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Why I don’t plant the garden before Mother’s Day

May 10, 2015

Here’s the Happy Mother’s Day snowwoman I made for my mom today. (She loves snowmen.)

2015 mothers day snowwomanHere’s the Happy Mother’s Day snowwoman I made for my mom last year.

2014 mothers day snowwomanIn the five-and-a-half years I’ve been here, the only months in which I have not experienced snow are June, July, and August.

I don’t plant the garden before Mother’s Day.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Excellent idea: The Great Plains Trail

May 6, 2015

You’ve probably heard of the famous Appalachian Trail, right? The AT runs about 2,180 miles through the eastern part of the United States, from Georgia to Maine, and was completed in 1937.

How about the Pacific Crest Trail? A lot of people have heard about that trail now, as it featured in a recent book and film. The PCT is newer, officially completed in 1993. It runs 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada down the western edge of the U.S.

Then there’s the Continental Divide Trail. Not as many non-hikers have heard of the CDT, probably because this 3,100-mile trail from Canada to Mexico down the mountainous spine of the American West has not been fully completed yet.

Taken together, the AT, PCT, and CDT are considered the “triple crown” of distance hiking in the United States. All of three of these trails take advantage of scenic, mountainous regions of the country: the Appalachians, the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Ranges, the Rocky Mountains.

But, hang on a minute – America’s not all about mountains. Our patriotic songs clearly indicate that the plains and prairies are just as important as the tall, pointy bits of the country.

God Bless America lyrics:

From the mountains, TO THE PRAIRIES,
To the oceans white with foam,

America the Beautiful lyrics:

For purple mountain majesties
Above the FRUITED PLAIN!

Definitely something lacking here . . .

But – never fear – this is America, where All Things Are Possible.

A visionary group of people is already working to make a Great Plains Trail a reality! Even better, from my point of view – the potential route goes through western Nebraska!!

The GPT is proposed to include some sites I know and love (and have tagged as keywords on this blog): Toadstool Geologic Park, Oglala National Grassland, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, the Wildcat Hills, and, as the “about” section of the Great Plains Trail blog calls it, the “famous” Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Here is a very general proposed route for the GPT, downloaded from the Great Plains Trail blog May 2015. It’s best to go directly to the blog page, as the numbers on the map are explained on the text there, and I don’t plan to update this post as changes happen in the GPT planning.

stu_s20map20180-600

In case you’re not good at identifying the square states out West, the potential states along the trail are, in sequence: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Colorado again, New Mexico, and Texas. (Sorry, Wyoming. You get left out this time.)

Think the Great Plains is boring flyover country not worth a distance trail? I recommend that you watch the PBS documentary “Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild.” Prepare to be amazed. (I love Michael Forsberg’s work.) Also, check out these classy posters from the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition, which describe some of the wonders of the outdoors out this-a-way.

To learn more about the trail and the effort to make it a reality, check out the Great Plains Trail Alliance website.

I love this most excellent idea!

UPDATE: The editor of our local paper likes the idea, too. Ambitious Great Plains Trail would pass through our patch of paradise.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, map image belongs to the GPTA

SBNM wildflowers 2015 post #4

May 6, 2015

They just keep coming – a few new flowers blooming every week! Current species count = 22.

Some of the earlier-blooming species mentioned in this post (and the earlier ones linked in it) are becoming less abundant, but you can still find them here and there. That’s the beauty of all the microclimates on the bluff.

I find it interesting that some of the first specimens of each species I find blooming tend to be smaller plants. I wonder if this is because it takes the smaller plant less time to bloom, or if that plant is in a smaller pocket of soil overlaying rock that warms up faster but that stunts the plant’s growth, or if there are some other reasons.

Plains phlox, Phlox andicola. I feel more comfortable with the difference between this phlox and Hood's phlox now, after seeing them blooming near each other. The plains phlox has larger flowers than Hood's phlox, and the petals overlap, whereas the Hood's phlox flowers have more clearly visible separation between each petal.

Plains phlox, Phlox andicola. I feel more comfortable with the difference between this phlox and Hood’s phlox now, after seeing them blooming near each other. The plains phlox has larger flowers than earlier-blooming Hood’s phlox, and the plains phlox petals overlap, whereas the Hood’s phlox flowers have more clearly visible separation between each petal.

