Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Utah Adventures

[Note to my readers: this is a pretty long post. There were just too many great pictures and stories to share! I hope you will be able to tell what an exciting trip this was!]

When my dad offered to take Eric and I on an elk hunt, I don't think we knew exactly what we were in for. We expected the early mornings, lots of walking, and seeing some new wildlife. What we didn't expect was the amazing scenery, the almost-vertical hikes, and the hundreds of elk we would see every single day. Here's a recap of our incredible week in Utah, which ended with two handsome bull elk that will adorn the walls of our home!

My dad had been on two previous elk hunts, and had been to Deseret Ranch twice before for elk and mule deer. He wanted to take Eric and I on an elk hunt, and he was going to come along as a companion, but not do any hunting himself. We have known about this trip for about a year but the planning really started this summer. Our normal hunting in Pennsylvania results in shots of 40-100 yards in distance. We knew that in Utah we could be shooting at 200-300 yards so we needed some additional target practice. We also needed some new clothes. We are normally hunting from a stand, sitting still for long periods of time, in snow and cold weather. We needed different attire for hiking at higher elevations, and layers for the 30-40 degree temperature change (from 30 to 70 degrees) that occurs from early morning to mid-day in the Utah mountains. Several trips to Bass Pro Shops secured us some long-range binoculars, new hiking socks, Camo pants and jackets, and scent-eliminating spray (x2 for everything since we were both going on the hunt!) 

My mom came down a few days before we left so that she could get settled with the kids and learn the new school drop-off and pick-up routines. It also gave us some extra time to get things wrapped up and packed up before we left. 

On Saturday afternoon we boarded a flight to Salt Lake City where we would meet my dad, who had flown out earlier in the day. We had two days to get acclimated to the altitude before we headed out to the ranch. Going from Richmond - at 150 feet above sea level - to Salt Lake City - at 4,500 feet - was a change. But we had to prepare for hiking in mountains as high as 8,000 feet! The air is thin and dry and we were immediately glad that we packed saline spray and eye drops.

We stayed at a hotel near the SLC airport Saturday night and then spent Sunday driving around to see some sights. My dad had hunted at the ranch twice before and knew his way around. First we made a trip to the Great Salt Lake - the second largest saltwater lake in the world. Parts of the lake are up to 25% salt! No fish can live in the water - only brine shrimp and some forms of algae. What makes it so salty, you wonder? Well, all the water that runs into the lake carries large amounts of minerals. But the lake has no outlet. So the water evaporates, leaving all the minerals and salt in the lake. It grows saltier every year. The really interesting part is that it used to be part of the Lake Bonneville which covered most of Utah thousands of years ago. As the land rose and the water receded, the Great Salt Lake is all that remains - only 15% of its original size. (I'll come back to this more later, but just remember that most of Utah used to be completely under water).

Look! JMU colors!

 Me and Dad. The air was so salty you could just feel your sinuses drying out more and more every minute.

Next we headed to downtown SLC. We didn't think about the fact that it was Sunday morning so practically every Mormon in central Utah was coming downtown to the temple. Here I am in front of the state capital.

The Mormon Church and grounds take up a huge chunk of downtown. They have beautiful, immaculate gardens along every block!

Here is the main temple. Most services are actually held in their new convention center across the street because they've outgrown this one. But it's still pretty and they use it for a lot of ceremonial events.

Inside the tabernacle (a different building than the temple). This is where the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings. The acoustics are so amazing that a tour guide got up at the pulpit and dropped a nail and you could hear it crystal clear from the very back (with no microphone)! Pretty cool. The organ has almost 12,000 pipes and is one of the largest in the world.

We left SLC and drove to Park City. We walked around the town, visiting shops and galleries, and spent the night there (it's a little closer to the ranch and is higher in elevation so we could adjust a little more). We got to see the ski jumps and slopes from the 2002 Winter Olympics. A neat town! For lunch we stopped at a bar so my DH could catch some of the Redskins game.

For dinner we ate outside at a restaurant along the main street.

On Monday morning we drove further east and met the outfitter for our hunt. We, along with the other hunters, then followed him the rest of the way to the ranch. There were 14 hunters in the group, with a few companions, like my dad, who were along for the adventure but weren't actually hunting. We saw some great views just from the drive up!

And here is one of the many streams that we had to drive through to get to the lodge.

Finally we arrived at the lodge where we would be staying. This was nothing like our hunting cabin in Pennsylvania. We had (small) private rooms with our own bathroom, a satellite TV (although there wasn't much time for watching it), beautiful view of the mountains, and a huge kitchen and dining area where we had delicious home-cooked meals three times a day.

Views from the front porch.

There was even a little beaver pond just down the ridge. I walked down one day and a beaver popped up and swam around for about 10 minutes trying to figure out what I was.

All dressed and ready to go!

