Sunday, March 13, 2011

Grand Canyon Bound

Hi All,

For those of you who do not know Janice accepted a job with Grand Canyon National Park as a wildlife biologist. This is a full time, permanent position. We are so excited. Janice will be starting her new job on March 28th and we will be moving her there the previous weekend. I will be moving there a month or so later because of housing issues in the park. We will be living directly in Grand Canyon Village and have one of the seven natural wonders of the world as our backyard.

Here are a few pictures of us enjoying the park over the years. We hope to see you all as you come to visit over the next few years.

Peace Out,

Monday, December 06, 2010

Elk. It's whats for dinner for the next year....

Hi All,
For all of you who did not know, Janice and I went on our first hunting expedition last week. For people who know me, you might find it surprising that I would go hunting, so before I go any farther I want to explain my reasons for hunting. Over the years I have become increasingly appalled at the meat processing business in our society. Everything from all the crap they inject into animals, to what they are fed, to the way the animals are treated, makes me sick to my stomach. I will not go into this whole debate but please look into it if you want to see the disgusting way our food is processed. Check out documentary 'Food, Inc.' if you want some really good insight. So, after years of eating meat and trying not to feel guilty every time I took a bite I decided to try and get my own meat. Please believe me that this was no little decision for me. I think if I am going to continue to eat meat then I will try and supply at least a good portion of it myself and along the way try and treat the animals I am eating with respect and thanks for giving their lives to me.
That being said, Janice and I went elk hunting last week. Please be advised there are some graphic pictures in this blog. Some including dead elk and bloody meat.

Let me start at the beginning. Janice and I made the choice to hunt and we wanted to make sure we were as prepared as we could be so when we took an animal it was with the least amount of stress and pain for the animal we could manage. One of the ways we prepared was by going to our hunting area three different times before our hunt and scouting, which consisted of spending over all about six days in the Round Mountain area in central AZ and walking 20 or 25 miles during those days trying to find what we thought were the best places to build blinds. We then took the time to build five different blinds in three different locations.

Janice and I also spent a lot of time trying to become better marksmen. We wanted to make sure that if we shot an animal we hit it where it would kill the animal as quickly as possible. We shot a few hundred rounds each from our .22's which is a small rifle and then around 30 rounds each from a 8 mm Mauser (my gun) and a 30-06. (Janice's gun) We also learned from our friend Jes that dry shooting is a great way to practice. Dry shooting is aiming your gun at something and then pulling the trigger with out any ammo in it. I also did this a few 100 times. It may sound crazy but I think it really helps.

On our first scouting trip Pico and Laila went with us. Check out their hunter orange.

When we headed out for the hunt we thought we would be out there for a week, so a friend of ours lent us a wall tent with a wood stove to put in it. This place is like a condo.

This thing was 15x15 and you could stand up in it. The wood stove worked ok. If you had a good fire in it the tent stayed very warm but it would burn out in 2 or 3 hours if it was not constantly tended. I think the jury is till out on how I liked the tent. It was great having all the room and the warmth but the thing is giant, a lot of maintenance and very expensive. Maybe one that was not so big?

Our first day of hunting we got up at 4 am, had a quick breakfast and then drove about 10 minutes to where we would hike the mile or so distance to our first blind. We got to our blind about an hour before sun up and unloaded all of our supplies as quickly as possible. Then the sitting started. Now sitting may not seem like a big deal but when it is 25 degrees it is hard to be comfortable and everything seems to make more noise. After a short time, while it was still dark we heard what we thought was a herd of elk walking very close to our blind. We think there may have been about 3 to 6 animals.

The morning was beautiful. As the sun came up the oranges, yellows, and reds in the sky made it hard for me to concentrate on looking for elk. Then the ravens started in. If you have ever spent time around ravens you know the wide range of sounds they are capable of making. If you have not spent time around them let me tell you they are like a chorus. Ravens are one of my favorite birds and think Janice feels the same. Around the same time the ravens started singing to us, the turkeys started in too. They were so loud it was hard to hear anything else at times. I love mornings. :) :)

About an hour after the sun came up we both had to use the bathroom and of course right when we started to get settled afterward Janice saw our first elk of the morning. They ended up being too far away so we just watched them move thru the trees. About 5 minutes later Janice noticed two more headed our way at the last minute. They were on Janice's side of the blind and were coming right toward us so Janice could not get into position until they were facing another direction. When Janice finally could get into position and got the elk in her sites, it was only about 25 yards away but behind a tree. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for the elk, a tree was positioned to where Janice could have shot and hit the elk but it would not have been a clean kill. Since both of us were not going to take a shot until we could be as sure as possible of a clean kill, she waited and waited and waited for what seemed like minutes but was probably seconds. The elk then felt something was wrong and ran as we watched them trot thru the trees.

