Chiricahua National Monument

We recently checked out Whitewater Draw south of Tucson and just outside of Willcox, AZ to see the massive sandhill crane migration. You can see my post here… https://kritterspaw.com/2023/01/28/natures-wonder/. We figured while we were in the area we could check out Chiricahua National Monument as it is not far from Whitewater Draw.

Chiricahua was established as a National Monument in 1924 to protect the over 12,000 acres of ‘pinnacles’ that jut from the ground. It’s said that these pinnacles were formed by a volcanic eruption from Turkey Creek Volcano over 27 million years ago. The volcano spewed ash over 1200 square miles cascading into fields of tall spires forming layers of gray rock called rhyolite.

This isolated mountain range rises above the surrounding grassland sea as if you are climbing into a sky island. Meadows dot the landscape with scattered cactus, mesquite, sycamore, juniper, and oak trees. The remarkable spires signify the unmistakable guardians looming from the forest floor that is Chiricahua National Monument.

The area is rich with hawks, deer, and even bobcat.

The park itself rises up to 9,763 feet and when we were there we found the trails to be solid ice and snow. The pinnacles still wore patches of snow from a snowstorm earlier in the week. The cold temperatures (24F when we were there) ensured the snow lingered for our morning sunrise.

Let there be snow

Finally, a REAL snowstorm! We got over a foot of snow. It clung to the trees and weighed down her heavy branches, coated the forest, and drifted along the roads. There is something so beautiful about fresh fallen snow.

The animals came out to enjoy the cool, refreshing white powder. As did we, following animal tracks and plowing new ground along our unplowed roads.

The accompanying wind blew snow in every direction as the storm took hold and wouldn’t let up.

By the next day, we had some real accumulation and forecasts for more. Bring it on! We can use all we can get, as the snow feeds our animals, our forest and her trees, and our rivers and lakes. Without it, our environment and animals are at risk. Let it snow!

For more snow pix, check out my post here … https://kritterspaw.com/2023/01/05/dr-seuss-trees/

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Best of … Animals 2022

I posted my Best of .. Landscapes 2022 here… https://kritterspaw.com/2022/12/29/best-of-landscapes-2022/

For all the places and scenery we enjoyed this year, we encountered animals along the way. We found a beaver den and were able to capture the little guy munching away on trees. We witnessed big horn sheep in the snow. We watched antelope traverse a hill with a cloudy sky as a back drop. And caught osprey and eagle with their prized catch. I had so much fun, let’s do it again. Bring on 2023. Here are some of my favorites.

Big horn sheep playing in the snow
Herd of big horn sheep run in the snow
Canadian Geese family enjoy the morning glow.
Beaver frolics in the water at Horseshoe Cienga Lake.
Ground squirrel braves sharp spires of the ocotillo for some of its tasty ‘candy corn’ fruit.
Osprey squawks for mate
Osprey flies off with prized catch.
Large 5 pt bull munches pine code off tree.
Curious river otter at Deadhorse Ranch State Park
Sandhill cranes lift off in mass to grass in fields nearby.
Baby grosbeak at feeding time.
Pronghorn antelope with new born in meadow.

It was a good year for animal pix. I could keep going, but I’ll stop here. Many are posted in the pages of my blog if one was so inclined. I hope 2023 is as productive and full of adventure as 2022. Wishing all the best to my great followers.

Practice makes better

People have often asked me, ‘how do you get so close to the animals?’, or ‘where do you find them?’. It’s not rocket science. The short answer is, I go out A LOT. It’s not like the occasional trip I get lucky on. It’s a whole bunch of trips… and every once in awhile I get lucky.

Luck definitely plays a part. But the more I find myself in a situation, the more I can use my gear, the more I can practice. All these things allow me to be better prepared when an opportunity presents itself.

I do find that the storms bring out the animals, and add more interest to the photographs. So we go out after most storms, whether it’s rain, sleet or snow (kinda like the postman). Where I find certain animals, I tend to go back, hoping I’ll get lucky again.

Having warm gloves that aren’t too bulky helps, making sure I can still operate my camera. When I encountered this herd of big horn sheep after a recent snowfall, it was 19F. I could barely feel my fingers, let along depress the camera release… and that was with good gloves and hand warmers. Being prepared allowed me to stay the course and get some nice shots.

Being able to take action photos, hand held, was a matter of having had proper settings, fast enough shutter, and panning the scene and composing the photo on the fly.

I know I need more practice to continue to improve my craft and to pay attention to what I do wrong, so that I can get better. It’s always a challenge, and I welcome the opportunities that may come my way so that I can.

You can see more of these big horn sheep photos here. https://kritterspaw.com/2022/12/15/like-a-little-kid/

Last Fall

I often say Fall is my favorite season, but this year we seem to just keep missing it.

It came early, so we opted to hit lower elevations. Just before a forecast of snow we thought we might catch some end of fall pix. Between the wind and temps the trees were mostly bare.

