Petrified Forest National Park

This morning I headed north from the little town of Show Low in eastern Arizona to this National Park located near Holbrook.  I will be posting pictures of some other interesting things in the Park in the coming days but let’s start with the petrified wood for which the Park is named.  I will explain more about how these came to be in future posts, but for now just enjoy the colors and textures that nature and time have created.














John, the future paleontologist

There was a fund-raising bicycle rally being held at the Park and there were several rest stop/refreshment stations at various places.  At one of the scenic overlooks there was a canopy set up for that purpose and on a nearby ledge I noticed these dinosaur figures.  I said “Oh, I need to get a picture of this for my blog” and took this photo.


Well, a kid who had volunteered to work at this particular refreshment station said “Well, if you want to get a picture for your blog let me show you this…” and went to his stuff and brought back a cast of the skull (I think that’s what he said it was) of a young Coelophysis, a dinosaur which is known to have lived in this area millions of years ago.


Meet John, a local 15-year old who, I would bet money, will grow up to be a paleontologist.


John got a book he had brought with him (I am going to order a copy on Amazon when I get home) and spoke very intelligently and enthusiastically about various dinosaurs and non-dinosaurs, something he is obviously very passionate about. He pointed out the two dinosaurs which were known to have lived in this region (the first and third images).

IMG_20170916_121344266His t-shirt even showed an image of the dinosaur skeleton, the type of which was the fossil he showed me.


He suggested I visit the “Ghost Ranch” shown on his shirt when I am in New Mexico in a few days (it isn’t far from Taos, where I’ll be staying), and also suggested a science museum to visit when I am in Albuquerque.  I told him about The Mammoth Site, which I visited very early in this trip when I was in South Dakota, and suggested he go there some day.  A woman who was also working at the refreshment stop with John also produced a dinosaur figure and of course John knew exactly what it was and described to me how it searched for food.


John is a bright young man and I hope he continues to pursue his area of interest.


Summer Solstice marker

One of the neat things I read about when researching places I planned to visit on this trip was the Summer Solstice marker found here.  There is a large rock with a natural cleft in it, which was evidently “placed” here by nature.  Nearby is another darker rock which has a swirl mark, which looks kind of like an @ symbol, carved in it by man (I should have gone back to the car for the digital camera so I could zoom in on it.  Trust me, it’s there.).



On June 20, the normal date for the summer solstice, the morning sun will shine through the crack in the large rock and create a white streak on the dark rock.  At approximately 905am, voila, the white streak will reach the center of the symbol, marking the summer solstice.  Pretty cool, eh?



Various birds in flight – My photos

I should have posted these after the next post (professional photos) not before.  Some of these turned out better than I thought but are still not quite what I was hoping for.  Following and maintaining focus on a moving target is harder than you might think, especially when they change speed or direction.








These next two are my favorites of this group:



Grand Canyon – The Birds

The days I was at the Grand Canyon the thing that impressed me the most (after getting accustomed to the spectacular view) was watching the birds.  Although there are many other players, the main attraction generally consisted of ravens, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and the ultimate vulture, the California Condor.

I tried and tried to get photos of these birds in flight but became increasingly frustrated at my inability to get acceptable photos which were blogworthy.  I finally decided to just enjoy what I was seeing and resort to internet research to share what other, more talented, photographers were able to capture.  I do have some raven pictures, some taken as recently as today in eastern Arizona, but the others you will see I found online.

The ravens were the most prevalent and put on the best “show” as far as entertainment was concerned.  Yes, then would often just cruise by at various altitudes but would also chase other types of birds, chase each other, come to an almost screeching halt in mid air, only to tuck in their wings and dive-bomb nearly straight down and perhaps the most fascinating thing was when they would twist and turn while flying at high speed, ending up upside-down and then change course downward.  I simply stood and watched them for extended periods of time.  Because of their often rapid flight and sudden course changes, it was almost impossible to zoom in for a decent picture.  Even getting a good shot while they soared by beneath you with the canyon in the background was a seemingly impossible task.

All types of birds would be like gliders, riding the thermals of warm air radiating off the canyon floor and walls, changing altitude on a whim and cruising for extending periods without needing to flap their wings.  Simply amazing to watch.

A seemingly simple picture, but one which eluded me. A raven cruising below observation point-level:

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A raven who suddenly used his wings as a parachute to virtually stop forward motion in flight, and would then often tuck in his wings and drop nearly straight down.

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The ravens would sometimes fly by at my eye-level, only a few arms-lengths away while I was standing at the railing of one of the many overlooks.  I never felt like they were getting uncomfortably close and certainly never witnessed any behavior where they seemed to be attacking any people.  I think they have just gotten comfortable with people being around and know they zip by unscathed.

Ravens are beautiful birds.  All black, but if you see them in the right light there are traces of blue and green which somehow reflect off their wings.  They are larger than crows, but are of the same family.  The main distinction other than their size is their larger beak, which also has a pronounced curve.  I will post my photos separately.  I posted one or two the other day of two ravens on the ground in one of the overlook areas.

Next up, the red-tailed hawk.  Stunningly beautiful in flight or even perched on the ground.  The hawks would normally just cruise through the air, sometimes relatively slowly, but always twitching their heads while scanning the ground for their next tasty morsel.  Even when lazily flying they often changed course unpredictably making it difficult to get a good closeup.

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(Photo credit: Nebraska Dept. of Wildlife

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When locating photos of the two types of vultures I noticed they are strikingly similar in appearance while in flight.  Condors are much larger, however.  A common turkey vulture (in the east people often call them buzzards) has a wingspan of “only” about 5 feet.  Condors, however, can have a wingspan of up to 9 1/2 feet and are the largest bird in North America.

Condors almost became extinct back in the late 80’s.  According to Wikipedia, their number dwindled to only 27 and the United States government launched an effort to capture the birds and keep them in captivity while breeding new batchs (condors can live up to 60 years).  They slowly released more and more into the wild and in Dec 2016 their number was estimated to be almost 450.  They are found mainly in California, Arizona and southern Utah.  Some of the photos you will see online show tags on the leading edge of their wings to help identify them and track their movements.

Over the course of several days I saw lots of turkey vultures and did see a few which seemed unusually large, which I assume were condors.

While not very attractive when perched on the ground, vultures are graceful and beautiful in flight.  They often fly too high to see the coloration on the underside of their wings.

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Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

(Photo credit: Mike Baird)

California Condors:

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CaliforniaCondor media.npr

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