Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Grand Canyon Ravens

While on my way to watch another sunset, there were lots of ravens hanging around the parking lot. One was sitting on a fence along the pathway to the rim. He seemed very unconcerned about people walking close to him . So, of course, I took some photos.

Up close they look very big and powerful. While on the ground they move around with short hops. Nothing like the graceful, playful, acrobats they are in the air as they float, dive, and swoop with ease and grace.

Ravens are very intelligent, curious birds. In many of the Native American cultures they are "Tricksters" and are known for their playful behavior. I spotted this one playing, or perhaps, investigating a plastic bag. The wind would blow it away from him and he would walk after it, pick it up and move it about with his beak before setting it down. The wind would again blow the bag away, and the whole scene would repeat itself. Hidding behind a car, so as not to disturb him, I got a MOVIE of him. If you want to know more about ravens, Bernd Heinrich, a biology professor at the University of Vermont, has written a couple books that are very interesting. You can also find informantion on web pages at DesertUSA and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

After raven watching, I was off to the rim to view another sunset.
Canyon Shadows below Cape Royal

The North Rim

Looking north east toward the Painted desert and the Navajo and Hopi lands. In the foreground is O'Neill Butte. Behind it on the left is Wotans Throne and to the right, Vishnu Temple.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, O'Neill Butte lights up like a beacon after the everything around it has given way to the darkness.

Soon it too was lost to light.

Finally only Wotans Throne remained in the last rays of the setting sun.

As streaks of oranges, reds and yellow lit up the western sky, the canyon surrendered to darkness, becoming a sea of black under a dome of stars.

Later that night, as I lay in bed, I could hear the cries of Coyotes in the distance. Piercing the night with their primal calls.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Rocky, the Coconino Rock Squirrel

While doing an In-store appearance here at the canyon, I set a cup of hot tea on a window sill behind me to cool. After finishing a tune I heard a rustle behind me. I turned around to find an Rock Squirrel sucking down MY caffeine. After my initial shock I grabbed my camera and started taking photos and a QuickTime MOVIE. By that time a small crowd had gathered (upstaged by a squirrel once again...) and while I was filming the little guy, someone's flash went off and scared him away. Not before he had consumed a fair amount of tea. I figure he'll be up all night tonight, wigged out on caffeine. After that little adventure he tried to come in the store through the door, scared a of couple women and made his way up a Juniper tree to gorge himself on berries, all the while posing for tourist cameras. At first I thought he was an Abert Squirrel, but I have since found out I was mistaken.

Here are some sunset photos from today:
Most of the tourists face west when the sun sets, but the real show is to the east as the filtered light makes the cliffs glow red, vermillion and orange.

Distant Thunder

Fading light

Looking west after sunset.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Grand Canyon Sunset

Took these today. The sun is making it's way south for the coming fall and the light and shadows seem to have sharper,more crystallized quality. Even though it's in the mid 80's during the day at night there is a definite chill in the evening air. A hint of fall. The raw reckless days of summer are slowly giving way to the calmer, quieter days autum.

These photos show what appears to be a fairly tranquil scene. The truth however is that there are park visitors everywhere along this section of the rim. That and the fact that the main road runs about 50' away, make finding some solitude in what should be a beautiful, peaceful setting, impossible. But what can I expect from a place that has 4 million+ visitors a year? In some ways though, this is also the charm of this place. Today I met a man from Nigeria and a couple from Hong Kong in the space of 2 minutes! Everyone seems happy and awe-struck by the view. The canyon puts the problems of human "civilization" in perspective.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Summer Road Trip 2005, Day 3

Las Vegas, Baby!
Thurs, June 23, 2005
Las Vegas, New Mexico that is.

Santa Fe
One of the things about touring is that even though you get to go to great places, you don't always get to see, or visit them. I arrived in Santa Fe late in the day on Weds. A friend of mine has offered me the use of his house, which turns out to be an incredible "Territorial" style townhouse in an older part of the city. It's so comfortable and I'm so tired from two days of driving that I sit outside on the patio until dark, reading some of the books he has. It's nice and quiet, my friend is gone, rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. After dark I have dinner at one of my favorite places to eat in Santa Fe, La Choza. Great New Mexican Cuisine!

