Sunday, October 1, 2023

A Third Day with Mom: September 22, 2023

My first day with mom is here and my second day with mom is here

On my third day with mom, September 22, 2023, I picked her up at her assisted-living facility in Taylorsville at 10:00 a.m. We headed north on the I-215 then Hwy 201 west through Magna. I remarked to mom that I'd never been on this road before. We passed a huge smoke-stack, which mom pointed out, and eventually merged on to I-80 at the Great Salt Lake and then pretty quickly took Hwy 36 north through Stansbury Park and stopped at Maverik in Erda for gas, water and some spicy dill pickle almonds and wasabe & soy almonds. To the west we noticed the Desert Peak Utah Temple with a very distinctive Angel Moroni-less and copper steeple mount. We continued north through Tooele and I was looking for a road to the west which would take us over the hills and into the west desert (a route out I'd taken on my last trip). We made it through Tooele and turned into the Tooele Army Depot, which I thought might be the route. No, it was a guarded gate. We did a u-turn to get out and back onto Hwy 36. Eventually we saw Rush Valley to the west and took Hwy 199 west, south of Rush Valley, through Clover. I wasn't sure if this was the route I'd taken before, but it looked promising. We got near a lower saddle in the range and stopped for a mother mule deer and her two large fawns. Mom was thrilled to see them and we watched them for several minutes. They hid behind trees, then merged into the open and then into more trees. It was a wonderful discovery. We eventually reached the saddle and went over the west side of the saddle down through Terra (a town by name only on the map) and eventually the trees died out and turned into desert. I recognized this as the same road I'd taken previously. We eventually reached an LDS chapel out in the middle of nowhere, then spotted the entrance to the Dugway Proving Ground, a top-secret military base where scientists work on deadly chemical and biological weapons. We figured that the chapel must be for members on the base. There we took a dirt road south. I'd seen wild horses there on my last trip, but none this day. We continued south and eventually saw a white wild horse quite a distance to the east. 
I stopped and fiddled with my camera and finally got a poor photo with my 300 mm lense. 
We continued on and saw quite a few wild horses near the base of a mountain. We could only tell they were horses by taking a photo with my lens and then enlarging it on the camera. We saw an SUV in front of us stopped by the side of the road. We slowed down and saw a group of pronghorns in a field to the west. I was fiddling with my camera and only got one decent photo before it jammed. 
Another SUV came behind us and the pronghorns scattered. They stopped and apologized for scaring the pronghorns and continued on. We started again and the SUV that had stopped to apologize was now parked by the side of the road. We stopped about 75 yards behind them and eventually saw a wild horse. It was walking right towards us. I got out of the car with my camera and mom had a good view through her door window. The horse came right up to the front of my car, around it, right past me (I could see the people in the SUV in front of us, aghast at our great view), and continued on down the dirt road. 

Look at the people in the SUV in front of us staring at us and the wild horse!

This was a thrilling experience. I could almost have reached out and touched the horse. Mom was ecstatic. She rode show horses as a young girl and teenager and got silver goblets as prizes that have been handed-down treasures for her children and grandchildren. She loves horses. We continued on, leaving the SUV behind. I think they got back in their SUV and back-tracked to get a better look at the horse that had passed us. I saw a pronghorn cross the road a distance in front of us and then a group of pronghorn in sunflowers to the side of the road. I slowed the car down and came to a stop near a dirt road. Most of the pronghorns distanced themselves from the road, but one walked up the dirt road and stopped at a little puddle in the road and took several drinks. Mom's car window was open and she called to the little pronghorn several times. It stared at her and did not shy away. This was as remarkable, or more, than the wild horse that had just walked past us. I got some photos of the pronghorns further out and noticed the SUV we'd passed come up and stop about 50 yards behind us. They could see some of the pronghorns that had scattered when we stopped. 

We drove on and could see wild horse scattered around and at least two vehicles stopped in different places looking at them. We stopped several times along the road to look at various groups of horses. Some of them were stunningly beautiful. 

We spotted a single wild horse a distance away that had just passed a white truck and was walking down the dirt road. We decided to go up to it. It kept walking and as we approached walked off the road and into a field. It had a beautiful black and gray mane and a coat of chestnut and grayish white splotched with brown and blackish legs. 

I'd considered taking mom to Fish Spring NWR, about 40 miles further down the dirt road. But she mentioned she was getting hungry. So I suggested we go a little to Simpson Springs, and then head back to civilization. Simpson Springs was a station on the Pony Express Trail, currently has a campground, and still house a waterhole for use by the wild horses, which we drove to. My first time there I saw dozens of horses, but none this day. We traced our route back to where we'd seen the horses and I took photos of a few more. 

