Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner and his wife, Sheila, were out until 4 a.m. in the morning recently shooting the Milky Way and moonlight on the rock formations in the Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. “Moonlight does diffuse the Milky Way, but the moonlight gave a very eerie feeling to the landscape and the surroundings. We were the only people out there at that time of night. Go figure … It was a fun experience though.”
On their recent Utah trip, Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner and his wife, Sheila, visited Goblin Valley State Park. Here is his description:
“Journey to this strange and colorful valley, which is unlike any other in Utah. The landscape, covered with sandstone goblins and formations, is often compared to Mars. Explore the geology, among the nooks and gnomes. Goblin Valley includes an area where soft sandstone has eroded into interesting shapes, somewhat resembling goblins. In some spots, the rock formations are close together and produce a maze-like playground ideal for family explorations. Many people think the park landscape has a surreal appearance. A Hollywood movie, “Galaxy Quest,” was filmed at Goblin Valley State Park because of its unearthly scenery.
Our first Uber driver was a former journalist, so the midnight conversation from Pittsburgh International Airport turned to the unprecedented attacks on the press by the president.
Wearied by weather delays, airport sprints and the uncertainty of our travels, India and I were content to let him deliver a treatise I knew by rote — the preposterous notion journalists intentionally get things wrong … the differences between the opinion page and the front page … the top secret cabal that keeps conservatives out of journalism school … the incurious nature of sheep and men …
We counted 11 Uber drivers, a microcosm of America, as part of our four-day trek around Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where India will attend West Virgina University in the fall.
There was beautiful Chinita with the splendid braids, who was recovering from a car accident and was driving because she could no longer handle physical labor … there were college students picking up money for tuition … and Russell, a West Virginia lifer whose Uber profile said he was a great conversationalist but wasn’t.
A former FBI agent from D.C. shared his insights into the bureau as he ferried us across Morgantown. Comey had botched things by skewing the trajectory of the election with the Hillary email announcement, he said. And the two fired agents who displayed unprofessional disdain for Trump? “They had it coming.”
I had one question. “Is Bob Mueller a straight shooter?” He looked over at me intensely as the light changed. “Absolutely. Incorruptible.”
My favorite was the retired ballerina, who had danced professionally for 21 years in the company of luminaries like Baryshnikov and Nureyev and now taught other dancers. She was tiny and lithe, blonde-gray hair in a ballerina’s bun, lively eyes, with a boisterous laugh I was delighted to coax out of her several times with prairie wisecracks.
Later, I wondered why she was driving. Boredom? Financial necessity? If so the latter, it wouldn’t surprise me. Art is so seldom justly rewarded — this wondrous thing that illuminates the very best in humanity, showing our species in full bloom, like tulips in the spring, providing hope, beauty, inspiration, perspective, truth and mystery. I wished I had seen her dance.
Jahm from Uzbekistan and I engaged in discourse about Russian history, from the Mongols to the Romanovs. A gold tooth flashed when he spoke from a bearded jaw. I mined the words from his rich accent like gemstones. That ride wasn’t long enough.
The longest ride, but not in miles, was with Thomas, a patriot driving a Nissan. Well dressed in a button down shirt and slacks, he was a former coal miner, failed restauranteur and air conditioning specialist who, at 58, couldn’t land another job.
Early in the ride, because we were from North Dakota, I assume, he floated a comment about the unfair treatment Trump was receiving in the press and said something disparaging about Hillary. “Well, I really wasn’t a fan of either candidate,” I said noncommittally, and that shut him down for a while.
But later, another entreaty about the media’s attacks on the president, and this time I took the bait. The president, I said, was acting on some conservative principles I could live with. “But I despair over what he’s doing to the office — the ugliness and divisiveness he encourages. His dishonesty. His intellectual laziness. The way he alienates our allies.”
And so it came, like a flood, the rebuttal. Thomas told me he listened to a lot of conservative talk radio and so seemed well-schooled on the Deep State. Along with his defense of the president, he opined that 9/11 was an inside job, Obama, the Manchurian Candidate, was a Muslim born in Kenya, and that climate change was a hoax.
I attempted to gently amend some of the more egregious misstatements. I cited facts about the death of coral reefs, rising sea levels, melting ice caps, the increased intensity of storms and the acceleration of CO2 in the atmosphere that coincided with the Industrial Revolution — the reality that the growing season in North Dakota had gotten longer in my lifetime.
“Most scientists agree climate change is happening,” I said.
“They’ve been bought off,” he countered.
“All of them? And to what end? Not everything is a conspiracy, Thomas. Read.”