I leave Santa Fe this morning on Hwy I-25 north. The air, even on a summer day is cool and pleasant. I don't want to leave. I head east, through Glorieta Pass, skirting the southern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Glorieta Pass is home to Pecos Pueblos, one of the largest pueblos in historic times. The Pueblo was occupied as recently as 1838. A major trading center between the Pueblo Cultures of the Rio Grande valley and the Plains Cultures, many believe that the Native American flute entered the plains from the pueblos by way of trading at Pecos. At the east side of the pass highway I-25 turns to the north and parallels the Sangre de Cristos on the east side. Soon I come to the town of Las Vegas.

With it's quaint historic downtown plaza I feel like I've stepped back in time. The buildings seem frozen in the late 19th early 20th century.

The main street leading up to the plaza is lined with antique stores and funky shops that look like they would lots of fun to check out.

Many of the houses are also quite fun. Time is short and I have many miles to go today so I head back to the highway.

North of town the highway veers to the east and soon the mountains, pines and junipers are all gone. Replaced by the high, flat, seemingly endless plains of eastern New Mexico. Luckily this doesn't last long.

Entering Colorado and Garden of the Gods
Soon I'm crossing the Raton Pass, highest point of the Santa Fe Railway, and into Colorado. I drive through Trinidad and Pueblo heading for Colorado Springs. By the time I arrive there late in the afternoon, a thunder storm looms dark over head. It's raining pretty hard in spots and the rush hour traffic has slowed my progress. While sitting in traffic, once again my truck starts to act up. It's idling very rough and threatens to die on me. Between the long drive, the traffic and my engine troubles I'm craving a comfy chair and some caffeine. Preferably tea, but anything will do. I planned to stop in Colorado Springs becasue my friends in Denver had suggested that I stop and check out the rock formations in Garden of the Gods in the foothill above town. I find the exit and my car limps up the road. The traffic is awful even on the city streets (am I still in LA?).
When finally I pull into the visitors center's parking lot at Garden of the Gods the sky is threatening rain and lightning is visible in the distance. Above all this Pike's Peak looms in the distance. Look closely, there's my green truck in the photo above.

The rocks are pretty cool. However, I'm tired and grumpy. I think to myself "I've seen nicer sandstone fins in Arches" and, to make matters more annoying, in the background, on each side of the park there are houses and other buildings that are plainly visible.
Maybe it's just me, but I like to view natural features like these with out "civilization" in the view. I wait in line at the cafe to get some tea, an apple and some potato salad and go out to the observation deck to try and reconfigure my head to appreciate what I'm looking at. ...It's not working. Somehow looking across a busy road at the rocks isn't imparting the peace and tranquility that I think this view should have. And quite frankly, I'm worried about my truck breaking down. While lost in these thoughts, a flash of black and white suddenly streaks across my gaze. I look up and there on the edge of the roof is a very cool looking bird.

It's a Black-billed Magpie. I've never seen one before. Magpies it turns out are Corvids, that family of birds which includes Crows, Jays and Ravens! No wonder I think he's cool. While watching him, he makes several dives from the roof down to the observation deck and steals food left behind on some empty tables. Later, one of the employees comes out and tosses him some peanuts. He grabs one and flys off toward the parking lot with it. Others arrive, and they too grab some peanuts and carry them down to the parking lot below. They gather together, some calling out loudly, others perching on lamp posts. They seem to fly around with purpose, yet abandon. Watching them gives me a sense of wild I'm looking for in the rocks across the road. True, it's in the parking lot of a visitors center. But these birds are things that are not manufactured by humans. They live in amongst human settings, but they are not part of humans plans. For me they are a small reminder of a wilder world beyond ours. Plus they're just fun to watch. Now the rocks make sense. My mood lifts as I head back to the highway. The rain is now coming down hard, the lightning strikes closer and the sky is turning very dark. My truck is still running very rough and seems to lack it's normal power. A worry that nags me as I continue on my drive, arriving later that evening where I will spend the next week: Denver.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Echoes from the Road: Summer Road Trip 2005, Day 2

Sedona Ravens
Weds, June 22, 2005
Day two came clear and sunny as I cruised Hwy 89A through Uptown Sedona looking for cheap gas. (This was when $2.25 was pricey.) Filling up at the cheapest place I could find I hear the familiar "Quork" of Ravens coming from behind the Gas Station. After I was done I pulled my car around to find a dozen or so of them leaping in and out of a dumpster. As I stopped to say "Hello" (yes, I talk to Ravens), they stopped their feast with a dazed, slightly embarrassed look. Like a bunch of crazed, drunken frat boys and I was crashing their dumpster-diving party.

