephyr.

Off in the distance way down where the Lamar river makes the wide slow bend around that rocky point, over the beaver pond with its chewed trees and flat water there is a dark speck and some ones cries “There it is. It’s coming!” and everyone shades their eyes frantic to pick up its image. Cameras are readied and held up to eager eyes, fingers flying over last-minute settings. You only get a few scant seconds to take your shots as the Zephyr screams by. You hear the sound of wind rushing through its primaries and speeding across the top surface of its wings as it gets closer and louder until all you can hear is the whistling boiling sound of the turbulence behind it as it comes racing over the sage and rabbit brush. You struggle to keep it in your viewfinder and hope for the best as you fire off a burst of images hoping that one of them will be in focus and clear enough to use. Then it’s gone.

If you did your best and were prepared you might get one good shot for your time and effort. If you didn’t and missed the opportunity there’s always tomorrow. Be there, find a good spot to stand, have your camera set and your nerves in check and watch the countdown on your watch. When it  hits 3:17 be ready. Maybe today you’ll get  lucky and get that shot you’ve been dreaming of. But pay attention, the Yellowstone Zephyr waits for no one.

Broken Ground

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Broken ground is just what the words imply. Be careful, that ground is broken. Don’t go falling in there. If you go up to that edge because you want to look down and see what’s down there, don’t lean way out and start flailing around with your arms and yelling “Hey I’m falling here.” and expect a lot of sympathy from anybody when you do. If you got two eyes and a brain in your head you should have noticed that that is broken ground and not got up so close and act stupid because your goofy friends think it’s funny. Remember, after you fall in they’re just going to laugh and say how dumb that was and drink the rest of your beer. Plus your cousin, the one you didn’t want to come along on this trip anyway, will probably be putting the moves on your girl before you even hit bottom.

If you did kind of winkle up to the edge and kind of lay down on your stomach several yards from the drop-off so you could crawl up there and hang your head over the edge and look, you’ll notice that the only bodies down there are ones with a camera strapped around their necks or maybe an iPad laying next to them all busted up. That’s because   the locals and others that are familiar with the West and places you can fall into, don’t do that. They right away recognize broken ground and back up real quick. Lots of them will just sit in their pickups and drink coffee out of a thermos and watch the entertainment.

It needs to be said that there is one local and his horse down there. But it was a freak accident, he didn’t mean it. He doesn’t even own a camera. He had ridden up to tell someone not to get that close to the edge and a rattlesnake laying there looking like a cow pie, bit his horse in the leg right above the hoof and that caused no end of trouble. Horses after getting bit by things often don’t know if they’ve been snake-bit or struck by lightning so they’re apt to do unusual things. Having said that, what with the horse jumping around and trying to stomp on the snake and then rearing up and falling over backward into the abyss, it was just a colossal blunder.

Unfortunately that was really a bonehead play because as they were going over they snagged the poor, sort of innocent tourist who was trying to back up and took him along for the ride. So we can’t really hold that one responsible for his sudden demise. I guess the moral of that story is watch out for locals on horseback trying to tell you stuff, or check out the area for snakes before engaging in any meaningful dialogue with anyone, a quick motion with your hand and the simple phrase “Hey, Stay back there a minute. Looking for snakes.” will work, they’ll understand, or just stay back a ways. You can see enough from twenty feet back. You don’t need to get up there and act like some kind of nutball, all you’re going to see is dead bodies anyway.

We only bring this up to help. It’s not like we’re trying to tell you what to do or anything. It’s just the neighborly thing to do. Around here we don’t want you falling in places. It’s bad for business. OK then, remember, watch out for broken ground.

P.S. and for locals on horseback.

Wings In The Sunrise

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The time is 7:48:47 am, February 9th of a year gone past. It is bitter, bitterly cold. And it is the exact moment that the conditions are just right for the thousands of Snow Geese wintering here at Bosque del Apache to lift into the air en masse. The rushing noise of their wings punctuated by their coarse honking calls creates a sound unique to this moment. As they lift and try for altitude they will pass overhead so closely you can feel the downward force of the wind from their wings, perhaps only a dozen feet or more over your head.

