Saturday, July 28, 2012

Utah Vacation, Part 1: Into the Mountains

I spent the past week traveling with my family in Northeastern Utah, a part of the country that was completely new to me. I was excited to visit with my people and see new things, and this vacation definitely didn't disappoint!

We went on quite a few hikes while we were in the area, and encountered gorgeous scenery and cool wildlife with each trip. Our first extended visit was to Tony Grove Lake, a glacial lake up in the mountains near Logan (the town where we were staying), and something like 8,000 feet above sea level. (That's pretty high up!) Tony Grove Lake is apparently famed for its summer wildflower display, and we arrived right in the middle of the show. I have to say, it was pretty amazing:

The steep slopes around the lake were entirely carpeted with wildflowers in full bloom, and in an incredible variety. There was columbine, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, and dozens of flowers I still don't have names for -- if I'd actually tried to catalog and identify all the flowers in bloom, I'm sure it would've taken me all day! Even without knowing all their names, though, the total collections of flowers really were gorgeous:

The lake itself was fairly busy with people (it was a weekend, and there's a pretty popular campground here), but there were also plenty of animals to see. Several of these big dragonflies (which I haven't been able to identify to species) hovered over the water and stayed still long enough for me to take pictures -- I love how this creature has its legs tucked up delicately behind its head:

And a few birds flew down to pay us a visit, including this handsome male Red-naped Sapsucker:

From Tony Grove Lake, there are a few trails that lead up into the mountains, and I spent a good bit of time meandering along one of these. Away from the lake, there were hardly any other people, and as I climbed another few hundred feet, the terrain morphed into something rocky and beautiful:

Up here, there were even more flowers, including some that I didn't see around the lake. My favorite of these was Stonecrop (Sedum debile), with its golden blooms standing a few inches above the plant's weird, round, succulent leaves, which really do look like they're part of the surrounding rocks:

There were some awesome birds up here, too. Mountain Bluebirds and Steller's Jays reminded me of our own Eastern Bluebirds and Blue Jays, and the Mountain Chickadees sounded just like our Black-capped Chickadees (to my ears) and looked like them, too, except for the weird white eyebrows in their black caps:

The family of Northern Flickers that lived along this trail was also great fun to watch. These western birds have red in their wing and tail feathers ("red-shafted") where our eastern birds of the same species have yellow ("yellow-shafted"). I love our yellow-adorned birds, but these reddened Northern Flickers were very pretty indeed:

I even happened (magically) to snap a picture just as one of these flickers took flight -- I can't help thinking of this creature's feathers as flames... what an awesome bird!

Also remarkably flame-like, a male Western Tanager flitted across my path a few times -- you can't not stop to look at a bird like this!

Many of the birds I saw on this mountain had families in tow ('tis the season!), and the Western Tanager was one of these. The baby waits, and Dad obliges by bringing a meal:

This White-crowned Sparrow was another new bird for me, although the species is also an uncommon winter resident in Connecticut:

Next to birds, rodents were the most common and active creatures in these mountains. Chipmunks were particularly common -- I won't make a guess as to specific identification, since there are multiple similar-looking chipmunk species that live in this area -- foraging next to the trail and just basically being adorable (I love this one's bracelet of dripping yellow petals):

I think the elegant markings on these little creatures are just too pretty, and they're more intense than those on our Eastern Chipmunks back home. I took this next picture on another day in another section of the mountains (and it might not even be the same species of chipmunk), but I think it shows off these markings best:

I even saw a couple of chipmunks who were apparently part of a family group, following and climbing over each other as they explored a fallen branch:

Many rocks along the trail served as convenient look-out points for larger ground squirrels -- this one has again evaded my identification attempts, since there are two species it could be:

And although this final rodent has the body stripes of a chipmunk, it's actually another squirrel -- a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel:

So while I didn't see any big mammals in the mountains (there are elk and moose in the area, among other creatures), I had a fantastic time with the birds, flowers, and small mammals, not to mention the scenery:

Yeah, Utah's pretty cool.

Coming up: an account of our trip to Antelope Island, where big mammals (and other creatures) abound!


  1. Gorgeous! I especially love your dragonfly shot - I'm pretty sure I lack the skills and/or equipment to get a decent shot of a dragonfly in flight. I'm no expert but I'd guess that's one of the darners in the genus Aeshna.

    1. Awesome -- darners looks right to me, too, just looking at a few pictures. I usually can't get pictures of flying dragonflies either, but these ones were hovering for a REALLY long time! They were very cool. :)

  2. Fabulous pictures! Glad you had a good time with the family.

    1. Thanks! It was a very fun trip. :D

  3. Absolutely stunning photography. World class stuff. All are great, but the dragonfly is breathtaking.
    What are you using for lenses?
    Kind regards from the NW Corner (CT),

    1. Thank thank you for your comment and kind praise, Harry! I almost exclusively use my 50-200 mm lens, set to 200 mm for most of the animal pictures and 50 mm for landscapes.