It seems fall has fallen (https://kritterspaw.com/2022/10/15/fall-has-fallen-2/) and winter is upon us.

Bring it on… and the animals with it. I do love the snow animal season as well .

Haigler Creek

When fall has fallen… see my post here https://kritterspaw.com/2022/10/15/fall-has-fallen-2/ it’s time to head south to lower elevation. Mogollon Rim is about 7600′, so we headed outside of Payson to Haigler Creek at about 5500′ to see if fall colors were starting there.

We were pleased to find some dappled color along the shores of Haigler Creek surrounding the cascading stream.

This has become a new favorite spot with its gorgeous scenery and peaceful babbling brook. While it is difficult to get to, certainly not for the 2×2 car, it is worth the effort.

I love the water gushing through the rocks and spilling downstream through twists and turns over fallen trees, branches, rocks, and brush that divert it’s flow. It is so free and unencumbered. It reminds me of a quote I am fond of, “Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of your life”. It’s peaceful machinations are a good reminder of what’s important.

Fog Rolls In

I love all the seasons. This time between Fall and Winter brings change of temperature and animals foraging for nuts and food.

It brings weather patterns that yield warm afternoons and cool mornings; fog and frost.

As with any change in weather, the animals are out… and so are we.

I feel so fortunate to live where we do, and see the gorgeous nature in all it’s glory.

Oregon Coast

Coming from Arizona, Oregon is a whole new experience. While we are used to canyons and ridges, cactus and creeks, deer and elk, scenery loaded with oceans, pelicans, otters, and redwoods is foreign land.

We drove north to Astoria, then slowly worked our way down the coast, camping along the way. We stopped and picked up fresh caught fish from the docks caught that morning, fresh veg at local farmers markets, and bread, cheese, and condiments from charming artisan stores and bakeries.

The scenery was stunning throughout, though we got our fair share of fog and overcast days. Walking on the quiet beaches in the mornings was peaceful and relaxing. Though, I must confess the damp weather was something we weren’t used to from our dry-heat of Arizona. Everything we owned was damp, wet, and difficult to dry.

We stopped at a number of Oregon State Parks, each having its own allure. Some had beach access, while others had tons of trails. Several had campgrounds, many were day use only. It was stunning to see how many State Parks there were. There had to be almost 50 parks just along the coast.

The coastline was gorgeous as we traversed our way down coast. Around every corner was a new sight to see; a new place to stop; a new picture to take. We planned to go 50 – 60 miles / day. Normally that would take an hour, under city highway (no traffic) standards. Every once in awhile we would push to 140 miles give or take / day. We ‘d leave early in the morning to catch sunrise, and wouldn’t get to our next stop until late in the day. We never stayed any place just one day – always at least 2, up to 4 days.

We stopped for lighthouses, beaches, and markets. We stopped for overlooks, pull-outs, and food stuff. We’d relax in our camp at night and enjoy preparing great meals with our fresh goodies.

Our last stop along the coast was Bandon. We found Bandon to be particularly charming with its many rock formations and spectacular coastline. Fish & chips (and a tasty selection of grilled fish options, oysters, shrimp, clams, and chowder) could be had right on the water overlooking the boats, or fresh fish and shellfish picked up from several local choices. There were several restaurant choices in town, and even a fromager (cheesemaker), Face Rock Creamery. There is even a distillery, a cider mill, and nearby wineries (though not in Bandon).

It was an extremely pleasant trip along the coast full of tasty treats and sights. Maybe next time we will venture inland… or maybe not.

Check out my pix South along the CA coast… https://kritterspaw.com/2022/09/30/california-cruising/

Birdlings

This year has been a huge learning year for me personally. I embarked on a self-challenge to capture better bird photos, and birds-in-flight, its own challenging category. It started with Whitewater Draw, south of Tucson, as I wanted to capture the sandhill cranes. You can see my posts from Whitewater Draw here… https://kritterspaw.com/2022/02/06/birds-a-feather/ and https://kritterspix.com/2022/02/06/whitewater-draw-workshop/, way back in late January.

It quickly morphed into osprey, hawk, and eagle.

So it’s only natural to expand to little birds to complete the education.

I guess you can say I’m branching out.

I guess you just have to take what you get and try to capture it the best way you can, whatever it may be. All education is good. One of the most important lessons I have learned has been preparedness. If I’m not prepared for that ‘moment’, no amount of knowledge, luck, or conditions will allow me to capitalize on my opportunity.

Luna Lake

Luna Lake is nearly on the border of New Mexico in the upper Northeastern part of Arizona, east of Alpine.

This time of year the grassy foreground is littered with wildflowers and water fowl.

It was a beautiful scenic spot, not particularly crowded. As we left early in the morning, we were delighted to find a herd of baby elk being shepherded by doting mom’s trying to teach them how to jump the fence. We did not want to disturb them, so didn’t stay long, but enjoyed the show.

We travel around the state quite a bit enjoying what nature shows us. We are always delighted by what we find, and humbled by what I can (or can’t) capture..