A beautiful view of distant mountains and clouds. 
On the way back we took the Pony Express Road (dirt) over Lookout Pass and hooked back into Hwy 36 near Faust and traveled north back through Tooele and Erda. In Stansbury Park we stopped at Dominos Pizza, near Pole Canyon, and ordered a large veggie pizza with Italian sausage on it. While it was cooking we visited Soelberg's Market and I bought some tortilla chips, seven layer dip and a cheese ball with green onion. I was happy to see that mom used the chips to dip into the seven layer dip particularly, and then had two big slices of the pizza when it was ready. 

We continued our drive back to Taylorsville on the I-215. I took the exit at 4700 South to check out the huge building going on next to the freeway that I've seen the last few times in Utah. It turns out it is the Taylorsville Utah Temple, just one exit away from mom's freeway exit of 6200 South. I'd wondered if it was a temple, but it did not have the traditional Angel Moroni spire. Mom was surprised and pleased. 

I spent the night in Lehi and then headed home. During my drive I got a call from mom thanking me for taking her on outings for the two days. She acknowledged that she and I share a love of animals and that it allowed her to get to know me again. I was happy to believe that she did have a good time. I certainly did. These three days in the last few months have made me feel much closer to mom. 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

A Second Day with Mom: September 21, 2023

See my first day with mom here. Four and a half months after my first day with mom I felt that I needed to see her again. In the interim she had turned 97 and I was looking at ways to get away to see here. I finally decided on September 21 and 22, 2023. I would leave Redlands on September 20 after an appointment I had, drive as far as I could (which ended up being Beaver, Utah), then get to mom the next morning (she suggested 10:00 a.m.). The day before I left, September 19, I got word that my mom's twin brother, Maynard, had died. I tried calling mom all that day and she was not picking up. I was worried about her state of mind. The 20th, the day I was going to leave, my sister Merilee said mom was looking forward to seeing me. I felt relieved and felt my visit was that much more important. 

Encouraged by the words of the Bear River Blogger, quoted in my last post, I decided that it was okay to take mom to a place we'd already been (Antelope Island). He was taking his mother to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge about three times a week. I picked up mom a few minutes after 10:00 a.m. and we headed for Brigham City, Utah and the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. It took us about an hour and a half to get there. Along the way I stopped at Maverik and bought some water, smoked almonds, cashews and shelled pistachios. Mom particularly liked the pistachios. 

It was a cold, rainy and windy day. As a result I did not take any photos because it was just too wet and cold to roll down the car window. So any photos below are representative of what we saw but taken by me previously in the same area. 

Before getting to the auto route we saw a female ring-necked pheasant run across the road and into some bushes. 
We slowly drove the rectangular Auto Route which is 12 miles. It was a poor day for birding. Not many were out and about. The first bird we saw was a single white pelican just as we crossed the bridge onto the auto route. Later we saw large groupings of pelicans. 

We probably saw more grebes than any other bird, both western grebes and Clark's grebes. The way to differentiate them is that in Clark's grebes the dark cap is above the red eye and in western grebes the dark cap goes around the red eye. 
Clark's grebes

Western grebe

Mom spotted a number of groups of Canada geese flying and we saw a few individual birds on the ground. 
We saw lots of gray and white gulls, mostly far away, likely ring-billed gulls. 

A few ducks, most likely cinnamon teals.
Lots of American coots. 
A few great egrets.
We finished the auto drive and were hungry. So we drove to Maddox Drive-Inn in Brigham City, a place we were familiar with from our days driving up to Willard Bay with our boat. In those days Maddox was right on the main road. Now with the I-15 it takes a detour off the freeway. It was raining, so we drove into the covered Drive-Inn and ordered from our car and had food placed in a rack on my partially rolled-down window. Mom was unsure of a turkey burger or a fried chicken breast, so we ordered both. She talked about how she always loved turkey and got it whenever she could. Mom also got a small salad with extra tomatoes that came in a separate container with large round slices. She also put tomato on her turkey burger and ended up being too full to eat any chicken. I got a steak sandwich with onion rings and ate some of our order of fried chicken. 

On the road again we drove to Antelope Island. We drove up near the buffalo corrals and saw two great-horned owls in the open-sided barn, just as we had last time. Then as we drove back to the road down the eastern side of the island we spotted about six pronghorns quite a distance west in a group. Mom was quite excited and said that was her favorite view of the day. We had to be at Chuck-A-Rama Buffet in Lehi to meet Rachael and my granddaughters at 5:00 p.m. So we drove fairly quickly down the east side road and turned back before getting to Fielding Garr Ranch. We saw some bison, but mostly at a distance and did not stop for any length of time to view any. 