So here's where we get to the interesting part of the story. I'll tell you a little about a 'typical' day and then some more details of specific days. Wake up at 5:00am (or occasionally at 4:45) and throw some clothes on. Breakfast is served at 5:15 (the cooks are actually up at 3:30 every morning to start making breakfast). Breakfast is usually some sort of egg casserole plus sausage or bacon, biscuits or pancakes. Finish getting dressed, pack your bag, get your gun, and head out in the truck around 5:45. Spend 45 minutes to an hour in the truck driving across the 235,000 acre ranch (that's about 365 square miles) to wherever you are hunting that morning. Sunrise is around 7am, so you'd better be hiking by then! Spent the next several hours hiking and glassing (aka - looking in binoculars and scopes to find elk). Over the course of three hours, you may see anywhere from 20 - 100 elk (but not necessarily the bull that you want to shoot).  Spend a good part of that time chuckling to yourself as you listen to the bulls bugling, and watch them attempting to round up some cows (female elk) to add to their harem, and fighting with small trees to prove how strong they are. Along the way, you may also see some moose, bear, antelope, mule deer, coyotes, or other wildlife.

Around 11am you head back to the ranch for lunch (another 45 min - 1 hour drive). Lunch is served at 12:30 - no little sandwiches! You get a beef roast with vegetables, potatoes, homemade bread, and always dessert. Then it's time for a quick shower and a nap. Get up and ready by 3:00 to head back out. Continue glassing and hiking until it's dark - usually around 8pm. Depending on how far away you are from the truck, it might be 9pm by the time you start driving back to the ranch. Dinner is served around 9:30-10, or whenever you happen to make it back (sometimes as late as 11pm). Dinner is another huge, delicious meal, always with dessert! Wash your face, go to bed, and wake up in a few hours to do it all again!

Beautiful sunrise from the top of a ridge. 

It rained on and off Monday night and Tuesday. A moose cow and calf ran down the road in front of us for about a mile before they finally got out of the way!

Beautiful foggy morning!

My occasional hunting companions (moo cows as opposed to elk cows)

A rainbow after a storm!

Remember when I talked about Utah being under water thousands of years ago? All along the tops of mountains you'll find these large round stones - they look like river stones (because they used to be under water!)

Luckily the weather cleared late on Tuesday and we had beautiful weather the rest of the week!

More and more mountains off in the distance...

If it weren't for the orange vests, you wouldn't be able to see us!

Just me and dad, hanging out on a steep hillside and watching some elk.

See that hill over there? We spent a good chunk of Wednesday watching that ridge line. One of the other guides has seen a nice 7x7 (point) bull with some cows. We saw him come over the ridge that morning with 32 cows and calves, then they made their way down to the bottom of the canyon to bed under the trees in the middle of the day.

We came back later in the afternoon and watched them from the top before dropping down into some trees below. I was on the side of a steep ledge, in the middle of thick brush and trees, when I finally got a good shot at him! What a thrill!

That's one very happy dad! 

See that hillside behind me with the trees? That's where I was when I shot him - 377 yards away - at 6:30pm. I had never shot farther than 300 yards before, and even then it was at a paper target!

By the time we took pictures and Matt (my guide) got him quartered, it was already dark. We had a rough hike out of the steep canyon in the dark. Eric and Landon (his guide) picked us up on an old logging road on the other side. The next morning I went out with 3 of the guides in a Ranger to get my elk. I was very wary of leaving him (and that nice rack) out in field all night long. We'd heard a large pack of coyotes in that same area earlier that day. But apparently if you leave a shirt or jacket by the elk, the coyotes are afraid of the human smell and won't come near it. Sure enough, he was right where we left him the next morning and hadn't been touched! We had a steep (and occasionally terrifying) ride in the Ranger to get to him, but we made it out safely. The driver told me I was the first person to ever wear a seatbelt in his Ranger!

I had gotten my elk, but Eric was still hunting. Thursday afternoon I went out with him and Landon to help glass for elk. It was another beautiful day!

During 4 hours we probably saw 120 elk! We came across one large herd of about 75 that passed right near us. There were at least 24 bulls with them - many of them spikes or younger bulls. We headed a different direction and came to a couple of small ponds. We had a great time listening to a few of these bigger bulls bugle and chase each other away from the cows. Another large herd came into the clearing while we were watching.

On Friday morning we headed back out. I went with Eric, while Dad went with Matt to glass from the opposite side of the canyon. After a long hike in the morning we decided to pursue a bull that Matt and Dad had seen from across the canyon. By the time we got to where the elk were, they had moved, and we had to hike some more. After finally catching up it was already lunchtime. He had bedded down for his mid-day snooze with his cows, but we didn't want to risk losing him if we left and came back. So we decided to stay and wait. We waited all afternoon. It was sunny and hot, and we hadn't eaten anything since breakfast at 5:30am. But we each had some water and a granola bar, and we found some shade while we watched and waited for this bull. 

Eric taking a little power nap.

Trying to sit in the middle of this bush to get out of the sun!

A little color in the middle of all the sage brush!

