Book Review: Wesley the Owl

It is no mystery that I love owls.  I have blogged about my fascination before.  So, when I came across Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien, in the bookstore, I knew I had to read it!

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien

O’Brien tells the story of how she worked as a young adult for Caltech, caring for raptors in their research program.  As a biology graduate, she was learning a lot and loving her work.  Then one day, she was given the opportunity to adopt a baby barn owl with an injured wing that could never be released into the wild.  She knew that if she chose to accept him, she would be making a commitment for his entire life.  Owls will bond with one person, and will be committed to that person forever.  She didn’t know at the time that it would be a journey that would last 19 years.

Along the way, she learned a ton about barn owls and their habits, and provided information on Wesley to the other researchers.  She grew up with him, documenting his journey from a fluffy fuzzball baby, through his clumsy adolescent phase, and his remarkably long adult life, especially given barn owls in the wild live on average about four years.

O’Brien also developed a bond with Wesley that had never been documented before between an owl and a human; she became his “mate.”  Her descriptions of how Wesley tried to woo her, building nests under the toilet and calling her to them, and his extreme jealously when she interacted with men is surprising and hilarious.

O’Brien’s book is very informative, providing a wealth of information about owls and their behavior in the wild, as well as how they react in captivity.  She candidly and honestly relates that joys that came from raising a wild animal, as well as the struggles that came from sacrificing human relationships in order to put Wesley first.

Her writing style is descriptive and detailed; you can imagine his movements, his antics and his calls while reading her words.  It is a book that will be appreciated not just by those who like owls, but by all animal lovers.  Like any true love story, their relationship comes to the inevitable, sad, end, but not without imparting the reader with a sense of how much she truly loved this remarkable bird.

Have you read Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl?  What did you think?

SW National Parks Trip: The Grand Canyon’s Desert View

We had already seen a ton in our first couple of hours at the Grand Canyon.  We saw the view from Mather Point, hiked a couple of miles of the Rim Trail, looked around the Grand Canyon Village, and hiked about a quarter of a mile down into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.  But now, it was time to see something different.  I wanted to check out the Desert View Watchtower.

From the Grand Canyon Village, we took the shuttle bus back to the main Visitor’s Center where our car was parked, and we drove 26 miles to the east in the park, to where the Desert View Watchtower is located.  Along the drive, you are met with views of the Pinyon Pine forest, along with signs announcing that this is elk country.  And there is even a sign announcing that there are cougars crossing the road!  Sadly, we didn’t see any cougars, and the only elk we saw was a dead one by the side of the road.  Please people!  Slow down – what’s your hurry!?

In short order, we got to the Desert View Watchtower, went to the Visitor’s Center for this section of the park to get my stamp and made our way over to the tower.  The Watchtower was another of the Grand Canyon’s historic structures that was designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932.  Colter spent six months researching Puebloan ruins to try to emulate the style.  It is believed that the ruins at Hovenweep National Monument were a major influence of the final design.  Although the Watchtower is much taller, at 70 feet, than any Puebloan architecture, she created a structure that contains some similar stylistic elements.

The Desert View Watchtower - Built 1932

The Desert View Watchtower – Built 1932

The Desert View Watchtower is four stories, with a gift shop on the first floor and a series of narrow stairways leading to successive floors.  There are windows of various sizes throughout the tower, giving visitors impressive views of the canyon.  There are also murals painted on the walls inside by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi artist who also served as the caretaker for the Desert View Watchtower for a period of time.  The furniture inside the tower is original to the structure, and has held up well over time, given the millions of tourists who have visited.

Some of the furniture and interior painting in the Watchtower

Some of the furniture and interior painting in the Watchtower

When viewing the Watchtower from the outside, you notice that Colter did not do any shaping of the stones used to build the tower.  She believed that marks from the mason’s tools would detract from the visual appeal of the structure, so stones were chosen and placed without any shaping.  It gives the tower a very natural look.  You can also tell that she created and filled in T-shaped doorways, to replicate the structures at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The detail of the historic Watchtower was intended to make it look more authentic.  Notice the blocked over T-shaped doorway in the lower left.

The detail of the historic Watchtower was intended to make it look more authentic. Notice the blocked over T-shaped doorway in the lower left.

There is a patio in front of the Watchtower that gives visitors panoramic views of the Canyon.  The Grand Canyon Village, Cape Royal on the North Rim, and a cinder cone to the east are all visible from the Desert View Watchtower’s patio.  We enjoyed just looking at the view for awhile.