This was so very exciting to us and we were so pleased that our first morning out we saw and had a possible shot at an elk. Our preparation, we felt was paying off.
Then we sat for 9 hours and believe me when I say that is a very long time. I did see a coyote cross the field about 250 yards away and it seemed to disappear in the middle of the field. I looked and looked with binoculars and could not see it again. They are either amazing animals or I am a moron.

Then more sitting.

About an hour before sun set, around 4:30, we heard a female elk call. Now in all are scouting and hiking we had not heard a call once. Janice and I immediately looked at one another and smiled and got ready. Janice saw the elk moving thru the trees, Janice was much better at spotting the elk then I was. This time the group of 8 or 10 were moving toward my side of the blind and to an opening where I may have had a shot at a clean kill. But as I was getting into position, when I thought the lead elk was behind a tree and could not see me, she was looking right at me, saw me and then took off at a fast pace. The worse thing about the whole incident was Janice had a clear view of the elk and was trying to get me not to move and I was so focused on the elk I never heard Janice. But we were still very encouraged about our first day and learned a lot. First being, to be prepared, especially near the prime time when elk are more active and we also talked about signals we would use if one of us had a clear line of sight of the animal. We felt very confident about our next day.

The next day we were up at 4 am again and out to our blind at around the same time. Again the beautiful sun rise but this time very little raven and turkey activity. We sat in the freezing cold until about 3 hours after sun up and saw nothing. Now our confidence was staring to waver a little bit. One cool highlight of the morning was when a gang of about 18 turkeys walked thru our field.

Then the waiting.

Later on in the morning we started talking about splitting up because one of our other blinds was only about a quarter of a mile way. So about 1:00 Janice packed up her stuff and headed out. Just before she left we joked about how funny it would be if we both shot an elk at the same time.

At about 1:45 I heard a gun shot on the other side of a big hill near us. I thought maybe the elk might run my way so since I did learn the day before to be prepared I got my gun ready. A few minutes later I saw four cows and one spike bull running thru the trees and then start to walk toward me. As they got closer and closer, I waited until the third elk was in my sights and then pulled the trigger. When the gun went off they all jumped but just stood there, which surprised me. I was not sure if I hit the elk I was aiming at or not. I just sat there for a moment and watched until the elk I shot started to act a little funny. It seemed like two of the other elk got close to her, almost to try and find out what was wrong. At this point I was sure I hit her so I put another round in the chamber which alerted the group to my presence and this sent them trotting off. As they were trotting off my elk started to wobble and then laid down. She then got back up, walked a few more feet and then laid down again. She then took a few more breaths and was gone. She was only about 50 or 60 yards away from me when she laid down for the last time and I watched the whole thing. The whole scene only took about two or three minutes but it seemed like a lot longer. It was not easy for me to shoot something and then watch it die.

I waited about five minutes and then walked over to her slowly to make sure she was dead, which she was. It was the first time I have ever killed anything so violently and make no mistake it is violent. Many emotions were moving thru me during those moments. These emotions were compounded by the fact that a few minutes after my shot I heard a shot coming from Janice's direction. Could we possibly have killed two elk within a matter of ten minute of each other? Yes, was the answer to the question.

After my shot, the rest of the elk herd ran in Janice's direction. Janice literally almost got caught with her pants down because just as she was finishing up going to the bathroom she heard a shot coming from my direction. Soon after she heard my shot, she heard the sound of hoofs running in her direction. She quickly went over to her gun to get ready, also learning from the day before. Just as she got ready the elk came into view. Now Janice is thinking, "did Geoff get an elk?, do we want two elk on the same day?, did Geoff miss?, I need to take a shot if I get one." All this is going through her head as she has to make a decision to shoot in a matter of about 30 seconds. She pulls the trigger and the elk take off. Janice is saying to herself, "don't run too far." The elk ran about 30 yards and fell down, kicked a few times and was dead.

After I got done checking my elk I walked down to meet Janice and to see if she also had an elk. We walked up to her elk together and checked to see if she was gone, she was.

We now had two elk down and this is when I started to feel a little overwhelmed and in a little over my head.