Now anyone that knows me, knows that if there are Ravens around, and I have my camera, I'm going to take pictures. This seemed too good an opportunity to miss. The ravens, however, had other ideas. At the sight of my camera all but two took off with loud cries and complaints. The two that remained didn't seem much happier. One perched on the building's rooftop and complained incessantly, the other remained focused on the dumpster, trying to ignore me. They "Quorked" as I took some shots, waiting for me to leave so that they could continue their breakfast in peace.
I said my good byes and left them to their party.

Oak Creek
From Sedona I needed to get up on top of the Colorado Plateau toward Flagstaff. The quickest way is up Oak Creek canyon. A drive that starts off along Oak Creek. Normally a small peacefully stream, Oak Creek follows a fault that cuts into the Mogollon Rim.

This past winter the Creek turned into a torrent when powerful winter storms came through the area. Whole sections of the river bank were washes away, leaving bleached white river rocks where lush greenery had once been.

About halfway to Flagstaff the road becomes steeper and twists around on itself as it makes the final push up the rim. The view in the clear air stretched for miles.

Soon I had reached the Plateau and passed Flagstaff on I-40, leaving the San Francisco Peaks in my rear-view mirror.

Hwy I-40 & New Mexico
Traveling east from Flagstaff the land becomes very flat as the highway passes Winslow and Holbrook. In the distance, out of site to the north, lie the Hopi Mesas. Soon the drive seems as endless as the high plateau. My thoughts begin to meld into the vast distances as the excitement of the drive begins to wear thin. To add to the tedium, the headset to my cell phone as mysteriously broken. At least my truck seems to be doing better today.

Getting closer to the New Mexico border the land starts to rise up on each side of the road with pale red, pink buttes and cliffs.
Crossing the border the highway squeezes between them. Built into caves on the north side of the road is the
trading post of Chief Yellowhorse and his White Buffalo. The signs say the buffalo are in the caves, I'm not sure where Chief Yellowhorse is...

Gallup, NM
Just past the Arizona - New Mexico border is one the largest towns on Hwy I-40, Gallup. Between it and the highway run the tracks of the Southern Pacific railway, a large part of the local economy. Gallup is a rough and wild town. Full of Trading Posts and other shops that sell Native Made goods. I've never spent much time here, stopping once to visit the Trading Posts and once to have a stone replaced in a bracelet. Today I only take time to get gas (my 4Runner only gets about 260 gallons to a tank). On my way back to the highway though, I spy a Radio Shack. It lies in a run down strip mall, the parking lot torn up by the weight of countless Semi Trucks. Inside, however, it's looks just like any other Radio Shack and they have a replacement for my headset. "They break all the time" I'm told. Everyone is very pleasant and soon I'm back on the road.

Past Gallup you enter the Red Mesa Valley. A broad valley where hidden from our modern world lie the remains of the "outliers" or suburbs of Chaco Canyon. Then the road crosses the continental divide and Mount Taylor comes into view
Like the San Francisco peaks, Mount Taylor is one of the four mountains that are sacred to the Navajo.

I pass the pueblos of Laguna and Acoma. The Pueblo of Acoma dates back to before AD 1150 and is one of the longest continually occupied towns in North America. (The other being Orabi on the third Hopi mesa.) People were living here when Chaco Canyon and the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verdre were occupied. Also know as the Sky City it sit upon 367 foot mesa in a broad valley. It had a long and troubled history with the Spanish Entrada. The pueblo is known for it's fine pottery. There is a beautiful church that was built by the Acoma people under the directions of the Spanish Padres. The Pueblo itself is made up of rows of terraced apartment like units, that are 2 -3 stories high. Many are still entered by climbing a ladder to the second floor entrance. I've visit the pueblo many times, it is one of my favorite places, but this trip didn't allow time to stop, so I pressed on down the highway.

Soon the road begins it's descent into the Rio Grande valley and Albuquerque, which I leave behind pushing toward Santa Fe.

Summer Road Trip 2005: Day 1

Fires & Delays
Tues, June 21, 2005

Left this morning for my first stop, Sedona, on my way to Denver. While getting gas in Banning, west of Palm Springs, I could see smoke from a wild fire in the mountains near Idyllwild.
It would not be the last fire I would encounter that day.

Later, while trying to get up to Sedona on the I-17, the Highway was shut down north of Phoenix due to a fire there. The only way to get up the mountain was to the west through Prescott, or to the east through Payson. Both routes were long and out of the way. As I'd never been through Payson, I thought I'd go that way.

Almost as soon as I'd left Phoenix the terrain became very mountainous and a forest of Saguraos appeared.