Bastard toadflax! (Comandra umbellata) Another plant whose name I find hilarious. I'm lucky to have seen this tiny little plant (unlucky to have had my camera focus on the greenery instead of the flowers).

Bastard toadflax! (Comandra umbellata) Another plant whose name I find hilarious. I’m lucky to have spotted this tiny little plant between the raindrops rolling off my jacket hood (unlucky to have had my camera focus on the greenery instead of the flowers). This is one flower that Connie McKinney missed in her wildflower guide (the book is mentioned at the end of this post).

Spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis

Spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis – the rainy day really brought out this flower’s color.

The gumbo lily, Oenothera caespitosa, is another favorite of mine. It grows primarily on bare young soil (known as "gumbo" when it turns to mud), so it really tends to stand out.

The gumbo lily, Oenothera caespitosa, is another favorite of mine. It grows primarily on bare young soil (known as “gumbo” when it turns to mud), so it really tends to stand out.

I just happened to glance down and discover a scarlet guara - Guara coccinea - where a steep slope intersects the asphalt trail. This is another of my favorite western Nebraska wildflowers.

I just happened to glance down and discover a scarlet guara – Guara coccinea – where a steep slope intersects the asphalt trail. This is another of my favorite western Nebraska wildflowers. It’s just not a terribly great picture with the blossoms all heavy with raindrops.

Want to see these flowers in person? Keep your eyes peeled along Saddle Rock Trail!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

The puncturevine is sprouting

May 6, 2015
puncturevine

Photo taken in the alley behind my house May 4, 2015

DIE, FOUL FLORA, DIE!!!

If you don’t know about puncturevine, see this post I wrote back in 2010, when I was just getting to know the area.

A rainy hike at SBNM

May 6, 2015

I didn’t let a little rain dissuade me from hiking Scotts Bluff National Monument this morning – I just put on my rain gear, and off I went.

It’s beautiful in a gentle rain.

Eagle Rock in the mist.

Eagle Rock in the mist. The low clouds were swirling and breaking around the edifice. Quite hypnotic.

A wet dandelion seed tuft

A wet dandelion seed tuft

Water droplets on greenery. I tried to take all sorts of pictures of water droplets on greenery, but . . . cell phone camera focus fail . . . sigh. This picture was actually supposed to be of a flower. I need to start taking my regular camera with me on my hikes.

Water droplets on greenery. I tried to take all sorts of pictures of water droplets on greenery, but . . . cell phone camera focus fail . . . sigh. This picture was actually supposed to be of a flower. I need to start taking my regular camera with me on my hikes.

Saddle Rock Trail in the mist.

Saddle Rock Trail in the mist.

Saddle Rock itself, in the mist

Saddle Rock itself, in the mist

A spotted towhee was unfazed by the rain. Its song piping through the sound of rainfall was soul-soothing. Too bad the flashy black-and-white-and-rust of its plumage doesn't show in the photo.

A spotted towhee was unfazed by the rain. Its song piping through the sound of rainfall was soul-soothing. Too bad the flashy black-and-white-and-rust of its plumage doesn’t show in the photo. I also saw a couple of magpies and, I believe, a western kingbird. On a previous day, I believe I saw a McCown’s longspur. I may need to start taking my binoculars along on hikes, too.

Not everything was misty and muted. Wildflowers refused to let their colors be tamed.

Tufted milkvetch

Tufted milkvetch

narrowleaf penstemon

narrowleaf penstemon

Lovely death camas

Lovely death camas

The clouds began breaking up over the valley and town below. It all looked so green!

The clouds began breaking up, spilling morning sunlight over the valley and town below. It all looked so green!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Yet MORE flowers out at SBNM

April 28, 2015

Since I’ve been hiking Scotts Bluff National Monument regularly this spring, I’ve been able to enjoy the waves of wildflowers, the timing of each species choosing to put in an appearance. It’s particularly interesting along the Saddle Rock path at SBNM, I think, because the variety of microclimates means you can often see a cross-section of the entire blooming season as you meander.

In addition to the 10 species I posted pictures of in previous posts (Treasure hunt at SBNM and More flowers out at SBNM), I’ve also seen plentiful prairie goldenpea and the occasional Nutttal’s violet along the pathway, and I noticed this weekend that blue flax is popping along Highway 71.

Here are a few more species I captured with my camera along the Saddle Rock trail this week:

Groundsel - Senecio integerrimus - is starting to bloom.