He didn’t read newspapers. It’s all fake news, anyway, he said, repeating the president’s mantra, and then he went off on CNN.
“You’re killing me, Thomas,” I said, and that’s when I revealed my occupation.
“Why would you support attacks on the First Amendment, which is more critical to your freedom than any other part of the Constitution?” I asked.
“Journalists defend your freedom every day, just as soldiers do. You think six-shooters and the Second Amendment will save you from a corrupt government? You know what will? Truth. Facts. They’re out there. You just have to be willing to open your eyes.”
By then, we were at the motel. We pulled the bags out of the trunk and wished each other well. I slapped him on the back and said, “Keep an open mind, Thomas.”
He smiled and chuckled. I liked him. I really did. And I think he liked me.
“I’ll keep an open mind, too,” I added, as I turned away.
I tipped him well. But not as much as the ballerina.
© Tony Bender, 2018
On their recent Utah trip, Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner and his wife, Sheila, visited Canyons National Park, the site of famous Mesa Arch. Here is what he had to say about the experience:
“The Mesa Arch sunrise shot is one of the most sought after photographic images in Utah. Every morning at sunrise, if there are no clouds hiding the sun, the sun’s rays light up the upper inside of the arch in a bright red glow. The problem is there is only room for about 10 to 12 photographers with tripods at this spot, so you have to be there early to get a spot. I got there almost three hours before sunrise ( 3:00 am) and there were already six photographers there! They were shooting the Milky Way with the Arch while waiting for sunrise to occur. I joined them in shooting Milky Way images, and about 4:30 a.m. more people started showing up. so we all set up in a row waiting for sunrise. By the time sunrise came, there were around 80 photographers there trying to get in to get a capture. It was insane, but I held my ground and got the image I came for. I included a shot of the some of the crowd after I left my spot to show you the craziness. I also have a daytime image I took the day before when showing you what it looks like in daylight. Sheila came with me on that hike but couldn’t convince her to get up at 2 a.m. the next morning for the sunrise event!
Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson and his wife, Joanne, recently took a tour of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which is the site of Historic Ships in Baltimore, created as a result of the merger of the USS Constellation Museum and the Baltimore Maritime Museum. Four ships — sloop of war USS Constellation, lightship Chesapeake, World War II-era submarine USS Torsk and Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Taney — and Seven Foot Knoll Light, a screw-pile lighthouse, are part of the maritime museum.
On their recent Utah trip, Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner and his wife, Sheila, crossed over into Colorado near the town of Durango to see the ancient site of Mesa Verde.
“This was on my bucket list to see as I enjoy the history of past cultures. On our way, we did stop at Capital Reef National Park, where we viewed and photographed these petroglyphs carved into the canyon rock faces. I was in awe at how these Puebloans built a society and home under these cliffs.”
Here’s a bit of history about the cave dwellings:
In 1888 two cowboys, while tracking stray cattle in a snowstorm, spotted a cliff dwelling. By climbing down a makeshift ladder, they explored the network of rooms with stone tools, pottery and other artifacts They named it the Cliff Palace. The Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America and the most famous one at Mesa Verde. It has 150 rooms and 23 kivas. Kivas are rooms used for ritual and cultural purposes. It is estimated that around 100 people inhabited the Cliff Palace. One of the most remarkable structures in the Cliff Palace is the Square Tower House, which at 26 feet is the tallest building in Mesa Verde.
Mesa Verde was inhabited by ancestral Pueblo people from 600 A.D. to 1300 A.D. By the 13th century, their productive dry farming allowed the Mesa Verde population to grow perhaps as high as 5,000. Increased population and the 24-year regional drought placed the communities under stress. This is the possible reason why ancestral Pueblo people left Mesa Verde. The 21-square kilometers national park contains ruins of homes and villages built by these people.
Chris Allen, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, is currently on trip to London with a group of communication students. While there, he took a trip to Wales, a country in southwest Great Britain known for its rugged coastline, mountainous national parks, distinctive Welsh language and Celtic culture.
I never imagined when my family left El Paso, Texas, in 1970, that it would take me almost 50 years to return for a visit, but it did.
This time, I’m back in the Trans-Pecos region as the guest of a friend, Val, who has recently purchased a home here. It was her suggestion that I fly into El Paso and visit my old haunts, and so I did. Great idea. I’m eternally grateful to her. We enjoy birding and hiking together when we get the chance.
My friend loves this kind of stuff,so I couldn’t find a better partner for this lark of a mission. Here at Terrace Hills Elementary, my fifth-grade science teacher, whose brother worked at the Houston Space Center, had us all avidly following the Apollo space program news. Here I took Spanish and with my friends played with my Trolls.