It is a mesmerizing sight to see, with sometimes 30,000 birds clustered together on long rafts that nearly fill the ponds they spend the night in suddenly, at some unknown cue explode into the air. They rarely circle the pond as they ascend, instead the various family groups, or tribes, or however they relate to each other begin to separate and choose the course to their day’s feeding area. Soon in mere seconds it seems, the pond is empty and quiet. Perhaps there may be one or two stragglers left on the ponds flat surface, those who have decided that they’re going to take the day off today, or perhaps the floating bodies of a few who have given up the ghost during the night, due to age or injury or just plain fatigue, but quiet. The silence is deafening.

This event takes place every morning the Snow geese are here at Bosque del Apache until one morning, again on some unknown cue,  they rise once more but instead of returning they head North to their summer range and the ponds are quiet and still until the coming Fall. Then each morning without fail you can take part in the wings in the sunrise experience. It is truly an unforgettable moment.

 

Transmogrification

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We here at *The Institute know from the many cards and letters we get, that many if not all of you out there wake up nearly every morning with one word in your mind. And Yes, that word is Transmogrification.

Transmogrification as I don’t have to tell you, means to Transform in a surprising or magical manner. So here’s the deal. It seems a lot of you wake up to the following scenario or something like it regularly. You overslept so you didn’t hear Cantu, your piebald Great Dane, whining to go out and now you have a large, gently smoking pile of Cantu’s delight that he off-loaded onto the rug next to your bed and casually spilled over the top of your left slipper so that now you have to take him out in the freaking cold with one bare foot. The toaster oven welded your bagel to its surface and in trying to scrape it off with the butcher knife you didn’t put away last night, you inadvertently touched something in there that carries a large amount of electricity, and now you have cut great huge rents in the kitchen curtains and several of the cabinet doors while in your electrically induced Gran Mal seizure.

You look out of the window and see that someone has stolen the windshield and back seat out of your Prius and spilled those little batteries it uses all over your lawn. This of course caused you to take a cab to the Emergency Room because the Samsung 7 you tried to call the police on, went off in a glorious fireball and now you need an ear graft and one new finger.

There is more but you get the picture. Some of you will have less or greater amounts of these events dependent on how you got along in your past life. You have only yourself to blame for that. However, the one saving grace in the midst of this vale of tears we call our life, is the ability to draw on, you guessed it, Transmogrification. By uttering this word over and over in a clear but steady voice what you see around you will slowly turn itself into the exact image of the picture above and you can draw on its soothing colors and quiet stillness until your life matches the calmness and serenity you see above.

This is a proven and effective technique used daily here at The Institute as the scenarios mentioned above are like the calmness of the surface of Walden’s Pond compared to what goes on here every moment of our day. So use it, use it whenever you feel the need and your day will change we guarantee it. And try and live a better life as this will greatly help you in the next one.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind.

When Yellow Trees Shine Brightly

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Arches National Park is not really known for its forests or its trees. In fact you can walk a good long way and not see a single one. But when you do it is a marvelous surprise. To see the strong dark trunks rising up out of the arid plain, limbs with their lime green leaves in the spring, bright riotous yellow in the fall, is more than a special sight in this water-less, some say desolate place. It is nearly miraculous.

Although the deep earth tones of the sand and rocks are beautiful in their own way, the addition of these brightly colored wonders make them even more so by the contrast between one lifestyle and another. The hot enduring reds of the cliff faces, the firmly grounded tans with its shimmering heat waves rising up towards the heavens, the occasional dusty burst of color from a flower are the mainstay of this country, but  there is always the special place hidden in a shadowed arroyo where water flows slowly and fitfully under the ground and in rare miraculous occurrences on top of it, that allow the trees, especially the cottonwoods to grow and survive, when by the look of the place they shouldn’t be here at all.

