A raven’s eye on the sky
Wildlife abounds during winter trip to Utah
FISHER VALLEY, Utah — A raven’s voice brought me to a stop.
Busy fiddling with camera and tripod, surrounded by the stillness of blood-red mesas, I had been lost in the chore immediately before me until a sudden “quork” revealed I was not alone.
I hadn’t seen many ravens that morning, a suspect item that had been mildly noted in a land where the beat of raven wings is a regular part of the aural landscape.
Ubiquitous and brashly curious birds that they are, I was nonetheless startled to have one sneak in so close, perching on a nearby juniper branch as if to inspect my work.
But when I looked up, I saw it wasn’t me the raven was speaking to, but rather two other visitors just as surprised to see me as I was them.
As I lifted my head, two mule deer bucks lifted theirs, perhaps wondering, as was I, how they managed to come so close, enough to where I could see patterns in their velvet antlers and soft light reflected in their liquid brown eyes.
Unsure what to do, I waited a second or two longer and by then they had moved away, slowly at first and then bounding across a small brushy wash and over the rise. Gone.
The raven turned its piercing gaze to me, dark bill agape, croaked what surely must have been a hoarse chuckle, and it, too, fled.
Morning on the final day of a fading year found a blue haze filling the canyons and valleys along the Colorado River, a gauzy light from the low-lying winter sun obscuring details of what surely must the most-photographed sandstone towers in eastern Utah.
A mild winter’s day, even one mid-holiday, attracts tourists to Fisher Towers, that series of eye-catching erosional features just off Utah Highway 128 east of Moab. The bent and bony fingers of Cutler Formation sandstone are popular with photographers and rock climbers, the tallest one (Titan at 900-feet high) having first been climbed in 1962.
Along the river, the layered cliffs of hematic Wingate sandstone are washed by ribbons of sunlight and mirrored in the quieter sections of the slow-moving river. Fled are the imperturbable Great Blue herons of warmer months, replaced by cadres of Canada geese winging low and vocal through the canyons.
Ignoring the cold, a visitor dares a few minutes walking barefoot on the flood-packed gravel bars revealed by the winter-low river. The jewel-like coloration of pebbles and cobbles is pressed into a surface smooth, flat and consistent enough to have been done by a master stonemason.
Farther along, as the morning wanes and traffic begins to pick up, there are stops for more tourist-like endeavors, among them watching a silhouette of horseback riders meander across flats lined with greasewood and juniper, a short hike along Grandstaff Trail, named after a Moab-area cowboy and prospector in the late 1870s, and a refill at Matrimony Spring, the popular watering spot for residents and wired tourists just short of the canyon entrance.
And then the road home, fleeing ahead of the advancing shadows as one year ends and the new one — as full of questions as it of promise — draws near.