A view of one of the Grand Canyon's Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

A view of one of the Grand Canyon’s Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

But we couldn’t linger too long, because we were going hiking next!



Drunken Sidewalk

Just a bit of random to start out the week.  It seems quite possible that someone had a little drinkie drinkie the day they laid this sidewalk…

Drunken sidewalk building?  Could be...

Drunken sidewalk building? Could be…

Happy Monday Peeps! 

SW National Parks Trip: The Rare and the Regular

No blog post on the Grand Canyon Village would be complete without a nod to the wildlife that also make their home here.

In the village, we saw one of the most rare Grand Canyon residents; the California Condor.  I have blogged about the California Condor before, after our visit last year to the World Center for Birds of Prey, in Boise, Idaho.  The center is one of only a few California Condor breeding facilities, where these magnificent birds are hatched and reared for release into the wild.  The Grand Canyon is one of the locations where the condors are released, and there are currently 73 California Condors known to be making their home in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.

A California Condor standing on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

A California Condor standing on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

But knowing that there are a small number of condors in the Grand Canyon is different than actually seeing one, and I didn’t dare to dream that I would be one of the lucky ones!  He (or she) was sunning himself on a ledge just below Lookout Studio.  Just hanging out, unaware of what the fuss was all about.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see him.  Jon would say I’m being sappy, but it was a very special moment.

A California Condor resting on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

A California Condor resting on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

Also, in the village, we saw one of the most prolific Canyon residents, and also probably the most diabetic.  No, I’m not talking about the people, I’m referring to the Abert’s Squirrel.

Immediately upon entering the Grand Canyon Village, you see signs warning you to not feed the wildlife.  In particular, the squirrels.  Why not?  Well, because feeding animals makes them dependent on humans and unlikely to survive on their own, which is a prerequisite for being wild…  Not to mention that human food isn’t good for digestive systems that haven’t adapted to it.  And squirrels carry fleas, which carry the plague – not something I want to mess around with, thank you very much.  Additionally, habituating squirrels to people means that you are now encouraging super-aggro squirrels, which leads to approximately 250 reported squirrel bites in the Grand Canyon each year.  And if all that weren’t enough, by the way, it is illegal under federal law.

I think he figures this might be the best place to score some food!

I think he figures this might be the best place to score some food!

But despite all the reasons not to, we only had to wait about 0.2493 seconds before we saw people feeding the squirrels.  Right next to the sign that said not to.  People are stupid.

This is a tame version of what happens when you feed the squirrels

This is a tame version of what happens when you feed the squirrels

We stepped into one of the dining establishments, an ice cream shop that also sold sandwiches and brats, to get a quick lunch to enjoy while sitting out in the open air of the village.  I got a brat and some Cheetos; Jon got some Greek yogurt and fruit.  Within seconds of sitting down, a squirrel ran up and stole my bag of Cheetos!  Jon managed to grab them back, and in an instant, the squirrel grabbed one end of the foil bag that my brat came in!  I experienced a brief but terrifying Tug’O’War with this pipsqueak of a beast, before emerging victorious when the end of the bag tore and squirrel was left with just a chunk of foil paper.

Shaking… we moved to another section further away from the aggro squirrel.  We sat down and I repositioned my meal tightly in between me and Jon.  It wasn’t enough…  In another instant Cheeto the Squirrel had hold of my Cheetos bag once again – it wasn’t even open yet!  I had been defeated.  Cheeto the Squirrel tore into that bag and was munching to his heart’s content within a few seconds, complete with bright orange fake powdered cheese coating his paws.  I do feel fortunate that I wasn’t bitten, and didn’t have a plague infected flea jump on me in the melee.  The other tourists were highly entertained at my misfortune, so I adopted an “if you can beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality and took a couple of photos of my victor enjoying his spoils.  I was pretty disappointed though, as I hardly ever eat Cheetos and was really looking forward to them.

I present to you, Cheeto the Squirrel.

This is what happens when other people feed the squirrels - you get crazy, aggro squirrel bandits!

This is what happens when other people feed the squirrels – you get crazy, aggro squirrel bandits!


I should point out that the squirrels had absolutely no interest in Jon’s healthy snacks; they have clearly developed a hankering for junk food.  And to the feds, if you are reading this…  I really, really tried to NOT feed the wildlife.  It was not my intent, but ultimately I felt that if I didn’t release the Cheetos, I would not be alive to tell the story…

And so dear readers, have you ever been a victim of National Park wildlife gone rogue?

SW National Parks Trip: More Grand Canyon Village!