By 4:30pm the bull finally got up and then proceeded to fight with a tree for almost an hour. Eric had found a clearing nearby where we hoped he and his cows would move to - it would be an easier shot for him. We spent the next 2 hours watching the bull go back and forth in the trees and never going where we wanted him to go, of course. Eric and Landon went further down the ridge to get a different angle. 

Finally, at 7:30pm, 12 hours after we started hiking that morning, and 10 minutes before sunset, he got his clear shot! A single shot at 350 yards brought down this big 6x6 bull!

It was dark by the time we hiked across the canyon to where the elk was. Unfortunately because it was dark and late, they couldn't get a Ranger to us. So we spent the next 45 minutes hiking back out of the canyon. Between the dehydration and the amount of hiking we'd already done that day, our legs were jello! It was 10pm by the time we got back to the truck and scarfed down the sandwiches that Dad and Matt had brought for us. We got back to the lodge at 11pm, exhausted but happy! The next morning, Saturday, Eric went with a bunch of the guides to get his elk, and they were able to get some more pictures in the daylight. 

Here are Landon (Eric's guide), Matt (my guide), and my happy DH.

Dad and I stayed at the lodge and got everything packed up. When Eric got back with his elk we were able to get some pictures with both of them together. We can't wait to get the antler mounts on our wall at home!

Saturday afternoon we drove back to Salt Lake City, and then we flew home on Sunday morning. We were physically exhausted from the trip, but loved every minute of it. The views, the scenery, the wildlife, and the company of my dad and a bunch of other great hunters and guides - what a great way to spend a week!  Thanks again to Mom and Dad for making this trip possible. It was a very special week to spend with my dad, and we were so lucky that he was able to be with both of us on the days we got our elk. Mom spent 12 days at our house getting the kids to and from school and activities, and worked hard to keep our human and animal kids alive and happy. And thanks to Reva for coming up mid-week to help my mom with the kids and bringing her some much-needed adult conversation. The moms definitely had a fun few days together - and Ainsley and Parker got spoiled with double grandmother time!

We have so many more pictures than I could possibly post here (and I posted too many already) but I'm happy to send my Flickr album to anyone who's interested. We hope to get the elk meat sometime this fall - it is being processed and frozen out there - and will be happy to share some. It's more than we could ever hope to eat in a year! We also hope to have our antlers mounted later this winter, so come by for a visit to see them and hear more stories. This was certainly an adventure that we'll be talking about for a long time!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Class Pet

Every year the kindergarten classes get to pick out a class pet. They spend several weeks keeping a chore chart and helping out so they can earn money to help with the purchase. Last week they had a special field trip (on a bus!) to the pet store to pick out their new pal. They got a hamster and named it Oreo because, well, she looks like an oreo cookie to a bunch of five-year-olds. 

Oh - and here is Ainsley with her Senior buddy, Emily. They pair up the seniors and kindergarteners each year (the incoming and outgoing classes). They get to do activities with their buddy throughout the year. This was taken at Convocation, when they get to walk in together and sit in the front.

Each Thursday the 4th graders come in to read to her class. It gives the older kids a chance to practice reading aloud. Here is Ainsley with her 4th grade reading buddy. 

Here she is working hard on her letters!

Time for a field trip! Here is the whole kindergarten - all three classes. She's in the back row, 2nd from the left. 

Ainsley and her friend Karsen, riding the school bus together!

Here is Ainsley's class - she's 3rd from the right on the back row. They wear their Steward shirts on days when they have field trips or other special events. 

Watching Oreo get settled in his new home!

What a fun adventure!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day at the Lake 2014

Although we had a smaller crowd this year - several friends couldn't make it - we still had a great Labor Day weekend at my parent's lake house in Pennsylvania. We drove up late Thursday night so we had Friday to prepare for our upcoming elk hunt in Utah. It was nice to have a day with my folks before we kicked them out of their house for the weekend! 

As usual, the weekend was filled with swimming, fishing,  ATVing, walks in the woods, and playing games. With only four kids, instead of the normal eight, it actually seemed a little too quiet! But they all had a great time defending their castle in the secret forest, looking for newts, and roasting marshmallows. 

Another fun weekend with friends!

 Enjoying a little milkshake on the way to the lake.

Worn out after a full week of kindergarten!

A happy girl!

A beautiful day at the lake.

Big kids enjoy some fishing!

...while others take a nap!

A little science experiment with Nana - just pick some Queen Anne's lace and add some food coloring!

Ainsley and Timmy building with dominoes.

Chris and his very nice bass!

Girls have to stick together!

 Abby gets spoiled with a personal ride!

After catching (and losing) two frogs, Dixie is busy hunting.

Nana's beautiful flowers!

A (sweaty and slightly dirty) family photo!

Happy kids don't wear shoes!

"Don't I look so innocent sitting here?"

 "I'm going to throw these rocks in the lake..."

"...and there's nothing you can do about it!"

 Passed out in the car on the way home after a fun and exhausting weekend!