This was some of the nicest Sonoran Desert I've seen, but the road was very steep and my truck, which had been acting odd for weeks, was not happy with the climb.

By the time I reached the top of the Mogollon Rim the Saguraos had given way to Pines. The delay getting around the fire forced me to reach Sedona after dark and my truck was definitly not happy. As I was only stopping there to sleep anyway I tried to put it out of my mind. I had to get to Denver by Thursday and the next day I would be heading for my second stop in Santa Fe, NM.

Monday, August 08, 2005

NAF Part 4 Pat Haran / DESERT MOON

Native American Bass Flute by Pat Haran

In this post we’re going to look at a bass Native American flute made by Pat Haran from Phoenix.
Above is a F# bass flute by Pat. It’s made of Sitka Spruce with accents of Black Limba and Basswood. The flute is 34-1/2” long with a 1-3/4” bore width. Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis) is a soft wood and grows in the Northwest of the United States and Canada along the Pacific coast and is the state tree of Alaska. It is the largest of the Spruce trees. They normally grow 125 to 180 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet in diameter, but can be bigger. The needles have a blue-green. tint The Sitka Spruce is considered by some Native cultures to have magical properties.

Flutes made from Sitka Spruce are a cream color and can sometimes be slightly yellow. As this is a bass flute Pat has off set the finger holes on holes #1 and #4 for easier playing. This is becoming more common on large flutes. Also the mouth piece is on the side. Again, this is to make the flute easier to play. For many people a flute of this size and length would be too difficult to play with the mouth piece on the end. The reach is too long.

Pat’s blocks are usually very simple. However, Pat’s attention to craftsmanship is evident in every flute he makes. Notice the sheen of the grain on the Sitka Spruce. All of the flutes I have by Pat really highlight the grain like this when when they catch the light.

I have only had this flute for a few months but it’s deep, full, resonant sound make it very fun to play. Certain pitches cause the flute’s wood to vibrate enough that I can feel it through my fingers. I’ve recorded it a couple times and the story below talks about the inspiration for one of those recordings. You can listen to the complete four minute piece by joining my free E-Mailing List .


Last spring I did a couple of performances north of Tucson in Oro Valley, next to the Catalina mountains. The valley is part of the high Sonoran desert and is lush with cacti, including Saguaros,

the most well-know feature of the Sonoran desert Palo Verde trees, Javelinas, Jack Rabbits, lots of birds and many other flora and fauna.

My performances were in the afternoon and on my way back to Phoenix the sky was preparing for a dramatic sunset. I was compelled to pull off of the Highway on to a dirt road to enjoy the peace of the evening.

The first thing that struck me was the quiet. The farther I got from the highway the quieter it became. But upon stopping my truck and getting out, I realized how wrong I was. The air was full of sound. Morning Doves, Gamble Quail, Crickets, Cicadas and very faintly the occasional call of a Coyote. As I walked through the forest of cacti Jack Rabbits scampered away in front of me. Some ran quickly but a couple of the bigger ones loped slowly as if more curious than fearful. The sun was setting in a blaze of reds, oranges, yellows and other fiery colors and my attention was focused that direction.

Suddenly a Morning Dove took flight behind me. As I turned to catch a glimpse of it, there behind me, hovering in the sky was the moon, rising white and fat in a dark turquoise night sky, framed by streaks of pink clouds and giant Saguaros. Their arms, towering above me, stretched as if to touch the night.

Behind it all the Catalina mountains floated purple in the fading light.

It was one of those rare unexpected moments that happen sometimes during my travels. A magical, almost mystical moment of sublime beauty. When time itself seems to stand still and the air quivers with a quiet energy.

I stood there, transfixed. Wondering how many times, over millions of years has the moon risen above this landscape? How many times has the color of the sky aligned with just these colors? Hundreds, thousands? Perhaps, but for me it was a unique, one-of-a-kind moment. One that sped by too quickly, as the sun sank beneath the horizon and night descended over the land.

Reluctantly, as the darkness enveloped the landscape, I made my way back to my truck, and started back toward Phoenix.

Earlier that afternoon, during my performance, I had played a brand new bass flute by Pat Haran for the first time in concert. When I got back to my studio a week later and listened to the recording from that performance the piece seemed speak to the spirit of that evening and the Desert Moonrise. You can listen to this flute by joining my free E-mailing list .

To read more about other travels I’ve taken in the southwest visit the ECHOES FROM THE ROAD section of

To find out more information about Pat Haran flutes, and other flute makers check out the FLUTE MAKERS page on my web site.