Here I learned how to carefully open a newly published book so that it would not be damaged.
I’m certain these vintage tables were used by my friends and me.
I’m in the blue dress sewed by my mother, front and center, sporting pretty much the same hairstyle I wear to this day, although in those days it was called a “pixie.” I adored this teacher, Miss Buck, who was from Amarillo, Texas. Each day, she read to her third-grade class a chapter of “Charlotte’s Web.” We took field trips to the planetarium, which I greatly enjoyed. Midway through the year, she married and honeymooned in Acapulco, which we thought sounded so romantic.
1968 is big in the news these days, given that it was a pivotal year in the nation’s history and it is the 50th anniversary. This convergence made it extra fun to be in the place where I spent that year, roaming around with my siblings and pals in the nearby Chihuahuan Desert, playing “Red Rover” in our front yard.
We went to the first house in which my family settled, on Mercedes. Memories of trick or treating in the neighborhood flooded back to me. It was in this house that I watched the Apollo news on our small black-and-white TV as well as the horrifying bulletins from Vietnam. We would often visit El Paso’s twin city, Juarez, Mexico, back in the day when it was easy to cross the border. My father would pay a local boy a nickel to watch our Ford station wagon while we strolled the streets and visited the glass factory. Once, President Johnson flew into El Paso, and my older brother and his Boy Scout troop got to go to see him.
My older sister was so chic. Wonder where my older brother was? Maybe off with the Boy Scouts.
As part of this lark, Val and I found the 7-Eleven a few blocks away, to which we kids would walk back and forth to buy icies. Often we would snag on goat head stickers that poked through our thin flip-flops. Once some naughty kid in my class put one on the teacher’s chair. I’m bringing home a goat head for my mother, which will tickle her greatly to show off to her neighbors.
Harcourt Drive was the house in which we lived the longest while in El Paso. When our landlord told us that he had sold the Mercedes house, my parents went off in the evenings to look for another. When they came home with the news that Harcourt it would be, I was jubilant, as my best friend, Debbie, lived just a few doors down. On this visit, I knocked on her door and inquired, but her parents had moved away, just a couple of years ago.
Here I was in ballet, and we Crook kids were all in Scouts. My father also managed the Fort Bliss movie theater, a terrific gig from our perspective, as we got to go to lots of ’em, loaded up on popcorn and soda.
Whenever we were out of school and not camping in the New Mexico mountains, we roamed freely in the desert. I routinely kept a horned toad in a cigar box in my bedroom. Roadrunners periodically scooted across our lawn.
Here we watched the first moon landing and read Life magazine and spent long summer days at the swimming pool. Here I listened to “Hey Jude” and “Crimson and Clover,” over and over. Here we watched “Gunsmoke,” “Mission Impossible,” “Laugh-In,” “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” and “Gilligan’s Island.”
The Harcourt house had changed so much that I struggled to find it (that’s another story in itself). Lots of superstructure has been added to the front of the house. When we lived there, we had two beagles, Lady and Duchess. Val has a beagle, so we re-created the scene. I could hear an ice cream truck in the Mercedes neighborhood and, boy, did that music take me back.
On my last day in Texas, I toured a lovely Catholic church and we did some more birding along the Rio Grande.
A portion of the border wall, Juarez in the distance.
At Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, we saw this burrowing owl. He eventually flew from this perch and bobbed up and down in his “Howdy Owl” mode.
Our final stop was Chamizal National Memorial, an National Park Service site that commemorates the friendship of Mexico and the U.S. and a peaceful border resolution. President Johnson was here in 1967 to seal this deal. I concluded that this would have been the day when my older brother got to see Johnson.
El Paso was my father’s last posting, and when he retired, we went home to Slope County, North Dakota, to my grandparents’ farm and ranch, and other than a brief time in Nashville, Tenn., for graduate school, North Dakota is where I’ve lived.
Wednesday, from my airplane window, I looked down on Juarez and my last view of the Franklin Mountains, and I read several issues of my New Yorker magazines. This story about canoeing the Rio Grande had special resonance for me.
As the final leg of my journey ended, it was so good to look down at the Missouri River and the green hills of Burleigh County, my heart filled with new and happy memories of West Texas adventures. My husband and daughter wrapped me in their arms and took me home, where the work of the garden awaits.
“Our plans never turn out as tasty as reality.” — Ram Dass
Mexican duck (subspecies of Mallard)
Total new lifers in Texas: 14 (No Colimas or Montezuma quails, but great birding nonetheless)
Total birds on this adventure: 112. This might be a record for me!