We walk down to where my elk was laying and pulled out our knives to start gutting her. Now I have always been pretty good at sharpening knives, but when we tried to cut into the hide I found that carving wood and trying to cut through an elk hide are two very different things. Now we both started to get a little overwhelmed. It is 2:30 pm, we have two elk down, three dull knives and we have never done this before. We felt in way over our heads. We decided that I would walk back to the car and try to find a place where I could call our friend Jes, who happened to be in the area working, to see if he could come out and give us a hand. While I did this, Janice was going to try and gut my elk with my very dull knife by herself.

To make a very long story short I got a hold of Jes and then he got a hold of another friend Mike. Jes and Mike are both Wildlife Managers for Arizona Game and Fish (like DNR Officers for you all back in Michigan). They both had just got done with a very long day of work and both came out to help two newbies get two very big elk out of the forest.

It was going to be awhile before they could make it out to us so I headed back to Janice. By the time I got there Janice had my elk gutted and was talking with a hunter who happened to see her and come over to see if he could help just as Janice was almost done. He helped us sharpen one knife a little and then went on his way. Janice and I then went to her elk and gutted her. Janice mentioned it was a lot easier with two people.

Now we both had watched a lot of video and talked to a lot of people about how to cut up and animal to haul it out of the woods and I felt like I had a good handle on what to do. But when I was out in the middle of the forest and there is a big elk at my feet I did not know where to begin. We knew we had to take her head off and then cut her in half, so we got to it. Needless to say it took us a long time to do this and after we got done with that we headed back to camp for some dinner.

Jes and Mike met up with us at our camp about 8:00 pm. When Janice and I left the forest before dinner, we had two elk down, both gutted, one was still whole and one had it's head off and was cut in half. The four or us came to my elk first and it was truly impressive watching these guys work. Janice and I watched, learned a lot and helped when we could as Jes and Mike skinned and quartered my elk and finished Janice's. With Jes and Mike's help we had two elk skinned, quartered, and hauled out to Janice's car by 12:00 am. That is 4 hours!! These guys were truly awesome. Now I am very sure Janice and I could have gotten both elk out of the forest and to the processor but we would have taken us ALL the following day to do what Jes and Mike did in 4 hours.

I think it bares repeating that Jes and Mike both had worked all that day and both had to work the next day. Jes had to be at work at 4:00 am the next morning. But they still came out and showed us how to process our elk and then helped us carry 524 pounds of elk out of the forest; in 4 hours. They are both amazing guys and we could not thank them enough. If anyone feels so inclined please send some thanks their way.

Here is all of our elk in Janice's car the next morning right before we headed to Flagstaff.

Here is some of our 524 pounds of elk in Flagstaff at the processors.

Now 524 pounds of elk with the bones will turn into about 270 pounds of meat and a few bones for Laila and Pico. We need to get a freezer. :) :)

After we dropped off our elk we headed back to our camp and broke it down. As a side note, the Subaru was awesome. While we were out in the forest all we saw were giant 4x4 trucks and we would wave as we went by with our little Subaru. Here are a couple of examples of the roads we drove on.

The only time I think it would of been nice to have a truck is when we were hauling the meat out of the woods. Mike was able to drive his truck back on a crazy 4x4 road that we would have never been able to get down. This made hiking the elk out to a vehicle about a quarter mile instead of a mile. But besides that, the Subaru was the shit.

After breaking camp we went back out to the field and took one more look around to make sure we did not leave anything behind.
Here is a look at how close the elk came to us. This is me in my blind with Janice taking a picture from where the elk were standing when I shot. I was only about 17 yards away.

Here is Janice with me taking the same picture, her elk was about 25 yard away.

As we were walking up to the gut piles we saw about 15 ravens and a bald eagle fly away from feeding. That helped me to really start processing what had played out the day before. Janice and I both agreed that from the beginning of this process things seemed to flow for us, even with the bumps in the road we encountered the process flowed. I think it flowed because of the preparations we took and also because of the respect and thankfulness we sincerely showed the process.

Both morning as we were walking into our blind an owl flew very close to us. Now I know owls live in the forest and I have seen them living there but I have not had one fly so close to me before and on two different mornings. Some believe the owl can be a messenger of death to come. Maybe. I know it helped me feel calm, self assured and more respectful of the process.

If any of you are ever out this way, please stop in and share some elk with us.

