Sunday, July 24, 2011


Ravens are one of the most commonly seen animals at Dead Horse Point State Park. They are incredibly smart and good at finding food, and can usually be found near people. I remember sitting at Delicate Arch one evening eating a pop tart and watching a raven hop closer and closer, hoping I would drop something for it to snatch up.

They love campgrounds! Campers who fail to put away their food before leaving for the day often come back to find it gone--one camper even reported that a raven had stolen a steak off their grill one evening. They went inside their RV to grab something and came back to an empty grill. No wonder they have a reputation for being mischievous tricksters! They have been known to break into styrofoam coolers and pop-up trailers by ripping through the mesh. To avoid a mess and "stolen" food, use hard coolers and make sure all food is stored in a safe place.

As bad as it sounds, they also get into the dumpsters at the park! The wind blows the lids open occasionally, and the ravens get in there, tearing bags apart, looking for "tasty" morsels the humans threw away. Then, we get to go out there, gloves in hand, to clean up after them before the wind makes a real mess. I came up to one such dumpster this spring and immediately thought of the movie Over the Hedge. As I walked up, ravens, chipmunks and lizards all scattered like I had interrupted a buffet.

As the morning sun heats the cliffs below the park, air currents, called thermals, begin to rise. Ravens soar up and down, playing in these thermals that take them well over 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. Steep, fast dives and barrel rolls are only a couple of the exciting aerial maneuvers ravens perform. I saw them diving this morning as I came in to work at the visitor center. Death-defying vertical dives, right over the cliff, only to fly back up and do it again!

This raven looks like it's had enough of the fun for a while and is taking a break, enjoying the view.

Lunchtime Hike

Today I have the late shift at work so I had an hour lunch. I ate my tomato soup and bagel, then decided to go for a short hike before I had to go sit in the entrance station for 5 hours. I chose the Basin Overlook, on the east side of the Rim Trail because it's short and there are a couple small hills along the way. I've been working hard to get more exercise lately and decided that was perfect for a long lunch break.

This is looking east toward the La Sal Mountains, named by Spanish explorers who thought the snow-covered peaks looked like piles of salt. There is salt in the area. The bright blue ponds in the distance are evaporation ponds for the Intrepid Potash Mine. There is a large salt deposit underground, which is responsible for shaping a lot of the landscape surrounding the park (more on that in another post!). Water is pumped into the salt deposit, where the salt dissolves. The salt water is then pumped out into these ponds and dyed blue. (I heard that blue absorbs more sunlight than any other color.) When the water evaporates, the salt is left behind. Then it is scraped up, refined and shipped across the country. It's potassium chloride (instead of sodium chloride, or table salt), which is a main ingredient in plant fertilizer. We use it at the park on the sidewalks in the winter as an ice melt. That is probably the most frequently asked question around: "What are those blue pools down there?" So, I use the previous explanation every single day at work!

Basin View Overlook, looking at the Colorado River. This is one of my favorite views of the river, but I don't make it out to this overlook very often anymore. I think, even when I lived at the park I only hiked out there once in a while. The Bighorn Overlook was my favorite hike then, because it started right behind the ranger houses and was easier to get to.

Just another view from the Basin View Overlook. One day when I was first working here, I hiked out to this overlook and sat for a while, trying to take it all in. After I had sat still long enough, a chipmunk came up to explore, and so did a desert spiny lizard. They poked around for a little while, getting closer and closer to each other, until they were finally close enough to look each other in the eyes! Then they each went their separate ways. It was one of the most fun overlook experiences I've had out here.

So now I am out here in the entrance station answering questions about the park and selling entrance fees. I'm also catching up on my blogs! Utah State Parks has a blog now... I am Ranger Kim (surprise!) and I'm one of the contributors.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Desert Potholes

One of my absolute favorite things found here in the desert are potholes and the creatures living in them! Forgive me if I've already posted about these (I don't remember)--I don't know why I wouldn't have because I think they are fascinating! Potholes are depressions in the slickrock, and can be tiny to the size of bathtubs, hot tubs or tanks!

Here I am acting like I'm in a hot tub....

Deep potholes can hold rainwater for more than a month! These are an important water source for mule deer, desert bighorn sheep and many other animals.

Aquatic animals and insects even take advantage of this water source, including a couple species of amphibian (spadefoot toad and red-spotted toad), fairy shrimp, clam shrimp, tadpole shrimp and a variety of aquatic insects. When potholes are dry they don't look like much, but once it rains, eggs start hatching! The one I'm "sitting" in, but not touching, will be full of life when it is full of water. This one is up on the mesa top, close to Spring Canyon Point above the Green River.

Animals that have dried up, laying in wait, rehydrate and continue their lives. Some insect larvae can lose up to 80% of the water in their bodies!

Tadpole shrimp photo taken by a co-worker. I think they look like tiny horseshoe crabs.

Picture of a real horseshoe crab. We don't have those here but I'd like to see one someday!

Spadefoot toad, taken by Crystal, a co-worker. I've seen their tadpoles, but not the actual toad in real life, only pictures. I'm jealous!

It's fun to see and hear amphibians on the mesa top, because it seems like that's the last place they should be found! There are no permanent water sources, but these amphibians mature quickly (in less than two weeks) and are then able to leave the water source. Spadefoot toads mature from tadpole to toad, then bury themselves in the mud, waiting for the next rainstorm. Then they come up to the surface, mate, lay their eggs in potholes and the whole process starts over.

I took groups of 3rd graders to the potholes here in the park. It was fun, but hard for them to remember to not step in or touch the potholes. This year they were all dry, but other years they actually got to see the tadpole and fairy shrimp swimming around.

Utah State Parks

Utah State Parks now has its own blog. You can click here to see it! I am a contributor once in a while--I try to do it often but that doesn't always happen! I like it because it highlights some of the coolest parts of our state parks and also gives you fishing/boating conditions, snow conditions and special events going on in the state parks of Utah!

I have been around state parks all my life, or at least most of it. I grew up in Vernal, UT. There are three state parks there--the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, Steinaker State Park, and Red Fleet State Park.

Red Fleet has always been my favorite. When I find my pictures I will have to add these to my blog! We always had birthday parties at Red Fleet and had many camping trips at Steinaker with my dad before he died in 1996.

I worked at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum (the Field House) for three summers as a seasonal. I also volunteered there as part of a work-study program in high school. My aunt Linda worked at the information center that was attached so I "hung out" there even when I wasn't working.