- Mexican duck (mallard).
- Blue-winged teal.
- Scaled quail.
- Gambel’s quail.
- Black vulture.
- Turkey vulture.
- Northern harrier.
- Common black-hawk.
- Gray hawk.
- Swainson’s hawk.
- Red-tailed hawk.
- Virginia rail.
- American coot.
- Spotted sandpiper.
- Solitary sandpiper.
- Lesser yellowlegs.
- Wilson’s snipe.
- Rock pigeon.
- Eurasian collared-dove.
- White-winged dove.
- Common ground-dove.
- Greater roadrunner (Paisano).
- Great horned owl.
- Elf owl.
- Burrowing owl.
- Common nighthawk.
- Common poorwill.
- White-throated swift.
- Black-chinned hummingbird.
- Broad-billed hummingbird.
- Acorn woodpecker.
- Golden-fronted woodpecker.
- Ladder-backed woodpecker.
- American kestrel.
- Least flycatcher.
- Say’s Phoebe.
- Vermilion flycatcher.
- Ash-throated flycatcher.
- Brown-crested flycatcher.
- Cassin’s kingbird.
- Western kingbird.
- Eastern kingbird.
- Bell’s vireo.
- Plumbeous vireo.
- Western scrub-jay.
- Mexican jay.
- Chihuahuan raven.
- Common raven.
- Violet-green swallow.
- Northern rough-winged swallow.
- Bank swallow.
- Barn swallow.
- Black-crested titmouse.
- Canyon wren.
- House wren.
- Marsh wren.
- Bewick’s wren.
- Cactus wren.
- Blue-gray gnatcatcher.
- Black-tailed gnatcatcher.
- American robin.
- Curve-billed thrasher.
- Crissal thrasher.
- Northern mockingbird.
- European starling.
- American pipit.
- Lucy’s warbler.
- Common yellowthroat.
- Northern parula.
- Yellow warbler.
- Yellow-rumped warbler (both Magnolia and Myrtle).
- Townsend’s warbler.
- Yellow-breasted chat.
- Green-tailed towhee.
- Spotted towhee.
- Rufous-crowned sparrow.
- Canyon towhee.
- Chipping sparrow.
- Clay-colored sparrow.
- Lark sparrow.
- Sagebrush sparrow.
- Lark bunting.
- White-crowned sparrow.
- Dark-eyed junco (gray-headed).
- Summer tanager.
- Northern cardinal.
- Black-headed grosbeak.
- Blue grosbeak (lots!).
- Lazuli bunting.
- Varie bunting.
- Red-winged blackbird.
- Eastern meadowlark.
- Yellow-headed blackbirds.
- Brewer’s blackbird.
- Great-tailed grackle.
- Bronzed cowbird.
- Brown-headed cowbird.
- Bullock’s oriole.
- Scott’s oriole.
- House finch.
- Pine siskin.
- Lesser goldfinch.
- House sparrow.
- Red-breasted nuthatch.
Monday’s West Texas expedition was to the Davis Mountains area in search of Montezuma quails. The Davis Mountains are what is known as a “Sky Island,” rising high above the Chihuahuan Desert and are one of the most beautiful places in Texas.
In addition to birding, our destination was the famous McDonald Observatory. On my last visit to Texas, we visited Fort Davis National Historic Site but had to force ourselves to drive on by the observatory due to time constraints. We were acquainted with it because of the StarDate daily program on public radio and thrilled just to have seen it.
Val and I ate lunch and then took in a program on the sun, which included views of the solar orb in real time. After the program, we loaded into a tour van and up we went, on what we learned was the highest highway in Texas, to tour two of the huge research telescopes. Our tour guide was funny and knowledgeable.
One of the most interesting things I learned is that the moon is moving away from the earth 3 centimeters a year, something that was discovered at this observatory. That and Jupiter causes the sun to wobble ever so slightly.
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them.” — Galileo Galilei
Our birding destinations of the day included the Davis Mountains State Park. Here they offer two specially designed buildings from which one can observe feeders and water features, loaded with birds. Both the state park and the observatory offer great scenic views of the area.
It was a great birding day. We “bagged” 47 different species of birds. The highlights were lots of blue grosbeaks, a broad-billed hummingbird and a new lifer for me — a western scrub-jay. But no Montezuma quails. Oh, well.
We capped off an eventful day looking at the full moon flirting with Juniper. And almost stumbled over a nasty looking giant desert centipede. Always walk in the desert night with a flashlight.