Groundsel – Senecio integerrimus – is starting to bloom.

Quite a bit of fringed puccoon out there - Lithospermum incisum. The name of this plant kinda cracks me up, makes me think of pirates on the prairie sea of grass. "Avast, ye fringed puccoon!"

Quite a bit of fringed puccoon out there – Lithospermum incisum. The name of this plant kinda cracks me up, makes me think of pirates on the prairie sea of grass. “Avast, ye fringed puccoon!”

A plant with a B. A. name - death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) - is quite appropriate. According to a USDA plant guide, "Eating one or two bulbs is enough to cause severe illness in children, and 4 or 5 can cause death depending on the species."

A plant with a badass, yet appropriate, name – death camas (Zigadenus venenosus). According to a USDA plant guide, “Eating one or two bulbs is enough to cause severe illness in children, and 4 or 5 can cause death depending on the species.” PLEASE DON’T EAT THE WILDFLOWERS.

And one of my favorite local wildflowers - the sandwort, Arenaria hookeri. It's an unassuming little plant, but it's hardy and I appreciate its aesthetic.

And one of my favorite local wildflowers – the sandwort, Arenaria hookeri. It’s an unassuming little plant, but it’s hardy and I appreciate its aesthetic. Alas, the photo is slightly out of focus. Hard to see what’s in focus on that cellphone screen!

So, that’s 17 species of wildflower you have a chance of seeing on a hike in western Nebraska at the moment. If you wait until the official Nebraska Wildflower Week (May 29 – June 9), you’ll be missing some of the earlier species. Grab a guide and head out there to see for yourself!

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

Dadgummed no-see-ums

April 24, 2015

I’ve been going around all morning with one pant leg rolled up. No fashion trend here – I’m just trying to avoid aggravating my no-see-um bites.

Beware! The little buggers are out in force!

Bugman and I did the group ride with the Western Nebraska Bicycling Club on Tuesday, and we all stopped at the Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitors Center for a break. While we were standing there, an almost simultaneous “OW!” and a slapping of legs announced the arrival of a swarm of no-see-ums gunning for blood.

I hate no-see-um bites! They are a bit worse than mosquito bites for me. Not only do they swell up, but they break open and ooze in the center and stay itchy for at least a week. Sometimes the initial itchiness can be delayed until the day after the bite (as was the case for Bugman), which causes some people to worry that they are getting bedbug bites overnight, as they’ve forgotten about their no-see-um bites the previous day.

I couldn’t get Bugman to give me a positive ID on what kind of critter was biting us. There are lots of different kinds of tiny biting flies out there, and we didn’t collect a sample.

However, I’m going to assume, based on some stuff I’ve been finding online, that we are likely dealing with a member of the Ceratopogonidae family, possibly Culicoides or Leptoconops.

These critters can pretty much live anywhere there’s moisture. This Extension publication from Purdue University includes as potential breeding sites for members of this insect family: streams, ponds, marshes, bogs, tree holes, saturated rotting wood, wastewater ponds, sepage from watering troughs and “moist soil fissures.”

In addition to the grassy area out in front of SBNM, I’ve also been bitten by these suckers in my own front yard. Like mosquitoes, they seem to be worst around dusk. It surprised me that the no-see-ums were out on Tuesday evening, since the tiny things are not strong fliers, and it was a pretty windy day.

Want to know why no-see-um bites hurt so much more than a mosquito bite at the time of infliction? (If you don’t, stop scrolling!)

The mosquito delicately pierces your flesh with a mouthpart similar to a hypodermic needle. You may not even feel it. TheĀ Ceratopogonidae on the other hand? Their work is less elegant – they slash open your skin and then drool some (allergenic!) anticoagulant into the wound.

Here’s a portion of an illustration I found from the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), which is credited to Dr. Jerry Butler and artist Jeff Goertzen:

Ew.

How to avoid these little biters?

Best option: stay inside, especially around dawn and dusk.

From what I’ve read, insect repellents like DEET may have some effect, and wearing long pants and sleeves can help make it more difficult for the insects to reach any chewable skin, but they can still manage to find unprotected areas.

If you’d like to read another source on no-see-ums, try this link from the University of Florida.

Me? I’m going to go put some more hydrocortizone cream on these dadgummed no-see-um bites and try to think about something other than itching.

*scratch, scratch*

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw, except illustration copyright of cited source

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