In my last post, I showed you partway around the Grand Canyon Village.  We continued our journey to see more of the sights, so here’s a taste:

Lookout Studio - The Fred Harvey Company retained one of America’s first female architects, Mary Colter, to design a studio a short distance away from the Kolb Studio.  Colter subscribed to the ideas held by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, which held that designs should blend in with their natural surroundings, and not detract from the stunning natural beauty that exists.  Colter designed Lookout Studio using local wood and stone, and was very successful in creating a structure that is very unobstrusive.

Lookout Studio from afar - it blends in well with its surroundings.  Can you see it on the left, just below the horizon line?

Lookout Studio from afar – it blends in well with its surroundings. Can you see it on the left, just below the horizon line?

The studio was completed in 1914 and offered tourists a social space to enjoy a warm drink on a cold day, the opportunity to sit and converse or read a book, and the chance to view the canyon with telescopes and see what other tourists would experiencing with a mule ride into the canyon.  The studio also contained a gift shop that sold postcards, paintings and other souvenirs; the fact that it competed with the Kolb Studio just down the path was a sore point with the Kolb brothers for years.

A closer view of Lookout Studio - Built 1914

A closer view of Lookout Studio – Built 1914

Hopi House - Another of the Fred Harvey Company’s businesses, Hopi House housed and employed several Hopi artisans to make and sell Native American crafts to the tourists visiting the Grand Canyon.  Mary Colter designed the building to blend with nature, and to also follow the style of the traditional Hopi dwellings.  It was completed in 1905, right before El Tovar Hotel was finished.  Hopi tribal workers built the building, which served both as a store and display area where tourists could watch craft items being made, but also as a residential structure, with several Hopi artisan families living in the upper floors of the building.

Hopi House - Built 1905 - Modified Hopi Pueblo Architectural Style

Hopi House – Built 1905 – Modified Hopi Pueblo Architectural Style

Hopi House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987 and renovated in 1995, taking care to maintain the historic elements of the building.

Buckey O’Neill Cabin - Buckey O’Neill was a young man who arrived out west from Missouri in 1879.  He tried his hand at numerous enterprises, including running a newspaper, serving as a lawyer, district court recorder, tax assessor, probate judge and superintendent of schools.  He also spent some time living at the Grand Canyon and prospecting for copper, but soon realized that the venture would not be lucrative.  He did realize the potential of the canyon as a tourist draw, and worked tirelessly to improve access to the Canyon.  He was an integral part of getting the railroad there in 1901.  Sadly he didn’t live long enough to see the fruits of his labor – he died in 1898 while serving in the Spanish American War.

Buckey O'Neill Cabin - Built early 1890s - Log Cabin style

Buckey O’Neill Cabin – Built early 1890s – Log Cabin style

The cabin that he built in the early 1890s is still standing – in the 1930s it was integrated into the Bright Angel Lodge complex of a lodge and cabins, designed by none other than – Mary Colter!  Tourists can still stay in the Buckey O’Neill Cabin, which is the oldest of the historic structures in the Grand Canyon Village.

And as for Mary Colter?  She enjoyed a long and successful career in design and architecture, working for several years for the Fred Harvey Company and designing many of the other buildings in the Grand Canyon.  In addition to Lookout Studio, the Bright Angel Lodge and Hopi House, she also designed Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Hermit’s Rest, and the Desert View Watchtower (I’ll be posting about this soon) and was responsible for decorating (but not designing) the El Tovar Hotel.  And her work isn’t only visible at the Grand Canyon; she has buildings throughout the southwest, including Winslow, Arizona, Gallup, New Mexico and Los Angeles, California.

So what do you think?  Which of the Grand Canyon Village’s historic structures is your favorite?


Chelan Gold Hard Cider

Jon was craving a hard cider the other night, so he picked this cider up at the store – it was made by Lake Chelan Winery.  Chelan Gold is produced in Chelan, WA, east of the Cascade Mountains, in one of the state’s up and coming wine producing regions.  Chelan and the surrounding area are also widely known for apples.

This cider has a bright, golden straw color and a light aroma of apples, and it is still – there’s no carbonation.  On the palate, it has a light flavor of apple, but something is missing.  It seems stale… How do you describe the quality?  Oh yeah… Meh…  Perhaps it was the stillness that wasn’t doing it for me, but I just wasn’t all that impressed.  At 7% ABV, it is a nice balance of alcohol for a hot, summer day though.

The cider does come in a neat bottle with one of those reusuable flip-caps.  I suppose when that is the most interesting thing about a cider… well, enough said.  And I apologize, but it occurs to me that I have no idea what these caps are called.  I think this one is purely decorative, because I couldn’t figure out how to cap the bottle with it.  And it can’t be that I just don’t know what I’m doing!


