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Death Valley’s Wild Burros~

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the lower ’48 consisting of 5,270 mi² s of barren, beautiful desert. It holds the world record for the hottest place on earth topping out at 134 F in 2013.

Burros (donkeys) were introduced to the park by gold miners in the 1800’s. Some escaped and wild burros have thrived in the park ever since. Burros dig holes to find water and these holes are often used by other desert creatures. Burros are a food source for resident mountain lions, taking pressure off big horn sheep populations.

Burros are not wanted by The National Park Service in Death Valley.

The front page of the 2019 National Park Summer Visitor Guide says burros are an “invasive species……they stomp around and make a mess…they over browse…..they can be mean and aggressive when defending young….they stand in roads and won’t budge.”

This sounds a lot like some of the human visitors I have seen in national parks over the years. But despite this, the park service has pursued a policy of rounding up wild burros by helicopter and horseback, shipping them off to rescue organizations. “Eliminating wild burros from the park has been the park service goal since 2002,” (Pahrump Valley Times).

Having read about the wild burros, and wanting to see the last remaining ones, I decided to go search for them. I started by asking locals where I could find them. Every local I spoke to told the same basic story, which amounted to, “I haven’t seen them in the park. I have seen them outside the boundaries of park.”

One person even said, “It seems they know they are not wanted in the park, so they tend to stay just outside it.”

Pretty clever critters, huh?

The road to Beatty Nevada, a town of 1010 people, just outside the park came up in lots of conversations as a place where wild burros congregate. So off to Beatty we went.

Sure enough, near the outskirts of town, we started to see signs of burro presence, not stomped up messes, but donkey scat. My husband Jim is a patient person, and he was willing to take all sorts of rocky dirt roads following donkey scat. We had no luck, and were about to give up when Jim decided to drive around the perimeter of town, and there they were! A small herd of eight burros, with one dominant male, three foals, and four females. One female was pregnant. Here was the male being protective when we first saw the herd:

After awhile of distant observation, the burros seemed to decide we were not a threat, and walked slowly over and approached us directly, showing no sign of aggression. Mindful of the park literature, I backed away from them, and retreated to the safety of the car.

This was the burros reaction to my retreat!

A Beatty local resident, observing my caution, walked over and introduced us to the burros.

You can see his hand here.

No one should ever approach wild donkeys. They can be aggressive and dangerous when threatened. But this nice local man showed us their other side as well. They can also be friendly, curious and affectionate.

You can almost see Jim here making friends!

Cheers to you from the beautiful burros of Death Valley~

For further discussion of the burros and park policy see:

https://undark.org/2019/10/14/death-valley-burros-fate/

Mission Inn~

The historic Mission Inn which occupies several blocks in downtown Riverside California is the largest Mission Revival building in the United States.

The Inn was built in 1902 by an engineer named Christopher Columbus Miller. His son Frank expanded his father’s original efforts, and added wings, rotundas, chapels, museums and galleries.

The building contains a mixture of Spanish Gothic, Moorish and Mediterranean revival architectural styles. There is a Spanish Wing, an Alhambra Wing, and flights of fancy everywhere you look.

Frank Miller traveled the world collecting museum quality treasures to fill the inn, including what some say is the oldest bell in in the new world dating from 1247.

There are two chapels on the property including the one pictured dedicated to St Francis of Assisi.

Louis Tiffany designed two of the mosaics in the chapel.

The Rotunda Wing features a five story open air staircase.

The rotunda tops a suite dedicated to the writer Anne Rice.

Presidents, world leaders, and many famous folk have stayed in the inn over its history and the inn has a presidential lounge dedicated to the many presidents who have stayed here.

The Inn began a period of slow decline in the 1960’s where ownership changed hands multiple times and bankruptcies occurred, eventually forcing the city of Riverside to purchase and close the property for eight and a half years. In 1992, The Historic Mission Inn Corporation purchased the property and reopened it in all its former glory.

I will show you more details and the interiors of this amazing building in my next post. Until then, cheers to you from The Mission Inn in Riverside California~

Murals of San Juan del Sur~

The sleepy beach town of San Juan del Sur Nicaragua has some awesome outdoor murals.

The murals are thirty meters in length,

And depict sea creatures native to Nicaragua.

The artist who painted them is Jose Mariano Quintero.

He also contributed murals to Nicaragua’s National Assembly.

The artist’s purpose in painting these murals was to depict the beauty of the ocean’s creatures,

And the need to protect their fragile home.

We are home at The Holler now, but it is cheers to you from peaceful San Juan del Sur~

Life’s a Reflection~

Of what we see.

What we perceive,

depends on where we look.

Beauty is everywhere,

just waiting to be found,

even on the cloudiest days.

Cheers to you from Olympic National Park~

(Note: We are home at The Holler now. These photos were from our May trip. I wouldn’t want you to think we are never home!)

The Smiling Chipmunks of Riding Mountain~

Cheeky little chippers,

stand their ground when you come close!

Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba Canada has a ‘Red Chair Program,’ where two red Adirondack chairs are placed at random, often remote locations throughout the park, encouraging you sit for a spell and soak up the scenery.

The park consists of 1,146 mi² of mostly remote, scenic forest.

It is filled with pristine lakes,

and endless opportunities to soak up the solitary scenery.

Unfortunately we were a bit too early to see the birch leaves turn.

Cheers to you from Riding Mountain National Park~

Eat, Play, Swim & Sleep~

This is what we saw polar bears doing, as they wait for the ice to freeze, so they can go hunt seals on Hudson Bay. Works for me. I love doing all of these things!

The cub is eating the spine with ribs attached of a mammal the bears killed and you can see the dark colored blood on the rocks from their kill site. There was also another critter here that mama and baby bear continuously growled at. Most likely another bear, but we never saw it hiding in the rocks.

Scientists disagree about whether Hudson Bay polar bears eat or hunt while they wait for the ice to freeze, but this cub has the blood on his paw to prove he does both!

We nearly missed this big bear swimming near our zodiac.

Here he is leaving the water.

And of course the play. We saw mamas and cubs spending lots of time playing.

Cubs practice hunting techniques with this play.

And, like all young creatures, they like to play!

It is so heartwarming to observe the strong bonds between patient mother and playful cub.

Polar bears are not white. They have black skin and hollow transparent fur that conducts heat down their fur like straws to be absorbed by their black skin. Their fur appears white because it reflects sunlight. Polar Bears are efficient solar heat generators, but this makes them uncomfortable in arctic summer weather.

They spend a lot of time taking siestas (and scratching) always near water for a cool dip.

Here is another wet bear. Please forgive and bear with me, as I break my own rule on posting too many photos! I couldn’t resist and I do appreciate your patience. We are home now and I won’t be posting more bear photos for a long while.

A different mother with a much bigger cub, that I shot from the zodiac on the bay. Cheers to you from the stunning bears of Hudson Bay~

Churchill Manitoba~

Oh course I have to lead with the bears. Churchill is often referred to as ‘The Polar Bear Capitol of the world’ and I do have more of them to show you. This is a different mother and cub from the ones I posted before and they are shot in black and white.

Churchill itself is a most remarkable and unique place. In the summer it is nippy, but in the winter, it is another story altogether. Hudson Bay freezes over and the polar bears are in their element. People, not so much. But clever and resourceful humans have adapted many ways to make life in this forbidding climate livable. Check out this polar research vehicle which you have to admit is pretty darn nifty. (In the background you can see an abandoned missile silo. More about this later).

Decades ago polar bear populations around Churchill were in very serious decline. Protection and creative bear management practices have brought numbers up significantly. This is the ‘Polar Bear Holding Facility,’ which locals call, “Polar Bear Jail.” Bears that cause repeated problems in town are held in this facility and then relocated by helicopter far away in the tundra. The town has a Bear Patrol, which is called out when bears become a threat, to shoo them out of town. These smart practices are saving the lives of both bears and people.

Inukshuks were used by northern Inuit people as traditional directional markers. An Inukshuk like this one symbolizes friendship and safety. Today, “Inukshuks have been transformed into worldwide symbols of hope and friendship transcending borders and welcoming people all over the world.”

(Source: https://www.sustainabilitytelevision.com/news/why-inukshuk-represents-heart-canada)

Respecting the meaning of symbols like this seems more important than ever in today’s world.

Note: the femur bone at the bottom right of the photo. Most likely caribou. This is polar bear country after all.

Traditional Caribou Hall is a National Landmark and a town centerpiece.

My son is checking out the wreck of a plane that crashed in Churchill in 1979. All aboard survived, but what ends up in Churchill, often stays in Churchill, because the only way in and out of town is either a train ride that takes about 45 hours, or an air flight. The commuter airline that makes the trip between Winnipeg and Churchill is called “Calm Air.” It offers a lovely ride that we enjoyed immensely, even though some locals refer to the airline as “Calamity Air,” due to, errrr…..unforeseen weather variations enroute.

These are the community vegetable gardens. Vegetables are prized and hard to grow in this frozen tundra environment, so community effort is important. Recycled arctic buggy wheels make useful above frozen ground planters.

A traditional cabin built to withstand the arctic winter.

Our lodge was built of reclaimed logs and has this sign in front.

Churchill is filled with amazing open air art. Click on this link and read how and why this is so. You will be glad you did. The story is awe inspiring: https://www.cbc.ca/cbcdocspov/features/a-winnipeg-artist-brought-hope-to-churchill-manitoba-when-they-needed-it-th

This abandoned building is a concrete blast shelter connected to a former missile test facility by underground tunnels. This facility operated in Churchill from the 1950’s until the mid 1980’s. All the missile testing buildings are now abandoned.

The seemingly endless miles and miles of tundra topography surrounding Churchill is stunning and utterly unique.

Cheers to you from amazingly beautiful Churchill Manitoba~