With mom in the car we used the HOV lane during rush hour traffic and got to Lehi only a couple of minutes late. Rachael and the girls met us and we had a nice dinner at Chuck-A-Rama. By the time we finished both mom and I were quite tired. I got her back to her assisted living facility in Taylorsville and arranged to meet again at 10:00 a.m. the next day. I'd suggested a drive into the mountains or a drive out into the west desert to see wild horses. She wanted the latter. I headed to my hotel for the night in Lehi.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Day with Mom: May 5, 2023

My mother lives in an assisted living facility in Taylorsville, Utah, which is in the central/western part of the Salt Lake Valley.  I try to call regularly and visit a few times a year, but as she ages, she was 96 at the time, it just doesn't seem satisfactory. She mentions that people don't like to visit her because it is boring. Visiting usually consists of sitting and talking for awhile, but there is only so much new going on in her life and in the life of her family to sustain real long conversation. It is also way out-of-the-way for many family members which makes it difficult to pick her up, take her home for dinner, and then take her back. Most of the friends she originally made at her facility have died  which is also very depressing. 

Earlier this year I decided to try something new. I asked her if she would be interested in having me pick her up at the facility and drive out to Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake to view bison and pronghorns and see how the decreased water level of the lake is impacting the island. She said she would. So on May 5th I picked her up at 9:00 a.m. (her suggested time). It took us an hour and a half or more to drive there. Once checking in at the ranger station, you have to drive a seven mile long causeway to reach the north end of the island. 
When we reached the island we drove west past the Ladyfinger Campground and Trail and shortly after mom spotted two pronghorn, a male and a female, quite close to the car. She was quite excited to see them, as was I. 

From there we drove down through the White Rock Campground, looking for burrowing owls, which we did not see, then up near the Park Headquarters to a barn (a roof with open sides) near the buffalo roundup corrals (not shown on the map) and saw two great-horned owls in the rafters. 

We drove back down near the Visitor Center and took the road that follows the eastern end of the island. 
View of the snowy Wasatch Mountains and a lone tree in the foreground. You can see from the photo that it was still quite cool.  
We saw a number of bison along the side of the road. I didn't take any photos of them, but include a couple of bison photos from a prior visit. 

We drove down to the Fielding Garr Ranch, but mom's mobility is such that we didn't get out of the car. We drove beyond the ranch a bit, which is normally the end of the road, closed off by a fence. But for the first time I've ever seen, the dirt road down to the end of the island was open (the map doesn't show the road, but the South Island Trail which is on the map is roughly equivalent to it). The road is quite rutted, but mom handled the bumps just fine. We saw a number of birds, which I got a few photos of.
A mourning dove

Red-winged blackbird

We got to the south end of the island, then turned around and drove back the same way we came. Beyond the Fielding Garr Ranch I turned to the left (west) up a new road that is not on the map. It goes to some orchards. There we saw a number of western meadowlarks. We talked about how dad use to say that the meadowlark was singing, "Salt Lake City is a pretty little place." 

When we got to the north end of the island and out on to the causeway we saw lots of birds in the water. Here are a few photos of some of the birds we saw:
Cinnamon teal (male and female)

Eared grebe in mating plumage with a deep red eye, a crest off the head and gold feathers like ear-patches, a bizarre looking bird.  

Franklin gulls with a black head, red bill and goofy looking eye. 

Red-necked phalaropes

Afterwards we drove to Chuck-A-Rama Buffet in Draper where we met my sisters, Wendy and Merilee, and several of her children, my brother Matt and his wife, Carol, and their children, and my daughter Rachael and her children. 

I loved the day with mom. It was just her and me for many hours. I love to drive and mom liked getting out and seeing something other than the walls of her assisted-living facility. Mom shares my love of wildlife, and in fact, enabled me as a boy, when I brought home birds, snakes, lizards, etc. She loved them as much as I did. I was afraid I was going to bore her to death, but she seemed genuinely happy to be with me on the drive. 

As I drove home and reflected on that day I decided that it was the best day I'd had with mom since I'd left home 48 years ago. It was just the two of us, for hours, and looking for wildlife which is one of my favorite things to do. 

I decided I needed to do it again, but I was worried that it would be too much for mom to do the same thing. Then I ran across an article by Jeff Strong, the Bear River Blogger, titled "Bird Photography and Nature Blogging May Never Be The Same For Me Anymore," dated August 8, 2023.  In the article he talked about the passing of his mother who used to accompany him 2 to 3 times a week, for several hours each time, on the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Auto Route. He notes, "These drives soon became a cherished activity in their own right...where my mom and I could just go and have fun." That article really struck a chord with me and I thought, maybe I can do the same thing again with mom? See the next post.