So, at any rate…  It was a perfectly drinkable cider, but there was nothing there to wow me or knock my socks off.

Have you had Chelan Gold Hard Cider?  What did you think?  And do you know that those caps are called?



SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon Village

In my last post, I told you about our hike along the Grand Canyon’s Rim Trail, which ended up in the Grand Canyon Village.  The Village is a village that sprung up at the northern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railroad, which goes from Williams, AZ, to the south rim.  It was completed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1901.  Technically the village is a census-designated place (CDP) with a population of 2,004 people.  A CDP is a community where people live that resembles a city or town, but lacks an incorporated government.

Grand Canyon Village is also a National Historic Landmark District, so designated because of the historical significance of many of the buildings that are in the core village area.  To be designated as a National Historic Landmark District, it must have historical significance on a national level.  Here are a few of the historic buildings that we visited on our trip:

El Tovar Hotel - The El Tovar Hotel was a Harvey House hotel (remember a few posts back when I told you about Harvey girls at the Painted Desert?)  Yep, the Fred Harvey Company owned this place too; it opened in January 1905.  It was built in an architectural style that became known as National Park Service Rustic, similar to the Swiss Chalet style – it was made from local limestone and Oregon pine trees.  The hotel originally had 103 rooms and 21 bathrooms, which have now been remodeled into 78 guestrooms, all with a private bath.  The hotel also has a dining room that serves lunch and dinner, and a breakfast room.  The views from the rooms must be stunning, as it sits only 20 feet from the rim.

El Tovar Hotel - Built 1903-1903 - National Park Service Rustic style.

El Tovar Hotel – Built 1903-1903 – National Park Service Rustic style.

You can stay there, but you have to book well in advance.  And it isn’t cheap, with a standard queen room setting you back $228.  But you just might rub elbows with the rich and famous – Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney have all stayed there.  I was a bit put off by the decor though, the log walls are stained a very dark brown, black really, and adorned with all variety of animal heads.  YUCK.

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Kolb Studio - If 20 feet from the edge of the canyon isn’t close enough for you, you can visit the Kolb Studio, which is built hanging over the edge at the head of the Bright Angel Trail.  The Kolb Brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, built a modest cabin to serve as a home and photographic studio.  In an agreement with the owner of a mining claim who owned the property, they set up a tollbooth and charged $1 per head for livestock traveling down into the canyon.  And they made a living photographing the tourists who were riding those mules.

Kolb Studio - Built 1904 - Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Kolb Studio – Built 1904 – Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Over the years they grew the business, pioneered new photography techniques and became known for their stunning landscapes of the canyon.  They even made a movie of their trip down the Colorado River in the winter of 1911-1912.  This movie holds the record for the longest continually running movie in history, because after its tour around the United States, Emery Kolb showed the movie at the studio every day from 1915 to 1972.

The National Park Service acquired Kolb Studio after Emery’s death in 1976; it now operates the five story, 23 room studio as a bookstore and gallery.

Verkamp’s Curios - John George Verkamp came out from Ohio in 1898, and went to work for the Babbitt brothers, owners of a cattle ranch and mercantile store, selling curios and Native America crafts to tourists visiting the canyon.  However, he found that at the time, there weren’t enough tourists to make a living, so he closed up his tent within a couple of weeks.  He realized however, that after the railroad to the south rim and the hotel were built, there would be plenty of tourists itching to part with some cash.  And he was right.  The building that exists today was built in 1906, and Verkamp sold not only high priced Native American crafts, but also postcards and trinkets for the common man.  The building is a modified Mission architectural style.

Verkamps Curio Shop - Built 1906 - Modified Mission Style

Verkamps Curio Shop – Built 1906 – Modified Mission Style

John Verkamp died in 1944, and the concession contract was almost not renewed; the Fred Harvey Company was eying the plot of land for a hotel and casino.  John’s wife and children did manage to get a renewal of the contract, although sadly, talk of demolishing the structure continued into the 1970s.  In 2006, the curio shop celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Although the family had hired managers to run the business, they still oversaw it through a Board, making it the oldest family owned concessionaire in the park.  In 2008, they finally decided to close the business, and the Park Service, thankfully no longer wanting to demolish the building, turned it into a museum and gift shop.

I’ll tell you about a few more historic structures in the Grand Canyon Village in my next post – I enjoyed seeing them and imagining what it would have been like to be a tourist there 100 years ago!