Early last week I arrived in Buena Vista, Colorado at The Link School - an alternative high school specializing in providing a strong experiential education. Started by a childhood mentor of mine, this school and its mission has always been important to me. When offered the opportunity to teach students about Ornithology, followed by a canyoneering/climbing trip to the Grand Gulch area in Utah, I jumped at the opportunity.

Before leaving for Utah, I had two Science blocks to engage students with birds. Before my arrival, they watched the movie "The Big Year" and had an idea of what I was doing- however I shared some photos and video in a presentation highlighting the differences between my journey so far and the attitudes and abilities of the characters in the film. We meandered into bird biology, looking at form and function of owls as a model. Students completed several hands-on activities including owl pellet dissection, from pellets I collected from an owl roost the week before. 

 

 

Heading to Utah

We departed for Utah early in the morning, before the sun came up. Our motorcade of Suburbans along with the Yukon owned the vacant highway like a private entourage, and from the passenger seat I caught a few locals rubbernecking. Nothing here, just a school heading on an awesome climbing/canyoneering trip to Utah! 

Loading up the vehicles in the pre-dawn light

Loading up the vehicles in the pre-dawn light

Early on in our drive, we encountered a large herd of Elk, trying to cross the highway in Colorado

Early on in our drive, we encountered a large herd of Elk, trying to cross the highway in Colorado

We stopped in Moab to grab lunch, rest, and refuel. After a delicious bacon, egg, and cheese burrito the size of my forearm, we headed to Looking Glass Arch, which we climbed and then rappelled off the top, to the scree slope below. At the start of this year, I didn't think I would be doing any intense climbing- but was pleased to brush up on my skills! 

Looking behind me at the route i just climbed along the arch

Looking behind me at the route i just climbed along the arch

The panoramic sunset along Hickman Flats Road searching for Gunnison Sage Grouse        Camera:  iPhone 6

The panoramic sunset along Hickman Flats Road searching for Gunnison Sage Grouse        Camera:  iPhone 6

I had a couple opportunities to break off from the group and do some birding independently- going 3 rounds against the Gunnison Sage Grouse. The dwindling Utah population eluded me, but I enjoyed the challenge of finding birds before lekking starts in April. I'll post separately about the adventures around Monticello, the Utah epicenter for that species. 

Link students scramble across a ledge leading to Perfect Kiva, high along the canyon wall

Link students scramble across a ledge leading to Perfect Kiva, high along the canyon wall

At Grand Gulch, we split into 2 patrols, heading down opposite ends of the canyon. For the next several days we explored ancestral Puebloan sites, learning about what factors may have led to the collapse of their society and led to the migration of this canyon's inhabitants to leave. I had a blast finding artifacts, including pottery shards, stone tools, clay figures, corn cobs, and turkey bones at Turkey Pen ruin. 

Pottery shards from clay cooking pots and stone flakes from multiple time periods, some dating  back to 750 A.D. We left all pottery and stone artifacts exactly where we found them, as it is illegal to remove them from the site 

Pottery shards from clay cooking pots and stone flakes from multiple time periods, some dating  back to 750 A.D. We left all pottery and stone artifacts exactly where we found them, as it is illegal to remove them from the site 

Petroglyphs along a high ledge         Camera:  iPhone 6

Petroglyphs along a high ledge         Camera:  iPhone 6

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in Grand Gulch, UT

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in Grand Gulch, UT

During the trip, I added only 3 species of new birds to my year list, but teaching students about birds and connecting young people with nature was totally worth it! I look forward to more opportunities to be a guest instructor at schools during the remainder of the year. 

Thanks to all who have been following my journey so far. I leave Colorado expectant of good for the future, and grateful for the opportunities and support on my adventure until now! 

Bird on! 

Christian