Exploring Utah, May 2016
What a crazy spring we experienced in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Burning season for pastures in the Flint Hills began amid a very dry period with unusually low humidity and an abundance of fuel (dead grass). Ranchers, ourselves included, that have burned pastures for decades found out that years of experience of this annual practice didn’t matter this year. Many “controlled” burns became out of control for ranchers this spring keeping our volunteer firefighters rushing to help get range fires back under control. Thank goodness for these selfless people.
When the rains did come in late April the much welcomed moisture refused to stop and floods replaced the wildfires of late March and early April. We watched our raging creek with trepidation as it crept within inches of spilling over the top of the banks into our brome fields. It never ceases to amaze me to watch as huge trees, their roots ripped out by the force of the rushing water, tumble and float downstream as easily as a piece of bark in a placid riffle. The power of water is fascinating but terrifying.
Luckily our creek never breached the creek banks but our friends and neighbors west of Alma weren’t so lucky. Spring Creek went on a rampage and wiped out fences, not just water gaps, and spilled into corn fields where the small corn was just emerging from the ground. Once the creek receded it left trees, brush and flattened fences that had to be cleaned up and rebuilt respectively. Unfortunately, Rock Hill Ranch has a rental pasture where the normally peaceful creek runs along the edge of the pasture. Paul and Randall spent two days rebuilding the area where the fence was laid down by the high water, and Randall spent another morning putting water gaps in. Paul figured that between the two of them they spent thirty plus hours repairing the damage caused by the creek that became a river! Thank heavens we hadn’t turned our cattle out yet!
After experiencing our own controlled burn that got out of control and having to call the fire department for help for the first time ever, we quickly learned our lesson and refused to burn any more until we received a soaking rain. The April rains were accompanied by very cool weather. We burned all our pastures after the welcomed rains as did our neighbors that bordered us, with no problems I might add. However, due to the unusually cool weather the grass didn’t grow with any enthusiasm. This meant that we waited until the last two days before our May 6th departure date for Utah to turn cattle on grass. Yep, I eventually got to the title of this blog:). The three of us had two very long days as we corralled, sorted and hauled cows and calves to their designated pastures. With a feeling of relief and accomplishment, Paul and I could now relax and enjoy our time with his three sisters in Utah.
Paul and I leave early the next morning for the drive to Colorado where we will spend the night with Joy before driving on to Utah. I don’t know about Paul but I am worn out from the bustle of the past couple of weeks on the ranch. It has also been a few years since we have undertaken a long road trip and we find that after a couple of hours of driving we are ready to trade seats. Other than stopping to fuel up and a twenty-minute break for a Subway sandwich we just drive! We do enjoy looking at what appears to be a good wheat crop along the way. We also marvel at snow drifts in the ditches around Limon Colorado because the temperature outside is in the mid-70’s; they must have had some deep snow not long ago for the snow to still be in evidence. We also enjoy seeing pronghorn antelope scattered along our driving route.
Nine and a half hours later we pull up to Joy’s cozy mountain top home, which sits at 9,000 feet plus, where we find her hard at work raking up pine needles in her yard. The neighborhood mule deer appear across the road shortly after we arrive and I stalk them, (well I walk down the road towards them), where the scruffy deer look at me briefly before continuing to graze the neighbor’s yard. Once Joy finishes her yard task and we unload what we need for over night from our car, we agree that a stroll in the nearby State Park would be wonderful after our marathon drive.
We enjoy the brisk, windy walk and gazing at the mountain ranges in the distance. My dull headache reminds me that I am not in low altitude Kansas anymore but hopefully I will adjust to this thin mountain air quickly. The short hike felt great but I am ready to return to the house and relax. Beer and pizza hit the spot, followed by a cd of superior photos taken by a friend of Joy’s from a recent African safari, is the perfect way to kick back! Fatigue overcomes me and I fall into bed by nine.
We are up at 5:30 and pulling out of the driveway by 6:30 since we have another long, hard day ahead of us. Again we drive with minimal stops, trading off drivers every couple of hours. It has been years since Paul and I have traveled through the Rockies and the rugged mountain passes. For the most part the curvy roads are fine although we do drive through one stretch of highway, (Vail pass maybe?), where it is snowing and the highway is slushy. Many of the mountains are still snow-covered allowing for breath-taking views. For ten and a half hours we drive through varied landscape when we finally arrive at the VRBO house that Joy has rented for us for the next seven nights.
Whoa, Joy has scored on this house! The modern wood-framed house, accented with an A-framed peak that is filled with picture windows, has tree filled mountains around it and a small lake/big pond across the road. Another plus is there are no houses around so we can enjoy the incredible view and grounds in solitude! The interior of the house is very nice, the first floor has two bedrooms and a small bathroom but the large exercise equipment is a bit of a distraction. The second floor is wonderful with an open floor plan where the kitchen, living room and “viewing” room are situated. The master bedroom and bathroom are also up here and a large balcony is a wonderful finishing touch. Oh yes, there is a big laundry room too.
Paul and Joy can’t linger for long as they must drive another hour, over a 10,000 plus foot pass, to pick up Doris and Lois who flew to St. George from the East coast today, and then are catching a shuttle to Cedar City where Joy and Paul are picking them up. The bad news is that big fat raindrops are beginning to fall as the duo leave for there rendezvous with their siblings. I on the other hand, unpack, take a shower and retire to the viewing room to look over the rugged landscape. No way, a beautiful half rainbow is shimmering beyond the small lake so I rush to get my camera and snap a few photos to capture the magical scene. I settle back on the couch, relaxing while gazing towards the placid pond. What is that along the tree line? I run back to the bedroom, (Paul and I scored the master bedroom!), and grab my binoculars. Zooming in on the distant objects I see elk!! A half-dozen of the proud creatures are making their way towards the water. They are too far away for a decent photo but that doesn’t stop me from trying:). Over the course of an hour the elk amble in my direction, and eventually their meandering brings them to the tip of the lake that is closest to the house. This time I can get some decent photos and the two yearlings in the small herd spice the encounter up a bit by having a playful fight. What a wonderful way to start my first evening in Utah. I do feel bad that the rest of the party wasn’t here to enjoy this with me though.
Just as I am getting a little nervous that the Clarence and Lourine Miller offspring haven’t returned, I hear a car door slam. How did they travel up the long driveway without me seeing them? I run down to open the door as they don’t have the code to unlock it with them and then greet my other two sisters-in-law.
After settling into their rooms, everyone meets upstairs where the Papa Murphy pizza that Paul and Joy picked up is baking in the oven. I learn that Paul and Joy encounter snowfall on the narrow mountain road they had to drive but luckily on the return trip the snow showers had moved on. When I told them about the rainbow and elk they inform me that they saw a herd of ten elk not far from the driveway as they came home! As the four of them eat pizza, (I had a light snack earlier) there is a consensus by all to visit Bryce Canyon tomorrow. Oh yes, another nice perk to our location is that we are not far from Bryce or Zion. I am fading fast so I leave the four siblings to their visiting and head off to bed.
Exploring Bryce Canyon coming soon. Nancy