Peace Out,


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Long Time

Hi All,
It has been a long time since I have posted anything on my blog. Almost six months. Facebook has been casting it's evil spell on me. :) :) And as much as I like Facebook, it does not let me tell a story as well as the blog does. And those who know me know I like to tell stories. So, I am going to try in the next couple of weeks to get caught up on my story telling. I hope you all don't find me too obnoxious.
I am going to start with the non-motorized rafting trip I took down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon this summer. Janice and I have a friend who is a rafting guide for AZRA, a rafting company based out of Flagstaff. If you ever get a chance to do the trip check out this company, you will not be disappointed. Anyway, I got on a list to work on trips if they do not have enough people. Basically I get to go for free but I am working the whole time. I load and unload, clean, cook, help guide hikes, etc... It is great fun.
On this trip, Janice did the first half of the 15 day trip and then hiked the 8 miles out on the Bright Angel trail and I hiked down the Bright Angel trail and did the second half of the trip. We saw each other for about 10 minutes on the trail.
Once I got down to the river I had a few minutes to pack, ate a little lunch and then it was on the job training. As soon as we got into the rafts we went through some serious rapids. The fist rapid we went through smashed me down into the bottom of the boat. It was great fun.
Here is a rapid at Crystal rapids. This rapid is taller then I am.

Here is our campsite the second morning. It was hard for me to get focused in the morning because I could not believe how beautiful it was and how fortunate I was to be there and it was like this every morning.

Our first hike was up a canyon called Stone Creek. Here is evidence of the people who lived here 100's of years ago. If you click on the picture you can see a larger view and possibly make out how the rocks have been stacked and how black they are. This was an earthen oven. They would dig a pit, line it with stone and start a fire in it. The fire would heat the rocks and then they would take the ashes out and put food onto the rocks and then cover with dirt. Very much like a dutch oven.

Here is what some of the trail was like. You can see why some people may have needed to be guided.

One of the many falls on the way up.

Here is the jewel of the Stone Creek hike.

The next hike we did was to a place called Whispering Falls. This by far has to be my favorite hike in the Grand Canyon and right up there with one of my favorite hikes of all time.

The pool at the base of the falls was way over our heads and we swam and played for a a couple of hours.

Only a few of the people from the trip wanted to hike into the falls, so it was very quite. You could hear the falls whispering down the rock face.

The hike out was just as amazing as the hike in with scrambles and in and out of the cool water on such a hot day.

Here is a shot of one of the three rattlesnakes we saw on the trip. This one was seen at the same campsite we had a big horn sheep walked through our kitchen as we were trying to make dinner.

Getting dinner started at a different camp site. The fun game at this site was a couple of the guides would try and swim under all the rafts in one try. That may not seem like a big deal but that water is maybe 50 degrees and the current can grab you and never let go if you are not very careful.

This is a another very cool hike called Mad Cat. Stemming at its best.

Here is one of our rafts hitting the rapids right after Mad Cat.

Another hike we did was into Havasu Falls. Here is one of the many falls in the canyon. I have only been up about 2 miles but want to do the whole canyon one of these days.
People drown in these falls every year. One of the reasons people drowned here we got to play around with during our visit. The falls in this picture are only about four feet high. But if you swim to close the power of the falls sucks you towards them. If you try and fight the power you will very likely lose and then panic and then trouble. But if you let go and let the power take you the water pushes you under about three or four feet and then spits you out about five or six feet or more in front of the falls. All you have to do is let go of the control you think you have. We played there for a couple of hours and enjoyed the ride.

The hike out. And yes the water is that blue. I have seen it a couple of times and it continues to put a smile on my face when I see it.

So, there are many, many rapids in the 225 mils of the Grand Canyon. All of them big and all of them can flip and kill you if you mess things up. But according to the guides on this trip if you do everything right when you go into the rapid, like have the raft pointed in the right direction and row or paddle at the right time, you will be fine.
Then there is Lava Falls rapids. The guides said this is the only rapid you can do everything right and still flip. It is not the most technical rapid but it can eat you up. Here we are scouting Lava before push off.

Here is a boat from another trip going through the last bit a Lava.

The last morning.

I had so many great experiences on this trip. My favorite had to be when Lyn let me guide his paddle boat. We did 23 miles one day and I got to guide 20 of those miles. Lyn was in the boat the whole time so no one was really in danger. A paddle boat has six people with paddles and then a guide in the back steering and giving direction to the paddlers. Now, the Colorado River is not all rapids. There are many miles of flat water with crazy strong current that push, pulls, and twists the raft. Trying to keep the raft going forward is a lot easier said then done. The eddies will just stop you flat out and point you in the other direction. Trying to get through those parts of the river, without pissing my paddlers off was the hardest part for me. Don't get me wrong, the first time we dropped into a giant rapid with me at the controls puckered my ass up, but it was nothing like the frustration I felt trying to read the river and her currents. It really put things into perspective and taught me some lessons I wish I would remember consistently in my day to day life.

Peace Out everyone,

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