Such is the case with this image taken in late October in Arches National Park. For the high desert it is cool now, the water coursing along beneath the earth as it has been too hot earlier for it to flow on the surface. The sun has been kinder the last few weeks and the trees noticing, have changed their colors to prepare for winter when all things except the wind and snow and occasional jackrabbit and the coyote following it, stop, and it is quiet and still throughout the dark days and nights of that long season until the warmth of Spring returns and the cycle begins again. But that is still a time in the future, right now when yellow trees shine brightly it is a good time to be alive.

A Duck Flew Over Jersey

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Every so often we here at *The Institute like to present some new tidbit of information that our readers don’t know anything about, but that we’ve known about for moments. Today it isn’t really about ducks as the image above may imply, but it’s about Jersey, the country, not the state with all the exits.

Let us back up a moment and explain. First did you even know that there was a country named Jersey. Bet you didn’t. We did because today at our early morning staff meeting we were going over and analyzing the stats for BigShotsNow the blog and there on the report that shows which countries had visited the blog today, was Jersey. Jersey, the country. Many of our younger staff members thought it was a mistake and that the program had dropped the “New” part off of its name. It was those members that had flunked Geography continually right up until they had graduated from college that were most amazed that there could actually be a country named Jersey, and if there were, why had it been named after our American state of the same name. The “E Street Band” is well-known and certainly well worth it, but could it cause a whole country to be named after it? We don’t know, it’s possible I guess. That just goes to show you the value of the “No Child Left Behind” program where entire classes could be promoted to the next grade not knowing if they had walked to school, or wound their watch, as my dad used to say.

Now to use a phrase from one of our more forgettable vice-presidents those “nattering nabobs of negativity” will say “There is no country named Jersey. This is one of those con-jobs you Institutions pull to make yourself look smarter than us.” Well, that’s simply not true. It isn’t, really!  As proof we offer the flag  2016-09-24jerseyflagmap of Jersey, and a real map not drawn by us 2016-09-24jerseymap of the country of Jersey itself. This is a real map not some made up fake one that you see at other Institutes. As you can see by the inclusion of the five cities that are the primary habitation of the 100,000 people that live there. Our favorite is Bouley Bay, pronounced Boo-Lay not Bool because it sounds cooler. It’s our favorite just because it is fun to say. “Bouley, Bouley Bay, OK, OK.” See? We’ve been saying that all morning just as soon as we saw it on the map.

Yes, but what about the duck and the title “A Duck Flew Over Jersey”? If you’ve been a reader of the blog for more than five postings you know that we use a picture as a lead-in to our posts. Normally there would be a more obvious direct tie-in of the picture to the story, but we had this picture of a duck and then those guys from Jersey dropped in and well, we had to do something. So we asked around and sure enough a duck like this, or at least one similar, had flown over New Jersey and by using simple logic, which we might add we excel at, if a duck flew over New Jersey then by rights it could have flown over the country of Jersey too, so, then, well there you have it.  Note: the duck flying over Jersey, the country, may look significantly different than the one pictured above due to the fact that the duck pictured may not even live around Jersey, the country. We didn’t have time, or frankly the inclination, to check that out. Tenuous connection maybe, but so what.

So we say to you folks from Jersey the Country, thanks for stopping by. It was great to have you here and thanks also for lending us the word “bailiwick”. When we were kids we remember old people, those in their 40’s and the really old near-death ones in their 50’s, say things like ” They’re not from around these bailiwicks.” when confronted with strangers, as if where we, the normal good people, lived was a collection of places grouped together that were separate and of course better from the rest of the countryside surrounding us. That meant that if you were from that other weird bailiwick, you could very easily be people of little worth. Of course now with all the political correctness going on we don’t do that anymore, as all people are equally good and worthy. It’s a great time to be American isn’t it.

To all you Jersians, come on back, bring your friends, bring your flag, we’d like to see it close up. Spread the word that although you are a bailiwick-ian you’re always welcome here.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind.