Friday, September 17, 2021

My Greater Sandhill Crane Escape.

from Durango’s Labor Day Weekend Four Corners Motorcycle Rally. 

Sandhill Cranes give loud, rattling bugle calls, each lasting a couple of seconds and often strung together. They can be heard up to 2.5 miles away and are given on the ground as well as in flight, when the flock may be very high and hard to see. They also give moans, hisses, gooselike honks, and snoring sounds.


I’m well aware that many of these bird vocalizations are similar to the noise emitted from Harley Davidson motorcycles and or their riders. But that’s where the similarities end. 

If those chrome pipes could speak, they’d be squawking, “Watzit to ya!” 

Whereas when a majestic Greater Sandhill Crane speaks, the sounds are ancient, inspiring and reassuring. Sandhill Cranes shout, “We’re still here! We’re survivors!” 

With this in mind, I did what I normally do when someone or something is bothering me. I leave.  I had to get away from the wrong kind of noise and the motorcyclists overly aggressive vibe. So… I attended the Yampa Valley Labor Day Weekend Crane Festival based in Steamboat Springs, CO instead.  

(By now I’m hoping Durango’s Hazardous Material Response Team mitigated the Bud Light and testosterone spills along Main Avenue.) 

I began my quest for Avian knowledge by attending Arvind Punjabi’s (an eminent scientist for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies) presentation. His Thursday evening talk was sobering,. Since the 70’s  nearly three billion birds have gone missing in North America. They are the victims of climate change, loss of habitat, pollution and for many falling prey to domestic cats. Mr. Punjabi claimed birds might be the “Canaries in a coal mine” when it comes to our planet’s health. I don’t possess enough Doctorate degrees to doubt him. Earth is in trouble. 

On Friday, I found myself sitting on a shuttle bus at 5:45 am for a meeting with the Sandhill Cranes. I wasn’t the only Early Bird. The bus was packed with other yawning avian enthusiasts. En route, Van (a retired CO Division of Wildlife  Biologist) gave a Sandhill Crane quick teach presentation. There was a vast amount of information to absorb before first light. Between the bumps, grinds and engine noise, I gleaned whatever I was capable of hearing. Greater Sandhill Cranes top out at over four feet in height and weigh more than ten pounds. Their wingspan is equivalent to a small NBA player, (greater than six feet). They’re big birds who are capable of flying 200-300 miles per day. Sandhill Cranes are true athletes, not winged weekend warriors. 

Eventually, we all stumbled off the bus at the Hayden, CO residence of Nancy Merrill who happens to be the Founder of the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition. (The same organization who sponsors this bird/birder friendly event.) During a solemn sunrise the Sandhills went airborne from the nearby wetlands of the Mighty Yampa River. Their destination was an upland feed zone.  Watching Sandhills in flight is as close to a religious experience I’ll ever have.

We got back on the buses and gave a  landlocked chase. Honestly, I can’t say the cranes chose their vegetarian restaurant for its scenic setting. There was a regional airport and Hayden’s coal burning power plant a short flight away. I suppose hunger conquers esthetics. 

At 9ish o’clock I boarded another shuttle for my scheduled bird walk at Carpenter Ranch. (A working cattle and feed operation preserved with the support of the Nature Conservancy. Be mindful of the cow pies). There we met Ted Floyd (editor of Birding magazine). Mr Floyd is as wired as a caffeinated hummingbird.  This bird authority knew his stuff though. Ted pointed to a retreating  mass of black specks.  “See that flock of Fuzzy Feathered Fussbirds? You can identify them by the whites of their eyes.” OK! It sort of went on like this  as my birding energy began to wane. Fortunately, two sightings occurred which grabbed my attention and woke me up. 

A) a Leopard frog. That was a BIGLY hit.

B) an adolescent slacker Bald Eagle who couldn’t be bothered to fly or fend for itself. It just sat in the same snag for about an hour. I dunno, maybe it was playing a video game. 

I wasn’t too bummed when this bird walk migrated back to Steamboat Springs. I had plenty of time to relax until Happy Hour. 

On Saturday, I had enough non-bird time to squeeze in a decent hike. Then I hustled over to the Steamboat Library for the keynote speaker presentation. Dr. Rich Beilfuss is the CEO and President of the International Crane Foundation based in Baraboo, WI.  He too has many Masters and Doctorate degrees. The good doctor spoke about the fifteen species of Cranes found the world over. Ten of these species are threatened. Including North America’s Whooping Crane. (There’s approximately 800 individuals.) On the other wing, Sandhill Cranes are considered a comeback success story of sorts. YAY! 

Saturday evening was spent back at Nancy’s bird friendly pad and paddocks for more Crane flights and feeding viewings. The undisputed highlight of the weekend came as the Cranes began to boogie to music only they could hear. Their dance is a bit of hip-hop, gyrations and wing flaps. Who needs “Dancing with the Stars” when you can view Cranes? 

The  Yampa Crane Festival whetted my beak to seek out these large, lovable winged critters at other festivals. As with all events though, Covid has changed the rules. Socorro, NM has already cancelled its November “Festival of the Cranes” over Covid concerns. The organizers for the Monte Vista (CO) Crane Festival suggest we check back again November for a Yay or Nay on whether or not it happens. 

Here’s the good news though. Cranes are illiterate. They haven’t read about social distancing, the advantages of being vaccinated or how to properly wear a mask. They are clueless in a great way. The Cranes will appear in the same wetlands at about the same time of the year. They aren’t on humanity’s schedule. Cranes are blessed in this regard.

In mid-November, I’ll spend my birthday at Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve near Socorro, NM. I’ll be their at sunup and sunset and wander around in between. Join me and I’ll spring for dinner and drinks in Socorro after the Cranes turn in. 

I’m OK if the Cranes don’t bake me a birthday cake. For me the birthday present will be to see them once again.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

I’m not a Hut Guy.

If you’ve been following along since the 2014 inception of this blog, you’ve noticed my distinct disdain for hut to hut hiking. Oh! I have my reasons. IE: A nasty sinus infection from a Chilean hut super spreader event, the complete lack of privacy and the acrid odors and unique sounds of unrelated hikers in close quarters. Of course, I wrote about them:

So why did I bid $400 in the Great Old Broads of the Wilderness Online Auction for a four night Hut to Hut Sneffels Traverse? 

I blame it on bidding under the influence of Double IPAs. The next day I woke to a caffeine high instead of a hop high, sadly I discovered the winning bid was mine. CRAP! 

The auction item was for two, in huts which maxed out at eight. I reached out to a few sort of locals to join me. They had legitimate excuses. “I’m planning on shampooing my hair on those days.” Or “I scheduled an oil change at Jiffy Lube. I can’t break it.” 

On a whim, I turned to the other member of the Sub-Eleven Foot Expedition Team. My forty-plus year buddy Nelson. (Between the two of us we don’t add up to eleven feet in height.) 

I launched the invite and informational website to my brother from another mother. “I already paid for this. You’ll get a freebie.” 

His answer was pure Nelson-Speak. “I’ll look into it. I’ll get back to you ASAP.” Translation: I’ll begin exhaustive research into blogs, interviews, photo content, reviews and the Library of Congress. This might take awhile.

Weeks later, “I’m interested.” Nelson-Speak. He’s figuring out the logistics and running it by his wife Jude. 

“Take your time. If you aren’t coming, I’ll camp with Sanctuary Too and just chalk the experience up to an IPA senior moment.” 

A bit about Nelson. He’s generous, kind, well traveled, considerate, an award-winning photographer, smart, humble and funny. He too grew up in the Big Apple. Unlike me, Nelson managed to jettison New York City’s “edginess” trait. This is probably why he’s an All-Around great human being.

A few days later, Nelson had his game plan for a “GO!” He sent me the details as I marked the dates on my wall calendar. 

From time to time we checked in on each other with questions and concerns. (We’re Jewish so we both harbor Hebrew Angst.) Our biggest concerns were:

A) What if our hut mates weren’t vaccinated?

B) or Worse! What if our hut mates were Glock carrying MAGA hat wearing Trumpers! OY!

Just in case, I packed a tent, sleeping bag/pad and stove. I planned on sleeping under my nylon dome regardless of who was going to join us. I’m the world’s lightest sleeper. I need my space.

Our worries were all in vain. Four of the eight hut mates canceled which left Dwight and Joan from Salt Lake City. We all met in Ouray for our hour long shuttle ride to the trailhead. It didn’t take me long to realize I was the boring homebody in this crew. Name a country or an adventure and Dwight, Joan and Nelson probably played there. I didn’t consider stating, “Oh yeah! Well I ride my bicycle to the local brewpubs at least twice a week!” Sometimes even I know it’s better to keep my mouth shut and listen. I might even learn something. Seriously, they are both Cookie cutter versions of Nelson and Zen-like too.. We struck Kosher Karma on this one. 

As far as the hike went, it was sort of underwhelming. Nelson and I are connoisseurs of big views, even though we are quite small. Most of the miles were spent maneuvering through a green tunnel of trees. After awhile it became a walking joke. “WOW! Nelson check out that Aspen!” Or “Of all the Spruce/Fir forests I’ve been to, this is one of them.” 

As the Polly Anna cliche goes though, “It’s all good!” I got the chance to hang with my buddy for a week and met two inspiring and interesting people who are strangers no more.

I’m pretty sure a wonderful time was had by all.

Note to self: Don’t drink double IPAs and bid at the same time.

PS the really great photos are Nelson’s.

Monday, August 16, 2021

“It’s 8:30 in the morning and you’ve…

already made my day.” Enthused Lydia, a Colorado Trail through hiker on a drizzly day in August 2020. 

So what did I do to deserve such an “Atta-Jeffy”? 

I handed this young, hungry backpacker a spare PB&Peach sandwich. That’s all, not a thousand shares of Amazon stock or health insurance for life, just a whole wheat sandwich. I walked away thinking, “Wow! That was an easy mitzvah.” (Good deed)

This episode got me thinking. I’m going to be a Trail Angel. 


A Trail Angel' is a term of endearment given to people who have provided Trail magic in the form of direct kindness and generosity to hikers.

Perfect! But I wasn’t going to settle for being a basic Wonder Bread Trail Angel. I was determined to be the one and best Jewish Mother in a male’s body Trail Angel. I decided to confine my efforts to the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trails in the above tree-line regions of the San Juan Mountains. 

As usual my summer has been racing by at Warp Eleven speed. “ He canna take anymore, Captain. He’s gonna blow!” June. Poof! July Poof Squared! 

It wasn’t until late July, I finally got my chance to don my yarmulke and wings. I chose Molas Pass for a shake down Trail Angel run. With a loaf of Multi-Grain Whole Wheat’s worth of PB&Boysenberry sandwiches, I set off towards the general direction of Durango. My bag of goodies didn’t last more than five miles on my outbound hike. It’s quite clear there are A LOT of hikers on the Colorado Trail!

My next gig was on Kennebec Pass in the La Plata range. I wasn’t  planning on being there, but the biting bugs chased me out of a nearby campout. I only had one loaf of bread. Sigh! I wasn’t prepared. Luckily for the hikers, I had enough ingredients to make the loaf into sandwiches. That bag of nourishment and calories didn’t last long either. When the sandwiches ran out, I offered up Clif Bars. (Definitely not as enticing as a PB&Blueberry sandwich.)

My next Trail Angel venue was on top of 12,650’ Stoney Pass. I was camped on the Continental Divide but by now those CDT hikers were long gone. Fortunately, I was on the home stretch for the Durango bound Colorado Trail hikers. My supply of sandwiches, oranges, Clif Bars and candy became depleted in a 12 RT hike. At least my pack became lighter.

So Jeffy, what’s it all about? I’m glad you asked. 

Here’s the demographics of the hikers. They are overwhelming white, young, educated, enthusiastic and incredibly polite. A few had the distinct smell of sweat and pot wafting off their soiled clothes. (Those Stoners really thought my sandwiches were AWESOME!) There was not one red MAGA hat among them.

They all have trail names. After introducing myself, (since it’s not cool to accept food from a stranger.) I asked a 6’12” hiker what his nickname was. He answered “BFG”In which I replied, “Big F—-ing Guy?” He turned away and laughed, “No. Big Friendly Guy!” Now that’s polite! And yes, he was friendly. 

I met Gazelle, Four Wheel Drive, Tea Bag, Long Fish, Cato, Moxie, Lazy Bear and others I can’t recall.

This is what I receive from those brief encounters.

As a jaded senior,  I score a twinge of hope. These youngsters will never look at an old growth forest and think, “I wonder how many board feet of lumber a clear cut would yield? OR gaze at a seemingly endless mountain vista and ponder, “maybe there’s mining opportunities out there.” No. They are now strong advocates for public lands, wild places, fighting climate change and Leave No Trace ethics. They are our future. 

On today’s mitzvah mission, I handed a sandwich to a young, fit woman hiker. She smiled, I smiled back. Then she said this to me. “You are so sweet!” It was 8:30 in the morning and THAT made my day.

Seriously, become a Trail Angel. You don’t even have to be a Jewish Mother in a male’s body to do it. I guarantee you will reap more than you sow.


Last photos: I do provide pizza delivery too. For this I received a bearhug from Amy H. Her boyfriend Doug M (whom I once worked with) was OK with that.